Africa Confidential ‘s free January Kenya article is a must read for anyone in Washington charged with engagement on Kenya over the next three years.
Kenya’s political landscape in 2019 will be dominated by two-way competition between Deputy President William Ruto of the ruling Jubilee Party and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), as each man positions himself for the presidential election of 2022. Each will be trying to cobble together a winning coalition by buttressing his ethnic stronghold and winning over the ‘swing’ votes in regions such as Maasailand, Kisii, Luhyaland and the Coast.
President Uhuru Kenyatta‘s mantra is that the time for party politics is over and that all leaders should concentrate on economic development, based on his signature ‘Big Four Agenda’ (food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare), and reconciliation, based on the ‘Building Bridges Initiative’ agreed between him and Odinga last March. He will continue to state this line, arguing that he wants a legacy of an ethnically united Kenya, and will continue to reach out to former opposition leader Odinga and his Luo people.
Both Odinga and Ruto will on the surface claim they support the Big Four and Building Bridges even as they continue their individual campaigns and trade acerbic barbs. Many Kenyan pundits say the only person who has not grasped the new reality is Kenyatta, as he continues to insist on a politics-free country until 2022. . . .
Relatedly a friend got me a copy from Kenya of John Onyando’s recently published “Kenya: The Failed Quest for Electoral Justice” which I am reading with great interest. (Hoping this will be published internationally soon.) Most significantly so far I finally have an insider’s account of one of the key mysteries from the current, post-2002 era in Kenyan politics: what happened to cause the dropping of the Prime Ministry in the final maneuvering for the 2010 Constitutional referendum? Preserving an exceptionally powerful unitary executive Presidency was the key issue in Kibaki’s dumping of his MOU with Raila, et al, and the defeat of the “Wako Draft” constitution at the 2005 Referendum by what became the “Orange Democratic Movement”. Thus it was a bit of a shock to see Raila and ODM leading the “Yes” campaign along with Kibaki in 2010 for a new draft constitution where even the weak Prime Minister position that Odinga then held was completely excised.
[Here is my blog post from March 13, 2010 showing what I knew about the jockeying at the time: the ODM side wanted to go forward with Parliamentary approval of the draft as it was, while PNU (and Ruto) wanted to retreat to Naivasha to consider “amendments” with “retired President” Moi saying he would oppose the referendum without amendment. Ultimately the Naivasha retreat happened and the private vote Onyando’s book describes was facilitated.]
Any explanation of why the Prime Ministry “went away,” as it was put, was one of the more conspicuous gaps in Raila’s autobiography “The Flame of Freedom“.
On paper the 2010 Constitution as passed at the referendum in July of that year does have a variety of intricate mechanisms of reductions of individual power for His Excellency the President at the national government level, but since they are not self-executing and there is no Prime Minister or other potentially independent power center, once the 2013 election was decided for the Uhuruto ticket, Kenyatta has as one would expect largely worked around them, if not explicitly eviserated them legislatively using his control of Parliament.
According to Onyando, by the time of the final politicians’ cut on the 2010 draft constitution arising from the February 2008 National Accord to settle the Post Election Violence, the Opposition/ODM/Raila side had already lost Ruto to Kibaki/Kenyatta to the point that the President’s side gained three votes aligned with Ruto among those allocated to the Opposition among the group. Thus the Kibaki/Kenyatta side was able to write out any direct sharing of executive power under the new dispensation to follow the Government of National Unity. Raila went along on the basis that there was enough reform with partial devolution to 47 new counties and other provisions to warrant a “yes” versus a “no”.
It is noteworthy that even Africa Confidential is offering their current 2019 assessment without reference to specific terms of the Uhuru-Raila “handshake” of March 2018. I am not comfortable doing any real handicapping of the 2022 race myself or saying too much about current Kenya politics without being privy to the actual details of the deal.
Along these lines, this week saw on Wednesday both the first anniversary of Raila’s mock swearing in at Uhuru Park and the tenth anniversary of publication of the New York Times piece, “A Chaotic Kenyan Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll“.
Looking back on my personal experience it is notable to me that Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other on at least three separate points of fact in our respective interviews with The Times on the 2007 Kenyan election controversy (mine with Mike McIntire in the U.S. and his with Jeffrey Gettleman in Kenya) but I did not lose my security clearance, and had it renewed the next year when it came up so I was able to continue my career as an attorney working on U.S. Navy shipbuilding programs. I suspect I might have had some difficulty if it were not recognized that I had in fact been honest. Had I been a Kenyan (or Chinese for example) citizen it would have been unthinkable to hope to “get away” with being truthful in contradiction to a senior public official in this way without expecting to loose my job and likely go to jail or be killed.
All this is to say that my experience with Kenyan politics over these last many years has richened my gratitude for the freedom and security my family and I have experienced as Americans and my wish for the same someday for Kenyans. (In case you are new to the blog, here is my piece from The Elephant that they headlined “The Debacle of 2007: How an Election Was Stolen, and Kenyan Politics Frozen, With U.S. Connivance“).