A variety of openly extralegal gambits by the Ruto Administration to centralize and consolidate power, including waivers of corruption cases, accompanied by severe economic pain for the majority of Kenyans and fiscal crises sets the stage in which the Odinga led opposition has initiated debilitating protests against the “cost of living” and the conduct of the last elections.
Given that Kenya is more and more “the last man standing” as a potentially arguable multiparty democracy in all of East Africa, the expanded EAC, the Greater Horn or however one might define the region, you would think diplomats would be all over this situation if you had been listening over the past 15 years.
Presumably that has at least something to do with the fact that both “sides” are so clearly in the wrong and generally unsavory, yet with real power through the paramilitarized police, illicit funds and “the street” that it is best not to risk being seen as saying anything that could be used by one side or the other.
A Kenyan friend recently checked in to ask what I had written about the Kenyan election. I had to say “very little”. I have been committed to my more unique role as a witness to what went wrong in 2007-08 and tried to avoid the risk of being just another opinionated outsider missing the real conduct and motivations of the opaque competition for power through the election.
Nonetheless, I did send a private email memo to a few friends in Kenya and Washington back on May 15, 2022 (shortly before Raila and Ruto chose running mates) titled “A Few Thoughts on the Kenyan Election”:
1. First big election in Africa after the end of the Post-Cold War peace in Europe.
2. In this environment, the democratic Western players are less able to credibly claim to speak for a notional international community.
3. So on balance, not much reason to indulge Kenyatta now the way we did Kibaki in 2007. Unless we can be sure that the Kenyattas have a deal with Ruto to assure no major violence, why would we signal that we would be willing to look the other way if they steal it for Raila? Major violence would be riskier and more unpredictable now than back in 2007. On the other hand, if they do steal it, the last thing we would want to do is risk instabilty on behalf of a few votes for Wm. Ruto.
4. Obviously Obama and Trump and their administrations overestimated Uhuru for 15 years, but if we really cared about the details of Kenyan politics we would have gotten serious about injecting some competence into Kenyatta’s BBI fiasco.
5. There are still a few weeks left in a 4 1/2 year campaign so Raila could get it together, but who really thinks that’s highly likely? Under the circumstances, it isn’t that hard to see why ordinary Kenyans would be attracted to a candidate who is even more corrupt and more ruthlessly ambitious, but presents as having some basic discipline and competence, among the actual choices. Especially if you have lived through recent American elections.
6. The American humorist Will Rogers (from the era of my grandparents on the small family farm in Kansas during the Great Depression) was famous for the phrase: “I never met a man I didn’t like”. We have never met a President of Kenya we didn’t like.
Just my honest, private thoughts at the time, for what it is worth.
To me, Daniel arap Moi in person seemed more like Raila (and I am guessing Uhuru, whom I never met). A more relaxed demeanor reflecting longevity in the game presumably. At that time, in July 2007, Moi seemed to be trying to stay relevant politically. (Shortly after I met him the deal was cut whereby Moi and KANU, led nominally by Uhuru, crossed over from leading “the official opposition” to supporting Kibaki’s re-election and Moi was appointed by Kibaki as Envoy to Sudan).
Ruto was conspicuously more telegenic and articulate. Thus his natural role in squaring off against Kibaki’s Justice Minister Martha Karua at the Electoral Commission (ECK) Headquarters on television at the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) during the tally in the days following December 27, 2007 election (until the Kibaki Government through Interior Minister John Michuki shut off the live broadcasting). Even though Ruto wasn’t a lawyer.
The surprising thing to me when I introduced myself briefly to Ruto was how different he came across in person than on television. A person of much more intense physical presence than a typical politician like Moi or Raila, Kalonzo, Mudavadi or others I met.
This impression lends itself to a question: is Ruto a typical Kenyan politician, or is he a telegenic but more especially dangerous person who has simply been normalized by pundits and diplomats because he acquired power by virtue of a “coalition of accused kingpins of violence” with Uhuru Kenyatta during the failed ICC prosecutions for the 2007-08 Post Election Violence (PEV)?
Or was Ruto simply normal in his relation to political violence and wrongly tagged as more responsible than other Kalenjin politicians, such that the opportunistic political gain from being indicted by the ICC is just one more common facet of democratic competition. So that in the environment of total agreed impunity of the political class for the murder and mayhem of 2007-08 Ruto has simply the normal association with violence so that his qualities of telegenic articulation can be credited positively rather than treated with suspicion?
Or is it, to the contrary, plausible to see him as something something else entirely, a fresh candidate now, breaking the mold of Kenyan politics not by virtue of having been an especially dangerous protagonist of ethnic violence, but by becoming the first real reformist to win by moving Kenya beyond ethnicity on a platform of better economic policy? Or a fresh candidate breaking breaking the mold in some other way?
Some of this depends on whether one sees continuity between the actions and history of politicians from one campaign cycle to the next, or whether it is tacitly agreed that democracy means every candidate should get a clean slate to be whatever they want to be in each particular campaign.
(Note that none of these questions are intended to comment in any detail about other comparisons between Ruto and his rivals or examine the track record of those rivals, each of whom have their own controversies even if they are easier to group together more generally.)
At the same time, the egregiousness of the worst of the violence in the Rift Valley may have overshot the mark and undercut possible initial international support for an examination of the election fraud witnessed by diplomats at the ECK and the bribery identified by donor nations before the vote. (See my War for History series for the details of what happened.)
So even with total impunity and immediate and future political gains to be had, burning people alive in the church in Kiambaa in particular, was arguably counterproductive in the short term from a strictly amoral perspective. But that is just my best sense of it and others closer to the situation may disagree.
Now, after the two UhuRuto elections, with the “coalition of the killing” in 2013 and the combined Jubilee Party re-election in 2017, we are faced with another contest where Uhuru and Ruto are on opposite sides, which has only happened once before, in that 2007 fight. In 1992, 1997 (both marked by organized violence) and 2002 they were together just as they have been since early in Kibaki’s second administration until falling out in this race (When did Uhuru and Ruto fight? Why is the “Uhuruto” alliance allegedly so surprising?)
What will they decide on their terms of engagement this year?
Dorina Bekoe and Stephanie Burchard of the U.S. Institute for Defense Analyses have published in African Affairs an interesting write up of their study of secret mediation processes as an additional tool, along with more conventional election support measures, to seek to prevent election violence in Ghana in the 2016 election.
Well worth your time with lots to think about regarding the interplay of violence prevention, election and other democracy assistance and the other diplomatic and outside involvement with election contests.
The study finds formal secret mediation between the competing camps to have been an important part of a robust and relatively successful violence prevention program.
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.
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.
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.
Great discussion w/ IEBC Chairman @WChebukati We must work together today to ensure the wananchi have the ability to elect their leaders peacefully, without intimidation & the confidence their vote was counted. No court battles, no re-dos! pic.twitter.com/nt4N5Eb7jQ
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.
Dawn Brancati, (corresponding author) Yale University
Elizabeth M. Penn, Emory University
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.
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.
“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.”
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.