This article is the second in a series of three written for The Elephant, following on from the piece released on 28 June 2017, in which I tried to assess the state of play in Kenya’s electoral cycle and made educated (or otherwise) predictions on the results (https://www.theelephant.info/future/2017/06/28/the-numbers-game-predicting-winners-and-losers-in-the-august-2017-poll). The third and final of these articles on Kenya’s upcoming elections will be released just before polling day.
As in my 28 June piece, I’ll start by saying that this is a non-aligned analysis, descriptive rather than campaigning for either side. But it is not static. I update the analysis as circumstances change and my knowledge improves. This update looks at events since mid-June and improves the granularity of some predictions. It also looks specifically at the gubernatorial contests in more detail.
Both alliances are running nationwide programmes of rallies, alternating between attack and defence, parry and riposte, as they campaign in marginals, strike into their opponents’ strongholds and occasionally return home to shore up support.
At the national level the opposition alliance NASA is still doing well and has had the best of the media contest, with strong social media support counteracting a slight alignment for Jubilee (as the party of government) in the mainstream mass media. Both parties are spending fortunes. In Jubilee’s case, its campaign is buttressed by some cabinet secretaries (i.e. government ministers), theoretically non-political presidential appointees and salaried civil servants, who are openly campaigning for the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto at public rallies. There is also gentle pressure on the ground from the local administration in some areas. The recent death of Interior Security Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery will distract and destabilise Jubilee slightly, but is unlikely to affect either process.
Both alliances are running nationwide programmes of rallies, alternating between attack and defence, parry and riposte, as they campaign in marginals, strike into their opponents’ strongholds and occasionally return home to shore up support. Both have capitalised with some success on the key insurgencies mentioned in June. NASA had a spectacular rally in Isaac Rutto’s Bomet (part of Ruto’s Kalenjin heartland) on 1 July, while Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto led a three-day series of campaign rallies across Ukambani, Kalonzo Musyoka’s home turf, backed by local MPs who have defected to Jubilee. Raila Odinga even campaigned recently in Kenyatta’s home Kiambu without incident. Odinga led a punishing series of 100 rallies nationwide during June, an amazing workload for a 72-year old, though he appears in good health. Both alliances are campaigning for a “six piece suit” in their strongholds (i.e. party ticket voting down the line), though both have faced resistance from voters.
There has been only one national opinion poll released – the Infotrak poll released on 30 June. This was a restricted poll with some methodological questions, sampling only 2,000 voters in 29 counties. But the results tell a consistent story with the previous Ipsos survey – Kenyatta remains ahead by 48% to 43% for Odinga, though with a narrowing gap, a significant number of “undecideds or won’t tells” and less than 1% for all of the other candidates combined.
Despite the Jubilee’s campaign focus on its development achievements (or “growing the cake”), endemic state corruption remains a widespread concern, even amongst supporters. This is the administration’s greatest weak spot, though in truth there is little to suggest that the NASA administration would be any less corrupt once it settles in.
Both parties have also released their manifestos. As Ken Opalo describes in his blog (https://kenopalo.com/2017/07/01/making-sense-of-competing-visions-of-kenya-in-the-jubilee-nasa-manifestos) , on a left-right axis, the Jubilee manifesto is more right-wing (pro-private enterprise, reduced state role, conservative, more stress on security) and the NASA one more left-wing (more state intervention, more language of change and greater effort to create equity of outcomes). But what parties say in their manifestos are only the loosest guide to what they might do in practice and these manifestos, while necessary to maintain the illusion that they are programmatic parties, mean very little electorally. For most of the players and many of the voters, it is as much about who will get to “eat” as how much “cake” there will be.
Despite the Jubilee’s campaign focus on its development achievements (“growing the cake”), endemic state corruption remains a widespread concern, even amongst supporters. This is the administration’s greatest weak spot, though there is little to suggest that the NASA administration would be any less corrupt once it settles in. NASA applied no more ethical criteria on its candidates than did Jubilee. The recent discovery that Jimmy Wanjigi, repeatedly mentioned unfavourably during the Anglo Leasing cases, is now backing NASA, only reinforces the perception that the noses in the trough might change with a NASA win, but the trough will remain the same.
As a result of the latest opinion poll, recent events and feedback from correspondents, I have made a few changes to the model which I used to predict the results in June. I received several messages about specific regions in response to my 28 June article. Some argued that Odinga’s support in Meru was higher than I assessed it to be. I have reviewed the argument but have decided not to change position on this. Odinga made the same claims in 2013, and although NASA clearly has some traction, he has lost local elite support since then, not gained it. Others argued that Kenyatta’s support in Western was significantly higher than I had assessed it to be and that he might get 20%-plus rather than the 10-15% I had assigned him. The May Ipsos poll said the same thing, as does the Infotrak poll, which has Kenyatta at 28% in Western. I have, therefore, slightly increased the Jubilee numbers in a couple of counties, but stayed with the overall view that Jubilee won’t exceed 15% there. I have also increased Odinga’s presidential lead in Nairobi to 53%-47%, buttressed by a small TIFA poll of Nairobi voters in early July, and strengthened NASA’s support slightly in Bomet, Turkana, Lamu and Trans-Nzoia.
Turnout is the key that will decide where the election will be won or lost. In their homelands, voter dissatisfaction for both alliances will be expressed more through reduced turnout than by votes for the other side.
The latest calculations also incorporate the final county-level voter registration figures released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on 26 June. Perhaps surprisingly, and confounding conspiracy theorists, this had almost no effect. In the main, the numbers registered fell slightly, as dead voters and duplicates were cleaned. The main exception was in Isiolo and the North-East, where the registered voters grew by 3-4% on the February 2017 numbers, a surprising result from an audit and verification exercise, but it may be due to delays in getting numbers back to Nairobi. The Kisii numbers also grew substantially, but those in the former Central Province fell.
After all these counteracting adjustments, my final prediction is almost unchanged: a Jubilee presidential victory by 53% to 47% (with the other candidates within the 1% rounding) or by 8.6 million for Jubilee to 7.5 million for NASA. There are other models circulating on the Internet and since the first article I have been sent five for comment. Some are grossly incorrect and created for partisan purposes (halving the size of their opponents’ supporters in key areas, for example). Of the two best county-by-county reviews, one argues for an 8.8 million to 7.8 million win for Jubilee and the other for an 8.6 million to 7.7 million win for NASA. No credible model has either alliance close to the “10 million mark” that NASA has set as its aspiration. All the models seen, however, have a key weakness – they assume turnout is constant country-wide, when in previous elections it has differed wildly. In fact, turnout is the key that will decide where the election will be won or lost. In their homelands, voter dissatisfaction for both alliances will be expressed more through reduced turnout than votes for the other side. Apart from a “turnout tsunami”, NASA’s chances for victory seem to depend on keeping Jubilee off-balance, while unearthing and publicising more corruption scandals, and either encouraging an open split in Jubilee, or facilitating the public defection of key Jubilee operatives to NASA.
From the presidency, we turn now to the county level, the most granular level at which it is reasonable to make predictions. In general, members of county assemblies (MCAs), parliamentary seats, women’s representative and senate seats will follow a similar pattern, but it is the 47 gubernatorial contests that have most galvanised politicians and voters as the governors tend to be the leaders of local factional alliances, including candidates for all the other seats.
First though, let’s review what happened in 2013, the first gubernatorial election cycle. Then, CORD did well, better than at other levels of the electoral system, befitting their stance as the strongest supporters of the devolved constitution at the time. Twenty-three governorships (49%) were won by CORD candidates and allies, and 20 (42%) by Jubilee, with 4 (Vihiga, Bungoma, Lamu and West Pokot) won by the Amani coalition or non-aligned candidates. However, many of CORD’s victories were extremely close (their Nyamira Governor, for example, won with only 19% of the vote) and there were several split-ticket results, as three or four serious candidates were contesting.
Compared to 2013, Jubilee will perform slightly better in the governor races, with pro-Kenyatta candidates winning 23 or 24 counties. They are stronger now in Isiolo, Marsabit, Tana River, Wajir and West Pokot than in 2013, though weaker in Narok and Bomet.
Turning to 2017, the country is more polarised than in 2013. From three national alliances we are down to two, with half of the original Amani coalition – Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC) – now with NASA and the other half – New FORD-Kenya and KANU – with Jubilee. There are, therefore, fewer marginal seats between the alliances and the main challengers for most ODM and Jubilee governors are internal insurgencies from opponents who lost in the primaries (or were rigged out) and then stood as independents, or who set themselves up beforehand as the candidate for a sister party, while supporting the same faction’s presidential candidate. Jubilee has candidates for governor in 45 of 47 counties, while NASA’s gubernatorial candidates include 27 from ODM, 13 from Wiper, 11 from the ANC, 5 from Chama Cha Mashinani and 4 from FORD-Kenya, plus dozens of local independents.
Compared to 2013, Jubilee will perform slightly better in the governor races, with pro-Kenyatta candidates winning 23 or 24 counties. They are stronger now in Isiolo, Marsabit, Tana River, Wajir and West Pokot than in 2013, though weaker in Narok and Bomet. I predict Mike Sonko will defeat Evans Kidero and Peter Kenneth in Nairobi, though there is a slight pro-Odinga majority in Nairobi. Turkana, I think, will be pro-Jubilee overall but ODM’s Josephat Nanok himself might survive. I think Isaac Rutto will win Bomet, but it will not be a landslide and I believe that Bomet County will vote Rutto-Ruto rather than NASA down the line. With Mudavadi on-side, NASA is stronger now in Bungoma, Trans-Nzoia and Vihiga but may lose one of the governorships in Narok, Kwale, Taita-Taveta or (less likely) Mombasa because of split votes between three strong NASA candidates. Overall, my latest assessment is that they and their allies will also win 23-24 governorships, an extremely close result. (Note that I have decided for clarity to refer to the Bomet Governor as Isaac Rutto as he is often called (rather than “Ruto”, his legal name), to distinguish him from his namesake William.)
There are, therefore, more counties that are uncertain or still in play in the governorships than in the presidency. If NASA wishes to strengthen its hand in these races, it is essential to persuade a dozen or more serious CCM, WIPER, ANC or ODM candidates to stand down and back their NASA colleagues, something they have so far completely failed to do. The list below suggests the most likely winners for NASA and Jubilee and the seats where there is a real competition between alliances.
In the final article of this series we will look at the parliamentary races and try – despite my own advice above – to give some overall “guesstimates” of the parliamentary results.
NASA is stronger now in Bungoma, Trans-Nzoia, Vihiga and Nyamira, but may lose one or more of the governorships in Narok, Kwale, Taita-Taveta or (less likely) Mombasa because of split votes between three strong NASA candidates.
Meanwhile, the IEBC continues to press forward doggedly with its countdown to 8 August, though the sniping against it is unrelenting. It is now hearing seven cases relating to alleged violations of its code of conduct, which could potentially disqualify four MPs and a gubernatorial candidate. As expected though, no one has been disqualified for ethical concerns (how this could happen without conviction in a court of law was always hard to see) and civil servants continue to campaign for Jubilee without sanction.
The IEBC also lost a key lawsuit against its claim to be the sole presidential returning officer; the final presidential tallying will now take place in every constituency and whatever is announced (or rather what is certified in form 34) will be final unless petitioned. This should make the national count less contentious than in 2007 and 2013, though what happens if every party tallies the nationwide results differently (or if what the returning officer announces out loud doesn’t match the form, or there are two or more forms) is worrying. It will further increase the pressure on individual returning officers in the constituencies to “pad” local results at the last minute for the dominant party and may lead to violence in constituency tallying halls. The IEBC has begun printing ballot papers despite allegations of a connection between the Dubai-based Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing and Jubilee. The High Court ruled last week that the IEBC should issue a fresh tender for the printing of presidential ballot papers (though the other five elections were unaffected, a further source of confusion and concern). The IEBC has threatened to appeal this decision and in the meantime is trying to meet the court’s requirement for consultation in a way which might not delay the presidential election. We now face three different possibilities: a last minute recovery through an agreement to continue the current contract to print presidential ballots (or an implausibly speedy replacement tender), an entirely delayed election process, or a split contest, with the presidential election some weeks after the rest, a bizarre but interesting scenario
Meanwhile, the IEBC knows that there are at least 900,000 dead voters on the register, as they were only confident enough to remove 90,000 of the 1.1 million dead adults the KPMG audit estimated were still listed as voters. Instead, they are relying on the biometric (fingerprint and photo) voter identification system to prevent others voting “on behalf of” these dead voters. I have a suspicion that this is over-optimistic and that the biometric system may break down in some homelands, forcing officials to use the paper registers, which while they still contain photos, better permit impersonation. Assuming that the IEBC and KPMG were correct, and there are a million dead people still listed (5% of the register), any turnouts above 90% are practically impossible unless the dead rise for the day.
More broadly, with a month to go, there is a growing sense that this election is the end of an era, and gladly so, and that the political wars between the Kenyatta and Odinga dynasties will soon end. This should allow a less personalised and directly ethnicised form of politics to emerge.
Returning again to the key “what if” question if Odinga loses the presidential election narrowly, there is definitely a risk of violence in Nairobi, Kisumu and potentially elsewhere, and the closer the contest, the more trouble there will be. The IEBC, in my view, is acting reasonably given its mandate and constraints, but NASA’s fear of rigging is so visceral that the commission receives no credit for anything, and if Odinga were to lose narrowly, NASA would certainly cry foul. To do this convincingly, the case against the IEBC needs to be built incrementally over several months, a process which is already underway.
More broadly, with a month to go, there is a growing sense that this election is the end of an era, and gladly so, and that the political wars between the Kenyatta and Odinga dynasties will soon end. This should allow a less personalised and directly ethnicised form of politics to emerge, though, as Susanne Mueller has pointed out, the fear of harm from the “other” if they win power will remain a force for many years to come, especially amongst the Kikuyu and the Luo.
Where Kenya’s new leadership will arise from, however, is not yet clear. Most of the current second-tier leaders are elderly, and apart from 50-year old William Ruto, there are few obvious up-and-coming successors. And this assumes that “Mount Kenya” will accept the retirement of their gladiatorial champion. If Kenyatta is victorious, will community leaders not agitate in 2020-1 for a constitutional amendment to change the two-term presidential limit, another “change-the-constitution” movement like that of 1976-7, again designed to prevent a Kalenjin acceding to the throne? Heir-apparent Ruto is fighting wars on two fronts now – the first to win the election with his Kikuyu partners, the second, to secure his succession from those partners. Neither are easy contests.
Charles Hornsby is the author of Kenya: A History since Independence.
He lives in Ireland.
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Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?
Somalia must first ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the East African Community.
The current members of the East African Community (EAC) are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. The Somali Federal Government, under the leadership of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has expressed a strong interest in joining the EAC, sparking questions among Somali citizens as to whether the country is ready to join such a large and complex regional bloc.
During President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud initiated Somalia’s pursuit of EAC membership during his previous term as a president from 2012 to 2017. However, little progress was made during his first term and, following his re-election, President Hassan reignited his pursuit of EAC membership without consulting essential stakeholders such as the parliament, the opposition, and civil society. This unilateral decision has raised doubts about the president’s dedication to establishing a government based on consensus. Moreover, his decision to pursue EAC membership has evoked mixed responses within Somalia. While some Somalis perceive joining the EAC as advantageous for the country, others express concerns about potential risks to Somalia’s economic and social development. President Hassan has defended his decision, emphasising that Somalia’s best interests lie in becoming a member of the EAC.
To assess Somalia’s readiness to join the EAC, the regional bloc undertook a comprehensive verification mission. A team of experts well versed in politics, economics, and social systems, was tasked with evaluating Somalia’s progress. The evaluation included a thorough review of economic performance, trade policies, and potential contributions to the EAC’s integration efforts. During this process, the team engaged with various government institutions and private organisations, conducting comprehensive assessments and discussions to gauge Somalia’s preparedness.
One of the key requirements for Somalia is demonstrating an unwavering commitment to upholding principles such as good governance, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.
Successful integration into the EAC would not only elevate Somalia’s regional stature but would also foster deeper bonds of cooperation and shared prosperity among the East African nations. While this is a positive step towards regional integration and economic development, there are several reasons for pessimism about the potential success of Somalia’s membership in the EAC.
Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.
Somalia has faced significant challenges due to prolonged conflict and instability. The decades-long civil war, coupled with the persistent threat of terrorism, has had a devastating impact on the country’s infrastructure, economy, governance systems, and overall stability.
The following fundamental factors raise valid concerns about Somalia’s readiness to effectively participate in the EAC.
Infrastructure plays a critical role in regional integration and economic growth. However, Somalia’s infrastructure has been severely damaged and neglected due to years of conflict. The country lacks adequate transportation networks, reliable energy systems, and while communications infrastructure has improved, internet penetration rates remain low and mobile networks – which are crucial for seamless integration with the EAC – can be unavailable outside of urban centres. Rebuilding such infrastructure requires substantial investments, technical expertise, and stability, all of which remain significant challenges for Somalia.
Political stability and governance
The EAC places emphasis on good governance, democracy, and the rule of law as prerequisites for membership. Somalia’s journey towards political stability and effective governance has been arduous, with numerous setbacks and ongoing power struggles. The lack of a unified government, coupled with weak state institutions and a history of corruption, raises doubts about Somalia’s ability to meet the EAC’s standards. Without a stable and inclusive political environment, Somalia may struggle to effectively contribute to the decision-making processes within the regional bloc.
Economic development and trade
Somalia’s economy has been heavily dependent on the informal sector and faces substantial economic disparities. The country needs to demonstrate a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration, as required by the EAC. However, the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn economy, tackling high poverty rates, and addressing widespread unemployment hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in regional trade and reap the benefits of integration.
Somalia continues to grapple with security challenges, including the presence of extremist groups and maritime piracy. These issues have not only hindered the country’s development but also pose potential risks to the stability and security of the entire EAC region. It is crucial for Somalia to address these security concerns comprehensively and to establish effective mechanisms to contribute to the EAC’s collective security efforts.
Economic Disparity and Compatibility
Somalia’s economy primarily relies on livestock, agriculture, and fishing, which may not align well with the more quasi-industralised economies of the other EAC member states. This mismatch could result in trade imbalances and pose challenges for integrating Somalia into the regional economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, Somalia’s GDP per capita was US$447 in 2021 whereas it is US$2081 for Kenya, US$1099 for Tanzania, and US$883 for Uganda. Furthermore, Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.
This divergence in economic structures could lead to trade imbalances and impede the seamless integration of Somalia into the regional economy. The substantial economic gap between Somalia and other EAC member states suggests a significant disparity that may hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in the EAC’s economic activities. Additionally, Somalia has yet to demonstrate fiscal or economic discipline that would make it eligible for EAC membership. While Somalia has a functioning Central Bank and the US dollar remains the primary mode of financial transactions, the risk of integration lies with the other EAC members; cross-border trade would occur in an environment of instability, posing potential risks to the other member state.
Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.
While these fundamental challenges remain, it is important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent years. This includes the gradual improvement in security conditions, the establishment of key governmental institutions, and the peaceful transfer of power. One can also argue that many of these fundamental economic, infrastructure, political instability, and security concerns exist across the East African Community. However, what makes Somalia unique is the scale of the challenges it faces today. Somalia has adopted a federal political structure, which has not worked well so far. This level of fragmentation and civil political distrust makes Somalia’s case unique. More than ever, Somalia needs meaningful political and social reconciliation before it can embark on a new regional journey.
The absence of an impact assessment by the relevant ministries in Somalia is alarming. Without this assessment, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions about the potential benefits of joining the EAC and the impact on our economy and society. Conducting this assessment should be a priority for Somalia’s ministries to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the potential benefits and risks involved in EAC membership. Furthermore, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s decision to pursue Somalia’s integration into the EAC lacks political legitimacy as a decision of this nature would normally require ratification through a popular vote and other legal means through parliament. The failure to achieve this could potentially allow another president in the future to unilaterally announce withdrawal from the EAC.
Fragile state of Affairs and internal disputes
The recent reopening of the Gatunda border post between Uganda and Rwanda after a three-year period of strained relations indicates a fragile state of affairs. The East African Court of Justice has ruled that Rwanda’s initial closure of the border was illegal, highlighting the contentious nature of inter-country disputes. Furthermore, Tanzania and Uganda have formally lodged complaints against Kenya, alleging unfair advantages in trade relations, and have even gone as far as threatening Kenya with export bans. These grievances underscore the underlying tensions and competition between member states, which could potentially hinder the harmonious functioning of the East African Community. These political and economic disagreements among member states increase the risks associated with Somalia’s membership. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions. Joining the East African Community at this juncture carries the risk of being drawn into ongoing disputes and potentially being caught in the crossfire of inter-country rivalries.
Conflict in South Sudan
The prolonged conflict in South Sudan, which has been ongoing since its admission to the East African Community (EAC) in 2016, serves as a cautionary tale for Somalia. Despite the EAC’s efforts to mediate and foster peace in the region, the outcomes have been mixed, resulting in an unsustainable peace. This lack of success highlights the challenges faced by member states in resolving conflicts and maintaining stability within the community. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether its participation in the EAC will genuinely contribute to its stability, economic growth, and development, or if it risks exacerbating existing internal conflicts. Joining the community without a solid foundation of political stability, institutions, and peace could potentially divert resources and attention away from domestic issues, hindering Somalia’s progress towards resolving its own challenges. South Sudan’s admission to the EAC in 2016 was seen as a major step towards regional integration and stability. However, the country has been mired in conflict ever since, with two civil wars breaking out in 2013 and 2016. The EAC has been involved in mediation efforts, with mixed results.
Somalia must evaluate the readiness of its institutions, infrastructure, and economy to effectively engage with the East African Community. Comprehensive preparations are crucial to ensure that joining the community is a well thought-out and strategic decision, rather than a hasty move that could further destabilise the nation. Somalia needs to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration. Premature membership could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.
Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions.
Somalia must ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the EAC. A phased approach that prioritises capacity building, institution-strengthening, and inclusive governance would enable Somalia to lay a solid foundation for successful integration and reap the maximum benefits from EAC membership in the long term. Failure to address these concerns would make Somalia vulnerable to exploitation and market monopolies by stronger economies, and could also risk a lack of seamless convergence for Somalia’s membership. While there is political will from EAC leaders to support Somalia’s membership, it is vitally important that they make the right decision for Somalia and the EAC bloc as a whole to ensure a successful integration. I believe that, at this juncture, the disadvantages of Somalia joining the EAC outweigh the benefits.
2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?
It was a landmark case for its time, a first for East Africa and possibly for the continent. A group of Africans challenged a colonial power in a colonial court to appeal a major land grab and demand reparations. They lost on a technicality but the ripple effects of the Maasai Case continue to be felt.
In the name Parsaloi Ole Gilisho there lies an irony. It was spelled Legalishu by the colonial British. Say it out loud. He gave them a legal issue, all right. And a 110-year-old headache.
This extraordinary age-set spokesman (a traditional leader called ol-aiguenani, pl. il-aiguenak) led non-violent resistance to the British, in what was then British East Africa, that culminated in the Maasai Case 1913. Ole Gilisho was then a senior warrior, who was probably in his mid- to late thirties. In bringing the case before the High Court of British East Africa, he was not only challenging the British but also the Maasai elders who had signed away thousands of acres of community land via a 1904 Maasai Agreement or Treaty with the British. This and the 1911 Agreement – which effectively rendered the first void – are often wrongly called the Anglo-Maasai Agreements. In Ole Gilisho’s view, and those of his fellow plaintiffs, these elders had sold out. The suit accused them of having had no authority to make this decision on behalf of the community. This represented a very serious challenge by warriors to traditional authority, including that of the late laibon (prophet) Olonana, who had signed in 1904, and died in 1911.
The British had expected the Maasai to violently rebel in response to these issues and to colonial rule in general. But contrary to modern-day myths that the Maasai fought their colonisers, here they resisted peacefully via legal means. They hired British lawyers and took the British to their own cleaners. Spoiler: they lost, went to appeal, and lost again. But archival research reveals that the British government was so convinced it would eventually lose, if the Maasai appealed to the Privy Council in London (they didn’t), that officials began discussing how much compensation to pay.
The facts are these. The lawsuit was launched in 1912. There were four plaintiffs, Ole Gilisho and three fellow Purko (one of the 16 Maasai territorial sections) Maasai. In Civil Case No. 91 they claimed that the 1911 Maasai Agreement was not binding on them and other Laikipia Maasai, that the 1904 Agreement remained in force, and they contested the legality of the second move. They demanded the return of Laikipia, and £5,000 in damages for loss of livestock during the second move (explained below). Ole Gilisho was illiterate and had never been to school. But he and his fellow plaintiffs were assisted by sympathetic Europeans who were angered by the injustice they saw being perpetrated against a “tribe” that British administrators conceded had never given them any trouble. These sympathisers included people who worked for the colonial government, notably medical Dr Norman Leys and some district officials, lawyers, a few missionaries, the odd settler, and a wider group of left-wing MPs and anti-colonial agitators in Britain.
What had led up to this? After the 1904 Agreement, certain groups or sections of Maasai had been forcibly moved from their grazing grounds in the central Rift Valley around Naivasha into two reserves – one in Laikipia, the other in the south on the border with German East Africa. The British had pledged that this arrangement was permanent, that it would last “so long as the Maasai as a race shall exist”. But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the “northern” Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve. In all, it is estimated that the Maasai lost at least 50 per cent of their land, but that figure could be nearer 70 per cent. The ostensible reason for moving them was to “free up” land for white settlement – largely for British settlers but also for South Africans fleeing the Boer War (also called the South African War).
But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the ‘northern’ Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve.
By the time the case came to court, Ole Gilisho had become a defendant, even though he was in favour of the plaint. So were at least eight other defendants. He had signed the 1904 Agreement, and now stood accused with 17 other Maasai of having no authority to enter into such a contract. The first defendant was the Attorney General. Ole Gilisho’s son-in-law Murket Ole Nchoko, misspelled Ol le Njogo by the British, and described as a leading moran (il-murran or warrior) of the Purko section, was now the lead plaintiff. The plaint was called Ol le Njogo and others v. The Attorney General and others.
Challenges facing the plaintiffs
Most Maasai were illiterate in those days, and this obviously placed them at a major disadvantage. They could not write down their version of events. They were forced to rely, in their dealings with officials and their own lawyers, upon translators and semiliterate mediators whose reliability was questionable. But it is evident, from the archival record which includes verbatim accounts of meetings between Maasai leaders and British officials in the run-up to the moves and case, that the level of verbal discourse was highly sophisticated. This comes as no surprise; verbal debate is a cornerstone of Maasai society and customary justice. Unfortunately, that alone could not help them here. They knew they needed lawyers, and asked their friends for help. Leys, who was later sacked from the colonial service for his activism, admitted in a private letter: “I procured the best one in the country for them.” This was more than he ever admitted openly.
Local administrators used intimidation and all kinds of devious means to try and stop the case. (I didn’t come across any evidence that the Colonial Office in London sanctioned this; in fact, it ordered the Governor not to obstruct the main lawyer or his clients.) They allegedly threatened Ole Gilisho with flogging and deportation. They threatened and cross-questioned suspected European sympathisers, including Leys and the lawyers. They banned Maasai from selling cattle to raise the legal fees, and placed the Southern Reserve in continuous quarantine. It was hard for the plaintiffs, confined to a reserve, to meet their lawyers at all. At one point, lawyers were refused passes to enter the reserve, and their clients were prevented from leaving it.
We hear Ole Gilisho’s voice in the archival record. Forced to give a statement explaining his actions to officials at Enderit River on 21 June 1912, when asked if he had called Europeans to his boma, he replied: “Is it possible for a black man to call a white man?” He denied having called the Europeans (probably lawyers or go-betweens), saying they had come to him. Leys later explained to a friend that Ole Gilisho had probably been “terrified out of his wits”, and hadn’t meant what he said.
What happened in court
The case was thrown out when it first came before the High Court in Mombasa in May 1913. The Maasai appealed, and that is when the legal arguments were fully aired by both sides – lawyers for the Crown and the Maasai. The appeal was dismissed in December on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims were not cognisable in municipal courts. The two agreements were ruled not to be agreements but treaties, which were Acts of State. They could not, therefore, be challenged in a local court. It was impossible for the plaintiffs to seek to enforce the provisions of a treaty, said the judges – “The paramount chief himself could not bring such an action, still less can his people”. Claims for damages were also dismissed.
The Court of Appeal’s judgement centred on the status of a protectorate, in which the King was said to exercise powers granted to him under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890. Irrational as it sounds, the Crown claimed that British East Africa was not British territory, and the Maasai were not British subjects with any rights of access to British law, but “protected foreigners, who, in return for that protection, owe obedience” to the Crown. As Yash Pal Ghai and Patrick McAuslan later put it, when discussing the case in a 1970 book: “A British protected person is protected against everyone except the British.” On the plus side, the judges ruled that the Maasai still retained some “vestige” of sovereignty. (The Maasai’s lawyer argued that they did not.) This triggered later moves by Maasai politicians, in the 1960s, to float the idea of secession from Kenya and the possible creation of a sovereign Maasai state. John Keen had threatened this in 1962 at the second Lancaster House Conference in London, attended by a Maasai delegation.
Alexander Morrison, lawyer for the Maasai, argued that British rule and courts were established in the protectorate, which had not been the case 30 years earlier. The Maasai were not foreigners but equal to other British subjects in every way. The agreements were civil contracts, enforceable in the courts, and not unenforceable treaties. If one took the Crown’s claim about Acts of State to its logical conclusion, he argued, a squatter refusing to leave land reserved for the Maasai could only be removed by an Act of State. None of his arguments washed with the judges. (See my 2006 book Moving the Maasai for a fuller account.)
Morrison advised his clients to appeal. It seems they couldn’t raise the funds. However, oral testimony from elders reveals a different story: Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea. This is impossible to verify, but it rings true.
In an interview carried out on my behalf in 2008 by Michael Tiampati, my old friend John Keen had this to say about the outcome of the case: “If the hyena was the magistrate and the accused was a goat, you should probably know that the goat would not get any form of justice. So this is exactly how it was that the Maasai could not get any fair justice from British courts.”
Contemporary African resistance
Unbeknown to the Maasai, there was growing anti-colonial resistance in the same period in other parts of Africa. All these acts of resistance have inspired African activists in their continuing struggles. To mention a few: the Chilembwe rebellion in Nyasaland, now Malawi (1915); the Herero revolt in German South West Africa, now Namibia (1904–1908); resistance in present-day Kenya by Mekatilili wa Menza (largely 1913-14); the First Chimurenga or First War of Independence in what is now Zimbabwe (1896–1897); and the Maji Maji rebellion in German East Africa, now Tanzania (1905–1907). But none of these rebellions involved lawsuits. The closest precedent may have been R vs Earl of Crewe, Ex-parte Sekgoma in 1910. Chief Sekgoma, who had been jailed by the British in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) after many attempts to remove him as chief, instructed his lawyer to bring a writ of habeus corpus against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Crewe. He demanded to be tried in an English court, refusing an offer of release on condition that he agrees to live in a restricted area of the Transvaal. The suit was dismissed, the court ruling that the King had unfettered jurisdiction in a protectorate, and his right to detain Sekgoma was upheld. Sekgoma apparently said: “I would rather be killed than go to the Transvaal. I will not go because I have committed no crime – I wish to have my case tried before the courts in England or else be killed.” Freed in 1912, he died two years later.
The case, and other key events in early twentieth century Maasai history, have given rise to several myths. They include the idea that the stolen land should “revert” to the Maasai after 100 years, but that was not stated in the 1904 Agreement, which was not limited in time, was not a land lease, and has not “expired” as many people claim. Neither agreement has. Keen knew this, but nonetheless called for the land to “revert”. Other myths include the idea that Olonana’s thumbprint was placed on the 1911 Agreement posthumously, and it must therefore be invalid. But neither his thumbprint nor name are on the document, which was “signed” by his son Seggi. Anyhow, Olonana was a key ally of the British, who had no reason to kill him (which is another myth).
The original of the 1904 Agreement has never been found, which has led some Maasai to believe that it never existed and therefore all the land must be restored and compensation paid for its use to date. There may be sound legal arguments for restorative justice, but this is not one of them. These myths are ahistorical and unhelpful, but may be understood as attempts to rationalise and make sense of what happened. Some activists may wish that the Maasai had resisted violently, rather than taken the legal route. Hence the insistence by some that there was a seamless history of armed resistance from the start of colonial rule. Not true. There are much better arguments to be made, by professional lawyers with an understanding of international treaty rights and aboriginal title, which could possibly produce results.
Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea.
Where does all this leave the Maasai today? Over the years, there has been much talk of revisiting the case and bringing a claim against Britain (or Kenya) for the return of land or reparations for its loss. None of this has resulted in concrete action. I attended a planning workshop in Nairobi in 2006 when plans were laid for a lawsuit. VIPs present included the late Ole Ntimama, scholar Ben Kantai and John Keen. Keen declared, with his customary flourish, that he would stump up a million shillings to get the ball rolling. I don’t know how much money was raised in total, but it disappeared into thin air. As did the lawyers.
Leading lawyers have advised that too much time has passed, and (unlike the successful Mau Mau veterans’ suit) there are no living witnesses who could give evidence in court. It is unclear whether the agreements still have any legal validity. The British government might argue, as it previously has, including in response to my questions, that it handed over all responsibility for its pre-1963 actions to the Kenyan government at independence. This is a ludicrous argument, which is also morally wrong. Former colonial powers such as Germany have accepted responsibility for historical injustices in their former colonies, notably Namibia. Has the time come for Ole Gilisho’s descendants to call a white man to court?
Who Is Hustling Who?
In Kenya, political elites across the spectrum are trying to sell off the country for themselves—capitulation is inevitable.
My drive to Limuru happened on the first Wednesday (July 19) of the protests. Everything was eerily quiet, Nairobi, renowned for its traffic jams, was quiet. Matatus and buses were parked in their hubs. Shops and stalls were closed. Even the hawkers that dot the roads and highways stayed home. Save for the heavy police presence everywhere, it felt like the country had come to a standstill.
We got to Kangemi shortly after the police had shot and wounded two protestors—the road was strewn with stones and armed riot police huddled by the side of the road waiting for the next wave of attacks that never came. In the end, six people would be shot to death throughout the country, and countless were injured and arrested. Coming from the US, where police arrest protestors and shoot black people, there were no surprises here. The US can hardly be the standard of good policing or democratic practices, but the lives lost simply for asking the government to center the people in its economic planning seemed especially cruel.
But it was the emptiness of the roads that made the whole drive eerie. Perhaps I was refracting what was happening in Kenya through what followed the 1982 coup in which 240 people were killed; or the ethnic clashes of the 1990s that culminated in the 2007 post-election violence. Yet, there was a general agreement among people that there was something different about the Kenya of today—that something was already broken and the nightmares to come were slowly but surely revealing themselves—like a bus carrying passengers and the driver realizing the brakes were out just as it was about to descend a steep hill.
Voting with the middle finger
But all this was predictable. President Ruto has been a known quantity since the 1990s when he led the violent Moi youth wingers. He and his running mate and later president, Uhuru Kenyatta, were brought in front of the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity following the post-election violence in 2007. Some key witnesses disappeared and others were intimidated into silence. Who in their right mind gives evidence against those in control of the state? The ICC was already discredited as being Western-crimes-against-humanity friendly (the US has never been a signatory rightly afraid its former presidents, such as George Bush, would be hauled before the court). The ICC eventually withdrew the case in March 2015.
I kept asking everyone I met, why was Ruto voted in spite of his history? The answers varied: He rigged the elections; he did not rig and if he did, he only managed to be better at it than Raila Odinga; he appealed to the youth with the idea of building a hustler nation (what a telling term); the Kikuyus have vowed never to have a Luo president and therefore opted for Ruto who is Kalenjin as opposed to Odinga who is Luo.
I sat with older Kikuyu men in the little Nyama Choma spot in Limuru Market and they talked about a generational divide between the Kikuyu and youth (Ruto) and the elderly Kikuyus (Odinga). But the one I heard over and over again was that Kenyans are tired of the Kenyatta and Odinga political dynasties. As one Trump supporter was to say, they voted for him with the middle finger. And so, the Kenyans who voted for Ruto were giving a middle finger to the Kenyatta, Moi and Odinga political dynasties. But no one had really expected buyer’s remorse to kick in one year into the Ruto presidency.
I also asked about Odinga’s protests: what was the end game? One theory is that he was looking at power-sharing, having done it once before, following the 2007 elections. In our shorthand political language, he was looking for another handshake. Some said the people have a right to protest their government, and he is simply asking the government to repeal the tax hikes and reinstate the fuel subsidies. Others believed that he wants to be a genuine and useful voice of opposition for the good of the country and its poor.
My own theory is that he is attempting a people-powered, centered, democratic, and largely peaceful takeover—where people take to the streets to overthrow an unpopular government. We saw this in Latin America in the 2000s. In response to Odinga’s absence during the three days of protests (he was sick), some leaders in his Azimio party have started using this language. The only problem with this strategy is that the sitting government has to be wildly unpopular. Ruto still has a lot of support, meaning that he does not have to compromise or give up power. It was to my mind turning into a stalemate and I was worried that the state would respond with more state-sponsored violence.
But real economics broke the stalemate. In a country where people are barely surviving and the majority are poor without savings to rely on, or relatives to reach out to for help, the hawkers, small stall and shop owners simply went back to work. In other words, those that would have been hurt the most by three days of protests (a day at home literally means a day without food for the family) simply went back to work, and the matatus and buses hummed back to life, slowly on Thursday and full throttle by Friday.
Saturday around Westlands might as well have been as busy as a Monday as people overcompensated for lost time to either sell or shop. If the protests were going to succeed the opposition (composed of some of the wealthiest families in Kenya, including Odinga’s) really should have thought about how best to protect those who would be the most affected. They should find legal and innovative ways to put their money where their political mouths are.
Cuba as Kenya’s north star
Odinga had to change tactics and called for a day of protest against police violence instead of three-day weekly protests in perpetuity. He is now in danger of turning into a caricature of his old revolutionary self and becoming an Al Sharpton, who instead of protesting the American government for the police killings of black people, protests the police themselves leaving the government feeling sanctimonious. Obama or Biden could weigh in, in righteous indignation without offering any real change (remember Obama’s emotional pleas over gun shootings and police shootings as if he was not the one occupying the most powerful office in the US)?
The one question that keeps eating at me is this: why is the most apparent outcome at the time a surprise later? Ruto was always going to sell off Kenya with a percentage for himself and his friends. Odinga was always going to capitulate. The end result is that the Kenyan bus will continue to careen on without brakes. So, what is to be done?
I was in Cuba earlier this year. I got a sense of the same desperation I felt in Kenya but the difference is Cubans have free access to healthcare, education, housing, and food security. They have free access to all the things that make basic survival possible. Before calling for the tax hikes and cutting fuel subsidies might it not have been more prudent to have a safety net for Kenyans? Would that not have been the most logical thing? But of course not, Ruto is acting at the behest of the IMF and big money. Ruto has learned the art of pan-African political rhetoric. Abroad he can call for a different non-US-centered economic system and castigate the French president over paternalism but at home, his politics are hustler politics.
Life in Cuba is difficult, as a result of relentless sanctions from the US, but it is far from impossible. It remains the north star for those who understand discussions around fundamental change as the only starting point. We can have arguments about the nature of those fundamental changes, but we can all agree we should not be a country where one family, say the Kenyatta family, owns more than half a million acres of land. Or where, as Oxfam reported, four individuals hold more wealth than that held by 22 million Kenyans. The kind of politics that begin with a necessity for fundamental change will obviously not come from Ruto.
But one hopes it can still come from the Odinga camp. Or even better, from a genuinely progressive people-powered movement that has inbuilt questions of fundamental change in its political, economic, and cultural platform.
In spite of the empty roads, Limuru Market was thriving and Wakari Bar kept its reputation as one of the best places for Nyama Choma and for lively political conversations. People are paying attention, after all, it is their lives and livelihoods on the line. Politicians, especially those in the opposition and the political left should listen as well.
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