Kenya Pre-Election Violence: with only 22 months until vote, were deadly clashes temporarily delayed by BBI process? What is next?

Sunday saw two deaths associated with clashes allegedly between factions within the ruling Jubilee Party.

The Presidential campaign of Deputy President William Ruto did a Sunday morning church and politics foray in Murang’a in what would be seen as President Kenyatta’s backyard. See the story from The Daily Nation on arrest orders from the IG of Police and a very strong warning from the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

Uraia- Because Kenyans Have Rights

Circumstances are disputed between the supporters of the two politicians (Incumbent President Kenyatta and Incumbent Deputy President Ruto). It appears that government security forces were active and may have helped prevent worse violence—which could be encouraging—but that is just a superficial impression on my part from early reporting.

We are only 22 months away from a constitutionally mandated August 2022 General Election and violence in the campaign has been below what one would expect as the norm in the MultiParty Era. But the air seems pregnant with possibilities for both violence instigated by campaigns and for violent state repression. A constitutional crisis is afoot from the failure of the ruling party to effectuate the constitutional mandated gender balance in Parliament.

We are almost a year past the original release of a Building Bridges Initiative report. There is no clarity on exactly how long is to be allowed on what is now “overtime” on negotiating and agreeing on concrete steps to effectuate the changes to the basic bargain of governance in Kenya. The idea is to avoid the kind of competition we are seeing in the 2022 race as it stands now.

Germany is on social media as a lead on some of the civil society and domestic observation group preparation of the type that has been a staple but the U.S. and U.K. are unusually quiet in public about election specific issues now. There has been no public break at all in the partnership between Jubilee and the increasingly repressive Chinese Communist Party. Kenyatta has just signed a big debt and infrastructure deal with France as it becomes more apparent that the Jubilee Government grossly overpaid and thus over-borrowed on the Chinese Standard Gauge Railroad deal—which remains substantially secret.

France was a conspicuous diplomatic critic of the 2007 election theft among the European democracies but seems to have adapted to the role of election hardware and software supplier to the Election Commission since 2012 and become a major investor over the years since the partially State-owned Danone food conglomerate purchased forty percent of the Kenyatta family’s Brookside Dairies business in 2014.

The U.S. sent diplomats to facilitate post-election negotiations in late 2017 that culminated in the March 2018 “handshake” and we gave diplomatic support and National Democratic Institute facilitation to the BBI process.

As recently as April 2019 Ambassador McCarter tweeted with a picture of a visit from IEBC Chairman Chebukati that he hoped to see a 2022 election that did not involve a dispute or litigation. Without a investment in reform, which we have not seen, that would require either (1) a landslide of the sort that we saw with NARC in 2002 that gave rise to the 2003-05 democratic interregnum or (2) a recognition and consolidation of Jubilee as KANU successor.

In Washington the overwhelming public messaging is complacency. Kenya is very important to us because we are there in some real magnitude compared to the rest of the region and we are there because Kenya is important to us. But it is too early to talk about governance and elections and political violence, if for no other reason than the war against al-Shabaab is still going on as it was in the run up to the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections.

Extended: Let me note that NDI will be releasing public opinion polling about attitudes towards elections with the Uraia Trust by Zoom on Wednesday, October 7. (Register through the link.). Regular readers will remember that what to release from the USAID public opinion survey programs conducted by IRI in 2002-07 and NDI since has been a matter of “discussion” in some situations in the past. Public release is in general what is required by the stated purposes of these USAID democracy assistance programs vis what the State Department might do for itself. So let me recognize this positive step.

Addendum:

One of the most striking symbols of French financial penetration was the acquisition last year by one of France’s richest families of a major stake in Twiga Foods which aspires to be Africa’s biggest grocery supplier after being co-founded in Nairobi by a young American entrepreneur as a “social enterprise” with support from USAID and subsequent “philanthrocapital” and IFC investment. The dollars are inconsequential relative to the infrastructure deals but if this business does ultimately succeed in its ambitions the French will be indebted to American aid and we may have missed an opportunity to help finance and support African small business.

A few non-corona Easter Week reads

Christianity’s explosive growth in Kenya,” by Philip Jenkins in The Christian Century.

Here is an interesting paper regarding the choice of the instrumental use of election violence:

Stealing an Election: Violence or Fraud?∗

Dawn Brancati, (corresponding author) Yale University

Elizabeth M. Penn, Emory University

Spring 2020

Abstract

Political actors often resort to electoral violence in order to gain an edge over their competitors even though violence is much harder to hide than fraud and more likely to delegitimize elections as a result. The existing literature tends to treat violence and fraud as equivalent strategies or to treat violence as a means of last resorts due to its overtness. We argue, in contrast, that violence is neither and, in fact, that political actors often use violence for the very reason that it is hard to hide. Its overtness, we argue, allows political actors to observe whether the agents they enlist to manipulate elections for them do so and reduces these agents’ likelihood of shirking in turn. We develop our argument through a formal model, illustrating how increasing incentives to shirk due to electoral monitoring induces actors to use violence, and use process tracing to test the implications of this model through the example of pre-2011 Egypt.

And new poetry from Sonya Kassam at “Follow Your Shadow” with a “quarantine music” interlude.

Kalonzo-Kibaki deal and Kenya’s stolen 2007 election as explained by insider Joe Khamisi’s “Politics of Betrayal”

The Politics of Betrayal; Diary of a Kenyan Legislator by former journalist and MP Joe Khamisi was published early in 2011 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 a 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.

One of Kenya’s business tycoons has recently written an autobiography in which he tells of heroically returning early from a family vacation when he hears of the outbreak of post election violence and then hosting a dinner getting Kibaki and Kalonzo together leading to Kalonzo’s appointment as Vice President along with rest of Kibaki’s unilateral cabinet appointments in early January 2008 during the early stages of the violent post-election standoff. That version of the story does not make a lot of sense to me relative to what Joe Khamisi as an insider wrote and published back in 2011, years closer to the fateful events.

As I wrote early this year:

If you have not yet read Joe Khamisi’s Kenya: Looters and Grabbers; 54 Years of Corruption and Plunder by the Elite, 1963-2017 (Jodey Pres 2018) you must. It sets the stage in the colonial era and proceeds from independence like a jackhammer through scandal, after scandal after scandal upon scandal.

Read a great review by Tom Odhiambo of the University of Nairobi in the Daily Nation here.

Both of these books, and Khamisi’s other works are available at Jodeybooks.com.

As Kenya Turns: Kalenjin radio features return of former ICC-indictee Sang at Kenyatta and Ruto-owned station

Ruto Hires Former ICC Co-Suspect Sang For His Kalenjin Radio Station, Kenyan Report, June 5, 2019

“Former Kass FM presenter Joshua Sang is set to make a comeback to the airwaves after landing a job at Emoo FM, a station owned by Mediamax Network Ltd.

Even though both the Kenyatta family and Ruto hold substantial stakes in the DMS Place-headquartered Mediamax Network – sources claim Ruto is the hitherto biggest shareholder even as he aims to consolidate media support around his 2022 ambitions.”

Monday at USIP:  What Really Works to Prevent Election Violence?

One in five elections worldwide is marred by violence—from burned ballot boxes to violent suppression of peaceful rallies, to assassinations of candidates. A USIP study of programs to prevent violence suggests focusing on improving the administration and policing of elections. The study, of elections in Kenya and Liberia, found no evidence that programs of voter consultation or peace messaging were effective there. Join USIP to discuss this important new report.

Source: What Really Works to Prevent Election Violence?

Carter Center releases final report on Kenya 2017 elections, finds “major setback in democratic development”, urges momentum on IEBC reform, transparent technology

Here is the link to the Carter Center press release and the full report at 172 pages is here.

I am still reviewing the full report, but in summary:

Kenya’s 2017 general electoral process was marred by incidents of unrest and violence throughout the extended electoral period and by harsh attacks by top political leaders on electoral and judicial authorities that seriously undermined the independence of the country’s democratic institutions and the rule of law. The confrontational tactics and actions of Kenya’s political leaders polarized the country and exposed the deep tribal and ethnic rifts that have long characterized its politics. Regrettably, the elections represent a major setback in Kenya’s democratic development.

As far as pre-election deficiencies the report notes the late appointment of the IEBC Commissioners leaving inadequate preparation time overall, as well as highlighting a voter register that was improved but still had major inadequacies.

The report, while noting the ELOG parallel sample results as consistent with the IEBC’s announced results, emphasizes the problems with post- voting results transmission and announcement (in the context of that confrontational rhetoric and polarized environment):

Unfortunately, for unexplained reasons, the IEBC did not utilize the full seven-day period provided by the law to consolidate and post all the official polling station results forms. Instead, the IEBC hastily declared the final presidential election results on Aug. 11, just three days after election day, based on the constituencylevel results forms, and prior to the receipt of all polling-station level results forms. Worse still, election authorities failed to ensure that parties had timely access to official polling-station level results in the days following the announcement of official results, which made it impossible for parties and observers to fully verify and cross-check the results against their internal data and reports in time to include any key evidence in court petitions.

In its press release the Carter Center recognizes the opportunity presented by the decrease in tension under the “handshake” but urges momentum on needed reforms and recommendations spelled out in the report. The existing IEBC was to host a “national stakeholders” conference this week with over 300 invitees with some of these areas touched on in the agenda, but I cannot imagine much bankable progress until there is a full commission and resolution of procurement fraud questions raised by a finalized internal audit report.

As the Center cautions:

Recent political posturing over the 2022 presidential election and the upcoming national census and boundary delimitation process raises concerns that an electoral reform process could be delayed.

To move electoral reform forward, parliament should move swiftly to ensure that the requisite number of IEBC commissioners are in place. Meaningful reform cannot be implemented without a fully functioning commission.

A year ago, Chris Msando, ICT Director for Kenya’s Election Commission, was abducted, tortured and murdered on election eve. We do not seem to care.

See “Chris Msando: Year 53 in the History of State Assassinations” in The Elephant.

[Update, see “Grieving Msando widow sends tearful message to husband’s killers” from Nation Media.]

Just another tick on the list of potentially inconvenient lives snuffed out, brutally, in Kenya’s politics. We offered to assist through the FBI, as the British did through Scotland Yard. The Kenyatta Administration said “no thanks” and we said, in effect as far as I can see, “never mind.”

Early on there were diversionary arrests of fake suspects to suggest some type of pedestrian criminal explanation unrelated to the election, but complicating evidence regarding the abductions leaked out and those arrests fell by the wayside. Nothing further is being done.

In the days after the vote, during the counting and disputes involving the technology and broadcasts, leading to the annulment of the presidential vote by the Supreme Court, I bet an academic friend that when the year anniversary of the murders came around they would be officially unsolved with investigation “on ice”. That these things are so coldly predictable is a testament to underlying brutality of Kenyan politics.

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 peaceful  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.

Must read on election tensions in Kenya: “A Silent Panic”

ELECTION 2017: A Silent Panic in Kenya by Dauti Kahura in The Elephant.

A series of backstories of building tensions with the latest election approaching on the layers of accumulated grief and injustice.  This is the stuff you don’t hear if you don’t have a practiced ear to the ground in Kenya and may be glossed over in the usual discussion in foreign capitals and international press.  And material that is too topical for the traditional Kenyan media with political power at stake. 

Congratulations to The Elephant for “speaking truth to power”.

The hardest job in Kenya . . .

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The new Kenya IFES country director has arrived in time to learn her way around for the August election, just as Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (“IEBC”) has thrown in the towel, again, on a crucial technology acquisition–and once again going with a “sole source” procurement with Safran/Morpho (as with the BVR kits in 2013) to save time since they are already late.

The technology problems will be all too familiar, of course, to Kenyans and others who were involved or closely observed the 2007 and 2013 elections, or were involved in writing up any of the many commission papers, evaluation reports, etc. associated with those misadventures.

Sadly, it may be that the die has already been cast for this year in that the IEBC Commissioners were not replaced until too late to have the requisite time on the job to adequately prepare for the election (a key recommendation from the 2008 “Kreigler Commission”). For the most part they have inherited the work of their predecessors and the staff they hired who made crucial decisions like planning a huge expansion of the number of polling places, while failing to address the corruption in the failed technology procurements or make adequate progress on replacements.

With the new Commissioners taking office, officials from President Kenyatta’s party launched a public attack on the U.S. election assistance effort which is being run by IFES, and singling out long time IFES country director and USAID Chief of Party Mike Yard, who seems to have been the one person with both the most longevity and the best reputation involved in process.  And then there were visa problems and other Government of Kenya directed disruptions.  I am sure its a coincidence [ha!] but Mr. Yard took on a new challenge earlier this year as Country Director for Libya.  Thus, a new director arriving less than five months before the scheduled vote. (I arrived in Kenya roughly six months before the 2007 election and am still learning on a continuing basis things no one told me that I should have known about that election.)

Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role.  Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to provide the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation.  Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.

One other factor is that IFES does have some separate funding for 2014-18 work from the Canadian International Development Agency this time.

No incumbent president has been recognized by a Kenyan election management body as having lost a re-election bid.  Presumably the immediate foreign policy priorities of the United States in Kenya in August will be weighted to the stability of our long time “partner” Kenya.  As the State Department continues the process of consolidation of control of USAID as we have seen over the previous U.S. administrations in moving from the 2007 to 2013 now to 2017 election, it will be that much harder to for people handling democracy assistance at USAID to stand firm for the long term interests, and statutory and legal priority of the U.S. to support democracy in the face of competing claims from the diplomatic and defense constituencies within our government which will presumably have incentives to placate the incumbent.

Election observation has always been controversial in Kenya.  In the first multi-party presidential election in 1992, Ambassador Smith Hempstone, according to his memoir, recommended having NDI observe the election, anticipating an incoming Clinton administration.  President Moi, who used the Republican consulting firm Black, Manafort and Stone, refused to entertain NDI, writes Hempstone, but agreed to IRI.  In 1997 and 2002, the observation agreement went to the Carter Center, then to IRI in 2007 (that year USAID did not want to do an observation, as I have written, but Ambassador Ranneberger instigated having IRI observe), then back to the Carter Center in 2013.  Observers inevitably get criticized for being too critical or too lenient towards the Kenyan process, which has always been messy.

In my year 2007, the EU and the domestic donor-funded observers stood up initially to the ECK’s obvious irregularities, while IRI was initially neutered.  Eventually IRI released both its exit poll indicating an opposition win (August 2008) and a highly critical final report (July 2008).

In 2013, the domestic observation, ELOG, initially “verified” the incomplete “final results” announced by the IEBC but eventually released a significantly critical final report.  Similarly, the Carter Center provided key initial bolstering of the IEBC’s position in their preliminary report but issued a much more critical final report months later. See Carter Center quietly published strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

In both those 2007 and 2013 elections, as in 2002, IFES worked inside the IEBC to provide technical support and did not have an “observation” role.  Bill Sweeney , the IFES President, later testified to Congress that the 2013 election was a great success from the IFES standpoint because Kenya “did not burn”.  The terminology of the Kenyan constitution for a successful election is “free and fair” as opposed to “did not burn”.   Maybe I am just too much of a lawyer in how I look at these things, but I do not think we should have USAID help underwrite elections to a “do not burn” rather than “free and fair” standard to the the tune of $25M when people are literally starving to death in the neighborhood and aid budgets are being cut.

I do not want Kenya to burn, and I hope and pray that this year’s election is less violent than 1992, 1997 or 2007–and even 2013 when “only” 400-500 people were killed in politically driven violence in the pre-election months and only a few protesters were killed by police after the vote.  In general terms the reason that people die over elections in Kenya is because they are governed by killers, not because Kenyans aspire to actually have their votes counted honestly and openly.

See: It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington [with link to video] June 13, 2013

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Counting in Nairobi suburb