“You are doing a heck of a job”; Biden and Kenyatta get cozy at White House

Remarks by President Biden and President Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya Before Bilateral Meeting

President Biden and President Kenyatta had an apparently cozy visit at the White House. Biden got to host an African head of state after neglecting to do so around the UN General Assembly. Kenyatta got to “bring home” news of a U.S. vaccine donation, personal praise from Biden and a mutual reiteration about how well the Governments of our two countries do on cooperating on terrorism, business and generally on being “partners”. See the account from Kenya’s state media, KBC.

A good way to end the week for Client 13173 of Geneva’s Union Bancaire Privée (see “Secret Assets Exposed by Pandora Papers Expose Uhuru Kenyatta’s Family“, by Will Fitzgibbon in The Elephant, Oct 8).

I do not think it unfair to read the tea leaves from this action by the Biden Administration–on the heels of announcing the appointment of Judd Devermont, late of the Center for Strategic and Studies, to formulate a new Africa policy (as John Bolton in the Trump Administration)–toward deciphering how the U.S. executive branch can be expected to play Kenya’s current election.

Of course, the “heck of a job” line is usually intended to be sarcastic in the United States, as remembered with poignancy by those of us who had personal experience with Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As explained in Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary:

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.
The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”
Brown resigned ten days after he was praised.

George W Bush praises FEMA head Michael Brown in Louisiana after Hurricane KatrinaPresident George W. Bush tells FEMA Administrator Michael Brown he’s doing “a heck of a job.” (Photo: AP)

Biding time on democracy in Kenya and Uganda

 

Kenya election 2007 banner for Kibaki Nakuru
Ugandan MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine will speak at the McCain Institute’s virtual 2021 Sedona Forum. The State Department has issued a statement criticizing the January Ugandan election and announcing that it is issuing visa restrictions on unnamed Ugandan officials responsible for undermining the democratic process

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Three years after the resignations of a majority of Kenya’s election commissioners, President Uhuru Kenyatta has formally taken notice of the four vacancies and gazetted the process through which he will appoint replacements.

Why now? While the President has not explained specifically to my knowledge, his ruling Jubilee Party is seeking to have the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission conduct a constitutional referendum within weeks to approve amendments derived from the “Building Bridges Initiative”. (A version of a proposal to amend the constitution was passed by most of Kenya’s county assemblies positioned as a citizen initiative. It is now before Parliament where there is internal debate among proponents as to whether to approve it for referendum as is, or to allow amendments to what has already been passed by the counties, which would raise additional legal questions. Challenges to the legality of the process to date are pending in the courts already.)

Although Kenya’s courts have allowed the IEBC to continue to conduct by-elections and all its other business with only three of seven commission seats filled since the most recent resignations in April 2018 there seems to be an expectation that appointing new commissioners is desirable ahead of the referendum and the general election approaching in August 2022. Legislation signed into law last year changes the appointment powers for choosing the committee that will interview applicants for the IEBC slots and winnow choices for the President. Four of the seven screening committee members will now named by the Parliamentary Service Commission, tipping the balance in favor of the current office holders.

Remember that U.S. president Joe Biden has “been around”, with far more diplomatic experience than any of his four most recent predecessors in the White House. In 2010 as Vice President he met with Kenyan Speaker Kenneth Marende, along with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, ahead of that year’s constitutional referendum during the period in which Kenya was deciding between justice-oriented remedies and impunity for the 2007-08 Post-Election Violence.

This is what I wrote at the time, “Marende praised by U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights, meeting with Biden; South Mugirango by-election this week”:

Kenyan Speaker of Parliament Kenneth Marende seems to be getting an increased international profile. Navanethem Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Marende on Monday, expressing concern regarding progress on prosecution of suspects for post election violence. According to the Standard she singled out Marende for praise, “saying he had made immense contribution in stabilising the country through some historic rulings and the manner he handled issues in Parliament”.

U.S. Vice President Biden will call on Marende Tuesday as well, along with his meeting with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

Interestingly, Marende says that Parliament “would easily pass” legislation to provide for a “local tribunal” to try election violence cases under Kenyan criminal law “if the ICC acted swiftly by taking away key perpetrators of the violence”.

Biden will leave Thursday morning, the day of the South Mugirango by-election to fill the seat vacated by a successful election petition against Omingo Magara, originally of ODM. As it stands the race is hot, with Raila Odinga campaigning for the substitute ODM nominee, Ibrahim Ochoi, William Ruto campaigning for Magara running as a PDP nominee and heavyweights in PNU affiliates split among Magara and other candidates.