A thought about the International Crisis Group statement headined “Kenyans should come together” . . .

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Kenya election banner Kibaki Nakuru 2007

Yes, of course, they “should”.  As we Americans should also, for instance.  How is another question entirely.  Anyone who wants to “help” Kenyans should engage with them and see what they want and need toward that far off goal.

Needless to say, politics and these elections have not historically been involved in bringing Kenyans “together”.  Quite the opposite in fact.

“Shocking” news again from Kenya:  the more things don’t change the more they stay the same.  This election time is quite different than 2007 or 2013 in many ways and not in others.

In regard to post election mechanics (analog and digital), these change a lot each election.  Not as much as the law requires perhaps, but significantly.The process of voting by paper ballot, counting the paper ballots by hand and recording the vote by hand on paper on Form 34A and posting it on the door (or in some cases deciding not to) is fixed and well established, 2007, 2013, 2017.  Kenyans have and do “come together” over this process.  They always do it peacefully.

Not sure why people are seeming to find that to be a novelty.  A great and important thing yes–and it should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be misrepresented as “progress” or any form of “change” each time it is repeated.

So no, this peaceful turnout in long lines to vote by this same process in 2007, 2013 and again in 2017 is not, in fact, an act of faith at all as described by ICG.  It is an act of hope each time.  Arguably for many an act of love for country or subgroup.  Kenyans are broadly faithful, but not in the election process as a whole.

Here is the ICG statement.

A timely new read: “Selling Apartheid – South Africa’s Global Propaganda War”

 

I ordered this book through the University of Chicago at the African Studies Association meeting in Washington last month– newly published in the U.K. and released in 2015 in South Africa:

For fifty years the South African government spent an estimated $100 million annually on a campaign of disinformation, much of it in the US and UK.

New York Times journalist Ron Nixon provides a lively and shocking account of how power and influence were used to buy media coverage and create extensive support networks.  These included an unlikely coalition of anti-communist black conservatives, religious organizations and global corporations.

With all the current buzz about Russian involvement in U.S. and European elections and political controversies, and since I knew some of the people who played a role in this story through my work in the Republican Party during the later years of Apartheid, I was naturally glad to see this and anxious to read through and see what new I learn about this fairly recent era in US and African politics and relations.

See my post  Abramoff’s Africa and Obama’s America from 2012.

Update:  I’ve finished it and highly recommend.  Here is a review from The Daily Maverick.  Of personal interest, some events took place in familiar locales in Mississippi, and Jack Abramoff gave an interview with the author in 2014 in which he claims, amazingly, that he didn’t know that the  International Freedom Foundation which he helped found with South Africans in 1986 was a front for South African intelligence.  (Jack was in relevant news this week sharply criticizing Senator Marco Rubio for his questioning of Trump Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson during confirmation hearings.)

The fever ailing the American body politic stems in some part from the infection of Kenya “birtherism” from 2008

We have a hegemonic two party political system in the United States.  Neither party attracts the identification of a consistent majority of voters, yet most “independent” voters primarily vote for one party or the other rather than choosing between candidates on a case-by-case basis.  During the period of their hegemony the Republican and Democratic parties have changed their regional, ideological, cultural and racial make-up without losing their shared control of substantially all of government at a federal and state level.

At present, American politics is primarily about culture, which is reflected in what political scientists identify as an ideological separation in which the two parties in Congress no longer substantially overlap, especially due to the defeat of liberal and then moderate Republicans especially in the Northeast and Midwest and the success of “tea party” and other movements and political funding mechanisms that have moved Republican representation well to the right.  At the same time, the Democratic Party has to a lesser but perhaps growing degree moved left and does not seriously try to compete in large swaths of the country that were its traditional strongholds.

The specific policy issue that constitutes a near absolute “litmus test” divide between the parties remains abortion, which is primarily determined in the courts and is little legislated on at the federal level.  While each of the parties has reinforced the rigor of the divide on that issue in recent years they have moved to “sort” across a whole diverse range of issues– most any issue that arises really.

This divide between the parties, culturally derived, then generates reverberation back into the broader culture.  While most Americans don’t care that intensely about politics and politicians as such, we seem to me to be becoming more disputatious about issues that come to the fore in politics and governance, more suspicious of each other, less willing to accord legitimacy to opinions we don’t reflexively agree with, and less inclined to listen and learn in a way that would support mutual persuasion and/or compromise.

Shortly after returning to the United States from Kenya in the summer of 2008 I remember being struck in reading Rick Perlstein’s then new sociopolitical history Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America how glad I was to have been too young to have had to really deal with the depth of divisions of “The Sixties” and the “culture wars” and “generation gap” of that era.  Unfortunately these divisions have been gearing up since that summer.

Some of this is surely just the ordinary social cycle, some of it is the inevitable stress of an unprecedented era of seemingly permanent war, along with economic trauma from globalization and the finance crisis, but just as the political strategies of Richard Nixon and George Wallace and others had broader consequences of historical import from the late 1960s and 1970s, the decision of so many leaders and elected officials in the Republican Party to actively or passively indulge and humor the bizarre conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya and somehow smuggled into the country as an infant is to me a factor that future historians may view as quite profound.

Obama was a candidate of thin experience with significantly opaque aspects to his background with some legitimate controversies–this was always fair game politically for the Clintons and for Republicans.  But, when you are mute or noncommittal when conspiracy theorists turn the basic facts of what could be seen as a uniquely American success story aside from divides of policy, party and ideology into a sinister, evil conspiracy resulting in a wholly illegitimate and unlawful usurpation of the White House by the clear winner of the election you cannot expect to easily manage the impacts over time.  Surely any upstanding, patriotic citizen who actually believes the conspiracy is duty-bound to oppose the usurper?

Most senior Republicans could never have believed any of this–I am afraid they just did not have the courage to confront it because they knew it had profound traction at the grassroots as consistently confirmed by polling.  John McCain as Obama’s GOP opponent (and International Republican Institute chairman) was notably above the nonsense personally but he was also notably outside the cultural mainstream of the party even by 2008 and more so now.  The problem was not so much the campaign as the deligitimization of the elected President.

Thus now we have Donald Trump, unapologetic carnival barker of the birther conspiracy from its revival in 2011, as the dominant front runner for the Republican nomination for President to the chagrin of probably most people of his generation who have actually been involved in the party over the years.  Whatever happens from here on out in this particular election campaign which remains partially in flux, the nature and trajectory of one of our only two parties, at the least, has been profoundly impacted.  And the consequences will continue to play out well after the next President takes office.

Trump campaign rally

See also Abramoff’s Africa and “Obama’s America”

More on risks of President Museveni’s (re)election commission, Rwanda and “book bitings”

Uganda at ‘crossroads’ opposition leader warns” from Amy Fallon for AFP today:

Besigye said he feared Uganda is “now very clearly at a crossroads”, and demanded an overhaul of the electoral commission running the polls.

“If this matter is not corrected at this time, I dare say the country will be at a very serious risk of sliding back into political instability, into violence and chaos,” Besigye said.

“We are very, very determined to do everything within our means to have changes in the management of the election.”

At Africa Watch from the Institutes of Defense Analyses Dr. Stephanie Burchard had a recent update: “Elections in Uganda: a One-Man Show?“.

Meanwhile, on Rwanda, the State Department has released a statement of concern regarding the decision of the Kagame government to form a Constitutional Review Commission that may seek to extend Kagame’s rule by lifting term limits, with a quote from President Obama citing the risk of “instability and strife–as we’ve seen in Burundi.”

Book bitings:  I’ve started reading Dr. Burchard’s new book Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa: Causes and Consequences which has a substantial focus from her extensive research in Kenya.  Highly recommended so far and available at an introductory publisher’s discount at the link above.

And today’s “Monkey Cage” column in the Washington Post had a very useful conversation about local society and approaches to aid with China Schurz, anthropologist and author of Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda.  Will go on the aspirational reading list for me as an interested small donor.

What to read if you are going to Kenya?

There are two key current books for general audiences covering Kenya’s post-independence history and I recommend both.

The more comprehensive is Charles Hornsby’s Kenya: A History Since Independence which I read a few months ago.  Charles brings the advantages of both scholarly training and deep personal experience including several years living in Kenya and much prior research and writing and “Kenya watching”, while at same time offers the independence that comes from earning his living separately, presently as a corporate compliance official.  Hornsby’s book is over 900 pages of deep detail including significant attention to economic policy and the business history that is so essentially a part of Kenya’s politics.   Hornsby’s work will give the basic background on the past interactions and alignments of most of Kenya’s current political figures during the Jomo Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki years.

Historian Daniel Branch’s Kenya: Between Hope and Despair is also excellent and it is the book I recommended for a quick primer for a friend who was considering a short term election-related assignment in Kenya in late 2012.  At just under 400 pages it is a much quicker read and will well serve the needs of the shorter term generalist for a tighter summary of the key events; along with the crucial Chapter 12 (titled “Back to the Future”) of Hornsby’s history–with the best detailed summary I’ve read of the vital 2007 campaign and election–Branch’s book will give general readers some understanding of the lay of the land in public affairs in Kenya in a few short hours.

 

Party hardly? [but buy these books . . .]

A quick plug for Sebastian Elisher’s new book Political Parties in Africa: Ethnicity and Party Formation from Cambridge University Press. The cover photo is one of my shots from Kenya’s election day in Kibera in 2007. Pre-order now for release on September 30.

Political Parties in Africa: Ethnicity and Party Formation

Likewise, the paperback is just out from one of the other Oxbridge publishers for “From Parties to Protest: Party Building and Democratization in Africa”, last year’s African Studies Association award-winner from my friend Adrienne LeBas. 

The great thing about books about Kenyan political parties:  the books and the analysis are always more substantial than the parties themselves.  I will hope to develop this theme further and discuss both books here later in the year.  In the meantime, enjoy your choice of hard or soft power publishing.

“Must Read” Opinion Links from Kenya, Somalia and the U.S.

“Let’s Face It, Religious Conflict is Already Here” from Muthoni Wanyeki in this week’s East African.

“Coast Problems Are Deeper Than Riots” by Aly Khan Satchu in The Star.  

Dr. Nic Cheeseman’s Democracy in Africa blog: “Kenya’s Election 2013: An Eye on the Rift Valley” by Gabrielle Lynch, Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Warwick and author ofI say to you: Ethnic politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya’.

“Al-Shabaab and Post-Transition Somalia” by Abdi Aynte in African Arguments.

“Africa Doesn’t Need the Pentagon’s Charity: Why I’m Grumpy About the DOD’s Development Programs in Africa” by Kate Almquist, now of the Center for Global Development, recently the deputy director of the National Defense University’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies and before that, Assistant Administrator for Africa for USAID.  Ms. Almquist’s response to Rosa Brooks “Pivot to Africa” in Foreign Policy captures my personal feelings well.

Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

From the Small Wars Journal an article entitled “The Slow Motion Coup: Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience”.  The author, William J. Olsen, is a professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, a counterpart to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies:

Or another simple question: Why do we have Combatant Commanders?  This is a model drawn from WWII, made formal and deeply rooted as the result of the Cold War.  Both are over.  Why does the establishment linger?  And if we are to have a pro-consul per region, why a military officer?  Why not a senior civilian with a military adviser?

In this context, something else I have long recommended reading for getting a “feel” for AFRICOM is Chapter Seven of Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground.  The chapter is titled “CENTCOM, Horn of Africa, Winter 2004, with notes on East Africa”.  Although the period Kaplan covers is before the stand up of AFRICOM as a separate Combatant Command, he visits the Marines of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti and accompanies an Army Civil Affairs Team setting up in Lamu, Kenya:

     These teams had a twofold mission: make a sustained contribution to the island’s quality of life, so that the inhabitants would see a relationship with the U.S. as in their best interests; and more immediately, be the advance guard for U.S. Marines from the U.S.S. Germantown coming ashore to repair a school and conduct a MEDCAP.

Lamu was an example of the new paradigm for projecting American power: modernize host country bases for use as strategic outposts, maintain local relationships through humanitarian projects, then use such relationships to hunt down “bad guys.”  Whether it was upgrading a runway, digging a well, or whacking a terrorist, the emphasis was always on small teams.

More broadly:

    The new paradigm gave (Marine) Brig. Gen. Robeson a sort of power that no U.S. ambassador or assistant secretary of state quite had.  Not only wasn’t he burdened by the State Department’s antiquated bureaucratic divisions but his ability to deal with the regions’s leaders and strongmen may also have been helped by a cause-and-effect, working class mind, disciplined by the logic of Marine tactical operations manuals and the classical military education he had received at Fort Leavenworth.  Though democracy was gaining in the region, many of the elected leaders with whom Robeson had developed relationships were former guerrilla fighters and military men . . .

The fact that generals like Mastin Robeson were in the diplomatic forefront, somewhat at the expense of the State Department, troubled commentators who assumed the permanence of industrial-age categories of bureaucratic responsibility, categories helped into being by the nineteenth-century professionalization of European militaries, which consequently separated them from civilian command structures.  But the distinctions appeared to be weakening.

From a review at Foreign Affairs:

Kaplan’s book is wider ranging. His underlying thesis is that the places he visits represent the periphery of a new American empire, whose fate will be determined by how its foot soldiers — the grunts — engage with the local populations. The analogy is to the frontiersmen of the nineteenth century: everywhere he goes he is welcomed to “Injun Country.” It is probably best not to worry too much about the thesis, which is half-baked, and instead enjoy the insights and reportage from a master of this sort of extreme travel writing.

And a key scholarly book to study on the 2007 Kenyan elections . . .

Karuti Kanyinga and Duncan Okello, eds. Tensions and Reversals in Democratic Transitions:  The Kenya 2007 General Elections.

Nairobi:  Society for International Development, in conjunction with the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, 2010.  709 pp. Notes.  Paper.

Reviewed by Frank Holmquist of Hampshire College in the African Studies Review, Volume 54, No. 2:

This is a big book of more than seven hundred pages with eighteen lengthy, theoretically engaged, and well-referenced essays.  There are editorial mistakes, but they are not significant diversions.  The authors, who represent a variety of disciplines, are almost all Kenyan scholars.  The essays speak more to the nature of Kenyan politics that led up to the election with the near collapse of the state, and less to the violence itself.  As a result, they are an important contribution to understanding the election crises and its aftermath, and to the broad study of Kenyan politics and democratization.

I would also note that Holmquist identifies the piece by Karuti Kanyinga, James Long and David Ndii as “the best assessment to date” of how the voting actually went in the presidential election.

I will be at the African Studies Association annual meeting in Washington next week and didn’t want to neglect to include my friends from the academy in reminding readers of what is available now to better understand what might play out over the next year in Kenyan politics.

The book was “launched” in Nairobi just before the constitutional referendum, but the message was considered inconvenient by some of my esteemed friends in the media and it did not get as much coverage as it might have otherwise.  This is from The Standard on July 26, 2010:

Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) Chairman Isaack Hassan has assured Kenyans of a free and fair vote at the referendum.

This comes at a time when some ‘No’ leaders have accused ‘Yes’ of plotting to rig the August 4 plebiscite.

The IIEC boss said he was keen to prove to Kenyans and the world the country has moved on after the bungled 2007 General Election.

“Before the violence, Kenya was seen as a beacon of democracy in Africa. That is why we want to repair that shameful part of our history by having a clean and fair referendum,” he said.

Added Hassan: “Many of our leaders don’t seem to have learnt from the post-election violence. For them, campaigns are just a matter of hurling insults and making loose claims. This must change to save this country.

Dark chapter

He spoke during the launch of a book, Tensions and Reversals in Democratic Transitions: The Kenya 2007 General Elections at Serena Hotel, yesterday.

Swedish Ambassador to Kenya Ann Dismorr urged the IIEC to conduct an unimpeachable referendum.

University of Nairobi lecturer Karuti Kanyinga, a co-editor of the book, said election malpractices should be punishable by death since they are the main cause of election violence.

THE Book on Recent Kenyan Politics to Read in 2011

The Politics of Betrayal; Diary of a Kenyan Legislator by former journalist and MP Joe Khamisi was published early this year and made a big stir in Nairobi with portions being serialized in The Nation.  Khamisi is definitely not your average politician in that he got a journalism degree from the University of Maryland, worked for years as a journalist, and became managing director of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and worked in the foreign service before being elected to parliament from Bahari on the Coast in 2002.

Khamisi was part of the LDP, the Liberal Democratic Party, and in 2007 became an ODM-K insider with Kalonzo.  While there is inherent subjectivity in a political memoir from one particular actor, Khamisi’s background in journalism serves him well.  While I cannot vouch for his accounts of specific incidents that I do not have any direct knowledge of, and I do not necessarily agree with his perspective on some things and people, he seems to try to be fair and there is much that he writes that rings true to me from my own interactions and observations in the 2007 campaign.

From his chapter on “The Final Moments” of the 2007 race, at page 223:

It needs to be said at this point that Kalonzo’s appointment as Vice President was neither an afterthought by Kibaki, nor a patriotic move by Kalonzo to save the country from chaos.  It was not a miracle either.  It was a deliberate, calculated, and planned affair meant to stop the ODM from winning the presidency.  It was conceived, discussed and sealed more than two months before the elections.  It was purely a strategic political move; a sort of pre-election pact between two major political players.  It was s survival technique meant to save Kibaki and Kalonzo from possible humiliation.

In our secret discussions with Kibaki, we did not go beyond the issue of the Vice Presidency and the need for an alliance between ODM-Kenya and PNU.  We, for example, did not discuss the elections themselves; the mechanisms to be used to stop Raila; nor did we discuss whether part of that mechanism was to be the manipulation of the elections.  It appeared though that PNU insiders had a far wider plan, and the plan, whatever it was, was executed with the full connivance of the ECK .  What happened at the KICC tallying centre–even without thinking about who won or lost–lack transparency and appeared to be a serious case of collusion involving the ECK and officials at the highest levels of government.  It was not a coincidence that the lights went off at the very crucial moment when the results were about to be announced; nor was it necessary for the para-military units to intervene in what was purely an administrative matter.  The entire performance of ECK Chairman Kivuitu and some of the Commissioners was also suspect and without doubt contributed to the violence that followed.