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


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.


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.

New Polls Continue to Indicate Landslide Approval for New Kenyan Constitution

A new poll release from Synovate joins Strategic and Infotrack in showing margins of more than 30% for the "Yes" vote for approval of the proposed new constitution.

"Yes" leads by large margins in all provinces except Rift Valley which may be too close to call. On balance, it appears that there may be more controversy in the U.S. than in Kenya in some respects.

Kenyan Constitution controversy among Americans reaches a whole new audience–Fox News (Update with more from Kenya)

FoxNews::“White House Spent $23Million of Taxpayer Money to Back Kenyan Constitution that Legalizes Abortion, GOP Reps Say”

I personally don’t use much Murdoch-controlled media, in particular the Fox entities (another topic for another day), nor get much news from television anyway, but this story is of some interest in asserting some further background on the alleged influence of outside groups in the preparation of the draft constitution. Something I don’t know anything about. I have said before that the process was not ideal and it should have been more transparent and participatory if it wasn’t going to use the prior “Bomas Draft” that Kenyans never voted on previously. Nonetheless, it went to Parliament which could have amended it. I continue to be unconvinced that in Kenya the totality of the language that relates to abortion will have the impact that some in U.S. “pro-life” politics are claiming, but Kenyans will have to decide. And there are certainly some details and perspectives on the involvement of U.S. interest groups and activists that Fox has ignored here.

I will say this: if we tried today, in the United States to pass a new Constitution from scratch what is the likelihood that we could do this well? Would we be able to have any type of deliberative and reasoned discussion? This is one of the reasons the U.S. government should exhibit a little more humility in addressing democratization elsewhere in the world. We have inherited a system with solid fundamentals, but its not like the way we behave much of the time is what everyone should aspire to.

Update: A Nairobi Star story features a statement from Ambassador Ranneberger reiterating that his approach is sanctioned by the President and that he is not worried about a few critics attacking him.

Ranneberger spoke at a ceremony for American Peace Corp volunteers:

‘You should know that the stakes are extremely high whichever way the outcome of the referendum will be,” Ranneberger told the Peace Corps He asked them to participate in the current debate in Kenya.

President JF Kennedy launched the Peace Corps in 1961 and to date it has trained 6,000 Kenyans in small business management, maths, science, health and ICT.

Peace Corps Volunteers country director, Steven Wisecarver, said he wants the volunteers for Kenya increased to 150 per intake.

Researcher Tom Wolfe, a doyen Peace Corps Volunteer, asked the 36 to be humble as they learned about Kenyan society is.

“While the role of Ranneberger has been questioned in politics, nobody has criticised the American Peace Corps role in Kenya,” Wolfe said.

In an editorial, the Daily Nation fires back at Congressman Chris Smith: “U.S. Congressman Peddling Blatant Lies”:

However, the congressman does not bother to make the distinction between the ‘Yes’ campaign and other activities related to the referendum, and different aspects of the reform agenda.

Supporting the Committee of Experts that produced the document does not amount to funding one side in the campaign.

Nor can helping the Interim Independent Electoral Commission that will manage the poll in any way be deemed partisan.

Some of the groups mentioned by Mr Smith deny receiving referendum campaign funds from the US Government or any of its agencies,

In a nutshell, Congressmen Smith’s claims do not add up. More seriously, they are based on one monstrous political lie — that President Obama is breaking American law by funding a constitution that promotes abortion.

The Proposed Constitution of Kenya will not allow abortion on demand. It is apparent that his concern is not protection of the Kenyan woman from unrestricted abortion; it is the pursuit of a rabidly fundamentalist right-wing agenda that has never reconciled itself to the Obama presidency, and will employ all means, fair or foul, to bring down the first black president of the United States.

The biggest lie does not stand up to scrutiny. For the first time in Kenya, the constitution will specifically outlaw abortion, save for the common sense exception where the life of the mother is in danger.

Mr Smith might also appreciate that the new constitutional prohibition will make it much more difficult to procure an abortion in Kenya than in his New Jersey.