The last opinion polls have been published and the final rallies announced for Saturday 5th August. The long, painful political race in Kenya is almost over. It is time therefore to produce my third and final review of events since mid-July and my eve of poll prediction of the results in the upcoming general election.
As with the first two pieces, this is a not-for-profit work, which does not campaign for any party or make value judgements about either’s fitness for office. I am not perfectly neutral of course. Having made a series of predictions over the last year, I may be too embedded in my own thinking and place more weight on evidence that supports my previous opinion than that which contradicts it. Only time will tell. It is based on the idea that things will carry on much as before over the last few days before the poll, and that there will not for example be a major terrorist incident or the death or injury of a senior politician. In such situations, all bets are off.
So, where do we stand at the presidential level? The lacklustre Jubilee campaign improved from May 2017 onwards, but still seems – as I said in June – “strangely unconvincing”. They have “poured” less money into the campaign than expected, though this is changing in the last few days with a centrally organised mobilisation using county assembly members (MCA) to cement their homelands and get the vote out. Jubilee as a party has barely campaigned in the national media, instead using cabinet secretaries and state media to sell its achievements and focussing most of its party campaigning messages regionally. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto have been dispatched on a punishing schedule nationwide for the last two months, most of their messages focussing on local development and jobs for local communities, but with a subtext of “we may not be perfect, but we have delivered some things, and better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. In the last two or three weeks, the drift to NASA has stopped and their respective vote shares have stabilised. There are fewer and fewer “undecideds”. There is confidence in the Jubilee campaign, but they remain jittery and there seems a consensus that their campaign has been poor.
However, [NASA’s] main “bandwagon” strategy – that they can and will win – has been undermined by their repeated claims of election rigging by or through the IEBC, of which there have been more than 30 during the last 12 months.
The NASA alliance meanwhile has continued to campaign effectively and appears to have matched Jubilee financially, though they are apparently running short of money in the last few days. Their criticisms of state corruption and high food prices and promises of greater inclusion resonate with many (though they also discourage others for whom inclusion means an ethnic affirmative action programme). However, their main “bandwagon” strategy – that they can and will win – has been undermined by their repeated claims of election rigging by or through the IEBC, of which there have been more than 30 during the last 12 months. Some have been genuine and valid concerns, but many others have not. NASA now have a poor reputation for accuracy and have made several potentially unwise and incendiary statements. While many in NASA genuinely believe they will win, it seems some are preparing to demand power-sharing and negotiated democracy when they lose, using their history of allegations and the events of polling day to demand that Western powers intervene.
There have been several more opinion polls since my last piece, but the key ones were both published on 1 August (the last day that polls are permitted under Kenyan law). IPSOS’ results matched closely their July poll: a 3- point lead for Kenyatta by 47% to 44%, with 8% still undecided, refused to answer or not voting. Reapportioning the undecideds, this gives Uhuru and Ruto a 52% to 48% lead. Infotrak’s poll produced a tiny lead for Odinga by 50% to 49%, but the normal methodology for the poll was absent. TIFA and Infotrak also produced several county-level polls during the period (on Nairobi, Embu, Mombasa and Kakamega amongst others). Although these are less reliable and some may have been “tweaked” to favour particular candidates, they still provide useful data at county level (if taken with a pinch of salt).
The alliances also use their own resources to poll voters, trying all the time to hone their message and focus in on swing voters. Whilst voter targeting through social media platforms is less sophisticated than in western markets (and much cheaper to buy), it is in use in Kenya. Jubilee have spent significantly on Google, Facebook etc both in advertisements and sponsored links. Unfortunately, social media has also been the platform for delivery of an unprecedentedly high level of fake news, with anonymous identities used to seed fake videos, opinion polls and agreements between politicians into Twitter, WhatsApp and other loosely networked platforms which persuade a few that they are true (cementing prejudices they already had) but are also picked up by the mainstream media and thereby have a secondary impact. The widespread use of fakes and lies in the campaign by both sides has further brought into question the probity of Kenya’s political class.
The size and scale gap between 2013 and every other election for the past 15 years is hard to explain. So, building a turnout model based on 2013 and adjusting for changes since then risked building in rigging to the prediction.
Regionally, there has been modest “churn” – no county or community has switched sides entirely, but some have moved one way, some the other by a few percentage points. It appears that NASA are indeed stronger in Meru than I assessed in July (though Jubilee will still win easily), and have cemented their hold on the Maasai vote, but Jubilee is stronger in Bungoma and Bomet. There have been few public defections by significant political players, and the agreements stitched together by both alliances with small parties to support one or other’s presidential bid have all held firm.
Predicting the Presidency
Trying to improve on my presidential prediction model, I have made a dozen or more changes in vote share predictions in response to the opinion polls, significant rallies and other less tangible factors. I’ve shifted Nairobi even further towards NASA (now 55% for Odinga, 44% for Kenyatta), though I think it will be closer than recent polls suggest. In Machakos, Bungoma, Trans-Nzoia, Migori and Bomet I’ve upped the prediction of Jubilee’s performance, but reduced it in Narok and Kajiado (though Jubilee may still win Kajiado because of the non-Maasai population), Kiambu (parts of which are now a multi-ethnic suburb of Nairobi), Turkana and Meru. The strength of the internal insurgencies in Bomet (Isaac Rutto) and Machakos (Alfred Mutua) remain some of the great imponderables, with public and private polls giving contrary results and few sure of the outcome. Opinion polls are also giving Odinga more support among the Somali of Mandera, Wajir and Garissa than an examination of the parties’ candidates and the history of negotiated democracy between Somali clans and sub clans would suggest.
I still predict a Jubilee victory by 52% for Kenyatta and Ruto to 48% for Odinga and Musyoka, with all others less than 1% combined. On a 76% turnout, that would be just under 8 million votes for Jubilee and just over 7 million for NASA.
The other change made to the model is more significant. For some time I have been wrestling with an ethical problem. Reviewing the 2013 turnouts, in comparison with that from previous national elections since 2002, it became clear with the benefit of hindsight that turnouts were implausibly high not just in Luo Nyanza and Central Province, but in many other places. Even given the greater attention and sensitivity around the 2013 polls, the suspicion is that both parties found ways to pad their vote, and that this happened in many places. The graph below shows the turnout by county for every national presidential election or referendum since 2002, with 2013 bolded in red. The size and scale gap between 2013 and every other election for the past 15 years is hard to explain.
So, building a turnout model based on 2013 and adjusting for changes since then risked building in rigging to the prediction. It might be more accurate – because if they have done it before, they may find a way to do it again – but it’s not right. So, instead I have changed to a weighted average model of turnout in the last five national contests: the 2013 presidency, the 2010 constitutional referendum, the 2007 presidential election, the 2005 constitutional referendum and the 2002 presidential election. Three of these are generally accepted to have been “free and fair”. The new model is weighted because it takes 50% of its prediction from 2013, 25% from 2010, 12.5% from 2007, and 7.5% from each of 2005 and 2002. The result of applying this change is that predicted turnout drops sharply, though it continues to follow the same national pattern (Central Province and Nyanza the highest, Coast the lowest).
To my surprise, when reviewing the IEBC list of gubernatorial candidates, there are 13 counties were NASA has not put up a candidate from any allied party, already conceding the seat to Jubilee and potentially depressing the Odinga Presidential vote there. There are only two (Makueni and Vihiga) which Jubilee has similarly conceded.
Putting it all together, the predicted result has changed since July, but not by much. I still predict a Jubilee victory by 52% for Kenyatta and Ruto to 48% for Odinga and Musyoka, with all others less than 1% combined. On a 76% turnout, that would be just under 8 million votes for Jubilee and just over 7 million for NASA. This assumes that the new IEBC technology delivers at least some of what it promises, by preventing the dead from voting and clerks from voting for absent voters after the polls close.
Note: one box is one county, whatever its geographical or population size.
Around the Counties
Turning to the counties and the Gubernatorial races, there have been few surprises, except for the inability of either side to get their defectors (standing as independents or as candidates in allied parties) to stand down. The pressure now to do deals will be intense and several more will retire over the weekend. NASA still risks losing the governorship in one or more of Taita-Taveta, Kwale, Lamu and Narok due to split votes (though they solved their problem in Machakos). There is a tension here, as intense local competition within an alliance pushes up the Presidential vote for their side, while it risks a split vote and losing the seat at county level, which partly explains the ambivalence of both party leaders in addressing the problem. I still predict that Mike Sonko will win Nairobi, narrowly but Peter Kenneth’s persistence despite entreaties from Uhuru, and his 3-5% support base might allow Kidero to be re-elected on a split pro-Jubilee vote. Most of my other predictions remain unchanged, though KANU is putting up a decent showing as the only real opposition to Jubilee in the North Rift, and in Western the situation is increasingly confusing as ANC, ODM and FORD Kenya take on each other as much as Jubilee. I’m predicting Wamanagati (Ford Kenya) to take Bungoma, Otuoma (pro-Raila independent) Busia, Oparanya (ODM) Kakamega and Chanzu (ANC) Vihiga. To my surprise, when reviewing the IEBC list of gubernatorial candidates, there are 13 counties were NASA has not put up a candidate from any allied party, already conceding the seat to Jubilee and potentially depressing the Odinga Presidential vote there. There are only two (Makueni and Vihiga) which Jubilee has similarly conceded.
Overall, my final prediction is 24 Governorships for Jubilee and its allies (including KANU, FAP, PDR, EFP, PDP, PNU, MCC, NARC-Kenya and pro-Uhuru independents) and 23 for NASA and their allies and independents, a slight improvement on Jubilee’s performance in 2013. Senator and Women representatives will follow a similar pattern, though there will be less ”six piece suite” voting than in 2013, when voters’ had no experience with their roles in the new political structure. But a voter’s choice of ticket is more likely to stem either from their Presidential and Governor preference or from their MCA and Parliamentary choice, less often from their Women’s Rep or Senator.
It is the constituency Returning Officer who is the formal declarer of the presidential results (as with parliament and MCA), and therefore the electronic results sent direct from polling stations to the screens at the Bomas of Kenya are advisory only.
At the 290 parliamentary constituencies level, it is near-impossible to apply the same level of scrutiny, but at a high level, the pattern is similar. Roughly 54% of parliamentary constituencies look like being pro-Jubilee (including affiliate parties and independents); 46% pro-NASA.
An Uncomfortably “Hot” Seat
The situation for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is far from comfortable, tasked with running every aspect of this election under intense and hostile scrutiny. The design of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS), which will be used (for the first time) to capture, check and transfer the polling station results to the counts, looks strong on paper. If the system has been built as intended, it is a robust and effective tool to control rigging and ease results transmission. However, there is still the risk of errors in the IT implementation (which only extensive testing would detect) or security flaws, plus the ever-present risk of human error. And there remain confusions among the public as to whether the electronic results sent from the polling stations or the Form 34 results are the “master” (it is the latter), and whether the court’s decision regarding declaration of results empowered the polling station presiding officer or the constituency Returning Officer to announce the presidential results (again the latter). It is the constituency Returning Officer who is the formal declarer of the presidential results (as with parliament and MCA), and therefore the electronic results sent direct from polling stations to the screens at the Bomas of Kenya are advisory only. If there is a partial or systematic failure in the electronic systems or in the mobile networks (as there was in 2013) forcing some POs to “go manual”, there will be a gap between the (incomplete) automated results displayed and the (complete) official results from scanned and physical form 34s, which will take longer to arrive (being sent by email). The IEBC has decided not to announce constituency results, relying on Returning Officers to do so instead, but the result will be a discrepancy between the real tally and the one displayed on the screen, which could be the source of serious misunderstandings. This could be even more of a worry because the results will trend in favour of NASA at the start (as the urban areas are mostly pro-NASA) and towards Jubilee towards the end (most of the biggest, semi-arid northern counties are pro-Jubilee). Unlike in 2013, when the commission chair repeatedly informed Kenyans that only the paper results were valid and the electronic system just a check on them, the IEBC has been far less clear this time, relying on the mantra that “We do not expect any variances between the forms and the electronic data.”
The IEBC needs to develop and publish protocols for how it will handle various failure scenarios (such as : the KIEMS electronic transmission doesn’t match the scanned form 34; there are two form 34s; the scanned form 34 has been clumsily altered; there is no physical form 34 at all; there is a failure of the electronic system half way through polling) before they actually occur, to reduce the risk that they are accused of ‘cooking’ the results when – rather than if – things go wrong.
The unprecedented level of scrutiny by the courts of the IEBC’s actions during 2016-17 has improved the integrity of the process and public confidence in it, but it has severely delayed the IEBC’s preparations.
Their recent announcement that clerks would no longer mark the register when voters voted electronically was a smart anti-rigging move, as it mean clerks don’t know who voted, and that means they can’t go manual and “fill in” the votes for those who didn’t turn up by closing time (as is suspected to have happened in the homelands before). However, it introduces a new risk – if the electronic system fails midway through the day, then voters who voted in the morning electronically could all vote again in the afternoon physically (if they can get the ink off their fingers), which would cause complete chaos if it occurred on a large scale. Nobody really understands how a mixed mode election might work in a polling station if the electronic systems fail part way through for whatever reason.
The unprecedented level of scrutiny by the courts of the IEBC’s actions during 2016-17 has improved the integrity of the process and public confidence in it, but it has severely delayed the IEBC’s preparations. Despite their public protestations, things are far from smooth and the murder of their ICT head Chris Msando has further stressed an already pressured organisation and brought once more into sharp relief the risks of election rigging at the IEBC headquarters, despite the fact that presidential results will be issued at the constituency level. Conspiracy theorists, of which Kenya is never short, have developed several lines of thought as to why Msando was killed. Few believe his death was unconnected to his IEBC role, but the logic as to why it was done remains impenetrable. Hard-line elements in Jubilee (or the security services) are the main suspect in the minds of many, but Jubilee is the main loser from Msando’s death and the manner in which it occurred, as it strengthened fears about the risk of rigging, deepened speculation about passwords and backdoors into the IT systems, and provided yet more ‘grist to the mill’ for NASA to demand that the election be annulled in the event they lose. The possibility that it was a message to others in the IEBC organisation to follow orders on election day cannot be discounted either.
As well as the IEBC’s own systems and collation activity, several news desks and the main political parties will be running parallel constituency level counts. The ELOG domestic observer group will also be running a parallel vote tabulation, texting in the results from a sample of 1700 polling stations, which should provide a degree of validation (if available in time) for the IEBC’s results. International and domestic are also fanning out across the country this weekend to add their more anecdotal assessments of whether the election was conducted freely and fairly. The situation as the results come in is going to be even more noisy and confused than before, and if fake news is injected into the mix, the cocktail is potentially explosive.
The situation as the results come in is going to be even more noisy and confused than before, and if fake news is injected into the mix, the cocktail is potentially explosive.
Looking at the risk of post-election violence, it is near certain that there will be trouble somewhere, but it is unlikely to occur with the ferocity and scope of 2007. The security forces are far better prepared, and the continued alliance between Ruto and Kenyatta and Kikuyu and Kalenjin neutralises the fault line with the greatest potential for trouble. But there will be violence in Nairobi, Kisumu and elsewhere as the results come out if NASA have lost or if the electronic systems fail early on (few have considered a situation where the security forces are called out to respond to mass violence by pro-Jubilee youth if they are defeated). Much depends on how far the loser’s leaders are willing to go. The two key factors influencing the likelihood of trouble are the size of the winning margin for the victor and the success or failure of the IEBC in administering the election effectively, without obvious rigging. If the election is well run, turnouts and results reasonable and the margin of victory 5% or more, there will still be complaints and localised demonstrations, but they will be modest and limited. If the result is within 2% (i.e. 51%-49%) or the election proves an administrative mess and rigging is visible and widespread, the risk of trouble on 10-11 August rises dramatically. While the losers have the option to escalate to the Supreme Court through a petition, the opposition’s attempt in 2013 was unsuccessful, hamstrung by the short timeframes and burden of proof, and they are indicating an unwillingness to take that route again, in which case mass action and street violence is quite likely.
If the result is within 2% (i.e. 51%-49%) or the election proves an administrative mess and rigging is visible and widespread, the risk of trouble on 10-11 August rises dramatically.
For now, having published this prediction, I have to step back and stand or fall by it. In a strange way, if I am proved wrong, this will be good news for the country, as it will demonstrate that the old rules of “bribe and tribe” no longer dominate Kenya’s politics. Whatever the result, I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing you all “safe and sound” on the other side.
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Kenya Chooses Its Next Chief Justice
The search for Kenya’s next Chief Justice that commenced Monday will seek to replace Justice David Maraga, who retired early this year, has captured the attention of the nation.
Since Monday, the 12th of April 2021, interviews to replace retired Chief Justice David Maraga for the post of the most important jurist in Kenya and the president of the Supreme Court have been underway.
The Judiciary is one of the three State organs established under Chapter 10, Article 159 of the Constitution of Kenya. It establishes the Judiciary as an independent custodian of justice in Kenya. Its primary role is to exercise judicial authority given to it, by the people of Kenya.
The institution is mandated to deliver justice in line with the Constitution and other laws. It is expected to resolve disputes in a just manner with a view to protecting the rights and liberties of all, thereby facilitating the attainment of the ideal rule of law.
The man or woman who will take up this mantle will lead the Judiciary at a time when its independence and leadership will be paramount for the nation. He/she will be selected by the Judicial Service Commission in a competitive process.
KWAMCHETSI MAKOKHA profiles the ten candidates shortlisted by the JSC.
IMF and SAPs 2.0: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Riding into Town
Stabilisation, liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation: what do these four pillars of structural adjustment augur for Kenya’s beleaguered public health sector?
The International Monetary Fund’s announcement on the 2nd of April 2020 that it had approved a US$ 2.3 billion loan for Kenya prompted David Ndii to spell it out to young #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) that “the loan Kenya has taken is called a structural adjustment loan (SAPs). It comes with austerity (tax raises, spending cuts, downsizing) to keep Kenya creditworthy so that we can continue borrowing and servicing debt”, adding that the “IMF is not here for fun. Ask older people.” With this last quip, Ndii was referring to the economic hardship visited on Kenyans under the structural adjustment programmes of the 80s and 90s.
Well, I’m old enough to remember; except that I was not in the country. I had left home, left the country, leaving behind parents who were still working, still putting my siblings through school. Parents with permanent and pensionable jobs, who were still paying the mortgage on their modest “maisonette” in a middle class Nairobi neighbourhood.
In those pre-Internet, pre-WhatsApp days, much use was made of the post office and I have kept the piles of aerogramme letters that used to bring me news of home. In those letters my parents said nothing of the deteriorating economic situation, unwilling to burden me with worries about which I could do nothing, keeping body and soul together being just about all I could manage in that foreign land where I had gone to further my education.
My brother Tony’s letters should have warned me that all was not well back home but he wrote so hilariously about the status conferred on those men who could afford second-hand underwear from America, complete with stars and stripes, that the sub-text went right over my head. I came back home for the first time after five years — having left college and found a first job — to find parents that had visibly aged beyond their years and a home that was palpably less well-off financially than when I had left. I’m a Kicomi girl and something in me rebelled against second-hand clothes, second-hand things. It seemed that in my absence Kenya had regressed to the time before independence, the years of hope and optimism wiped away by the neoliberal designs of the Bretton Woods twins. I remember wanting to flee; I wanted to go back to not knowing, to finding my family exactly as I had left it — seemingly thriving, happy, hopeful.
Now, after eight years of irresponsible government borrowing, it appears that I am to experience the effects of a Structural Adjustment Programme first-hand, and I wonder how things could possibly be worse than they already are.
When speaking to Nancy* a couple of weeks back about the COVID-19 situation at the Nyahururu County Referral Hospital in Laikipia County, she brought up the issue of pregnant women having to share beds in the maternity ward yet — quite apart from the fact that this arrangement is unacceptable whichever way you look at it — patients admitted to the ward are not routinely tested for COVID-19.
Nancy told me that candidates for emergency caesarean sections or surgery for ectopic and intra-abdominal pregnancies must wait their turn at the door to the operating theatre. Construction of a new maternity wing, complete with its own operating theatre, has ground to a halt because, rumour has it, the contractor has not been paid. The 120-bed facility should have been completed in mid-2020 to ease congestion at the Nyahururu hospital whose catchment area for referrals includes large swathes of both Nyandarua and Laikipia counties because of its geographical location.
According to Nancy, vital medicine used to prevent excessive bleeding in newly delivered mothers has not been available at her hospital since January; patients have to buy the medication themselves. This issue was also raised on Twitter by Dr Mercy Korir who, referring to the Nanyuki Teaching and Referral Hospital — the only other major hospital in Laikipia County — said that lack of emergency medication in the maternity ward was putting the lives of mothers at risk. Judging by the responses to that tweet, this dire situation is not peculiar to the Nanyuki hospital; how much worse is it going to get under the imminent SAP?
Kenya was among the first countries to sign on for a SAP in 1980 when commodity prices went through the floor and the 1973 oil crisis hit, bringing to a painful halt a post-independence decade of sustained growth and prosperity. The country was to remain under one form of structural adjustment or another from then on until 1996.
Damaris Parsitau, who has written about the impact of Structural Adjustment Programmes on women’s health in Kenya, already reported in her 2008 study that, “at Nakuru District Hospital in Kenya, for example, expectant mothers are required to buy gloves, surgical blades, disinfectants and syringes in preparation for childbirth”. It would appear that not much has changed since then.
The constitution of the World Health Organisation states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition” and that “governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.”
The WHO should have added gender as a discrimination criteria. Parsitau notes that “compared to men, women in Kenya have less access to medical care, are more likely to be malnourished, poor, and illiterate, and even work longer and harder. The situation exacerbates women’s reproductive role, which increases their vulnerability to morbidity and mortality.”
With economic decline in the 80s, and the implementation of structural adjustment measures that resulted in cutbacks in funding and the introduction of cost sharing in a sector where from independence the government had borne the cost of providing free healthcare, the effects were inevitably felt most by the poor, the majority of who — in Kenya as in the rest of the world — are women.
A more recent review of studies carried out on the effect of SAPs on child and maternal health published in 2017 finds that “in their current form, structural adjustment programmes are incongruous with achieving SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] 3.1 and 3.2, which stipulate reductions in neonatal, under-5, and maternal mortality rates. It is telling that even the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office, in assessing the performance of structural adjustment loans, noted that ‘outcomes such as maternal and infant mortality rates have generally not improved.’”
The review also says that “adjustment programmes commonly promote decentralisation of health systems [which] may produce a more fractious and unequal implementation of services — including those for child and maternal health — nationally. Furthermore, lack of co-ordination in decentralised systems can hinder efforts to combat major disease outbreaks”. Well, we are in the throes of a devastating global pandemic which has brought this observation into sharp relief. According to the Ministry of Health, as of the 6th of April, 325,592 people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Of those, 33 per cent were in Nairobi County, which accounts for just 9.2 per cent of the country’s total population of 47,564,296 people.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides the legal framework for a rights-based approach to health and is the basis for the rollout of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) that was announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta on 12 December 2018 — with the customary fanfare — as part of the “Big Four Agenda” to be fulfilled before his departure in 2022.
However, a KEMRI-Wellcome Trust policy brief states that UHC is still some distance to achieving 100 per cent population coverage and recommends that “the Kenyan government should increase public financing of the health sector. Specifically, the level of public funding for healthcare in Kenya should double, if the threshold (5% of GDP) … is to be reached” and that “Kenya should reorient its health financing strategy away from a focus on contributory, voluntary health insurance, and instead recognize that increased tax funding is critical.”
These recommendations, it would seem to me, run counter to the conditionalities habitually imposed by the IMF and it is therefore not clear how the government will deliver UHC nation-wide by next year if this latest SAP is accompanied by budgetary cutbacks in the healthcare sector.
With the coronavirus graft scandal and the disappearance of medical supplies donated by Jack Ma still fresh on their minds, Kenyans are not inclined to believe that the IMF billions will indeed go to “support[ing] the next phase of the authorities’ COVID-19 response and their plan to reduce debt vulnerabilities while safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, as the IMF has claimed.
#KOT have — with outrage, with humour, vociferously — rejected this latest loan, tweeting the IMF in their hundreds and inundating the organisation’s Facebook page with demands that the IMF rescind its decision. An online petition had garnered more than 200,000 signatures within days of the IMF’s announcement. Whether the IMF will review its decision is moot. The prevailing economic climate is such that we are damned if we do take the loan, and damned if we don’t.
Structural adjustment supposedly “encourages countries to become economically self-sufficient by creating an environment that is friendly to innovation, investment and growth”, but the recidivist nature of the programmes suggests that either the Kenyan government is a recalcitrant pupil or SAPs simply don’t work. I would say it is both.
But the Kenyan government has not just been a recalcitrant pupil; it has also been a consistently profligate one. While SAPs do indeed provide for “safeguarding resources to protect vulnerable groups”, political choices are made that sacrifice the welfare of the ordinary Kenyan at the altar of grandiose infrastructure projects, based on the fiction peddled by international financial institutions that infrastructure-led growth can generate enough income to service debt. And when resources are not being wasted on “legacy” projects, they are embezzled on a scale that literally boggles the mind. We can no longer speak of runaway corruption; a new lexicon is required to describe this phenomenon which pervades every facet of our lives and which has rendered the years of sacrifice our parents endured meaningless and put us in debt bondage for many more generations to come. David Ndii long warned us that this moment was coming. It is here.
East Africa: A ‘Hotbed of Terror’
African states are involved in the War on Terror more than we think. They’re surrounded by an eco-system of the war industry.
In late January, reports circulated on social media about a suspected US drone strike in southern Somalia, in the Al-Shabaab controlled Ma’moodow town in Bakool province. Debate quickly ensued on Twitter about whether the newly installed Biden administration was responsible for this strike, which was reported to have occurred at 10 p.m. local time on January 29th, 2021.
Southern Somalia has been the target of an unprecedented escalation of US drone strikes in the last several years, with approximately 900 to 1,000 people killed between 2016 and 2019. According to the nonprofit group Airwars, which monitors and assesses civilian harm from airpower-dominated international military actions, “it was under the Obama administration that a significant US drone and airstrike campaign began,” coupled with the deployment of Special Operations forces inside the country.
Soon after Donald Trump took office in 2017, he signed a directive designating parts of Somalia “areas of active hostilities.” While the US never formally declared war in Somalia, Trump effectively instituted war-zone targeting rules by expanding the discretionary authority of the military to conduct airstrikes and raids. Thus the debate over the January 29 strike largely hinged on the question of whether President Joe Biden was upholding Trump’s “flexible” approach to drone warfare―one that sanctioned more airstrikes in Somalia in the first seven months of 2020 than were carried out during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, combined.
In the days following the January 29 strike, the US Military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) denied responsibility, claiming that the last US military action in Somalia occurred on January 19, the last full day of the Trump presidency. Responding to an inquiry from Airwars, AFRICOM’s public affairs team announced:
We are aware of the reporting. US Africa Command was not involved in the Jan. 29 action referenced below. US Africa Command last strike was conducted on Jan. 19. Our policy of acknowledging all airstrikes by either press release or response to query has not changed.
In early March, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration had in fact imposed temporary limits on the Trump-era directives, thereby constraining drone strikes outside of “conventional battlefield zones.” In practice, this means that the US military and the CIA now require White House permission to pursue terror suspects in places like Somalia and Yemen where the US is not “officially” at war. This does not necessarily reflect a permanent change in policy, but rather a stopgap measure while the Biden administration develops “its own policy and procedures for counterterrorism kill-or-capture operations outside war zones.”
If we take AFRICOM at its word about January 29th, this provokes the question of who was behind that particular strike. Following AFRICOM’s denial of responsibility, analysts at Airwars concluded that the strike was likely carried out by forces from the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somali (AMISOM) or by Ethiopian troops, as it occurred soon after Al-Shabaab fighters had ambushed a contingent of Ethiopian troops in the area. If indeed the military of an African state is responsible for the bombing, what does this mean for our analysis of the security assemblages that sustain the US’s war-making apparatus in Africa?
Thanks to the work of scholars, activists, and investigative journalists, we have a growing understanding of what AFRICOM operations look like in practice. Maps of logistics hubs, forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations―from Mali and Niger to Kenya and Djibouti―capture the infrastructures that facilitate militarism and war on a global scale. Yet what the events of January 29th suggest is that AFRICOM is situated within, and often reliant upon, less scrutinized war-making infrastructures that, like those of the United States, claim to operate in the name of security.
A careful examination of the geographies of the US’s so-called war on terror in East Africa points not to one unified structure in the form of AFRICOM, but to multiple, interconnected geopolitical projects. Inspired by the abolitionist thought of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who cautions activists against focusing exclusively on any one site of violent exception like the prison, I am interested in the relational geographies that sustain the imperial war-making infrastructure in Africa today. Just as the modern prison is “a central but by no means singularly defining institution of carceral geography,” AFRICOM is a fundamental but by no means singularly defining instrument of war-making in Africa today.
Since the US military’s embarrassing exit from Somalia in 1993, the US has shifted from a boots-on-the ground approach to imperial warfare, instead relying on African militaries, private contractors, clandestine ground operations, and drone strikes. To singularly focus on AFRICOM’s drone warfare is therefore to miss the wider matrix of militarized violence that is at work. As Madiha Tahir reminds us, attack drones are only the most visible element of what she refers to as “distributed empire”—differentially distributed opaque networks of technologies and actors that augment the reach of the war on terror to govern more bodies and spaces. This dispersal of power requires careful consideration of the racialized labor that sustains war-making in Somalia, and of the geographical implications of this labor. The vast array of actors involved in the war against Al-Shabaab has generated political and economic entanglements that extend well beyond the territory of Somalia itself.
Ethiopia was the first African military to intervene in Somalia in December 2006, sending thousands of troops across the border, but it did not do so alone. Ethiopia’s effort was backed by US aerial reconnaissance and satellite surveillance, signaling the entanglement of at least two geopolitical projects. While the US was focused on threats from actors with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, Ethiopia had its own concerns about irredentism and the potential for its then-rival Eritrea to fund Somali militants that would infiltrate and destabilize Ethiopia. As Ethiopian troops drove Somali militant leaders into exile, more violent factions emerged in their place. In short, the 2006 invasion planted the seeds for the growth of what is now known as Al-Shabaab.
The United Nations soon authorized an African Union peacekeeping operation (AMISOM) to “stabilize” Somalia. What began as a small deployment of 1,650 peacekeepers in 2007 gradually transformed into a number that exceeded 22,000 by 2014. The African Union has emerged as a key subcontractor of migrant military labor in Somalia: troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda deployed to fight Al-Shabaab are paid significantly higher salaries than they receive back home, and their governments obtain generous military aid packages from the US, UK, and increasingly the European Union in the name of “security.”
But because these are African troops rather than American ones, we hear little of lives lost, or of salaries not paid. The rhetoric of “peacekeeping” makes AMISOM seem something other than what it is in practice—a state-sanctioned, transnational apparatus of violent labor that exploits group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death. (This is also how Gilmore defines racism.)
Meanwhile, Somali analyst Abukar Arman uses the term “predatory capitalism” to describe the hidden economic deals that accompany the so-called stabilization effort, such as “capacity-building” programs for the Somali security apparatus that serve as a cover for oil and gas companies to obtain exploration and drilling rights. Kenya is an important example of a “partner” state that has now become imbricated in this economy of war. Following the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) invasion of Somalia in October 2011, the African Union’s readiness to incorporate Kenyan troops into AMISOM was a strategic victory for Kenya, as it provided a veneer of legitimacy for maintaining what has amounted to a decade-long military occupation of southern Somalia.
Through carefully constructed discourses of threat that build on colonial-era mappings of alterity in relation to Somalis, the Kenyan political elite have worked to divert attention away from internal troubles and from the economic interests that have shaped its involvement in Somalia. From collusion with Al-Shabaab in the illicit cross-border trade in sugar and charcoal, to pursuing a strategic foothold in offshore oil fields, Kenya is sufficiently ensnared in the business of war that, as Horace Campbell observes, “it is not in the interest of those involved in this business to have peace.”
What began as purportedly targeted interventions spawned increasingly broader projects that expanded across multiple geographies. In the early stages of AMISOM troop deployment, for example, one-third of Mogadishu’s population abandoned the city due to the violence caused by confrontations between the mission and Al-Shabaab forces, with many seeking refuge in Kenya. While the mission’s initial rules of engagement permitted the use of force only when necessary, it gradually assumed an offensive role, engaging in counterinsurgency and counterterror operations.
Rather than weaken Al-Shabaab, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia observed that offensive military operations exacerbated insecurity. According to the UN, the dislodgment of Al-Shabaab from major urban centers “has prompted its further spread into the broader Horn of Africa region” and resulted in repeated displacements of people from their homes. Meanwhile, targeted operations against individuals with suspected ties to Al-Shabaab are unfolding not only in Somalia itself, but equally in neighboring countries like Kenya, where US-trained Kenyan police employ military tactics of tracking and targeting potential suspects, contributing to what one Kenyan rights group referred to as an “epidemic” of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Finally, the fact that some of AMISOM’s troop-contributing states have conducted their own aerial assaults against Al-Shabaab in Somalia demands further attention. A December 2017 United Nations report, for example, alleged that unauthorized Kenyan airstrikes had contributed to at least 40 civilian deaths in a 22-month period between 2015 and 2017. In May 2020, senior military officials in the Somali National Army accused the Kenyan military of indiscriminately bombing pastoralists in the Gedo region, where the KDF reportedly conducted over 50 airstrikes in a two week period. And in January 2021, one week prior to the January 29 strike that Airwars ascribed to Ethiopia, Uganda employed its own fleet of helicopter gunships to launch a simultaneous ground and air assault in southern Somalia, contributing to the deaths—according to the Ugandan military—of 189 people, allegedly all Al-Shabaab fighters.
While each of the governments in question are formally allies of the US, their actions are not reducible to US directives. War making in Somalia relies on contingent and fluid alliances that evolve over time, as each set of actors evaluates and reevaluates their interests. The ability of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to maintain their own war-making projects requires the active or tacit collaboration of various actors at the national level, including politicians who sanction the purchase of military hardware, political and business elite who glorify militarized masculinities and femininities, media houses that censor the brutalities of war, logistics companies that facilitate the movement of supplies, and the troops themselves, whose morale and faith in their mission must be sustained.
As the Biden administration seeks to restore the image of the United States abroad, it is possible that AFRICOM will gradually assume a backseat role in counterterror operations in Somalia. Officially, at least, US troops have been withdrawn and repositioned in Kenya and Djibouti, while African troops remain on the ground in Somalia. Relying more heavily on its partners in the region would enable the US to offset the public scrutiny and liability that comes with its own direct involvement.
But if our focus is exclusively on the US, then we succumb to its tactics of invisibility and invincibility, and we fail to reckon with the reality that the East African warscape is a terrain shaped by interconnected modes of power. The necessary struggle to abolish AFRICOM requires that we recognize its entanglement in and reliance upon other war-making assemblages, and that we distribute our activism accordingly. Recounting that resistance itself has long been framed as “terrorism,” we would do well to learn from those across the continent who, in various ways over the years, have pushed back, often at a heavy price.
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