Uhuru and Raila have their reconciliation celebrated in conjunction with the National Prayer Breakfast, and Uhuru meets Trump, but Moi’s legacy teaches the cost of “strongman theology” for Christians

[Editorial Note: I wrote a draft of this post before Daniel arap Moi’s death last week.  I have revised the last portion to reflect the news of Moi’s passing.]

[Update: See “How Not to Run a Country; Further Reflections on Moi’s Presidency” by Kwamchetsi Makokha in The Elephant and “Moi and the Simplification of the Kenyan Mind” by Wandia Njoya.]

During the years of the Moi dictatorship in Kenya many of the brave voices for decency and freedom came from church leaders–including several of the “unsolved” assassinations and “accidental deaths”.

For the United States at a governmental level, however, in the years of the Cold War American foreign policy in Africa was primarily focused on the perceived “geopolitics” of “great power competition” with the Soviet Union. Moi, like Kenyatta before him, was a convenient ally and there was little appetite for going too much beyond that. I have written here over the years about how we came to send F-5 fighters requested by Jomo Kenyatta under President Ford and start training his Kenya Police Service in 1977 under President Carter, and then under Moi acquire Navy basing rights at Mombasa later in the Carter years.

Jimmy Carter was and is a conspicuously evangelical “born again” Christian who cared about a lot of things beyond the Cold War, including an explicit start of formal incorporation of “human rights” in our foreign policy and State Department organization, but he was also a Cold Warrior president, politician and former officer in the nuclear Navy. Moi sought protection from Somalia’s Siad Barre as Carter sought to maintain the alliance with Moi’s Kenya. Carter sought to counter the Soviets and Cubans in Ethiopia under Mengistu and build a “substitute” relationship with Somalia, while also restraining Barre in his attempt to take the Ogaden from Ethiopia and any other expansionist endeavors in Kenya or Djibouti.

And so on through the Reagan years and early George H.W. Bush years, as Americans concerned with democratization in Kenya specifically, and with Moi’s repression and use of torture, and his egregious corruption and looting from the poor, had a limited place at the high tables of foreign policy. After the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983 some media programs were started and the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute started doing some seminars and broad regional training, but we also continued backing and arming Savimbi’s UNITA in Angola, in particular, which influenced our relationship with the apartheid regime in South Africa, and with Mobutu in Zaire, and also shaped our relationships with nondemocratic Nigeria and Kenya as well.

It had escaped my attention at the time, when I was a College Republican state leader during the Reagan-Bush years when National Chairman Jack Abramoff and others were internationally promoting Savimbi as a “freedom fighter” against the Cubans and the Soviet-supported MPLA which naturally involved the issue of suppression of religious practice under a Communist regime, but apparently some involved in supporting Savimbi in the Christian Right in Washington also posited Savimbi as a Christian leader himself in some fashion in spite of his brutality. This surprised me when I learned of it recently and it is something I would be interested to learn more about.

It was only later when the Berlin Wall came down and the United States wanted to focus on facilitating on a cooperative basis the Russian withdrawal from ideology-driven engagements in Africa that then Asst. State Herman Cohen sought and received permission from George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker to more generally promote African democratization as an element of our foreign policy.  And thus we were willing to push Moi to legalize opposition to KANU and gave some support to those who needed to flee the country to avoid detention and torture for political reasons. Politically appointed Ambassador Smith Hempstone “pushed the envelope” to step on Moi’s toes to give some real aid and comfort to “the Second Liberation“.

Moi like any good politician made good friends, and some of my friends in recent years were his friends. Some of them are fellow Christians who were close enough to him to see personal human qualities that are not accessible to me since I know him only as a figure in history.  Some of them were hurt badly by Moi. For me, I was not interested in Moi as a Christian in particular because Kenya is a predominantly Christian country with no shortage of Christians in politics and Moi seemed much more singular and noteworthy for his use of repression than for matters of faith, and it has always been a limit on my own imagination to understand how a purposeful Christian could really steal massively from the poor as I have understood Moi to have in effect done.

I did meet President Moi briefly to shake hands at the Embassy 4th of July party at the Ambassador’s residence shortly after my arrival in 2007.  I was told Moi was not part of the official receiving line with Interior Minister John Michuki who was representing President Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta, the “leader of the Official Opposition” (in other words on paper Moi’s party boss as Secretary General of KANU). Nonetheless, he positioned himself as an experienced and opportunistic politician might be expected to anchor the end of the line.  He was a little like the embarrassing uncle at the family reunion—everyone wanted to treat him correctly and get along, but the fact that he maybe did some things for a living that no one wanted to talk about made you want to keep your distance and certainly not let him “chat up” the kids.

Shortly thereafter, Moi was appointed by Kibaki as his envoy for Southern Sudan for the talks regarding the implementation of the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” from 2005.  He also crossed over to endorse Kibaki’s re-election also, and brought with him KANU as a whole and Uhuru himself.  This abandonment of the opposition role proved to be a hugely debilitating blow to KANU as a political party with, at the time, still the largest numbers in Parliament of any one party, but it let Uhuru get re-elected to his own Kikuyu-dominated Central Province constituency.

In a casual dinner conversation later with someone who was not involved with our government to the best of my knowledge I was told that Ambassador Ranneberger had brokered getting Kibaki’s Southern Sudan appointment for Moi “to get him out of politics” for the upcoming election.  While I knew that Ranneberger was most favorable to Kibaki in the election and had expected him to win as late as that October when we discussed the latest IRI polling results, I did not know until many years later, (2018) through the Freedom of Information Act, that Ranneberger had by April 2007 described to Washington in a cable a policy of “building capital with Kibaki” (as opposed to what I had understood from USAID program documents from 2005 when we were pushing reforms in the context of Anglo Leasing corruption and reacting to the Artur Brothers and the Michuki’s Standard raid from early 2006).  So I cannot help but wonder if getting Moi and Uhuru on board for Kibaki’s re-election was part of the agreement for the Sudan diplomatic appointment and whether such helped induce Ranneberger and perhaps others in my government to be initially complacent about Kibaki’s political standing during the campaign.

The thing that struck me in spending a little time with Rift Valley politics and candidates in mid-2007 is that Moi just did not seem to be that popular, and people then did not seem to have much nostalgia for his era, and in fact were quite relieved to be so much freer in general even if there was not something specific for them in the latest political alignment of the day.  If people were looking to Moi for an endorsement of guidance on “the way ahead” they were not open about it.  So Moi endorsing Kibaki did not seem to me to be something that would move a lot of votes from the “ODM wave” in the Rift Valley. (Although the Moi’s could provide huge sums of money if they chose.)

Now that Moi has passed another dozen years later, I can understand the desire of many Kenyans to find things to celebrate out of a 24-year block of the young nation’s history, and of his friends and family to mourn him as a real person in the way that we do, remembering now the good and not the bad. And that is all well and good, but it is anther part of his legacy of Nyayo, and his continuing to tread in the path of tribe and fear and presidential accumulation of property and resources of the Jomo Kenyatta year, that in Kenya of today as before, funerals are always used by politicians for political purposes. And apparently this is now “traditional” because during the years of single party repression a funeral was one of the only places one might get away with a bit of political “free speech”.

So condolences to the friends and family of “retired” President Daniel arap Moi, but also to so many Kenyans who have had less, and who have suffered, because their leaders were not better.

Kenya Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network

Like George W. Bush in 2007, Donald Trump is more popular in Kenya than he is at home

While Donald Trump is not as unpopular in the United States right now as George W. Bush was during the time of my service as East Africa Resident Director for the International Republican Institute in Nairobi, Trump is more popular in Kenya than at home, as Bush was then (Bush was conspicuously popular in the early aftermath of 9-11, won re-election in 2004 and was not highly unpopular until on into his second term; Trump is steadily, but not extremely unpopular in terms of raw approval numbers, per his apparent strategy tied to our Electoral College system, although a slight overall majority would like the Senate to remove him from office in the current impeachment trial).

See: Trump Ratings Remain Low Around Globe, While Views of US Stay Mostly Favorable; Trump foreign policies receive little support” from the Pew Center for Research.

Update: At the same time, we have to note a similar situation with China’s Xi Jinping:

Publics in most of the countries surveyed lack confidence in Xi Jinping. His highest ratings come mostly from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including 61% in Nigeria, 58% in Kenya, 52% in South Africa, 44% in Tunisia and 41% in Lebanon. Filipinos and Russians generally voice confidence in the Chinese president as well.

Some thoughts:

1) the United States has been generally popular in Kenya in part because we have kept closely linked in our policy positions at the Government to Government level while also getting credit for moral support for “the Second Liberation” once the Cold War ended. We have shown a level of diplomatic finesse at a “10,000 foot level” in achieving what we have wanted from the relationship. There are always issues and problems, such as overhang from the perception that we tried to sell a bad election in 2017 and have been too supportive of the Jubilee Administration in the context of bad economic performance, but we manage.

2) the bottom line. We spend a greatly disproportionate amount of foreign assistance dollars in Kenya relative to poorer, less advantaged countries within Africa in the context of poverty relief. We do a lot to help alleviate some of the worst consequences of extreme inequality, corruption and bad policy priorities from Kenya’s governments. Some of this is for obvious foreign policy reasons as part of our diplomacy, some of it is because people prefer to live in Nairobi to Blantyre, say. Some of it is because as a more developed country with a well educated albeit small middle class and some real infrastructure, along with a lot of poverty and other challenges, Kenya is one of the most logistically easy places to do a lot of things within the “assistance” field.

As a brutal example of the role of US assistance in providing for basic needs that Kenya’s government is unwilling to meet, see Max Bearak in the Washington Post: Kenya’s blood banks go dry after US ended aid.

3) Trump solves a couple of things that were tricky for President Obama during his time: because he has not visited Kenya himself and has no obvious personal connection to the region beyond the ubiquitous “friends trying to get rich” he is more generically “American” as opposed to the son of a “Luo tribesman” as propagandists in the US described Obama. Obama faced certain misunderstandings and disappointed expectations, and maybe overcompensated in certain areas. On the “culture war” issues, Trump has returned on abortion to the strong “no” position under Bush and then some, and seems to calibrate mixed messages on sexual minorities rights which was a particular area where my sense is that Obama unsuccessfully “spent” some personal political capital in Kenya in his second term. Trump has emphasized in his campaigns and general messaging his relationships with Americans who are involved with these issues in Kenya such as his impeachment defense counsel Jay Sekulow of the East African Centre for Law and Justice. See “American Center for Law and Justice opens Nairobi branch, campaigning against draft Constitution” from May 2010.

4) Trump has tried numerous times to make large, draconian cuts in foreign assistance, but he has failed in Congress (and Kenya has not experienced any extraordinary and arguably illegal blocks like Ukraine did earlier this year) but all this is “inside baseball”–as long as the money comes the President gets credit symbolically.

5) The Trump Administration has promoted a high degree of personal Trump-Kenyatta interaction both in Washington and at the G-7 and other non-African venues. Kenyatta is very wealthy and comes from family wealth like Trump, and similarly graduated from an private American Northeastern college. Kenyatta is no Zelensky, left to twist for a meeting. Kenyatta may not be exceptionally popular as an individual right now in Kenya, but the obvious benefits to Trump’s image in the minds of Kenyans are not dependent on that kind of specifics.

6) Without getting too “deep in the weeds” I think Trump got a break and the US has benefited from having former Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter as Trump’s political appointment for Ambassador. Having a career civil servant and experienced diplomat in the position would lead to Trump keeping his distance presumably, but McCarter has little in common with Trump in background, style or personality (nor are his politics as a former elected official from the “Tea Party” wing of the Republican Party all that much like Trump’s unless he has changed his mind about quite a few things). At the same time, his missionary background and status with Trump and the GOP and other organizations give him entre beyond conventional diplomacy. So arguably McCarter is in a unique role to broker between Washington and Kenya and not typical of the type of political appointments we have seen from Trump in other Embassies.

Kenya-USA Bilateral Trade Talks: Ambassador McCarter confirms “cat is out of the bag” on Bloomberg scoop on negotiations for Free Trade Agreement

U.S., Kenya to start trade talks seen as template for Africa

Key takeaway is that Bloomberg reports that trade talks have been underway between the United States and Kenya, with the Kenyan officials confirming progress and the US expecting to publicize status in conjunction with Uhuru Kenyatta visit to Washington next week.

The East African nation’s cabinet will probably approve discussions with the U.S. this week, Kamau [Permanent Secretary] said.

Kenya is America’s 11th largest trading partner on the continent and the sixth biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, with total trade between the two countries at $1.17 billion in 2018.

The U.S. currently has one free-trade agreement on the African continent — with Morocco. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy said in August that the nation was pursuing a trade deal with an unidentified country in sub-Saharan Africa, adding that it would be used as a model for others when AGOA expires.

The Trump Administration wants to use an agreement with Kenya as a template for other bilateral agreements in region, as opposed to the African Union’s expressed preference for a multilateral pact in the context of the new African Continental Free Trade Area. It is also somewhat unclear as to how this would integrate with the longstanding US support for the federation process among the members of the East African Community.

Update:

Kenya: How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

Since I asked this same question in January 2019 we have seen finally publication of the initial Building Bridges Initiative report delivered to President Kenyatta and released to the public, as I have discussed in a few posts, but the overall question on how things play out in 2020 remain essentially the same. Ambassador McCarter has made clear that the United States remains committed to the Building Bridges Initiative even if he did not personally agree with a few things in the report.

Here it is:

Kenya: How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2019? – AFRICOMMONS:

What will 2019 hold for the relations between the United States and Kenya, particularly the Trump-Pence and Kenyatta-Ruto Administrations?

Kyle McCarter, just confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Trump’s man in Kenya, after a delay since last spring, will shortly replace Robert Godec who shepherded U.S. interests as defined by the Obama and Trump Administrations, respectively, during the UhuRuto election in 2013 and re-election in 2017. The 2020 American presidential race is kicking off now a year ahead of the party primaries so it does not seem likely that McCarter’s efforts in Kenya will command a high place in the U.S. President’s personal attention soon. (If Trump is re-elected it would seem a fairly safe bet that McCarter would stay on for Kenya’s 2022 election, but as a political appointee he would likely be replaced in 2021 if the White House changes hands.)

It has been interesting to see a higher public profile recently from the U.S. administration on efforts to combat narcotics trafficking networks operating in and through Kenya, along with anti-addiction programs. McCarter has a voluntary service background in this challenge at home in Illinois in addition to his family missionary work in Kenya, so this might be a place where his talents would especially dovetail with diplomatic priorities. Here is a summary of the work of the State Departments’s Bureau of Narcotics and International Law Enforcement in Kenya.

We have also seen an encouraging new development with the recent and current prosecutions by the U.S. of cases involving bribery of high government officials in Uganda and Mozambique (going along with the U.S. extradition and prosecution of members of the Kenya-based Akasha narcotics trafficking syndicate). See the Amabhungane story on the Mozambique cases here.

The U.S. has been quietly supporting capacity building for Kenyan prosecutors; some people, including some Kenyans, think that the Director of Public Prosecution is now closer to “the real deal” than his predecessors and that President Kenyatta is actually now waging a form of a genuine if limited “war on corruption”. (We shall see.)

On the Kenyan side, with the end of 2018 we reached the end of the first year of the Second UhuRuto Administration and the first year of “Uhuru’s Big Four Agenda”.

In late 2017 we witnessed the opposition-boycotted “fresh” presidential election conducted by the highly controversial (and at least to some extent corrupt we now know) IEBC, followed by an international diplomatic circling of the wagons to close out Kenya’s political season on that basis.

Uhuru’s Jamhuri Day speech in December 2017, a month after his second inauguration, announced the UNDP (United Nations Development Program)-supported “Big Four Agenda”.

“On reflection, I came up with four responses to your concerns. I call them the Big Four: food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare for all. During the next 5 years, I will dedicate the energy, time and resources of my Administration to the Big Four.”

Fulfilling these development targets would be the prospective reward to ordinary Kenyan citizens for their role, such as it was, in the re-election drama, and serve as Uhuru Kenyatta’s “legacy”, to cement his place within Kenya’s First Family and presumably secure the status of yet another generation of Kenya’s post-colonial pre-democratic elite.

I was struck by the fact that the Jubilee/UhuRuto election campaign did not offer the “Big Four” as its electoral platform. Needless to say, it is a bit incongruous to see the Jubilee Government and its international supporters (the same ones funding Kenya’s serially corrupt electoral management bodies) not offer a serious nod toward seeking a direct democratic mandate for such an ambitious and aggressive program to define a Kenyan president’s term in office.

I am fully in support of the concepts of “the Big Four” in having the Government of Kenya actually prioritize the common welfare of Kenya’s citizens. It is just that this type of service provision is frankly head-spinningly counterintuitive coming from Kenya’s existing political class. Anyone who has been blessed to live in Kenya and follows its politics must have asked at the inception a year ago if this “Big Four” was not just the another expression of foreign ambitions projected on Kenya and indulged by Kenya’s elite for their paramount purpose: looking out for themselves.

Now that a year has gone by, the attention of Kenya’s governmental leaders draws more and more tightly around their next election in three-and-a-half years while the reality of the debt load from the most recent pre-election period bears down. It would seem that skepticism was well warranted.

The United States reportedly took a key “leading from behind” role in late 2017 and early 2018 in bringing Raila into some form of post-election accommodation with the Kenyatta’s while taking both a publicly and privately assertive position against the “People’s Presidency” inauguration gambit last January. Since that time we have a new Secretary of State, a permanent Assistant Secretary for the Africa Bureau, and now a new Ambassador, but no open discontinuities in Trump Administration policy on Kenya. Dr. Jendayi Frazer who was the Assistant Secretary in 2007-08 is still around in the same various private capacities as she was in during 2013 and 17 (as far as I know). She was most recently in the Kenyan media visiting with Mombasa County Governor Joho, reportedly discussing “violent extremism” before a Mastercard Foundation event. Most of the other people who were involved in Kenya diplomacy and policy at a senior level in the Obama years are in quasi-official related positions and/or the Albright Stonebridge Group, awaiting a change in administration if not retired.

With the “handshake” between Uhuru and Raila it seems that Kenya’s opposition has been left with less power in parliament than at any time within the past twenty years.

Certainly Daniel arap Moi must rest easy knowing that the rumors of his political demise were greatly exaggerated. His succession project from 2002 has more-or-less succeeded. Kenyans are freer as a matter of civil liberties now than they were during the days of his rule as recorded in history and as described to me by politicians who were in opposition back in 2007 but have circled back in the years since. At the same time, extra-judicial killing remains a constant threat to the poor and to anyone whose exercise of those liberties might seem to present a real challenge to the political status quo. The killings by State security forces in support of the 2017 elections were significantly escalated from 2013 and after ten years it is now safe and necessary to say that the post-election violence of 2007-08 has been effectively ratified by the State as the violence of 1992 and 1997 under Moi was. And Kenya may be even more pervasively corrupt than ever. Elections arguably peaked in the 2002 landslide.

The “international community” as it identifies itself has accepted and moved on from its abject defeat by Kenya’s political elite (and by its own vanity and lack of substantive commitment) on the issue of “justice” for the politically instrumental murder and mayhem of 2007-08.

Trump’s “New Africa Policy” as per National Security Advisor John Bolton suggests that we should not expect any separate new “flagship” initiatives for development or assistance from the U.S., nor other major changes emanating from the White House. The “New Africa Policy” could be seen as raising questions of how far the U.S. will be willing to financially underwrite the “Big Four” approach on development assistance. Bolton himself was both the intellectual and political leader of the campaign to keep the ICC as far from any interaction with U.S. policy as possible and is a career U.N. skeptic. There are elements of the approach talked about for “the Big Four” that fit up with what we hear from USAID in the Trump era, in particular a heavier focus on creating opportunities for private foreign investment coupled with reduced direct assistance spending. At the same time, the sexiest sector for investment under the Big Four, under Universal Health Coverage, is predicated on the rejection of the Republican approaches to healthcare in the United States, so the rationale for U.S. Government support under a Trump Administration is fuzzy at best.

Just as most of Kenya’s major politicians have history as cooperators in some fashion with Kenya’s single party KANU regimes, some of those around Trump worked for Moi directly (Paul Manafort and Roger Stone most conspicuously) and Americans of longevity in the Foreign Service have background with the USG-GOK alliance under Moi. It will be interesting to see where Ambassador McCarter fits into this history.

On one hand, McCarter is a Trump political appointee from Republican politics; on the other his background with Kenya as a missionary makes him a somewhat anomalous figure in the world of Black, Manafort and Stone, Cambridge Analytica and other Trump-connected international operatives and lobbyists, and with Donald Trump and his Organization, the global hotel/gambling developer and brand broker.

McCarter has been around Kenya independently and will have is own pre-existing relationships and his own impressions on Kenya’s politics not tied to the Trump family.

McCarter’s religious background as an Oral Roberts University graduate and missionary in itself, and political background as an elected official from a less urbanized portion of the American Midwest may give the new Ambassador some head start in relating to ordinary Kenyans over someone from a more typical background for a professional diplomat.

Will McCarter tuck comfortably into the pre-existing Bush/Obama/Trump policy for Kenya of accentuating the positives about those in power and how we can keep things quietly spinning without risk of disruption? Or might he be more plainspoken? How will he see his role in the “handshake” and “Building Bridges” endeavor as Kenya’s pols move more quickly on to jockeying for advantage for the next dispensation from 2022? Can McCarter find a way to contribute something lasting on corruption and law enforcement even if the “Big Four” is “overcome by events” as politics moves on?

Kenya visit by IFES President Bill Sweeney March 2017 An earlier Handshake: IFES president Bill Sweeney calls on Jubilee Speaker of National Assembly Justin Muturi on visit coinciding with IEBC’s announcement of sole source deal with Safran Morpho to acquire Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) in March 2017. Sweeney also brought the new IFES country director for its USAID election support program who was hired to replace the director who had been purged following criticism from the Jubilee Party and the Kenyatta Administration.

On #AntiCorruptionDay do not forget how then-fugitive Gideon Mbuvi (“Sonko”) came to Parliament in 2010

With the arrest of Nairobi Governor Gideon Mbuvi (“Sonko”) in Voi on charges of corruption and of fleeing charges and a jail sentence in Mombasa dating back to 1998, it is important to remember how Sonko came into national politics in Nairobi in the first place.

My only personal encounter with Sonko was when he showed up as MP and potential Senator-elect at the Milimani Law Courts in March 2013 when civil society leaders I was working with sought an injunction to stop the IEBC under Isaack Hassan from announcing Presidential election results after shutting down the Results Transmission System, which had allegedly unexpectedly failed (it has turned out the procurement was botched in the first place so the Results Transmission was not ever going to work).

Sonko entered politics and was elected as Member of Parliament from Nairobi’s Makadara Constituency in the by-election of September 20, 2010, as the nominee of the NARC-Kenya party led by Martha Karua, then MP for Gichuga.

Karua was appointed by President Kibaki as Minister of Justice in 2005 following the defeat of the “Wako Draft” constitution at referendum by the nascent Orange Democratic Movement, and reappointed by Kibaki in his original “half-Cabinet” of January 8, 2008 during the Post Election Violence period. Karua resigned as Justice Minister in April 2009 (being replaced by Mitula Kilonzo, father of current ODM Senator and Sonko defense attorney Mitula Kilonzo, Jr.) but one would think she and NARC-Kenya would have had resources to vet Sonko’s background if they were not familiar.

The by-election for Makadara was one of several occasioned by the courts upholding election fraud challenges against the Samuel Kivuitu led and internationally supported Election Commission of Kenya that also failed so obviously in the Presidential race.

As the Daily Nation explained in an article headlined “Makadara rivals bet on the slums” at the time Sonko originally had support of a faction within the ODM party before intervention of party leader Raila Odinga, then Prime Minister in Kibaki’s second administration (sometimes referred to as the “Government of National Unity”):

In Makadara, the roles were reversed in 2007 as ODM’s Reuben Ndolo was ousted by Mr Dick Wathika of PNU. Mr Ndolo also successfully challenged the results in court.

. . . .
The two main parties are seeking to boost their numbers in Parliament ahead of 2012.

The fight is about numbers, especially given that ODM will be seeking to turn the tables on PNU after losing a number of by-elections in the recent past,” Nairobi lawyer and political analyst John Mureithi Waiganjo said.

The party lost in Matuga at the Coast and South Mugirango in Kisii, seats it was expected to win.
Mr Waiganjo says the by-elections also come at a time when ODM, whose party leader Raila Odinga, is at the forefront in pushing for reforms ahead of 2012 elections, requires numbers in Parliament to effect the changes.
The lawyer named Mr Ndolo and Mr Wathika who were on the same side of the referendum campaigns, as the front runners for the seat. But Narc Kenya’s Gedion Mbuvi, popularly known as Mike Sonko, could spring a surprise. 
Mr Mbuvi, who intially sought the ODM ticket, has run a well-oiled, high-profile campaign that has excited many, especially youthful voters.
However, it is his alliance with Nairobi deputy mayor George Aladwa, the Kaloleni ODM councillor, that has been causing Mr Ndolo and the party sleepless nights. Although even PNU’s Wathika received a direct ticket, it is in ODM that the consequences of the nomination fallout are likely to be most felt. 
Mr Aladwa, who was said to have supported the deep-pocketed Mbuvi for the ODM ticket, has been leading a rebel faction which may seriously dent the party’s chances of victory.
Last week, party leader Odinga was forced to intervene in the matter.
At a meeting called by the Prime Minister, Mr Ndolo and Mr Aladwa pledged to bury the hatchet and work together to win the seat for the party. But there has been little evidence on the ground to show the two are back together. Even the joint rally they agreed to hold is yet to happen.
Mr Aladwa is popular among the Luhya, a significant section of voters in the constituency, and the tension between him and Mr Ndolo can only hurt the ODM candidate.
But Mr Ndolo believes that he has an upper hand after reconciling with Mr Dan Shikanda, a former soccer star, who contested the seat in 2007 on a Narc ticket and who could also influence the Luhya vote. Pundits believe that had Mr Shikanda not broken ranks with Mr Ndolo in 2007, ODM would easily have clinched the seat.

After winning the by-election by defeating both Ndolo of ODM and the PNU Party nominee Wathika on the ticket of PNU Coalition member NARC-Kenya, Sonko later left NARC-Kenya and joined PNU successor party Jubilee to successfully run for Senate in 2013 and then Governor in 2017. Karua ran separately for president as the NARC-Kenya nominee in 2013 and for Governor of Kirinyaga in 2017.

Hon. Karua has been a member of the International Advisory Council of the International Republican Institute (the organization I worked for in Kenya during the 2007 election) since 2015. The Council is a “select group of recognized leaders from around the world who share in our vision of democracy and freedom, and are willing to lend their names and counsel to this cause.”

Important Kenya BBI reads, and my comments

Patrick Gathara, Al Jazeera English: “Kenya’s BBI is the political elites’s attempt to rewrite history

Waihiga Mwaura, BBC: “Letter from Africa: Is Kenya building bridges to nowhere?

Gov. Anyang’ Nyong’o, Star: “We need honest and patriotic debate on the handshake report

US Embassy: Ambassador Godec’s Remarks for National Dialogue Conference, September 11, 2018

Star news report, Nov. 28: US Ambassador McCarter hails BBI report as key to unity

My comment: I have read much of the report in some detail, but still working through some sections. When Ambassador McCarter hails the report and suggests that Kenyans should not comment until they have read it, he does let us know that it is intended to be an elite consensus to be handed down into Kenya’s democratic politics such as it is.

Figures on internet penetration in Kenya are, inevitably, as inconsistent as figures on Kenya’s population. Some assert that more than 85% of Kenyans have internet access, but so much of that is strictly mobile and expensive for data that reading the full report while suspending comment is quite a big ask. The Ambassador obviously is a very quick reader based on the timing of the release and his comments to The Star.

On substance, I find Kenya’s elites to be smart, well educated and well spoken, so it is no surprise that within the details of the report I find a lot of exposition that is appealing to me. How seriously is it to be taken? One has to compare the track record of these elites to past performance, which while giving no guaranty of the future, is the most tangible thing to go on in trying to guess whether they are serious. That part does not weigh in favor of getting too excited about the document one way or the other.

As an example, look at the recent US attack on Senator Amos Wako for his alleged corruption as Kenya’s attorney general during the Moi and first and second Kibaki Administrations at the same time he was a key member of the BBI effort. So what does my government really think about the BBI process?

Beyond that, what I would need to know myself, and what I would think Kenyans would need to know is how the specific decisions reflected in the report were made. The report is very ambitions, and arguably internally contradictory, in making profound recommendations for the shape of Kenya for generations to come. How did the BBI team decide to stress on one hand the idea of going back to try a “nation building” exercise of coming up with some type of “national ethos” for Kenya,while also committing to doubling down on and even expediting the notion of regionally confederating and then federating in an East African state? Are either of these goals realistic and if both are, are they compatible?

What was the process for deciding that industrial manufacturing for a regional market was the best way to address the employment crisis? And so on.

[Update: I have completed my “close reading” of the full document. What I will add is that there are a lot of worthwhile specific items included in the recommendations toward making Kenya’s government more effective/efficient/ fair. These represent collectively a substantial amount of thought and effort and I do not take that lightly; collectively they could if fully implemented quickly accomplish very significant incremental improvements, but do not seem to me to suggest something profoundly transformational. Aside from the issues I mentioned above, the gaping hole is the failure to address at all the unfulfilled parts of Kenya’s National Accord from the 2008 “peace deal” following the stolen 2007 election, especially the truncated and “shelved” Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report.]

Kenya’s long awaited “Building Bridges Initiative” report published on-line

Following the post-election negotiations between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during December 2017 – March 2018, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 “handshake” between the two, Kenyans have witnessed a prolonged period of political stasis in which Kenyatta has run the Government as he sees fit without opposition and former Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President Ruto and their factions have carried on their 2022 campaigns.

We now have a 150+ page published report from the Government of Kenya representing the work product of a dual team of insiders for the two “sides” (Raila/ODM and Uhuru) making various recommendations for political governance issues as are always “on the table” in “post-Colonial” Kenya.

Formally, this has been called the “Building Bridges Initiative” implemented by the “Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce” and has incorporated the usual process of donor supported public “input” sessions around the country to “popularize” the process, the teams of insiders and what they will agree on and eventually announce.

The adjustments proposed from the public comments and news so far appear to be relatively nondramatic and reflect what one would expect for an elite consensus process where the primary issue is the adjustment of interests among those at the table.

Here is the official website for the Building Bridges Initiative.

For background, here is my post from December 7, 2017, “Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi, public statements adjusted to call for ‘national conversation’ as substitute for ‘national dialogue’“:

I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.

In the latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.

Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

Bechtel Mombasa-Nairobi Expressway project background

Ambassador McCarter has been engaging with Kenyans on Twitter following an Embassy media release on US support for the proposed Mombassa-Nairobi expressway.

For background:

U.S. withholds funding for Sh. 300 billion Mombasa-Nairobi expressway. This was the news on May 27, 2019, as reported from A1Autoservice,Ltd.com:

Nairobi-Mombasa expressway funds stalled 

The US Government has temporarily shelved funding for the proposed Sh. 300 billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway over cost implications. The construction of the 485-kilometre road to ease perennial traffic snarl-ups was to be done by American engineering firm Bechtel after Kenya and US struck a deal during last year’s meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House. The US ambassador Kyle McCarter, said the US was scrutinising the proposal to establish whether Kenyans would get value for their money. He said the cost was in question at a time when the country is struggling with piling debt. 

Responding to queries whether Bechtel had lost the contract to China, McCarter said: “Bechtel did not lose the deal, we are still working on the finance. Kenya has a challenge of debt and we are wary of burdening Kenyans”. “We did not want to sign onto a project whose cost would turn out to be three to four times higher than the actual. We want to ensure there is an honest return on investment for Kenyans before we break ground.” 

In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) — in a feasibility report — indicated that the costly project was viable.McCarter said US zero tolerance for corruption forced them back to the drawing board and would only embark on the project once they are satisfied it guarantees value for money for Kenyans and will not sink the country deeper into debt. 

The envoy affirmed US support for the war against corruption and termed the plunder of public coffers an act of outright thievery. “Calling it corruption makes it mystical, like those behind it share the proceeds with the nation. But the truth is that it is simply taking what is not yours and that is thievery,” he said. 

The proposed road will be a dual-carriage motorway with four lanes to ease congestion and cut travel time between the two cities from the current 10 to about four hours.It will run parallel to the current Nairobi-Mombasa highway and will help promote trade and movement in Kenya and the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and South Sudan. 

Working documents on the project show that it is expected to start any time after the June budget release.Bechtel estimates that construction of the expressway will create 500 jobs and involve local businesses supplying up to 100,000 tonnes of cement and 40,000 tonnes of steel.

Here is a digest of stories on the project from July 2017 to July 2018:

The battle for road tenders hots up as U.S. giant opens Nairobi office, Construction Kenya, July 11, 2017:

. . .

As a starting point, the US construction giant has already expressed its interest in the forthcoming expansion of the 485-kilometre Mombasa-Nairobi highway into a six-lane dual carriageway.

The US Export Import Bank is strongly pushing Bechtel to secure the contract in an arrangement similar to that of the China Export Import Bank where the Asian bank funds projects contracted to Chinese firms.

“With the support of the US government agencies such as Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import Bank, we can provide solutions to move this critical project forward quickly with a high standard of quality,” Mr Patterson added.

The entry of Bechtel – along with its financial backing by the US Exim Bank – will complicate matters for Chinese multinationals who have been winning all tenders for projects financed by the China Exim Bank. . . .

U.S. firm wins deal to build Kenya’s first high speed highway, Construction Kenya, Aug 17, 2017:

US-based engineering firm Bechtel International Inc. has signed a Sh230 billion commercial agreement with the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) for construction of a 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa high-speed expressway.

KeNHA director general Peter Mundinia said the signing of the deal has paved the way for the next stage of mobilisation of financing from export credit agencies in the United States of America.

. . .

It is expected that agencies such as the US Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will finance the project.

“It is projected under the proposed commercial contract that the 473km highway will be completed in ten sections within the next six years,” Mr Mundinia said.

The first section, from the junction with Namanga Road near Kitengela will have an interchange near Konza ICT City and a spur road to Kyumvi (Machakos Turnoff) on Mombasa Road. This section is anticipated to open to traffic in October 2019. . . .

U.S. rejects Kenyan press criticism of $3B Bechtel roads deal, Global Construction Review, Sept. 25, 2017:

The US embassy in Kenya has rejected a newspaper’s criticism over a $3bn road contract awarded to Bechtel without competitive bidding.

The embassy said the Nairobi-to-Mombasa expressway had been under discussion for two years, and had been evaluated to ensure Kenyans receive value for their money. 

It also rejected press claims that the award was a “thank you” to the US for its political support of the Uhuru Kenyatta government. 

On 13 September, the day after the article appeared, the embassy tweeted: “US private firms (bound by US anti-corruption laws) investing in Kenya’s future bring jobs, tech transfer and development. This expressway has been under development for two years to bring best value. The US embassy does not and will not give political favours for commercial deals. On Kenyan election 2017, we’ve been and will continue to be strictly neutral.”

Kenyan government officials also defended the Bechtel deal. Peter Mundinia, director general of the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), said on 18 September that Bechtel was selected because of its experience of handling large infrastructure projects “over 119 years”.

He added that the Kenyan government had entered into an agreement with the US government in July 2015 whereby US companies would develop key infrastructure projects with US funding.

The US and Kenyan authorities were responding to an article in Kenya’s Financial Standard newspaper that questioned the way the project was announced and quoted from a Ministry of Transport briefing, carried out before the contract award, which argued the project should be put out to tender as a public–private partnership (PPP).

The Standard highlighted the fact that contract for the 473km A8 expressway between Mombasa and Nairobi was announced three days before the 8 August general election, and broke with established practice by being made without a Ministry of Transport press conference or an announcement from the president’s office. 

Instead, the announcement was made on a Saturday afternoon when government departments are usually closed, and made no mention of the project’s estimated price. 

The newspaper drew a comparison with the way the government had awarded the country’s standard gauge railway (SGR) scheme to Chinese contractors before the 2013 general election. In both cases the winner was appointed without putting the work out to competitive tender. 

In the SGR case, the choice was determined by the fact that China was making the funding available for the line; in the case of the motorway, the motive was to thank America for an “unspecified service” that the US had done for Kenya, according to unnamed “government insiders” quoted by the Standard.

According to the Standard there are now concerns within the Kenyan government over the amount of debt the country is taking on. The combined cost of the rail and road link between the country’s main port and the capital is likely to be at least $6.7bn, or almost 10% of the country’s GDP.

The controversy comes at a sensitive time in Kenya after the results of the 8 August election, which recorded a victory for the country’s incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, were annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court on 1 September. 

The court cited irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results and ordered the election to be held again within 60 days. It is due to take place on 26 October. Kenya has a history of serious post-election violence.

Nairobi-Mombasa expressway project dogged by serious concerns, Construction Kenya, July 4, 2018

Almost a year after Kenya signed a deal with US engineering firm Bechtel for construction of a Sh300 billion high-speed expressway between Nairobi and Mombasa, the two parties are yet to agree on how to finance the project despite a series of extremely high-level talks.

On the one hand, the Kenyan government wants the 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa expressway to be completed through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model where private investors will build and operate the facility for up to 25 years – charging toll fees – to recoup their investments and margins.

On the other hand, Bechtel International is opposed to the PPP model which it says will cost the Kenyan taxpayer Sh540 billion over next 25 years.

The company has therefore urged Kenya to undertake the project under an engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) contract.

Under the EPCC model, a contractor is obliged to deliver a complete facility to a developer who needs only to turn a key to start operating the facility; hence such deals are sometimes referred to as turnkey construction contracts.

But the government, which is concerned about the fast rising public debt, has made its stand clear. . . .

“We will commence detailed discussion on how the financing approach will be undertaken under that project. We will be discussing modalities, financing structuring and the details for us to be clear on how to undertake this project,” Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said on Tuesday.

As Kenya Turns: Kalenjin radio features return of former ICC-indictee Sang at Kenyatta and Ruto-owned station

Ruto Hires Former ICC Co-Suspect Sang For His Kalenjin Radio Station, Kenyan Report, June 5, 2019

“Former Kass FM presenter Joshua Sang is set to make a comeback to the airwaves after landing a job at Emoo FM, a station owned by Mediamax Network Ltd.

Even though both the Kenyatta family and Ruto hold substantial stakes in the DMS Place-headquartered Mediamax Network – sources claim Ruto is the hitherto biggest shareholder even as he aims to consolidate media support around his 2022 ambitions.”

Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]