Tag Archives: Kenya

Kenya – A look into pivotal role observers play in elections

This post by Prof. Nic Cheeseman first appeared in The Nation on 28 November

The Supreme Court approved President Uhuru Kenyatta’s October 26 victory, but it is still too early to fully evaluate the court’s impact on the elections, and the impact of the elections on the Court.

What we can do now is to look back on the role played by international election observers, who have received a great deal of criticism in Kenya.

A week or so ago, I published a piece on this topic in the Washington Post with Todd Moss and Jeffrey Smith.

The article was designed to continue the debate about what role international monitors should play, and how they can be strengthened.

ELECTION OBSERVERS
However, in the rush to edit the piece down to the required word length many important points were cut.

As a result, some people have asked for more information on our argument, others have requested further elaboration on the kinds of reforms that could be introduced, and others still have complained that the analysis did not do justice to the complex challenges that observers face.

In response, I shall use this column to try and set the record straight.

GUESTS

What are observers to do?

One of the main challenges for observation teams is that people tend to exaggerate their power.

Ahead of the elections, many Kenyans invested considerable confidence in the ability of missions from the Carter Center and the European Union.

But the rules that observers must play by, if they are not to get into trouble with both their employers and the governments whose elections they oversee, means that there is only so much they can do.

Most obviously, international observers operate in foreign states at the pleasure of the host government, and so have to be particularly careful when alleging rigging.

RIGGING

There are plenty of countries that do not allow foreign teams in – such as Zimbabwe, from where I am writing – and so observers must protect their reputation in order to maintain access.

As a result, monitors often find it difficult to make strong statements when they suspect foul play but cannot prove it.

This situation held in Kenya following the election of August 8, when the opposition quickly pointed to missing forms and electronic irregularities as evidence of rigging, but hard evidence of exactly how many votes had been added or lost was not available.

The Supreme Court interpreted the failure of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to provide information and access to its servers to imply malpractice, even though it lacked concrete evidence of the extent of rigging.

This was an assumption that the Carter Center and the European Union were simply not in a position to make.

CIVIL SOCIETY
Similarly, it is not well-known that observers have no right to directly intervene in elections, even to stop abuses that they directly witness.

Instead, they are supposed to record and report malpractice – leaving intervention to domestic institutions such as the electoral commission and the police.

This is a particularly weak position when we factor in that observers have no power of enforcement – they can make recommendations in their reports, but they have no financial or judicial leverage with which to ensure they are acted upon.

That role falls to domestic civil society and international donors.

As a result, there is a significant discrepancy between the hope and faith that opposition parties place in international observers and their capacity to deliver.

EXPECTATION
What did observers do well?

Many people have been left with the impression that the teams from the European Union and the Carter Center let the Kenyan people down in 2017, not because they were worse than any other groups, but because people expected more from them.

Most of the times that I have heard this argument rolled out, it has rested on three foundations.

The first is that observers did not condemn the August 8 elections, whereas the Supreme Court did.

The second is that observers did not do their job properly because they stayed in Nairobi, did some shopping, and then went back to their comfortable jobs in Europe and North America.

The third is that observers always do the same thing, letting the bad guys off the hook.

RESEARCH
I have already explained why the first criticism misunderstands the power and role of international election observation.

The second criticism is also misguided.

The better and more thorough international missions, such as the Carter Center and the European Union, have a long-term component, placing observers in the country months ahead of the polls.

They also hire political experts who understand the country’s political history and can explain the context of the elections and the ways in which they tend to be rigged.

It is also incorrect to suggest that observers do not travel outside of the capital city.

CREDIBILITY

Almost all monitoring teams locate their staff in polling stations across the country in a reasonably representative way, and so can report on both the rural and urban experience.

The notion that international observers always do the same thing is also clearly false.

Kenyans only have to think back to 2007, when it was the European Union that called into question President Mwai Kibaki’s victory, citing figures from the Molo and Kieni constituencies.

It is also clear that international teams also adapted their approach in 2017, with both the Carter Center and the European Union making strong statements ahead of the “fresh” election on October 26.

These raised concerns about the lack of reforms within the electoral commission and the treatment of the Judiciary, and made it clear that the election was unlikely to be credible.

Thus, while the 2017 elections highlight a number of problems with the system of selection observation, I see most of these as relating to the way election observation works, rather than the people who do it and the decisions that they make.

RECOMMENDATIONS

What can be improved?

We now face the question of how election observation can be improved.

We need to do this for two reasons. On the one hand, a survey conducted by Ipsos Kenya in mid October 2017 found that a majority (59 per cent) of Kenyans want international observers to monitor future elections.

On the other hand, half of all respondents in the same survey agreed that “they make no difference when it comes to stealing votes”.

Thus, while observers are clearly needed, their reputation needs to be strengthened. How can this be done?

BURDEN OF PROOF
One obvious point is that observers can do a better job of communicating the limits to their powers.

But they cannot do this alone – the media, and the way in which observers statements are reported, is also a problem.

During the 2017 elections in Kenya, a number of observer reports that highlighted positive and negative aspects of the polls were reported as having given the process a “clean bill of health”.

However, while good Public Relations is important it will not be enough. The role of observers also needs to be bolstered.

There are two ways in which this can be done.

The first is to change the burden of proof, so that monitors can ask governments to demonstrate that processes are robust and transparent when they have concerns – even if these have not been proven.

STATEMENTS
A second related change would be to have much stronger pre-electoral statements that flag up issues of concern and highlight key challenges in a much stronger way than tends to occur at present.

Of course, one implication of this more tough approach is that in some cases observers may be asked to leave, or not be invited back – but this might not be such a bad thing.

If being present at an election means legitimising a deeply problematic process, staying away may be better.

International monitors could also take longer to issue their first post-election statements.

We know that in many cases election day looks great and the problems emerge halfway through the counting process.

REFORMS

It therefore makes sense to leave any statement until the counting is near complete – and to go to greater lengths to stress that any comments made at this stage are preliminary and must not be taken or reported as a final evaluation of the quality of the polls.

All of these reforms would represent small but significant improvements, but they will count for little if observers do not have the funding, skills and experience needed to actually detect electoral fraud.

At present, they are managed by good people with considerable experience. But they are also operating in a rather old-fashioned way.

EXPERTISE

As is traditional, the European Union team placed people in polling stations across the country.

Academic research suggests that this has the effect of reducing election rigging in the polling stations in which observers are present, but that this has little impact on the quality of the overall rigging because the malpractice is simply moved elsewhere.

A better use of these staff positions would therefore be to establish a high quality team that can interrogate the electoral register and voting and counting process.

TECHNOLOGY

In 2017, the European Union had a data analyst as part of the team, but not a set of experts on biometric technology and digital electoral processes.

Yet most of the problems with the election related to the transmission of forms, and the need to evaluate claims of hacking and the fabrication of results.

The implication is clear: Detecting rigging in the future will require monitors to adapt.

As elections change, so must election observers.

Kenya – President Kenyatta seeks to legitimate his rule

President Uhuru Kenyatta has won two elections this year, but is still struggling to prove his legitimacy.

In the first election, contested on 8 August, he received 54% of the vote according to the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). However, that result was later nullified by the Supreme Court on the basis of significant procedural failures, necessitating a “fresh” election within 60 days.

In that contest, fought on 26 October, Kenyatta won again, this time securing over 98% of the vote. But despite securing a landslide victory, his political authority has once again been brought into question.

The reason for Kenyatta’s vast majority was that his main rival, Raila Odinga, pulled out of the contest in advance. While Odinga’s name remained on the ballot paper, the opposition leader asked his supporters to stay at home, arguing that the election had no prospect of being more free and fair than the first.

Although some criticised Odinga for bringing a petition to the Supreme Court demanding a fresh election and then failing to contest it, this strategy was largely successful: supporters of his National Super Alliance (NASA) largely stayed at home, resulting in a significantly lower turnout of 39%, less than half that of the first poll (80%). In a small number of places, most notably in Odinga’s Nyanza heartlands, protests by opposition supporters prevented polling stations from being opened at all.

Odinga’s complaints were dismissed by government leaders who alleged that his decision not to contest was a desperate attempt to save face, motivated by the knowledge that he was destined for defeat. This was backed up by a number of defections of his former allies to the ruling party, including Odinga’s point-person in the vote rich Rift Valley region, Isaac Ruto.

However, the opposition’s concerns were leant credibility by the decision of one of the IEBC Commissioners, Roselyn Akombe, to resign citing a lack of progress towards improving the electoral process. Having fled to the United States, Akome gave a series of interviews in which she argued that the political context in Kenya would not allow for a credible poll.

These statements were then followed by a worrying press conference held by the Chair of the Commission, Wafula Chebukati, who admitted that political interference within the IEBC had blocked a number of important reforms. In the days that followed, rumours spread that Chebukati was about to resign, making it impossible to hold the poll.

In the event, this did not happen, but the damage to the credibility of the Commission had been done.

Because the election of 26 October did not take place in all in all 290 constituencies – as required by the constitution – and as a result of the serious doubts about the competence and neutrality of the IEBC, Kenyatta’s victory has already been called into question by the opposition. And while Odinga has said they he will not be bringing another petition – arguing that the whole process has lost credibility – others already have.

Consequently, Kenya is heading back to the Supreme Court.

Thus, a president who has won two elections, one with a 98% majority, feels forced to defend himself. Most notably, Kenyatta used his acceptance speech to justify his position by reinterpreting the Supreme Court’s judgement to suit his own interests, arguing that:

“The Court did not Challenge my overwhelming mandate of 54%. The numbers were NEVER questioned. What the Court questioned was the process of declaring my victory. And because the court did not question my victory, they by extension, validated my 54% numbers. This was a Political Paradox.”

He also went to great lengths to depict voter turn out on 26 October as a demonstration of his popularity, rather than as a reason to question his legitimacy. Ignoring the drop off in political participation in many parts of the country, the president stated that:

“Here is the truth as recorded in our books. On August 8th, 15million Kenyans came out to vote. Of these 8.4 million Kenyans voted for me [The number is actually 8.2 million]. On October 26th, 90% of the same voters came out to support my Bid.”

These claims will resonate with Kenyatta’s supporters, but are likely to fall on deaf ears in opposition areas. For their part, the Courts now face another difficult decision. It is clear now that nullifying the result of the vote on 8 August did little to resolve the country’s political crisis; but it will be hard to make the argument that the “repeat” election represented a significant improvement than the first.

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.

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.

Kenya – President Kenyatta faces new challenges as elections loom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presidential Profile

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

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

The rise and fall of Uhuru Kenyatta

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

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

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

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

Political rehabilitation

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

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

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

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

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

The return to State House

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

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

Kenyatta the president

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

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

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

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

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

Kenya – President Kenyatta forms new party

On 8 September 2016 twelve parties allied to the president formally dissolved themselves to form the Jubilee Party. The new ruling party differs from the previous Jubilee Alliance coalition in that it will have a common leadership hierarchy and will run a single slate of candidates in national and sub-national elections. This promises to give President Uhuru Kenyatta a significant advantage in the upcoming elections and has the potential to transform the dynamics of Kenyan politics.

The Jubilee Party

Although the number of parties that have merged into the Jubilee Party is impressive, it is important to note that many of them are bit-part players, and around half have no legislative representation at all. However, the decision of party leaders to merge is nonetheless significant because it promises to change two key aspects of Kenyan politics.

In the past, there has been a tendency for parties that are members of the same coalition at the presidential level to run candidates against each other at the legislative and county levels. This has caused large coalitions significant problems, as it has often diverted energy and attention away from the contest with rival coalitions at the national level. By forming a common political machine, the Jubilee Party will avoid this kind of internal competition, and will be able to achieve considerable efficiencies in terms of its campaign strategy and finance. Moreover, if the party is a success, it will become the largest political party in Kenya since the days of the one-party state. Charles Hornsby, a well-respected commentator on Kenyan politics, has estimated that a spate of recent defections means that Kenyatta is now supported by around two-thirds of the National Assembly.

Parties that merged to form the Jubilee Party

• The National Alliance
• United Republican Party
• New Ford Kenya
• Alliance Party of Kenya
• National Rainbow Coalition
• United Democratic Forum
• Ford People
• Party of National Unity
• Democratic Party
• The Independent Party
• Chama Cha Uma
• Grand National Union

The Jubilee Party also has the potential to change the way that election campaigns play out. Historically, rival leaders swap coalitions ahead of national polls, trying to maximise the position they can get based on their profile and support base. This process depends on both of the main coalitions – the last three elections have boiled down to a two-horse race – being fragile and weak, such that leaders face few disincentives to leave one alliance and join another.

Typically, the political merry-go-round is triggered by one leader swapping sides, which creates a vacancy that other leaders mobilise to fill, leading to a new vacancy, and so on. Should the Jubilee Party succeed in establishing a strong and stable party, it will mean that leading figures from other coalitions will have nowhere to go, encouraging them to stay put. In other words, Jubilee’s unity may impose a degree of stability on the opposition, curtailing the process of party hopping.

Party primaries

The foregoing analysis raises a critical question: can the Jubilee Party hold together? Forming a political party is far easier that maintaining one. Traditionally, Kenyan parties and coalitions struggle to make it through party primaries because losing candidates defect to run on other tickets. This leads to a proliferation of political parties, intense internal competition at the local level, and diverts attention away from the national campaign. In 2007, for example, it is estimated that Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity lost about 10 legislative seats to the opposition because different leaders allied to Kibaki divided the vote at the constituency level.

President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto are certainly pulling out all the stops to protect the party from defections. On the one hand, they are said to be deploying a wide range of the carrots and sticks at the party’s disposal, and will both provide funding for the campaigns of those who win the primaries and “soft landings” for those who lose. On the other, new legislation is being introduced that would ban party hopping 90 days before an election and would require the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to oversee primary polls in a bid to give them greater legitimacy.

This impressive array of informal and formal levers may prove sufficient to keep most leaders within the Jubilee Party in the run up to the 2017 elections, especially given the momentum behind President Kenyatta’s campaign. However, whether it will bind the party in the future is another question. One of the main beneficiaries of these recent developments is Deputy President William Ruto, who faces an uphill battle to replace Kenyatta ahead of the 2022 polls, when term limits will force the president to stand down. The problem Ruto faces is that many of Kenyatta’s supporters do not trust him or wish to see him presiding in State House. Instead, he is viewed by many of the president’s allies as a necessary evil: a partner required to defeat Raila Odinga and the opposition in the short-term, but a dangerous ally and one that is expendable when the threat has passed.

The formation of a stronger ruling party may help Kenyatta to assert his authority, and to line up his backers behind Ruto when the time comes. However, it seems more likely that the Jubilee Party will only survive so long as Kenyatta is there to hold it together, and will begin to come apart at the seams once the succession battle begins to heat up from 2018 onwards.

Kenya – President Kenyatta and the battle over the electoral commission

President Uhuru Kenyatta is not a leader inclined to sacrifice his allies in return for an easy life. Indeed, personal loyalty has been one of the trademarks of his time in office. When faced with calls to replace the Cabinet Secretaries (Ministers) responsible for national security following the government’s poor response to the Westgate terrorist attack, he held firm despite widespread domestic and international criticism. He has also remained loyal to Deputy President William Ruto, despite the fact that many people from Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community would like to see his Kalenjin running mate sidelined now that the threat of prosecution at the International Criminal Court – which is what initially brought the two men together – has ended.

What is not clear, however, is whether this is a commendable trait born of a deep personal commitment to friends and colleagues, or a stubbornness that means that he fails to respond effectively to institutional and individual weaknesses. There are certainly a number of instances in which President Kenyatta’s refusal to compromise appear to have had more to do with what is politically expedient than friendship. Take the example of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Despite failing to effectively manage the 2013 election and having presided over a body that has been found to have suffered from widespread corruption (procurement scams were rife in the interim IEBC that preceded the current Commission), Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan is still in place.

In May, with the next general elections 16 months away, the lack of reform of the IEBC became a target for mass opposition protests organized by the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD). These weekly events led to considerable unrest in downtown Nairobi and also in Kisumu and Siaya. The response of the state was brutal: in Nairobi police have been recorded beating and stamping on isolated protestors who were lying face down at the time. In Kisumu and Siaya, the police used live rounds, resulting in the deaths of at least three people. In turn, the violent repression of the protests – in contravention of the Bill of Rights in the 2010 constitution – has led to a further polarization of the political debate.

In defending his position, President Kenyatta has fallen back – as he often does – on the need to follow and protect the rule of law. On this account, the opposition protests are unruly and a threat to national unity: they therefore do not constitute a legitimate way in which to force a change in the composition of the electoral commission, and merit a hardline response.

However, despite this stance Kenyatta and other leaders within the Jubilee Alliance agreed to open negotiations with CORD leader Raila Odinga towards the end of May. This move appears to have been driven by two developments. First, the opposition announced that it would postpone its protests for two weeks to make space for national dialogue. Second, CORD’s tactics appear to have significantly increased the pressure on the government – from donors, local businessmen, and civil society – to find an inclusive solution to the problem of the IEBC.

So far, the talks – and a parallel process running in parliament through the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee – have yielded some progress. There is now an agreement that the next set of Commissioners will be appointed by a committee that will feature two representatives selected by the government, two by the opposition, and a further three who will be appointed by the Public Service Committee. At the same time, the deadline for election petitions to be submitted has been increased from 14 to 30 days. This is important, because it makes it more likely that the opposition will be able to put together a viable case, and hence more likely that they will pursue their complaints through the courts rather than on the streets.

However, so far there has been no agreement on the most important issue: whether the Chair and other figures who presided over the 2013 debacle will be replaced ahead of the 2017 elections. This is the critical issue in terms of rebuilding the trust of the opposition in the electoral process. If President Kenyatta’s reputation is anything to go by, this is likely to be a compromise that he will resist as long as he can. Which means that further opposition protests and urban unrest cannot be ruled out.

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.