Walking the Talk–American Democracy on global display in Presidential Debates

Since the origins of this blog spring from my experience with American “democracy promotion” or “support” I want to take a minute to reflect on and appreciate the value of last night’s debate.  While most of us who have been around awhile as participants and observers in American campaigns have some disquiet about the state of our democratic process, I think these debates are a great reminder of the “blessings of liberty” reflected in political competition in our constitutional republic.

There are instances where we don’t live up to the ideals that we preach to the rest of the world–for instance we probably would not legally qualify for foreign assistance from ourselves under our own statutes for various reasons I’ll write about someday–but we do have real elections that matter (but don’t matter quite so much that we kill each other about them, or fundamentally reorder our system of government with each new president).

A few personal observations:  I think both candidates last night did a credible job and gave the American electorate and the global audience a reasonable sense of their own strengths and weaknesses as leaders and drew out their differences and similarities on a number of important issues.  We have a closely divided electorate and this would be a close election regardless of either of the nominees unless one of them really imploded as a candidate–fortunately that hasn’t happened.

I agree with those who feel that our two parties have ossified into positions where they don’t overlap the way they have traditionally, and that this presents problems in actually conducting the business of government and in just getting along constructively and accomplishing things that we can broadly agree on.

Nonetheless, even though the candidates sparred vigorously last night, they are both campaigning to the center in the general election.  There are consequential policy differences, but also great limitations built into our system.  And in all honesty, I tend to think that in spite of everything, they are both decent men–slippery politicians, but not bad people–and that we will muddle forward however the undecideds in a few swing states break.  We have a lot of challenges and a lot of work to do, but the American people will decide the future of our society for better or worse regardless of who wins or loses this election.  And that is the way that it should be.

While our present party system may not be something that we would hold out as an exemplar or should seek to “export”, and our campaign finance situation is not something we would want to recommend to others, I am pleased with the world watching our general election debates that we are offering an example of American free speech, open democracy and free journalism.  The challenger and the incumbent square off on the same stage on agreed rules and the voters get a fair chance to hear both sides.

Kenya is to have presidential debates this time–I hope this can be a positive way to elevate the campaigns and focus on national issues and the abilities of the candidates.


News on Uhuru’s public relations consultants

Former Tory PR advises Kenyan facing Hague trial, the Sunday Independent.

The Independent broke the story that Ed Staite, former advisor to the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been part of a “team operating from offices in London and Nairobi are trying to neutralise criticism of Mr Kenyatta in the run-up to the general election in Kenya and his trial next year.”

After being indicted, he instructed BTP Advisers, where Mr Staite is an associate.

The British firm’s involvement with the case has not been revealed until now. BTP’s media campaign over the next three months will involve online monitoring, including on Twitter, and digging up information on opposition candidates, said a source. Mr Staite made his reputation while advising Mr Osborne, then Shadow Chancellor, and looking after Boris Johnson.

He was recently involved in controversy when reporters posing as representatives of a City fund secretly recorded him saying that they could “communicate their priorities” by funding a “policy group”. He later denied that this was to buy influence with Mr Osborne.


The Sunday Times reported in a story published April 1 this year:

 THE former press offficer of George Osborne has been secretly filmed telling foreign financiers how to shape Tory policies in exchange for cash.

Edward Staite suggested to undercover reporters, posing as wealth fund executives, that they should fund a Tory policy unit on issues they wanted to promote. His comments appear to undermine the Tories’ insistence that donors do not get privileged access and have zero influence over policy.

The reporters met Staite on February 8 after his services were recommended by Sarah Southern, a lobbyist selling access to David Cameron. They explained they wanted political connections to help them buy British government assets such as Royal Mail.



“Inciting” lyrics “flagged” in Kenyan campaign

This is where the action really is in Kenyan politics at the moment–ethnic mobilization. Kenyan bloggers and civil society published and circulated very disturbing related song lyrics from three musicians aimed at rallying the Kikuyu around Uhuru against Raila and the ICC and petitioned the National Cohesion and Integration Commission borne out of the post-election violence in 2008. Capital FM reports that the NCIC has “flagged” the matter for scrutiny (let’s check back and see if there is any follow-up):

Popular Kikuyu musicians John DeMathew, Muigai wa Njoroge and Kamande wa Kioi are likely to be investigated after songs sung by each of them were flagged for being ‘inciting’.

The Mugithi singers, who are popular live musicians, are accused of singing songs that border on ‘hate speech’ against Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is one of the contenders for the top seat in 2013.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) flagged the songs, Mwaka wa Hiti’ by DeMathew, Muigai wa Njoroge’s ‘Hague bound’ and ‘Uhuru ni Witu’ by Kamande wa Kioi.

NCIC boss Mzalendo Kibunjia says they were following up with the media council to find out whether the controversial songs had played on any radio stations so that action could be taken against the media houses as well.

In Western Province, this West FM coverage of a campaign rally for Deputy Prime Minister Mudavadi, elected through ODM but now running for president with the new UDF party, gives a flavor for the public side of the campaigns:

He challenged the leaders who want to liberate Kenyans to concentrate on eradicating poverty among Kenyans and reduction of the cost of living pounding them because there is no visible opponent of Kenyans like the colonial whites whom he said were long gone after attaining of independence.

The Sabatia MP insisted that he should be given chance to open the door for a Luhya presidency after he was the first one to become a Luhya vice president that saw the late VP Michael Kijana Wamalwa and Uncle Moody Awori follow suit.

At the same time Khalwale and Kituyi affirmed that Mudavadi is the most experienced politician of the day among the Luhya leaders and thus is the prospective person to seek presidency as compared to others such as Eugene and Jirongo.

Mukhisa said that Wamalwa can be a prospective leader at a later period but felt that Mudavadi is ready to go for the seat now. He said the Luhya community has got a vast experience of assisting leaders from other communities to access power and thus can use the same experience to help one of their own accesses the same power.

Khalwale and Mugali cautioned against Luhya divisions which they said will be an advantage to their opponents and hence essence for the community to work as a team in their endeavors.

“This is now the time for the voters from the Bukusu nation to hold hands with voters from Maragoli nation and vote together and work together because we want the Luhya nation to speak and speak in one voice,” Khalwale said.

Helicopter crash in Nairobi’s Ngong outskirts kills Internal Security Minister George Saitoti and Asst. Minister Orwa Ojode

With the untimely death of Prof. SaItoti, Kenya has lost yet another old lion of the political class, but this time one who was young enough to be in a key role in the current government and taken seriously as a presidential contender in the current race.

Others who perished included Pilots Luke Oyugi and Nancy Gituanja together with two bodyguards Joshua Tonkei and Thomas Murimi.

The two were heading to Orwa Ojode’s Ndhiwa Constituency for a church fundraising activity.

It is exactly four years when a chopper carrying MPs Kipkalya Kones and Lorna Laboso crashed in Narok.

According to an eye witness, the helicopter was seen diving from the sky and full of smoke before crushing and exploding into flames.

The Chopper was filled with smoke before it crashed. I heard two explosions as it went up in flames,” said Rose Kwamboka.

Another eye witness Leonard Njoroge said he saw the chopper sway one kilometre away from his homestead before it crashed between 8am and 8:30am.

The chopper crashed and exploded on impact scattering money and books and only its tail seemed intact,” he said. The plane destroyed trees as it missed my homestead.”

Sunday Nation report from Emmanual Tioli and Lucas Barasa.

h/t Opalo’s Blog

Here we go again–checking in on Kenya’s presidential campaign

I appreciate your indulgence during an informal hiatus–I am transitioning to my new private law practice (and we have raccoons in the attic at my house, school is out, etc.). It has also been useful to step back a bit from posting to catch up on some long form reading and allow reflection on context and larger themes.


It strikes me that in Kenya we are once again seeing the campaign mode where there is big political news every day, but almost all of it is ephemeral and not really worth writing about separately from the daily news reports. In the bigger picture, there are indications of real uncertainty this time that were not as much present in the last campaign.

Last cycle the action was more clearly organized in two blocs with the early questions being (a) the ODM nomination and whether “the opposition” would stay together in ODM or fragment and (b) who would get the highest spot on Kibaki’s coattails through his choice of a party and otherwise how he would put his re-election campaign together.

It was not until well into September last time that Kibaki’s announced the formation of the “Party of National Unity” as a not quite defined hybrid of a party or a coalition of parties. By about that time, according to the later Congressional Research Service reports, Kibaki insiders acknowledged that he wouldn’t win the election. Nonetheless, what seemed to many outside his inner circle as lethargy, or even indecisiveness and lack of motivation, was likely “quiet confidence”. He controlled the Electoral Commission if he wanted to and as President was master of his own destiny.

At the time of the announcement of PNU as Kibaki’s vehicle in September the latest possible time for the elections was late December, with Kibaki having the option to dissolve Parliament early and have an early election. Compare to this season’s announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta of TNA, “The National Alliance”–there seems to be very little likelihood of a pre-December election and the IEBC has announced a set date of March 4, 2013. Reports have surfaced of discussions of further delay in recognition that the reach of the ambitions for a technologically advanced process may exceed the grasp of the IEBC as a new, internally divided and subsidiary player within Kenyan governance.

So Kenyatta, who is the only “establishment” candidate of who seriously contends with Odinga as the dominant “opposition” candidate in national polls in recent months, is not “laying back” as was Kibaki. In part this surely because he has “heel biting” from various other people from the core and periphery of the Kibaki camp, but I think it also derives from the same underlying underlying uncertainty that leaves some of these others with hopes of becoming themselves the anti-Odinga contender. Will some outside force remove Kenyatta from the race?

Intoxication from the ICC process is giving way to the reality of an “overhang hangover”–the ICC has been clear that it intends to proceed as its track record indicates, with “deliberate speed” during the campaign. It has only been a little more than fours years since the crimes against humanity took place in Kenya’s post election period, for heaven’s sake. From whence came the notion that the ICC process might be near finality before the next Kenyan election unless the result was a dismissal of all charges at an early stage? Nonetheless, there are other possibilities.

For instance, what will Mutunga do? Would he provoke a showdown between Kenya’s newly partially reformed judicial branch and the executive branch and the Kenyatta scion over the standards in the new constitution to qualify for election? And if so, who would win?

Perhaps the most deeply symbolic event in Kenyan politics since the August 2010 referendum on the new constitution was the invitation of Sudan’s al Bashir to the subsequent ceremonies without regard to Kenya’s obligations as an ICC member party. It was as if the “owners” we’re saying to the “reformers”: “you have your new law, just don’t read too much into it”. But maybe they won’t have the final word this time.

Toi Market-Nairobi