Category Archives: Kenya

Africa – Presidential term limits and the third term tragedy

Africa is currently in the middle of a third term crisis. As presidents come up against the presidential term-limits included in many multi-party constitutions, a significant number are refusing to leave power gracefully. Instead, a number of leaders have sought to secure a third term. So far, this trend has taken in countries as otherwise diverse as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and now, it seems, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In most cases, they have tried to do so through official channels, in other words by changing the law or appealing to the judiciary, rather than simply suspending the constitution and ruling by fiat. One reason for this is that there is strong domestic and international support for presidential term limits. Afrobarometer data suggests that typically over two-thirds of Africans support term limits, although there is considerable variation, with a high of 90% in Benin and a low of 44% in Algeria. As a result, leaders feel compelled to tread carefully, and to legitimise their strategies by pursuing them through formal channels.

Yet despite this, attempts to secure a third term have often triggered political unrest and in some cases widespread civil conflict. In both Burkina Faso and Burundi, efforts by unpopular presidents to stay in power come what may triggered mass protests and ultimately (very different forms of) military intervention. At the time of going to press, a further crisis appears to be brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the President, Joseph Kabila, looks set to pursue an unconstitutional third term in office. On Thursday 5 May, the former Governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, announced that he would be contesting the presidency as the candidate of the three main opposition parties. Just hours later he tweeted that the president – his former ally – had sent the police force to surround his house and that he had appealed to the United Nations mission in the country to protect him. Unconfirmed local reports later suggested that it was only the intervention of UN soldiers that prevented Katumbi’s detention.

If so, the DRC has had a lucky escape. Opposition supporters have already been involved in violent clashes with the security forces in protest against the prospect of a prolonged Kabila presidency. The arrest of Katumbi would raise the political temperature yet further, increasing the prospects for conflict in the coming months. As allegations and rumours circulate unhindered, the threat of a broader political rupture becomes ever more likely.

The growing number of third term tragedies on the continent raises three important questions. First, when do presidents seek a third term and when do they not? Second, when are they successful? Third, when are a president’s attempts to serve a third term most likely to result in political conflict?

Should I stay or should I go

Despite the recent headlines it is important to remember that considerably more presidents have respected term limits than have broken them. For every Uganda there is a Zambia, for every Burundi there is a South Africa, for every Rwanda there is a Kenya. There are a number of factors that appear to encourage presidents to seek third terms. First, the quality of democracy matters. Presidents in less democratic states who face weaker institutional checks and balances are more likely to try and break – or at least change – the rules. Good recent examples include Congo-Brazzaville and Djibouti.

Second, it is more feasible for presidents who govern countries that are more politically and economically independent from western influence to ignore international protests. As a result, leaders who enjoy greater international leverage because their countries feature valuable natural resources or are of considerable geo-strategic importance, try to secure a third term much more frequently than those that are much more dependent on Western trade. This is one of the reasons that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a country that recently found large oil reserves and is a key ally of United States in the war-on-terror, is able to stay in power indefinitely.

Third, presidents who enjoy greater political control are more likely to judge that it is possible to secure a third term, and hence more likely to risk pursuing one. Political control comes through two main routes: the ruling party and the security forces. Presidents are far more likely to try and secure third terms in dominant-party states in which the ruling party secures over 60% of seats in the legislature, such as Namibia and Rwanda, and when they have tight control over the army and police, as in Djibouti and Uganda. Under these conditions, it is often possible to both change the constitution through the legislature and silence any opposition to this strategy.

You can’t always get what you want

Of course, presidents do not always get it right and a number of third term bids have been unsuccessful. In countries such as Nigeria and Zambia, presidents failed in part because they could not take their own parties with them. As a result, they struggled to pass the necessary legislation, and, facing strong opposition from civil society groups and other parties, abandoned their plans. Rather than undermining democracy, this process can actually give it a short in the arm, and deter future presidents from pursuing similar strategies.

However, unsuccessful attempts to stay in power can also have far more problematic consequences. In Burkina Faso and Burundi, leaders overestimated their political control and underestimated the strength of opposition. As a result, they struggled to push through their third term ambitions. In Burundi, for example, President Nkurunziza lost a critical vote in the legislature to change the law, which forced him to put pressure on the judiciary to interpret the constitution in a way that would allow him to stand again. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favour, it was immediately apparent that it only did so as a result of high levels of intimidation, further undermining the president’s credibility. As a result, the verdict did little to dampen opposition protests against his actions.

Limited political control undermined the position of President Nkurudiza in a second way. In the midst of the public protests in May 2015, a group of army officers launched a coup attempt. Although it appears to have been a poorly coordinated effort and was eventually put down, the mutiny demonstrated the lack of unity within the armed forces, and the potential for the president’s limited control over the security forces to contribute to political instability.

The bigger they are the harder they fall

To date, presidential term limits have not tended to be the source of major political conflict when presidents have either a) been willing to give up on their ambitions in the face of widespread opposition (Nigeria, Zambia) or b) have enjoyed the political control needed to be able to force through their will with relatively little resistance (Uganda, Rwanda). The “problem category”, for want of a better term, is those cases in which conditions are not favourable to a third term bid but leaders try and force one through regardless.

In turn, this is most likely to happen in states in which presidents have most to gain from staying in office, and most to lose by giving up power. Good proxies for the benefits of office are the level of corruption and the presence of valuable natural resources, the combination of which can make a leader extremely wealthy. A decent proxy for the costs of leaving power is whether a country has a history of political violence, which tends to decrease the level of trust between rival leaders, and increase the potential that the head of state will be prosecuted for human rights violations when they step down.

This is not great news for the DRC, which is a highly corrupt resource rich state with a history of political conflict. Unless President Kabila bucks the continental pattern, he is unlikely to step down voluntarily. And if he proves to be willing to risk everything to stay in power, sending the police to surround Katumbi’s house is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

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President Kenyatta’s Anti-Corruption Drive Falters

President Uhuru Kenyatta has pledged to reduce corruption in Kenya in a bid to promote economic growth. But following an initial burst of activity in which Kenyatta first announced that new technology would be used to remove “ghost workers” from the government pay roll and later moved to suspend a number of politicians suspected of corrupt activities, the government has little progress to show for all its fine words.

Worse still, in late May the president’s “clean credentials” were called in to question when he moved to suspend the Chairman and five officials of the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) – the very body whose recommendations had initially led Kenyatta to demand that 175 officials accused of fraud step down so that they could be investigated.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga seized on the announcement to argue that the president’s anti-corruption “crusade” was little more than a smokescreen, designed to create the necessary cover for the president to protect his core allies. The conspiracy theory put forward by Odinga also crossed the mind of many journalists, who wondered whether the strong support that Kenyatta initially offered to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission was intended to create the impression that the new government was taking graft seriously, so that it would be easier for Kenyatta to remove genuine reformers from power at a later stage.

Kenyatta’s decision to remove both the chairman and the deputy chairwoman of the EACC came after MPs voted to sanction them, ironically accusing the EACC leadership of the abuse of office. Although it is clear that the EACC has made a number of errors, its biggest mistake appears to have been one of strategy rather than one of moral judgement: by taking on so many leaders at the same time, anti-corruption officials effectively inspired the emergence of an “anti-reform” alliance within the legislature. Put simply, too many MPs had something to lose from allowing the EACC to continue with its work.

The president’s apparently contradictory positions – on the one hand, supporting the EACC’s investigation, while on the other sacking senior EACC officials, has left the government’s anti-corruption efforts in disarray. It has also called into question the capacity of the president to deliver clear and decisive leadership in this area – a complaint that increasingly threatens to characterise his time in office.

Kenya – President seeks to manage inter-branch conflict

The new Kenyan political system, introduced under the 2010 constitution, paved the way for a complex web of checks and balances between newly created branches of government. On the one hand, 47 counties were created, complete with their own assemblies and directly elected Governors. These units have often seen themselves as being in conflict with the national government over resources and political power. On the other hand, the new constitution resurrected the Senate, transforming Kenya into a bi-cameral system for the first time since the 1960s. Almost immediately, Senators began to battle for supremacy and control over development funds with the Members of Parliament that populate the lower house – the National Assembly.

At times, this competition has worked to the advantage of the Jubilee Alliance government. Internecine struggles at the county level have served to deflect a range of political actors from the failings of the central government – for example over terrorism and the provision of national security. This has been a valuable distraction for the government, which has struggled to stem the flow of attacks by the radical Islamic movement al Shabaab. It has also taken other stories off the front pages, such as the allegations that police in the north-eastern county of Garissa flogged a group of young people with a rubber house and later posted the pictures on Facebook – not the best way to win hearts and minds in an increasingly divided society.

But in some cases the battles between Governors, Senators and MPs have also proved to be an embarrassing distraction. In a recent spat, the National Assembly supported the Division of Revenue Act, which effectively ‘hived off Sh 1 billion from the Senate’s oversight funds to give to counties’. As a result, the total allocation of government revenue to the counties in 2015/2016 is estimated to be Sh 207.84 billion, or 37%. Senators responded by criticising MPs and threatening to veto legislation of particular concern to the National Assembly. In the resulting debate the importance of key national priorities, such as infrastructure and security, were lost.

Similar tensions rose to the surface during a visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta to Nandi this week. In a speech delivered prior to the president’s own remarks, the Senate Majority Leader, Professor Kindiki, sought to impress on Kenyatta the need to restrain MPs, arguing that ‘The National Assembly should stop undermining the Senate by cutting its budget. We are not going to be frustrated and intimidated’. However, to Kindiki’s surprise, the president was not in the mood to humour his complaints. Instead, Kenyatta told those present to work more closely with rival leaders rather than issuing ‘meaningless threats’. Clearly frustrated by what he had heard, Kenyatta continued ‘The war of words between the Senate, governors and the National Assembly is uncalled for in the country. Leaders should stick to their mandate but not come here and issue threats to fellow elected leaders. The country must be governed through order.’

Kenyatta’s focus on order is nothing new. Kenya has long been governed by leaders who have bought into what Attieno Odhiambo called the ‘ideology of order’. The precise formulation of this set of ideas has changed over time, but is characterised by the tendency of leaders to legitimise their authority on the basis that they generate order, and the associated claim that to some extent it is appropriate to compromise human rights and civil liberties in the pursuit of this goal. However, while President Kenyatta has often referenced the importance of order, insecurity and political infighting have undermined the confidence of many Kenyans in his ability to provide political stability.

In response, the president has made a number of moves designed to foster domestic political unity, which he sees as a perquisite for stability. To this end, the Jubilee Alliance, which contested the 2013 elections as a coalition of two different parties, has been transformed into the Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP), and has pledged to run just one candidate for each elected position. This stands in stark contrast to previous practice, in which Kenyan coalition partners have frequently run candidates against each other for legislative positions, often dividing the vote. Along with Vice President William Ruto’s pledge not to support Kenyatta in the next presidential campaign, this move was designed to foster the impression that the government is rock solid.

However, there is a long way to go until the next election, and there are a number of issues around which the JAP may struggle to maintain unity, most notably a number of seats in which both wings of the party will claim that their candidates should be given priority. Already, efforts to run a common candidate in a legislative by-election, and to create a stronger political structure at the local level, have been hampered by in-fighting between members of Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) and Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA). Should the JAP fall apart, the president’s claim to be the provider of order and unity would become even harder to sustain.

President Kenyatta escapes ICC prosecution in Kenya

It has been an eventful few weeks for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose case at International Criminal Court was dropped on 5 December 2014. However, Deputy President William Ruto still has charges to answer at The Hague, leaving the president in a difficult position domestically.

The collapse of the Kenyatta trial did not come as a surprise. Commentators have been discussing the weakness of the ICC’s case against Kenyatta for some time. It was always a case based on limited evidence, and therefore heavily reliant on a small number of key witnesses. Many of those witnesses have now recanted their statements, in part because of the absence of an effective and independent witness protection programme to safeguard key informants. Combined with the refusal of the Kenyan government to hand over important evidence, this undermined the prosecution’s case from the very start. According to Human Rights Watch, the Kenyan government had acted as a roadblock “impairing the search for truth”.

As early as December 2013, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the Court that she did not have the necessary evidence to prove Kenyatta’s guilt. She was given more time to procure it, but because the ICC has no investigatory capacity within Kenya this search was doomed to failure. On 8 October 8 2014, the Prosecutor was forced to admit that she had no new evidence that would tip the balance against the president. She was informed by the judges of the ICC Trial Chamber that while they would not support Kenyatta’s application to terminate proceedings there and then, she must find the evidence or request the judges to withdraw the case.

When the evidence was not forthcoming, it became inevitable the case would be withdrawn. Bensouda made one final attempt to have it indefinitely adjourned, so that proceedings could be reopened in the event that new evidence came to light, but this was rejected by the Chamber, who criticized the Prosecutor for failing to ask for evidence that she later claimed was essential earlier in the trial. For many, the collapse of the Kenyatta case is just the latest in a long line of ICC failings that demonstrate the inability of senior lawyers to understand the political context within which they operate.

President Kenyatta was reportedly “excited” and “relieved” at the news. Having always denied the charges, he said that he felt “vindicated” and that his “conscience was absolutely clear”. However, Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, remains on trial. The Ruto case has always been thought to be stronger than the Kenyatta case, in part because it relies on a broader range of evidence and so is less vulnerable to the intimidation or bribery of a small number of witnesses. President Kenyatta is hoping that this case, too, will be dismissed, quipping “one case down, two more to go” on Twitter.

He may get his way. Many commentators remain skeptical about the strength of the Ruto case, especially now that the Trial Chamber has effectively rewarded the Kenyan government for its failure to comply with the Prosecutor’s requests by halting the proceedings against Kenyatta. But the short-term divergent trajectories of the two cases may cause domestic problems for the president. In many ways President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, and Deputy President William Ruto, a Kalenjin, are unlikely bedfellows. Their charges at the ICC relate to allegedly organizing violence on different sides of the 2007/8 ethnic clashes, and many members of their communities are deeply suspicious about their coalition, which is best conceptualized as a marriage of convenience. Although Kenyatta and Ruto managed to successfully bring their supporters together behind their “Jubilee Alliance” during the 2013 election campaign – thus pacifying the often volatile Rift Valley region, home to a Kalenjin majority and a Kikuyu minority – radicals on both sides have called for an end to the pact.

This tension places the president in a tricky position. Unless he campaigns hard to ensure that the charges against Ruto are also dropped, the Deputy President’s supporters will accuse him of conspiring to use the ICC to remove their man – and his potential rival – from the Kenyan political landscape. But if the president does work hard to ensure Ruto’s freedom, he will frustrate many of his own advisers, who fear that unless the Deputy President is removed he will one day succeed Kenyatta to State House, undermining their access to power. Squaring this circle while keeping his ruling coalition together will be one of the most difficult challenges facing the president in the early months of 2013.

Kenya – President Kenyatta introduces anti-corruption measures in Kenya

Following a series of major corruption controversies, the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a new anti-corruption drive earlier this month. On 1 September, Kenyatta launched a new scheme to biometrically register all civil servants in a bid to end the phenomenon of “ghost workers” – dead or non-existent workers who nonetheless draw government salaries. According to a government audit, such scams currently cost the government around $1 million a month.

President Kenyatta also announced the launch of a new website, www.president.go.ke/report-corruption, which enables ordinary Kenyans to upload evidence of corruption “directly” to the president. Through the site, Kenyans can anonymously share videos, documents and photos. The President has said that he hopes that these measures will encourage Kenyans to speak out about the corruption that they experience in their everyday lives. At present, Transparency International estimate that only about 3% of Kenyans do so.

The new measures were introduced after embarrassing corruption scandals undermined progress on two of the government’s flagship projects: the provision of one laptop to every child, and the construction of a Standard Gauge railway linking Nairobi and Mombasa. However, commentators have questioned how effective the new measures will be.

Given that most Kenyans do not report corruption, and the government has a poor track record of impartially investigating corruption allegations, it is unclear whether the opportunity to upload evidence “directly” to the president will prove to be attractive to a skeptical audience. Critics have accused the president of “window dressing”, pointing out that there is already considerable evidence of wrongdoing in the “one laptop” and “Standard Gauge railway” projects and yet little action has been taken.

Moreover, although “ghost workers” represent a significant drain on government resources, the most economically damaging form of corruption occurs through other processes, most notably import/export scams and procurement deals. Biometric registration and the launch of a new website are unlikely to impact significantly on this elite corruption, which typically involves a small number of individuals operating behind closed doors and takes some time to make it into the public eye.

Kenya – President Kenyatta embroiled in terrorism controversy

On 18 June, Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta shocked domestic and international observers by claiming that a spate of terrorist attacks were not organized by the radical Islamic group al-shabaab, but were in fact the work of “local political networks”. Critics alleged that the President is seeking to manipulate terrorist activities in order to delegitimize and intimidate his domestic political opponents.

The crisis began on 15-17 June, when the coastal town of Mpeketoni was attacked twice in quick succession, leading to the death of over 60 people. The violence was particularly shocking for two reasons. First, it represented the largest loss of life terrorism in Kenya since the Westgate mall siege of 21 September 2014. Second, the failure of the security services to prevent the second raid – which took place just a day after the first – highlighted the inadequacy of the country’s anti-terror operation.

Al-Shabaab quickly claimed responsibility for the attacks. Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the spokesman for al-shabaab’s military operations, told Reuters that “We raided villages around Mpeketoni again last night” in retaliation for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. Ominously, he concluded “Our operations in Kenya will continue.” International media and Kenyan citizens quickly accepted this version of events, which made President Kenyatta’s subsequent denial of al-shabaab involvement all the more surprising.

According to President Kenyatta, the attacks were “well planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons … This therefore was not an al-shabaab attack … Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of a heinous crime”. Although he did not say it explicitly, the President was suggesting that the attack was a deliberate attempt to drive out members of his own Kikuyu ethnic group from the coast.

Historically, there has consistently been considerable tension on the coast between groups such as the Somalis and the Oromos, coastal groups that support the secessionist Mombasa Revolutionary Council (MRC), and “upcountry” Kenyans who have settled at the coast and taken some of the best land. These tensions intensified during the 2013 general election, when “coastal” candidates feared that they might be defeated by rivals who received much of their support from “upcountry” voters. The government’s recent decision to extend land titles, and land politics in general, has further exacerbated divisions in some areas, because “some locals see the Kikuyus as interlopers, who have become rich after the government gave them land.”

Given that Mpeketoni is a predominantly Kikuyu town, and most of the people who died in the first attack were Kikuyu, President Kenyatta’s comments were not entirely without foundation. Moreover, his statement resonated with the concerns of many members of his community. Following election-related violence of the 1990s and 2008, when Kikuyus were targeted by other ethnic groups, the community is understandably unsettled by any attack that appears to deliberately pick out Kikuyu victims.

However, while inter-communal tensions clearly exist, and may have motivated some Kenyans to participate in the Mpeketoni attack, the President has provided no evidence for his assertion that the attacks were planned by local political networks. What seems more likely is that the impetus and planning for the attack came from al-shabaab, with some assistance from local actors. If this is correct, it raises the question of why the President would seek to deflect the blame from al-shabaab – Kenya’s number one enemy.

According to opposition leaders, the answer is that President Kenyatta is seeking to manipulate the terrorist attacks in order to undermine the position of opposition parties. Following a period of self-imposed exile in the United States, Kenyatta’s main rival, Raila Odinga, recently returned to Kenya. Even since, relations between Kenyatta’s government and Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) have deteriorated. Having failed to persuade the government to openly engage with his party over the numerous problems that marred the 2013 general elections, the ODM has embarked on a campaign of non-violent direct action. Most significantly, Odinga took the bold move of announcing that a rally would take place on 7 July – Saba Saba – a day that Kenyans associate with the mass protests against authoritarian rule that ultimately paved the way for the reintroduction of multiparty politics.

Despite government claims that this was an unsuitable time to call for mass protests, Odinga indicated he was determined to take his supporters to the streets unless Kenyatta responded to his demand for national dialogue by 6 July. In response, government officials warned that if Cord leaders do hold a rally they will do so “at their own risk”; a thinly veiled threat that harsh treatment would be meted out to anyone seen to threaten law and order. Ultimately, the 7 July rally did go ahead thereby providing an opportunity for Odinga to reveal a new 13-point reform agenda specifically targeting what he sees as the executive overreach of the Jubilee government. The attendance was neither particularly impressive nor embarrassing, and so has not radically changed the momentum of opposition politics. Despite some provocation, the police demonstrated considerable restraint, which helped to prevent an escalation of the protest.

Amidst this atmosphere of accusation and counter-accusation, opposition leaders claim that President Kenyatta’s attempts to draw a connection between terrorist attacks and “local political networks” is motivated by his desire to solidify his own position in the face of sustained criticism. If Kenyans can be persuaded that opposition parties represent a genuine security risk, it will be far easier to ban their activities and intimidate their leaders. However, while this strategy may play well with the President’s supporters, many of whom do not trust the ODM and have a strong antipathy to Odinga, it has served to further alienate his opponents and a number of prominent international donors, which is likely to further undermine the prospects for peace and political stability.