A must read and some thoughts on context as Kenyan presidential politics continues


  1. As a necessary corrective to fatalism, start with an important piece from Patrick Gathara in today’s Washington Post:

Raila Odinga and the surprising bright side to Kenya’s never ending election.

Events of the last few days are more twists, turns and wrenching associated with Kenya’s status as being stuck or frozen by the stolen election of 2007 and its aftermath, pending forward movement to truly realize a new system under the new constitution approved overwhelmingly in 2010, or back into a now-digitized/globalized version of a single party power structure based on elite-level tribal bargains.

Based on the 2013 election and Kenyan history, in the immediate run the continued retrenchment of democracy is surely likely, but we can hope otherwise.  And most importantly, Kenyans can keep their eyes on the horizon and recognize that much of the work of getting Kenya (back?) to the state of democratic openness that was preceived to have existed in the early times after the defeat of KANU at the polls in 2002 will remain regardless of who is president.

And the vital task of acheiving a transparent and trustwothy, bona fide independent electoral commission must not stop with the immediate “fresh election” regardless of when it is or whatever limited progress is obtained through current NASA demands for “irreducible minimums”.

ODM and Wiper and other parties made a mistake by waiting until early 2016 to focus on forcing reforms of the Issaak Hassan “Chickengate” IEBC of the badly administered 2013 election.  Even though agreement was obtained to replace the Commission with loss of life of protestors killed by police by mid-2016, the old Hassan Commission stayed in control until early this year, after budgets and plans (and some contracts apparently) were in place, assistance programs by the United States and others contracted–and apparently adjusted by demand of the incumbent ruling party.

The new Commission inherited Hassan’s staff and remains quite murky as to the extent that they are de facto independent enough to effectively manage and discipline that staff.  The selection process was messy and murky and the Vice Chair of the Commission turns out not to have resigned her job with the UNDP but rather taken “leave” of undisclosed terms while serving.  Are other Commissioners of uncertain independence from other players in administration of the elections? (I am not concluding that Dr. Akombe is not independent of the UNDP–just that there are unavoidable questions which neither the UNDP nor Dr. Akombe seem willing to address–nor Kenya’s media to take up.)

No incumbent president in Kenyan history has been found by Kenya’s election management body to have lost an election–certainly the opposition has always known it had an uphill battle to have real hope of winning, aside from the fact that the incumbents have strong support in their bases and were ahead by a few points in most polls as of late July.  In this environment, the failure to achieve deeper reform of the old IEBC by early 2017 was probably fatal to a real chance to win all other things being equal.

The surprising and gutsy decision of the Supreme Court of Kenya to rule that the IEBC’s conduct was just too far beyond the pale to pass legal muster gave everyone another chance, but of course it did not change any hearts and minds of people who were never willing to risk of losing office at the polls in a free and fair vote.

The United States and other donors attracted a lot of published advice from its own employees and through indirectly supported sources like the International Crisis Group stressing the importance of transparency for trust building but elected instead to continue to stay the course of underwriting the ECK-IIEC-IEBC and publicly promoting its output to Kenyans without re-consideration of the risks and costs of non-transparency and undisclosed failures with the electoral management process, such as the alleged bribery in 2007 that warranted undisclosed US “visa bans” and the subsequent “Chickengate” bribes and the bogus procurements of technology that left Kenyans exposed again in 2013.

This is not rocket science.  Kenyans who are increasingly divided by tribalism as their politicians offer and deliver less democracy and less other models of leadership, are more likely to accept and trust what they are openly shown and explained.

Trust and Accountability”-  Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peacefful  election.

I will be prepared to more substantively address the 2017 vote/s once I get the documents I am due and expecting from my 2015 FOIA request about the 2013 election.  Until then, we can still decide to do what we know can be most helpful to build trust if we want to.

Update: do not miss this – “Against second rate democracy in Kenya” from Aziz Rana in the Boston Review.

Western envoys in Kenya decry difficult pre-election environment, but say too late for substantial reforms, leaving no obvious way forward

[Update: Here is an Oct. 3 Daily Nation story on the status of negotiations and demands among Kenyan politicians and Western diplomats: “Envoys threaten travel bans to politicians derailing poll plans“.  The International Crisis Group meanwhile offers a good brief: “How to have a credible, peaceful presidential election in Kenya“.

The independent European Union Election Observation Mission issued a new 3 October statement saying “decisive improvements are still achevable if Kenyans come together in a constructive manner” while decrying excessive demands and proposed law changes and with confrontation from both sides.

And to refresh the memories of the envoys and candidates here are the September 14 recommendations of the European Union Election Observation Mission for reforms ahead of the election re-run.]

It is in fact very unfortunate that time has been running hard against the 60 day deadline for the “fresh election” necessitated by the failure of Kenya’s IEBC (significantly supported by the United States and, at least indirectly through the UNDP so-called “basket funding”, other donors) to conduct a lawful presidential election on August 8 as determined by the Supreme Court of Kenya.

With the passage of time things like the then-shocking torture/murder of acting IEBC ICT head on the eve of the election are no longer mentioned in such statements as today’s from the envoy group.  Too long ago that murder (passing 60 days) and with no sign of progress or serious effort to solve the case we should of course “accept and move on” that it was simply an unfortunate coincidence (or at most one of those political murders that happen periodically in Kenya that are agreed to be ignored so that we don’t have to face the darker realitity of how “democracy” really works in such a pretty country).  Of no relevance to the August 8 election or its rerun in the hands of the his suspened predecessor who got his job back when Msando was killed even though he had been earlier suspended as ICT director for refusing to cooperate in an audit.

Rather it is noted today that it is “too late” to replace staff hired under the removed Issack Hassan Chickengate regime or otherwise substantially reform the IEBC.

Longstanding CEO Ezra Chiloba doubled-down last week and signed (reportedly) a new (amendment??) with the controversially sole-sourced ICT vendor OT Morpho now owned by a US-based fund and a fund of the Government of France.  Pretty much an “in your face” gesture toward reformers if true. [Update 4/17: The IEBC twitter feed has reported that the OT Morpho contract will be released – I gather this is confirmation of the reported new agreement but we shall see.]

Either the donors have lost all significant influence, if they had any, toward transparency and trust building at the IEBC or they are really gambling hard on selling whatever the IEBC in existing form–without meaningful reform–will offer up on October 26 and the seven days thereafter.

As for me, I think this is a bad gamble, both in terms of odds and because the known character of the other players at the table.

As an American who was involved in the 2007 fiasco from part-way inside and witnessed 2013, I would like to see my Government cease to help underwrite this IEBC as a matter of our own integrity and of our long term ability to provide some future positive influence to the future development of independent democratic institutions in Kenya.

The American dollars supporting through USAID this IEBC would be much better spent on urgent humanitarian needs (see the UNDP’s call for additional funds of more than $100M for Kenya famine relief).

It may be that NASA will throw in the towel and agree to go along to run in a “not so fresh” election without IEBC reforms.  That is for NASA to decide.  I just do not want my Government to interfere in that decisionmaking process unless we are willing to provide some independent assurance of transparency and support for fairness to all Kenyans (not just NASA) that the Government of Kenya cannot be expected to agree to unless we are willing to stand up to them in a way that I have not seen from us in 2007 or 2013.

Before Kenya’s vote, read Daniel Branch’s The Fire Next Time

If you missed it, amid all the international media scene setters, and very last minute diplomatic appeals, take 9 minutes for “The Fire Next Time: Why memories of the 2007-08 post election violence remain alive.” from Daniel Branch in The Elephant.

Much wisdom on why Kenya has remained stuck following “the debacle of 2007”.

Upcoming Washington Event: CSIS and NDI Conference–“Moving Forward on Constitutional Reform in Kenya”

Monday, September 20 at CSIS. Here is the link for details.

And here is a link to Kenya’s NTV on PM Odinga’s praise for US Gov’t support for Kenya’s reform process, in conjunction with NDI board meeting and events in Nairobi.

Historic Day as New Constitution Ushers in Kenya’s “Second Republic”

Dropping in
The Standard: Kenyan’s Hopes Highest Since NARC Victory

By ALEX NDEGWA

As Kenyans celebrate a new Constitution that radically improves governance, hope is growing with a survey suggesting the high level of optimism is highest in seven years.

An overwhelming majority (77 per cent) is optimistic about the economic prospects in the next 12 months following the promulgation of the new Constitution by President Kibaki, this Friday.

Such high level of optimism was last recorded in April 2003, four months after the National Rainbow Coalition Government rode to power on a euphoric wave that ended Kanu’s repressive reign.

Kenyans were then rated the most optimistic people in the world, yearning for better governance and service delivery, but the hope dissipated as the new regime that had campaigned on a reform platform got mired in grand corruption and power feuds.

The country’s leadership, which ironically brings together the President and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who had fired up the optimism before their falling out, has the opportunity to make up to Kenyans.

Remembering Why Kenya Needed a New Constitution–the fundamentals

From a speech by James Orengo in 2000 at Concordia University in Minnesota:

The constitution of Kenya was deliberately designed to fail. We borrowed the worst features of other people’s constitutions. The result is a machine without rhythm or reason. We have borrowed the American presidential system but ignored the checks and balances that make the president accountable to the Americans. We have borrowed the parliamentary system from Britain but none of the parliamentary practices that makes the British parliament effective. We borrowed the Bill of Rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but added in all the exceptions to rights that were common in Stalinist countries. In short, we now have a presidency without checks, a parliament without teeth, and a Bill of Rights that reads more like a Bill of Exceptions rather than Rights.

And M. Munene, 2001,in The Politics of Transition in Kenya 1995-1998 Nairobi, Friends of the Book Foundation:

the republican constitution that Kenyatta talked about rolled the powers of the governor-general and those of the prime minister into one in the name of the president and enabled him to enjoy those powers unfettered by the British government, any party opposition, or constitutional position that he did not like . . . the governor-general and the prime minister became, in 1965, the absolute president.

As quoted in Nasong’o, S.W. and T.O. Ayot (2007) “Women in Kenya’s Politics of Transition and Democratization”, in G.R. Murunga and S.W. Nasong’o, (eds), Kenya: The Struggle for Democracy London: Zed Books

Kenyan voters have again spoken peacefully in large turnout, and are being heard this time

Again, to me the most important thing about the constitutional referendum has been to let Kenyans make up their minds, decide, vote and most importantly see the process honored in a transparent manner that builds trust and confidence. This appears to be in the process of happening with official results due tomorrow. Ruto, a most visible champion of dissent from the circus at the Electoral Commission of Kenya in the December 2007 general election, a suspect in the investigations of post-election violence, and a mobilizing leader of the “No” campaign, has accepted the outcome based on a transparent process.

While the promise and challenge of democratic reform through a better legal framework remains very much a work in process, the right to vote and have those votes counted in a transparent manner appears to have been restored. This is a very important good thing and worth a moment to cherish.

Kenya–All over but the voting?

This is a little girl in one of the areas affected by violence in the last election. Please pray for a peaceful and fair election. Thanks.

IMG_0514_1

Watch reporting on Uchagazi.

The Daily Nation reports “It’s all systems go for Kenya’s referendum” (Subliminal “Green”/”Yes” message there?)

The Economist also has a late take on tomorrow’s vote: Kenya’s constitutional referendum: a chance to improve how Kenya is run

At the end of the day, they wisely conclude, much work remains:

Even if the constitution is endorsed by a fat majority, the dangers that have afflicted Kenya will not evaporate. There has been a lot of talk about peace. But the power-sharing government formed after the violence of early 2008 by President Kibaki and his rival, Mr Odinga, has dismally failed to address the main causes of instability: a lack of land and jobs. Far too many young men have no chance of getting their hands on either, especially in the volatile and tribally mixed Rift Valley and in the teeming, fetid slums of Nairobi. Many Kenyans fear that the anger of such people could boil over again in 2012.

A comment worth quoting:

Whatever the outcome in the plebiscite, we must put in place better mechanisms to hold leaders to account and stop this abuse and impunity. Leadership connotes serving as a faithfully fiduciary and finding the best solution to intractable challenges the nation faces. Good leaders are not necessarily those who brandish the sharpest intellect, or possess the most alluring visage, but those who, through determination, ingenuity and wise counsel, achieve the aims of the nation. These qualities are severely wanting in Kenyan leaders if the misery that bedevils the nation five decades after independence is considered.

We all know that even with a very good constitution, if we have poor leaders and people are not vigilant in holding them to account, Kenya will not make progress. What we need is a good constitution coupled with good leaders keen on fighting corruption, curbing negative ethnicity, appointing officials on merit and improving efficiency in the bureaucracy. We need a leadership that will abandon slogans and platitudes and work hard to lift the millions of people in want out of poverty.

How to have quieter, safer elections in Kenya?

One of the other writing suggestions I have had recently was the topic of how to move Kenya in the direction of countries where elections are routine, quiet and uneventful–part of the ordinary course of affairs as opposed to occasions for violence and even deaths and displacement.

Lots of things to point to here:

1. Be careful what you wish for and appreciate what you have. There is good in the fact that Kenyans care about elections and are engaged and motivated politically. I could give you some opposite examples of apathy and distraction in the United States during the housing and internet bubbles. Part of the reasons elections are quieter in South Africa, for instance, is probably the dominance and unique status of the ANC.

2. In Kenya, job opportunities and economic activity for younger people outside Nairobi would help a great deal with reducing the “drama” associated with campaigns and elections–as of course would economic development improving circumstances in the Nairobi “slums”. This would greatly inconvenience the current political class by raising the cost of raising gangs, for instance, as well as more generally raising the cost of menial labor in Nairobi, so there will continue to be entrenched resistance.

3. Violence in the elections in Kenya is mostly, at root, a product of bad acts by bad politicians. They do what they do because it works and serves their interests. Overwhelmingly, Kenyan citizens want criminal prosecution of key political actors in the 2007-2008 post election violence. To date, however, impunity reigns. Citizen activism and engagement will be crucial to winning this fight. I recommend that Kenyans do their best to “name and shame” those from the West that continue to vacillate and demonstrate hypocrisy in making sure that violence doesn’t pay. Why would Americans, for instance, be in bed with Moi in particular? Or Ruto or Uhuru while they are identified as key suspects? Especially my fellow Christians and those saying they want to help Kenyans build democracy?

4. Suppression of civil liberties as well as outright use of force to retain power by the incumbent administration was very much a key cause of much of the violence following the 2007 election. Kenyans were not allowed to protest peacefully as the election appeared to be stolen. Kenyans were generally not allowed to protest peacefully before the election. Kenyans peacefully and spontaneously celebrating the “peace deal” settlement of February 28, 2008 were tear gassed. If you are not a Kenyan, ask yourself what you would do if this were your country?

5. It does seem to me that legal reform is key to stopping a climate of violence surrounding the elections. There are several things in the proposed new Constitution that I think can help, in particular changing from the “first past the post” presidential election which has resulted in candidates winning with a plurality of the vote but minority support nationally, to a runoff system that will call on a successful campaign to build majority support. The dynamics of presidential campaigns under a runoff system would, I think, be substantially different, and I think, better. Getting some grip on overwhelming presidential power and making general progress toward the rule of “law” rather than of “men” is the way to elections in which the stakes are not so high, or seem so high, that people get killed.

6. And of course, the biggest reason that elections have exaggerated stakes in Kenya is corruption. Elections are not just about control of government, but also control of the business/parastatal complexes and networks developed from control of government. A key government official early on in my time in Kenya told me that 2007 was not the year for a new generation of leadership to come into power because there was too much corruption in the past that would be at risk of exposure and that the people involved were not ready to step aside for that reason.

Quentessential Stories on the State of Politics in Kenya

What an inconvenience it is for many of Kenya’s leading politicians to find themselves nominally on the same side of the Referendum campaign. It isn’t stopping them from fighting about the real prize, the presidency in 2012, but surely it will be a relief when the distractions of dealing with whether or not to have a new constitution are over and done with and the main event can proceed apace. “Referendum: Chopper stoned as “Yes” rivals face off” from the Nation.

“Hell breaks loose in Government” from the Standard: more evidence that Kenya’s politicians just don’t get it. And it’s not that they need “training” or “education”–they are sophisticated and well educated, they know the score; rather, they would need to care. Since they don’t, the better approach would be to allow the citizens to decide who to elect next time. I think the new constitution will be approved in substantial part because the voters are not satisfied with the current leadership and see an opportunity for incremental improvements. But let’s have a real count of the votes this time.

Update: NCIC Warns of Violence in “Hot Spots” from the Star via Mars Group.