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The End Of The Line: Predicting Kenya’s Vote on August 8

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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.

hornsby_3_1

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.

hornsby_3_2

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.

hornsby_3_3

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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Charles Hornsby is the author of Kenya; A History since Independence and lives in Ireland.

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A Dictator’s Guide: How Museveni Wins Elections and Reproduces Power in Uganda

Caricatures aside, how do President Yoweri Museveni and the National Revolutionary Movement state reproduce power? It’s been 31 years.

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Recent weeks have seen increased global media attention to Uganda following the incidents surrounding the arrest of popular musician and legislator, Bobi Wine; emblematic events that have marked the shrinking democratic space in Uganda and the growing popular struggles for political change in the country.

The spotlight is also informed by wider trends across the continent over the past few years—particularly the unanticipated fall of veteran autocrats Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Yaya Jammeh in Gambia, and most recently Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe—which led to speculation about whether Yoweri Museveni, in power in Uganda since 1986, might be the next to exit this shrinking club of Africa’s strongmen.

Yet the Museveni state, and the immense presidential power that is its defining characteristic, has received far less attention, thus obscuring some of the issues at hand. Comprehending its dynamics requires paying attention to at-least three turning points in the National Resistance Movement’s history, which resulted in a gradual weeding-out of Museveni’s contemporaries and potential opponents from the NRM, then the mobilisation of military conflict to shore up regime legitimacy, and the policing of urban spaces to contain the increasingly frequent signals of potential revolution. Together, these dynamics crystallised presidential power in Uganda, run down key state institutions, and set the stage for the recent tensions and likely many more to come.

The purge

From the late 1990s, there has been a gradual weeding out the old guard in the NRM, which through an informal “succession queue,” had posed an internal challenge to the continuity of Museveni’s rule. It all started amidst the heated debates in the late 1990s over the reform of the then decaying Movement system; debates that pitted a younger club of reformists against an older group. The resultant split led to the exit of many critical voices from the NRM’s ranks, and began to bolster Museveni’s grip on power in a manner that was unprecedented. It also opened the lid on official corruption and the abuse of public offices.

Over the years, the purge also got rid of many political and military elites—the so-called “historicals”—many of whom shared Museveni’s sense of entitlement to political office rooted in their contribution to the 1980-1985 liberation war, and some of whom probably had an eye on his seat.

By 2005 the purge was at its peak; that year the constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits—passed after a bribe to every legislator—saw almost all insiders that were opposed to it, summarily dismissed. As many of them joined the ranks of the opposition, Museveni’s inner circle was left with mainly sycophants whose loyalty was more hinged on patronage than anything else. Questioning the president or harboring presidential ambitions within the NRM had become tantamount to a crime.

By 2011 the process was almost complete, with the dismissal of Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, whose growing popularity among rural farmers was interpreted as a nascent presidential bid, resulting in his firing.

One man remained standing, Museveni’s long-time friend Amama Mbabazi. His friendship with Museveni had long fueled rumors that he would succeed “the big man” at some point. In 2015, however, his attempt to run against Museveni in the ruling party primaries also earned him an expulsion from both the secretary general position of the ruling party as well as the prime ministerial office.

The departure of Mbabazi marked the end of any pretensions to a succession plan within the NRM. He was unpopular, with a record tainted by corruption scandals and complicity in Museveni’s authoritarianism, but his status as a “president-in-waiting” had given the NRM at least the semblance of an institution that could survive beyond Museveni’s tenure, which his firing effectively ended.

What is left now is perhaps only the “Muhoozi project,” a supposed plan by Museveni to have his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba succeed him. Lately it has been given credence by the son’s rapid rise to commanding positions in elite sections of the Ugandan military. But with an increasingly insecure Museveni heavily reliant on familial relationships and patronage networks, even the Muhoozi project appears very unlikely. What is clear, though, is that the over time, the presidency has essentially become Museveni’s property.

Exporting peace?

Fundamental to Museveni’s personalisation of power also has been the role of military conflict, both local and regional. First was the rebellion by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, which over its two-decade span enabled a continuation of the military ethos of the NRM. The war’s dynamics were indeed complex, and rooted in a longer history that predated even the NRM government, but undoubtedly it provided a ready excuse for the various shades of authoritarianism that came to define Museveni’s rule.

With war ongoing in the north, any challenge to Museveni’s rule was easily constructed as a threat to the peace already secured in the rest of the country, providing an absurd logic for clamping down on political opposition. More importantly, the emergency state born of it, frequently provided a justification for the president to side-step democratic institutions and processes, while at the same time rationalising the government’s disproportionate expenditure on the military. It also fed into Museveni’s self-perception as a “freedom fighter,” buttressed the personality cult around him, and empowered him to further undermine any checks on his power.

By the late 2000s the LRA war was coming to an end—but another war had taken over its function just in time. From the early 2000s, Uganda’s participation in a regional security project in the context of the War on Terror, particularly in the Somalian conflict, rehabilitated the regime’s international image and provided cover for the narrowing political space at home, as well as facilitating a further entrenchment of Museveni’s rule.

As post-9/11 Western foreign policy began to prioritise stability over political reform, Museveni increasingly postured as the regional peacemaker, endearing himself to donors while further sweeping the calls for democratic change at home under the carpet—and earning big from it.

It is easy to overlook the impact of these military engagements, but the point is that together they accentuated the role of the military in Ugandan politics and further entrenched Museveni’s power to degrees that perhaps even the NRM’s own roots in a guerrilla movement could never have reached.

Policing protest

The expulsion of powerful elites from the ruling circles and the politicisation of military conflict had just started to cement Musevenism, when a new threat emerged on the horizon. It involved not the usual antagonists—gun-toting rebels or ruling party elites—but ordinary protesters. And they were challenging the NRM on an unfamiliar battleground—not in the jungles, but on the streets: the 2011 “Walk-to-Work” protests, rejecting the rising fuel and food prices, were unprecedented.

But there is another reason the protests constituted a new threat. For long the NRM had mastered the art of winning elections. The majority constituencies were rural, and allegedly strongholds of the regime. The electoral commission itself was largely answerable to Museveni. With rural constituencies in one hand and the electoral body in the other, the NRM could safely ignore the minority opposition-dominated urban constituencies. Electoral defeat thus never constituted a threat to the NRM, at least at parliamentary and presidential levels.

But now the protesters had turned the tables, and were challenging the regime immediately after one of its landslide victories. The streets could not be rigged. In a moment, they had shifted the locus of Ugandan politics from the rural to the urban, and from institutional to informal spaces. And they were picking lessons from a strange source: North Africa. There, where Museveni’s old friend Gaddafi, among others, was facing a sudden exit under pressure from similar struggles. Things could quickly get out of hand. A strategic response was urgent.

The regime went into overdrive. The 2011 protests were snuffed out, and from then, the policing of urban spaces became central to the logic and working of the Museveni state. Draconian laws on public assembly and free speech came into effect, enacted by a rubber-stamp parliament that was already firmly in Museveni’s hands. Police partnered with criminal gangs, notably the Boda Boda 2010, to curb what was called “public disorder”—really the official name for peaceful protest. As police’s mandate expanded to include the pursuit of regime critics, its budget ballooned, and its chief, General Kale Kayihura, became the most powerful person after Museveni—before his recent dismissal.

For a while, the regime seemed triumphant. Organising and protest became virtually impossible, as urban areas came under 24/7 surveillance. Moreover, key state institutions—the parliament, electoral commission, judiciary, military and now the police—were all in the service of the NRM, and all voices of dissent had been effectively silenced. In time, the constitution would be amended again, by the NRM-dominated house, this time to remove the presidential age limit—the last obstacle to Museveni’s life presidency—followed by a new tax on social media, to curb “gossip.” Museveni was now truly invincible. Or so it seemed.

But the dreams of “walk-to-work”—the nightmare for the Museveni state—had never really disappeared, and behind the tightly-patrolled streets always lay the simmering quest for change. That is how we arrived at the present moment, with a popstar representing the widespread aspiration for better government, and a seemingly all-powerful president suddenly struggling for legitimacy. Whatever direction the current popular struggles ultimately take, what is certain is that they are learning well from history, and are a harbinger of many more to come.

This post is from a new partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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The Enduring Blind Spots of America’s Africa Policy

America should move way from making the military the face of its engagement with Africa and instead invest in deepening democracy as a principled approach rather than a convenient choice.

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The Enduring Blind Spots of America's Africa Policy
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While Donald Trump’s administration completely neglected America-Africa relations, the blind spots bedeviling America’s Africa policy preceded his 2016 election. Correcting the systemic flaws of the past 30 years will require a complete rethink after the controversial President’s departure.

To remedy America’s Africa policy, President Joseph Biden’s administration should pivot away from counterterrorism to supporting democratic governance as a principal rather than as mere convenience, and cooperate with China on climate change, peace, and security on the continent.

America’s Africa policy 

America’s post-Cold War Africa policy has had three distinct and discernible phases. The first phase was an expansionist outlook undergirded by humanitarian intervention. The second was nonintervention, a stance triggered by the experience of the first phase. The third is the use of “smart” military interventions using military allies.  

The turning point for the first phase was in 1989 when a victorious America pursued an expansive foreign policy approach predicated on humanitarian intervention. Somalia became the first African test case of this policy when, in 1992, America sent almost 30,000 troops to support Operation Restore Hope’s humanitarian mission which took place against the background of the collapse of the Somalia government in 1991.

On 3-4 October 1993, during the Battle of Mogadishu, 18 US servicemen were killed in a fight with warlords who controlled Mogadishu then, and the bodies of the marines dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The media coverage increased pressure on the politicians and six months later America withdrew from Somalia — a case of the New World Order meeting the harsh reality of civil conflict.

The chastening experience resulted in America scaling back its involvement in internal conflicts in far-flung places. The result was the emergence of the second phase — non-engagement when Rwanda’s Genocide erupted in 1994 and almost a million people died in 100 days revealed the limitations of over-correcting the Somalia experience. This “non-interference” phase lasted until the twin Nairobi and Dar es Salaam US embassy bombings by Al Qaeda in 1998.

This gave way to the third phase with the realisation that the new threat to America was no longer primarily from state actors, but from transnational non-state actors using failing states as safe havens. The 2002 National Security Strategy states: “the events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states . . . can pose as a great danger to our national interests as strong states.”

Counterterrorism training and equipping of African militaries is the central plank of this new security policy. As a result, counterterrorism funding has skyrocketed as has America’s military footprint in Africa. As a result, Africa has become the theatre in which the Global forever War on Terror is fought.

The counterterrorism traps 

The reflexive reaction to the events of September 11 2001 spawned an interlocking web of covert and overt military and non-military operations. These efforts, initially deemed necessary and temporary, have since morphed into a self-sustaining system complete with agencies, institutions and a specialised lingo that pervades every realm of America’s engagement with Africa.

The United States Africa Command (Africom) is the vehicle of America’s engagement with the continent. Counterterrorism blurred the line between security, development, and humanitarian assistance with a host of implications including unrelenting militarisation which America’s policy establishment embraced uncritically as the sine qua non of America’s diplomacy, their obvious flaws notwithstanding. The securitisation of problems became self-fulfilling and self-sustaining.

The embrace of counterterrorism could not have come at a worse time for Africa’s efforts at democratization. In many African countries, political and military elites have now developed a predictable rule-based compact governing accession to power via elections rather than the coups of the past.

“Smart” African leaders exploited the securitised approach in two main ways: closing the political space and criminalising dissent as “terrorism” and as a source of free money. In Ethiopia, Yonatan Tesfaye, a former spokesman of the Semayawi (Blue) Party, was detained in December 2015 on charges under Article 4 of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation ((EATP), arguably one of the the country’s most severe pieces of legislation. But Ethiopia has received millions of dollars from the United States.

The Department of Defense hardly says anything in public but gives out plenty of money without asking questions about human rights and good governance. Being a counterterrorism hub has become insurance policy against any form of criticism regardless of state malfeasance.

Egypt is one such hub. According to the Congressional Research Service, for the 2021 financial year, the Trump Administration has requested a total of US$1.4 billion in bilateral assistance for Egypt, which Congress approved in 2018 and 2019. Nearly all US funding for Egypt comes from the Foreign Military Finance (FMF) account and is in turn used to purchase military equipment of US origin, spare parts, training, and maintenance from US firms.

Another country that is a counterterrorism hub in the Horn of Africa is Ethiopia. For the few months they were in charge, the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU) brought order and stability to the country.  Although they were linked to only a few of Mogadishu’s local courts, on 24 December 2006, Ethiopia’s military intervened in Somalia to contain the rise of Al Shabaab’s political and military influence.

The ouster of the ICU by Ethiopia aggravated the deep historical enmity between Somalia and Ethiopia, something Al Shabaab — initially the youth wing of the ICU — subsequently exploited through a mix of Somali nationalism, Islamist ideology, and Western anti-imperialism. Al Shabaab presented themselves as the vanguard against Ethiopia and other external aggressors, providing the group with an opportunity to translate their rhetoric into action.

Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia could not have taken place without America’s blessing. The intervention took place three weeks after General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces from the Middle East to Afghanistan, met with the then Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.  The intervention generated a vicious self-sustaining loop. Ethiopians are in Somalia because of Al Shabaab, and Al Shabaab says they will continue fighting as long as foreign troops are inside Somalia.

America has rewarded Ethiopia handsomely for its role as the Horn of Africa’s policeman. In both Ethiopia’s and Egypt’s case, on the score of human rights and good governance, the net losers are the citizens.

Drone attacks 

In keeping with the War on Terror being for forever, and despite departing Somalia in 1993, America outsourced a massive chunk of the fight against Al Shabaab to Ethiopia primarily, and later, to AMISOM. America is still engaged in Somalia where it has approximately 800 troops, including special forces that help train Somalia’s army to fight against Al Shabaab.

America carried out its first drone strike in Somalia in 2011 during President Barack Obama’s tenure. Under the Trump administration, however, the US has dramatically increased the frequency of drone attacks and loosened the oversight required to approve strike targets in Somalia. In March 2017, President Trump secretly designated parts of Somalia “areas of active hostilities”, meaning that the high-level inter-agency vetting of proposed strikes and the need to demonstrate with near certainty that civilians would not be injured or killed no longer applied. Last year, the US acknowledged conducting 63 airstrikes in the country, and in late August last year, the US admitted that it had carried out 46 strikes in 2020.

A lack of transparency regarding civilian casualties and the absence of empirical evidence that the strikes lead to a reduction in terrorism in Somalia suggest that expanding to Kenya would be ill-advised. The US has only acknowledged having caused civilian casualties in Somalia three times. Between 2016 and 2019, AFRICOM failed to conduct a single interview with civilian witnesses of its airstrikes in Somalia.

Despite this level of engagement, defeating Al Shabaab remains a remote possibility.

Containing the Chinese takeover 

The Trump Administration did not have an Africa policy. The closest approximation of a policy during Trump’s tenure was stated in a speech delivered by John Bolton at a Conservative think tank decrying  China’s nefarious activities in Africa.  Even with a policy, where the counterterrorism framework views Africa as a problem to be solved by military means, the containing China policy views African countries as lacking the agency to act in their own interests. The problem with this argument is that it is patronising; Africans cannot decide what is right for them.

Over the last decades, while America was busy creating the interlocking counterterrorism infrastructure in Africa, China was building large-scale infrastructure across the continent. Where America sees Africa as a problem to be solved, China sees Africa as an opportunity to be seized.

Almost two years into the Trump administration, there were no US ambassadors deployed in 20 of Africa’s 54 countries even while America was maintaining a network of 29 military bases.  By comparison China, has 50 embassies spread across Africa.

For three consecutive years America’s administration has proposed deep and disproportionate cuts to diplomacy and development while China has doubled its foreign affairs budget since 2011. In 2018, China increased its funding for diplomacy by nearly 16 per cent and its funding for foreign aid by almost 7 per cent.

As a show of how engagement with Africa is low on the list of US priorities, Trump appointed a luxury handbag designer as America’s ambassador to South Africa on 14 November 2018. Kenya’s ambassador is a political appointee who, when he is not sparring with Kenyans on Twitter, is supporting a discredited coal mining project.

The US anti-China arguments emphasize that China does not believe in human rights and good governance, and that China’s funding of large infrastructure projects is essentially debt-trap diplomacy. The anti-China rhetoric coming from American officials is not driven by altruism but by the realisation that they have fallen behind China in Africa.

By the middle of this century Africa’s population is expected to double to roughly two billion. Nigeria will become the second most populous country globally by 2100, behind only India. The 24-country African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) entered into force on 30 May 2019. AfCFTA will ultimately bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people — including a growing middle class — and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion.

While Chinese infrastructure projects grab the headlines, China has moved into diversifying its engagement with Africa. The country has increased its investments in Africa by more than 520 per cent over the last 15 years, surpassing the US as the largest trading partner for Africa in 2009 and becoming the top exporter to 19 out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some of the legacy Chinese investments have come at a steep environmental price and with an unsustainable debt. Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway is bleeding money and is economically unviable.

A fresh start

Supporting democratic governance and learning to cooperate with China are two areas that will make America part of Africa’s future rather than its past.

America should pivot way from making the military the most visible face of its engagement with Africa and instead invest in deepening democracy as a principled approach rather than a convenient choice.

Despite the elegy about its retreat in Africa, democracy enjoys tremendous support. According to an Afro barometer poll, almost 70 per cent of Africans say democracy is their preferred form of government. Large majorities also reject alternative authoritarian regimes such as presidential dictatorships, military rule, and one-party governments. Democracy, while still fledgling, remains a positive trend; since 2015, there have been 34 peaceful transfers of power.

However, such positive metrics go hand in hand with a worrying inclination by presidents to change constitutions to extend their terms in office. Since 2015, leaders of 13 countries have evaded or overseen the weakening of term limit restrictions that had been in place. Democracy might be less sexy, but ignoring it is perilous. There are no apps or switches to flip to arrest this slide. It requires hard work that America is well equipped to support but has chosen not to in a range of countries in recent years There is a difference between interfering in the internal affairs of a country and complete abdication or (in some cases) supporting leaders who engage in activities that are inimical to deepening democracy.

The damage wrought by the Trump presidency and neo-liberal counterterrorism policies will take time to undo, but symbolic efforts can go a long way to bridging the gap.

America must also contend with China being an indispensable player in Africa and learn to cooperate rather than compete in order to achieve optimal outcomes.

China has 2,458 military and police personnel serving in eight missions around the globe, far more than the combined contribution of personnel by the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia, the US, France and Britain. China had more than 2,400 Chinese troops take part in seven UN peacekeeping missions across the continent — most notably in Mali and South Sudan. Of the 14 current UN peacekeeping missions, seven are in Africa, consuming two-thirds of the budget.

Climate change and conflict resolution provide opportunities for cooperation. Disproportionate reliance on rain-fed agriculture and low adaptation to the adverse impact of climate change make Africa vulnerable to the damaging effects of climate change, the consequences of which will transcend Africa. Through a combination of research, development, technological transfer and multilateral investment, America and China could stave off the impact of climate change in Africa.

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Hijacking Kenya’s Health Spending: Companies Linked to Powerful MP Received Suspicious Procurement Contracts

Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee.

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Hijacking Kenya’s Health Spending: Companies Linked to Powerful MP Received Suspicious Procurement Contracts
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Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee, an investigation by Africa Uncensored and The Elephant has uncovered.

One of the companies was also awarded a mysterious Ksh 4.3 billion agreement to supply 8 million bottles of hand sanitizer, according to the government’s procurement system.

The contracts were awarded in 2015 as authorities moved to contain the threat from the Ebola outbreak that was ravaging West Africa and threatening to spread across the continent as well as from flooding related to the El-Nino weather phenomenon.

The investigation found that between 2014 and 2016, the Ministry of Health handed out hundreds of questionable non-compete tenders related to impending disasters, with a total value of KSh176 billion including three no-bid contracts to two firms, Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, linked to Mrs Nyamai, whose committee oversaw the ministry’s funding – a clear conflict of interest.

Number of Suppliers Allocated BPAAlthough authorities have since scrutinized some of the suspicious contracts and misappropriated health funds, the investigation revealed a handful of contracts that were not made public, nor questioned by the health committee.

Mrs Nyamai declined to comment for the story.

Nyamai has been accused by fellow members of parliament of thwarting an investigation of a separate alleged fraud. In 2016, a leaked internal audit report accused the Ministry of Health — colloquially referred to for its location at Afya House — of misappropriating funds in excess of nearly $60 million during the 2015/2016 financial year. Media stories described unauthorized suppliers, fraudulent transactions, and duplicate payments, citing the leaked document.

Members of the National Assembly’s Health Committee threatened to investigate by bringing the suppliers in for questioning, and then accused Nyamai, the committee chairperson, of blocking their probe. Members of the committee signed a petition calling for the removal of Nyamai and her deputy, but the petition reportedly went missing. Nyamai now heads the National Assembly’s Committee on Lands.

Transactions for companies owned by Mrs Nyamai’s relatives were among 25,727 leaked procurement records reviewed by reporters from Africa Uncensored, Finance Uncovered, The Elephant, and OCCRP. The data includes transactions by eight government agencies between August 2014 and January 2018, and reveals both questionable contracts as well as problems that continue to plague the government’s accounting tool, IFMIS.

The Integrated Financial Management Information System was adopted to improve efficiency and accountability. Instead, it has been used to fast-track corruption.

Hand sanitizer was an important tool in fighting transmission of Ebola, according to a WHO health expert. In one transaction, the Ministry of Health paid Sh5.4 million for “the supply of Ebola reagents for hand sanitizer” to a company owned by a niece of the MP who chaired the parliamentary health committee. However, it’s unclear what Ebola reagents, which are meant for Ebola testing, have to do with hand sanitizer. Kenya’s Ministry of Health made 84 other transactions to various vendors during this period, earmarked specifically for Ebola-related spending. These included:

  • Public awareness campaigns and adverts paid to print, radio and tv media platforms, totalling at least KSh122 million.
  • Printed materials totalling at least KSh214 million for Ebola prevention and information posters, contact tracing forms, technical guideline and point-of-entry forms, brochures and decision charts, etc. Most of the payments were made to six obscure companies.
  • Ebola-related pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical supplies, including hand sanitizer
  • Ebola-related conferences, catering, and travel expenses
  • At least KSh15 millions paid to a single vendor for isolation beds

Hacking the System

Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, appear to have no history of dealing in hygiene or medical supplies. Yet they were awarded three blanket purchase agreements, which are usually reserved for trusted vendors who provide recurring supplies such as newspapers and tea, or services such as office cleaning.

“A blanket agreement is something which should be exceptional, in my view,” says former Auditor-General, Edward Ouko.

But the leaked data show more than 2,000 such agreements, marked as approved by the heads of procurement in various ministries. About KSh176 billion (about $1.7 billion) was committed under such contracts over 42 months.

“Any other method of procurement, there must be competition. And in this one there is no competition,” explained a procurement officer, who spoke generally about blanket purchase agreements on background. “You have avoided sourcing.”

The Ministry of Health did not respond to detailed questions, while Mrs Nyamai declined to comment on the contracts in question.

Procurement experts say blanket purchase agreements are used in Kenya to short-circuit the competitive process. A ministry’s head of procurement can request authority from the National Treasury to create blanket agreements for certain vendors. Those companies can then be asked by procurement employees to deliver supplies and services without competing for a tender.

Once in the system, these single-source contracts are prone to corruption, as orders and payments can simply be made without the detailed documentation required under standard procurements. With limited time and resources, government auditors say they struggle especially with reconciling purchases made under blanket agreements.

The agreements were almost always followed by standard purchase orders that indicated the same vendor and the same amount which is unusual and raises fears of duplication. Some of these transactions were generated days or weeks after the blanket agreements, many with missing or mismatched explanations. It’s unclear whether any of these actually constituted duplicate payments.

For example, the leaked data show two transactions for Ameken Minewest for Sh6.9 million each — a blanket purchase order for El Nino mitigation supplies and a standard order for the supply of chlorine tablets eight days later. Tira Southshore also had two transactions of Sh12 million each — a blanket purchase for the “supply of lab reagents for cholera,” and six days later a standard order for the supply of chlorine powder.

Auditors say both the amounts and the timing of such payments are suspicious because blanket agreements should be paid in installments.

“It could well be a duplicate, using the same information, to get through the process. Because you make a blanket [agreement], then the intention is to do duplicates, so that it can pass through the cash payee phase several times without delivering more,” said Ouko upon reviewing some of the transactions for Tira Southshore. This weakness makes the IFMIS system prone to abuse, he added.

In addition, a KSh4 billion contract for hand sanitizer between the Health Ministry’s Preventive and Promotive Health Department and Tira Southshore was approved as a blanket purchase agreement in April 2015. The following month, a standard purchase order was generated for the same amount but without a description of services — this transaction is marked in the system as incomplete. A third transaction — this one for 0 shillings — was generated 10 days later by the same procurement employee, using the original order description: “please supply hand sanitizers 5oomls as per contract Moh/dpphs/dsru/008/14-15-MTC/17/14-15(min.no.6).

Reporters were unable to confirm whether KSh4 billion was paid by the ministry. The leaked data doesn’t include payment disbursement details, and the MOH has not responded to requests for information.

“I can assure you there’s no 4 billion, not even 1 billion. Not even 10 million that I have ever done, that has ever gone through Tira’s account, through that bank account,” said the co-owner of the company, Abigael Mukeli. She insisted that Tira Southshore never had a contract to deliver hand sanitizer, but declined to answer specific questions. It is unclear how a company without a contract would appear as a vendor in IFMIS, alongside contract details.

It is possible that payments could end up in bank accounts other than the ones associated with the supplier. That is because IFMIS also allowed for the creation of duplicate suppliers, according to a 2016 audit of the procurement system. That audit found almost 50 cases of duplication of the same vendor.

“Presence of active duplicate supplier master records increases the possibility of potential duplicate payments, misuse of bank account information, [and] reconciliation issues,” the auditors warned.

They also found such blatant security vulnerabilities as ghost and duplicate login IDs, deactivated requirements for password resets, and remote access for some procurement employees.

Credit: Edin Pasovic/OCCRP

Credit: Edin Pasovic/OCCRP

IFMIS was promoted as a solution for a faster procurement process and more transparent management of public funds. But the way the system was installed and used in Kenya compromised its extolled safeguards, according to auditors.

“There is a human element in the system,” said Ouko. “So if the human element is also not working as expected then the system cannot be perfect.”

The former head of the internal audit unit at the health ministry, Bernard Muchere, confirmed in an interview that IFMIS can be manipulated.

Masking the Setup

Ms Mukeli, the co-owner of Tira Southshore and Ameken Minewest, is the niece of Mrs Nyamai, according to local sources and social media investigation, although she denied the relationship to reporters. According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms Mukeli works at Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a medical logistics agency under the Ministry of Health, now embroiled in a COVID procurement scandal.

Ms Mukeli’s mother, who is the MP’s elder sister, co-owns Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., which shares a post office box with Tira Southshore and Mematira Holdings Limited, which was opened in 2018, is co-owned by Mrs Nyamai’s husband and daughter, and is currently the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest. Documents also show that a company called Icpher Consultants was originally registered to the MP, who was listed as the beneficial owner.

Co-owner of Tira Southshore Holdings Limited, Abigael Mukeli, described the company to reporters as a health consulting firm. However Tira Southshore also holds an active exploration license for the industrial mining in a 27-square-kilometer area in Kitui County, including in the restricted South Kitui National Reserve. According to government records, the application for mining limestone in Mutomo sub-county — Nyamai’s hometown — was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018.

Mukeli is also a minority owner of Ameken Minewest Company Limited, which also holds an active mining license in Mutomo sub-county of Kitui, in an area covering 135.5 square kilometers. Government records show that the application for the mining of limestone, magnesite, and manganese was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018. Two weeks after the license was granted, Mematira Holdings Limited was incorporated, with Nyamai’s husband and daughter as directors. Today, Mematira Holdings is the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest, which is now in the process of obtaining another mining license in Kitui County.

According to public documents, Ameken also dabbles in road works and the transport of liquefied petroleum gas. And it’s been named by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in a fuel fraud scheme.

Yet another company, Wet Blue Proprietors Logistics Ltd., shares a phone number with Tira Southshore and another post office box with Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., according to a Kenya National Highway Authority list of pre-qualified vendors.

Family LinksMrs Nyamai and her husband co-own Wet Blue. The consulting company was opened in 2010, the same year that the lawmaker completed her PhD work in HIV/AIDS education in Denmark.

Wet Blue was licenced in 2014 as a dam contractor and supplier of water, sewerage, irrigation and electromechanical works. It’s also listed by KENHA as a vetted consultant for HIV/AIDS mitigation services, together with Icpher Consultants.

It is unclear why these companies are qualified to deliver all these services simultaneously.

“Shell companies receiving contracts in the public sector in Kenya have enabled corruption, fraud and tax evasion in the country. They are literally special purpose vehicles to conduct ‘heists’ and with no track record to deliver the public goods, works or services procured,” said Sheila Masinde, executive director of Transparency International-Kenya.

Both MOH and Ms Mukeli refused to confirm whether the ordered supplies were delivered.

Mrs Nyamai also co-owns Ameken Petroleum Limited together with Alfred Agoi Masadia and Allan Sila Kithome.

Mr Agoi is an ANC Party MP for Sabatia Constituency in Vihiga County, and was on the same Health Committee as Mrs Nyamai, a Jubilee Party legislator. Mr Sila is a philanthropist who is campaigning for the Kitui County senate seat in the 2022 election.

Juliet Atellah at The Elephant and Finance Uncovered in the UK contributed reporting.

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