“A Few Thoughts on the Kenyan Election”

A Kenyan friend recently checked in to ask what I had written about the Kenyan election. I had to say “very little”. I have been committed to my more unique role as a witness to what went wrong in 2007-08 and tried to avoid the risk of being just another opinionated outsider missing the real conduct and motivations of the opaque competition for power through the election.

Nonetheless, I did send a private email memo to a few friends in Kenya and Washington back on May 15, 2022 (shortly before Raila and Ruto chose running mates) titled “A Few Thoughts on the Kenyan Election”:

1. First big election in Africa after the end of the Post-Cold War peace in Europe.

2. In this environment, the democratic Western players are less able to credibly claim to speak for a notional international community.

3. So on balance, not much reason to indulge Kenyatta now the way we did Kibaki in 2007. Unless we can be sure that the Kenyattas have a deal with Ruto to assure no major violence, why would we signal that we would be willing to look the other way if they steal it for Raila? Major violence would be riskier and more unpredictable now than back in 2007. On the other hand, if they do steal it, the last thing we would want to do is risk instabilty on behalf of a few votes for Wm. Ruto.

4. Obviously Obama and Trump and their administrations overestimated Uhuru for 15 years, but if we really cared about the details of Kenyan politics we would have gotten serious about injecting some competence into Kenyatta’s BBI fiasco.

5. There are still a few weeks left in a 4 1/2 year campaign so Raila could get it together, but who really thinks that’s highly likely? Under the circumstances, it isn’t that hard to see why ordinary Kenyans would be attracted to a candidate who is even more corrupt and more ruthlessly ambitious, but presents as having some basic discipline and competence, among the actual choices. Especially if you have lived through recent American elections.

6. The American humorist Will Rogers (from the era of my grandparents on the small family farm in Kansas during the Great Depression) was famous for the phrase: “I never met a man I didn’t like”. We have never met a President of Kenya we didn’t like.

UhuruRuto Kenya 2013 billboard Nairobi

Just my honest, private thoughts at the time, for what it is worth.

In 2007-08, I only met Moi and Ruto once each. Loose impressions:

To me, Daniel arap Moi in person seemed more like Raila (and I am guessing Uhuru, whom I never met). A more relaxed demeanor reflecting longevity in the game presumably. At that time, in July 2007, Moi seemed to be trying to stay relevant politically. (Shortly after I met him the deal was cut whereby Moi and KANU, led nominally by Uhuru, crossed over from leading “the official opposition” to supporting Kibaki’s re-election and Moi was appointed by Kibaki as Envoy to Sudan).

Ruto was conspicuously more telegenic and articulate. Thus his natural role in squaring off against Kibaki’s Justice Minister Martha Karua at the Electoral Commission (ECK) Headquarters on television at the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) during the tally in the days following December 27, 2007 election (until the Kibaki Government through Interior Minister John Michuki shut off the live broadcasting). Even though Ruto wasn’t a lawyer.

The surprising thing to me when I introduced myself briefly to Ruto was how different he came across in person than on television. A person of much more intense physical presence than a typical politician like Moi or Raila, Kalonzo, Mudavadi or others I met.

This impression lends itself to a question: is Ruto a typical Kenyan politician, or is he a telegenic but more especially dangerous person who has simply been normalized by pundits and diplomats because he acquired power by virtue of a “coalition of accused kingpins of violence” with Uhuru Kenyatta during the failed ICC prosecutions for the 2007-08 Post Election Violence (PEV)?

Or was Ruto simply normal in his relation to political violence and wrongly tagged as more responsible than other Kalenjin politicians, such that the opportunistic political gain from being indicted by the ICC is just one more common facet of democratic competition. So that in the environment of total agreed impunity of the political class for the murder and mayhem of 2007-08 Ruto has simply the normal association with violence so that his qualities of telegenic articulation can be credited positively rather than treated with suspicion?

Or is it, to the contrary, plausible to see him as something something else entirely, a fresh candidate now, breaking the mold of Kenyan politics not by virtue of having been an especially dangerous protagonist of ethnic violence, but by becoming the first real reformist to win by moving Kenya beyond ethnicity on a platform of better economic policy? Or a fresh candidate breaking breaking the mold in some other way?

Some of this depends on whether one sees continuity between the actions and history of politicians from one campaign cycle to the next, or whether it is tacitly agreed that democracy means every candidate should get a clean slate to be whatever they want to be in each particular campaign.

(Note that none of these questions are intended to comment in any detail about other comparisons between Ruto and his rivals or examine the track record of those rivals, each of whom have their own controversies even if they are easier to group together more generally.)

UhuruRuto Kenya 2013 billboard Nairobi

As usual, Non-Democratic IGAD Members to Observe IGAD Member Kenya’s Election

How many IGAD members are democracies? Well, Kenya has some genuine if flawed level of democracy, but Uganda has a president who took power by military force more than 35 years ago and the rest of the bunch are less advanced. IGAD has its value, but the idea of standing up for freedom and fairness at the polls would seem highly counterintuitive for IGAD diplomats.

From The Daily Nation: “Polls: Ex-Ethiopia president Teshome to lead Igad observer team”:

. . . mandate is to promote good governance, democracy, human rights and rule of law in the region.”

“IGADEOM is composed of seven core staff and 24 short-term observers. The short-term observers include representatives of electoral bodies and other public institutions as well as diplomats drawn from six Igad member states of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.”

Are diplomats and public officials who are not committed to democracy in their own countries likely to prioritize free and fair elections for Kenyan voters?

Good pre-election Kenya report from Carnegie Endowment

Saskia Brechenmacher and Nanjira Sambuli have released an excellent pre-election report for the Carnegie Endowment’s Pivotal Elections in Africa series produced jointly by Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program and Africa Program.

Moreover, as other analysts have noted, a recurring pattern of dealmaking between political insiders also serves to protect the economic and political power of a narrow elite class, while undermining more meaningful forms of political accountability. Politicians have incentives to mobilize voters to secure their place in elite bargains; yet once those bargains are struck, the needs of communities tend to fall by the wayside at the expense of elite interests. This pattern helps explain why inequality in the country has spiraled: according to Oxfam, “the number of super-rich in Kenya is one of the fastest growing in the world,” with “less than 0.1 [percent] of the population . . . own[ing] more wealth than the bottom 99.9 [percent].”

“The Specter of Politics as Usual in Kenya”

High risk of political violence around Kenya’s election? Of course, because violence worked well in 2007 and was ratified in 2013 and since.

 

Kenya 2007 PEV Make Peace Stop Violence

The value of violence to Kenya’s political competitors will be obvious to any of you who have read this blog over these years now since 2009.

Instrumental state violence with militia support was crucial to enforcing the 2007 “re-election” Kibaki assigned himself through control over the Electoral Commission of Kenya; instrumental violence on behalf of leaders in opposition was crucial to obtaining and sustaining international pressure on Kibaki to share a portion of power with the opposition after his “re-election” when the key hardliners in Kabaki’s political camp wanted to stand firm.

At the same time, the egregiousness of the worst of the violence in the Rift Valley may have overshot the mark and undercut possible initial international support for an examination of the election fraud witnessed by diplomats at the ECK and the bribery identified by donor nations before the vote. (See my War for History series for the details of what happened.)

So even with total impunity and immediate and future political gains to be had, burning people alive in the church in Kiambaa in particular, was arguably counterproductive in the short term from a strictly amoral perspective. But that is just my best sense of it and others closer to the situation may disagree.

Even five years ago, in 2017, the threat of violence was on the table: “Election Violence threat in Kenya–my thoughts on NDI’s new warning“.

Now, after the two UhuRuto elections, with the “coalition of the killing” in 2013 and the combined Jubilee Party re-election in 2017, we are faced with another contest where Uhuru and Ruto are on opposite sides, which has only happened once before, in that 2007 fight.  In 1992, 1997 (both marked by organized violence) and 2002 they were together just as they have been since early in Kibaki’s second administration until falling out in this race (When did Uhuru and Ruto fight? Why is the “Uhuruto” alliance allegedly so surprising?)

What will they decide on their terms of engagement this year?

UhuruRuto Kenya 2013 billboard Nairobi

 

 

 

As preparations for Kenya’s elections lag once again, cut the fog of time and remember what happened in 2007

Polling Station Olympic School Kibera

Flashback to the night of Kibaki’s twilight swearing in . . .

“Kenya could be facing its greatest crisis”, The Telegraph

Analysis

Five years ago yesterday, close to a million people watched as Mwai Kibaki was inaugurated as President of Kenya in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.

Daniel Arap Moi, the authoritarian strongman who had ruled for a quarter of a century, was gone, his hand-picked successor roundly defeated.

A nation rejoiced. Already one of Africa’s most stable countries, Kenya could also now claim to be among its most democratic.

Last night, Mr Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in before a few hundred loyalists at a tawdry ceremony held in the gardens of the official presidential residence.

The contrast could not have been more stark.

As he lumbered towards the podium, Kenya’s cities and towns were erupting in chaos and ethnically motivated bloodshed, a predictable response after the most dubious election since the one-party era ended in 1992.

It is no exaggeration to say that Kenya is potentially facing its most serious crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1963.

The prospect for serious violence between the country’s two most traditionally antagonistic tribes, Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu and the Luo, led by his challenger Raila Odinga, is worryingly high.

Luos, marginalised since independence, have reason to feel aggrieved. Thanks to an alliance that Mr Odinga built with other tribes, they felt that this was their best and possibly last chance of taking power.

The farcical nature of the vote will only heighten their disappointment. The electoral commission initially claimed that roughly a quarter of returning officers disappeared for 36 hours without announcing results and had switched off their mobile phones.

When results did finally emerge, Mr Odinga saw a one million vote lead overturned.

Opinion polls showed that the contest was always going to be close, but if the official results are correct, Kenyans voted in an inexplicably bizarre manner.

After turfing out 20 of Mr Kibaki’s cabinet ministers and reducing his party to a rump in the simultaneous parliamentary poll, they apparently voted in an entirely different manner in the presidential race.

Apart from an unusually high turn-out in some of Mr Kibaki’s strongholds (sometimes more than 100 per cent ), the president then appeared to have won many more votes in some constituencies than first reported.

If it all seems depressingly familiar, it need not have been.

Mr Kibaki had lost a lot of the enormous goodwill that he enjoyed following the 2002 election after a cabal of Kikuyu cronies was accused of corruption. He also reneged on a promise to introduce a new constitution that would have returned many of his overarching powers to parliament.

On the other hand, he allowed a free press to thrive and respected the results of a 2005 referendum that went against him. Many expected he would do the same if he lost last Thursday’s election.

Instead of setting an example to the rest of the continent, Mr Kibaki’s opponents say that he has joined the unholy pantheon of African presidents who have refused to surrender power.

If he has chosen instead to squander his country’s stability and its fragile ethnic harmony it is a tragedy not just for Kenya but for all of Africa.

“You are doing a heck of a job”; Biden and Kenyatta get cozy at White House

Remarks by President Biden and President Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya Before Bilateral Meeting

President Biden and President Kenyatta had an apparently cozy visit at the White House. Biden got to host an African head of state after neglecting to do so around the UN General Assembly. Kenyatta got to “bring home” news of a U.S. vaccine donation, personal praise from Biden and a mutual reiteration about how well the Governments of our two countries do on cooperating on terrorism, business and generally on being “partners”. See the account from Kenya’s state media, KBC.

A good way to end the week for Client 13173 of Geneva’s Union Bancaire Privée (see “Secret Assets Exposed by Pandora Papers Expose Uhuru Kenyatta’s Family“, by Will Fitzgibbon in The Elephant, Oct 8).

I do not think it unfair to read the tea leaves from this action by the Biden Administration–on the heels of announcing the appointment of Judd Devermont, late of the Center for Strategic and Studies, to formulate a new Africa policy (as John Bolton in the Trump Administration)–toward deciphering how the U.S. executive branch can be expected to play Kenya’s current election.

Of course, the “heck of a job” line in the United States in recent years is usually intended to be sarcastic.  The background is remembered with poignancy by those of us who had personal experience with Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As explained in Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary:

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.
The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”
Brown resigned ten days after he was praised.

George W Bush praises FEMA head Michael Brown in Louisiana after Hurricane KatrinaPresident George W. Bush tells FEMA Administrator Michael Brown he’s doing “a heck of a job.” (Photo: AP)

 

Ambassador Godec, as Acting Assistant Secretary of State, should articulate U.S. policy for Kenya’s election

Kenya 2013 election IRI Electoral Commission voter education posterAmbassador Robert Godec has served as the Biden Administration’s Acting Assistant Secretary of State since the inauguration.

Ambassador Godec served in Kenya from August 2012, as Chargé d’Affaires following Amb. Scott Gration’s ouster, becoming the Ambassador in January 2013 after November 2012 confirmation hearings ahead of Kenya’s March 2013 election.

Godec thus led U.S. engagement with both the later stages of the 2013 election and the ensuing litigation (both the presidential election petition at the Supreme Court and the on-going attempt to prosecute IEBC technology procurement fraud), the formation of the Jubilee Party in 2016, the eventual replacement of the Issack Hassan-led IEBC following protests in which opposition supporters were killed, the attacks on the USAID-funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) by the Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta and Cabinet members, the change of U.S. Administrations from Obama to Trump, the acquisition of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) from Safran Morpho (n/k/a Idemia), the abduction and murder of IEBC acting ICT Director Chris Msando on the eve of the 2017 vote, the general election and the successful Supreme Court petition annulling the presidential portion of the vote, the boycotted re-run, the announcement of the “Big 4 Agenda” and the post-election diplomatic negotiations, the “People’s President” swearing in, the “Handshake” and most of first year of the Building Bridges Initiative.

For the status of things in December 2018 as Ambassador Godec’s replacement, Ambassador McCarter was being confirmed see: “Something afoot in Kenya: Nation newspaper is running investigative reporting on IEBC procurement corruption in 2017“.

So at this point, Ambassador Godec is a seasoned veteran of Kenya’s post-2007 politics who knows the ground intimately from the last two election cycles.  (His prospective “permanent” replacement, Mary Catherine Phee, was nominated in April and got a favorable vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, but a confirmation vote by the full Senate is blocked along with dozens of other nominees.)

I was asked a few months ago to write an article about U.S. support for the BBI process, but I have been unable to do so because it is not clear to me what our policy has been or is now, and I have not found people involved willing to talk to me.  Given my role in telling the story of what went wrong in 2007 when I was involved myself it is no surprise that I might not be the one that people in Washington want to open up to now, but even people that I am used to talking to privately have not been as forthcoming as usual.  Nonetheless, Kenyans inevitably have questions, and those Americans who care may in the future.

Members of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance-USA have announced that they have sent Freedom of Information Requests to USAID and some Kenyans on social media and in a few cases in print have asserted suspicions or accusations that the U.S. Government was intending to back “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” in the form of the BBI referendum for some negative purpose.  Looking at the degree to which the Obama Administration backed the passage of the new 2010 Constitution as the terminal event of the post-2007 “Reform Agenda”–to the point of having millions of dollars bleed over from neutral democracy assistance programing into supporting the “Yes” campaign in the 2010 referendum during Ambassador Ranneberger’s tenure–I am having a bit of difficulty understanding why my representatives in Washington would be working in general terms to undermine the new Constitution we helped midwife in the first place.  At the same time it has openly been our policy under Ambassador Godec originally and then his predecessor Ambassador McCarter to support the Building Bridges Initiative and we did provide some USAID funding for the conducting the consultative process itself.  I think it would be in the interests of the United States and of Kenyans for the State Department to get out front of the questions now, with the BBI referendum effort rejected both at trial court level and on appeal, and with the Kenyan presidential race that has been going on since the Handshake entering into its later stages.

We remain Kenya’s largest donor, we have many relationships and support many assistance programs of all sorts in Kenya.  Most Kenyans remain in need, and we continue to have the same issues regarding terrorism as during the past 25 years (most especially since the 1998 embassy bombing). In general the geographic neighborhood is experiencing more specific crises and some overall erosion of peace, prosperity and governance.  While we may not be as influential in Kenya as we were prior to 2007, and anyone with money can play in Kenyan politics, we will be engaged and we will have influence in 2022.  So there is no time like the present to articulate what our policy is for the coming year.

Here is my take from December 2019: “Important Kenya BBI reads, and my comments“.

And from January 2020: “How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

Kenya’s IEBC “races” to fulfill mandates from 2010 Constitution for lawful 2022 general election; behind again after 2013 and 2017 failures

Kenya 2007 Election campaign posters “Kalonzo Musyoka for President” on duka Eastern Kenya

 

For the latest from Kenya’s IEBC, see “Electoral body in rush to seal 2022 loopholes” from The People’s Daily.

Same issues as 2013 and 2017, same alleged frantic time-crunch.

For instance, the 2010 “New Katiba” granted the right to vote to Kenyans in the diaspora, starting with the 2012 general election. Even though the election was postponed to 2013, the IEBC under then-Chairman Issack Hassan elected to disenfranchise diaspora voters in spite of the coming into force of the new Constitution.

See, “IFES to webccast workshop on Kenya Diaspora voting “, Nov 1, 2012, Africommons.

But see, “Kenya, Attempt to suppress the diaspora vote“, Dec 12, 2012, by Nathan Wangusi, Pambazuka.

After the failures of 2013, in particular the procurement-fraud driven failure of electronic poll books and the breakdown of the results transmission system with no organized manual backup, and full election results not published (see “It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington) Hassan was eventually forced out by protests in 2016.  See my Page covering the 2012-13 election in detail.

After departing the IEBC Hassan has been on the international election assistance circuit, having already traveled to observe (positively) Djiboutian President Guelleh’s 2016 re-election on behalf of IGAD while still IEBC Chairman. Most recently he was associated with a USAID-funded joint International Republican Institute/National Democratic Institute election assessment in Ethiopia this year. (See report released today.)

The current IEBC Chairman, Wafula Chebukati, was then appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta from the nominees of a controversial selection process and took office in January 2017 in time for the general election and annulled presidential vote that August, marked by the unsolved abduction, torture and murder of the ICT Director and the subsequent resignation of a majority of the Commissioners.

Although civil society groups had obtained a 2015 court ruling to enforce the diaspora voting requirement of the Constitution, the IEBC still failed in 2017 to implement more than a very limited, truncated, diaspora vote process.

See “Diaspora Voting in Kenya: a Promise Denied“, Elizabeth Iams Wellman and Beth Elise Whitaker, African Affairs, Vol. 120, Issue 479, April 2021, Pages 199-217. (In 2010, Kenya extended voting rights to its estimated 3,000,000 citizens living abroad . . . Yet . . . fewer than 3,000 Kenyans were permitted to vote from abroad in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. What explains the failure of the Kenyan government to implement diaspora voting on a broader scale? . . . We argue that uncertainty about the number of Kenyan emigrants and their political preferences, paired with a highly competitive electoral climate, meant there was little political will to push for more widespread implementation of diaspora voting.)

A year ago I warned: “Kenya Election Preparation: raising alarm for 2022, past secrets still buried“.

Biding time on democracy in Kenya and Uganda

 

Kenya election 2007 banner for Kibaki Nakuru
Ugandan MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine will speak at the McCain Institute’s virtual 2021 Sedona Forum. The State Department has issued a statement criticizing the January Ugandan election and announcing that it is issuing visa restrictions on unnamed Ugandan officials responsible for undermining the democratic process

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Three years after the resignations of a majority of Kenya’s election commissioners, President Uhuru Kenyatta has formally taken notice of the four vacancies and gazetted the process through which he will appoint replacements.

Why now? While the President has not explained specifically to my knowledge, his ruling Jubilee Party is seeking to have the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission conduct a constitutional referendum within weeks to approve amendments derived from the “Building Bridges Initiative”. (A version of a proposal to amend the constitution was passed by most of Kenya’s county assemblies positioned as a citizen initiative. It is now before Parliament where there is internal debate among proponents as to whether to approve it for referendum as is, or to allow amendments to what has already been passed by the counties, which would raise additional legal questions. Challenges to the legality of the process to date are pending in the courts already.)

Although Kenya’s courts have allowed the IEBC to continue to conduct by-elections and all its other business with only three of seven commission seats filled since the most recent resignations in April 2018 there seems to be an expectation that appointing new commissioners is desirable ahead of the referendum and the general election approaching in August 2022. Legislation signed into law last year changes the appointment powers for choosing the committee that will interview applicants for the IEBC slots and winnow choices for the President. Four of the seven screening committee members will now named by the Parliamentary Service Commission, tipping the balance in favor of the current office holders.

Remember that U.S. president Joe Biden has “been around”, with far more diplomatic experience than any of his four most recent predecessors in the White House. In 2010 as Vice President he met with Kenyan Speaker Kenneth Marende, along with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, ahead of that year’s constitutional referendum during the period in which Kenya was deciding between justice-oriented remedies and impunity for the 2007-08 Post-Election Violence.

This is what I wrote at the time, “Marende praised by U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights, meeting with Biden; South Mugirango by-election this week”:

Kenyan Speaker of Parliament Kenneth Marende seems to be getting an increased international profile. Navanethem Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Marende on Monday, expressing concern regarding progress on prosecution of suspects for post election violence. According to the Standard she singled out Marende for praise, “saying he had made immense contribution in stabilising the country through some historic rulings and the manner he handled issues in Parliament”.

U.S. Vice President Biden will call on Marende Tuesday as well, along with his meeting with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

Interestingly, Marende says that Parliament “would easily pass” legislation to provide for a “local tribunal” to try election violence cases under Kenyan criminal law “if the ICC acted swiftly by taking away key perpetrators of the violence”.

Biden will leave Thursday morning, the day of the South Mugirango by-election to fill the seat vacated by a successful election petition against Omingo Magara, originally of ODM. As it stands the race is hot, with Raila Odinga campaigning for the substitute ODM nominee, Ibrahim Ochoi, William Ruto campaigning for Magara running as a PDP nominee and heavyweights in PNU affiliates split among Magara and other candidates.