Happy Jamhuri Day to my friends and readers in Kenya (and Kenyans in the diaspora–even if you don’t get to vote this time!).
It has been a week since my last post, even though so much is happening on a day to day basis with the Kenyan election and lots of other news in the region–this reflects a few different things. For one, perhaps what we could call a “Christmas armistice”. I live in a peaceful place, and I am enjoying the “festive season” here with my family and am committed to a less digital Christmas. We’ve survived another election here in the States (in spite of ourselves) and there are a several weeks left in the campaign in Kenya and this is a good time to step back a bit. In particular, for my family, this is the last Christmas before my daughter goes off to college. I took my son, our youngest, to get his driver’s license yesterday. These are the things that can’t wait (and that are uniquely my responsibility).
For another, I have been at this blog steadily for three years. It’s been through various evolutions and trends and this is an appropriate time for reflective recalibration about what I want it to be going forward. And in the meantime, there are 601 posts out there for those interested. And too many of those are just “news” and not real writing, and I do know that I want to get back to “better” rather than “more”.
A third is that I have both new freedom, and new constraints that I need to adjust to. When I started this blog, and for the first two-and-a-half years, I was a lawyer in the defense industry. For this reason, I always needed to keep a strong separation between my blog and my professional life. When I attended the African Studies Association or participated in a “bloggers’ roundtable” at the Millennium Challenge Corporation I was on vacation from my job and generally didn’t talk about it much (both awkward and expensive). When I was living in Kenya and working for the International Republican Institute I kept entirely away from the job from which I was on leave back home. Now that I am an independent lawyer, I can synthesize what I know from my prior legal experience and otherwise what I do for a living with the blog to whatever extent I chose, so this is easier. At the same time, I am also now available professionally as a consultant in matters involving East Africa and have accepted some work, so I need to avoid any conflicts arising out the transition from being purely an avocational commentator.
One thing I have reflected on this past week is the issue of how much is similar and how much is dissimilar between the 2007 campaign in Kenya and the 20012/13 campaign. All of the major players are the same, although Kibaki will be transitioning from President to “retired President” as Moi is called, and is thus not a candidate himself. I did get somewhat acquainted at that time and in that environment with Raila and Kalonzo and Mudavadi, and did meet Ruto although never sat down with him. Uhuru and Dr. Willy Mutunga, who was then at the Ford Foundation and is now Chief Justice, were the only people that ever turned down a meeting request on my behalf when I was IRI Director (a nice symmetry in terms of KANU/Establishment versus Civil Society/Activist roles) so I do have some real sense of many of those involved. On the other hand, a lot has changed in Kenya, for better and worse, since 2007/08. So although I know much, much more about Kenya from what I have done from here since I moved back, I don’t want to fall into the trap of relying too much on past experience.
One thing this adds up to is that I do want to write more about “democracy promotion” or “assistance” as a subspecies of “foreign aid” in Africa beyond just the current and most recent past campaign in Kenya. I also want to do more with East Africa as a region in interacting with the United States–I drafted a “year in review” summary regarding IGAD for a bar committee I am participating in which reminded me of interesting things to explore about how domestic politics in Kenya and in the U.S. will influence cooperation and integration among the East African and HOA states. And then there is Somaliland, which is near and dear to my heart, but I am very cautious in writing about.
For now, I’ll leave you with a few links:
Alex Thurston in the Sahel Blog: “Amb. Susan Rice as a Window into U.S. Africa Policy, 1993-Present”