#BBIReport: Even American Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer testified to Congress during the 2008 Post Election Violence that Kenya critically needed “land tenure reform”

On the question of Kenya land reform, let me take a very long quote from Father Gabriel Dolan’s weekend column in The Standard: “BBI Team cannot close eyes to unanswered questions on land”:

How in God’s name can you produce a 156 page report entitled From a Nation of Blood Ties to a Nation of Ideals and have nothing to say on the matter of land? What about the politically instigated land clashes? What about the land grabbing that was modus operandi of the governing elites and their cronies for a half a century? This could hardly have been an oversight; more like a deliberate decision to ignore the subject matter! 

Worse still, sceptics even suspect that the content on land was expunged as it was in the TJRC report. Is the BBI team suggesting that the land question has been resolved and everything is hunky-dory? Is there no recognition that there are many unresolved ethnic issues over land ownership? How can they devote a whole chapter on corruption and just dwell on the pilfering of the coffers when the looters only headed there after they had grabbed most of the public land? How can they really talk about addressing inequality and not acknowledge that a few powerful families own up to two million acres of land while the poor are forced to build homes on river banks and slopes prone to landslides? Put another way, does the BBI team believe that land is not a matter that must be dealt with at this time, or do they imagine that it will resolve itself?  

The only obvious justification for such a grave and deliberate omission must be that the authors did not want to ruffle the feathers of their appointing godfathers. They wanted to present a very sanitised and safe report. In other words, this report was intended for the most part to maintain the status quo and keep wananchi occupied while nothing of substance would really change. When the political class praised the proposed reforms, you can be assured that they see the BBI as a means to consolidate and reinforce their power, not surrender it. When the rest speak of real change, the elites get worried and conspire to silence you.  

Just in case you suffer from amnesia, the Ndung’u Report revealed that there are 200,000 illegally acquired land titles, whose acreage totals over a million in the hands of thieves. How many of those has the National Land Commission or the EACC repossessed? Advocates of real change should be very angry because the BBI was designed to maintain, not challenge or restrain, the ruling class.

Now going back to the period of the Post Election Violence. On February 7, 2008 when the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Africa Subcommittee held a hearing on “The Immediate and Underlying Causes and Consequences of Kenya’s Flawed Election” (in addition to being asked about the then-unreleased USAID-funded IRI exit poll) Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer provided testimony about the roots of the underlying persistent violence associated with contestation for political offices in Kenya and stated explicitly in her prepared submission “land tenure reforms are critical to end the current crisis and prevent future ones” (p. 9 of Hearing Record linked above).

Let me also highlight the testimony of Katherine J. (Kate) Almquist, then Assistant Administrator for Africa at USAID:

“. . . since longstanding issues about land tenure were among the factors fueling the crisis in western Kenya, we believe that supporting reform relating to land tenure and property rights will be critical. There is a compelling need for land reform, leading to the security and regularization of tenure and property rights. A draft national land policy and related implementation plan are already in place, and there has been broad consensus among Kenyans that this draft national land policy reflects national sentiment.

USAID is already a partner in the land sector, and we anticipate increasing our assistance in this regard.” (pps. 12-13 of Hearing Record).

Kenyan Constitutional Reform and Michel Martin interview with Johnnie Carson

NPR’s Michel Martin interviewed Obama’s Asst. Secretary of State for Africa last week on “Tell Me More”–transcript is up on NPR.org.

Interesting that Martin starts with Kenya and the second anniversary of the election violence.  Carson is very specific that Kenya needs a new constitution and that it needs to include “a sharing of power” between “the” president and “the” prime minister, devolution of power to the provinces, and “a land reform bill”.  This raises the question of what the US role might be in moving the constitutional negotiation in that direction–and why.

Also significant is that Carson specifies the new constitution in the context of increased “goodwill and cooperation” among the current Kenyan political players.  Nothing said about impunity, the ICC, justice, corruption, et al.

Personally, I am more interested in “power sharing” between branches of government than in having a shared executive role, which in my view doesn’t do much for accountability.  I’m old enough to remember (from junior high school days) the brief flirtation with the idea of a Ford and Reagan “co-presidency” at the Republican Party convention.  Seems like everyone ended up agreeing it just wasn’t workable here.  It’s hard to make this succeed as a compromise deal negotiated between two individuals; not sure it isn’t harder to come up with a way to structure it systemically as a permanent choice in the constitution.

Land reform is crucial, of course, and the problem gets worse and worse as the population grows at a 2.7% clip–but the present Kenyan instutitions and the present crop of political leaders are, to my way of thinking, “no how, no way” ready, willing or able to tackle this until other reforms are effectuated.  Start by admitting that the problems are, in fact, unfixable and have no good solutions.  There is a price to be paid for all those years of corruption, venality and tribalism.  I wonder what the United States and other Western countries were doing about this back when the Kenyan population was 20 million instead of 40 million and the options were better? 

Regardless of any of the policy preferences of any of us in the US, however, I do completely agree that Kenyans need the opportunity to have the constitutional reform process move forward at pace, and go to vote in a referendum on the final product.  It seems to me that Kenyans are pretty well aware at this point that, in general, the political leadership does not have their best interests all that much in mind–giving the public the opportunity to have a direct say, for the first time since December 27, 2007 is crucial to restoring functional democracy.