Trump did not expect to win U.S. election, did not understand risk and continues to avoid costs by renegotiating terms of service; but his approach should be comforting to Kenyan pols

The fundamental premise of the Trump campaign was that if Americans would elect Trump he would switch sides and become a patriot, serving the nation to make it “great again” and serving some, albeit conspicuously not all, segments of Americans.  He would, he claimed, do unto others on behalf of “us” what he had spent the first roughly seventy years of his life doing to more or less everyone he encountered regardless of creed.

Trump believed the polls well enough to recognize it was always a long shot, as ultimately reflected in his losing popular vote totals (the biggest total vote loss ever for an Electoral College winner, on low turnout).  Not expecting to win, Trump did not take serious steps to prepare to actually enter public service or to game out his alternatives.

Having caught some breaks, he ended up getting the Electoral College and is now having to spend some substantial part of his time, and some attention on becoming a president. (Although not to the point so far of taking the situation seriously enough to moderate his behavior on Twitter or otherwise seek self discipline or gravitas in most situations day to day.)

How did Trump end up winning?  While Trump’s style of bluster and aggressive and open dishonesty on the stump was not widely endearing, most Republicans were going to vote for anyone their party nominated period, at least so long as they campaigned as at least somewhat illiberal, assuring that Trump would be in a close general election almost no matter what.  So in that way, the key threshold actors were the “leaders” of the Republican Party (full disclosure: I identified as a Republican from childhood, served in the Party for years and did not affirmatively quit until 2013.)  In other words, Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan were the two Americans who had the most formal responsibility and actual power to determine the legitimacy and acceptability of Donald Trump as a prospective President of the United States (and the new ruling and defining authority in the Republican Party).

In the campaign, Trump’s staff and the Republican Party that he affiliated with to run for the presidency put together a tactical effort to target likely Clinton voters and dissuade them from voting that proved brilliantly effective for the America of now.  America and Americans have been profoundly changed by Rupert Murdoch with Roger Ailes and Osama Bin Laden since the Clintons’ last successful campaign outside of New York.  The Republican side understood that Facebook and email was far more important to the emotions that would drive the behavior of plausibly likely voters than a “ground game” of a generation ago when Bill Clinton got re-elected in 2016.

Ultimately Hillary Clinton was the Bob Dole of 1996–the candidate who would have won the general election eight years earlier had she been nominated then, but was no longer after waiting eight years in step with the times.

Some state governments managed to reduce voting by what they might call “undesirables” who were likely to vote for Clinton, while the Trump and Clinton campaigns combined to fire up “the deplorables”.  Beyond that Trump got consequential help from Putin and at the last minute from the FBI Director, but there is no way to prove what would have happened without their actions nor are we likely to have much clarity about Comey’s intentions.  (It is believable to me that Comey acted for reasons related to internal matters within the FBI, the Justice Department and the Government more broadly while expecting that Clinton would win anyway–presumably someday he will present an explanation in a book, by which time the consequences of Trump’s rise to power will be clearer.)

So now, like the proverbial dog who finds that the car he was chasing has stopped, Trump is confronted with what to do with his prize from winning the chase.  The biggest hassle seems to be that taking the job threatens to cost Trump a lot of money as well as well as quite a bit of time spent in Washington away from his homes in New York, New Jersey and South Florida and some living in public housing.  He has declared that any limitations on his business activities, and his residence, are to be negotiated or announced over time rather than governed by existing law and past practice.

Having no foreign policy experience and having been condemned publicly and privately by much of the cohort from previous Republican administrations, he seemed caught off guard by having to pick a nominee for Secretary of State.

Having Mitt Romney come to dinner at Trump Tower and contradict all of his previous expositions about Trump’s unfitness was a tour de force reminder of Trump’s tactical brilliance in accumulating personal power for himself and humiliating rivals and was important to firmly seizing control of the GOP from what we might call “the 20th Century Republicans.”  It was not useful to finding someone that would be useful to Trump as Secretary.  As the story has been told to us by the president’s people through the news media, man for all of Washington’s seasons Robert Gates was able to suggest to Trump his client Rex Tillerson who quickly became the natural choice for Trump.  This might even be true even if it hardly seems likely to be fully explanatory.

Tillerson is surely better suited to be Secretary of State than Trump is to be President. (For that matter, better suited to be President.)  The questions about Tillerson relate to problems about his relationship with a nefarious foreign autocrat with control of the worlds largest nuclear arsenal–as with Trump.  Beyond business relationships,  which include some other nefarious but less dangerous (to Americans and others if not to their own subjects) autocrats he seems to be a person of more conventional decency than Trump.  (Full disclosure, I’m an Eagle Scout, too.)

Tillerson is a surely a loyal company man, having spent his entire career with Exxon Mobile, and it seems plausible to me that he could effectuate a switch of “companies” to work for the United States Government to run the State Department rather than running Exxon Mobile, in a way that for Trump, who so far as I know has never worked for anyone other than his father and himself, was never plausible to me.  The problem with Trump’s Putin tilt and undisclosed interests and finances, and with Trump’s character, and with Trump’s willingness to actually change careers and orientation to serve as President of the United States will continue to be there whether or not Tillerson steps further forward out of the shadows to represent us as our chief diplomat.

Confronted with the idea of a less than ideal market to divest his business interests Trump has made it clear that he puts his own pocketbook first and Anerica second (at the very best) by refusing to divest.  So now we know that Trump simply refuses to be an actual patriot after all.  Contra our founding fathers who staked their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” on the idea of America, Trump, who has, to be direct, no obvious prior personal experience with honor, has said that a small reduction in his alleged $10B net worth is too high a price to pay to be a full-time President.

I do think that Trump will be well received by Kenya’s politicians, as well as those in many other countries on the continent, and I’m assuming his call with Uluru Kenyatta today went fine.  Trump’s personal approach to public office will be more familiar and comfortable to Kenya’s leaders than that of Bush or Obama and his socioeconomic background more reassuring than someone as relatively exotic and self-made as Obama.

Kenya: 2007 and 2013 media bills bookend the demise of the “reform agenda” as Jubilee Government gets bad marks from public

I hope everyone has had a good Christmas. I am grateful for a comfortable time with family, while saddened by news that a friend in Kenya lost a family member to a shooting by the Police. All of us interested in East Africa are watching South Sudan with great concern.

On Kenya, beyond the steady heartache of one more in the steady stream of police killings, as another year ends, I am struck by one point of clear change from my initial arrival in Nairobi in 2007 to now. The passage of the draconian 2013 Media Bill was a major setback for democracy. The bill seemed clearly unconstitutional when it originally passed parliament. After both Kenyatta and Ruto assured that they would respect the Constitution and the spirit of a free press, Kenyatta sent the bill back with proposed changes making it on balance worse, after which it was passed and signed into law.

Back in 2007 a far less noxious media regulation bill passed parliament just after I moved to Nairobi in June. U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger along with most of the rest of the diplomatic community representing leading democracies spoke out strongly against the threatened intrusion on press freedom. Kibaki declined to sign the bill and it was much watered down. While there was a certain amount of self-censorship the press remained relatively vibrant during the 2007 election campaign. Now that a more troubling law has actually been enacted the diplomatic community including the United States has been largely silent. While there have been protests by journalists and civil society, the Government has predictably brushed these aside, but has not faced open diplomatic pressure from donors.

For some years after the 2007 election debacle the United States was consistently promoting what we called “the reform agenda”. While all the parameters of “reform” were not specified, I think it is fair to say that at its core it was about the continued shifting of power away from a traditionally dictatorial presidency to develop democratic institutions. The original post-Cold War reforms were Moi’s acceptance of changing the law to allow non-KANU parties and the imposition of term limits which led to Kibaki facing Uhuru instead of Moi in 2002. The NARC coalition from that 2002 election finally came completely apart over the executive power issue in the 2005 constitutional referendum on the “Wako Draft” in which the “no” campaign gave rise to the Orange Democratic Movement. “The next big thing” was another effort at constitutional change to disburse and devolve power after the 2007 fiasco at the ECK, where the tallies were changed to keep power with the incumbent president and the country erupted in what seemed to many to be a potential civil war before a deal supposed to deliver a “sharing” of executive power. After a reform constitution was finally passed in the 2010 referendum, the “reform agenda” emphasis has been, in theory, on “implementation”.

The new Media Bill not only repudiates basic constitutionally enshrined values of a free press, but the changes from first passage to final enactment shift power from Parliament to State House. This is only one of the most conspicuous of many areas where the Jubilee Government is moving to re-centralize power with the Executive. May the “Reform Agenda” rest in peace.

In the meantime, the latest Ipsos Synovate poll released this week finds absolute majorities of Kenyans nationwide and in each “province” but Central concluding that the country is moving “in the wrong direction” with a higher percentage of Kenyans trusting the media than any other institution.

What does Kenya’s High Court ruling on the civil society challenge to Uhuru and Ruto eligibility for election say about the state of Kenya’s judiciary?

The Nairobi media reporting is a bit garbled but the gist of things is that the Kenyan High Court (as opposed to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court) has dismissed a petition filed some months ago by civil society groups, including significantly the Kenyan Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, challenging the eligibility of many of the candidates for President of Kenya on the basis of the “integrity” provisions of the new Kenyan Constitution.

Almost 13 months ago I posted that it was time for Kenya’s judicial system to answer the question posed regarding the application of these constitutional provisions to the candidacy of those facing confirmed charges from the International Criminal Court.  Unfortunately, even though the election has ended up being set for a delayed date, the Kenyan court system has still managed to let the clock seemingly run out without reaching any clarity or finality, such that the election is expected to proceed with the “Uhuruto” ticket on the ballot.

Without having a copy of an opinion yet, from the media reports, the High Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over the challenge because the constitution vests exclusive jurisdiction in the Supreme Court over challenges involving the nomination and election to the presidency and that further the jurisdiction of the Kenyan courts and ICC was concurrent and with the ICC case proceeding only the ICC could bar the indictees from running for office.

As an American rather than Kenyan lawyer, and having not read the opinion, I don’t want to go too far into the details here, but I would note that (1) Ruto as opposed to Uhuru is no longer running for president, so the practical question now for his eligibility is distinguishable; (2) the High Court has original jurisdiction to interpret the provisions of the constitution, which seems to me to clearly be the issue here–as opposed to a more ordinary nomination or election challenge which would seem to me to be a more plain way to interpret the various constitutional provisions as a whole.

Here is a long quote from the Daily Nation story “Jubilee, Cord plaud ruling on eligibility case”:

Mr Odinga on his part said he respected the ruling saying that the court had held that in matters relating to the presidential election, the Supreme Court had ‘exclusive and original jurisdiction.’

“I have repeatedly said that my main competitor should have the opportunity to face me in a free and fair election whose outcome is determined by the people of Kenya,” said Mr. Odinga upon hearing of the Court’s decision.

But Restore and Build Kenya (RBK) presidential candidate Prof James Ole Kiyiapi accused the judges of failing to give Kenyans directions on matters of integrity.

“By declaring that they lack jurisdiction, Kenyan courts have failed to give the country direction on matters of integrity as outlined in chapter six of the constitution,” he stated.

The five High court judges – Mbogholi Msagha, Luka Kimaru, George Kimondo, Pauline Nyamweya and Hellen Omondi – dismissed a petition filed by civil society groups challenging Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto;s suitability to run for the presidency and deputy presidency as they face serious crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Judges ruled that despite the serious nature of the crimes facing Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto at the ICC, they are still presumed innocent until the contrary happens.

“It is common knowledge the two have been indicted but since Kenyan courts and the ICC are of concurrent jurisdiction, we cannot adjudicate over the same matter. Only the ICC can bar them to run for public office,” ruled the judges.

They ruled that the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear any petition relating to presidential candidates’ nomination.

So I tend to agree with Prof. Ole Kiyiapi that the High Court has ducked the issue and left a real lack of clarity as to the meaning of the constitution.  The problem is appeals and further proceedings are now unlikely to have time to be resolved before March 4.

A few thoughts on Kenya’s presidential debate

Even though I’m committed to not attempting to “cover” the Kenyan presidential campaign remotely, yesterday’s debate was one of those big moments in various respects that begs some comment from anyone writing about Kenyan politics and governance.

As far as the election itself, I don’t expect a major impact from the debate or anything specific said. Most voters have made up their minds during the course of the two and a half years that the campaign has been the primary focus of Kenya’s pols. The biggest election variable I would expect would be turnout and neither of the two contenders who could actually win at the end of the day stumbled badly enough or scored enough points in this debate to have a dramatic effect.

Several things stand out for me, however. First is national pride. There is a sense of “joining the big leagues” and capturing an international stage as a modern democracy that Kenyans take pride in here. Sports has been the most similar national rallying point otherwise, and the London Olympics was a disappointment so it is good to see Kenyans have a point of positive recognition as Kenyans. Unfortunately, it comes so late in the campaign that the opportunity for this positive spirit to make a major difference in the preparation for voting and the more general groundwork for the election is limited. Tensions are already high because the realization is sinking in that the election is a big challenge and there will be some problems.

From talking to friends in Kenya and following things I do believe that there is some real value to the determination of many Kenyans to try to prevent the country from being perceived to make a negative spectacle of itself through violence and it makes sense to me to hope for some incremental benefit to this sort of positive pre-election publicity. Nonetheless, the overall amount of election-connected violence in the year before the vote was lower in 2007 in some respects, and people voted very peacefully and in large numbers. When violence occurred after the vote, the vast majority of Kenyans, especially those who actually voted, did not participate. So I don’t think you can measure the risk of violence by the overall sentiments of the population. Energy is much more wisely spent on preparation than prognostication.

A related point to me is that this debate simply shows the world the level of technological and economic development that exits in Nairobi, particularly in the media. The country was very much ready for this in 2007, and in some ways it seems more surprising that this didn’t happen in 2007 than that it did in 2013. More than anything it reflects, to me, the different dynamics of not having an incumbent seeking or planning to stay in office.

The second major impression for me was how the debate showed the disfunction of Kenya’s political parties at a national level. Without established major parties of some coherence other than as platforms for individuals, we end up with six candidates, then eight by court order at the last minute, and almost all the post-debate discussion centered on the contest for power among the individuals or the event of having the debate itself, rather than on anything of real substance about what one candidate believably could accomplish versus another. Congratulations are due more to Kenya’s media than to the political process or the candidates or parties it seems to me.

Some of the other things commented on widely were less significant to me, perhaps because my expectations of what could be possible in Kenya are higher. Martha Karua on stage was not a big moment in my book. She will rank significantly less of a factor in 2013 than Charity Ngilu did in 1997. Karua’s big moment in national leadership was her role as Kibaki’s lion(ess) facing off with Ruto at the Kenyatta International Conference Center December 28-30, 2007, and facing off with both the ODM side and Kofi Annan in the (generally unsuccessful) mediation afterwards prior to the February 28 post-election settlement signed by Kibaki and Raila. She is a strong capable female lawyer, but she doesn’t have an obvious constituency as a candidate for president of Kenya at this point and I don’t see her presence at the debate or her fortunes in this election as a proxy for the general status of women in politics in Kenya.

More striking is the idea of someone facing ICC trial for “crimes against humanity” this spring on stage on an equal footing and an understood stature as one of the two candidates who could become president. That to me is the greatest novelty of this debate.

[Update: See “What we learned from Kenya’s first ever televised presidential debate” at Africa is a Countyespecially for a fun list of tweets from watching the debate in livestream.]

If Raila Odinga wants to be elected the next President of Kenya, he should expect to be evaluated on his performance as Prime Minister

Personally, from everything I knew professionally in “real time” in Kenya during the last presidential campaign and its aftermath, and everything I have learned since, I am of the opinion that Odinga would have been the President but for the manipulation of the vote totals as ultimately reported.  The lack of any actual investigation of this issue is in itself telling.

Nonetheless, no one is entitled to the Presidency of Kenya.  If the election was stolen on behalf of Kibaki it was stolen from the Kenyan voters, not from Raila personally.  It would appear most likely that a plurality but not a majority of votes went to Odinga in 2007.  In supporting the brokering of a “power sharing” deal following the election our Ambassador Ranneberger was fond of saying that Kibaki and Odinga “needed” each other to govern.  My corollary would be that Kenyans did not “need” either of them to govern.  Both Odinga and Kibaki were credible candidates with plausible cases to be made to the voters based on platform, party and past performance–both were also controversial and had disappointed many who had supported them in various instances in the past.  In my mind at the time, from Nairobi, neither seemed as moved as I would have hoped by the suffering associated with the election debacle and the ensuing violence.

I continue to believe that determining what happened last time and why is a necessary part of trying for a better election process next time in Kenya, and a more effective role for the United States in assisting Kenyans toward that better process.   Nonetheless, Kenyans deciding how to cast their vote in 2012 or 2013 should take account of how Raila has used the power, albeit limited, that he ended up with in the current government.

While there is no confusion about who is President in Kenya, under the “Grand Coalition” Prime Minister Odinga is one of a small  second tier of key actors in Kenyan government–not because of a clearly defined role for the Prime Minister as such, but for the combination of his own stature as the apparent winner of the last race and the perceived front runner in the next, his role as head of ODM as still the largest single party, and his role in consensus appointments with Kibaki on behalf of the “Coalition”.

Kenya has a new constitution approved by a successful referendum–finally, after so many years.  The office of Prime Minister rather than being given a clearly defined role is going away.  Raila may have helped to block some bad appointments and to vindicate a better selection process for the judiciary and election officials–he may have also assented to some other bad appointments.   On corruption, Kenyans will need to be asking whether Raila as Prime Minister has accomplished things to advance reform–or whether he has just been talking the talk like other officeholders.  This is one reason why getting to the bottom of the facts of the  management of the “Kazi Kwa Vijana” programs from the Office of the Prime Minister is important.  What does the stewardship of this program say about what Kenyans could expect from Raila as president?  Likewise, if there is no major scandal here, how do his critics justify baying for his head when there are so many major scandals from this government and its predecessors that have not been addressed and accounted for?

More on American Dreams about Kenya

On the day that Kenyans were going to the polls in great numbers to line up and vote on a new constitution, CNN ran a story about the large number of Americans that doubt that President Obama was born in the United States. So far as I know, the only theory about any place else that he was born is Kenya.

But where is there any evidence at all, whatsoever, that supports the notion that he was born in Kenya?

To my way of thinking, this becomes at some point a significant pathology within our democratic system. Where does this leave American elected officials and candidates in dealing the the real Kenya and real Kenyans? Once again in 2012 we are going to have simultaneous campaigns for president going on the U.S. and Kenya, this time with President Obama as the incumbent, presumably facing a GOP challenger. The votes of people who think that Obama was probably born in Kenya rather than the United States will be crucial–having been even more important in deciding the Republican nomination (unless these numbers change dramatically–but that won’t happen on its own).

And what about the Americans who think (or at least say) that Raila Odinga is a secret socialist or Marxist/communist Islamist (however that works) like Obama and in league with him against the rest of us?

Well, at least our Kenyan friends can be assured that we will be around to teach them all about how democracy should work!