Three Important Narratives Driving Kenya’s 2017 Presidential Election

I think it is safe to say that Kenya’s 2017 election is a lot more about 2022 than it is about deciding who will be Kenya’s president over the next five years. And for that we have to thank Deputy President William Ruto. In 2013 Ruto defied all odds and served as kingmaker for Uhuru Kenyatta. In exchange, Kenyatta promised to support his stab at the presidency in 2022, assuming Kenyatta wins reelection this August.

At the moment the odds are in favor of Kenyatta winning reelection, either fairly or unfairly.

rutoWhich makes a lot of the campaigning in this cycle about building alliances and potential national coalitions for Ruto’s 2022 stab at the presidency. To this end three important narratives are emerging that specifically relate to Ruto’s quest to be Kenya’s 5th president.

  1. Stop Raila Odinga at all costs: The only man standing between William Ruto and the presidency is Odinga. A surprise Odinga win this August would deal a serious blow to Ruto’s presidential ambitions. As I have noted before, Ruto’s political following has remained largely transactional, and dependent on the constant flow of resources. If out of power these resources would certainly dry. In addition, Ruto has only recently acquired enormous wealth, which means that he still lacks the deep rootedness among Kenya’s economic elite that would afford him protection like it has for the Moi, Kibaki, Odinga, and Kenyatta families. A double loss of political and economic power would be too steep a fall to recover from. If Odinga loses, that will certainly be the end of his political career and will provide a wide opening for Ruto to raid his vote-rich strongholds in preparation for future elections.
  2. Have a negotiation-proof Kenyatta succession plan: It is common knowledge that Kenyatta’s promise to back Ruto in 2022 is not credible. Whatever his personal commitments to Ruto, Kenyatta’s political base will be independent enough to back candidates of their own choice in 2022. And as a former president, Kenyatta will have no power to compel political and economic elites to back the candidate of his choice. Which is why Ruto has sought to cement the credibility of Kenyatta’s promise by building a strong political party in Jubilee Party. JP is supposed to tie Kenyatta’s hands by coupling the political destinies of the Ruto and Kenyatta wings of the ruling coalition in both 2017 and 2022. If this scheme succeeds, the de facto party leader (i.e. Ruto) will have an enormous upper hand in influencing the public political behavior of elites allied to Kenyatta in 2022, perhaps enough to keep them faithful to Kenyatta’s public commitments. If this sounds familiar it is because a variant of this has been done before, by Moi through KANU following the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.
  3.  Consolidate the Rift Valley vote: Ruto is no Moi, yet. Which means that he will continue to struggle to cement the Rift Valley vote, especially this year. Isaac Ruto might surprise him in Bomet (and parts of Kericho). And in the future Gideon Moi will certainly make a run for Elgeyo Marakwet, in addition to Baringo and Nakuru (and the wider Rift vote). All to say that, as a politician, Ruto is at once extremely powerful and vulnerable. He is powerful on account of being Deputy President with seemingly unlimited access to state resources. But he is also incredibly vulnerable, especially because his own backyard is littered with people who would soon see him tossed into the dustbin of history. In this sense he is no Kenyatta or Odinga, both of whom enjoy near-fanatical support in their respective bases and do not have any serious elite challengers.

All this to say that Deputy President William Ruto probably has the most to lose in this August’s presidential election. Which probably means that he will also work the hardest of any of the leading national politicians this cycle. And work hard he will, being one of the most electrifying national politicians on the stump (perhaps second only to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho). This, of course, is good news for the incumbent Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta’s reelection prospects.

Looking Back at Kenya’s 2007 Election

What’s past is prologue. Which is why it is great that the folks over at The Elephant are reminding Kenyans of events that marked the disastrous 2007 General Election

Here are some excerpts:

On the poll numbers ahead of the December 2007 vote:

Odinga was consistently polling well shy of a majority but ahead of Moi’s 1992 and 1997 numbers, with Kibaki trailing by a few points. As the election date closed in, the race tightened a bit, but the scenario did not reverse, and then ODM opened up a bit more of a lead. Although at the last minute the Gallup organisation of the US came in and did a late poll showing Kibaki trailing by only two points in the national vote – this was trumpeted by Ranneberger as showing the race as “too close to call” – the firms regularly polling the race continued to show Kibaki trailing beyond the margin of error. This included both the reputable Steadman and Strategic pollsters that had had a long relationship with the USAid IRI programme dating back to its inception in the 1990s, including the exit polls from 2002, 2005 and again for 2007.

On the colossal cluelessness of the then U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger:

The ambassador told me that Saturday that “people are saying” that Raila Odinga, ahead in the polls for president as the vote was nearing, could lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency (which under the existing system would disqualify him from becoming president even if he got the most votes nationally). This was “out of the blue” for me because I certainly was not aware of anyone who thought that. Odinga’s PNU opponent Stanley Livando had made a big splash and spent substantial money when he first announced his candidacy, but he had not seemed to get obvious traction in the race. Naturally, I wondered who the “people” Ranneberger was referring to were. Ranneberger said that a Raila loss in Langata would be “explosive” …..

The whole piece is here. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

Was the IEBC’s distribution of BVR kits for mass voter registration fair?

In 2013 a number of pundits declared that the Kenyan election was effectively decided on the day the IEBC ended its mass voter registration exercise (It was not, turnout won the election for Kenyatta). As a result, Kenyatta’s campaign team came up with the narrative that victory was inevitable on account of the “tyranny of numbers”. This year Odinga’s campaign has adopted a similar tactic with its claim of heading of movement of “ten million” voters. The total number of registered voters in Kenya is just over 19m.

The idea that the elections can be won at the close of registration brings to mind the neutrality of the IEBC when deciding how to allocate finite resources for mass voter registration. To assess this I looked at the distribution of biometric voter registration (BVR) kits relative to a number of factors, including Kenyatta’s vote share in 2013, county area, county population, population per electoral units (wards and constituencies), and the number of electoral units.

Here are the summaries:

1.  Being an incumbent, it is conceivable that Kenyatta would have wanted to influence the allocation of BVR kits. But there is no obvious relationship between Kenyatta’s county-level vote share in 2013 and the distribution of BVR kits ahead of the 2017 election. The pro-Kenyatta counties of Nakuru, Kiambu and Meru that received a lot of kits also have large populations. If anything, it appears that pro-Odinga counties got more kits, perhaps a reflection of the fact they had relatively more unregistered potential voters after 2013.countykits2. The number electoral units (wards or constituencies) had no influence on the rate of voter registration in the 47 counties. In other words, it is not the case that counties which had a lot more electoral units (and therefore potential candidates) experienced greater rates of voter mobilization for registration.

elecunits3. However, the population per electoral unit (wards and constituencies) was negatively correlated with the registration rate. In other words, more populous wards and constituencies experienced lower registration rates relative to their less populous counterparts. This makes sense, to the extent that the IEBC was targeting a specific number of BVR kits per electoral unit per county.populations4. Bigger counties with relatively smaller populations benefited from the fact that land area was a consideration in IEBC’s allocation of BVR kits.
kits

Kajiado and Vihiga counties beg explanation.

Kajiado registered more than 100% of its projected adult population (based on the 2009 census). This may be a case of massive in-migration after the 2009 census or the deliberate importation of voters for the specific purpose of influencing the outcome of intra-county elections.

Vihiga, on the other hand, stands out for its poor registration rate. It is noteworthy that Vihiga is home to Musalia Mudavadi who came third in 2013 and is now part of the NASA coalition led by Raila Odinga. Given that the mass registration exercise ended well before it was clear that Mudavadi was not running for president, the low registration rates in Vihiga raise questions about his ability to turnout the vote come August 8th.

Finally, while it is hard to discern what happened within counties — the effort of IEBC agents is unobservable — it is fair to say that political considerations do not appear to have influenced the number of BVR kits deployed to the counties for the mass voter registration exercise.

Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of Raila Odinga in the first post-nomination poll

Ipsos just released a poll in which President Uhuru Kenyatta leads Hon. Raila Odinga 48-42% among a representative sample of voting age adults. While this is not a particularly good showing for an incumbent with a few achievements to tout, the poll confirms Kenyatta’s frontrunner status. Furthermore, a 6 percentage point lead combined with his structural advantage in the turnout game mean that if the polls do not narrow any further Kenyatta will likely win in the first round come August 8th. In 2013 most public polls consistently over-estimated Odinga’s support by about 2 percentage points by not accounting for turnout patterns.

A few things other things are worth noting from the Ipsos poll:

  1. Polls have tightened over the last few months. As Odinga consolidates the opposition, his poll numbers have converged on Kenyatta’s. This is a trend worth watching over the next few weeks.
  2. The number of undecideds, especially in Coast, Eastern and Western regions, is rather high. This should worry Odinga. Again, Kenyatta has a structural advantage in the turnout game, which means that if Odinga is to have a fighting chance he must ensure that his strongholds register both high turnout rates and give him an even bigger share of their votes than in 2013. That they remain undecided does not bode well for Odinga’s chances. In the table below, Kenyatta’s poll numbers are close to his numbers both in final poll of 2013 and the official election results. Undecideds appear to be voters who sided with Odinga in 2013.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.30.40 PM.png
  3. This poll may be over-estimating Kenyatta’s support in Western region. In 2013 Kenyatta under-performed his poll numbers in Western region by a whole 29 percentage points. And so while his 23% rating in Western region may be a sign that Deputy President William Ruto’s investments are bearing fruit, I would not take these numbers to the bank just yet.
  4. Odinga has made significant gains in the Rift Valley region since 2013. One way for Odinga to force a runoff (or eke out a squeaker of a first round win) would be to peel off enough voters in from the North Rift. He appears to be doing that. His poll numbers in the region in 2013 were spot on, making his 32% rating in the region believable for now. Recent developments also suggest that he is gaining ground in Narok, Bomet, and parts of Kajiado. That should be a source of concern for the Kenyatta team.
  5. It is still a turnout game, and Odinga is trailing. The bulk of undecideds — in Coast, Eastern, and Western regions — appear to be likely Odinga supporters. While this may mean that they are likely to break for Odinga in August, it could also mean that they will remain undecided and stay home on election day. Hassan Joho, Kalonzo Musyoka/Charity Ngilu, and Musalia Mudavadi/Moses Wetangula have their work cut out for them.

While a lot may happen between now and August 8th, it is fair to say that Kenyatta is in a strong position. Odinga has several paths to victory, but success along any of those parts is dependent on the NASA coalition running a near-perfect campaign focused on both increasing turnout and running up the score in their strongholds. To this end the lack of enthusiasm in Coast, (lower) Eastern, and Western regions is definitely not a good sign.

The one thing that should worry Kenyatta is Odinga’s apparent gains in the Rift Valley region. If Odinga gains traction in Bomet, it is conceivable that he would also be able to peel off votes in Kericho. It is not that long ago that both Deputy President William Ruto had to camp in Kericho to avoid an embarrassing loss in a by-election. His preferred candidate ended up winning with 66% of the vote. In Bomet, incumbent Governor Isaac Ruto is backing Odinga. And while he will face a tough time swaying voters to Odinga’s camp, it is not far-fetched to imagine that he could bag around 40%. If the same happens in Kericho then two of the Rift Valley’s most important vote baskets will become swing. And Kenyatta would be in serious trouble.

Note: Nearly all the polls this cycle will not take into account any “likely voter models.” I will do my best to guestimate turnout rates based on passed voting patterns and other variables. 2026 out of 5484 contacted agreed to participated in this Ipsos poll.

By the Numbers: A Look at the 2017 Presidential Election in Kenya

Kenya will hold a General Election on August 8th of this year. The national-level elections will include races for president, members of the National Assembly, and the Senate. County-level races will include those for governor (47) and members of County Assemblies (in 1450 wards).

This post kicks off the election season with a look at the presidential election. I also plan to blog about the more exciting gubernatorial races in the coming weeks.

Like in 2013, the contest will be a two-horse race between President Uhuru Kenyatta (with William Ruto as his running mate) and Hon. Raila Odinga (with Kalonzo Musyoka). The convergence on a de facto bipolar political system is a product of Kenya’s electoral law. The Constitution requires the winning presidential candidate to garner more than half of the votes cast and at least 25 percent of the votes in at least 24 counties. In 2013 Kenyatta edged out Odinga in a squeaker that was decided at the Supreme Court. Depending on how you look at it, Kenyatta crossed the constitutional threshold of 50 precent plus one required to avoid a runoff by a mere 8,632 votes (if you include spoilt ballots) or 63, 115 (if you only include valid votes cast). In affirming Kenyatta’s victory, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the latter approach.

But despite the court’s ruling, a significant section of Kenyans still believe that Kenyatta rigged his way into office, and that Odinga should have won.

My own analysis suggests that it was a little bit more complicated. I am fairly confident that Kenyatta beat Odinga in the March 2013 election. But I do not think that he crossed the 50 percent plus one threshold required to avoid a runoff. At the same time, I am also confident that Kenyatta would have won a runoff against Odinga. All to say that I think the results in 2013 reflected the will of the people bothered to vote.

This year will be equally close, if not closer.

This is for the following reasons:

  1. Odinga has a bigger coalition: The third candidate in 2013, Musalia Mudavadi, is joining forces with Odinga this time round – as part of the National Super Alliance (NASA). Mudavadi managed to get just under 4% last time and will provide a much-needed boost to Odinga’s chances in Western Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley.
  2. Kenyatta has had a mixed record in office: The Kenyan economy has grown at more than 5% over the last four years. The same period saw massive investments in infrastructure — including a doubling of the share of the population connected to the grid and a brand new $4b railway line connecting Nairobi to the coast. However, these impressive achievements have been offset by incredible levels of corruption in government – with senior government officials caught literally carrying cash in sacks. Kenyatta is also stumbling towards August 8th plagued with bad headlines of layoffs and the ever-rising cost of living. Barely two months to the election, the country is in the middle of a food crisis occasioned by a failure to plan and a botched response that appears to have been designed to channel funds to cronies of well-connected officials.
  3. The Rift Valley: In 2013 much of the Rift Valley was a lock for Kenyatta (it is William Ruto’s political back yard). This time will be different. Parts of Ruto’s coalition in the Rift, particularly in Kericho and Bomet counties, may swing towards Odinga this year. All Odinga needs is about a third of the votes in these counties. I expect both campaigns to spend a lot of time trying to sway the small pockets of persuadable voters in these two counties.
  4. The Kenyatta Succession in 2022: In 2013 Kenyatta was elected as the head of an alliance, not a party. In 2017 he is running atop a party, the Jubilee Party (JP). It is common knowledge that JP is William Ruto’s project. Because he plans to succeed Kenyatta in 2022, he desperately needs credible commitment from Kenyatta and his allies that they will support his bid when the time comes. JP is an installment towards this goal, and is designed to allow Ruto to whip party members in line during Kenyatta’s second term (on a side note, Ruto needs to read up on the history of political parties in Kenya). But by forcing everyone into one boat, JP may actually end up suppressing turnout in key regions of the country, the last thing that Kenyatta needs in a close election.
  5. The ICC factor (or lack thereof): Because of their respective cases at the ICC, 2013 was a do or die for Kenyatta and Ruto (and their most fervent supporters). This time is different. Both politicians are no longer on trial at the ICC, and so cannot use their cases to rally voters. The lack of such a strong focal rallying point will be a test for Kenyatta’s turnout efforts.

Nearly all of the above factors sound like they favor Odinga. Yet Kenyatta is still the runaway favorite in this year’s election. And the reason for that is turnout.

As I show in the figure below, the turnout rates were uniformly high (above 80%) in nearly all of the 135/290 constituencies that Kenyatta won in 2013. Pro-Odinga constituencies had more spread, with the end result being that the candidate left a lot more votes on the table.

The same dynamics obtained at the county level (see above). In 2013 Odinga beat Kenyatta in 27 of the 47 counties. The counties that Odinga won had a total of 8,373,840 voters, compared to 5,977,056 in the 20 counties won by Kenyatta. The difference was turnout. The counties won by Odinga averaged a turnout rate of 83.3%. The comparable figure for counties won by Kenyatta was 89.7%. At the same time, where Kenyatta won, he won big — averaging 86% of the vote share. Odinga’s average vote share in the 27 counties was a mere 70%.

The same patterns may hold in 2017. The counties won by Odinga currently have 10,547,913 registered voters, compared to 7,556,609 in counties where Kenyatta prevailed. This means that Odinga still has a chance, but in order to win he will have to run up the numbers in his strongholds, while at the same time getting more of his voters to the polls. Given the 2017 registration numbers, and if the turnout and vote share patterns witnessed in 2013 were to hold this year, then Kenyatta would still win with 8,000,936 votes (51.5%) against Odinga’s 7,392,439 votes (47.6%).

The slim hypothetical margin should worry Kenyatta and his campaign team. For instance, with an 89% turnout rate and an average of 85% vote share in the 27 counties Odinga won, and holding Kenyatta’s performance constant, the NASA coalition could best Jubilee this August by garnering 8,921,050 votes (55.4%) vs 7,191,975 (44.6%).

Kenyatta is the favorite to win this August on account of incumbency and Jubilee’s turnout advantage. But it is also the case that the election will be close, and that even a small slip up — such as a 3 point swing away from Jubilee between now and August 8th — could result in an Odinga victory.

Elections 2017: David Ndii makes a rather weak case for new wine in old wineskins

This is from the Daily Nation:

The idea that political alternative necessarily means different or new people is a fallacy.

One of the most bizarre moments in my political life was walking into the Serena Hotel’s ballroom for a cocktail to celebrate the formation of Narc, and scanning the room to see Kanu stalwarts George Saitoti, Joseph Kamotho and William Ntimama mingling and laughing heartily with their erstwhile mortal political enemies.

It was the strangest and most confusing feeling.

I stayed only a few minutes and went home quite depressed.

I had the privilege of working with Saitoti thereafter and I have to say he turned out to be one of the most committed and progressive ministers in the Narc government.

“If the opposition is not an alternative” had obtained in 2002, Narc could not have been an alternative to Kanu because even its presidential candidate was a long time Kanu stalwart who once compared felling Kanu with trying to cut down a mugumo tree with a razor blade.

Yet it is undeniable that Narc’s election was a watershed in our political history.

More fundamentally, the narrative glosses over the fact that we have a very clearly defined ideological cleavage in this country that goes back to the Kanu-KPU fallout shortly after independence.

Opposition in Kenya means opposing the Kanu establishment. It means standing up for political equality and social justice.

I am not convinced. For two reasons.

First, I have always found issue with depictions of Uhuru Kenyatta as a latter day Moi (or wannabe dictator). He is not. In my view Kenyatta is simply a poor administrator with a thin skin and lots of sycophantic lieutenants (not to mention a very ambitious deputy). Combine these together and you get lots of failures at different nodes of the administration; and lots and lots of stealing (the definition of a common-pool problem). Is Kenyatta himself corrupt? Perhaps. Does he have a masterplan for taking us back to the baba na mama era? I doubt it.

This doesn’t absolve Kenyatta of any of his failings highlighted by Ndii. It certainly sucks to live in a poor country on autopilot and with an “absentee-landlord” president. Rather, it’s a call for a proper diagnosis of the real causes of the failures of the Jubilee administration.

Second, the ideological commitments of members of the opposition are sketchy. When its leading lights were in government (briefly after 2003 and then after 2008) they did not behave any differently than the alleged Kanu Establishment (with the possible exception of Charity Ngilu). Just because Raila Odinga claims to be a social democrat doesn’t mean that we should believe him. His actual track record suggests that as president he would probably be somewhere between Jomo Kenyatta and Kibaki in style — able to delegate, primarily pro-business, big on elite-level ethnic regional balance, but also keen to use coercion when necessary (which is why I am always amused by Railaphobia scaremongering that depicts the man from Bondo as a rabid anti-wealth, pro-poor socialist. Look at the man’s record. He is no more pro-poor than is Kenyatta).

Musalia Mudavadi, who stands the best chance of beating Kenyatta this August atop a united opposition ticket, is essentially a scion of the Kanu Establishment.

Change for the sake of change is not always a good thing.

The case that an opposition government would be less corrupt, more competent in managing the economy, and more inclusive than Jubilee is fairly weak. After nearly fours years under the system of devolved government, the opposition’s record on actual policy performance is paper-thin. Their governance record is nothing to sing about. For instance, CORD controls the big urban counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had something to point to as evidence of their administrative and policy competence? Where does the opposition stand on agricultural policy? Health policy (do they even know that there is an ongoing doctors’ strike)? Education policy? Housing and land policy?

Can we really say with a straight face that the leadership of opposition counties have sought to channel Oginga Odinga, Kaggia, JM, Pinto, Murumbi, or Seroney in their policies? Does the Kenyan left even exist anymore among the political class?

The Jubilee government has failed on many fronts, and ought to face a strong challenge come August. But the Kenyan public shouldn’t be expected to hand the opposition the keys to State House simply because they are in the opposition. They must first show wananchi what is in it for them. They must demonstrate that they get the issues that affect the proverbial number of sufurias in Kenyan homes.

PS: This is not some starry-eyed case for a third force. Rather it is a call for more rigorous arguments for either reelecting Jubilee or voting for the opposition from their respective intellectual backers. I am a big believer in making do with the politicians we have.

PSS: It is sad that 2017 will not be about the counties. It ought to have been about the counties. And bringing government closer to wananchi.

Electoral Integrity Issues Ahead of Kenya’s General Election in August 2017

1. Raila Odinga won the 2007 presidential election, at least according to aggregate results from media houses. On a related note, President Kenyatta will most likely face a stiff challenge from a unified opposition, a fact that will put the integrity of the outcome in the August 8th presidential election front and center. Which is why it is a little scary that with just eight months left Kenyans are still fighting over the impartiality and preparedness of the country’s electoral management body, IEBC. It is also worth noting that there is a non-zero probability that Raila Odinga will not be on the ballot this August; and that this would do very little to reduce the likelihood of electoral violence if the polls lack integrity.

2. Kenyan governors have rejected the proposed manual backups for the electronic voter verification system in the August 8, 2017 General Election. This issue threatens to plunge the country into a period of heightened political tensions over the next several weeks, with the opposition having promised street demos if the government doesn’t soften its stance. There is still hope that cooler heads will prevail in the Senate and deliver a consensus outcome.

3. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is about to be reconstituted. Ethnic Regional balance issues remain. These are rather silly. Ezra Chiloba, the current IEBC CEO, is a very capable man and it would be a shame if he were to lose his job simply because of the lottery of birth.

4. KPMG will audit the voter register which currently has 15.85 million listed voters. Through a court challenge the opposition has temporarily stopped the award of the tender to KMPG. CORD is claiming that not enough stakeholders were involved in the tendering process. I suspect that the real reason is that CORD does not trust KPMG to do an honest job. It bears stating that private firms, including big-name multinationals, have historically not been above being compromised by sectional political interests in Kenya.

On a side note, most observers seem to think that the biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Raila Odinga. I disagree. The biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Deputy President William Ruto. Politically speaking, Ruto is between a rock and a hard place. He will wield immense political power, and have control over his political future, right up until the August 8th election is decided. Thereafter he will lose control over his political future.

If Kenyatta wins, he will immediately become a marked man. Five more years as number two will definitely grant him access to even greater financial resources and ability to bolster his political power. But it will also invite the envy of fellow elites wary of having to face a powerful and self-disciplined politician like only Ruto can be. In my view, Ruto has the potential to be Odinga and Moi rolled into one — i.e. fanatical mass support and incredible self-discipline and work ethic. Needless to say, this scares a lot of Kenya’s fat cats who’ve grown used to the absentee-landlord nightwatchman presidency of Kenyatta. There is also the small matter that Kenyatta’s base will likely not support Ruto in 2022 for this same reason.

If Kenyatta loses Ruto is toast. The music will stop. The cash spigot will be turned off. His ties to voters and grassroots leaders — which at the moment is almost purely transactional and dependent on incredible levels of personal generosity — will most certainly evaporate. His political base will likely be carved up by rivals, with Bomet’s Ruto and Gideon Moi hiving off their separate chunks for use as leverage for political favors and financial resources from Nairobi.

Ruto’s best chance at winning in 2022, IFF Kenyatta wins this year, is to convince Kenyatta to step down before his second term expires. That way Ruto can serve the remainder of Kenyatta’s term and run in 2022 as an unbeatable incumbent president. Show me a Kenyatta associate who would want to see this happen and I’ll show you a liar.

Of course there is also the possibility that Ruto looks down the game tree, does not like what he sees, and decides to make this year’s election a little more interesting than most people anticipate.

 

Five Things You Should Know About the Ongoing Monday Protests in Kenya

Over the last couple of weeks opposition parties in Kenya have staged public protests across the country demanding for personnel changes at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) — Kenya’s electoral management body (EMB). This week’s Monday demonstrations turned violent in some towns and cities, with at least four people reported dead at the hands of anti-riot police.

The organizers of the protests have vowed to keep at it every Monday until the current IEBC commissioners resign. Here are the five things you need to know about the protests:

  1. A plurality of Kenyans have lost faith in the IEBC (see here). Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 8.07.41 PMIn the run up to the 2013 election, several members of the commission (then known as IIEC) and its secretariat were implicated in graft (known as the chickengate scandal) involving a number of British companies. These individuals’ accomplices were found guilty by UK courts; and court documents explicitly mentioned the Kenyans that were bribed by their UK counterparts. Yet a number of those adversely mentioned in the UK court documents continue to remain in office — including the chairman of the commission, Issack Hassan. It is partially for this reason that a plurality of Kenyans (including politicians on both sides of the political divide) have lost faith in the IEBC.
  2. Opposition politicians, including those in CORD and KANU, want the IEBC reconstituted over suspicions that its current leadership favors incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and the governing Jubilee Alliance. CORD (in my view, erroneously) maintains that the IEBC was used to rig the 2013 election in favor of President Kenyatta. KANU has most recently accused the same EMB of rigging the Kericho senatorial by-election in favor of the Jubilee candidate. CORD has also argued that its failure to meet the threshold for a popular referendum (dubbed Okoa Kenya) —  whose main thrust was a change in Kenya’s electoral laws — was a result of bias within the IEBC. CORD wants the IEBC reconstituted and the new commission to have proportional representation of parliamentary political parties. Although the constitution lays out the procedure for removing commissioners of an independent entity like IEBC (through Parliament), CORD is wary of this option due to its minority status in the legislature. Initially it pinned its hopes on a popular referendum. But when that failed it resorted to mass action in a bid to strategically influence any eventual institutional reform of the IEBC (in my view this eventuality can partially be blamed on the singular failure of the(Jubilee) leadership of the National Assembly).
  3. The Uhuru Kenyatta Administration is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is hard for the administration to defend an obviously tainted EMB. This would also go against its continued claim that the IEBC is an independent body. But at the same time, the administration needs a reform path that will not embolden the opposition. The thinking within the Jubilee Alliance appears to be that if they give in to CORD on IEBC, what will CORD demand next? The contention that any and all reforms touching on the IEBC should follow constitutionally stipulated channels is partly motivated by this fear. In this regard, if CORD is genuine about surgical reforms specifically targeting the IEBC, it’s leadership should perhaps think of a way to credibly signal to the Kenyatta Administration that their reform agenda is limited in scope. From a purely political standpoint, President Kenyatta has reason to be cautious about the potential to open a whole pandoras box of constitutional reforms.
  4. Police brutality is (still) common in Kenya. Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 7.27.32 PMOne of the goals of Kenya’s new political dispensation following the adoption of a new constitution in 2010 was police reform (majority of the 1,300 killed in the post-election violence of 2007-8 were shot by police). The institution even changed its name from Police Force to Police Service; and an independent police oversight authority was created (to democratize the institution through civilian oversight). But experience since 2013 has shown that these attempts at reform have not yielded any tangible results. The Police Service is still as corrupt as ever. And has little consideration for constitutional limits to its use of force (see image). Which means that more Kenyans will be killed in the hands of the police if the Monday protests continue.
  5. The 2017 presidential contest will likely be more competitive than most people think. Six months ago I would have predicted a landslide reelection victory for President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017. Not anymore. President Kenyatta is still the favorite to win (because of incumbency advantage). But the jostling over control of the IEBC and the Supreme Court are telltale signs that the political class is expecting a close contest that will likely be disputed. It says a lot that despite being the incumbent, President Kenyatta’s poll numbers have stubbornly stuck in the low 40s (he can thank mind-blowing corruption and general Public Sector incompetence for that). This means that unless we see a drastic shift in regional alliances, next year’s election will most likely go to a runoff contest between Kenyatta and Odinga — which will be close. The more reason to have credible institutions in the form of a trusted IEBC and a Supreme Court beyond reproach. 

What does this say about overall political stability in Kenya? At this point in time I am a lot  more worried about county-level electoral violence than a 2007-08 style national disaster. That said, there is reason to fear that continued police brutality, especially targeting opposition supporters, may trigger wider civilian violence against presumed Jubilee supporters.

It is a little too early to talk specifics about next year’s presidential election. But what is clear is that Kenyatta’s reelection battle will no longer be a walk in the park.

Some thoughts on the Okoa Kenya campaign to amend Kenya’s Constitution

I just posted a piece over at ConstitutionNet on the politics of popular constitutional amendment provisions, with Kenya as an illustrative case.

The Kenyan Constitution allows for popular (extra-legislative) amendment initiatives, as long as the petitioner can collect at least one million signatures. The Okoa Kenya campaign is one such initiative, but driven primarily by the main opposition alliance, CORD. In the piece I seek to answer two key questions:

…….. (i) how do constitutional popular amendment provisions impact institutional stability?; And (ii) can such provisions maintain their legitimacy when captured by mainstream political parties already represented in key state institutions?

The answers to the first question speak to the dangers of populism. Democratic stability necessarily requires institutional barriers to regular changes of the basic rules of the game (i.e. constitutions), as well as checks on populism. Therefore, by exposing constitutional changes to “every-day politics”, extra-legislative origination of constitutional amendments (under ordinary circumstances) may pose a risk to the very foundations of democratic stability.

The answers to the second question speak to the original intent of popular amendment provisions. Given their extra-legislative character and the notion that they are supposed to preserve popular sovereignty, it is unclear whether popular amendment provisions maintain their integrity when captured by mainstream political parties that are supposed to operate within the legislature. In other words, the potential exploitation of such provisions to circumvent the outcomes of legislative elections may derogate the electoral process itself. Elections should have consequences for both the ruling and opposition parties.

More on this here.

Thoughts on the Uhuru Kenyatta Administration in 2016

This is from Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, addressing the president:

We acknowledge the fact that it has been a tough year for leaders across the world — what with global economic upheavals and terrorists wreaking havoc everywhere.

However, we reject the almost criminal resignation and negligence with which your government has responded to our national crises this past year. We need not recount the number of lives lost, the losses incurred by businesses and opportunities wasted for millions of Kenyans due to the incompetence of the Executive.

With the exception of a few family businesses and tenderpreneurs who raked in billions of shillings — thanks largely to political patronage — everyone is losing money in this country.

More on this here. Read the whole thing.

This is pretty direct, and articulates a narrative of the middle class’ general dissatisfaction with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.

It will also have very little political impact.

First, the Kenyan middle class (the primary audience of the Nation) is tiny. Second, the same middle class is as much a hostage of identity politics as is the rest of the country (this is true of even for the Nation‘s editorial team) — and on this score Kenya’s demographic profile favors Mr. Kenyatta in the next election scheduled for August next year (All indications suggest that a breakup of the Jubilee Alliance ahead of 2017 is a low probability event). Third, there still exists a wide chasm between the middle and upper middle classes and the vast majority of working class and rural Kenyans (with the former group perpetually wondering why the latter group doesn’t vote for its interests). This is why identity politics continue to dominate even cosmopolitan counties like Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, and Mombasa.

That said, here are some quick thoughts on the Jubilee Administration as it enters its fourth year:

  1. President Uhuru Kenyatta is a politician: That means that he will invariably only take action that is consistent with his perceived political interests — getting reelected in 2017; keeping his political lieutenants and the wider Jubilee coalition happy; taking care of his core base; et cetera. Reformists who imagine that the president can operate outside of Kenya’s political system are bound to be disappointed. And those who equate Uhuru Kenyatta to Daniel arap Moi are missing the point by miles. Moi micro-managed. Kenyatta II delegates (Kibaki and Kenyatta I delegated, but with relatively better monitoring).
  2. The Kenyatta Administration’s biggest problem is too much delegation without sufficient monitoring: Much of the criticism of the Administration tends to be packaged in the language of “political will” — if only Kenyatta REALLY wanted to change things. The truth, however, is that the president faces both political and organizational obstacles to reform. Administrators continue to stonewall reform at will; and the administration remains too top heavy for its own good. What needs to happen is a radical restructuring to empower the equivalent of “mid-level managers” in the Civil Service. This should be accompanied by a shift from an internal police patrol system of monitoring (characterized by an extreme form of siege mentality) to a fire alarm system — Civil Servants should be judged by what the public thinks of their work. And those found wanting should be fired. Incentives matter. Focusing on these administrative and organizational reform agendas, rather than the politics of “political will” might be more amenable to the president (see 1 above) and could yield good results — especially if they come with sufficient political cover for the president.
  3. State House is not focused on any key signature policies: Most governments tend to be judged by a few signature achievements. President Kibaki will forever be remembered as Mr Infrastructure. Thus far Mr. Kenyatta has not staked his legacy on any pet projects or policies — most of the big investments he has made (in rail, roads, and power) are on Kibaki legacy projects. This makes it very hard for him to sell any “successes.” Back in 2013 I proposed housing, agriculture, and education as possible areas in which the president could make significant improvements while building on Kibaki’s legacy. The lack of focus at State House creates the impression of an administration that dabbles in everything but closes on nothing. It also allows Civil Servants to shirk a lot. They are doing everything, but have nothing to show for it. The president would be better served if he told his staff that he will no longer show up at the launching of anything, and instead will only be available for commissioning of fished projects. Incentives matter.
  4. Perception is everything in politics: Narratives matter in politics. They also tend to be sticky and self-fulfilling. It is going to be hard for the president to sell his successes — including in energy and electricity access and continued investment in Kibaki legacy projects — if the public is convinced that his administration is failing on every front.
  5. What is William Ruto’s strategy? President Kenyatta has had a rough three years. By his own admission the war on corruption and malaise in the public service has proven to be a lot harder than he imagined it to be. But he is a Kenyatta, and will most likely be reelected next August. Ruto, the Deputy President, hopes to succeed Kenyatta in 2022. However, Ruto’s electoral success will hinge on the Administration’s performance over the next seven years. Also, Vice Presidents typically take the fall for the boss if things go wrong. It is not clear to me how Ruto would be a successful candidate in 2022 if the Kenyatta II era is judged to have been a failure (especially since it will be judged against the Kibaki era). Given this reality one would expect Ruto to do his all to make the administration work for Kenyans, instead of relying solely on patronage. Kenya has changed a lot since 2010; and will have changed even more by 2022. Performance will matter a lot more then that it does now, even for rural Kenyans. I am constantly surprised that this fact does not seem to bother the man from Eldoret.
  6. What to look for in 2016: The management of Kenya’s public debt (which will impact movements in domestic interest rates, with knock on effects on growth); continued investment in key infrastructure, including transportation and power generation (by year end nearly all primary schools in the country will be on the grid, a pretty big deal); a rebound in tourism (he has his faults, but CS Najib Balala is probably the best man for the job at tourism); and continued growth in construction (which grew by 14.1% in Q3 of 2015). I remain cautiously optimistic about the handling of monetary policy. The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Patrick Njoroge, is probably the most respected technocrat in the country.

Historically, growth in the Kenyan economy tends to slow down by about 0.5 percentage points during election years. This time is probably not going to be different. That said, I expect the economy to remain on a positive growth trajectory (above 5% growth p.a.) going into 2017.

On the political front, the role of the Governors of Kenya’s 47 counties will the biggest wildcard. Many of these mini-presidents have amassed financial war chests and created networks that will prove consequential in 2017. True to Kenyan form, a number of them are already founding their own parties (the true District Parties are back, with cash). The balancing effects of governors (vis-a-vis established national politicians) creates a reality in which no one is fully “in charge” in the Jamuhuri, a fact that comes with all sorts of frustrations and fears. But sometimes that is a good thing. Especially when Kenyans and their indefatigable biashara habits are involved.

Lastly, expect to see more hard-hitting criticism of Mr. Kenyatta in the Kenyan press in 2016, much of it inspired by Kenya’s deep-seated Tanzania envy. If Tanzanian president John Magufuli maintains his reformist zeal there will be a lot of pressure on Mr. Kenyatta (#WhatWouldMagufuliDo?). Very few Kenyans will care to remember that the two presidents serve under two completely different constitutional and party regimes.

Happy New Year!