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.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the National Address to Parliament

On Thursday President Uhuru Kenyatta presented his annual report to the joint session of Parliament. You can find the text of the speech here and the youtube clip here.

Key achievements of his administration over the last three years include (i) rural electrification (nearly all primary schools have been connected to the grid — THIS IS PRETTY BIG DEAL); (ii) the construction of a new railway line (the project is a corruption boondoggle, but the speed with which it is being carried out is stunning); and (iii) power generation.

Below is a word cloud showing some of the issues the president focused on. Corruption, health (hospital), security, and general service provision were the main policy areas that the president chose to focus on.

I was surprised by the failure of “agriculture”, “land”, “education”, and “infrastructure” to make the top twenty. “Road” had a respectable show. There was also a lot of politics — mainly directed at the opposition and civil society.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.46.04 PM

Perhaps in reaction to David Ndii’s provocative article on the failure of the Kenya Project, the president’s speech was particularly nationalist. The words “Covenant” and “Nationalist” appeared 27 and 22 times, respectively, well ahead of key policy-related terms.

I am personally worried that the word “development” outperformed “economic/economy.” I hope this is not a signal that the government views the running of the economy as a massive “development project.” We all know how those usually turn out.


Barack Obama on Uhuru Kenyatta

This is from Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic:

Obama’s relationship with Kenyatta is complicated. A careful reading of Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, suggests that he holds Kenyatta’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, the liberator of Kenya, indirectly responsible for his own father’s premature demise. (The elder Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu tribe, froze out Obama’s father, a Luo, from government service after the elder Obama complained too insistently about corruption.) And the younger Kenyatta’s association with human-rights violators has placed a question mark over his head. But Obama also believes that Kenyatta is at least intermittently committed to battling tribalism and corruption, and aides tell me that Obama will devote a part of his post-presidential years to the issue of African governance.

Instead of focusing on “African Governance,” I’d suggest President Obama spends part of his post-presidential years as Africa’s economic ambassador to the United States and beyond.

“Good governance” and “good institutions” are great. But the notion that African states have to reach zero corruption and zero rigged elections before any factories can be built is a misguided fantasy. Institutions and positive economic performance co-evolve. Good politics is not always good economics; and good economics is not always good politics. Africa, despite everyone’s apparent belief in the region’s exceptionalism, is not unique in this regard.

Do host governments necessarily “do development” better than foreign donors?

A common complaint you hear against donor-driven development projects is that they are typically at variance with local priorities; and make no attempts to work along the grain, or build upon existing systems. It turns out that governments in developing countries aren’t any different.

Take the example of the slum upgrading project in the infamous Kibera slum in Nairobi:

A keen look at the Open Street Map for Kibera and Mathare Valley before the NYS initiative started reveals the existence of services such as education, health, water and sanitation points. In Korogocho, Mukuru, Mathare and Kibera self help groups had emerged even before NYS Initiative start to earn daily income from activities such as urban farming, garbage collection and water delivery services. It is a fact that most toilets are not connected to the main sewer and private clinics are either not registered or managed by quacks, while illegal power connections abound.

The NYS Initiative would have scored big by establishing connections with already existing services providers in poor neighbourhoods by either improving their capacity to offer quality and affordable services to the urban poor or by trying to create an enabling environment for slum entrepreneurs to be part of formal and legal business entities. It is a mistake to assume that  there are no service providers within poor neighborhoods. Poverty and lack of basic services is an urban reality which has motivated the establishment of civil society groups to initiate health, education and income generating activities for women and youths as a supplement to government efforts in meeting its obligations. No government in the world can be able to solve the complex community problems of the poor by itself.

And there is an interesting twist to this story…

Experience from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Urban Poverty and Slum Upgrading Project funded by the World Bank might be instructive. The project has some similarities with the NYS project in terms of targeting poor neighborhoods but was able to achieve more success because it worked more closely with local communities and partnered with Dar es Salaam Municipal Council officials from conception to implementation and monitoring stages, a situation which is totally lacking with the National Youth Service projects. The NYS Initiative seems to be a duplication and competition with the mandate of mandate of Nairobi City County.

I do not know about the veracity of the claims about the Dar slum (and I think the NYS budget is fully domestic — after the initial Chinese boost) but right now it’s hard not to feel like Tanzanians are doing everything right; while Kenyans are perennially running around in circles. The Mara Derby is on.

Read the whole thing here.

Daily Nation suspends editor for strong criticism of President Uhuru Kenyatta

After a rather hard-hitting editorial appeared in the Daily Nation voicing criticisms of the Kenyatta Administration, the newspaper has suspended the editor behind it. An internal memo cited the reason for the suspension as:

The lack of consultation and review of the editorial on the material day – where one writer takes a strong position on such an important issue single-handedly without broad consultations – is a significant departure from established procedure…

Two quick thoughts:

  1. If we take the CEO at his word, it says a lot about the management of the Nation’s newsroom that such a piece could be published without robust internal review and consensus on both content and tone.
  2. What is more likely is that the paper’s editorial team wants to do independent journalism, but the NMG business team is worried about losing advertising revenue from the central government (does anyone know what share of the paper’s (or NMG’s) ad revenue comes from the government?)

This is rather embarrassing coming from one of the Continent’s most reputable news establishments. I am sure president Kenyatta has enough thick skin to weather criticism in the editorial pages. The matter could have been handled without making it clear that the government implicitly dictates the tone of the Nation‘s editorial pages — you know, media independence and all that…

It looks particularly bad as it comes right before Kenya gets into full election mode.

Moving on, it’ll be hard to be sympathetic with the NMG when Kampala or Dodoma harasses the The Daily Monitor or The Citizen.

Update: Here’s a comment from Macharia Gaitho, a former Managing Editor at NMG:

It’s true that at NMG Leaders on a sensitive topic must go through a consultative process. This ensures that they reflect the Group position rather than personal opinion, and that whoever needs to know is in the know. If procedures were flouted and the Group left exposed, it would best have been handled quietly and internally. As it is, action taken against an individual has doubly exposed NMG. For more than a generation the Group has struggled to counter perceptions that it is pro-government. Now it has reinforced those perceptions with action that will be widely interpreted, even if wrongly, as punishing an editor for espousing a view that angered State House. The damage will be almost impossible to undo. And never in the history of the Nation has an individual responsible for a Leader been publicly ‘outed’. The remedy here will prove more damaging than the original offense.

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!

Kenya is at peak Tanzania envy

There’s a veritable reason President John Pombe Magufuli is a Tanzanian, and not a Kenyan. It’s the same reason Chief Justice Willy Mutunga is a product of the University of Dar es Salaam, and not the University of Nairobi. President Magufuli embodies the immutable character forged into the Tanzanian identity by President Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the philosopher-king. It’s a national character of service and selflessness that made Tanzania the anchor of the African liberation movement — the Mecca of all black freedom fighters.

It’s a mchicha [sukumawiki] culture of simplicity that eschews public gluttony, impunity, and vileness. That’s why #WhatWouldMagufuliDo has become a household hashtag. Not since President Nyerere have we seen the likes of Mr Magufuli in Africa. There’s a famous quote, attributed variously to Alexis de Tocqueville or Joseph de Maistre, which speaks of the character of a nation, a people. It says that “In a democracy, people elect the government they deserve.” The keys to the nugget are “democracy” and “elect.” In other words, it speaks of the free expression of the will of the people through an open plebiscite. In Tanzania, the people decided to “elect” Mr Magufuli over the opposition candidate, former PM Edward Lowassa. Even before the election, Mr Magufuli had distinguished himself as the hardest working member of the Kikwete government. Mr Lowassa was wildly popular, but Mr Magufuli beat him hands down. The people spoke.

…… In contrast, faced with a stark choice in Kenya in 2013, my compatriots were said to prefer Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto over CORD’s Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. The former faced charges for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. I was one among many who placed obstacles in Mr Kenyatta’s election. I argued that electing an ICC indictee wasn’t in the national interest. But voters were polarised along ethnic blocks and failed to see my logic. Today — three years after the election — Kenyans are more depressed than ever, and every new scandal sinks the country into a deeper funk. Most Kenyans today wish Mr Magufuli was a Kenyan. I hate to say I’ve no sympathy.

That’s SUNY Buffalo law professor Makau Mutua writing in the Standard.

This is among a long line of Kenya-Tanzania comparisons that often serve to highlight the relative moral/ethical deficiencies of the former. Kenyans are corrupt and boorish; Tanzanians are polite and virtuous. Kenyans are rabid tribalists; Tanzanians have a strong national identity crafted around Kiswahili as a national language and the great Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s vision for the Muungano (full disclosure, like Mutua, I am also intellectually enamored by the Dar es Salaam School).

Like all sweeping narratives there is some truth to these comparisons. And bucket loads of unsubstantiated hype. For example, under both Mkapa and Kikwete Tanzania had its share of mega corruption scandals, not unlike what happens north of the Kilimanjaro. Kenya ranks 145/175 in Transparency International’s perception of corruption rankings. Tanzania is at 119/175, still experiencing widespread corruption. The same slight differences are depicted in Afrobarometer survey results (See above. Tanzania is on the left. Question asks for respondents’ perceived share of government officials involved in corruption).

Also, the income of the average Kenyan is almost 1.5 times that of her Tanzanian counterpart. The infant mortality rates (per 1,000 live births) are 37 and 51 in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively.

Mwalimu once quipped that Kenya is a dog-eat-dog society. To which Kenya’s then Attorney General Charles Njonjo replied that Tanzania is a man-eat-nothing society.

Tanzania’s economy may yet outpace Kenya’s in the near future on account of the former’s solid foundation of nationhood. But for now I think it is fair to say that Kenya’s faux “African Socialism” beat Tanzania’s Ujamaa in delivering the goods, the morality of it all notwithstanding.tanzania

Oh, and what about the tired stereotyping of Kenyans as being more hardworking than Tanzanians? Well, according to Pew survey findings a bigger proportion of Tanzanians (than Kenyans) believe that the best way to get ahead is through hard work.

So there is that.


How Kshs. 38.5 billion ($385m) of borrowed money “disappeared” from Kenya’s budget

… the June 2013/14 bond issues were moved to the 2014/15 opening balances carried forward from 2013/14 at that time, while the November bond issues were recorded as 2014/15 revenues. If so, we would have a balance of Ksh38.5 billion in the bank, and the full Ksh75 billion (what we had estimated at Ksh67.5 billion) coming onto the budget in 2014/15.

There are no further changes in these numbers in the final fourth quarter COB report for 2014/15, suggesting that by the end of that year, all but Ksh38.5 billion of the Eurobond had come onto the budget and been spent.

The Ksh38.5 billion balance was not brought onto the budget for 2015/16 at the beginning of the year. The August 31 Statement of Actual Revenues shows no budgeted carryover from 2014/15 and an actual balance carried forward of only Ksh204 million. There is a budgeted revenue of Ksh72 billion in further commercial loans for the year, and nothing collected as of August.

So… what happened to the Ksh38.5 billion balance? If it was not spent, it is hard to see why the government wouldn’t be using it now to smooth liquidity during an apparent cash crunch. If it was spent, when did it come onto the budget, for what purpose and why isn’t it visible in public reports? Cabinet Secretary for the Treasury Henry Rotich recently claimed that all of the Eurobond money was spent, but I have not found any official documents showing when the final balance came on budget.

Why should basic facts about billions of shillings require us to sift through vague reports and still come up short?

Lakin’s excellent accounting narrative of budget figures from FY2013/14-FY2015/16 is available here. 

So where did the money really go? Only Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich can tell us what happened, with certainty. In the meantime Kenyans can only speculate. Which is why it is very odd that CS Rotich so far has barely bothered to explain himself.

How tragic would it be if it emerged that someone (or a group of people) stole Kshs. 38.5b ($385m) of borrowed money?

The confusion over the Eurobond cash has elevated public uproar over corruption in the public sector to new levels. The only problem is that blame has been spread thin, with everyone in government being blamed (and no single officer really feeling the pressure, with the possible exception of CS Waiguru).

In my view the two people that should be forced to explain themselves (regardless of whether they are individually corrupt or not) are CS Henry Rotich at Treasury; and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Budget Committee, Hon. Mutava Musyimi. These two men should shoulder any blame arising from any emergent violations of the Public Finance Management Act.

A focus on specific officers and their specific failures will perhaps give the president political cover to get rid of offending public officials. The fundamental challenge of the anti-corruption drive in Kenya at the moment is that it continues to be blind and deaf to political realities. The president is a politician, with an eye on reelection in 2017. The challenge for reformers is therefore to come up with incentive-compatible means (for the president) of dealing with corruption and incompetence in the public sector before then. (The president himself admitted on record that a significant number of public officials are corrupt). Mere calls for public officials, including the president, to act nice will not work. That is the tragedy of politics.

The Obama Visit to Kenya: Four Key Issues Deserving Special Attention

This weekend Kenya is hosting the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The chief guest at the summit is U.S. president Barack Obama. Mr. Obama is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with his host President Uhuru Kenyatta; and will also give two public speeches on the sidelines of the summit — one at Kenyatta University and another at the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani. Here are the things I hope Obama and his team will focus on while in Kenya:

  • Infrastructure Development and FDI: Kenya is currently in the middle of an epic infrastructure investment drive (power generation and transmission, roads, railway lines, ports, and water systems). The most impactful thing the U.S. president can do for Kenyans is to facilitate a more robust involvement by the U.S. private sector in these projects – either through private investment or PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships). And perhaps the most natural place for U.S. companies to put in even more money is Kenya’s buzzing tech scene. IBM, Intel, Google, Microsoft, and GE have led the way. More need to follow.
  • A New Approach to Civil Society Support: The Kenyan government still has a lot to do in terms of governance reforms. But the way partners like the U.S. and the EU approach the challenge needs to change. The 2010 Constitution devolved and, by a large measure, professionalized government in Kenya. Unfortunately, the Kenyan Civil Society appears to not have caught up. The same can be said about political affairs officers in various embassies in Nairobi. The new institutional game is different and favors Think Tanks with deep research benches as opposed to multipurpose activists. Support for the Kenyan Civil Society therefore needs to catch up to this reality. Project cycles need to be elongated. Also, if I were a donor with a large pot of money I would focus a lot of energy in getting governance right in a few of Kenya’s 47 counties as an example to the rest. These subnational units have substantial financial and political resources that make them ideal testing grounds for public policies. They are also sources of future national politicians.
  • Taking Security Seriously: Kenya continues to be mired in the conflict in Somalia as part of the AMISOM mission. The involvement has exposed Kenya to terror attacks by al-Shabaab – the most bloody of which was the Garissa University College attack that left 148 people dead. The U.S. has been a key partner of AMISOM, providing equipment, funds, intelligence, and air support. Given its leverage, America could do more in making sure that Kenya’s involvement in Somalia does not lead to an erosion of KDF’s professionalism. Credible reports have linked KDF officers to the smuggling of charcoal and sugar, activities that line the coffers of al-Shabaab. There is also evidence that the Generals are the ones driving Kenya’s Somalia policy, instead of elected civilians. U.S. support should be predicated on civilian control, a healthy reverence of military professionalism, and an appreciation of the local and regional consequences of American actions in Somalia. America also needs to realize that Kenya is still a young democracy struggling to consolidate rule of law. Unlawful arrests, disappearances, and executions of suspected terrorists who are Kenyan nationals must stop. The fight against al-Shabaab must not be allowed to erode hard fought gains in the quest for rule of law.
  • A Constructive Political Engagement About Reforms: The U.S. can help Kenya clean up its public sector through reforms founded on political reality. For example, presently corruption appears to be worsening in the country. This is both a function of media exposure and dispersal of power. More people in government now have access to state coffers – mainly throught the tender process (as a result tenderpreneurs abound). Corruption is also political. The president is ultimately a politician who wants to be reelected. the same applies to MPs and Governors and Senators. Many of them engage in corruption as a means of campaign finance (Harambees are expensive). Tackling corruption therefore requires more than mere moralizing about its ills on society. All involved must be willing to address the hard and uncomfortable truths about the political economy of the vice. This would mean, for instance, coming up with a way to allow politicians access to campaign money in a legal and transparent manner. It may also entail some form of amnesty for past offenders (you can’t jail the entire public service). Corruption in Kenya is not a simple law enforcement problem. The same logic applies to other reform initiatives. They are likely to succeed if grounded on political realities, instead of some notion of a moral failing among Kenyan politicians.

Here are some pieces I liked about Obama’s trip to Africa:

– Charles Kenny on why Obama is selling Africa short

– Todd Moss on Obama’s missed opportunity in Africa 

– The challenges facing power Africa in Nigeria

Key Issues That President Kenyatta Will Raise During Obama’s Visit

This week for the first time a serving American leader will visit Kenya. Such a high profile visit has been long coming. It was eight years ago that the North American country witnessed only the 43rd peaceful handover of power following a free and fair democratic election.

Many analysts had expected that then Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, would extend a courtesy invitation to president Barack Obama in order to signal Kenya’s commitment to the process of democratic consolidation in the United States. President Kibaki’s decision to avoid being associated with Obama was perhaps emblematic of the concerns many in the Kenyan government still have regarding the American leadership’s commitment to reforms, including in areas such as police brutality, income inequality, ethnic and racial tensions, and overall respect for human rights.

For example, America has only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners. Many of those languishing in crowded jails are people of color serving long sentences in large part due to racially-biased laws and police departments.

obamaAware of this blot on America’s record, Obama sought to assuage Kenyan officials by visiting a federal prison in the region of Oklahoma as well as publicly declaring his commitment to reforming the justice system in America. As a gesture of goodwill the American leader also released several prisoners ahead of his visit. The Kenyan Ambassador in Washington, Robinson Githae, welcomed this move by the U.S. government, but reiterated the need for structural reforms. Mr. Githae also emphasized Kenya’s commitment to supporting governance reforms in the United States and the Americas in general.

The Kenyan Ambassador also listed a number of issues that President Kenyatta hopes to raise with the American leader during his two-day visit in Nairobi. These include:

  • Regional and global security: The United States is the most militarized nation in the world. As such, it has had a hand in nearly every single geopolitical hotspot on the globe. President Kenyatta will remind the American leader of the need to respect international law and the sovereignty of other nations, even as his country pursues its interests abroad. For example, in a statement last week Mr. Kenyatta commended the American negotiating team for reaching a deal with Iran just in time for the visit. He also lauded the American leader’s decision to by-pass the country’s sophomoric parliament and first seek the deal’s approval at the United Nations. Eager to please Kenyan officials, America this week began the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. The government of Kenya hopes that these gestures will endure beyond the current administration and signal a new American commitment to engaging other nations of the world with mutual respect.
  • Ethnic and racial violence: Having lived in the Americas during his college years, Mr. Kenyatta is well aware of the evils of racial discrimination in that part of the world. The president will particularly focus on the utterances by some candidates in next year’s U.S. election who suggested that all immigrants from neighboring countries are violent criminals. Mr. Kenyatta will emphasize the need for ethnic and racial tolerance ahead of the election in order to avoid ethnic violence or a souring of relations with America’s neighbors. The Americas hold the dubious title of being the murder capital of the world, in addition to being a leading source of drugs such as cocaine. Kenya is keen to ensure that the volatile region remains reasonably contained since it is a vital supplier of movies and soap operas to the global market.
  • Respect for human rights: Despite its impressive rebound from the stolen election of 2000, the United States continues to experience several challenges with regard to human rights. It’s police routinely brutalize men, women, and children in front of cameras, and get away with it. Just this year almost 400 people have been killed by the police or died under mysterious circumstances while in the custody of police. The U.S. government also continues to spy on its own citizens, in many instances in direct violation of its own constitution. Mr. Kenyatta will press the American leader on these issues, and remind him that his country lags other nations that share its level of political and economic development.
  • Bilateral Trade: Trade ties between Kenya and the United States are weak. In 2013 the total volume of trade between the two countries was a mere 2 percent of Kenya’s GDP. America’s economic insignificance to Kenya is signaled by the fact that the latter is the former’s 96th largest trading partner. President Kenyatta will press the American leader on the need to maintain the American EXIM Bank (whose authority has lapsed) as a financier of bilateral trade. The president will also remind the throngs of businesspeople and cronies that will be part of the Obama delegation that they need to stop the habit of hiding behind “political risk”  and warped ideas about Kenya as excuses for not investing in the country.

An often under-appreciated aspect of this visit is that the American leader’s father was Kenyan (indeed, America’s leading TV station has speculated that Obama himself was born in Kenya). It is unclear what, if any, President Kenyatta has planned for the American leader to mark this historic visit to his father’s home country.