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.

Referendum campaign coverage relects tenions, challenges

Daily Nation “Khadi court focus of groups’ opposition to new Kenya law”

Kevin J. Kelly reviews the American “culture wars” angle. My take: I hope everyone who cares enough to get deeply involved in the campaign on the Kenyan constitution cares enough to say, live in Kenya for awhile. Kenya’s need for a new constitution has been clear enough that both sides made it a major campaign pledge and constitutional reform was a key commitment of the mediation settlement forming the Government of National Unity. It would seem to be a matter of bad timing that the referedum has coincided with heighted tension on certain “contentious issues” from outside on a globalized basis–as well as with the shift of focus by key politicians to their tactics for the 2012 campaign.

Daily Nation “Crowd heckles Rutp at ‘No’ rally”

Standard “Church leaders declare support for proposed law”

“We want Kenyans to know that churches in Nyeri are in support of the draft constitution, and the clergy who are traversing the country campaigning for the ‘Reds’ are not genuine,” said Githinji.

Stand firm

In a statement read by Pastor Joshua Wambugu of the AIPCA church, the leaders admitted the draft had flaws, but noted that only a few sections were contentious.

“We cannot therefore reject the whole document just because of the Kadhi courts, the abortion clause and the section on lands,” he said.

“Kenyans should stand firm and say yes to this law without fear. Most political leaders, among them President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka have supported the draft. This is an indication that Kenya can see a new dawn on August 4,” said Wachira Kimotho from the PCEA.

Kieni MP Nemesyus Warugongo, who convened the meeting, warned Christians against being swayed by their church leaders.

“Christians should decide for themselves, without letting their leaders dictate to them how to vote,” said Warugongo.

Standard “Referendum race hots up as Commission warns hecklers”

Standard “Claims by ‘No’ camp against U.S. Ambassador are distortions of the truth”

Why be concerned about election violence with the Kenyan referendum?

It seems to me that there are several obvious reasons.

Most basic is the simple fact that since Moi relenquished de jure one-party KANU control, there has been significant violence in each national election that was close (the 2002 presidential election was a landslide and featured Moi fronting a Kikuyu standard bearer who was not strong in Central Province against a Kikuyu establishment figure supported by Raila Odinga–in other words, a sui generis “perfect calm”; likewise the 2005 Referendum was not especially close and followed the 2002 general.) The “usual suspects” from 1992, 1997 and 2007 are still in power in government and business and have ample resources available.

There has been no meaningful progress yet in regard to the “culture of impunity”. The Government of National Unity has not delivered a local tribunal to address the crimes layed out in the Waki Commission report. The ICC process is still hoped for, but has not resulted in indictments of anyone to date and the key people expected to someday face the ICC are very much players in the GNU today and will be for the forseeable future.

The “Truth and Reconciliation” process was politically stillborn in terms of doing anything that would have changed the dynamic of tension for this election.

The Waki Commission report shows that the Kenyan intelligence service knew about significant issues of likely planned violence ahead of the 2007 election, but action was not taken to stop it. No explanation of this has been provided, nor are there obvious reforms implemented to make sure that the same situation (whatever it was) is not repeated.

Corruption is more entrenched than ever, in the sense that no real action has been delivered in response to even the new, and in some cases, particularly outrageous scandals coming from the Government of National Unity–much less anything about Goldenburg and Anglo Leasing and all the many, many other scams that have created pools of ill gotten gains that can be reinvested in politics as needed.

Even the newspapers have reported ethnic threats in the Rift Valley, and ethnic rhetoric is clearly being employed. To the baseline of ethnic tension, and ethnic division within religious groups that was a problem in 2007 has been added an increase in tension between many churches and the State over views or interpretations related to the khadi’s courts and abortion. These is always some baseline of tension between many Muslims and the State, but now there seem to be attempts to drive a much greater wedge between Muslims and Christians themselves at a grassroots level.

I could go on.

To top it off, it was clear by last fall that there was a significant ramping up of the flow of guns and ammunition into areas where there had been violence featuring more “traditional” weapons in 2008. And six people were killed by two grenades in Uhuru Park as the campaign kicked off.

This is not a prediction of violence–but rather an assessment that all the necessary ingredients are there. By all means we should hope for the best and pray for peace. But we should also be mindful of the danger and the United States as a major donor and “ally” should not be caught off guard. We know how much suffering election violence can cause. Foolish complacency is the hobgoblin of little hearts.

Washington Post headlines religious tension on khadis courts issue

“Kenya’s constitutional vote on sharia courts pits Muslims against Christians”

What an unfortunate mess. This is one, inevitably emotional issue, on which reasonable people can disagree–and those same reasonable people could still vote for (or against) the proposed new constitution regardless of their position on this one issue. Clearly tensions are being exploited.

From the U.S. side, I want to believe that people who wade in to this mean well, irrespective of the issue about the road to hell being paved by good intentions. At the same time, I have to wonder and worry about whether people who have a record of doing ignorant and irresponsible things like generating e-mails that end up discussed on the front pages on newspapers in Kenya (the day I left the country during the U.S. presidential campaign) asserting that Muslim-Christian tension and an alleged Obama-Odinga “secret Muslim” pact to impose sharia were involved in Kenya’s election and post-election violence.

As Vote Nears, Former Deputy Commander of Kenyan Administrative Police continues in hiding

As the Kenyan constitutional referendum approaches, most other aspects of the “reform agenda”, in particular accountability for wrongdoing in the last election, remain stymied. The Internal Security portfolio has passed from John “Rattle the Snake” Michuki, who continues in Cabinet as a key insider, to George Saitoti, another of those who seems a conspicuously odd choice of partners for anyone promoting reform in the security services.

From the Nairobi Star via All Africa.

Nairobi — GOVERNMENT is about to dismiss a key potential witness for the International Criminal Court.

It has written to Oku Kaunya to show cause why he should not be fired as Nyanza Deputy Provincial Commissioner.

In December 2007 he was the Deputy Commandant of the Administration Police and Commandant of the AP Training College in Embakasi. He had originally been scheduled to take over from AP Commandant Kinuthia Mbugua in 2008.

It has been alleged that the Administration Police was partly responsible for the mayhem that followed the December 2007 elections.

Kaunya left Kenya in April this year and has not returned. It has been rumoured that he will be a key witness for ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Government has taken Kaunya’s absence from work as desertion from duty which, according to the Civil Service regulations, is punishable by summary dismissal.

Sources in the Office of the President, to whom the Provincial Administration answers, told the Star that the letter was written in mid-June and sent through the Post Office.

Internal Security assistant minister Orwa Ojodeh confirmed yesterday that Kaunya had deserted duty and clarified that any communication sent to him was in line with government policy.

“If government officers desert duty as he did, then they have to give an explanation,” said Ojodeh.

The minister however said he could not confirm whether government had formally written Kaunya.

After receiving death threats from unknown people, Kaunya slipped out of Kenya in April claiming he needed medical treatment for a kidney problem. His whereabouts remain unknown but he is believed to be in Europe.

He may turn out to be a key witness should the International Criminal Court try the perpetrators of the post-election violence.

Kaunya headed the AP Training College which, according to the Waki Report, was a central link in the disruption of the December 2007 election.

The Waki Report said 1,600 officers were sent to the college for “special training” so they could act as election agents for the PNU.

“All officers deployed were dressed in plainclothes, easily identified as they were not from the local community and travelled in large groups by more than 30 chartered buses,” the report said.

“In addition, they received Sh21,000 each for their duties. The entire exercise was called off after some officers were killed and many more injured by citizens,” the Waki Report concluded.

Investigators from the office of ICC prosecutor Ocampo have been in Kenya and they are expected to finalise their investigations in October before Ocampo can ask for the ICC to issue arrest warrants for the key suspects.

As many as 20 witnesses whose testimony is considered crucial have been placed under protection. Several have been flown out of Kenya while others are being protected in safe houses in Kenya.

Yesterday Kaunya’s wife Millicent said the government was aware of her husband’s continued stay abroad and that she had not received any communication about his employment status.

“I have not heard anything so far but he (Kaunya) is out and the government knows why,” said the wife without revealing further details.

Ajaa Olubayi, Kaunya’s lawyer, said he last spoke with his client two months ago.

“I haven’t spoken with him for quite some time and I would not be in a position to say whether he has been asked to explain his absence from work,” said Ajaa

In April Kaunya’s wife said her husband had been feeling unwell and travelled to Germany for treatment from where he was to proceed to see their daughter in the USA.

In January 2004, while he was the Uasin Gishu DC, Kaunya called for the abolition of the Administration Police and the Provincial Administration.

He was supporting those delegates to the National Constitution Conference who wanted the Provincial Administration removed from the Draft Constitution that was finally defeated in the 2005 referendum.

Kaunya’s comments were surprising to the AP command, especially Commandant Kinuthia Mbugua who had waged a spirited battle to have the force retained.

In 2007 Kaunya was promoted to head the Administration Police Training College, a post that put him second only to Mbugua in the AP chain of command.

However in June 2008 Mbugua interdicted Kaunya for putting on the rank insignia of the AP Commandant, apparently in preparation for the departure of Mbugua.

He eventually returned to his post in December 2008 but that did not end his tribulations.

Seemingly to ensure he did not testify to the Waki Commission in early 2009, Kaunya was sent for an impromptu “holiday” in Thailand.

When he returned, he was given a scholarship to the Karen-based National Defence College from which he graduated last December.

Sure, we can hope for responsible behavior by the political powers that be in Kenya in the referendum–but to expect it under the circumstances would certainly be foolish.

Here is the link to “Divide and Rule: State-Sponsored Ethnic Violence in Kenya” by Human Rights Watch from 1993, featuring discussion of then-Vice President Saitoti, who was given the Internal Security portfolio by Kibaki in January 2008, during the post-election violence and before the mediation deal ushering in “the reform agenda”.

Kenya Referendum Slugfest One Month Out and other news

“‘No’ Team Attacks U.S. Envoy Over New Kenya Law” Daily Nation, July 2

My take: the Referendum campaign continues to get messier. And we are not helping, having not learned our lesson from the last election. Ranneberger endorsed the draft constitution, then the Administration backed off, after GOP Congressmen complained, raising the tenuous issue of U.S. legal restrictions on “lobbying for abortion” overseas–muddying the waters by not addressing the matter clearly. With the Biden visit and Obama speech on KBC, the official line was that we were not trying to tell Kenyans how they should vote, but were offering inducements if they did vote yes. Now Ranneberger is again making himself an issue in the yes/no campaign in Kenya directly. At this point, I think we (the United States) need to be very concerned about a non-violent and free election and a credible and accepted result, which is the thing of foremost importance. I think the proposed constitution has important positives and am concerned that missing the opportunity to pass this now could be very unfortunate, but Kenyans have to decide this for themselves–and frankly I do not think that they are more likely to vote “yes” because the Ambassador gets mixed up in it.

If many of Kibaki’s circle of ministers are “watermelons”, green on the outside but red on the inside, are we “kiwis”, brown and fuzzy on the outside and green on the inside (and foreign)? Could we be straightforward and consistent, just to try it out and see if that works better than what happened last time?

Certainly the Administration sent another very mixed signal by extending Ranneberger’s tenure again.

Some links of interest:

“House’s Special Gift to Kenyans in Choice to Lead Anti-Graft Agency” Kwamchetsi Makokha spoofs the nomination of P.L.O. Lumumba to head the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Daily Nation, July 2

“Fear and Loathing in Nairobi” John Githongo writes in the new Foreign Affairs (subscription).

ABC News: “Some of the Best Paid Politicians in the World are in . . . Kenya???”

“Jeffrey Gettleman: Reporting from Nairobi” on NPR’s Fresh Air

“Current Conditions and U.S. Policy in the Horn of Africa”, Congressional Testimony by Ted Dagne of CRS, June 17

Coverage of Kenya’s Constitution Campaigns

Nick Wadhams in Time has a good overview.

In the Star courtesy of the Mars Group media pages Wycliffe Muga suggests that William Ruto’s role as a “no” leader reflects his strategic plan to establish himself as political boss of the Upper Rift Valley rather than a serious expectation of actually defeating the proposed constitution.

In this month’s free article, Africa Confidential says “Campaigning for next month’s constitutional referendum is a mixture of ideology, religion and personal ambition – and now the thugs have moved in”.

Mugambi Kiai writes in the Star (via Mars Group): “It is so easy to miss the obvious. There is so much shouting around narrow sectarian issues that the massive gains in the proposed constitution are hardly getting any airtime” and goes in to detail several of the governance reforms.