East Africa roundup for February: Rwanda, South Sudan, Kenya and Burundi

A roundup of East Africa democracy news and opinion:

Julian Hattem in World Politics Review explains that “Rwanda’s Opposition is Disappearing Along With Kagame’s Credibility“, keyed off the death of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo in custody.

This is a good article and I recommend it (while I have to note my pet peeve that it indulges as so many accounts do in the Kagame mythology that the RPF “marched in from Uganda to end the genocide” rather than noting that they came across the border and began fighting years earlier than their march into Kigale in 1994.)

Is there a day coming where Americans notice the problem even of repression of religious freedom in Rwanda in spite of the lionization of Kagame and his willingness to transact with foreigners on terms not available internally?

In South Sudan, a formal unity government was announced to meet the extended February 22 deadline. Most important details are either unresolved, or to be executed from a dead start, but this was a necessary step for hope for deeper progress, especially for one day when the people are free of their current warlord leaders. Riek Machar upon being re-instated as First Vice President was accordingly released from IGAD “house arrest”.

Update–Here is a report from the International Crisis Group: “A Major Step Toward Ending South Sudan’s Civil War

Kudos are in order for the diplomatic efforts to step up pressure on both sides, and in particular on Salva Kiir who had the most power and leverage through defacto control of the government. It seems that the State Department under Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy in particular engaged and showed leadership. The US has a unique diplomatic responsibility and opportunity in South Sudan so it is encouraging to see us step up to the plate.

Not sure what to make of this article in which Kalonzo Musyoka and the reporter posit a leading role for himself as Kenya’s envoy: “Kalonzo: How we brokered Kiir Machar peace pact“:

Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka returned to the country on Sunday from Juba after accomplishing a delicate peace deal that saw South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar form a unity government.

The negotiators of the peace agreement heavily relied on Mr Musyoka to achieve the long-delayed process towards ending a six-year civil war that has led to loss of thousands of lives.

It is very much true that (1) Kalonzo was a Kenyan insider under Moi and then Kibaki’s Foreign Minister on though the negotiation of the CPA in 2005; (2) Kenya is inevitably of importance in South Sudanese power struggles because of the role of Nairobi as at least the “back office” and “capitol of capital” for South Sudanese kingpins; (3) Gideon Moi (as reported by The Sentry) and certainly other leading Kenyan figures are major players in financial dealings at issue in South Sudan; (4) the U.S. as the leading international power involved in the nascent building of a South Sudanese nation is closest to Kenya and to Uhuru Kenyatta in particular among the IGAD members and leaders, so Kalonzo in representing Kenya and Uhuru presumably has standing with the US in addition to his own background with the negotiations.

Remember that after his deal with Mwai Kibaki during the 2007 presidential campaign to stay in the race and be appointed Vice President, Kalonzo was trusted enough by Kibaki and his men to represent them in Washington during the Post Election Violence in lobbying against a “unity government” with Raila. At that time in early 2008 Uhuru was also in Kibaki’s initial cabinet Minister of Local Government, as he had been under Moi in 2000-2002, administering Nairobi issues in those pre-devolution days.

Speaking of Nairobi, Uhuru and devolution, the purported “sign over” of governmental powers from Nairobi Governor Sonko, to the Kenyatta Administration, while seemingly suspended from official action by court order and facing impeachment and criminal charges, is the big new story.

According to The Standard, “Human Rights Activist Okiya Omtatah and Lawyer Robbin Murimi filed separate applications at the High Court Nairobi challenging the move.”

Uhuru Park

Close behind is the damning latest round of leaks of secret details of corruption and dereliction in the Kenya Railways/Standard Gauge Railroad saga.

Otherwise, as it has become more clear that the BBI is generating inevitable controversy, Ambassador McCarter has tempered his language of American support to emphasize a robust debate with wananchi involvement on “which provisions to enact”. At the same time, three months now since the release of the original BBI Report and almost two years after the Handshake, it remains unclear (or undisclosed) exactly what the “deal” is.

Meanwhile, elections are coming up fast in Burundi on May 20. For the latest on the ongoing pre-election violence, see The New Humanitarian: “Killings, arrests as elections draw near in Burundi.

The EAC will send Observers since Burundi is a member:

EAC Secretary General Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko informed the UN delegation that the EAC observes elections within the context of the National Constitutions of the Partner States.

He assured the delegation that preparations were underway for the launch of a longterm EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the Burundi electoral process in its entirety, as well as a short-term EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the polling only.

“I am confident that the peaceful spirit we have experienced during the party nominations will continue during and after elections,” said the secretary general.

“The EAC is calling on all the people of Burundi to sidestep violence, regardless of the situation,” he added. In 2018, Burundi promulgated a new Constitution.

Grand railroad corruption: Kenya’s Daily Nation drops expose of grossly inflated pricing and alarming details from “secret” SGR contracts

A vital “must read” from the Daily Nation confirms that in spite of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s promise to release the contracts for the truncated Standard Gauge Railroad project, the Government of Kenya has been withholding the documents concerned about meeting public records obligations. It is said that Kenya signed the undertakings with Chinese state-owned corporations rather than the Chinese State as such, and that the documents include secrecy provisions that the lawyers are interpreting to conflict with Kenyan law as to the Governments obligations to its own citizens for public contracting.

The story details item after item of hugely inflated prices for components such as generators, supplies, machinery and equipment:

This explains how Kenya ended up paying two times more for a diesel train than what Tanzania negotiated for an electric train. A comparison of the costs shows that Tanzania is building an electric rail at half the price of Kenya’s diesel SGR line.

TANZANIA’S FASTER

At $1.92 billion, which translates to about Sh192 billion at current exchange rates, for the 422 kilometres, Tanzania’s line is not just cheaper; being electric, it’s designed to support a maximum speed of 160km/hour for passenger trains and 120km/hour for freight.

This pales in comparison to Kenya’s line, whose passenger trains have a maximum speed of 120km/hour with freight hauliers doing 80km/hour at best.

Kenya opted for diesel-powered engine that can be upgraded into electric in future.

It is the results of this greed and negligence that taxpayers are now paying for.

OPERATION COSTS

Currently, the revenues generated from the passenger and cargo services on the track cannot meet the operation costs, estimated at Sh1.5 billion a month against average sales of only Sh841 million.

Meanwhile, Kenyans transporters who have allegedly been hurt by Kenyan restrictions intended to forcibly subsidize the non-competitive costs of the Chinese-operated SGR, are seeking the contracts in court. Likewise, the civil society coalition Okoa Mombasa has filed a formal records request as a precursor to a suit if the documents continue to be withheld.

Readers may remember previous reporting of a leaked Auditor General documents indicating that Chinese firms may have been given a security interest in Kenya Port Authority assets and property to secure the loans for these inflated costs. From Maritime Executive in December 2018:

Kenya runs the risk of losing control of the Port of Mombasa if it should default on loans from state financial institution China Exim Bank, according to a new report from Kenya’s auditor general. The terms of a $2.3 billion loan for Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) specify that the port’s assets are collateral, and they are not protected by Kenya’s sovereign immunity due to a waiver in the contract. 

KRC accepted the multi-billion-dollar loan in order to build the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway (SGR), with construction services provided by China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC), a division of state-owned conglomerate China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).

“The payment arrangement agreement substantively means that the Authority’s revenue would be used to pay the Government of Kenya’s debt to China Exim bank if the minimum volumes required for [rail] consignment are not met,” auditor F.T. Kimani wrote. “The China Exim bank would become a principle over KPA if KRC defaults in its obligations.”

In addition, any dispute with China Exim Bank would be handled through an arbitration process in China, not in Kenyan courts. The auditor general expressed concern that the port authority had not disclosed these arrangements in its financial statements. 

The Auditor General’s term expired before publication of a final report and has been left vacant, conveniently for freedom of action and ability to avoid disclosure by Kenya’s political officials.

The more information that comes to light the more it would appear that the uneconomical nature of the “white elephant” megaproject was baked in from early stages and does not look to be readily resolvable without exterior finance, renegotiation, write down or other intervention.

Meanwhile, The Star covers a report by the Tax Justice Network that Kenya’s financial sector is well designed to hide corruption as the second most secretive in Africa:

Kenya’s financial sector is the among most secretive globally, according to a new report  by Tax Justice Network.

The sector has been ranked the second most rigid in Africa after Algeria and among the top 30 in the world in the latest Financial Secrecy Index of 2020.

The annual index by Tax Justice Network (TJN) has scored Kenya’s secrecy rate at 76 per cent, meaning the country is a fertile market to stash ill-gotten private financial wealth and other illicit financial flows (IFFs).

Kenya’s Debt-laden Railroad Blues falls off the playlist as brutal suicide attack hits Nairobi and AP photo on NYTimes online hits raw nerves

Nairobi Kenya Microsoft billboard

Twenty-and-a-half years after the al-Queda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, a small team of gunmen and a bomber hit a hotel and office complex in Westlands, reminiscent of the 2013 Westgate Mall attack. With the “known missing” fully accounted for now, the death toll stands at 21. Many more were injured and the trauma is compounded by the uncertainty of many who were trapped and/or missing.

There is so much news coverage now from Nairobi that I really have nothing to add, other than condolences. Here is a good straight news story from NPR’s Eyder Peralta on the photography/reporting imbroglio.

On Sunday and Monday a governance and economy controversy was escalating in Kenya after the Sunday Nation published an expose on “Hidden traps in SGR deal with China“. Sadly, unlike a terrorist attack, this is new bad news. If true it poses serious challenges to the credibility of those who have known the actual terms of the as yet undisclosed deal between the Kenyatta and Xi governments dating back to 2014, as well as to the viability of “Big Four Agenda”, “Vision 2030” and the overall public version of Kenya’s economic development aspirations.

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta meets with Chinese Communist Party leaders to on behalf of his Jubilee Party at Kenya’s State House

Update: I am not much of a consumer of television news, but I thought this online “print” story from CNN’s Sam Kiley was a good quick overview of the Westlands attack for general international audiences (as opposed to readers of this blog): “Nairobi attack shows attempts to neutralize Africa’s terror threat have failed“.

Jubilee at 1; Kenya at 50 1/4

Half a Crossing

Africa Confidential‘s free article this month gives the best overall summary of the state of the Kenya government a year after Uhuru and Ruto took office, “A Year of Living Precariously”

Crime, inflation and grand corruption have risen sharply in the last year. Expectations of an economic take-off have dimmed since the cheers that greeted Kenyatta’s disputed election victory. The government has incurred new debt and inflated the public wage bill against a background of falling tourism revenue – the result of the Westgate terrorist attack and Islamist activity on the coast. Beside concern about loans from China and elsewhere, mostly for infrastructure expansion, there are worries about the growing cost of the new, devolved counties.

As for the environment in which to address these challenges, AC says “the politics of sycophancy reminiscent of President Daniel arap Moi’s era [are] now in full flow”.

Of course the most immediate critical issue on the referenced infrastructure projects involving Chinese loans is the construction of a new, “from scratch”, Standard Gauge Railroad. Renowned Kenyan economist David Ndii here explains why the project is far too expensive to make economic sense in lieu of renovating the existing railroad:

Part of the other side of corruption and maladministration in Kenya’s fiscal crisis is exposed in a gutsy report from The Standard this week, “Revealed: How Karuturi got away with denying Kenya millions in taxes“.

And from the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Digest: “Kenya Declares Human Rights ‘Subversive'”.