How on earth did USAID in Kenya end up helping to finance Michuki’s imperial Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club? (revised)

(The end of this post has been revised to reflect skepticism about an allegation by Kenya’s Minister of Natural Resources in 1998 that land for Windsor was irregularly allocated to Michuki from Karura Forest based on the geographic separation between Windsor and the Forest.  Not a central issue, but I want to be as fair as possible.)

This very interesting piece of diplomatic and development history is noted in a recent oral history interview by a former USAID official, Kiertisak Toh, which I have introduced and excerpted below. I have not found reference in the Kenyan or U.S. media to the USAID role in this high profile development started in 1988.

For John Michuki, the Kenyan baron of the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club and Kibaki’s Interior Minister during my time in Kenya, please see my post on the occasion of his passing in 2012: “The Michuki Rule, and personal memories: Independence Day, snakes and freedom” and “Don’t forget about the Standard raid“. See “Trust and Accountability: Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peaceful election” with thoughts about his impact on the post election violence. More expansively, for a politico/business biography with an eye to multiplicity of controversies over the years, see “Who is John ‘Kimeedero’ Michuki?” at The Kenya-Stockholm Blog. “Death of an old guardsman” from The Economist:

But as the country’s internal security minister, his hands were covered in blood. He was implicated in mass extrajudicial killings in 2007, in which hundreds of young Kenyan men were shot in the back of the head or bludgeoned to death for their alleged involvement in the Mungiki organised crime gang. And in 2006 Mr Michuki made a fool of himself by bringing to Kenya a pair of Armenian gangsters to shut down newspapers and television critical of the government. Since then, the country’s media have operated more or less freely.

To many Mr Michuki was a bridge to an older Africa. The space between tribal traditions and the palatial Windsor Golf Club, which Mr Michuki built at the north end of Nairobi, can be measured in his life span. He was born in 1932 into a large polygamous Kikuyu family. Orphaned as a child, Mr Michuki left his rural home for Nairobi. He found work in a uniform shop sewing on buttons before battling his way through primary and secondary school. He was loyal to the crown in its bloody hammering of the Mau Mau insurgency. Choosing the British over his countrymen set him at odds with the founding myth of Kenya, but Mr Michuki was too intelligent and “no nonsense” to let it hinder his career. He won a scholarship to Oxford, and became a district commissioner. He was put in charge of newly independent Kenya’s treasury. He ran the Kenya Commercial Bank and got involved in politics. Like the then attorney-general, Charles Njonjo, Mr Michuki had an Anglophile sense of things “being done properly.”

To Mr Michuku, that meant keeping his buttons polished and being on time, but it did not mean transparency. He was part of the cabal of Kikuyu and Meru politicians, intelligence officers and businessmen who ran a state within a state and turned a blind eye to dodgy land and business dealings. President Mwai Kibaki yesterday called Mr Michuki a “true family friend and a dependable ally.” The shame was that his acuity and vigour were not more often put at the service of the common man. . . .

The Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club is explicitly neocolonial. No one’s heart is going to bleed for the British Royal Family over the cultural appropriation but as an American taxpayer, I feel a bit wretched on learning my “assistance dollars” were used directly instead of just indirectly to subsidize Kenya’s oligarchs in this way. (Disclosure: I have been a member of a private golf club myself, years ago, although I gave it up when I had children. But I am also aware of a variety of laws and regulations in the United States designed to keep governmental development and tax subsidies away from underwriting golf courses, even those that are far less exclusively targeted to the rich than Michuki’s Windsor.) [And, yes, I understand we are spending millions on President Trump’s golf resorts, and I object to that accordingly; that is straightforward self-dealing by our chief executive himself, rather than a misallocation of meagre development resources from poor to rich.]

I highly recommend reading the full Toh oral history interview for anyone interested in understanding the course of relations between Kenya and the United States from the mid-1980s through 2005, as well as one insider’s perspective on the tension between democratization and economic development assistance goals (Toh is an economist by background and initially worked in that capacity for USAID before rising into administration):

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Foreign Assistance Series KIERTISAK TOH Interviewed by: Carol Peasley Initial interview date: February 9, 2018 Copyright 2018 ADST (funded by USAID Cooperative Agreement).

Toh’s positions in Kenya:

USAID/Kenya – Program Economist 1986-1989

USAID/Washington – Program Economist, Africa Bureau/East Africa 1991-1992

USAID/Kenya – Mission Director 2001-2005

. . . .

Q: Well, why don’t you talk- So, this was- you’re in Kenya in 1986 to 1989, so at that point was it a pretty good size program in Kenya, was it one of our premiere programs?

TOH: Yes, it was a high profile and one of the largest programs in Africa with big ESF [Economic Support Funds] money and CIP, Commodity Import Program. We were in the Cold War era. Kenya was considered our geopolitical and strategic partner in the region.

Q: Oh, there was a Commodity Input Program there. Oh, I didn’t realize that.

TOH: And a large- I guess we tried to make the CIP as part of the private sector development program. Kenya at the time had foreign exchange controls which were a barrier to private business to import.

Q: Ah. So, it was a large ESF program. Was that because the U.S. military was using the Port of Mombasa?

TOH: I think so. Q: Yes, okay, so there was a military link to that. So, a large ESF and that was mostly Commodity Import Program?

TOH: Yes, mostly tied to Commodity Import Program. The foreign exchange part of the CIP program provided the balance-of-payments support and the counterpart local currency served as budget support mostly tied to USAID project.

Q: Private sector development. Was the- would imports tied to any sector or anything or were they just broad- do you recall?

TOH: It was broad until 1989 when we turned part (or most, not sure) of the ESF into targeted support for fertilizer imports.

Q: Well, the importers would have been providing the local currency, right? They would have been buying the- in essence buying the dollars?

TOH: In general, we provided the dollars to the Central Bank. The idea was for the government to make it easier for importers to get import licenses and through Central Bank the foreign exchange to pay for imports. The private sector bought the foreign exchange with the local currency, Kenyan shillings, which was deposited in the special accounts at the Central Bank. The local currency legally belonged to the government. But we agreed to program these funds jointly. A big portion of the local currency went to support USAID projects and other private sector development activities..

Q: Right, okay. So, it really was to liberalize then the whole foreign exchange regime?

TOH: Right.

Q: With the local currency used for private enterprise development, did some of that go into credit programs to the banks, or do you recall? Or some of it budget support to ministries. How would it have been used, do you recall?

TOH: Part of these shillings might have been used to support microenterprise credit and loans to businesses. I remember one of the loans went to an influential Kenyan government official to help finance the Windsor Golf Club. When I went back to Kenya the third time (2001) we tried to clean up the outstanding default loan. I am not sure whether we were able to recover the loan. Our private sector development program, except for the microcredit and the CIP programs, was not well targeted. We kind of followed the “thousand points of light” approach.

Q: Women-owned micro-enterprises, because Kenya had one of the big success stories of microenterprise for women, right? KREP?

TOH: Right, yes. We had a project, I think, that helped KREP, Kenya Rural Enterprise Project. And I still have an account with KREP.

. . . .

Fundamentally, diplomacy and development, though can be complementary, are inherently different in their missions, targets, how success is measured. Diplomacy is about maintaining favorable economic and political relationships abroad; it tends to be short-term orientated and transactional. The mission of development is about saving lives and support for long-term equitable growth and poverty reduction; it tends to be concerned with long-term transformative and sustainable changes. The targets for diplomacy are political leaders and citizens where geostrategic and foreign policy interests are most significant. The targets for development are populations where potential impact on poverty, human suffering, and human development is greatest. The success of diplomacy is measured by the strength of the relationship with the U.S. and support for U.S. political priorities. The success of development is measured by the progress in terms of saving lives, reducing poverty, and enhancing equitable, broad-based economic growth.

There are a lot of interesting items to follow up on here: 1) has the Windsor loan balance been collected or not?; 2) why was this project selected and approved, how much money was involved, etc.? 3) in 1998 Minster of Natural Resources claimed in Parliament that Michuki’s Windsor Golf Hotel and the Belgian Embassy had been irregularly allocated land from Karura Forest, but the Windsor club is not adjacent to the Forest so the allegation does not seem to make sense in that way, but it would be interesting to understand the acquisition of the land. [Note: I have revised this to express skepticism about Lotado’s allegation based on the geography as raised by readers.]

Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]

Having apologized for having gotten our shoes in the way of the vomit, donors to Kenya’s government are now finally alarmed again about the (ongoing) corruption

Here is the latest from Kenya’s Journalists for Justice on the corrupt involvement of personnel in the Kenya Defense Forces in the charcoal and sugar smuggling trade.

It’s not so much that I’m jaded, it’s just that I have watched this movie before–and even been an “extra” of sorts in one of the previous remakes.

Yes, corruption is obviously getting even worse within this Kenyan administration than within the last.  But that was also true when I lived in Kenya during the end of the first Kibaki administration and into the beginning of the second.

There are several readily apparent reasons.  For instance, when I lived in Kenya I made the acquaintance of a Western expat whose spouse was in the tourism business. Prior to the 2007 vote count corruption and violence, the tourism business was booming.  But corruption was up as a cost of doing business as it was explained to me because to operate you had to pay off a second generation, too–the kids of the senior politicians.  Presumably this generational expansion has continued.  Why wouldn’t it?

The year before I moved to Kenya the UK and US envoys had been outspokenly opposed to the corruption, in the context of the Anglo Leasing revelations by John Githongo of massive corruption involving national security procurements, touching our own security interests aside from our sensibilities about criminal behavior, along with the outrageous shenanigans involving the Artur Brothers, and the Standard media raid, among others.  The British envoy even offered the memorably colorful “vomit on our (the donors’) shoes” metaphor about the extent of the gluttonous “eating”.

But by the time I arrived in mid-2007 things were different.  New personnel led the diplomatic missions.  On the US side we apparently helped Moi and Kibaki get back together, and hosted Interior Minister John Michuki, of “rattling the snake” fame, who had taken credit for the Standard raid, on a security tour of the U.S.  Michuki represented Kibaki at our Embassy’s Fourth of July party, where Moi unofficially planted himself to catch the receiving line.

And then we looked the other way at the corruption of the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  Ambassador Ranneberger made sure to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed from our IRI Election Observation Mission on the basis that he was “perceived as anti-government”.  Bellamy had spoken out on the corruption, in particular the Standard raid.  The week before the vote, Ranneberger noted for the Kenyan public that Kenya was “on track” in fighting the vice of corruption, that  we had had Enron in the U.S., that prosecutions for Anglo Leasing and Goldenburg could take time, and that the World Bank had given the Kibaki administration an award for procurement reform (of all things) and that he expected a “free and fair” election.  And then we tried at first to sell the ECK’s election “count” even though we knew full well that it was bogus.  When that didn’t fly, we supported “power sharing” so long as there was no new election before Kibaki’s full second term was up.  According to a news report from Nairobi years later from stolen cables from “Wikileaks” we issued a couple of “travel bans” based on alleged evidence of bribery against two of the ECK commissioners, but we never disclosed this action or the evidence, why we singled out these two or anything else about the matter.

During the post election violence a diplomat explained to me that the reason many of the younger pols in Kibaki’s PNU coalition were against a power sharing settlement was that they didn’t want to share the secondary ministry appointments.  Ultimately by adding opposition politicians into the second Kibaki administration through “power sharing” with extra ministries you further expanded the multigenerational set of stomachs to let eat.  One way to look at the settlement naturally has been that Kibaki and Raila were willing to stop the fighting (so long as Kibaki retained with further ambiguity the full second term Presidency which the ECK had delivered to him) and the rest were bribed to acquiesce.

So you cannot tell me with a straight face that the diplomatic position of the United States in 2007-08 was to “oppose” corruption as a high rather than a subordinated priority.

After being stung by criticism from the election debacle, Ranneberger was reborn as an outspoken “reform agenda” campaigner for his extended tour on through the passage of a new constitution.  He compiled dossiers on money laundering and drug smuggling through politico/business interests and encouraged action, albeit to no avail. His successors quietly moved on, however, and we helped sell a new badly handled election in 2013 by a new, but probably more pervasively corrupted electoral authority.  We helped pay for expensive technology that was doomed by procurement fraud but kept quiet.  The British Serious Fraud Office successfully prosecuted one of their companies and its owners for bribes on other election procurements, but the Kenyan administration has taken no action to follow up and we have kept our silence.

With time, we have come again to affectionately embrace our usual suspect “partners”, with new programs headquartered in our favorite African city of Nairobi.  A photo op in the Oval Office with POTUS and FLOTUS for the Kenyan President and First Lady last year, followed this summer by a glowing official Presidential visit to Nairobi with a telegenic dance party at State House.   Never mind what we said before; please can we give you more?  Some eloquent speech about the cost of corruption, safely abstract from the burgeoning accumulation of years of specific cases on the impunity docket.  Yes we can dance with this new set of shoes without even looking down at the vomit.

Surely then it can be no surprise that things have gotten that much worse.  With a new report by Kenyan journalists on the longstanding implication of Kenyan Defense Forces which we help underwrite in Jubaland in the sugar and charcoal smuggling rackets, and fresh levels of embarrassment from the international press from the National Youth Service, irregular handling of bond proceeds amid rising debt levels, more land grabbing and another looted bank, all with a new election cycle approaching, the season has turned again and it is the time for furrowed brows.  Time for the U.S. to lead a donor group to call on the current version of the anti-corruption authority.  To talk again of “visa bans” and offers again to assist in “asset recovery”.

Instead of another remake, could this be a sequel offering a surprise ending, with say, even a few villains in jail, or at least less rich, as a cautionary tale for some and a bit of hope and inspiration for others? Or is this just another iteration of “the formula” in which the sheriff rides into town, frowns at the drunken brawl, then passes along to enjoy the cinematic scenery on the way home?

Only time will tell.  I do think we genuinely would prefer to be against the corruption rather than aligned with it.  We just lose our nerve and get distracted by other priorities that seem more immediate.  Making a dent in Kenya’s entrenched culture of impunity would take a long hard slog, in the face of bitter opposition formal and informal.  It would be messy and likely involve putting up with a bit of embarrassment–it could involve some risk and actual cost.  In any event  it would take a good while for us to convince the players that we had become serious.

The Michuki Rule

Much is being said and written about John Michuki with his passing this week.  The best I have read so far is here from Charles Onyango-Obbo: “Michuki was the bad guys’ good guy, and he was not afraid to take action.”

To some, Michuki gets some real credit for the fact that Kenya’s economy isn’t worse (Ken Opalo’s blog: “Michuki was among the group of super-wealthy conservative elites who at independence took over power and managed to quiet the more radical elements of the independence movement. Under their watch Kenya emerged as a capitalist enclave even as its many neighbors flirted with communism and African Socialism, with disastrous consequences.”)  I am not an enthusiast of that view.  My perspective would be to say that perhaps a bit of credit is due, in the sense that Kenya could certainly have done worse, but it could also be said that Michuki and his cronies helped assure the triumph of neo-colonialism over a robust national market economy, helped assure the growth of tribalism over the development of national identity and more generally stymied the opportunity for a competitive democratic system and political liberty.  As far as the economy, lets not forget that State ownership has been a big presence in Kenya’s economy even if less than in some others.  Likewise, privatization remains a highly politicized and extremely opaque process that seems to tie to the funding of election campaigns rather than to “technocratic” considerations (witness “Mobiltelea” and the Safaricom deal rushed through at the end of 2007 and unaddressed since).  In other words, to me not going Communist/Socialist is not nearly enough to justify the costs imposed on Kenyans by KANU and its successor as served, with effectiveness, by Hon. Michuki.  By any account, the Cold War has been over for a long time.

I did not meet Hon. Michuki and I do recognize that he was an accomplished man with friends beyond his politics and I appreciate that his command of “the Michuki Rules” was missed on the roads and highways during my time in Kenya in 2007 and 2008.  At the same time, the Standard raid cast a shadow over the Kenyan election campaign when I arrived in mid-2007 and he was the identified proponent of the raid (I give him his due for the courage  to “own” the raid, when others, including the President were relatively speaking “shrinking violets,” but the conduct was indefensible).  LIkewise, Michuki was the Minister of Internal Security when the country became insecure with the election crisis and the security forces protected Uhuru Park instead of the public, and he issued the order banning live broadcasting.  I respected his abilities, but I wished that he had stuck to his positive strengths when I was working to assist Kenyans in their democratic processes.

Most recently, Michuki has been Environment Minister and will be remembered in this last role for spurring the cleanup of the Nairobi River–certainly a task of government for the “common good”.  Here is a clip from NTV covering his recognition at a UN environment meeting he would have hosted:

Five Years After the Kenyan Government’s Raid on the Standard and Two Years After the Oscar Foundation Murders, Impunity Reigns and a “Local Tribunal” for Post Election Violence Remains a Pipe Dream

As I have previously written, I have to miss the frenzy of reading the Wikileaks diplomatic correspondence, but the Kenyan newspapers are full of articles related to a few of the cables newly leaked.  Much of this is Kenyan politicians dishing on each other to curry favor at the U.S. Embassy, and probably in some cases news to Kenyan voters who don’t have the same access to their leaders as Americans do.

One of the main impacts of the leaks in Kenya, that I would not necessarily have realized, is the degree to which the well-publicized cables give the Kenyan media cover to report facts that are quite well known but that they would not otherwise dare print for fear of libel suits and official displeasure.  Certainly much of what Kenyan politicos tell the Embassy they will have told reporters, or reporters will have learned independently, but couldn’t report until the State Department’s internal “news bureau” was stolen and partially put out on the internet.

Some of the material dates back to the Government’s raid on the Standard media house on March 2, 2006.  Enough of this outrageous incident (really series of incidents) has long been well known that in any country with leadership at all serious about press freedom and the rule of law there would be some people in jail.  Nonetheless, total impunity for each and every player in all of the multiple criminal acts remains the status quo.  While U.S. Ambassador Bellamy was sharply critical at the time, there is no indication that this has been on the public diplomacy agenda since.

It is in this context that observers of the Kenyan scene have to realize that the notion of a Kenyan “Local Tribunal” that would try the kingpins of the Post Election Violence identified by the Waki Commission report was always a pipe dream.

We have a recent report on the killing of former Foreign Minister Ouko, said to have taken place at State House in Nakuru–no action.  We have the circumstances crying out for investigation in the murders of civil rights activists Oscar Kingara and J.P. Oulo–two years have gone by today with no action.

While I agree completely with the notion that as a wholly conceptual matter, a Kenyan tribunal rather than the International Criminal Court would be the best place to try the suspects for the Post Election Violence, it is also quite clear that that was never going to happen.  The will is simply not there–the Government of Kenya has a well established policy of impunity which has served the interests at stake very successfully for many years.  It will not change of its own accord, or through simple persuasion or jawboning.  A “Local Tribunal” in Kenya, if there ever were such a thing, would be a platform for deal making to preserve impunity, not a court of law.  Because the United States is not a member of the ICC, it may well be that we are not so credible as leading advocates of the ICC as the appropriate venue for the election-related trials–nonetheless, I think we should stop indulging political frivolity in the context of these grave crimes.

Related Post on local tribunal.

Don’t forget about the Standard raid . . .

To me, the government-sponsored raid on the Standard newspaper in the spring of 2006 was a signal event in current Kenyan politics.  Clearly anti-democratic and without excuse.  Condemned strongly by the U.S. Ambassador at the time, Mark Bellamy and the other Western envoys in Nairobi.  And yet almost boasted of by figures in government, with impunity.

This was part of the background I found upon arriving in Nairobi just over a year later.  It was an elephant in the room when the Kibaki administration proposed a draconian law to restrict press freedom in mid-2007 in the lead up to the elections in December, and it was lurking when the government restricted coverage of the announcement of the presidential election outcome by the ECK on December 30 and then banned lived broadcasting thereafter.

Wednesday, the Kenyan parliament adopted a report calling for action on the matter, in particular finding that two key insiders, now-Enviroment Minister John Michuki, and Stanley Murage, a key figure in the Kibaki inner circle and senior presidential aide at the time, should be prosecuted.

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU, ashiundu@ke.nationmedia.com

Parliament has adopted the report on the Artur brothers without amendments and placed the onus for its implementation on the Executive.

Apart from the lone ‘No’ from Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo, the only Cabinet minister who was in the House when the report was put to a verbal vote, all other MPs including assistant ministers excitedly voted for the report’s adoption.

Mr Gitobu Imanyara (Imenti Central, CCU), who re-introduced the report in the House, moved debate and rallied MPs to adopt it criticised the Justice Minister saying “he obviously lived in another era” and not that of the new Constitution.

Mr Kilonzo had called for Parliament to stay the adoption of the report saying it “raises more questions than answers” and that it was a “comedy of errors”.

The report adversely mentions Mr John Michuki (former Internal Security minister and current Environment minister) for his role in shielding the Armenian brothers and even giving them a lead role in the raid of the Standard Group offices, printing press and KTN studios.

The Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura, former special advisor to the President Mr Stanley Murage, former CID director Joseph Kamau, Ms Mary Wambui and her daughter Winnie Wangui, together with Mr Raju Sanghani and Kamlesh Pattni are all indicted as per the evidence adduced before the parliamentary inquest.

The report is explicit that Mr Michuki and Mr Murage “should not hold public office” and that they should be prosecuted for their role in the Standard Group raid and for condoning illegal activities of the Armenians.

The implementation of the report will be monitored by Parliament’s Implementation Committee, which as per its operation mode means the report has to be implemented within 60 days, failure to which sanctions are placed on the Executive, unless an extension is sought.

“Central Province” leadership, the 2012 Kenyan Presidency, the ICC and the United States

 

The Standard has posted an interesting story on-line for the Sunday paper under the headline: “The hidden battle of class and power in Central Kenya”.

The endorsement of Uhuru Kenyatta as the leader of the Kikuyu by the Minister for Environment, John Michuki, has raised eyebrows but many think there is more to the statement.

Several personalities and political forces are digging in to inherit President Kibaki’s Central Province voting bloc and mantle, which is estimated to be worth four million-plus votes.

However, underlying this succession battle is a simmering rivalry in the politics of class and power that has been playing out for about a century.

Macharia Munene, a professor of history at the United States International University, Nairobi, says this class struggle dates back to colonial times. Then, peasants invented a tradition of resistance against colonialism.

However, a section of Africans, the so-called loyalists, collaborators and homeguards, opted to work for the colonial authorities in exchange for privileges and goodies like education, land, and jobs.

The resistance would culminate in the violent confrontation between the natives coming together under the Mau Mau resistance movement, and the British colonial government.

Central Province saw the most intense action for the seven years the Mau Mau uprising lasted. The relationship and roles of both loyalists and nationalists was more pronounced and hostile in the region than in other areas.

However, at independence, collaborators seized the levers of power and proceeded to economically and politically dominate State affairs, including distribution of resources, opportunities, senior civil service and parastatal jobs.

“Unfortunately, it was the loyalists who were better placed to take over power, having enjoyed cosy relationships with the departing colonial powers, but also having enjoyed privileges like better education than their nationalist brethren,” says Macharia.

Perpetual struggle

It is in this context that Michuki’s statement has re-ignited the twin narrative that has defined Kenya’s and central Kenya politics.

The narrative of one community, two classes in perpetual struggle for political and economic power. It is a context in which a wealthy minority uses its access to political power to increase its economic fortunes at the expense of the majority.

First it was the British colonial settler minority (1895-1963), and then the Kenyan political and economic elite (1963-to date).

The scholar says this elite in central Kenya has dominated regional politics and seeks to succeed Kibaki.

President Kibaki himself was through out the Kenyatta regime considered an outsider. Even in 2002, he only made it to power on the back of a broad and most inclusive political movement the original National Rainbow Coalition and was even abandoned by his erstwhile ally Njenga Karume.

The foremost politician seeking to destabilise the status quo in Central Province is Gichugu MP Martha Karua who has made it clear she would be gunning for president in 2012. Political analysts saw Michuki’s statement as a warning to Karua, whom this vcartel sees as a spoiler.

Former Subukia MP, Koigi Wamwere, says Michuki’s endorsement of Uhuru is an attempt by this economic elite to perpetuate itself.

“Michuki is warning other pretenders to the throne not to dare even try,” Koigi said.

By coincidence I started reading Koigi Wamwere’s autobiography I Refuse to Die during my trip to Washington to the MCC this week, so this is especially topical for me.

As I noted previously, Uhuru Kenyatta has been in New York and Washington of late as Kenya’s Finance Minister, as well as co-Deputy Prime Minister, attending UN and World Bank meetings and advocating for MCC compact status for Kenya. Amos Kimunya was Kibaki’s initial appointment to the Finance Ministry when he named the key cabinet spots during the post-election period. When Kimunya was forced to step aside due to the scandal over the sale of the Grand Regency hotel, Kibaki tapped Michuki, who was then succeeded by Kenyatta.

It’s especially interesting to look at how this plays in relation to the U.S. During the post-colonial heyday of the Cold War of course, the U.S. aligned with Jomo Kenyatta (and reportedly helped fund Tom Mboya covertly while the Soviets reportedly helped fund Oginga Odinga) and KANU “conservatives”, including Moi in his day. The U.S. interests supposedly served were both direct military alliance (access to bases and such) and other security cooperation, and seemingly some sort of ideological alliance based on the notion that the Kenyan model of one party formal “African socialism” involving conservative patronage, and state-created and supported oligarchy was preferable from a U.S. perspective to a version more akin to Nyerere’s or other more traditional, populist or radical “socialisms”.

Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall things have been complicated. Smith Hempstone, George H.W. Bush’s political appointment to the Ambassadorship, really stuck his neck out to push democratic reform and made a major contribution to forcing Moi to amend the constitution to allow competing parties, while maintaining military and security cooperation. Hempstone, a former editor of the Washington Times clearly came to the post with U.S. conservative bona fides and was vigorously anti-socialist. At the same time, however, other Americans continued to support Moi. As I noted in a previous post, one of Washington’s leading conservative think tanks generated a pro-Moi position paper in 1990 and Republican consultant and lobbyist Charlie Black and his firm represented Moi on past the first multi-party election in 1992 and into 1993 according to their foreign agent registration filings.

Hempstone believed that supporting democratic ideals, in itself, was a key part of the United States’ proper role in world affairs. In his book Rogue Ambassador: an African Memoir he writes “I told Raila it was untrue that the U.S. would not accept because of his leftist past his father’s election as president if he won freely, fairly, and lawfully. The mistakes of thirty years ago were water over the dam. Raila said he had never believed otherwise.” After Hempstone’s term ended in 1993, however, active U.S. interest in supporting democratic opposition to Moi waned.

Just as Hempstone did not think there were major ideological differences between the opposition candidates in 1992, the USAID officials that I spoke to in the run up to the 2007 election did not see major ideological differences among the opposition contenders or between Raila as ODM nominee and Kibaki. Nonetheless, the U.S. through Ambassador Ranneberger took a pro-Kibaki stance toward the election (this was not just my direct experience “on the ground”, but also the perception of one of America’s leading Africanists and Kenya experts who said on a panel at the African Studies Association last fall that he was convinced that the U.S. had supported Kibaki).

In their January 2009 New York Times story on the exit poll and election controversy, Mike McIntire and Jeffrey Gettleman wrote:

Despite initial economic successes and popular support after his election in 2002, Mr. Kibaki had gained a reputation for playing divisive tribal politics, and his administration had become tainted by scandal. Still, he had a good relationship with the Bush administration and generally supported American counterterrorism policies in East Africa.

Mr. Odinga was viewed skeptically by some in Washington because of his flamboyant manner and his background: he was educated in East Germany and named his son after Fidel Castro.

At the same time, then-Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, now with the Whitaker Group lobby firm and Carnegie Mellon University, was by reputation thought of as close to the Kenyatta family. Uhuru, however, was named in the Waki Commission report on the post-election violence as a suspect in playing a role in supporting revenge attacks by tribal militia and he is said to be likewise a key suspect in the current International Criminal Court investigation on this basis.

Ironically the Washington Times was conspicuous in publishing 2008 attacks on Raila Odinga, and linking him to Obama and the U.S. presidential race. Now, Glenn Beck attacks the new Kenyan constitution and Dinesh D’Souza and Newt Gingrich are attacking President Obama for being linked to his father who was of the same “tribe” as Oginga Odinga (even though Obama, Sr. was part of the U.S. government “airlift” to study in the United States while Raila is criticized for having studied in the Eastern bloc).

Looking ahead to a 2012 race in Kenya, during the 2012 race in the United States, if the Kenyan contest comes down to Raila Odinga versus Uhuru Kenyatta, with rich “class” and “tribal” subtexts understood by few Americans, what will the United States and other Americans do officially and unofficially? Will we prioritize democracy?; stability?; some notion of ideological compatibility?; some particular policy objective? And where does the issue of the post-election violence and the ICC fit in?

 

Independence Day and rattled snakes and freedom

I spent part of July 4 during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN).

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned.

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.”

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him.

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.