“A Few Thoughts on the Kenyan Election”

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.

UhuruRuto Kenya 2013 billboard Nairobi

Just my honest, private thoughts at the time, for what it is worth.

In 2007-08, I only met Moi and Ruto once each. Loose impressions:

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.)

UhuruRuto Kenya 2013 billboard Nairobi

High risk of political violence around Kenya’s election? Of course, because violence worked well in 2007 and was ratified in 2013 and since.

 

Kenya 2007 PEV Make Peace Stop Violence

The value of violence to Kenya’s political competitors will be obvious to any of you who have read this blog over these years now since 2009.

Instrumental state violence with militia support was crucial to enforcing the 2007 “re-election” Kibaki assigned himself through control over the Electoral Commission of Kenya; instrumental violence on behalf of leaders in opposition was crucial to obtaining and sustaining international pressure on Kibaki to share a portion of power with the opposition after his “re-election” when the key hardliners in Kabaki’s political camp wanted to stand firm.

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.

Even five years ago, in 2017, the threat of violence was on the table: “Election Violence threat in Kenya–my thoughts on NDI’s new warning“.

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?

UhuruRuto Kenya 2013 billboard Nairobi

 

 

 

New study on mediation to reduce likelihood of election violence

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.

“Keep Peace”graffitti on market scene children’s dresses Keep Peace graffiti art

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.

Robust electoral violence prevention: An example from Ghana

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.