Down the road in New Orleans we recently visited the expanded Bestoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA, the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. New additions since our last visit include Nairobi-born New York-based artist Wangechi Mutu.
The Bestoff is an expansive free sculpture garden on three sides of the NOMA in a great example of public art space.
The Seated series is four sculptures created for an exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As it turns out, NOMA is hosting a major Wangechi Mutu retrospective starting in January:
WANGECHI MUTU: INTERTWINED BRINGS TOGETHER NEARLY 100 WORKS BY THE ARTIST SPANNING HER ENTIRE CAREER
TWO WORKS BY MUTU ARE PERMANENTLY INSTALLED IN NOMA’S SYDNEY AND WALDA BESTHOFF SCULPTURE GARDEN
Since her posting in August 2022, US Ambassador Meg Whitman has steadily unpacked a suitcase full of superlatives to endorse Kenya as a premier global investment destination and a shining example of democratic vitality in Africa. . .
. . . .
Her business-first style sets her apart from the previous 17 US Ambassadors who, to put it mildly, were far less glowing in their description of Kenya’s democratic credentials. . . .
. . . .
Sam Gichuru, the founder and CEO of Kidato Inc., who was part of the Kenyan delegation, said the US Ambassador was in fine form.
“Meg pitched Kenya the way startups pitch to investors,” he said.
“Listening to top global executives discuss the opportunities in Kenya, with supporting data, it is evident that as Kenyans, we are blind and deaf to the gold mine that is our home. I’m even surprised; I just realised I don’t know my own country well enough,” he added.
. . . .
Gicheru raises interesting questions: is this a common problem, that Kenyans don’t know their country well enough? Or do they know it too well? Or are they too hungry to be “hungry”?
Struck me this week that 15 (!) years had gone by since the July and August release of the International Republican Institute Kenya 2007 Election Observation Mission final report and the Exit Poll following my family’s return to the US from my time in Kenya as Chief of Party on each of those USAID programs.
A quick catch up on-line generated a critical document that I had not noted previously. It is a report prepared by IFES for Open Society East Africa for submission to IREC, popularly known as the “Kreigler Commission” which was to investigate the failed election as a result of the February 28, 2008 “Peace Deal” and subsequent processes to implement the basic terms. The Commission reported privately to President Kibaki and then released a public report (see my key document links) that elided actual investigation of the ECK’s tally of the Presidential vote as such.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to infer that a well-orchestrated plan was implemented to ensure a predetermined election result:
a. President Kibaki’s decision to abrogate the IPPG agreement of 1997 on the formula for appointments to the Electoral Commission ensured that all of the Commissioners were appointed by him alone. The IPPG agreement had capped the maximum number of Commissioners to 22 and reserved 10 seats to be filled by persons appointed by the President after recommendations by opposition parliamentary parties.
b. The allegations of questionable procedure in the appointment of returning officers by Commissioners.
c. An offer from the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to install a computer program that would have enabled election officials in the constituencies to submit results electronically to Nairobi and then on to a giant screen available to the public, making it virtually impossible to change results, was rejected.
d. The use of ECK staff in the Verification and Tallying Center was abandoned in favor of casual staff recruited directly by the Commissioners.
e. The Commission refused to ensure that election officials in areas with large predictable majorities for any of the candidates came from different areas so as to reduce the likelihood of ballot stuffing.
Since opinion polls from the 2007 elections consistently indicated a very tight contest, the neutrality of the ECK was always paramount, particularly in the event of a thin margin and a too-close-to-call election. The new appointments made by President Kibaki to the ECK early in 2007 elicited protests from the opposition that he was fortifying the ECK with his supporters despite the need for the electoral body to be perceived as fair and independent, a perception crucial to political stability in a region where many political systems are unstable. Several actors appealed to President Kibaki to consult the opposition prior to making appointments to the Electoral Commission, with no perceptible effect.
These developments exacerbated problems within the ECK. Although the ECK had improved substantially since 2002 in its ability to manage elections, the commission still clung to many questionable practices. For example, votes were counted at the polling station without transportation to a central tallying center, a process prone to abuse and manipulation by the former regime. The unilateral appointments by the President meant that the ECK was now perceived as subject to control, direction, and manipulation by the government.
The observation in my last post that diplomats in Nairobi and Western capitals were unusually quiet about the Azimio opposition protests and the Government response in Kenya has been somewhat overcome by events.
My sense is that with Ruto touring Western Europe and the Biden Administration running its Summit for Democracy and the Vice President Harris tour (Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia) and the U.S. hosting business investment promotions in Nairobi, there was a previously unusual desire to avoid getting sucked into Kenyan politics and rather to stay “on message”. The countries for whom democratization is somewhere in the mix diplomatically—in particular the United States—presumably hoped initially that opposition demonstrations would not generate a critical mass of disruption/instability to warrant official attention.
That did not turn out to be the case as neither the Kenya Kwanza Administration nor the Azimio opposition were willing to minimize provocation and escalation and were presumably playing to a global as well as local audience (as in the election last year and previous years). So now we have a variety of statements and comments from U.S. Ambassador Whitman and a formal joint statement from a raft of embassies of Western democracies in Nairobi as well as the dispatch of Delaware Senator Coons to engage the two Kenyan “sides” in “informal” diplomacy.
I am far removed at this point in my life from Washington diplomacy and bilateral international political engagement, so I will be uninformed about various things important within that circle, but I do not detect any deflection from the baseline U.S. Kenya policy as it was explained to me for the 2007 election after the fact: support the determination of the ECK/IIEC/IEBC.
In 2007 the “capture” at the ECK and accompanying malfeasance was too obvious and was called out after the voting by the EU and by other European democracies — and ECK Chairman Kivuitu publicly acknowledged his regret at being pressured to go along with certifying a Kibaki win. So the U.S. quickly pivoted withdraw congratulations to Kibaki, to declare the results as “unknowable” and to push a requirement for Kibaki to share power.
As I have explained here on this blog years ago and in The Elephantfrom my FOIA reviews, Ambassador Ranneberger’s cables to Washington before that 2007 election had argued that it would be “enormously damaging” for U.S. interests to “be forced” to acknowledge election fraud because of the magnitude of our relationship with Kenya, even though both Raila and Kibaki were “friends of the United States”. But part of the reason for the initial approach to “look and point the other way” at election fraud at the ECK was Ranneberger’s assessment (in his December 24, 2007 cable) the Courts were well understood to be corrupt:
The one thing Kenyans as a whole—as opposed to the successful politician perpetrators—got out of the 2008 Post Election Violence was a partially reform-oriented 2010 Constitution that created the Supreme Court that changed the equation to challenge presidential vote tallies.
This time after 2022 it is sort of the opposite extreme from 2007—a general diplomatic unanimity that in spite of the actual closeness of the vote and an overt power struggle within the IEBC the conduct of the voting and results reporting were in substance greatly improved as well as upheld by the Supreme Court. Thus zero sympathy for the notion that Azimio and Raila in particular have any entitlement to relitigate on the streets after months of what can be seen from the outside Kenya as political stability and positive diplomatic interaction with the new Government.
My sense in 2017 was that there was a certain grudging admiration for the Opposition in winning at the Supreme Court (in the first round; a quorum could not hold against Executive pressure on considering terms of the re-run) on the basis of the IEBC irregularities, accompanied by some resentment for Raila’s claim that he had “actually” won, which was widely seen as dishonest and without substance, or at least a serious attempt at proof.
I think that any diplomatic support the Opposition can muster from the U.S. or European democracies will be based strictly on pragmatic immediate stability interests—diplomatically “we” do not care about Ruto’s past record and now see Raila as having spent his capital on being “the People’s President” in 2008 and on to the Handshake with Uhuru. Of course “we” would presumably prefer all other things being equal that Ruto bring Raila in for the same reasons that “we” supported the Building Bridges Initiative at conception but I am skeptical that official Washington will see it as necessary to strongarm Ruto or otherwise spend our own political capital on this.
I really don’t think it has a lot to do with Raila personally, one way or the other—I think if he was President we would flatter him the way we flatter Ruto, having no genuine or sincere misapprehensions about the character or track record of either man. Just as Trump and Biden were big “fans” of Uhuru as President of Kenya, the same status would have been enjoyed by Raila had he been certified by the IEBC.
I can see why this would be hard to swallow for Raila and his close confidants—“how does Kenya end up in the hands of someone like Ruto with Riggy G instead of us when we won in 2007 in the old system and finally made a preemptive deal with Uhuru for 2022 after the 2017 mess?”.
My personal answer to Raila would be that you let BBI turn into such a fiasco that you let Ruto, of all people, run as if he were “the opposition” while you ran as in effect the defender of much you had been in opposition to in the past. Yet you and Uhuru still failed to actually get any of the original “fixes” envisioned for BBI passed. You let the IEBC sit open without quorum without real protest. You should have known well that Ruto was more energetic, more wily and more ruthless than both Kibaki and Uhuru, with each of whom he aligned in facing corruption and ICC charges from the early days of the 2nd Kibaki Administration. In spite of all that it was an extremely close election, but you had the opportunity to win convincingly with a few better choices it seems to me. Regardless of all this, when you did not follow up to closely examine in public what happened at the ECK in 2007, or after the Supreme Court rulings in 2013 or in 2017, what is it you expect now?
A variety of openly extralegal gambits by the Ruto Administration to centralize and consolidate power, including waivers of corruption cases, accompanied by severe economic pain for the majority of Kenyans and fiscal crises sets the stage in which the Odinga led opposition has initiated debilitating protests against the “cost of living” and the conduct of the last elections.
Given that Kenya is more and more “the last man standing” as a potentially arguable multiparty democracy in all of East Africa, the expanded EAC, the Greater Horn or however one might define the region, you would think diplomats would be all over this situation if you had been listening over the past 15 years.
Presumably that has at least something to do with the fact that both “sides” are so clearly in the wrong and generally unsavory, yet with real power through the paramilitarized police, illicit funds and “the street” that it is best not to risk being seen as saying anything that could be used by one side or the other.
Did we do this? I really have no idea factually. Back in 2009 when I attended my first annual meeting of the African Studies Association, in nearby New Orleans that year, I was left with the notion after sitting at the knee of an up-and-coming “scholar/actor” that diplomatic players in the U.S. and/or the U.K. and whomever else might fairly obviously be expected to try to broker a pre-election Kalenjin-Kikuyu coalition.
At the time, the idea of helping put together Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto would have seemed improbably Machiavellian.
Again, as I said, no idea. But if I were to resume taking a look-see into the 2013 election following my initial FOIA request about the IFES program at the IEBC I would be interested to get into the pre-election period as well.
The closeness of the election is somewhat obscured now by the “winner take all” nature of Kenya politics and the quick consolidation of power by Ruto, but it really was very tight under any view. No disrespect to Martha Karua intended because her choice did help revitalize Raila’s campaign when he had persistently trailed in the polls throughout and then moved ahead when she was tapped.
Nonetheless, all politics in Kenya is local/tribal and she was undoubtedly picked in part to try to offset Raila’s weakness versus Ruto in the core Kikuyu old Central Province, as well as a play for “good governance” support from the “international community” and civil society (which had adopted Karua for a variety of reasons in recent years in spite of her understood role as a Kibaki Kikuyu hardliner opposed to the peace deal and power sharing in the 2007-08 ECK and PEV crisis).
At the end of the day, I think Karua was respected but not highly popular, whereas Ngilu was less respected internationally, and perhaps among some parts of Kenya’s more intellectual class, but more popular as a politician.
One thing that I am guessing that happened is that Raila overestimated the practical value of going with a “Good Government” choice in terms of support from Washington and London, and otherwise from “the Western donors”, just as he overestimated the transferability of the support that Kenyatta had in those capitals to him. I think he just may have been behind the times on this: there were years when Ruto or a candidate with his profile would have drawn active criticism internationally for corruption but 2022 was just not such a year for a variety of reasons. Likewise people in Washington that considered Ruto “dangerous” as late as a couple of years ago because of his role in the PEV seem to have gotten over it once they saw him as the long-established frontrunner in the polls and BBI not catching on. I think many were unsure whether Kenyatta was really going to follow through on supporting Raila which made it that much easier to rationalize a Ruto presidency.
“On the ground” among Kenyan voters, Raila could not pull off running a traditional opposition anti-corruption oriented campaign after several years of the handshake and clearly counting on Kenyatta’s support. Too much cognitive dissonance, especially after getting beat in the Courts on a BBI that got larded up and bogged down to the point of becoming notably unpopular in its own right. On that front, the Karua pick seems to have proven too late and too out of step with the messaging from Raila’s other coalition heavyweights.
Given that he was behind in the polls and needed a spark, I do think choosing a woman made sense, but Ngilu as a more traditional Kenyan politician who was a current office holder and a long established vote getter from a “swing” region and ethnicity might have fit the bill quite a bit better. A more obvious choice to match up versus Mudavadi and Wetagula on Ruto’s side and a more congruous fit with the rest the established heavyweights on the Azimio team.
A Kenyan friend recently checked in to ask what I had written about the Kenyan election. I had to say “very little”. I have been committed to my more unique role as a witness to what went wrong in 2007-08 and tried to avoid the risk of being just another opinionated outsider missing the real conduct and motivations of the opaque competition for power through the election.
Nonetheless, I did send a private email memo to a few friends in Kenya and Washington back on May 15, 2022 (shortly before Raila and Ruto chose running mates) titled “A Few Thoughts on the Kenyan Election”:
1. First big election in Africa after the end of the Post-Cold War peace in Europe.
2. In this environment, the democratic Western players are less able to credibly claim to speak for a notional international community.
3. So on balance, not much reason to indulge Kenyatta now the way we did Kibaki in 2007. Unless we can be sure that the Kenyattas have a deal with Ruto to assure no major violence, why would we signal that we would be willing to look the other way if they steal it for Raila? Major violence would be riskier and more unpredictable now than back in 2007. On the other hand, if they do steal it, the last thing we would want to do is risk instabilty on behalf of a few votes for Wm. Ruto.
4. Obviously Obama and Trump and their administrations overestimated Uhuru for 15 years, but if we really cared about the details of Kenyan politics we would have gotten serious about injecting some competence into Kenyatta’s BBI fiasco.
5. There are still a few weeks left in a 4 1/2 year campaign so Raila could get it together, but who really thinks that’s highly likely? Under the circumstances, it isn’t that hard to see why ordinary Kenyans would be attracted to a candidate who is even more corrupt and more ruthlessly ambitious, but presents as having some basic discipline and competence, among the actual choices. Especially if you have lived through recent American elections.
6. The American humorist Will Rogers (from the era of my grandparents on the small family farm in Kansas during the Great Depression) was famous for the phrase: “I never met a man I didn’t like”. We have never met a President of Kenya we didn’t like.
Just my honest, private thoughts at the time, for what it is worth.
Now that Kenya’s Supreme Court has upheld a narrow Ruto-Rigathi win in the 2022 presidential election, I recommend for a good political science assessment of the campaign Susanne Mueller’s election eve piece for ISPI, the Italian Institute for International Political Studies: “Ethnicity and Violence: New Dynamics in Kenya’s Elections“.
This flows into Mueller’s shorter Washington Post Monkey Cage piece after the vote:
To me, Daniel arap Moi in person seemed more like Raila (and I am guessing Uhuru, whom I never met). A more relaxed demeanor reflecting longevity in the game presumably. At that time, in July 2007, Moi seemed to be trying to stay relevant politically. (Shortly after I met him the deal was cut whereby Moi and KANU, led nominally by Uhuru, crossed over from leading “the official opposition” to supporting Kibaki’s re-election and Moi was appointed by Kibaki as Envoy to Sudan).
Ruto was conspicuously more telegenic and articulate. Thus his natural role in squaring off against Kibaki’s Justice Minister Martha Karua at the Electoral Commission (ECK) Headquarters on television at the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) during the tally in the days following December 27, 2007 election (until the Kibaki Government through Interior Minister John Michuki shut off the live broadcasting). Even though Ruto wasn’t a lawyer.
The surprising thing to me when I introduced myself briefly to Ruto was how different he came across in person than on television. A person of much more intense physical presence than a typical politician like Moi or Raila, Kalonzo, Mudavadi or others I met.
This impression lends itself to a question: is Ruto a typical Kenyan politician, or is he a telegenic but more especially dangerous person who has simply been normalized by pundits and diplomats because he acquired power by virtue of a “coalition of accused kingpins of violence” with Uhuru Kenyatta during the failed ICC prosecutions for the 2007-08 Post Election Violence (PEV)?
Or was Ruto simply normal in his relation to political violence and wrongly tagged as more responsible than other Kalenjin politicians, such that the opportunistic political gain from being indicted by the ICC is just one more common facet of democratic competition. So that in the environment of total agreed impunity of the political class for the murder and mayhem of 2007-08 Ruto has simply the normal association with violence so that his qualities of telegenic articulation can be credited positively rather than treated with suspicion?
Or is it, to the contrary, plausible to see him as something something else entirely, a fresh candidate now, breaking the mold of Kenyan politics not by virtue of having been an especially dangerous protagonist of ethnic violence, but by becoming the first real reformist to win by moving Kenya beyond ethnicity on a platform of better economic policy? Or a fresh candidate breaking breaking the mold in some other way?
Some of this depends on whether one sees continuity between the actions and history of politicians from one campaign cycle to the next, or whether it is tacitly agreed that democracy means every candidate should get a clean slate to be whatever they want to be in each particular campaign.
(Note that none of these questions are intended to comment in any detail about other comparisons between Ruto and his rivals or examine the track record of those rivals, each of whom have their own controversies even if they are easier to group together more generally.)