Author Archives: Nic Cheeseman

Kenya – The campaign for the presidency 2017 and what it tells us about the state of politics

The general election campaign is now in full swing. In some ways, it is heavily reminiscent of the 2013 polls: the presidential race will boil down to a contest between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, and the cast of characters supporting each leader looks familiar.

But a closer look at the campaigns reveals a number of important differences to recent elections. Both Odinga and Kenyatta have had to radically change the messages that they use to connect to voters as a result of changing circumstances over the past decade. As a result, both are casting around for a new way to frame their appeals – not always successfully.

So what makes for an effective narrative? And what lessons can the 2017 campaign teach us about the state of Kenyan politics?

Framing the message

One of the most common opinions I have heard when talking about the presidential race with friends and colleagues is that neither side has so far come up with a compelling narrative that resonates with voters. As Karuti Kanyinga has put it, the campaign seems to lack an organizing principle.

Of course, elections are complicated things and can’t be reduced to just one issue. Not only does each party make a large number of promises, but different themes also tend to come to the fore in different places. However, these caveats notwithstanding, political communication tends to be far more effective when a range of appeals are effectively integrated under a common argument that voters can easily understand and identify with.

In 2007, the dividing lines were clear. The Party of National Unity (PNU) represented the establishment and sought to preserve the status quo. By contrast, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) promised far-reaching constitutional reform, including devolution. As a result, debates over majimbo (regional government), and what majimbo would mean, came to dominate the campaign.

This framing was ideal for Odinga, because it enabled him to appeal to a broad variety of voters through a single slogan. His supporters from different communities in various parts of the country did not have to agree on the most important issue for the opposition to address, because the promise of devolution was that each community would be able to elect its own leaders and set its own priorities. Partly as a result, Odinga came as close as he ever has to occupying State House.

Shifting rhetoric

Things had changed radically by 2013. By the time of that election, the 2010 constitution had been introduced and devolution was becoming a reality. This took the wind out of Odinga’s sails: it is almost impossible to effectively campaign on something that has already been delivered. This did not stop the opposition from trying, arguing that the government could not be trusted to effectively implement devolution, but arguments about implementation usually have too many shades of grey to truly excite the electorate.

Partly as a result, it was the recently formed Jubilee Alliance that gained momentum by pushing a message that established a new dividing line within the electorate. Rather than pro- and anti- majimbo camps, the election hinged on how voters felt about the candidature of Kenyatta and William Ruto – the “alliance of the accused” – and their prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.

In this context, UhuRuto cleverly made sovereignty the key organizing principle of their campaign. While the Jubilee Alliance was presented as the defender of Kenyan interests on the world stage, the ICC and “meddling” foreign donors were depicted as neo-colonial imperialists determined to undermine Kenyan sovereignty. Carefully constructing a siege mentality around their Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities, Ruto and Kenyatta hit upon a powerful way to emphasise the dividing line between “them” and “us”.

This narrative was particularly important for Kenyatta because it helped to compensate for some of his potential weaknesses as a candidate. There were two big dangers for the president in the run up to 2013. The first was that his vast wealth would make him vulnerable to an opposition campaign focussing on inequality and land alienation. The second was that he would struggle to mobilize support within his own community following his poor showing in the 2002 election when he was widely viewed to be a puppet of the Moi regime.

Against this backdrop, Kenyatta’s prosecution by the ICC was an electoral boon. In addition to emphasising his claim to be a defender of Kikuyu interests, and so rehabilitating Kenyatta within his own community, the campaign’s focus on sovereignty enabled Jubilee to deflect attention away from more problematic issues.

Hearts and minds

The challenge for both Odinga and Kenyatta in 2017 is that their most effective campaign slogans of the past are no longer relevant. On the one hand, Odinga’s team will sound tired and repetitive if he speaks too much about devolution, especially as it doesn’t seem like the government has any plans to close down the counties. On the other, Kenyatta’s camp can no longer hope to engender a siege mentality because the International Criminal Court proceedings have gone away and international donors have been careful to play a less interventionist role.

President Kenyatta’s team was quick to recognize this, and responded by rotating their campaign through 180 degrees. Whereas Jubilee’s message in 2013 was divisive and confrontational, more recently the government has used its transition from a coalition to a party to push the idea that it is an inclusive party ruling in the interests of all. The main slogans that Jubilee has adopted – Tuko Pamoja, Building a better Kenya, and so on – all reflect this change of focus.

For their part, the Odinga camp have fallen back on classic opposition tropes that are used by parties around the world, emphasising the value of change and the strength of their support base in an attempt to persuade Kenyans that victory is possible. The catchphrases used by leaders of the National Super Alliance (NASA) – Ten Million Strong, Vindi Vichenjanga, and so on – all speak to this theme.

But while both sides have clearly thought long and hard about their messaging, neither has yet hit upon a narrative that resonates beyond their heartlands. Although they will deny it in public, this point is understood by the public relations teams working for Jubilee and NASA – some of whom are starting to worry. Given this, it will not be surprising if the limited penetration of leaders’ slogans inspires a change in the way the campaign is fought over the next month. As the candidates scramble to capture swing voters and make sure that their supporters go to the polls, the amount of money spent on vote buying, and the amount of time devoted to negative campaigning, is likely to increase.

What does this tell us about Kenyan politics?

The struggle of both sides to effectively frame their message tells us something important about Kenyan politics: ideas matter. Why else would the government be spending so much money on hiring foreign consultants to help them get the message right?

Some people will be very resistant to this argument. They will say that Kenyan politics is all about ethnicity and that all you need to be able to do is add up the size of the different communities and you can tell who is going to win. But while this is a popular refrain, it is not – and never has been – entirely true.

Ethnicity is, of course, one of the most significant building blocks of Kenyan politics, but it is not the only one. Even if people are predisposed to support you because of your ethnicity, mobilizing voters is harder if you fail to capture their hearts and minds. As Musalia Mudavadi found to his cost in 2013 when he failed to secure a majority of votes in Luhya areas, ethnicity does not get you very far if you don’t have credibility. Ngala Chome’s analysis of the success of Mike Sonko demonstrates this point well: Sonko lacks “significant ethnic capital” in Nairobi, yet this has not undermined his rise to power.

The electoral fortunes of Kenyatta and Odinga are further evidence of the importance of ideas. Getting the message right helped to turn Uhuru from a political also-ran into the president, while Raila’s most rhetorically effective campaign was the one in which he out-mobilized a sitting president.

It is important to note that this argument should not be taken to imply that politics in Kenya is driven by ideology or that voters spend their time reading party manifestos. Successful messages often resonate precisely because they play on pre-existing stereotypes and tap into the hopes and fears of specific communities. In this sense, the power of political ideas cannot be separated from the underlying reality of ethnic politics, gives them their strength. However, the fact that ideas, messages and identities are deeply intertwined does not mean that the ideas themselves are not important, or that politicians can win elections without them.

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy at Birmingham University.

This piece was first published in the Sunday Nation.

Zambia – Authoritarian slide continues under President Lungu as opposition MPs are suspended

The Speaker of the Zambian National Assembly, Patrick Matibini, has suspended 48 opposition legislators for 30 days as a punishment for unauthorised absence from the parliament. Their offence? To have been missing for President Edgar Lungu’s state of the nation address in March.

The suspension of the MPs does not come as a great surprise. Hardliners from the ruling Patriotic Front have been pushing for something along these lines for some time. The ruling party was quick to try and disassociate itself from the Speaker’s actions. But, as Zambian commentators have pointed out, the action fits into a broader web of measures designed to intimidate those who question the president’s authority.

The most significant was the arrest of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who remains in jail on trumped up treason charges.

While the latest development in Zambia’s growing political crisis doesn’t come as a shock, it will disappoint those who were hoping that Lungu would be persuaded to moderate his position. Instead, it appears that the International Monetary Fund’s decision to go ahead with a bail out package despite the government’s democratic failings has emboldened the president to pursue an authoritarian strategy.

As a result, a swift resolution to the current political standoff seems unlikely.

Roots of the crisis

For some time Zambia was considered to be one of the more competitive democracies in Africa. But a period of backsliding under Lungu has raised concerns that the country’s inclusive political culture is under threat. The current impasse stems from the controversial elections in 2016 when Lungu won a narrow victory that remains contested by the opposition United Party for National Development.

Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development, has stated that his party will not recognise the legitimacy of Lungu’s victory until its electoral petition against the results is heard in court. The initial petition was rejected by the Constitutional Court. But its decision was made in a way that had all the hallmarks of a whitewash. The UPND subsequently appealed to the High Court. Hichilema’s decision to make his party’s recognition of the president conditional on the petition being heard was designed both as an act of defiance, and as a means to prevent the government from simply sweeping electoral complaints under the carpet.

Until the court case is resolved, the opposition is committed to publicly challenging the president’s mandate by doing things like boycotting his addresses to parliament. In response, members of the ruling party have accused the United Party for National Development of disrespect and failing to recognise the government’s authority. It is this that appears to lie behind Hichilema’s arrest on treason charges.

Punishing parliamentarians

The suspension of United Party for National Development legislators needs to be understood against this increasingly authoritarian backdrop. It is one of a number of steps taken by those aligned to the government that are clearly designed to intimidate people who don’t fall into line. Other strategies include public condemnation of the government’s critics and proposals to break-up the influential Law Society of Zambia.

Efforts by the president’s spokesman to disassociate the regime from the suspensions have been unpersuasive. The official line of the ruling party is that the speaker of parliament is an independent figure and that he made the decision on the basis of the official rules. It’s true that the speaker and the parliamentary committee on privileges, absences and support services have the right to reprimand legislators for being absent without permission.

Nonetheless the argument is disingenuous for two reasons. The speaker is known to be close to the ruling party, a fact that prompted Hichilema to call for his resignation earlier this year. And the committee’s decisions are clearly driven by the Patriotic Front because it has more members from it than any other party.

The claim that the suspension was not government-led lacks credibility. This is clear from the fact that Patriotic Front MPS have been the most vocal in calling for action to be taken against boycotting United Party for National Development MPs.

IMF lifeline for Lungu

There are different perspectives on the crisis in Zambia. Some people invoke the country’ history of more open government to argue that Lungu will moderate his position once the government feels that the opposition has been placed on the back foot. Others identify a worrying authoritarian trajectory that began under the presidency of the late Michael Sata. They conclude that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

One of the factors that opposition leaders hoped might persuade President Lungu to release Hichilema and move discussions back from the police cell to the negotiating chamber was the government’s desperate need for an economic bail out. Following a period of bad luck and bad governance, Zambia faces a debt crisis. Without the assistance of international partners, the government is likely to go bankrupt. This would increase public dissatisfaction with the Patriotic Front and undermine Lungu’s hopes of securing a third term.

But the willingness of the IMF to move towards the completion of a $1.2 billion rescue package suggests that authoritarian backsliding is no barrier to international economic assistance. In turn, IMF support appears to have emboldened the government to continue its efforts to intimidate its opponents.

IMF officials, of course, will point out that they are not supposed to take political conditions into account and that their aim is to create a stronger economy that will benefit all Zambians. This may be true, but the reality is that by saving the Lungu government financially the IMF is also aiding it politically. Whatever its motivation, the agreement will be interpreted by many on the ground as tacit support for the Patriotic Front regime, strengthening Lungu’s increasingly authoritarian position.

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya – President Kenyatta faces new challenges as elections loom

The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has moved to deal with rising food prices as the campaign ahead of the 2017 general election begins in earnest. Having been accused of “dithering” earlier in the year as the price of unga (maize flour) increased by 500 KSh a month to KSh 4,500 for a 90 kg bag, the government moved to import 29,900 tonnes of Maize in order to reduce prices in early May.

President Kenyatta’s actions reflected growing public dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living and the growing challenge from the political opposition as the August 8 general election draws near. Having enjoyed a big lead in the polls for many months, many commentators felt that the Jubilee Party could secure comfortable victory, especially as the main opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance, appeared to be split on whom to select as its running mate. Along with long-time presidential candidate Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi were said to be determined to emerge as the coalition’s flag bearer.

However, ultimately Odinga managed to pull off a double-win: securing the nomination as NASA presidential candidate and persuading his rivals for the position to back him. In turn, the emergence of a more united opposition has generated much-needed momentum for Odinga, leading to claims that he is once again a viable presidential candidate. One of NASA’s campaign slogans, “10 million strong”, seeks to emphasise this point, referencing the potential support base that Odinga can mobilise if all the communities assumed to be allied to the opposition vote for him – though this is far from a forgone conclusion.

While the most reliable opinion polls suggest that Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party continue to enjoy a healthy lead, the fresh energy within NASA, combined with rising food prices, have worried the Jubilee Alliance. In some of the more recent polls, the confirmation of Odinga’s candidacy has significantly strengthened his performance, and as a result he has moved from the 25/26% a few months ago to around 41% today. Having initially aimed for an overwhelming electoral performance of 60%+ in the presidential poll, Jubilee leaders are now concerned that if Odinga continues to gain ground they may struggle to secure the 50% +1 of the vote required for a first round victory.

Given the excitement within NASA, and the concern within the Jubilee Party, Kenya may be set for a closer and more controversial election than seemed likely a short while ago.

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham

Zambia – President Lungu sacrifices credibility to repress opposition

Zambian President Edgar Lungu finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place in both economic and political terms. As a result, he has begun to lash out, manipulating the law to intimidate the opposition, and in the process sacrificing what credibility he had left after deeply problematic general elections in 2016.

Let us start with the economy, where the president is stuck in something of a lose-lose position. On the one hand, his populace is growing increasingly frustrated at the absence of economic job and opportunities, while a number of experts have pointed out that the country is on the verge of a fresh debt crisis. Economic growth was just 2.9% in 2016, while the public debt is expected to hit 54% of GDP this year, and the government cannot afford to pay many of its domestic suppliers.

On the other, a proposed $1.2 billion rescue deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has the potential to increase opposition to the government for two reasons. First, it would mean significantly reducing government spending, including on some of Lungu’s more popular policies. Second, many Zambians are understandably suspicious of IMF and the World Bank, having suffered under previous adjustment programmes that delivered neither jobs nor sustainable growth.

The president faces similar challenges on the political front. Having won a presidential election in 2016 that the opposition believes was rigged, and which involved a number of major procedural flaws, Lungu desperately needs to relegitimate himself. However, this need clashes with another, more important, imperative – namely, the president’s desire to secure a third term in office when his current tenure ends in 2020.

The problem for Lungu is that while it looks like he will be able to use his influence over the Constitutional Court to ensure that it interprets the country’s new constitutional arrangements to imply that he should be allowed to stand for a third term – on the basis that his first period in office was filling in for the late Michael Sata after his untimely death in office, and so should not count – such a strategy is likely to generate considerable criticism from the opposition, civil society and international community.

Lacking viable opportunities to boost his support base and relegitimate his government, President Lungu has responded by pursuing another strategy altogether: the intimidation of the opposition and the repression of dissent. While in some ways represents a continuation of some of the tactics used ahead of the 2016 election, when the supporters and leaders of rival parties were harassed and in some cases detained, the recent actions of the Patriotic Front (PF) government represent a worrying gear-shift.

Most obviously, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who came so close to leading his United Party of National Development (UPND) to victory in the latest polls, has been arrested and his home raided. His crimes? There appear to be two sets of charges. One set is relatively mundane, and relates to an incident in which Hichilema is accused of refusing to give way to the president’s convoy. For this, the opposition leader has been charged with breaking the highway code and using insulting language.

The second charge – that of treason – is much more serious, but also much less clear. Court documents state that Hichilema “on unknown dates but between 10 October 2016 and 8 April 2017 and whilst acting together with other persons unknown did endeavour to overthrow by unlawful means the government of Edgar Lungu.” Although this charge has also been linked to the recent traffic incident, it seems more likely to be motivated by the president’s ongoing frustration that the UPND continues to contest his election and refuses to recognise him as a legitimately elected leader.

If this is the true motivation for the charges, it will only be the latest of a number of moves to cow the opposition. For example, in response to the refusal of UNPD legislators to listen to Lungu’s address to the National Assembly, Richard Mumba – a PF proxy close to State House – petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare vacant the seats of all MPs who were absent.

The opposition are not alone. Key elements of civil society have also come under fire. As a result of the waning influence of trade unions, professional associations now find themselves as one of the last lines of defence for the country’s fragile democracy, most notably the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ). It should therefore come as no surprise that a government MP, Kelvin Sampa, recent introduced legislation into the National Assembly that would effectively dissolve the LAZ and replace it with a number of smaller bodies, each of which would be far less influential.

The bills introduced by Mumba and Sampa may not succeed, but in some ways they don’t need to. Their cumulative effect has been to signal that those who seek to resist the governments are likely to find themselves the subject of the sharp end of the security forces and the PF’s manipulation of the rule of law. The nature of Hichilema’s arrest is a case in point. Despite numerous opportunities to detain him in broad daylight, armed police and paramilitaries planned a night attack in which they switched off the power to the house, blocked access to the main roads, and broke down the entrance gate. Inside the property, the security forces are accused of firing tear gas, torture, urinating on the opposition leader’s bed and looting the property.

It is therefore clear that the main aim of the operation was not an efficient and speedy arrest, but rather the humiliation and intimidation of an opponent.

Such abuses may help Lungu to secure the short-term goal of prolonging his stay in power, but they will threaten to undermine Zambia’s future. It will – or at least it should – be politically embarrassing for the IMF to conclude a deal with Zambia while the opposition leader is on trial on jumped up charges and civil society is decrying the slide towards authoritarian rule. Rumours now circulating in Lusaka suggest that President Lungu may be preparing to enhance his authority by declaring a State of Emergency in the near future, which would further complicate the country’s international standing.

Lungu’s blatant disregard for the rules of the democratic game also has important implications for the county’s political future. Many Zambian commentators reported that the 2016 election was the most violent in the country’s history, and forecast rising political instability if this trend was not reserved. Rather than heed this warning, President Lungu appears determined to put this prophecy to the test.

Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is the Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham

Zambia – President Lungu and the Third Term

In recent years, an increasing number of African presidents have sought a third term in office, despite operating in countries with a two term limit on the presidency. By and large, such efforts have been successful in countries in which leaders exercise effective control over both the security forces and a dominant ruling power. Thus, presidents in Rwanda and Uganda removed constitutional barriers to their tenure without significant difficulties.

By contrast, leaders who either lack effective control of their parties and security forces, or hold power in more open and democratic states, have tended to forced to respect the constitution. Examples of the former type of case include Burkina Faso and Nigeria, while Zambia is often cited as an example of the latter trend. Back in 2001, when the then-President Frederick Chiluba sought to seek a third term, an “Oasis Forum” of religious leaders, trade unionist and opposition activists defeated his plans.

It is looking increasingly likely that Zambia will now experience a second “third term crisis” as President Edgar Lungu looks to extend his time in office. Lungu is currently in his second spell in State House, and has argued that because he did not serve a full first term – he took over from the former President, Michael Sata, following his untimely death in office – he should be allowed to contest for power for a third term.

He appears confident that Constitutional Court judges will back his interpretation of the constitution. On the one hand, there are precedents in Africa of a leader serving three terms in such cases. On the other, the new Zambian constitution is ambiguous and can be interpreted both to support and prohibit Lungu’s ambitions. One clause of the 2016 constitution states that “a person who has twice been elected as President shall not be eligible for re-election to that office”, which seems to present a shut and dried case.

However, a further clause states that “If the Vice-President assumes the office of President … or a person is elected to the office of President as a result of an election [a presidential election held if the VP cannot assume the presidency for any reason] … the Vice-President or the President-elect shall serve for the unexpired term of office and be deemed

(a) to have served a full term as President if, at the date on which the President assumed office, at least three years remain before the date of the next general election; or

(b) not to have served a term of office as President if, at the date on which the President assumed office, less than three years remain before the date of the next general election.”

Although Lungu did not replace Sata from the position of Vice President, he did win power through a presidential by-election and only held office for a year before the next general elections. On this basis, his supporters claim that the most appropriate interpretation of the constitution would be to treat the president as if he had fallen under (a). If the Constitutional Court agrees, Lungu will be deemed not to have served a full term, and is eligible to stand again.

This, coupled with the fact that Lungu appointed the Constitutional Court last year, has encouraged the president to believe that he can carry the day. Indeed, while most leaders pretend not to be actively campaigning for a third term until they are sure that it is in the bag, the Zambian president has openly stated his desire to retain the top job, despite the next election not being until 2021.

However, recent analysis that has suggested that the president is now a shoe-in for a third term risks overstating the case. There are a number of important players who will seek to block Lungu’s third-term bid, both without and within his own political party. Despite its narrow election victory in 2016, the Patriotic Front remains deeply divided. Moreover, allegations of election rigging mean that the president’s mandate is questionable. At the same time, international donors are increasingly worried about Lungu’s poor record on both political and economic governance. Against this backdrop, efforts to force through a third term are likely to generate considerable opposition, both within the legislature and on the streets.

This is significant because it was precisely this combination that blocked Chiluba’s path back in 2001. While much of the academic and media coverage focussed on high-profile civil society protests, it was a revolt by Chiluba’s own MPs that denied him the votes he required to change the constitution through parliament. Lungu will be hoping that a combination of carrot and stick – patronage and intimidation – will be sufficient to marshal parliament to his side if the Constitutional Court does not rule in his favour. He may well be right, especially as Zambian civil society is significantly weaker today than it was in the past and his MPs have recently been falling over each other to express their loyalty in the media. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the last Zambian president to make such as assumption ended up profoundly disappointed.

Follow Nic Cheeseman on Twitter @fromagehomme

*This post was updated following particularly helpful comments and suggestions from Sishuwa Sishuwa. Any errors or mistakes remain my own.

South Africa – Anti-Zuma protests lead to legislative brawl

The pressure on President Jacob Zuma remains intense as South Africa as he enters the last two years of his tenure ahead of general elections in 2019. Accusations of corruption, economic downturn and an increasing heated secession battle within the African National Congress (ANC) have all combined to keep the spotlight on Zuma’s performance.

One of the president’s most vociferous opponents is Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Although Malema rose to political prominence as the leader of the ANC Youth League, he subsequently fell out with Zuma and was expelled from the ruling party. In opposition, he has effectively utilised populist strategies and political grandstanding to capture the headlines – if not always the votes – much to the chagrin of the ANC establishment.

Among the tactics used by the EFF, one of the most high profile has been to use its presence within parliament – where it holds 25 seats – to frustrate and anger the president by interrupting him during his legislative addresses. In the past, this has led to confrontations between EFF and ANC legislators on the floor of the house, and the forced removal of opposition MPs who refuse to back down.

In turn, these developments have positioned the National Assembly as a key battleground in contemporary South African politics in the in more ways that one. The political atmosphere within parliament deteriorated further on Thursday 9 February, as EFF leaders fired so many questions and challenges at President Zuma that he was forced to halt his keynote address, with Malema charging that he was “rotten to the core”.

When Speaker Baleka Mbete ordered EFF MPs to leave, scuffles broke out on the floor of the house as legislative security officials – dressed in white – sought to physically remove EFF leaders, dressed in red. The extent of the disruption, combined with the striking colour coordination of the two sides, has ensured that the episode, which was broadcast live across the country, has captured headlines worldwide.

While many aspects of the confrontation repeated previous incidents, there were also worrying signs of escalation. According to Reuters journalists, the scuffles continued into the parliamentary precinct – the first time that this has been reported. At the same time, police fired stun grenades to disperse rival groups of ANC and EFF supporters that had gathered outside of the building.

Perhaps more problematically, anticipating opposition Zuma had earlier authorised 400 soldiers to join the security team outside of the building, leading to accusations that he was militarizing parliament. This decision united opposition parties in condemnation, with the Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, announcing that his party would seek a court ruling to ascertain whether the president had acted illegally.

More broadly, the willingness of the ANC to bring the security forces in to a political dispute has generated further concern about the party’s commitment to open and transparent politics in the run up to what are likely to be the most challenging general elections it has had to contest since 1994.

Presidential Profile – Uhuru Kenyatta, Dynastic politics and the making of a Kenyan president

Presidential Profile

Uhuru Kenyatta. Born 26 October 1961. Inaugurated 9 April 2013.

It would be easy to assume from the fact that 2013 presidential election was won by Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the country’s founding father and first president, Jomo Kenyatta, that Kenyan politics operates along dynastic lines and that his victory was predetermined. After all, Uhuru, which means freedom in Swahili, was named in honour of the independence struggle and his supporters like to say that he was born in state house and so born to state house – even though this is not actually true. However, the course of Kenyan history rarely runs this smooth, and Uhuru Kenyatta’s rise to power was anything but straightforward. Indeed, after his first run for the presidency ended in an embarrassing defeat his political career looked like it was over before it had really begun.

The rise and fall of Uhuru Kenyatta

Initially, the Kenyatta had appeared to be a plausible candidate to extend the tenure of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the party that had governed Kenya since independence. In addition to the Kenyatta name he was eloquent and well educated, having been trained at St Mary’s School in Nairobi and Amherst College in the United States. Given his considerable personal wealth and businesses interests and the advantages of incumbency that come from being supported by a semi-authoritarian state, he might have been expected to secure an easy victory.

However, in 2002 Kenyans were ready for change. The decision of the outgoing president, Daniel arap Moi, to select Kenyatta as his successor – disappointing a number of other heavyweight candidates – led to a split in the government and a number of damaging defections. When those who had left the ruling party coalesced with opposition groups under the leadership of Mwai Kibaki, the defeat of the government became feasible. Still, few commentators predicted that Kenyatta would only secure 30% of the vote. Not only did this represent the country’s first transfer of power via the ballot box since independence, it was the worst performance ever recorded by a ruling party candidate.

The defeat was particularly significant for Kenyatta because it undermined his position within his own Kikuyu community. The 2002 campaign was effectively a two horse race between Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki, a rival Kikuyu leader who had been a mainstay of the one-party state but had defected to lead his own party following the reintroduction of multiparty politics. Kibaki’s victory both nationally and within the Kikuyu heartlands of Central Province confirmed his position as the community’s preeminent political patron.

Kenyatta’s prospects of rising to political prominence also appeared to be hampered by a number of other factors. First, the fact that the outgoing president, Daniel arap Moi, handpicked him to be his successor led to accusations that he was little more than a puppet of old authoritarian networks. Second, his personality and reputation led many commentators to question whether or not he really wanted to be president, and many speculated that he would be happier enjoying his wealth and business interests outside of the political spotlight. Indeed, in some circles Kenyatta was thought of as more of a party animal than a political one. Third, it seemed likely that after Kibaki’s tenure the presidency would need to be rotated outside of the Kikuyu community to one of the ethnic groups yet to occupy State House. Had this come to pass, Kenyatta could have had to wait four presidential terms for another run.

Political rehabilitation

However, everything was to change over the next five years as Kenyatta was gradually rehabilitated within the Kibaki government. This process owed much to the fragmentation of Kibaki’s coalition, which forced him to form new partnerships in order to maintain control of the political landscape. In the process, Kibaki came to rely increasing on the support of Moi – who even began to campaign for his former rival – and Kenyatta. The decision to join forces made sense for both leaders, because it shored up Kibaki’s support, united the Kikuyu community, and enabled Kenyatta to position himself as the heir to Kibaki’s throne.

Thus, on the eve of the genera elections of 2007, Kenyatta was able to address the final rally of Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) in Uhuru Park and receive one of the most enthusiastic responses of the day. However, even at this stage it was unclear whether Kenyatta was a viable national leader. It was the events of the next four weeks that would open up the pathway to the presidency. Towards the end of the campaign the race was too close to call, but some opinion polls gave the edge to opposition leader Raila Odinga. As the results began to trickle in, Odinga assumed an early lead, with many of his supporters claiming victory before all of the constituencies had been announced.

It was at this point that the electoral process began to fall apart. Delays in the process of counting and declaring results led to fears of government rigging, which were exacerbated by Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), Samuel Kivuitu, when he admitted that he did not know where some of his returning officers were or what they were doing. When Kivuitu finally announced that Kibaki had won a narrow victory, and the president was sworn in with desperate haste before the concerns of election monitors and opposition parties could be taken into account, it unleashed a wave of violence in which over 1,000 people lost their lives and 600,000 more were displaced.

The geographic scope of the ethnic clashes was unprecedented, sparking fears of civil war. Although the conflict was ultimately curtailed by the formation of a power sharing government, its aftermath continued to dominate the political agenda for years to come. Significantly, while allies of Odinga such as William Ruto were accused of organizing attacks on communities assumed to have voted for Kibaki, Kenyatta was accused of directing vigilante groups to protect Kikuyus and carry out revenge attacks.

These allegations – which eventually led to Kenyatta being charged with crimes against humanity by the ICC – were expected to be the end of his political career by many Western commentators. Instead, they proved to be just what was required to propel him to the presidency. On the one hand, any doubts that Kenyatta had about the merits of running for the presidency were dispelled by the realisation that only by occupying State House could he fully protect himself from international prosecution. On the other hand, the image of Kenyatta as the protector of vulnerable Kikuyu communities banished any lingering suggestions that he remained a Moi puppet, and earned him a new-found loyalty among one of the country’s largest ethnic groups. In recognition of his growing political prominence, Kenyatta was promoted to the position of Deputy Prime Minister and became an increasingly significant figure as Kibaki began to pull back from public life at the end of his second and final term in office.

The return to State House

Even at this stage it seemed unlikely that Kenyatta would become the country’s next president. Many critics within civil society urged Kenyans not to back a leader charged with crimes against humanity, while international donors warned voters that “choices have consequences”. However, Kenyatta and his advisers skilfully turned these challenges into opportunities. They did so through two key strategies. First, Kenyatta formed a new coalition – the Jubilee Alliance – with William Ruto, bringing together the leaders of the two communities that had engaged in the worst violence of 2007-8. Although surprising, this deal proved to be a masterstroke – together Kenyatta and Ruto commanded a considerable portion of the electorate, and, given their authority among their own ethnic groups, could credibly claim that if they were elected they would be able to prevent further Kikuyu/Kalenjin violence.

Second, the UhuRuto campaign (as it became known) manipulated international criticism to claim that the prosecution of Kenyan leaders at the ICC represented an attack on the country’s sovereignty. In this way, the election campaign, and the struggle against the Court’s proceedings, could be sold as a second liberation struggle. By creating a “siege mentality” within the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities, Jubilee was able to ensure high turnout, and a first round election victory that was disputed by the opposition but ultimately confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Kenyatta the president

In power, President Kenyatta’s approach has been shaped by his pathway to State House. Most obviously, he began his time in office by pushing back against the International Criminal Court and taking a critical stance towards traditional donors. Indeed, during his first term Kenya played a key role in coordinating African opposition to the Court – accusing it of cherry picking cases Western imperialism – which has gone a long way to undermining its legitimacy. In a similar vein, Kenyatta has gone out of his way to praise foreign partners who preach non-interference, such as China, and to publicly disagree with the United Kingdom and the United States when governments or high commissioners have sought to influence Kenyan affairs.

Perhaps a little less obviously, Kenyatta has modelled his leadership on that of his father, who often sought to position himself above the cut and thrust of everyday political arguments and inter-ethnic competition, relying on allies to fight key battles in order to preserve his reputation as a nationalist leader and founding father. Such an approach also fit well with Uhuru’s own management style, which is not to spend a lot of time getting bogged down in committee meetings and instead to delegate to trusted allies. This has led to criticism of the president’s failure to swiftly replace underperforming Cabinet Secretaries, but it has also enabled the president to deflect blame for the government’s failings on to those around him.

A third way in which Kenyatta’s path to the presidency has shaped his governance style relates to the coalition with which he won the 2013 general elections. While this alliance was a boon during the campaign, it has threatened to be a liability in office. On the one hand, the warm relationship between Kenyatta and Ruto has not prevented constant sniping and tension between their allies. On the other, the demand of both factions to be compensated for their political support has generated fierce competition over spoils, which in turn has made it more difficult to bring corruption under control. Consequently, the amount of graft and waste within the government is alleged to be increasing – although firm figures are inevitably hard to pin down.

In turn, the difficulty of managing the government threatens to undermine some of the main pledges on which President Kenyatta has staked his reputation. During the 2013 election, the Jubilee Alliance advocated a vision of a modern Kenya that would be “digital” and modern. Against this, the opposition were depicted as being “analogue” – old fashioned and out of touch. In line with this, Kenyatta committed himself to major infrastructure projects, including the Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor, a standard gauge railway between Nairobi and Mombasa, and the provision of “one-laptop-per-child”. Like many of the policies put forward under the Jubilee Alliance, these projects share two things in common: they represent major infrastructure initiatives that have great transformative potential, and they generate vast rent-seeking opportunities.

Time will tell whether President Kenyatta’s desire to deliver on his legacy projects will outweigh the pressure to use these initiatives for patronage and clientelistic purposes. It will be embarrassing for the president if he has to go back to the country and ask for a second term – elections are due in August 2017 – without having delivered on his campaign promises from last time round , but guiding major projects to succesful completion is likely to require a more hands-on style than the president had adopted to date.

Ghana – President Mahama accepts election defeat

On Friday 9 December, President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) called his rival, Nana Akufo Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), to concede defeat in the presidential election. Mahama’s defeat was comprehensive: he recorded the lowest vote share of any sitting president since the return of multiparty politics in 1992 (44%), and in the legislative elections his political party was reduced to around 105 of the 275 seats on offer (some results TBC). His defeat also made history in another way: he is the only sitting president to have lost an election in Ghana. All previous transfers of power occurred in open-seat polls, in which the sitting president had stood down as a result of presidential term-limits, and the ruling party was hampered by having to run a new candidate.

Does this mean that President Mahama will go down as one of the country’s least successful presidents? Not necessarily. Despite the disappointing result, few commentators believe that the NDC ran a bad campaign. The party focussed on its strengths and spoke about issues that were of interest to voters. Moreover, the general attitude towards Mahama among ordinary Ghanaians appears to be that he did not have the tools that the country required, but was a relatively benign leader. This perception, of course, will now be reinforced by the fact that he was willing to concede defeat, and did so before the official results had been announced by the electoral commission.

This raises the question of why the opposition won the election so comprehensively. Two factors seem to explain this. First, a period of sustained economic difficulties has hurt living standards, and has resulted in high levels of youth unemployment. In turn, this has encouraged Ghanaians to look for economic change – something that is promised by the NPP. While some of the country’s economic difficulties reflect global trends beyond its control, such as the slump in oil prices, the government’s handling of the crisis has been widely criticised, undermining the NDC’s claim that it was the party best placed to ensure economic revival.

Second, a number of high profile corruption scandals involving figures around the president enabled the opposition to argue that Ghana’s economic woes can not be fully explained by external factors, and are instead rooted in the dysfunctionality of the ruling party itself. This narrative appears to have been effective, particularly among younger voters. A nationally representative survey conducted by the author in December 2015 found that while many do not blame the president for what has happened in the country, a majority of people did not trust Mahama (56%), and that even in the NDC’s heartlands 41% of people had no trust, or only a little trust, in the executive.

Taken together, these developments strongly favoured the NPP. However, they played out in different ways across the country. In the NPP’s heartlands, there was stronger support for Nana Akufo Addo – who in the past has suffered from a lower turnout in Ashanti areas than his NPP predecessor John Kufour, in part because although both leaders belong to the Akan group, Kufour is an Ashanti while Akufo Addo is an Akyem. By contrast, in the NDC’s core areas the NPP did not secure that many more votes, but did persuade traditional Mahama supporters to stay at home. The resulting decline in turnout – up to 18% in some areas – significantly undermined the ruling party’s prospects. In swing areas the picture was different again, with the NDC holding on to some legislative seats but losing the presidential vote in a number of constituencies in Cape Coast, and winning the presidential vote but losing seats in others.

All eyes will now turn to the President Elect, Nana Akufo Addo, a trained economist and lawyer. Known for his probity and for not suffering fools gladly, the new occupier of Flagstaff House will begin his term in office with two big things in his favour. First, he enjoys a strong mandate and a dominant majority in parliament. Second, economic growth is projected to pick up to around 5% this year, from 4% in 2015.

However, he also faces a number of significant challenges. Although a clear majority of Ghanaians voted for him, it is often said that Akufo Addo is not well liked by his fellow countrymen – a fact that some NPP supporters have cited as the reason for his electoral defeats in 2008 and 2012. His brusque manner and elitist tone have meant that at times the new president has struggled to connect to the electorate. In this regard, it does not help that many voters can still remember the charismatic leadership of ex-President J. J. Rawlings, nicknamed “Junior Jesus” due to his charismatic persona and ability to generate great fervour among his supporters.

Akufo Addo’s lack of a human touch come back to haunt him at the next election if he is unable to deliver on his campaign promises. The 2016 elections are an important reminder that Ghanaians are now willing to vote out leaders who do not meet their expectations, incumbents or otherwise. Given this, it is particularly significant that in his desperation to grasp what was probably his final opportunity to win the presidency, Akufo Addo significantly overpromised. In addition the standard pledges to provide jobs and kick-start economic growth, the NPP made a specific set of high profile commitments that it may come to regret. These include creating an annual $1 million development fund for every constituency, and building a factory in every district.

Given that the country has 275 constituencies, and 216 districts, this effectively commits the new government to between $350 and $500 million of expenditure before it has even begun. Many critics have claimed that there is no way that the ruling party will be able to fund these promises, and that even if it can it will struggle to build 216 factories in four years. If this is true, and a difficult global context stymies economic recovery more generally, then the new president will be forced to fall back on his personal authority and the strength of his arguments. Should this come to pass, it may not be long before we start to hear talk of an NDC resurgence.

South Africa: Pressure mounts on President Zuma

It has not been a good few months for President Jacob Zuma. Economic stagnation, public frustration at the slow pace of national transformation, and accusations of corruption concerning work done to Zuma’s Nkandla home, resulted in a poor performance in municipal elections held on 3 August. Although the ruling African National Congress (ANC) retained its position as the as the largest party, securing 53.9% of the vote, the government lost ground to the opposition in a number of important urban areas. Most notably, the best ever performance of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in a local election, combined with a strong showing by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which improved on its performance in the 2014 general elections, resulted in the ANC losing control of three metropolitan municipalities: Nelson Mandela Bay, City of Tshwane and City of Johannesburg. One consequence of these trends was an increase in the number of areas with minority and coalition government.

Zuma’s position was further undermined by a report by the former Public Protector (a statutory position designed to “strengthen constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct) Thuli Madonsela into accusations of corruption against the president. Anticipating a negative outcome, Zuma had tried to block the publication of the report in the courts, but was ultimately forced to drop the case. While much of the 355 page report confirmed what the president’s critics had already alleged, the publication of the document has been cited as a “game-changer” in the country’s politics. On the one hand, the length and depth of the report removed any last vestige of doubt about Zuma’s culpability in the rise of clientelistic and corrupt networks within the ANC. On the other, the evidence provided in the report regarding Zuma’s relationship with wealthy businessmen such as Ajay Gupta, shone a new light into the inner-workings of the patrimonial practices that now animate the ANC.

Many of the reports findings demonstrate contempt for the rule of law, and a brazen approach to the manipulation of politics for economic ends, including evidence that:

• Ajar Gupta offered the Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas $44.6 million to take the post of Finance Minister and advance the Gupta family’s “business ambitions”. When he refused, the post was given to an ANC MP with far less experience.
• The government media chief Themba Maseko was told by Zuma to help the “Gupta brothers”, who subsequently asked him to direct advertising to a newspaper set up by the family.
• Not only was the board of the Eskom utility company improperly constituted, but it paid nearly $70 million to a firm linked to the Guptas.
• Many of the deals that Zuma facilitated for the Guptas – a network branded the “Zuptas” by opposition parties – involved the president’s son, Duduzane.

Following the report, protestors marched on Zuma’s office in Pretoria, demanding his resignation. Perhaps more significantly, the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the biggest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), called on the president to resign in the interests of the country. This was a particularly significant move given the strategic importance of COSATU, which is one of the members of the ANC’s “triple alliance” along with the South African Communist Party. Moreover, rather than simply criticising the president, Nehawu’s leadership set out a concrete set of proposals for his removal, arguing that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa should be promoted to caretaker president.

However, despite the gathering storm clouds, Zuma may live to fight another day. Although Madonsela’s report was damning, it was not the “knock out” blow that opposition parties had hoped for. Significantly, instead of recommending any punishment directly, the report calls on the president to establish a judicial commission of enquiry. This could take some time – and could be drawn out in such a way that Zuma makes it to the end of his second and last term as president. Even if such an inquiry were completed more quickly, and gave grounds for impeachment, it is unclear whether there would be support for this within the National Assembly. One feature of corrupt and clientelistic regimes is that they tend to enjoy strong levers of influence internally, and the ANC currently holds 249 out of 400 seats in the lower house.

Of course, the longer Zuma stays in office, the more likely it is that voters will seek to punish the ANC for his misdemeanours. But it is important to keep in mind that this is not the first time that Zuma’s downfall, and the breakdown of the triple alliance, have been prophesied. Back in 2013, South Africa’s largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), called on Zuma to resign and said that it would not support the ANC in the 2014 elections. However, neither this, nor the fact that Numsa was subsequently expelled from COSATU, and hence the triple alliance, prevented the ANC from securing over 60% of the vote.

It is therefore too early to talk of the end of Jacob Zuma. Characteristically, the president has come out fighting, and the early signs suggest that he will seek to challenge the findings of the report in court. Such a move would further delay the president’s day of judgement, and suggests that he remains determined to control his own destiny. This may yet include seeing out his term in office, and continuing to shape ANC politics long after he has stepped down from the presidency.

 

Zambia – President Lungu accused of authoritarian backsliding

On Wednesday 5 October, the Zambian police announced that they had arrested two of the main leaders of the United Party for National Development (UPND). This was not the first timer either party president Hakainde Hichilema or vice president Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba have been arrested – indeed Mwamba, popularly known as GBM, was detained earlier this year during a particularly heated election campaign. Zambians could therefore be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu, as even the charges were similar to those that have been brought against opposition leaders in the past: sedition and unlawful assembly.

However, in other ways the recent arrests represent a worrying new development in Zambian politics. Following controversial presidential elections that were marked by long delays and accusations of electoral malpractice, relations between the government and opposition have hit a recent low. On the one hand, Hichilema has refused to accept the official verdict, and has described the court proceedings that ratified it as a sham. On the other hand, President Edgar Lungu has shown no signs of being ready to adopt the conciliatory and inclusive stance required to build bridges and legitimate his government.

As a result, the tense political atmosphere is likely to continue, as is the game of brinkmanship between leaders on different sides of the country’s political divide. Instead of bring treated with respect, Hakainde and Mwamba have alleged that after their arrest they were denied the food, water, bedding, and warm clothing brought by their legal team. However, instead of persuading opposition leaders to give up the fight, their current difficulties appear to have hardened their resolve. For example, in a recent statement, Lungu explained that “… we are telling Lungu and his disputed regime that we shall not stop moving around the country to meet our structures and greet our people“.

In the past, charges against opposition leaders have typically been dropped quickly. However, although Hichilema was subsequently released on bail, having pleaded not guilty, it appears that the state may push ahead with prosecution in this instance. While this would have the benefit of distracting the opposition from campaigning against Lungu’s election, it would also further alienate opposition supporters and may become a sticking point in Zambia’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund – which has said that it is ready to pursue a $1.2 billion rescue package for the country’s ailing economy, but wants to see evidence that the president is willing to enact political and economic reforms.