#BBIReport: Even American Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer testified to Congress during the 2008 Post Election Violence that Kenya critically needed “land tenure reform”

On the question of Kenya land reform, let me take a very long quote from Father Gabriel Dolan’s weekend column in The Standard: “BBI Team cannot close eyes to unanswered questions on land”:

How in God’s name can you produce a 156 page report entitled From a Nation of Blood Ties to a Nation of Ideals and have nothing to say on the matter of land? What about the politically instigated land clashes? What about the land grabbing that was modus operandi of the governing elites and their cronies for a half a century? This could hardly have been an oversight; more like a deliberate decision to ignore the subject matter! 

Worse still, sceptics even suspect that the content on land was expunged as it was in the TJRC report. Is the BBI team suggesting that the land question has been resolved and everything is hunky-dory? Is there no recognition that there are many unresolved ethnic issues over land ownership? How can they devote a whole chapter on corruption and just dwell on the pilfering of the coffers when the looters only headed there after they had grabbed most of the public land? How can they really talk about addressing inequality and not acknowledge that a few powerful families own up to two million acres of land while the poor are forced to build homes on river banks and slopes prone to landslides? Put another way, does the BBI team believe that land is not a matter that must be dealt with at this time, or do they imagine that it will resolve itself?  

The only obvious justification for such a grave and deliberate omission must be that the authors did not want to ruffle the feathers of their appointing godfathers. They wanted to present a very sanitised and safe report. In other words, this report was intended for the most part to maintain the status quo and keep wananchi occupied while nothing of substance would really change. When the political class praised the proposed reforms, you can be assured that they see the BBI as a means to consolidate and reinforce their power, not surrender it. When the rest speak of real change, the elites get worried and conspire to silence you.  

Just in case you suffer from amnesia, the Ndung’u Report revealed that there are 200,000 illegally acquired land titles, whose acreage totals over a million in the hands of thieves. How many of those has the National Land Commission or the EACC repossessed? Advocates of real change should be very angry because the BBI was designed to maintain, not challenge or restrain, the ruling class.

Now going back to the period of the Post Election Violence. On February 7, 2008 when the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Africa Subcommittee held a hearing on “The Immediate and Underlying Causes and Consequences of Kenya’s Flawed Election” (in addition to being asked about the then-unreleased USAID-funded IRI exit poll) Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer provided testimony about the roots of the underlying persistent violence associated with contestation for political offices in Kenya and stated explicitly in her prepared submission “land tenure reforms are critical to end the current crisis and prevent future ones” (p. 9 of Hearing Record linked above).

Let me also highlight the testimony of Katherine J. (Kate) Almquist, then Assistant Administrator for Africa at USAID:

“. . . since longstanding issues about land tenure were among the factors fueling the crisis in western Kenya, we believe that supporting reform relating to land tenure and property rights will be critical. There is a compelling need for land reform, leading to the security and regularization of tenure and property rights. A draft national land policy and related implementation plan are already in place, and there has been broad consensus among Kenyans that this draft national land policy reflects national sentiment.

USAID is already a partner in the land sector, and we anticipate increasing our assistance in this regard.” (pps. 12-13 of Hearing Record).

Kenya manufacturing shrinks and exports to region fall, contributing to job losses, raising more questions on #BBIReport

I had not realized quite how badly this was going, as reported in Standard story this weekend.

No wonder Kenyans On Twitter are energized against the performance of the Government in a seemingly broader and deeper way than in the past when the the economic malaise did not get as deep into the “middle class”.

The employment emergency described by the BBI Report is real, but the proposed solution is rapid industrialization for regional exports. There was already a credibility problem for the current Government as to what in the Building Bridges Initiative would make that type of rapid growth likely to happen. Now we see that the actual performance of the current system is not slow growth but rather a sharp decline in manufacturing and regional exports.

And again, a lot of the problem is thinking based on a relatively paternalistic environment where as long as Kenya “played by the rules” the major world economic powers that could otherwise squash Kenyan manufacturing at least conceptually would cheer Kenya on in developing into a regional manufacturing leader. In the real world of 2013 to date and in the future envisioned by the BBI, Kenyan manufacturing has to compete with Chinese manufacturing both domestically and for regional exports. And China doesn’t have the debt problem that Kenya now has.

Important Kenya BBI reads, and my comments

Patrick Gathara, Al Jazeera English: “Kenya’s BBI is the political elites’s attempt to rewrite history

Waihiga Mwaura, BBC: “Letter from Africa: Is Kenya building bridges to nowhere?

Gov. Anyang’ Nyong’o, Star: “We need honest and patriotic debate on the handshake report

US Embassy: Ambassador Godec’s Remarks for National Dialogue Conference, September 11, 2018

Star news report, Nov. 28: US Ambassador McCarter hails BBI report as key to unity

My comment: I have read much of the report in some detail, but still working through some sections. When Ambassador McCarter hails the report and suggests that Kenyans should not comment until they have read it, he does let us know that it is intended to be an elite consensus to be handed down into Kenya’s democratic politics such as it is.

Figures on internet penetration in Kenya are, inevitably, as inconsistent as figures on Kenya’s population. Some assert that more than 85% of Kenyans have internet access, but so much of that is strictly mobile and expensive for data that reading the full report while suspending comment is quite a big ask. The Ambassador obviously is a very quick reader based on the timing of the release and his comments to The Star.

On substance, I find Kenya’s elites to be smart, well educated and well spoken, so it is no surprise that within the details of the report I find a lot of exposition that is appealing to me. How seriously is it to be taken? One has to compare the track record of these elites to past performance, which while giving no guaranty of the future, is the most tangible thing to go on in trying to guess whether they are serious. That part does not weigh in favor of getting too excited about the document one way or the other.

As an example, look at the recent US attack on Senator Amos Wako for his alleged corruption as Kenya’s attorney general during the Moi and first and second Kibaki Administrations at the same time he was a key member of the BBI effort. So what does my government really think about the BBI process?

Beyond that, what I would need to know myself, and what I would think Kenyans would need to know is how the specific decisions reflected in the report were made. The report is very ambitions, and arguably internally contradictory, in making profound recommendations for the shape of Kenya for generations to come. How did the BBI team decide to stress on one hand the idea of going back to try a “nation building” exercise of coming up with some type of “national ethos” for Kenya,while also committing to doubling down on and even expediting the notion of regionally confederating and then federating in an East African state? Are either of these goals realistic and if both are, are they compatible?

What was the process for deciding that industrial manufacturing for a regional market was the best way to address the employment crisis? And so on.

[Update: I have completed my “close reading” of the full document. What I will add is that there are a lot of worthwhile specific items included in the recommendations toward making Kenya’s government more effective/efficient/ fair. These represent collectively a substantial amount of thought and effort and I do not take that lightly; collectively they could if fully implemented quickly accomplish very significant incremental improvements, but do not seem to me to suggest something profoundly transformational. Aside from the issues I mentioned above, the gaping hole is the failure to address at all the unfulfilled parts of Kenya’s National Accord from the 2008 “peace deal” following the stolen 2007 election, especially the truncated and “shelved” Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report.]