Remembering Dr. Joyce Laboso and Jerry Okungu and Rift Valley Rural Women Empowermen

Kenya Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment NetworkRift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network – Jerry Okungu seated in front row, far right, Dr. Joyce Laboso standing in second row, in white ball cap, 2nd from right

Dr. Joyce Laboso, who died in July while serving as Governor of Kenya’s Bomet County, and Jerry Okungu, the late journalist, columnist, media consultant and publisher, were favorites from working with them through the International Republican Institute in 2007 before that years’ election. Sadly they have both been lost to cancer at much too early an age.

Jerry worked with us as a consultant doing media and communications training and I travelled with him to conduct multiday programs at Edgerton University in the Rift Valley and Garissa in then North Eastern Province. My next post will be a more involved tribute to Jerry who died in January 2014. In the meantime, see his obituary from Citizen TV. Jerry and I kept up in later years and I have always regretted that we missed getting together again in person as we had hoped.

During the months leading up to the 2007 election, we at the IRI East Africa office were on a relative shoestring. Our primary Kenya work was our National Endowment for Democracy country program which was focused on training women and minority members who aspired to run for parliament. So we latched onto the invitation to work with the UN-supported Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network to provide training and encouragement. We engaged Jerry to provide media and communications training.

At the time, Dr. Laboso’s sister Lorna was running for parliament in Sotik and was nominated by ODM and elected. I got to spend time with Joyce who was especially helpful to me as a newcomer in understanding the “bad old days” (my term not hers) when she spent years as a student and graduate student in England, but at home could not safely even mention in public the name of the then-President. She also helped me understand a bit about “intra-Kalenjin” politics (she was Kipsigis). An ODM wave was coming in the Rift Valley that year and a number of women candidates were part of the perceived post-Moi “change”.

Sadly, Joyce’s entry into elective politics herself later in 2008 came about from two untimely deaths.

The first was on the morning of January 31, 2008 (during the post election violence). David Too of Ainimoi Constituency became the second ODM Member of Parliament to be shot dead since the election. Too was shot by a policeman who also shot and killed a policewoman Too was with in a car. During that time the strategy of Kibaki’s PNU during the post election violence period was to consolidate power by drawing away (or down) the ODM margin in Parliament that allowed the narrow election of ODM’s Kenneth Marende as Speaker (and Marende’s elevation cost ODM one seat). Kibaki had appointed third-place candidate ODM-Kenya’s Kalonzo Musyoka as Vice President (according to Joe Khamisi part of a pre-election deal he negotiated with Stanley Murage representing Kibaki), and KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta as Minister of Local Affairs. Kenyatta and “Retired President” Moi had endorsed Kibaki by August and aligned KANU with Kibaki’s new PNU when it was formed in September, even though Uhuru remained “the leader of the Official Opposition”. (This sticks in my mind in part because I met with new Speaker Marende at his request that morning and the news of Too’s killing hit shortly before I arrived.)

(In October 2009, Judge David Maraga, elevated to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2016, found the killer guilty of reduced charges of manslaughter in the killings of both the policewoman and MP Too. Maraga found the downgrade from murder to manslaughter warranted by the lack of intent indicated by “provocations” of both jealousy and self-defense.)

Unfortunately, on February 1, the day after Too’s killing and my meeting with Speaker Marende, I was told that IRI back in Washington had made the decision not to release the exit poll contradicting the presidential totals announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya shortly before Kibaki’s swearing in on December 30 (per our agreement with USAID release of the results for this exit poll, the third in a series, was to involve consultations with the Nairobi mission that included diplomatic considerations, although there have been some claims that these did not occur for unexplained reasons.) Following that news I was constrained in my ability to interact freely with Kenyan politicians—and on Speaker Marende’s request that I meet with Kofi Annan to encourage the mediation process—since I was not willing to go along with telling anyone the exit poll was “invalid” per the “official line”.  I ended up going home in May when my temporary duty with IRI was up without initiating goodbyes to Joyce or most of the others that I might have.

Raila and Kibaki agreed to their “peace deal” for power sharing on February 28 and it held in spite of the lack of support from some leaders and on the back benches on Kibaki’s PNU side who still wanted to try to wrangle a working majority in parliament, engineer a vote of “no confidence” against the new Prime Minister and re-take full control of government.

Tragically, in June 2008, Joyce’s sister, the Hon. Lorna Laboso, along with her colleague Kipkalia Kones, in his fifth term from Bomet and serving as Roads Minister, were killed when their light plane from Nairobi crashed on a trip to campaign for the ODM candidate in the special election to replace David Too in Ainimoi Constituency. Lorna was remembered as a a pioneer of women in politics and for campaigning against the cultural practice of female genital mutilation among the Kipsigis . (Both she and Kones were mentioned for allegations of backing politically related violence in PEV period but of course there were never any legal proceedings; that part of the February 28 “peace deal” ultimately failed and we are left with the muddle of mass informal immunity among the living, and questions about others, for the mass violence.)

It was this sequence that led Joyce to step up as a candidate in the special election that September to fill Lorna’s Sotik seat. I sent condolences on her sister’s death and congratulations on her special election, and but we never interacted again so I am left with appreciating her as a pre-political leader and not knowing what she thought about the various twists and turns of her own career in politics, sadly cut short by cancer as too many others.

So what does the history of Kenya’s military and GSU from the Kenyatta era mean now going into the 2012 elections?

So what does the history of Kenya’s military and GSU from the Kenyatta era, as discussed in my last post, mean today heading into the 2012 elections?  Please take time to read a presentation from Jerry Okungu from a UNDP conference in South Africa over the weekend posted at his Africa News Online blog.  I worked with Jerry at IRI and I understand and appreciate his expertise on Kenyan political history.  He gives the background of the role of state security forces on through the Moi era and the first Kibaki administration and the 2007 election, along with a discussion of structural changes possible under the new Kenyan constitution.

Jerry Okungu, “The Role of the Security Agencies During Elections in Kenya” at Africa News Online.

So where are we at the end of 2011?

In Kenya the situation has been like this before a new constitution came into place:
  • The President is the Commander in Chief of all Armed Forces including Prisons Department
  • He appoints ministers of Defense and Internal Security together with their assistants and Permanent Secretaries. They all have their offices in the Office of the President
  • He appoints all army Generals and Commandants, the Police Commissioner, the Admin Police  and General  Service  Unit Commandants
  • He appoints all the eight Provincial Commissioners and 250 District Commissioners who are also  Security Committee chairmen in their respective Districts and Provinces
  • The President also appoints the Directors of Criminal Investigation and National Intelligence Service that also report to him directly
  • The President also appoints all judges of the High Court and Court of Appeal as well as the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions
With this scenario, it was difficult to have a legal system that would go against the wishes of the President in power. It was the reason the police never investigated election related crimes and those who were taken to court were acquitted for lack of “sufficient” evidence.
Because non-state actors in politics realized that they could not get protection from state owned security agents, they recruited their own for their own personal security and to encounter state brutality during election seasons. In this regard, the following private militias have sprouted on the Kenyan scene since 1992, the year Moi predicted that multi party politics would bring back ethnic violence:
  • The Kalenjin Warriors of Rift Valley believed to have belonged to President Moi and his kitchen cabinet
  • Mt. Elgon Land Freedom Army fighting for their land in lower parts of South Rift Valley
  • The dreaded Mungiki militias of Central Province fighting an economic war against wealthy Kikuyus
  • Jeshi la Mzee of Nairobi area during Moi’s time
  • Kizungu Zungu and Chikokoro gangs that operated in Kisii parts of Nyanza Province
  • Angola Musumbiji gangs that operated in Western Province
  • Coast Republican Party, a militia separatist group that operated in the Coast region
  • Baghdad Boys of Mathare slums
  • Artur Brothers that were imported from Armenia to cause chaos in Kenya
Because the government was running its own set of gangs from the Police Force that from time to time carried out extra-judicial killings of innocent Kenyans, it was difficult for the government to curb the growth of other non-state gangs. Ironically when the government operatives needed to deal with the opposition leaders, they would employ the services of some of these gangs a long side the regular police.
Kenyans, mainly non-state actors struggled for almost three decades to get a new constitution and to restore governance and democratic practices that would salvage their nation from the abyss of political pit-hole they had found themselves in.
The 2007 post election violence left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Kenyans. The aftermath of the death of 1500 innocent Kenyans half of which perished at the hands of police brutality made Kenyans resolve that time was ripe for a new constitution and far reaching political, social and economic reforms. We had to rethink our governance practices.
Because of the trauma of post election violence of 2007, it was easier for political foes to reach compromises and usher in a new constitution that was finally promulgated at a colourful ceremony in August 2010.
With this new constitution came sweeping changes in our governance structure. The office of the President was stripped of powers to appoint state officers. Such powers the constitution vested in Parliament to avoid future abuse of office by the Presidency.
Among many key reforms in the new constitution:
The constitution also merged the Regular Police with the Admin Police to form the Kenya Police Service with one Inspector General at the head and a Police Service Commission as the authority to report to. This means that future regimes would not be able to misuse the Police for their own political ambitions. A long with this the entire Police Service would be structured afresh with top officers vetted before being reemployed.
In the Judiciary, the constitution created another layer of the judicial system by creating the Supreme Court of Kenya above the current Court of Appeal with the Chief Justice as the President of the Supreme Court. Also created was the post of Deputy Chief Justice and five other Supreme Court Judges. The constitution also mandated that all sitting judges and magistrates would be vetted by the Judicial Service Commission before being readmitted to the service.
The vetting of judges and the Police Force was one way of saying that corruption in the Judiciary and the Police Force, especially the investigation and prosecution agencies had to be dealt with. With a more professional Judiciary and State Security Agencies in place, it was hoped that criminal activities that went unpunished would be a thing of the past in Kenya’s electoral process.
The Creation of a new electoral body- The Independent Election and Boundaries Commission
 Part of the reason why elections over the years were riddled with violence and corruption was because the Executive appointees to the Electoral Commission were too weak and powerless to act against the excesses of the state. They had no security of office entrenched in the constitution. They were handpicked by the Executive, hence the temptation to please the appointing authority.

So formally, the opportunity for significant change is in place with the new constitution for the next election.  But implementation is very much a work in progress and the new mechanisms are untested or not yet in existence.  The individual actors in the process are mostly the same people who have thrived under the Kenyatta/Moi/Kibaki rule in the old system.  So tools are available for a better outcome and there is some basis for hope, but clearly no one who is not a direct actor in the Kenyan political system has a sound basis to assume that the next election will not be violent.

The Star launches on the web

Just in time for the election in Uganda, the Star in Nairobi has launched its website. The Star began as a competing daily to the Nation and Standard and to the other tabloids during my time in Nairobi. It quickly became a necessary political news read. Its launch on the web is a big step forward for Nairobi and Kenya as a regional media and communications hub, and a step forward toward a future of more accountability and better governance through greater openness. And a better media through competition.

The more outlets, the harder it will be for the Government of Kenya to suppress the news.

Upcoming–the new attempt to revive draconian regulation of the Kenyan media before the 2012 campaign.

Here are three columns that deserve your attention in understanding the current state of play in Kenya:

Jerry Okungu–“Kibaki Has Soiled Nominee’s Names”

Wycliffe Muga–“Kibaki’s Delimna Over His Legacy”

Mugambi Kiai–“Deconstructing ‘servant leadership'”

Lots of Links–Kenya

Good news, to follow up on my previous post about Nescafe and Kenya, here is a report from CapitalFM titled “Kenyan Coffee Gets Branded” about a new effort to add and capture value for Kenyan growers by the Kenyan Coffee Board. Note the point about decreasing production associated with real estate development.***

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Something I missed in the Committee of Experts draft Constitution:  provision that would eliminate portaits of individuals from currency and coins (in other words Kenyatta and Moi–and no new Kibaki money to come).  Said to be first recent effort at enacting such a law globally. (Strikes me as a great idea–subject to wise phase in. Maybe next there could be a radical move like taking down the picture of the president in the dry cleaners, the book shop, the cafe, etc. . . . )

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New Kenyan Media–Kenya Today “Breaking News 24/7” on the web. CEO is Jerry Okungu. Congrats and good luck!

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Kenyanpolitics on blogger.

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News from VP Kalonzo Musoyka’s church visit in Jinja on his Uganda trip.

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Jeffrey Gettleman reviews Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat in the New York Review of Books (behind subscription wall or $3 for article purchase 3700 words).
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***Hee–a classic lesson in Kenya:  Here is a report of the “good news” that Kenya is going to brand its coffee–not to mention roast the beans in Kenya and market it in Europe–from . . . 2005. (HT Argen Westra)