Must reads on Kenya

Kenya’s dangerous path toward authoritarianism by Neha Wadekar in The New Yorker.

Kenyatta’s grand plan to silence Kenya’s free press by George Ogola in African Arguments.

This is how you capture the rise of Kenya’s vibrant contemporary art scene by Abdi Latif Dahir in Quartz Africa.

Central Kenya’s Biting Poverty by Dauti Kahura in The Elephant.

Crackdown on the media in the best fashion of past despots by Macharia Gaitho in The Nation.

Uhuru must resist temptation to take Kenya back to KANU days by Rasna Warah in The Nation.

Vested interests may stifle U.S. arms embargo on South Sudan by Fred Oluoch in The East African. [“Kenya — whose Mombasa port is the main entry for arms destined for South Sudan — has remained cagey on the issue.”]

Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s “People’s President” swearing in?

[Update Feb. 2: Here is a good overview from Martina Stevis-Gridnef in the Wall Street Journal, Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens“; Fr. Gabriel Dolan explains how the Kenyatta government has popularized the “National Resistance Movement by banning it, with good historical context.]

Since I elected to stay away from the 2017 election in Kenya myself, I have tried to avoid offering a lot of derivative commentary from afar, but have continued to be interested and concerned with how my American government representatives approach this on behalf of the American people.

Privately, I shared the worry that perhaps Raila was not being a good steward of the lives of his supporters given the risk of threatened action by the Kenyan governments’ security forces (and my inability to decipher what he was really aiming to accomplish).

Nonetheless, I also decided that it was not my place to lecture for several reasons. First, any Kenyan who would be deciding to attend or not attend the rally knew full well and far better than I the risks of running afoul of the GSU (General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, known for use for high profile political missions, such as sealing off Uhuru Park in the weeks after the 2007 election to prevent opposition rallies) as or other force at the disposal of the “Commander in Chief President”.

Second, we ourselves have passed on doing our part to forthrightly deal with the detritus of the stolen 2007 election and the substandard and opaque election process that put the current Uhuruto regime in power in 2013.

Third, in this election cycle we did not give visible public support to reasonable reforms of the IEBC process. I am not willing to be too critical from afar without knowing more (although I don’t know more because our approach is intentionally more opaque than I think is appropriate or prudent) but in watching as an American back home we certainly gave the impression over the last couple of years that while we wanted things to go smoothly and would support negotiation of the disputes surrounding the IEBC in areas where they were pushed to the forefront by the opposition, we remained in the mode of supporting the old “Chickengate” IEBC team and staff, even while the investigation of procurement fraud directed by the April 2013 Supreme Court ruling never happened. Even when the British secured criminal convictions for the Chickengate bribes and paid money over to the Government of Kenya, we were mute as Kenyans enjoyed the customary impunity for corruption–and when Uhuru used the funds to do a “photo op” for the purchase of ambulances as if it was a charitable donation.

We allowed the incumbent administration to attack and potentially interfere with our assistance to the IEBC through IFES in the critical months before the election (see “The hardest job in Kenya . . .”) without obvious penalty, and stayed silent on reforms called for by the EU Election Observation Mission and others–aside from the opposition–in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling striking the presidential election of August 8 because of the IEBC deficiencies.

As it turned out the incumbent administration acted extra-legally to shut down private broadcasters (except the President’s own) but had the security forces pull back and did not initiate the feared violence. If we had any influence on that decision then I am pleased that our long years of support to Kenya’s various police and security services and governments of the day may have borne some positive fruit in that instance.

As far as the notion that Raila would be likely to unilaterally instigate violence in this situation, people in the State Department would do well to remember the analysis of Ranneberger’s own staff pre-election in 2007 that while there was hate speech on both sides the largest share was directed against Raila rather than on behalf of his candidacy or the opposition.

Invoking the so-called “ooga booga factor” to scare Westerners about Raila has been more than a cottage industry in Kenya (and in London and Washington PR shops) along side the ethnic hate speech to rally other ethnic groups against him in Kenya. And Raila is unavoidably controversial in some respects and gives his critics ammunition. But at present Raila is in a relatively physically powerless position in opposition; the Government of Kenya security forces are in the hands of “Uhuruto”, controversially elected in the first place as a “coalition of the killing” from the violence that was taking place exactly ten years ago.

In this context the “black propaganda” operation on behalf of the Uhuruto re-election campaign through Harris Media of Texas, United States, was particularly pernicious and even worse than 2007.

Let’s remember that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer herself insisted that what was being done through the Kalenjin militias in the Rift Valley in early 2008 was “ethnic cleansing” and we all know the “revenge” attacks through the Mungiki against especially Luo and Luhya who had the misfortune of living and working in Naivasha and Nakuru were horrific. And that the largest share of the killing was done by the police and largest number of killed identified by ethnicity Luo per the Waki Commission. The ICC Prosecutor’s Office may have run a sloppy legal operation, but did they really get “the wrong guys” factually in the six indictments? Will O.J. someday find the real killers? (Do Raila and Kibaki–Commander in Chief then–and many other politicians also bear some real moral responsibility, too–surely so; does Kalonzo Musyoka? I personally would not vote for either ticket if they were running in my country, but they weren’t, and left us with our own problems.)

Fair minded representatives of the United States in current circumstances have to recognize that the threat of violence on behalf of an incumbent “Uhuruto” regime in full control of all military, paramilitary and other police forces is much greater than that presented by an opposition rally or ceremony.

Old Party Office in Kibera

Candy and Communists for Kenya: as Kenyatta’s Jubilee “deepens” partnership with Communist Party of China, Mars’ Wrigley East Africa to sell “affordable Skittles”

“Affordable Skittlesfor the “kadogo market” may not quite match Kentucky Fried Chicken, but perhaps the biggest news since Burger King arrived in Nairobi?

And yes that event at State House celebrating the deeping partnership of Jubilee and the Communist Party of China yesterday has turned heads. I think a lot of Americans had not been aware of this relationship. Obviously it makes sense in carrying forward the spirit of KANU of Kenyatta and Moi and their understudies. Kenya always labeled itself a “democracy” whether one party rule was formal or informal. China, of course, is also democratic with numerous parties other than the Communist Party.

“Today we agreed to deepen our relationship with the The Communist Party of China in order to enhance Jubilee party management and democracy.” The Presidency

At a micro level I would take umbrage at the blatant use of State resources for Jubilee Party business, but since the Party was launched at State House in the first place and the donors supporting “Western-style” democracy and the “rule of law” and such were not willing to say “boo”–nor the IEBC nor the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties, there is never a reason to be surprised at this point. We reap as we sow.

ICYMI: An important read from Tristan McConnell in The Atlantic: A Deadly Election Season in Kenya – The Killings Suggest a State that is More Predator than Protector.

And here is the story from Moroccan World News of how the Chinese connected the African Unions computer servers at the Addis headquarters directly to Chinese servers in Shanghai.

Who has done the best writing so far about the fake NGOs and “bots” in the Kenyan election campaign?

Asking for a friend.

Remembering Paul Muite’s open questions about the IEBC’s integrity before Kenya’s previous elections

Back in February 2013 The Africa Report ran a feature entitled “Can Kenya’s judiciary and election commission pull it off?” on readiness for the general election on that March 4. In a blog post from that April after the Supreme Court upheld the election I discussed Hon. Willie Mutunga’s “judicial philosophy” in the context of what he had had conveyed in that Africa Report just before the vote.

With this year’s Supreme Court decision annulling the August 8 presidential vote with Paul Muite, one of Kenya’s most prominent lawyers–and sometimes “Central Province” politician and official–representing the Election Commission (IEBC) I thought it was worthwhile to highlight his pre-election integrity concerns when he was not litigating:

There is, however, nervousness about how the IEBC will fare.

Led by Ahmed Issack Hassan, the IEBC has enjoyed public confidence since August 2010 when it ran the referendum on the new constitution.

It then held several by-elections with textbook efficiency.

But troubles began last year over a tender for biometric voter registration kits.

After anomalies were exposed, the government intervened and awarded the tender to France’s Safran Morpho at almost double the stipulated cost.

The delayed voter registration was com- pressed to one month instead of three.

James Oswago, the IEBC chief executive, says it is absolutely committed to transparency: “In fact, I am not aware of any public procurement officer who has referred a controversial process to the government for arbitration. I did. You have not heard anybody going to court for corruption linked to this process.”

Unlike the old Electoral Commission of Kenya, whose top officials were in the president’s gift, the IEBC has nine one-term commissioners including Oswago, who acts as secretary to the board.

Each commissioner was selected after consultations between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, the two main rivals in the 2007 election, and then vetted by parliament.

“We have in place structures that invalidate a discretionary announcement – a rigged vote. You can accuse the commission of inefficiency or of lateness and so on, but not of rigging,” Oswago says confidently.

INTEGRITY QUESTIONS

But Paul Muite, a lawyer who is contesting the presidency himself, does not share such certainty: “The IEBC is not inspiring confidence. I am not sure that they have the capacity or political will to conduct credible elections.

“There are integrity questions regarding some commissioners […] the composition of the commissioners was motivated not by merit but by the coalition government’s need for ethnic and regional balance.”

Similarly, a report by South Consulting, which has been monitoring the coalition government for the Panel of Eminent African Personalities led by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, raised questions about the IEBC’s capacity.

It questioned its capacity to act decisively on electoral disputes and pointed to its inability to censure rogue parties and politicians during the chaotic party primaries in January.

In January, the IEBC vetted and registered eight presidential candidates, rejecting two on technical grounds.

Among those approved was Uhuru Kenyatta, although he was facing a local case challenging his candidature on integrity grounds.

The case is unlikely to be decided before the presidential elections.

It seems the IEBC did not want to prejudge it, so was happy to let the courts decide.

Pressure is certain to build on the new and inexperienced IEBC as elections approach and then again in likely second round elections.

The courts, determined to uphold their independence, will probably act as a buffer against violent street protests.

The police force, overstretched as it is and caught in a maelstrom of reform, resistance and warring political factions, may not.

Voters may find themselves caught between these two institutions●

Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Can Kenya’s judiciary and electoral commission pull it off? | East & Horn Africa

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Kenya 2017 – EU Election Observation Mission releases Final Report

The Kenyan Ambassador to the EU accuses the EU EOM of violating a Memorandum of Agreement with the Government of Kenya governing its observation by releasing its Final Report this week. (I have not had a response yet from a request for a copy of the MOU from the EOM or been able to otherwise locate a copy–it is likely routine.)

The report has a fair bit of information on the immediate mechanics of voting this year, while noting that few of the recommendations of the 2013 EUEOM had been met in preparation.

Of the 22 recommendations made by the 2013 EU EOM, it appears that none of the five priority recommendations have been implemented, and only two have been fully implemented (related to a unified voter register and defining the duration of the campaign). The rest have been partially implemented, albeit minimally in some cases, or not implemented at all.

I do not have any particular comment regarding the voting itself having elected not to be there myself.

While observing that the new IEBC was appointed unduly late, in a climate of mistrust, the report does not addresses the context or even mention the “Chickengate” convictions by the Courts of EU Member the UK for bribes paid for previous IIEC/IEBC procurements, or the Government of Kenya’s failure to prosecute the recipients, for example.

I will be interested to hear more on the thoughts of others who were there.

EU Election Observation Mission 2017 Final Report

Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi; public statements adjusted to advocate for “national conversation” as substitute for “national dialogue”

I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.

In the latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said, “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.

Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

Timely new reading for the latest chapter in the Kenya struggle

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Brand new from Palgrave, Westen K. Shilaho’s Political Power and Tribalism in Kenya. Reading now.

Kenya presidential re-vote: highlights of closing argument for invalidating the IEBC’s second try

The good people at www.NeverAgain.co.ke have given us an edited version of the concluding argument in the Supreme Court from Julie Soweto, counsel for petitioners Njonjo Mue and Khelef Khalifa: Kenya’s Supreme Court judges have a choice between upholding the beacon they raised or apologizing for doing the right thing:

We, the people, are beseeching this Court to act again in defence of the law and the Constitution. If we are to summarise our grievance in this petition, it is this, IEBC and the Chairperson of the IEBC simply do not seem to understand the Constitution and the law. Either they do not understand it, or they believe they can get away with disregarding the law.

The starting point is September 1, 2017 because that is where this Court gave its direction: Go and conduct a fresh election in strict compliance with the Constitution and the applicable law.

We are going to demonstrate that IEBC and the chairperson simply did not do this.

. . . .

Our petition rests on five limbs: the absence of universal suffrage, the environment of violence and intimidation; the independence of the electoral management body; its dishonesty and duplicity; and its failure to follow the law and its own procedures.

. . . .

Thirdly, this Court cannot avoid the reality before its eyes, which is that the IEBC appears to be under the thumb of the Executive, currently controlled by the Third Respondent. Their pleadings are either similar or complementary. The affidavit of the IEBC chairman, is proof that the commission was never independent but was working overtime to please political players such as the National Super Alliance and the Jubilee Party. The internal incoherence of the commission is proof of its discordance, brought to light most dramatically by the resignation of Commissioner Roselyn Akombe.

Part of IEBC’s dysfunction is right before the Court in the form of the affidavits sworn by the vice chair on her own behalf and on behalf of five other commissioners excluding the chair. What is to be understood by this?

IEBC is wholly to blame for this state of affairs. Their own internal environment precipitated the climate of violence and intimidation.

Dr Akombe feared for her life. The Chairperson’s address on October 18, 2017 acknowledged her as “one of our brightest”. His statement show and confirm his awareness that this was no environment to hold a free, fair and credible election. This is the National Returning Officer making such statements a week to the election. Can it then be argued that his own statement did not have an effect on the conduct of the electorate? For one side, definitely, he must have affirmed and reinforced their convictions that the election was a sham. Could this damage be undone in seven days?

That damage had led to the withdrawal of a candidate, which precipitated boycotts and attendant consequences. The IEBC is squarely to blame for this state of affairs. This is the chairperson confirming the internal environment of the IEBC was discordant. At this point the damage is already done. It is too late. He confirmed that there were attempts to interfere with the commission and that there was partisanship within it.

What could he and should he have done? He could have come to this Court and presented his challenges. He came to clarify what to do about wrong numbers! How to do add numbers. If he had read and applied the Constitution holistically he could similarly have come to seek help. He did not.

Fourth, the IEBC decided what law to follow and what law to ignore. It chose to rely on the Supreme Court decision in 2013 where it provided that only the President-elect in a nullified election and the successful petitioner should contest the fresh election; but it did not want to obey the direction that one candidate abandoning the race would automatically require a new election. The IEBC printed ballot papers with Shakhalaga Khwa Jirongo’s name on the list of candidates on October 19, and then gazetted his candidature on October 24, 2017. It declared that no nominations would be conducted, when it could have declared the candidates as having been nominated by dint of the Supreme Court’s nullification of the August 8, 2017 election. It held consultations with a variety of stakeholders but neglected to inform political parties about the gazettement of returning officers.

Finally, the IEBC has been unable to tell a consistent story about the elections. The number of registered voters is a moving target. The voter turnout in the fresh presidential election changed at least three times. Voter turnout is the true north of any credible election result, and it is locked down at the close of polling. The Commission’s behaviour around the voter turnout suggests that it was fluid.

. . . .

Raila on the Kenyan elections at CSIS

Catch the webcast, live Thursday morning 9:30-11:00 EST:

“Raila Odinga on the Kenyan Elections” with Amb. Mark Bellamy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The link will also take you to the video for CSIS Africa programs addressing the Kenyan election in June, July, August and September.

Meanwhile, the AP has a story out this afternoon widely re-published in American newspapers: “After Kenyan vote drama, successionist talk hits the mainstream“.

The succession concern may likely have resonance in Washington given U.S. interests, although my sense is that the economic boycotts are the most salient message in Nairobi.  During the PEV period following the corrupted 2007 election, ODM backed off on threats of such economic boycotts which seemed risky as unprecedented and perhaps perceived to be “over the top”.

Vogue gives us “Three Nairobi Fitness Excursions Prove There’s Plenty of Life Beyond the Safari” for Americans who want to play around the city after their “humanitarian” trip to Kakamega from the U.S.

And the Carter Center has released a statement on the October 26 re-vote mirroring the State Department’s call for “national dialogue”: “Repeat poll polarized Kenya: Carter Center” headlined the Daily Nation.

Update: A Thursday story in The Star reports that  “British Army may pull out of Kenya, decision by end of month“.  The issue is KDF approval for leases of private land in Laikipia, the established practice, as opposed to a restriction to using only Kenyan government property.

For a good overview, see “The Kenya Election Crisis, Explained” at UNDispatch         by Kimberly Curtis.