Recent Kenya polling points to concern on voter registration, other issues

Most recently, a new Gallup poll indicates that most Kenyans who are identifying themselves as “registered voters” do not in fact have the required new voting cards.  This raises several concerns: a lack of “civic education” as to what is going to be required in order to vote and confusion as to who is eligible; a big job ahead to get voters registered for the upcoming election; questions about the reliability of the opinion polling in distinguishing “registered voters” from other respondents.  New Gallup release: “In Kenya: Most Registered Voters Lack Required Voting Card”.

The other significant development is continued campaign progress by Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, indicted by the ICC on “crimes against humanity” charges and facing trial scheduled shortly after the first round of voting.  The latest Synovate poll, as others have for months, show Prime Minister Odinga with a significant plurality lead, but Kenyatta continues to significantly outpace any rivals in second place.  See Tom Maliti’s reporting at ICC Kenya Monitor: “Poll: Kenyatta Makes Biggest Gains in Kenya Presidential Race”.  Kenyatta is now shown as running ahead of Odinga in a runoff.  A few months ago, Odinga’s runoff standing looked difficult in some match-ups; his numbers have risen and then now fallen back.

The election is months away and it doesn’t make sense to get too excited about each new poll that comes out, but there are points of significance here.  For one thing the polls continue to show that it is very difficult for any of the less established or “newer” candidates to get traction nationwide in a crowded field, leaving the scions of Kenya’s founding fathers who have previously run nationally and been national figures for many years as the primary contestants seen as viable.  For another, while polls continue to show majority support for the ICC process, large numbers of Kenyans are simply not put off by the charges against Kenyatta, and the fact and nature of the charges themselves seem to work to some degree in his favor in establishing him as the dominant candidate from the Central Province/Mt. Kenya area and among his fellow Kikuyu.

Odinga, on the other hand, seems to be having some difficulty in generating new momentum.  He’s been “the man to beat” since the last election so anyone who wants to bust open the race has to target him. The ethnic coalition that Odinga put together through his “Pentagon” that allowed him to poll the most votes nationally in 2007 (according to the exit poll and accounting for misconduct at the ECK) has proven itself to be for the most part a one-off campaign vehicle, like the competing ethnic coalition in Kibaki’s PNU.  Odinga has limited power as Prime Minister but is hamstrung in running as an opposition/reformist candidate–always his milieu in the past–as a “principal” of the “Government of National Unity”.

In a one-on-one runoff, a hypothetical Kikuyu candidate with a strong ethnic base starts with a big advantage over a hypothetical Luo candidate with a strong ethnic base.  Aside from the fact that there are nearly twice as many Kikuyu as Luo, the usual “tribal arithmetic” adds up more quickly from there for the Kikuyu. But neither Kenyatta nor Odinga is in the least bit “hypothetical”–they are unique individuals with strongly identifiable and well know strengths and weaknesses. “Tribalism” will matter and be a part of the campaigns, but it is not the only important factor. With the election five months away, there are many, many deals to be made and many of those to be broken or reconfigured before we really see what the lay of the land is in the presidential race.

It is not a bit too early, however, for the United States and other Western nations who have been much involved with Kenya these last few years to make some decisions about policy in terms of the interaction between the Kenyan presidential race and the ICC process.    In the U.S., this may quickly fall in the lap of a new administration.

ICC Proceedings–Kenya cases trial dates to be set before July 13; likely for soon after 2013 election

Tom Maliti’s report on Monday’s ICC proceedings in the ICC Kenya Monitor

Presiding Judge Kuniko Ozaki of Trial Chamber V announced the decision today after listening to the prosecution, defense, and victims’ lawyers make their submissions during a meeting to discuss a trial date and other preliminary matters ahead of hearings in the first Kenya case. Judge Ozaki said the trial chamber will issue its decision in writing before the court breaks for its summer recess, which starts on July 13.

The decision was in reference to the first Kenya case only as a similar meeting is set for Tuesday to discuss the details of the second Kenya case. However, the practice of the pre-trial, trial, and appeal chambers has been to issue simultaneously important decisions concerning both Kenya cases.

Read the whole report for interesting details about the respective positions of the parties and comments from the Court.

Wetangala Resigns

Tom Maliti has the AP story on the Foreign Minister’s resignation here.

NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya’s foreign minister said Wednesday he is resigning to allow investigations into allegations of a multimillion dollar scandal involving five Kenyan embassies in Africa, Europe and Asia.

Moses Wetangula’s announcement came less than an hour before parliament was to continue debate on a committee report that investigated the sale or purchase of Kenyan embassies, land and other property in Belgium, Egypt, Japan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The committee said Wetangula deliberately misinformed them about the transactions and called for him to step aside. The report’s most serious allegation is that Kenya paid too much money for land to build a new embassy in Tokyo. It claims Kenya lost 1.1. billion shillings ($14.2 million) in the transaction.

"I want to tell Kenyans with a clear conscience that this afternoon I have made the personal decision to step aside from my responsibility and appointment as minister of foreign affairs," Wetangula said in a televised statement shortly after his most senior bureaucrat resigned.

The suspension of William Ruto to face January trial over an old KANU era land deal has obviously been major news, but Ruto has obviously made himself a target for both Kibaki and Raila, who both continued to do business with him during the years this case has been outstanding. The arrest of Nairobi’s mayor, at the instance of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, over the city’s recent purchase of unsuitable land at an apparently inflated price, and the activism in Parliament on the embassy deals leading to Wetangala’s resignation suggest something more, a willingness to act against current corruption in real time. There seems to be a contrast here with the handling of the primary education funding and maize scandals under the Government of National Unity pre-referendum.

It is vital not to overreact to "the news of the day" on these systemic issues in Kenya, but I do think this seems hopeful.

Unintended Consequence of al-Bashir Invite–more leverage for ICC on Kenya Post-Election Violence?

From Tom Maliti, Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya on Friday allowed the International Criminal Court to open an office in the country, a development that comes after Kenya’s commitment to the court came into question when the nation hosted Sudan’s indicted leader last week.
ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo is investigating top Kenyan leaders and businesspeople for their roles in the country’s December 2007 to February 2008 post-election violence that killed more than 1,000 people.

On Friday, Kenya granted the ICC immunity from legal challenges, tax exemptions and other privileges in a letter signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula.

The move comes only a week after Kenya hosted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during a ceremony for Kenya’s new constitution.

. . . .

Kenyan Cabinet leaders, including Wetangula, met with ICC Registrar Silvana Arbia on Friday.
"We have agreed to comply with every aspect of the (ICC) request for the privileges and immunity which their officers require to be able to undertake their work," said Minister of State for Internal Security George Saitoti, who chairs the Cabinet subcommittee on the ICC.

"I trust that the government of Kenya will fully respect its obligations under the Rome Statute," which established the ICC, Arbia said after receiving the letter.

The ICC registrar has been in Kenya since Wednesday to seek government assurances it will cooperate with the court and educate the public about how it operates.

For a cautionary, but realistic view of where Kenya is a the moment, see the latest post from "Maina’s Blog", wherein Maina Kiai stresses the ICC status and throws cold water on the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission:

Impunity and lack of accountability also needs to be addressed via the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which is unfortunately now turning into a bigger farce than could have been anticipated! How a potential witness—in a negative way–can Chair the TJRC beats comprehension! How someone who is supposed to lead reconciliation can be so arrogantly obstinate boggles the mind. If Bethuel Kiplagat does not get what conflict of interest is, his competence and integrity as Chair are marred ab initio. Worse, he has now gone out and hired other potential witnesses as staff for the TJRC! Which means that these survivors—and a large majority have been on the margins of society precisely because of the violations they suffered–who are now staff will not be testifying at the TJRC as that would be another conflict of interest! What better way to destroy an institution, and weaken it before it starts than this?

Tom Maliti of AP covers the chill on political books in Kenya

“Kenya bookshops refuse politically sensitive books”

This is a good piece that will help with an understanding of the actual limits on freedom of expression in Kenya as it relates to anything that might offend powerful members of the political class who use the courts and other tools to intimidate. Booksellers have titles on controversial topics–just not on key areas of Kenyan politics.

Tom covered the fall 2007 IRI Kenyan opinion poll and I got to know him then and through subsequent reporting and I was always impressed with his knowledge and professionalism.