Category Archives: Africa

Ketil Fred Hansen – Chad’s President Déby was perfectly safe a year ago: Not so today

This is a guest post by Ketil Fred Hansen, IGIS, University of Stavanger (ketil.f.hansen@uis.no)

Chad’s President, Idriss Déby Itno, is perfectly safe and no-one can challenge his position, I would have argued a year ago. Déby won his fifth presidential election on 10 April 2016 with 60% of the votes, five times more than his closest competitor Saleh Kebzabo (12,8 %). To strengthen the political opposition, the leaders of 31 political parties founded a new coalition “Front de l’Opposition Nouvelle pour l’Alternance et le Changement” (FONAC), on 26 July 2016, selecting Kebzabo as front-runner. However, many Chadians questioned FONAC’s real commitment to alternation. The opposition party leaders were accused of taking personal advantage of their position rather than being actually interested in political change. In fact, very few opposition parties had ever altered their own leader. Thus, both President Déby and the leaders of the opposition shared the same longevity in their functions to the frustration of younger generations.

These frustrated younger generations organized regular rallies in Ndjamena during 2016. Protests against the regime started when “untouchables”, sons of high-ranking civil servants and ministers, gang-raped a 17 year-old schoolgirl in February 2016. The protests gained force as Déby prepared for his fifth presidential re-election in April 2016, and continued when President Déby introduced his “austerity measures” on 31 August. In fact, 2016 was the year of social protest in Chad.

Still, I would have argued that president Déby was perfectly safe and at the height of his power at the end of 2016. Why?

Both the US and France saw President Déby as one of their closest collaborators in the fight against Boko Haram and other terror threats in the Sahel. N’Djamena was the home of France’s Operation Barkham, containing some 3500 troops, at least 3 drones, 20 helicopters and more than 200 armored vehicles. Chad was also the home of the American Special Forces anti-terror training Operation Flintstone in February 2017, as it had been in 2015. Since the close-to-successful coup d’état in February 2008, Déby had re-equipped and re-organized his army, significantly increasing military expenditure from an already high level. In 2013, the Chadian army gained international acclaim after its rapid deployment and brave operational courage against the Islamist insurgents in Mali. Indeed, by 2016 Chad held one of the best-equipped and best-trained armies in Africa. One of Déby’s sons, Mahamat Idriss Déby, headed the presidential guard that contained at least as many well-equipped and well-trained soldiers as the regular army. A year ago, then, neither civilian protests nor any military threat from inside (mutiny) or outside (insurgents), seemed possible.

In addition, President Déby enjoyed a high standing among his peers in Africa. He chaired the the regional G5 Sahel group and was elected Chairman of the African Union for 2016. As a sign of respect and importance, 14 African heads of state were present in N’Djamena when Déby was sworn in as president on 8 August 2016. However, his African peers were not the only ones to count on him. Germany ‘s Chancellor Angela Merkel invited President Déby to Berlin in October last year, promising Chad close to 9 million Euro in humanitarian aid. President Hollande received Déby numerous times in Paris to discuss both military collaboration and humanitarian aid.

No wonder, then, that I would have said that president Déby was perfectly safe a year ago. Not so today.

Several signs can be interpreted as a weakening of Déby’s power grip during 2017.

In January, France granted Hinda Déby, Déby’s favorite wife and Chad’s first lady, and their 5 children French nationality. Why, this sudden demand for French nationality? Rumors about President Déby’s untreatable cancer flourishes in the Chadian capital. Speculations about who would take power in the case of Déby’s death rocketed in N’Djamena, without anyone being able to give a clear answer. Together with Chad’s post-independence history of continuous power struggles, the uncertainty surrounding a presidential power transfer leads to thoughts of a new civil war.

Increasing activities of Chadian rebel movements in Southern Libya/Northern Chad also indicate that Déby’s position is fading. The Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) headed by the 53 year-old-always-rebel Mahamat Mahdi Ali, contains some 1500 armed civilians under training. Other Chadian military movements, one headed by former minister now rebel-leader General Mahamat Nouri and another headed by one of President Déby’s nephews, Qatar-based Timan Erdimi, are also training in the same region. The formal closing of the frontier between Chad and Libya, undertaken sometimes by Libya, sometimes by Chad, has not stopped the rebels’ movements. Islamic State, apparently, backs Chadian rebel movements with money and weapons. Believing that Qatar also funds the rebels, on 23 August 2017 President Déby ordered the Qatari embassy in N’Djamena to close down and staff to leave Chad within ten days. A few weeks later, on 24 September, US President Trump included Chad on the list of terror states, banning the arrival of all Chadians on US soil from 1 October. While Chad is, officially, still a US partner in the fight against terror in the Sahel, Washington no longer has confidence in Chadian intelligence. Neither the quality of the information from Chad nor the sincerity of the collaboration are judged satisfactory by the US. Incomprehensible to most Chadians, both among the opposition and Déby’s entourage, the US travel ban has caused rage in N’Djamena; how come Chad, an acclaimed terror fighter, can be punished so severely by its prime benefactor? Both France and the G5 Sahel were puzzled with the US decision. Officially, no one understands the US travel ban. However, one may speculate that the US intelligence has reason to believe the rumors circulating in N’Djamena: President Déby secretly supports Boko Haram because when Boko Haram is still strong and frightening, Déby can act as an acclaimed fighter of terror and only then does the international community need him and will support him diplomatically, militarily and monetarily. No Boko Haram would mean no president Déby, according to these rumors.

Yet, Boko Haram is still active and the rebels in the north not strong enough to pose a serious threat to Déby alone. For the US and the EU, Chad and president Déby represent a stable spot in the midst of a troubled region. Déby has skilfully managed to stay in power for 27 years already. As long as his personal health is good enough and as long as the West needs him in the fight against terror, Déby will stay president in Chad. However, the day when either of these is no longer the case, Chad will turn into a nightmare of violent power struggles.

South Africa – President Zuma, low on allies but not out of ideas

In just ten weeks, South Africa’s long-ruling African National Congress (ANC) will head to an elective congress to install a new party president who will be the party’s national presidential candidate in 2019. Struggling under the weight of compounding corruption scandals and a battle for control of all sectors of the state, President Jacob Zuma has pinned his fortunes to the candidacy of his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former AU Commission Chair. Recently, Zuma (narrowly) survived his seventh parliamentary vote of no confidence, and is facing growing internal criticism by party heavyweights and the fracturing of the long-standing tri-partite alliance between the ANC and labour federation COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). As a result, Zuma is frequently portrayed as being on the back foot.

His current woes don’t originate in the (potentially soon reinstated) 783 corruption charges that he was facing prior to his presidency, nor the furore over the state financing of upgrades to his personal home, but from a trove of over 300 000 emails leaked to investigative journalism outfit, amaBhungane. These leaks detail the way in which Zuma’s friends and business associates – the controversial Gupta family – have used their political connections to act as gate keepers for dozens of state contracts, possibly amassing as much as R100 billion and shifting it offshore to accounts in Dubai and India. The leaked emails also suggest that, should Zuma’s succession plans come unstuck, he may be looking to relocate to Dubai. These emails helped to bring down London PR firm Bell Pottinger, as well as the South African leadership of auditing firm KPMG and software giant SAP, while many of the Zuma faction’s key acolytes at state-owned enterprises appear to be falling under the axe as reports of their financial crimes surface.

But don’t count Jacob Zuma out just yet. Zuma is a master tactician – he was allegedly the reigning chess champion on Robben Island – and a securocrat whose closest allies are in the intelligence community. As a result, he appears to always be one step ahead of his detractors. Through his appointments to various key cabinet and government posts, Zuma has managed to avoid prosecution over the old graft charges and dodge any serious investigations over the current allegations of corruption that have tainted his legacy. The office of the Public Protector – previously staffed by a corruption-busting lawyer – has been undermined by the selection of an apparent Zuma ally, while the head of the national prosecuting authority seems to be missing in action.

Ahead of the upcoming party and national elections – which will likely determine the fate of Zuma and his family – the president and his faction are trying to secure a win for Dlamini-Zuma. Bell Pottinger had apparently been asked to manage her campaign, but the campaign would only be successful on the back of sustained media coverage. A key Zuma ally who was responsible for ensuring positive coverage at the national broadcaster was removed in 2017, and the president has prevaricated on appointing a fresh and more independent board, chosen by parliament. Zuma has even gone so far as to have personal meetings with key SABC figures, potentially undermining the independence of the public broadcaster. The SABC is critical to the electoral fortunes of the ANC, and controlling the national broadcaster would help the Zuma faction to control the messaging ahead of the congress and national polls. As the ANC appears to follow the liberation party trend of moving from an urban-based to a rurally-based party, it will become increasingly important to be able to reach rural voters using the national broadcaster’s vernacular-language radio stations which have a listenership of over 37.6 million citizens – twice the number of people who voted in the 2014 elections.

In order to control the election outcomes and ensure continued flows of patronage, it is critical that the presidency be able to bend the country’s financial policy and budget to his own ends. Reports that the presidency is trying to capture the Treasury are not new. Such reports were buttressed by the removal of technocrat Finance Ministers Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 and Pravin Gordhan in 2017, and their replacement by unknown or inexperienced finance ministers. New reports have now surfaced that the new finance minister, a Zuma ally and Gupta-associate, has established a parallel administration at the National Treasury, side-lining key technocrats and delaying important investigations into maladministration and corruption. In September, Cabinet announced that the budgeting process for the 2018/19 financial year would be ‘overseen’ by the Presidency – raising further concerns that the president would then have greater control over financial allocations.

This is important as the President – and his preferred candidate – have been promising voters ‘radical economic transformation’ in order to shore up the party’s waning electoral fortunes and defuse the negative effects of Zuma’s numerous corruption scandals. This promised new policy is amorphous, swinging between being defined as the conditions to bring about a more egalitarian, inclusive economy and something approaching radical, racialized empowerment in productive sectors of the economy. Increased control over the 2018/2019 budget would allow the presidency to put into action some of the policies within this framework that, the faction hopes, would help the ANC carry the next national election.

But Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma don’t have the congress sewn up just yet. There is increasing pushback from within the ANC, and key figures have come out vocally in support of Dlamini-Zuma’s strongest opponent – Cyril Ramaphosa. The battle has quietly – and sometimes not-so-quietly – been raging at the provincial ANC congresses, with each faction battling it out to have their supporters elected and thus to control which voting delegates are sent to the December congress. There has also been significant inflation of reported numbers in the party’s provincial membership, as the number of members that a province has determines how many votes they are allocated at the congress. The greatest disparities have been found in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) – this province already has the greatest number of ANC members and thus delegates at the elective congress, making it a key succession battleground.

As Zuma’s support in other regions wanes, his faction is increasingly reliant on controlling the party’s structures in this king-maker province. The province has experienced increased levels of violence during periods of increased intra-party competition as around the 2016 municipal elections when more than a dozen council candidates were killed in the months before the polls. These killings have continued as the presidential succession race has heated up. In September the High Court nullified the election of a pro-Zuma ANC leadership in KZN, but a likely decision to appeal the ruling will probably leave the pro-Zuma leadership in place ahead of December. As for the other provinces with pro-Zuma administrations, Zuma’s support appears to be on somewhat shakier ground, making the battle for KZN a critical one.

When it comes to Cyril Ramaphosa’s candidacy, it appears that the Zuma faction is willing to play dirty. In September, apparently-leaked emails to a local newspaper appeared to imply that Ramaphosa was embroiled in a web of adulterous relationships but the ANC heavyweight has refuted most of the claims, arguing that it was Zuma’s allies in the intelligence services who had hacked his emails in a concerted political smear campaign. Journalists from the Independent – which is owned by a pro-ANC businessman – have hinted that yet another big Ramaphosa story is on the horizon. The race is likely to get very ugly ahead of December, and many a political skeleton will probably fall out of the proverbial closet. But just which way the December congress will go, is still very much up for debate.

Senegal – Implications of the July legislative election results for 2019

President Macky Sall’s coalition was the big winner of the July 30 legislative elections in Senegal, taking 125 of 165 seats in the country’s unicameral national assembly. This significant win was the result of a divided opposition, the country’s electoral system, and a determined campaign by the ruling coalition already eyeing the 2019 presidential poll where Sall will stand for reelection. “We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019,” said Prime Minister Mahammad Boun Abdallah Dionne at a campaign rally in July.

Among Senegal’s 6.2 million voters, 54% turned out to vote, up from 37% in the 2012 legislative polls, a testament to the perceived higher stakes of these elections compared to five years ago. The campaign was tense, at times violent. Uncharacteristically for Senegal, administrative challenges marred the vote: delays in the distribution of biometric voter cards and confusion around voter lists prevented hundreds of Senegalese from casting their ballot.

The number of seats was this year increased to 165 from 150, to give room for 15 seats for the Senegalese diaspora that for the first time will have direct representation. The gender parity quota helped women win 42% of seats. The final results validated by the Constitutional Court after it threw out opposition electoral complaints are as follows:

Table. 1. Distribution of seats following July 30 legislative elections:

Coalitions/parties                                                                                                                            Seats

Benno Bokk Yaakaar – “Together for the same hope” (Pres. Sall) 125
Wattu Senegaal – “Winning Coalition” (former Pres. Wade)  19
Manko Taxawu Senegaal – “Accord to watch over Senegal” (Khalifa Sall)   7
Parti pour l’unité et le rassemblement (PUR) – (Prof. Issa Sall)   3
Kaddu Askanwi – “Patriotic Convergence Coalition” (Abdulaye Balde)   2
9 other parties/coalitions with 1 seat each   9
TOTAL 165

Source: IPU

Senegal’s electoral system, using a mix of party block vote (105 seats) and proportional representation (60 seats), greatly benefited the ruling coalition that won 75.8% of the seats with only 49.5% of the votes. This disproportionate win of seats was facilitated by the last minute weakening of the coalition around the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall (no family relation to President Sall).

With former President Abdoulaye Wade returning to Senegal from France to head a separate opposition list – Wattu Senegaal – opposition votes split between two major coalitions, making it possible for the ruling Benno Book Yaakaar (BBY) coalition to win key constituencies, including Dakar, with just a relative majority of votes. Ironically, after being instrumental in hindering a wider opposition coalition, Wade is not going to take up his seat in parliament – he only ran to benefit his party.

The loss of Dakar was a particularly heavy blow for Khalifa Sall, the mayor of Dakar, currently awaiting trial for what his supporters say are trumped up fraud charges. They accuse President Sall of trying to sideline one of his potentially strongest competitors for the presidency in 2019 [see earlier blog post here]. Khalifa Sall campaigned successfully from his prison cell to win a seat in the new legislature, though his coalition overall fared poorly, winning less than 5% of seats.

Wade’s comeback likely reduced the overall number of seats going to the opposition, given the electoral system, but strengthened the relative position of his own party, the PDS (Parti Démocratique Sénégalais). Strengthening the PDS – which had 12 seats in the last legislature – is a means for former President Wade to “pave the way for his son” Karim Wade to run for the presidency in 2019, according to political analyst Ali Ndiaye. Karim, who was a powerful minister in his father’s government, was last year pardoned by President Macky Sall after serving half of a three-year prison sentence for corruption and has since been living abroad.

The legislative election victory was particularly significant for Macky Sall as the polls were widely seen as a referendum on his first five years in office and as the first round for the 2019 presidential election. While the win was noteworthy by most accounts, BBY nevertheless saw its majority slightly reduced in terms of percentage of seats – from 119/150 (79.3%) to 125/165 (75.8%) – and more importantly in terms of percentage of votes – from 53% to 49.5%. This is not surprising, given that most members of the Manku Taxawu Senegaal list were part of BBY in 2012. It means, however, that short of half of voters voted for the ruling coalition. Even if both Karim and Khalifa run in two years, given the two-round presidential election system 2019 is not a given win for Macky Sall.

Uganda – Tension rising over push to scrap presidential age limits

NRM MPs last week unveiled a private member’s bill aimed at removing presidential age limits from the Constitution.

Already in power for over 30 years, President Museveni will be 77 by the 2021 elections, making him too old to run for re-election, the constitutional limit being 75.

The age limit question has dominated political debate in Uganda sine the 2016 elections, with NRM leaders considering various options for how and when (not whether) to amend the constitution.

With the private member’s bill now due to be tabled in Parliament, the battle lines have finally been drawn. MPs—and the security forces—are now moving into position.

What is in the bill

Article 102(b) of the 1995 Constitution currently states that a presidential candidate must be between the ages of 35 and 75 to contest.

The private member’s bill proposes to replace this with the simple provision that any registered voter can run for the presidency.

Some proponents of the bill have argued that scrapping the lower as well as upper age limit is a progressive move, creating room for Uganda’s youth to aspire to the presidency as well. On those grounds, various youth groups, such as Kick Age Limits out of the Constitution, are being mobilised to help popularise the amendment.

The bill also proposes several additional amendments, including one to increase the amount of time permitted when filing presidential election petitions and extending the deadline by which the Supreme Court must reach a decision.

Supporters of the bill point to these proposed changes as evidence that they are not only concerned with the age limit, and Museveni’s so-called “life presidency”. Rather, they claim to be responding in good faith to Supreme Court’s recommendations following Mbabazi’s petition of the 2016 presidential results.

Mixing regressive amendments with seemingly more forward-looking ones is a long-standing NRM strategy, as in 2005, the decision to scrap presidential term limits was softened by the move to reintroduce multiparty politics.

Overwhelming support

The Bill, prepared in secret, was revealed at an informal gathering of NRM MPs, at least one of whom rose in protest after learning what the meeting was about.

The group backing the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill included both backbench MPs and several Cabinet ministers.

A small number of NRM MPs have since denounced the legislation and proposed an alternative private motion urging government to constitute a Constitutional Review Commission.

The Cabinet, however, went ahead and endorsed the original private member’s bill. An overwhelming 287 NRM MPs then voted to support the legislation at a formal party caucus meeting. Only six MPs dissented

In total, the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill is estimated to command the support of over 300 MPs in Parliament, which to pass needs the backing of two-thirds of the House or 298 MPs.

Why a private member’s bill

The Ugandan Parliament has a long history of passing controversial and highly significant private member’s bills.

The current move is nevertheless noteworthy.

Previous legislation, such as the Administration of Parliament Bill (1997) and Budget Bill (2000), both of which aimed to strengthen the legislature, met with strong opposition from Government.

Not all past private member’s bills had “progressive” aims. But until the age limit issue came up, they were not generally used as a tool by the executive to push its agenda.

The decision of NRM leaders to opt now for a private member’s bill is indicative of two related trends.

First, the constitutional review process has become increasingly piecemeal and informal.

The 1995 Constitution was adopted following several years of nation-wide consultations, a careful drafting process by a constitutional commission, and 18 months of debate by the elected Constituent Assembly. The new Constitution was then held up as evidence that Uganda had turned a page in its troubled history, that it was moving towards a consolidated democracy.

Since then, the Constitution has been gradually weakened, most notably with the 2005 scrapping of presidential term limits. All constitutional amendments up to now nevertheless came from Government and followed some pretence of a constitutional review process.

This time, though, Ministers were frank in stating that their chief concern was to push through the changes as quickly as possible. “If you don’t bring this amendment early enough to allow damage control and explanations, it will be difficult”, advised the NRM Chief Whip at a parliamentary caucus meeting on Wednesday.

Discussing what it meant to amend the supreme law of the land, another Minister declared that Article 102(b) on age limits was “disorganized” and that the aim was to “organize” it.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that critical MPs have suggested people start referring to the Constitution of Uganda as “the Constitution of NRM and Museveni”.

The informal approach to constitutional amendments aside, the second reason for the use of a private member’s bill relates to Museveni’s dependence on the NRM parliamentary caucus as a support base.

It was an MP who, at a parliamentary caucus retreat in 2014, got down on her knees to move a motion endorsing Museveni as the sole presidential candidate for the 2016 polls. This came amidst rumours that then Prime Minister Mbabazi was planning to run against him. NRM MPs were later sent to mobilise in support of the sole candidacy motion, each receiving Shs300,000 per constituency meeting.

NRM legislators do resist the President at times, a recent example being their rejection (at least for now) of a proposed constitutional amendment on land. But when it comes to defending Museveni’s presidency, they fall into line. A mix of ambition and patronage can also turn what were independent MPs into loyal cadres.

The MP tasked with tabling the age limit bill in Parliament, one Raphael Magyezi, is a case in point. After first being elected to Parliament in 2011, Magyezi was identified with a small group of “rebel” NRM MPs who, among other things, denounced Museveni’s long stay in power. He later turned, though, and lost his independent reputation.

The choice of Magyezi to table the age limit bill is also interesting in that it may help sway the one person who could pose an obstacle, the sometimes-independent Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. Magyezi was the chairman of the special taskforce that Kadaga assembled to spearhead her hard-fought campaign for re-election as Speaker.

While it is unlikely that Kadaga would interfere with the age limit amendment, having a strong supporter as the face of the bill certainly can’t hurt as a precautionary measure.

Where to from here

The plan was to table the bill in Parliament yesterday.

This coincided with a security crackdown in Kampala and in some regional towns. Police raided NGO offices, the Kampala Mayor was arrested along with journalists, the headquarters of two opposition parties were sealed off, groups of protesters across the capital city were shot at with rubber bullets and teargas, their leaders were arrested, a police helicopter circled the city centre, Parliament was surrounded by police and soldiers, and some oppositional MPs were reportedly blocked by police from entering the building.

The US Embassy in Kampala issued a statement expressing concern “that recent arrests and raids stifle the Ugandan people’s right to free expression.” Government spokesperson Ofwondo Opondo later responded that government “wont’ take unqualified lectures from foreign agents.”

The tension in the streets did not stop MPs from attending Parliament. They packed the Chamber, an unusual event given that House debates often go ahead without quorum. One anti-age limit MP showed up in a yellow VW Bug and dressed from leather shoes to baseball cap in the same official NRM colour. An opposition MP, meanwhile, came in a red track suit, declaring that if the constitution could be changed, she could change her dress code.

The debate was a non-starter, though, after Deputy Speaker Oulanyah failed to secure order in the House amidst loud whistling and singing of the national anthem by opposition MPs. He eventually adjourned Parliament till next week, giving him time to consult with Speaker Kadaga on the way forward.

While it is unclear exactly how events will unfold, Parliament will likely soon enact the age limit bill. The real question is what happens after that.

Many Ugandans on social media yesterday likened the general drift of President Museveni’s regime with the administration of former President Milton Obote in the 1960s. One MP recalled the “constitutional trickery” that took place in 1966 and culminated with the adoption of the “pigeon-hole” constitution, so called because MPs found it ready-drafted in their mail while the parliamentary building was surrounded by armed soldiers.

Certainly, Museveni’s own one-time assertion that he would break with the past, letting “people of presidential calibre and capacity” take over, has not aged well. Some of his most ardent supporters have also abandoned all pretences, warning, “They should know that we are the party in power, we have the support of the maggye [army], you cannot tell us Togikwatako [don’t touch it, article 102(b)].”

There is clearly cause for concern not only about next week’s parliamentary session but, more fundamentally, about what a post-Museveni Uganda might look like. The pre-Museveni period does not offer much positive inspiration, but with no clear succession plan and a strong—but factionally divided—security force, it is understandable that people are looking to Uganda’s history to make sense of its current path.

Kenya – President Kenyatta remains in office as the country enters electoral limbo

The Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the result of the 8 August presidential elections, and hence the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta, has sent Kenya into a state of electoral limbo. What happens in the next three weeks will not only define President Kenyatta’s tenure, but will shape the process of democratic consolidation more broadly.

Following a tightly fought campaign, early results appeared to show that Kenyatta had secured a comfortable first round victory with 54% of the vote. However, the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) immediately rejected the results, claiming that the election had been “hacked” and that in reality their candidate, Raila Odinga, had been victorious.

Although the opposition’s complaints inspired some protests in its heartlands – leading to a violent crack down by the security forces that culminated in over 50 deaths – they failed to force a re-think on the part of either the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) or international election observers, who largely endorsed the process. As a result, it was unsurprising when Odinga announced that he intended to appeal against the election results at the Supreme Court.

Evidence in favour of the opposition’s allegations included the fact that many of the results forms from the polling station level that are supposed to feature the signatures of party agents and hence validate the process appeared to go missing, the pre-election murder of the respected IEBC ICT official Chris Msando – who NASA claims was killed because he was determined to run a high quality election – and the fact that the Commission unnecessarily declared Kenyatta the victor before it had effectively responded to opposition complaints. However, in the absence of an obvious “smoking gun” proving the exact extent of rigging, most observers expected the Supreme Court to rule in favour of the ruling party, as it did in 2013.

Indeed, up to this point the elections confirmed to an established pattern: a heated campaign, a questionable process, a disputed result, a ruling party claiming victory, and an opposition protesting rigging. But that all changed when the Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of upholding the opposition’s complaint and ordering the IEBC to re-run the contest, stating that the election had not been conducted in a legal manner. This verdict made history as the first time that a court of law had overturned the election of a sitting president in Africa, and was immediately seized upon by opposition leaders and supporters as evidence that Odinga was the true winner of the poll.

However, the implications of the Supreme Court’s verdict for Kenyan politics are unclear for two reasons. On the one hand, the Court has yet to deliver the explanatory text that will accompany its verdict and is essential to understanding why it ordered a “fresh” election and what changes to the electoral system will be required. On the other, although the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) quickly announced that it would organise the re-run on October 17, it is unclear whether the Commission has the credibility and capacity to deliver a good quality election within this time frame. Despite being short on detail, the Supreme Court’s decision suggests that significant reforms will be required – although it is not yet clear what these will be. Already, the opposition has rejected the new election date, complaining that it was arrived at without consultation.

With the fate of the electoral commission in doubt, it is difficult to see a way in which the 2017 electoral process can be brought to a consensual conclusion. While the IEBC is poorly placed to deliver a free and fair election, it is also unfeasible to create a new election management body in the time available – 60 days – before the next election needs to be held. As a result, a succesful resolution to the presidential election is unlikely to emerge from the judiciary or electoral commission alone. Instead, it will probably require a political compromise based on a period of negotiation between the main candidates. The danger for Kenya right now is that the growing degree of political polarization in the country militates against such a process.

The nullification of the result also generated other ambiguities. Having previously demanded that his rival respect the rule of law, President Kenyatta’s initial response to the result was consistent with his rhetoric. However, just hours after stating that he would abide by the decision, the president attacked the Supreme Court in off the cuff remarks, branding the judges “crooks” and pledging to “fix” the Court if re-elected.

Kenyatta’s ill-advised comments undermined his claim to be the candidate best placed to maintain law and order and preserve political stability, and hence called into question one of the government’s main criticisms of the opposition – namely that it is a force of “disorder”. They also generated concerns that the ruling party intends to sway the Supreme Court’s judgement by intimidating judges and threatening the institution with post-election reform if it does not bend to the will of the executive.

We have yet to see how the Supreme Court will respond to this provocation. In its initial decision, 4 judges voted to nullify the election while 2 expressed a dissenting opinion. The future trajectory of Kenyan politics will be profoundly shaped by the reasons that the four judges give for their verdict, the implications that this has for the IEBC, and the willingness of rival political leaders to come to an agreement on how to respond to the Court’s decision and move the political debate forward.

Grant Godfrey – Central African Republic: Can Legitimacy Last?

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

For more than a year after President Faustin Archange Touadéra’s surprise runoff victory, the Central African Republic has been consolidating its nascent democratic institutions, including new ones called for in the 2015 constitution.  These include a Special Criminal Court to investigate crimes committed by armed groups since 2003, a new High Authority for Good Governance and other bodies.  In contrast with previous governments and legislatures that resulted from flawed elections, no elections or coups d’état, Mr. Touadéra and the elected National Assembly appear to enjoy popular legitimacy—for now.

This legitimacy, however, is now undergoing its first serious test. A recurring theme I heard from Central Africans during a recent visit is that they expect their political leaders and the international community to put an end to the rising violence committed by armed groups in 14 of the country’s 16 provinces.  Moreover, they reject compromises that would legitimize the armed groups’ actions and mistrust promises of disarmament. Indeed, shortly after discussions on the disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDRR) process began in April, attacks on government and U.N. forces, civilians and rival armed groups intensified, displacing hundreds of thousands of persons. This likely reflects efforts by armed groups to maximize their territory and leverage not only for the DDRR process, but also against rival groups. Central African military forces are slowly being reconstituted, but with only one battalion that has been certified as trained, cannot defend the population by themselves. Even the MINUSCA forces, who earlier this year stopped sectarian fighting in Bambari, would be challenged to track down and defeat a plethora of armed groups in a territory the size of Texas. The challenges have led some observers to conclude that without robust investment in, and stronger military action by, MINUSCA, no peace agreement will be sustainable.  Nevertheless, multiple proposals for peace talks reflect national and international leaders’ desire to put an end to the conflict, and to claim credit for doing so: the National Assembly, the Community of Sant’Egidio and the African Union have each announced a peace initiative in the last six weeks, and these in addition to the ongoing DDRR discussions launched in April.

Armed groups reportedly seek amnesty for their crimes; the return of exiled leaders; and positions in a power-sharing government. Agreeing to such terms would run counter to the popular will, as expressed at the Bangui Forum and violate key features of the new constitution, which strips those who take up arms of political eligibility (Art. 19-20). The Sant’Egidio accord, for example, would allow armed groups to become political parties—an event the constitution anticipated and deliberately prohibited (Art. 20). The National Assembly’s recent resolution, on the other hand, indicates that the legislature will not sanction a peace agreement if it violates any constitutional provisions.[1]

Meanwhile, citizen-led efforts to restore peace, heal divisions and build resilient communities show that conflict in CAR is not inevitable.  The National Democratic Institute has been supporting citizen-led peace and reconciliation activities there since 2014.  Its Central African partners have helped 38 communities establish peace committees whose local initiatives have led to communities welcoming the return of IDPs and of state officials. These communities report that they are better able to resist the divisive tactics used to instigate or justify further conflict, such as spreading false rumors about sectarian attacks nearby.

Amid these optimistic signs, the fragility of CAR’s democratic institutions remains a top concern. Peace committees may build resilience, but this cannot itself stop aggression by new armed groups.  Politicians worry that while the CAR currently lacks the means to defeat armed groups, compromising with them could undermine the country’s recent democratic gains.  Leaders’ commitments to preserving these gains are likely to be severely tested in the coming months.

Note

[1] “La deuxième nouveauté [de cette initiative—NDLR] est que le processus de paix tout entier se déroule dans le cadre de la légalité constitutionnelle, et reste ainsi un processus républicain. C’est en ce sens que l’initiative insiste sur la nécessité que les négociations se déroulent dans un cadre défini par les institutions de la République et que leur résultat soit ratifié par une Loi, laquelle loi, cela est à souligner, serait susceptible de contrôle de constitutionnalité.” [Sic]. (Emphasis original).

Yonatan L. Morse – The African State, Presidential Power, and Electoral Authoritarianism in Cameroon

This is a guest post by Yonatan L. Morse, Assistant Professor in Department of Political Science at the University of Connecticut. It is based on his recent article in International Political Science Review.
Africa is a fascinating testing ground for the study of electoral authoritarianism. While not clearly part of the Third Wave of democratization, in the early 1990s the continent was swept by a wave of economic and political reform. However, the continent’s democratic credentials are quite tenuous. There is a strong consensus that alongside a number of democratic success stories like Ghana or Nigeria reside a considerable population of electoral authoritarian regimes. These regimes combine regular elections with undemocratic practices that range from fraud, harassment, censorship, and state violence. Today, several African countries are entering their third decade of electoral authoritarianism.

The persistence of electoral authoritarianism in Africa is puzzling, especially considering the crucial role of the state. In many comparative studies of electoral authoritarianism, the state’s capacity to extract resources via taxation, administer territory, command personnel, and deploy coercive units is seen as paramount. However, African states generally rank low along these measures. Nor do differences in state capacity clearly explain the relative longevity of African electoral authoritarian regimes. Longstanding electoral authoritarian regimes in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe do not have demonstrably more powerful states than short-lived ones in Ghana, or Zambia.

In recent research I argue that the endurance of electoral authoritarianism in Africa can partially be explained by reassessing state capacity in relation to contextual logics of state building. The African state is often referred to as neo-patrimonial. Faced with acute post-independence challenges, foundational leaders stabilized politics by brokering with other elites, who were often representative of politically relevant ethnic blocs. The persistence of this political order required resources, but also marginally more capable states and, importantly, the elevation of presidents as critical actors. I illustrate this with reference to Cameroon, one of Africa’s most resilient electoral authoritarian regimes.

Coercive Capacity and Presidential Power in Cameroon

At independence the state in Cameroon was by no means robust, but it possessed unique advantages compared to other African countries. The colonial territory was bifurcated between the French and British, and neither entity made real investments into a civil administration, tax authority, or traditional military. However, an uprising in French Cameroon (called the UPC Rebellion) compelled the French to create emergency zones and augment Cameroon’s military with a gendarmerie and small intelligence-gathering unit. These innovations proved influential and were bequeathed to Cameroon’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo.

Ahidjo used these tools to marginally expand the state’s coercive capacity and to elevate the presidency. By controlling the purse strings and threatening sanction, Ahidjo was able to coax other political parties into a singular entity called the Cameroon National Union (CNU). By 1972, federalism was abolished and Ahidjo stood virtually unchecked as the gatekeeper to state spoils. Throughout his tenure he maintained a careful balance of ethnic and regional interests in public appointment and spending. Other African regimes were built on similar principles, but not many were backed by the same threat of coercion against elites.

Ahidjo’s successor Paul Biya built on this system. Biya retained control over the powers of appointment, and much of Cameroon’s nascent oil wealth was managed for years in a secret account held by the president. Importantly, the orientation of Biya’s coalition was tilted toward his southern co-ethnics, while Ahidjo’s was toward the north. As one observer noted at the time, the essence of the regime relied on the “cohesion of a few important people.” This was not an authoritarian regime rooted in an objectively powerful state, but rather the support of a narrow political elite.

Electoral Authoritarian Resilience in Cameroon

This system came under severe duress prior to Cameroon’s foundational 1992 elections. Economic decline reduced Biya’s capacity to maintain elite support, while social grievances grew in the face of rampant public corruption. Opposition reached its apex during a six-month strike, which was matched by significant state violence. Indicatively, Biya eked by with just 40% of the vote, and the ruling party won just 49% of the seats. There were widespread accusations of fraud and repression by security services, the Ministry of Territorial Administration, and provincial governors.

With Biya’s near-term survival ensured his preeminence as the chief broker stabilized the regime. Biya quickly entered into coalitions with various small parties like the Movement for Defense of the Republic (MDR), the United People’s Congress (UPC), and the National Party for Progress (NPP). By 1997, he had coopted members of the larger National Union for Democracy (NUDP), and elements of the Bamileké community. Installing an Anglo Prime Minister bolstered support from English-speaking regions. Today, Cameroon has the largest cabinet in Africa with over 60 appointed ministers and deputies. Biya has also resisted privatization efforts and controls access to hundreds of patronage positions. Fraud and coercion still impacts elections, but in 2011 Biya won 78% of the vote, and in 2013 the ruling party won 82% of the seats.

Coercion has also helped the regime deter challenges to Biya’s position as president. In 1997 Biya faced two internal challengers – one died of apparent medical complications, while the other was charged with corruption and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In 2008, regime elites revealed their concerns in private that a post-Biya reality would undermine the delicate balance of power. Unsurprisingly, Biya amended the constitution to change term limits to run for election again in 2011. A year later two other likely internal challengers – Marafa Yaya and Ephraim Inoni – were both convicted for embezzlement. State coercion has been used against citizens, but it has a clear role in maintaining the elite coalition.

Much of this builds on Thomas Calleghy’s insight that many African states are “lame leviathans,” meaning they cannot be exploited for massive social and economic projects, but nonetheless provide the necessary scaffolding for patrimonial orders. This holds true during elections too. When electoral authoritarian regimes retain some comparatively basic coercive features that help them keep the president at the apex of political coalition making, they can persist for extended periods of time despite electoral and internal challenges.

Uganda – Long anticipated, the battle over presidential age limits has begun

Twitter and WhatsApp are abuzz. Posters screaming “Youth Against Dictatorship” cover Kampala. Activists planning a mock funeral for the President are under arrest.

The furore comes after the announcement in the Uganda Gazette that a Constitutional (Amendment) Bill is soon to be published, paving the way for it to be tabled in Parliament. Among other provisions, the omnibus bill is expected to propose scrapping article 102(b) of the Constitution, which sets a presidential age limit of 75 years. Once the bill is gazetted, a Constitutional Review Commission will be appointed to gather citizens’ views on the proposed amendments, although it is unclear to what extent the Commission could influence the fate of the crucial, age limit article. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, in power for over three decades, will be turning 76 ahead of the next elections in 2021, making him ineligible to run unless the age limit is dropped. The latest proposed constitutional change comes after Museveni already saw through the removal of presidential term limits in 2005.

Opposition to the age limit amendment has come from all quarters. Four-time opposition presidential contender Dr. Kizza Besigye has made a series of statements, taking to Facebook to declare, “The people of Uganda are definitely closing in to take back their power and embark on a TRANSITION to a new dispensation.” The opposition Forum for Democratic Change, Democratic Party and Conservative Party have condemned the move while youth from the three parties are behind a pro-age limit campaign dubbed Nchi Yetu (“our country” in Swahili).

Somewhat less predictably, members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) youth league have also rallied around a campaign against the proposed changes, leading to their hasty arrest. More concerning still, from the President’s perspective, is the opposition to the age limit amendment amongst his own rank-and-file MPs. A survey of parliamentarians conducted last year by the civil society network CCEDU with the support of NDI pointed to high levels of unease over the then anticipated move to scrap age limits. Of the 185 respondents (from a randomly selected sample of 196), 73 percent said they would not support a constitutional amendment on age limits. This included a large majority of NRM MPs (65 percent) while Opposition and Independent MPs were overwhelmingly against (97 and 81 percent respectively). Interestingly, MPs from the NRM’s traditional strongholds, the Western and Central regions, were most likely to oppose an amendment. A more recent and less systematic effort to survey MPs spearheaded by the independent Observer newspaper reveals an enduring, lukewarm attitude towards the proposed changes within the NRM.

The various pro-age limit campaigns now emerging, including those supported by a range of civil society organizations, have no intention of letting legislators off the hook. Activists have been circulating the phone numbers and emails of legislators, imploring voters, “Tell them we [want] the clause to remain intact. That one call, that email, that text message may be key in defining the destiny of our country.”

Yet however strong the pushback, it is also clear the President’s camp has its own plan. Indeed, whereas Museveni has repeatedly insisted he was “not interested in age limit talk”, his supporters launched a series of semi-coordinated actions shortly after the 2016 elections, the aim being to cultivate an appearance of grass-roots pressure for Museveni to stay. A number of NRM district conferences passed resolutions calling on MPs to lift presidential age limits. An NRM MP also tabled a private members bill in Parliament calling for the removal of age limits for judges. This was widely seen, though, as a ploy to start a debate during which the issue of presidential age limits could be introduced.

It remains part of the government strategy to present pressure for a constitutional change as originating outside of State House. In an article entitled “Don’t distort constitutional amendment debate”, the government spokesman affirmed, “the issue of age limit has been raised in various forums with many people openly urging President Museveni to stay on and complete what they deem unfinished business.” Even as Museveni enacts the role of disinterested bystander, though, internal manoeuvring continues to intensify.

The plan to introduce legislation to Parliament was apparently adopted after a proposed constitutional referendum was deemed too risky.[1] Charged with mobilising their colleagues is a small group of loyal MPs who have been actively advocating for the proposed amendment in the corridors of  Parliament. There are also plans, according to one MP, “to go district by district, convincing councils to pass resolutions, which the MPs will be compelled to support.” This “convincing” will not depend on the NRM leaders’ powers of persuasion alone. Reports are filtering through that the police and military will receive more equipment to crack down on popular protest. At the same time, a large campaign war chest has been amassed, leading NRM heavyweights to jostle over who will act as campaign coordinator and thereby control associated patronage resources. Some of the money is already reportedly earmarked, including: (a) for NRM MPs, who will receive USh3m (roughly £650) per caucus meeting, although there are also rumours in Parliament that MPs may demand a total of as much as Ush300m each;[2] (b) for as yet unpaid members of the NRM Central Executive Committee, who will start receiving a salary USh25 (£5,400) per month, close to that of the highest paid civil servants and larger than the total pay package of an MP; and, (c) for members of the National Executive Committee, who will receive USh9m (nearly £2,000) per month.

Through a combination of coercion and money, Museveni’s camp still seems likely to succeed in pressuring Parliament into removing presidential age limits. The extent of opposition along with the elaborate and costly plans to overcome it nevertheless speak to Museveni’s increasingly strained hold on power. In 2005, it took a one-off, Ush5m bribe to get MPs to scrap term limits, a move which was at the time shocking and now seems almost pedestrian. The campaign to remove term limits was also fraught, but it came before the rate of patronage inflation reached the current, dizzying heights.

Hovering above the current struggle is the question of what will become of the NRM’s legacy, and thus what lies in Uganda’s political future.[3] After first seizing power in 1986, Museveni promised “fundamental change” and later oversaw a constitutional review process, which was at the time praised by many. The accolades have long since petered out, leaving prominent figures like Kizza Besigye to denounce the increasing personalisation of power under the NRM, quipping, “President Museveni has turned himself into the Constitution.” Museveni’s own supporters are hardly reassuring on this point, with one MP insisting, “The person who has managed to build all [the] institutions is Museveni. If he has built the institutions, which have ensured that the country is stable, why should he be denied the chance to continue leading the country?” It is unclear what exactly is distinctive about “institutions” when they are presumed to come from—and seemingly also to depend on—a single individual.

Ultimately, given the kind of political order Museveni has cultivated, it is now easier to imagine a scenario whereby the age limit is scrapped and he continues as President than it is to imagine the alternative. Should the age limit remain, the ensuing succession battle could easily fracture the NRM, as has happened to numerous other dominant parties.[4] Opposition contenders, most obviously Besigye, could have another go at winning an election in 2021. But it is hard to picture Museveni—or, crucially, the military upon which he has focused so much of his energy—accepting a Besigye win. Indeed, as has proved the case in Uganda’s past, should Parliament resist executive pressure, the balance of power would likely lie with the security forces. But then they too contain their own internal factions.

In short, Museveni’s Uganda is one where, paradoxically, there would be far more political uncertainties introduced if the Constitution remained intact with age limits preserved. That’s in the short-term, of course, as lifting age limits only postpones the inevitable succession. Meanwhile, the many young Ugandans who have only ever known a Museveni presidency will, again, see their dream of a change deferred. And, to borrow a line from Langston Hughes, what happens to a dream deferred?[5]

 

UPDATE: On July 13th, the government surprised MPs by tabling in Parliament a Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, which unlike the promised omnibus bill, addresses only one issue, and not age limits but land. As explained by the Deputy Attorney General, the amendment will enable the compulsory acquisition of land for “development” with government compensating private land owners and taking over the land immediately, thereby circumventing what is now a lengthy process of negotiation over what compensation is due. This proposed amendment is extremely controversial in its own right, which explains why it has remained stalled on the government’s to-do list since the 1990s. What’s more, the government has by no means given up on its aim to introduce an omnibus bill. The Deputy AG made it clear that the much-awaited bill, containing an amended Article 102(b) on the age limit, will come to parliament later this year.

[1] This comes after last year’s election results were hotly contested amidst allegations of rigging. A 2017 Afrobarometer survey, moreover, had 75 percent of respondents declaring they would prefer to see presidential age limits maintained.

[2] Such astronomical payouts seem unlikely to materialise, although some form of bribe-for-votes will be necessary. And this despite the NRM Chief Whip’s strident claims that, “You can’t survive if you approach me to say I give you money to do your work to which [sic] you were elected. […] You imagine, unless this is something else not parliament, to approach the chief whip and say, ‘unless you give this much – Shs300m for us – we’re not going to Kyankwanzi [location of NRM Caucus retreats]’. How?! How can you tell me such nonsense? It is criminal, it is illegal, it is unethical, it is unwise.” The Office of the Chief Whip is known to routinely dole out money, however, making these principled objections somewhat less credible.

[3] Beyond Uganda, the push to strip away any remaining fetters on presidential power fits in with a regional trend. Rwanda recently scrapped constitutional term limits for President Paul Kagame. An NRM delegation more recently went on a fact-finding mission to Burundi where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ill-fated efforts to circumvent term limits led to a spike in violence, adding to the number of internally displaced people and refugees. In a kind of authoritarian-style “benchmarking” exercise, the aim of the NRM delegation was to learn from Nkurunziza’s mistakes and to avert a similar outcome in Uganda.

[4] For instance, KANU in 2002.

[5] Langston Hughes poem, Harlem (“What happens to a dream deferred?)

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.

Mali’s controversial constitutional referendum

Mali was scheduled to hold a referendum on constitutional reform on July 9th. On June 21st, two days before the campaign for the referendum was to start, the vote was postponed sine die following widespread demonstrations. What prompted this resistance to, and ultimate postponement of the planned referendum? What is so controversial about this constitutional revision?

The constitutional changes were meant to implement clauses of the Algiers Peace Agreement signed between the Malian government and former rebel groups in 2015, and to correct “deficiencies and shortcomings” in the constitution. One of the important changes was to be the introduction of a Senate, to give an official role to Mali’s traditional leaders.

On June 3, the National Assembly endorsed the proposed constitutional revisions by 111 votes to 35. Opposition parties voted against the reform, arguing that it strengthens presidential powers unduly. Main concerns include the ability for the president to appoint 30 percent of senators as well as the presiding judge of the constitutional court. Also, the president would be able to dismiss the prime minister at will (effectively transforming Mali from a premier-presidential to a president-parliamentary type of semi-presidential regime).

Following the vote, a platform of political opposition members and civil society activists came together in a determined campaign against the referendum, conducting several demonstrations. The largest of these, on June 17, brought thousands of protesters into the streets of Bamako, who also seized the opportunity to accuse the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) of bad governance. With a year left ahead of presidential polls in July 2018 where IBK will stand for reelection, protests appeared to be morphing from opposition against the constitutional reform to a broader indictment of the government. In the face of this resistance, the government bowed to the pressure, at least temporarily, by postponing the referendum.

This is not the first time that constitutional reform in Mali has been aborted at the last moment.[1]  In November 2001, former President Alpha Oumar Konaré called off a referendum scheduled for the following month. Some of the criticisms at the time echo concerns voiced by the opposition to the current revision – notably increased presidential control of the constitutional court (Wing, 457). Also, interestingly, many of the proposed changes this year were included in the constitutional reform effort of former President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) that was cut short by the 2012 coup. In 2012, those changes that faced similar, significant opposition included: the introduction of a Senate whereto the president would be able to appoint a significant number of senators; the president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the constitutional court;[2] and the president’s power to dismiss the prime minister at will (Wing, 462).

Not surprisingly, among the leading opponents today are some of those who most vocally opposed the same constitutional changes back in 2012, including Tiébilié Dramé, the président of the Party for National Rebirth (Parena), and Mme. Sy Kadiatou Sow who leads the joint civil society-political party movement against the constitutional referendum, “An tè A Bana. Touche pas à ma Constitution” (Don’t touch my constitution). These opponents criticize not just the proposed changes, but also the reform process itself for lacking transparency and not being inclusive – criticisms also advanced in 2012 – and for being ill-advised when segments of the population would be unable to vote due to ongoing insecurity. According to Wing (2015), the controversies surrounding constitutional reform in 2012 contributed to the overthrow of then President ATT by further delegitimizing an already unpopular government.

Taking lessons from the past, the government’s decision to postpone the referendum was probably a wise one. In a context where the central government remains week and lacks the ability to exercise its authority across the entirety of the country, it is all the more important that the constitutional reform process benefits from widespread legitimacy. The challenge is now how to ensure that promises made in the 2015 Peace Agreement are acted upon, should constitutional changes be significantly delayed.

[1] See Susanna Wing’s interesting analysis of past troubled constitutional reform efforts in Mali: Susanna Wing (2015), “ ‘Hands off my constitution’: Constitutional reform and the workings of democracy in Mali, “ in Journal of Modern African Studies, 53, 3, pp. 451-475.

[2] The chief justice of the constitutional court is responsible for proclaiming electoral results; also, the constitutional court is tasked with resolving electoral disputes. The president’s ability to appoint the chief justice of the court is particularly controversial with IBK up for reelection in 2018.