Connect with us

Features

COMMISSIONS OR OMISSIONS OF INQUIRY? Why Kenya has failed to address historical and other injustices

Published

on

COMMISSIONS OR OMISSIONS OF INQUIRY? Why Kenya has failed to address historical and other injustices

Kenya experienced a protracted electoral period after the unprecedented nullification of the August 8 presidential election last year. After the Supreme Court gave its detailed ruling on September 20, the opposition leader Raila Odinga stated that if there were no reforms in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the repeat election ordered by the Supreme Court in 60 days would not go ahead.

A majority of the Supreme Court judges said that the electoral agency had failed, neglected or refused to conduct the elections in the manner and dictates of the Constitution. Raila, therefore, argued, that the commission had to effect changes and punish those within its ranks who oversaw the illegalities and the irregularities in the August 8 presidential election.

Speaking in Kajiado County on September 10, Raila said his team was ready for the October 17 (that’s the initial date the IEBC gave) repeat presidential polls but insisted that they must be managed by a different team from the one accused of bungling the previous election. Later he started the anti-polls campaign under the mantra, “No reforms, No elections”.

One of the ways we have attempted to seek solutions to the issues facing Kenya, such as ethnic violence, marginalisation, electoral injustice, corruption and historical injustices, has been through commissions of inquiry. What became of them? Were they not effective or is it that their recommendations have not been taken seriously?

What changed? Kenya was in unchartered waters and the power struggle was escalating. Mistrust got to unmanageable levels. For Jubilee, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s party, it was not possible to get “meat from their mouth”.

Raila’s camp felt that without changes in the IEBC, the repeat polls would be rigged anyway. So why participate with a predetermined winner? The drama escalated when Raila withdrew his candidature from the repeat 26 October polls on October 10.

Why not use commissions of inquiry recommendations to solve the country’s problems? This was the Big Question in various platforms, especially on television talk shows, until the now much-talked about handshake between Uhuru and Raila on March 9 at the former’s Harambee House office.

But it is irritating because it ignores that we, as a country, have on several occasions asked ourselves this question and sought an answer to it through commissions of inquiry. Secondly, the assumption that all is well because the two leaders came together without a well structured dialogue framework does not help in solving the underlying issues.

One of the ways we have attempted to seek solutions to the issues facing Kenya, such as ethnic violence, marginalisation, electoral injustice, corruption and historical injustices, has been through commissions of inquiry. What became of them? Were they not effective or is it that their recommendations have not been taken seriously?

Commissions of inquiry in Kenya

Commissions of inquiry are ad hoc advisory bodies set up by the government to obtain information. In their work, they are expected to assess the facts and make recommendations to the government. Their primary function is to inform governments. They have been classified into two groups — based on the methods used to ascertain the facts. The first category of commissions are those charged with gathering information for policy formulation or review or to assess the functionality of a public entity. These are investigatory inquiries, and they play the same function as a researcher. Examples include the 1998 Commission of Inquiry into the Education System of Kenya, chaired by Davy Koech, which investigated the appropriateness of Kenya’s education system.

According to a report by journalist Dennis Onsaringo of the Standard last year, Oyugi was the mastermind of Ouko’s murder. “He was the trigger man, but the PS was not working alone,” he quotes Troon, who when asked whether the then president, Daniel arap Moi, knew who killed Ouko, quipped: “He is the president and his foreign affairs minister is murdered. What do you think?”

The second category comprises those charged with ascertaining the facts of a particular matter or question. They are inquisitorial inquiries. They investigate facts surrounding allegations of wrongdoing. The inquiry into the conduct of Justice Philip Tunoi, which didn’t conclude after he resigned, is a good example.

The Commissions of Inquiry Act guides the establishment of commissions of inquiry. Based on this law, the President can, whenever he considers it advisable, appoint a commission to inquire into the conduct of any individual, institution or matter.

However, it is important to note that despite the Commissions of Inquiry Amendment Act (2009) and the fact that the President appoints tribunals and commissions of inquiry, the former don’t present their findings to Parliament. For example, a tribunal investigating Justice Joseph Mutava directly recommended to President Uhuru Kenyatta that the judge be removed from office for misconduct.

The Commissions of Inquiry Amendment (2009), which gives oversight authority over these commissions to the National Assembly, states: “It shall be the duty of a commissioner, after making and subscribing the prescribed oath, to make a full, faithful and impartial inquiry into the matter into which he is commissioned to inquire, to conduct the inquiry in accordance with the directions contained in the commission and on completion of the inquiry, to report to the President and to the National Assembly, in writing, the result of the inquiry and the reasons for the conclusions arrived at.”

The key words I pick from this amendment are “full, faithful and impartial inquiry”. These are the adjectives that the National Assembly bound the commissions of inquiry with. Surprisingly, if we go by past reports, the same does not apply to Parliament in pushing for their implementation, even after this amendment.

The mover of the amendment Bill, John Olago Aluoch, the then Kisumu Town MP, noted that in the history of our country, numerous inquiries had been commissioned by the President under the provisions of Section 3 of Commissions of Inquiry Act, and based on Section 7 of that Act, the reports were presented to the President. As a result — certainly due to vested interests — the contents of these reports and their proposals have for decades remained unknown to the public. This is despite the fact that these inquiries were constituted to probe matters that were public in nature, in the “interest of the public” and funded by taxpayers’ money.

In his support for the aforementioned amendment of Section 7 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act in June 2010, Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba said, “When you look at the history of these commissions, you see wastage of funds to the extent that you get a sneaky feeling that some of them may have been set up for no reason other than to act as cash cows.”

So, to ensure transparency of the commissions, and to fix this anomaly, Aluoch proposed the amendment to the aforementioned Section 7 that the reports be submitted to Parliament too, where they would be debated by the people’s representatives. However, we still haven’t seen much change with regards to pushing for its implementation. On the contrary, in some cases, MPs have taken sides on whether to debate a report. For example, when it came to the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report, legislators took political sides report is yet to be debated, despite numerous attempts.

Some of the important commissions of inquiry that have been set up over the years include: the Kenya Maize Commission; the Commission on the Law of Marriage and Divorce; the Commission of Inquiry on the Law of Insurance, popularly known as the Hancock Commission; the Judicial Commission Appointed to Inquire into allegations involving Charles Njonjo; the Ouko Commission of Inquiry (1990-91); the Akiwumi Commission into Ethnic Violence; the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Goldenberg Affair; the Commission on Higher Education, also known as the David Koech Commission; the Commission of Inquiry into the Land Law Systems of Kenya (Njonjo Land Commission) and the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (Waki Commission). We also had the Krigler Commission, the Inquiry into the Death of Former Cabinet Minister George Saitoti and the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which examined historical injustices in Kenya since independence and came up with recommendations on how they might be addressed.

Commissions of inquiry in other countries

SOUTH AFRICA
Between 1995 and 2002, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission looked into crimes committed during the apartheid regime and made its report public. The commission investigated gross human rights violations that were perpetrated by the state and its agencies between 1960 and 1994, including abductions, killings, and torture. The TRC had an annual budget of $18 million. According to the United States Institute of Peace, the report was fully endorsed by the government. President Nelson Mandela apologised to all the victims on behalf of the state. And in 2006, the government established an agency to monitor the implementation of the TRC’s recommendations, especially on reparations and exhumations. Challenges in reparation, however, persist to date.

ENGLAND
According to AfriCoG, in England, commissions of inquiry are established when there are “rumoured instances, or lapses in accepted standards of public administration and other matters causing public concern which cannot be dealt with by ordinary civil or criminal process but which require investigation to allay public anxiety.”

However, Tor Butler-Cole, in her 2004 article in the Telegraph, says that the excessive costs and the lengthy durations of public inquiries are the arguments most commonly cited against them. The Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry, for example, cost an estimated £14 million, the BSE Inquiry around £27 million.

However, Butler-Cole argues that the economic costs of a public inquiry can be overlooked if the inquiry brings about catharsis, confidence and knowledge. “It has been argued that despite these good intentions, public inquiries do not in fact lead to improvements: There are few formal mechanisms for following up the findings and recommendations of inquiries. Many of the problems identified by inquiries are cultural and demand changes in attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviours which are difficult to prescribe in any set of recommendations.”

Commissions are not always about uncovering the truth

The Ouko Commission of Inquiry was formed to establish the truth behind the brutal murder of Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko on February 13, 1990. The murder case, perhaps the most intriguing in Kenyan history, remained unsolved after the commission was disbanded midstream. A second attempt into the probe in 2010 didn’t do any better after the report was rejected by Parliament on the grounds of “a lack of unity, and disagreements within the committee”.

An examination of past inquiries – how they were conducted or wound up and how their contents were hidden – points to the fact that commissions of inquiry are often used as tools by the government to create an impression that it cares when it doesn’t. The intention is to use the commission as a cover-up so that people can “forget and move on”.

In his report, the lead investigator John Troon from Scotland Yard said that Dr. Ouko’s murder was triggered and actualised by a corruption report he was compiling, in which prominent people, including cabinet ministers, were adversely implicated. He handed over the report to the government. Interestingly, the key suspect in the murder was Internal Security Permanent Secretary Hezekiah Oyugi.

According to a report by journalist Dennis Onsaringo of the Standard last year, Oyugi was the mastermind of Ouko’s murder. “He was the trigger man, but the PS was not working alone,” he quotes Troon, who when asked whether the then president, Daniel arap Moi, knew who killed Ouko, quipped: “He is the president and his foreign affairs minister is murdered. What do you think?”

How then did we expect such a commission to produce anything? Was it, in fact, a cover up?

The story of the Parliamentary Select Committee investigating the murder of former Nyandarua North MP JM Kariuki, paints a clearer picture. The Committee’s report implicated the Interior Security Minister Mbiyu Koinange, senior police officers, the Director of CID Ignatius Iriga Nderi, the head of the General Service Unit Ben Gethi, Arthur Wanyoike Thungu (President Jomo Kenyatta’s most trusted bodyguard), Patrick Shaw and senior administrative officers and politicians. According to Charse Honsby’s Kenya: A History Since Independence, Nderi refused to cooperate, and Koinange declined to respond to the committee’s summons. Waruhiu Itote, Kenyatta’s intelligence adviser, who also headed the National Youth Service, threatened to shoot anyone who summoned him to testify.

None of the people mentioned in the Committee’s report were investigated or punished.

A colleague of mine, who is also a veteran journalist, told me the story of what actually happened. Upon completion of the hearings and compilation of the report, Elijah Mwangale, who headed the Parliamentary Select Committee, accompanied by Starehe MP Charles Rubia and Lurambi North MP Buridi Nabwera, took a copy of the document wrapped in the national flag to President Kenyatta at State House. They took photos and proceeded inside to discuss “the damn thing”, as Kenyatta called it, before tabling it in Parliament that afternoon. Rubia recounts the President saying, “If you include my bodyguard Wanyoike Thungu, and you include my Minister of State, Mbiyu Koinange, why don’t you include me there as well?”

The Big Man was obviously not happy that his men were mentioned, and that clearly pointed at who then was behind the murder of JM. (Mbiyu Koinange had adversely been mentioned in the committee’s hearings.)

“But, sorry Mr. President, your minister has been mentioned because of what we have heard. But what can we do as a committee now?” said.

“Alright, if you can remove my minister’s name from that list, you can publish the damn thing!” responded the president.

And that’s how the 38-page committee report was doctored.

The government still maintains the case is still open and that any Kenyan who might have more information can produce it. But justice delayed is justice denied, and for the family of JM, and many other Kenyans who have been affected by unresolved injustices, that remains the case.

The Commission of Inquiry on the Law of Insurance, also known as the Hancox Commission, was established in October 1986 by President Daniel arap Moi to look into the insurance industry. Its only member was Justice Allan Robin Winston Hancox, assisted by Mary Ang’awa, who is now a judge. It was never made public, and instead, was reportedly released to select insurance stakeholders. This certainly informs why the sector is captured by selected individuals/institutions. Hancox was later appointed Chief Justice in 1989. (Moi has interests in the industry, among other sectors.)

Despite President Uhuru having received the 2,200-page TJRC report as soon as he assumed office during his first term, he is yet to officially make it public – although he did made a blanket apology during his State of the Nation address in March 2015, which was a key recommendation of the TJRC. The Judiciary also apologised. However, this apology did not extend to state security agencies that have continued to commit atrocities through brutality and killings, as we saw in the 2017 electioneering period.

In his support for the aforementioned amendment of Section 7 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act in June 2010, Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba said, “When you look at the history of these commissions, you see wastage of funds to the extent that you get a sneaky feeling that some of them may have been set up for no reason other than to act as cash cows.”

A lot of financing goes into the establishment and running of these commissions. Although this writer was not able to access the figures at the State Law Office, you would need a considerably large amount of money for transport, security, administration support for commissioners, salaries, allowances and oversight of investigations.

The commissioners and the chairman are ostensibly paid huge salaries so that they are “not easy to bribe”. Well, it could that the salary itself acts as a form of bribery to cover up the very matter under investigation. As Pravin Bowry, an expert in court procedures and rules of evidence, noted in his “An Inquiry into Commissions of Inquiry” article in the Standard on January 13, 2010, often, commissions have been used to sideline and sidestep political issues and to defuse situations. “The elongation of proceedings always hurts the country. In contrast, in a commission of inquiry recently in England, thousands of relevant documents were posted on the Internet for the concerned and interested parties to peruse and make written observations and the inquiry was concluded within a month or so,” he wrote.

An examination of past inquiries – how they were conducted or wound up and how their contents were hidden – points to the fact that commissions of inquiry are often used as tools by the government to create an impression that it cares when it doesn’t. The intention is to use the commission as a cover-up so that people can “forget and move on”. It has now become a cliché that these reports have not been implemented because of lack of political will. But do we really expect governments to find evidence against itself (it is the President who forms these commissions) and take itself to jail?

This is probably why Deputy President William Ruto, speaking at a rally in Mariakani, Kilifi County in July 2017, had the guts to say that the Jubilee government would not implement the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations because they would divide Kenyans by “re-opening old wounds”. The TJRC, it is important to note, was established in the aftermath of the 2007-08 post-election violence and was tasked with inquiring into gross violations of human rights and historical injustices that occurred in Kenya between independence on December 12, 1963 and the date when the National Accord signed on February 28, 2008.

Despite President Uhuru having received the 2,200-page TJRC report as soon as he assumed office during his first term, he is yet to officially make it public – although he did made a blanket apology during his State of the Nation address in March 2015, which was a key recommendation of the TJRC. The Judiciary also apologised. However, this apology did not extend to state security agencies that have continued to commit atrocities through brutality and killings, as we saw in the 2017 electioneering period. Various agencies have relentlessly urged the president to make the report public and to effect its recommendations in the interest of promoting peace, justice and reconciliation.

The Krigler Commission, which was chaired by the South African judge Johann Krigler, made a raft of recommendations that included the setting up of an independent agency to manage elections and an integrated and secure tallying and data transmission system to allow computerised data entry and tallying at the constituency level. These were quite progressive recommendations, which we saw being undone by Parliament just before the August 8 general election and soon after the nullification of the presidential election. Kriegler also warned against “too many electoral laws” that are too cumbersome to enforce and which allow for scapegoating.

The key to these recommendations was the implementation of Agenda Four of the National Accord, which was expected to look into long-term measures and solutions, such as constitutional, institutional and legal reforms, land reform, poverty and inequity, unemployment, particularly among the youth, consolidating national cohesion and unity, transparency and accountability and addressing impunity.

Just how independent is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission? The Krigler report recommended that the electoral commissioner be non-partisan, However, the accounts of former Commissioner Roselyn Akombe and Chairman Wafula Chebukati in the run-up to the October 26 repeat election that some commissioners voted against certain decisions along partisan lines suggest otherwise.

The recommendation that Kenya should have an integrated and secure tallying and data transmission system wasn’t really adhered to at the execution stage, and this was the basis of the August 8 election petition, which the opposition won. Even before the repeat polls, Parliament, with a Jubilee majority, amended this provision in the Electoral Laws Act.

The Ndung’u Land Commission’s findings were aimed at reversing unlawful land-related actions and ensuring land reform through creating an enabling policy and legal framework. At the heart of the commission’s report was the recommendation that all titles for illegally acquired land be cancelled and that such land be repossessed. How well or badly this was done is another story.

The report recommended that the plethora of provisions against the involvement of public servants in elections be consolidated into one provision in the consolidated electoral law that would also bar the use of any public financial and material resources by the candidates. Despite that having been done on paper, the government went ahead to use public resources and even intimidated chiefs in the Eastern region for not campaigning for the ruling party and threatened to revisit this if or when they won the elections. The government also used state resources to run commercials during the campaign period in blatant abuse of the law.

We also had the Akiwumi Commission that was to probe the tribal clashes since 1991with a view to establishing the the immediate and underlying causes of such clashes, action taken by the police and other law enforcement agencies with respect to any incidents of crime arising out of or committed in the course of the said tribal clashes, and where such action was inadequate or insufficient, the reasons for and the level of preparedness and the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies in controlling the said tribal clashes and in preventing the occurrence of such clashes in future. The report was made public in 2002. It recommended that a number of politicians, local administration officials, and security and police officers to be investigated over their alleged roles in the clashes, which led to the deaths of more than 800 people and the displacement of some 130,000 between 1991 and 1994, according to the Commission. These recommendations were not acted on and so the country blew up in 2007/08.

The Ndung’u Land Commission’s findings were aimed at reversing unlawful land-related actions and ensuring land reform through creating an enabling policy and legal framework. At the heart of the commission’s report was the recommendation that all titles for illegally acquired land be cancelled and that such land be repossessed. How well or badly this was done is another story.

The Ndungu Commission made a far-reaching series of findings, which, if effected, could sort out the protracted land question. The findings ascribed responsibility for established wrongdoing to a number of individuals. It also made a series of recommendations intended to correct the wrongdoing; key among them was the proposal to have a task force consisting of specialists in land administration advising the Ministry of Lands on the revocation of illegally registered titles, repossession of land, measures to be taken regarding claims filed in courts, information retrieval systems for multiple purposes and the verification of registered titles. It is imperative in this regard to evaluate how the National Land Commission can better handle these functions.

These commissions clearly represent where we are and provides an answer to the question: “Which way forward for Kenya?”

As it appears, commissions of inquiry have not been successful in solving political problems in Kenya. Why so? Lack of political will. This is despite their findings, which, if incorporated in decision-making, could curb some of the problems this nation faces. The government should go back to these reports and implement their recommendations in the interest of the country.

See all comments about this article

Eliud Kibii is a sub-editor with The Star newspaper and writes on international relations, security and electoral processes.

Features

BETRAYAL IN THE CITY: Kisumu’s residents grapple with a post-handshake future

Published

on

BETRAYAL IN THE CITY: Kisumu’s residents grapple with a post-handshake future

Kisumu city’s landscape, like the bodies of some of its residents, bears the scars of recent political protests and state repression in the aftermath of the August 8 election that was annulled by the Supreme Court and the 26 October “Jubilee election” that was completely ignored by four counties in Kenya’s western region (Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori and Siaya).

The visceral scars are a testimony to a cityscape whose residents are yearning for a total break from the politics of despondency and for a muting or re-writing of its political history, a history that will not be absolved or corrected by the Uhuru Kenyatta–Raila Odinga handshake that took place on March 9, 2018, its bewildering symbolism notwithstanding.

The fact that the city yearns for a fresh start is apparent to David Ndii, the National Super Alliance (NASA)’s economic advisor and strategist, but not to the Raila-led Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) MPs, whose narrow articulation of the Uhuru-Raila rapprochement simply calls for the compensation of life or limb lost during the protests.

Crowds of protestors, some of whom are still nursing their injuries, may have dispersed, but their political aspirations are indelibly etched in the city’s landscape

Kisumu yearns for what Ndii refers to as Kenya’s kairos, but whether or not there is a consensus that this is the moment, and whether Kisumu’s scars equally constitute this moment, is debatable.

Crowds of protestors, some of whom are still nursing their injuries, may have dispersed, but their political aspirations are indelibly etched in the city’s landscape, especially along the highway road signage. Charcoal black powder from burnt car tyres pepper many intersections on Kisumu’s roads, despite the recent heavy rains. At the Kenya Commercial Bank’s T-junction, where the Jomo Kenyatta Highway and the Oginga Odinga Street meet, angry protestors scratched off Jomo Kenyatta’s name from the road sign. Like the silver surface of an airtime scratch card, this left a dull metallic gray centre on the white metallic arrows where the words Jomo Kenyatta had been.

Across the road, on the walls of the city park’s main building, also known as Od Mikai, the name JARAMOGI, Palimpsest-like, has been superimposed on KENYATTA’s name. Never in Kisumu city’s history have the residents expressed such a strong desire to re-write, mute or erase the Kenyattas from the city’s political history and to obliterate memories of the traumas inflicted by the city’s bloody encounters with state brutality.

Despite the 1969 political tragedies – the annus horribilis in Kisumu’s post- independence history when Argwings Kodhek, the Mau Mau lawyer, died mysteriously in a road accident, when Tom Mboya was shot dead in broad daylight in in Nairobi and when Jomo Kenyatta’s security forces massacred at least 100 unarmed citizens, including children, during the official launch of the Kisumu Hospital (Russia Hospital) – Jomo Kenyatta’s name has always held pride of place in Kisumu’s central business district. The biggest public park and the longest road in Kisumu are named after Kenya’s first president.

Raila, it seems, has abandoned the resistance struggle for the woolly cause of “national reconciliation and unity”, a political process which, unlike the 2008 political pact, is bound neither by a deadline nor by a timeline, nor by a credible threat that can hold either the Jubilee party’s or President Uhuru’s feet to the fire.

Further afield, Kisumu city’s market, officially named Jubilee Market, was popularly and hurriedly re-named Orengo Market by protestors in honour of the Luo lawyer and opposition leader James Orengo. Locally known as Chiro Mbero, it’s the market where the Kenyan historian, the late E.S Atieno Odhiambo, tells us the independence-era women traders sang “dine onge Odinga, nyithiwa dine Jomo otho e jela” (without Odinga, Jomo would have died in prison). Protestors scratched the name JUBILEE off the market’s signpost, and in uneven uppercase letters, scribbled the name ORENGO on the signpost’s half-scratched surface.

It seems Kisumu residents want nothing do with the Kenyattas or the type of government they represent. A few months ago, they swore to fight to the last man and woman standing for electoral justice. Angered by the conduct of the August 8 general election, the repeat presidential poll on October 26 and the state-orchestrated violence against civilians, many turned up for successive street protests, shouting in Kiswahili “ua ua…kill…kill” as volleys of teargas canisters were thrown at them by paramilitary or regular police and in defiance of the blood-curdling sounds of bullets that pierced through clouds of teargas.

Undeterred, certainly not by the rising death toll, these unarmed protestors were unflinching, angry, and contemptuous of the Jubilee government’s deadly use of force, shouting “ong’e ringo,” (no relenting) as they courted martyrdom, drawing cold comfort in the fact that their resolve to press for electoral justice was stronger than the government’s resolve to violently quell the unceasing protests. “Ok gi bi nego wa te,” (Kill they will, but they will not kill all of us.) Some of us will live to tell the tales of this war, others will be killed, but all will bequeath the next the generation with a different political world, they shouted.

Then, just when Kisumu residents thought they were done and dusted with the Kenyattas, Raila sued for peace in the name of “national reconciliation and unity”, pulling them out of their absolute resolve to detach themselves from their debilitating history and pushing them right back to the doorsteps of Harambee House, the seat of Kenya’s oppressive state power.

Raila’s handshake with Uhuru has effectively revived Kisumu residents’ cruel memories (memories they had hoped they could erase) of Kenya’s contested and chequered political history, a history that can neither be re-written from below, ORENGO Market style, nor from above, in the style of the famous handshake between the two leaders.

In the street corners of Kisumu, sounds of grand betrayal reverberate. The reverberations feel more like a spirited protest movement rather than the promising beginning of a national dialogue. At Kisumu’s K-city market, a scowl-faced middle-aged woman rhetorically asks, “Kalonzo, Wakamba osetho kodwa didi? Waluhya to….Nyithindo mane otho ne?” (How many time has Kalonzo, Wakamba died with us in this cause? And how about the Luhya…the children or the youth who died for him [Raila]?)

It’s ordinary times when one can use brute force and still talk about “development, peace and service delivery” while civil and political rights and the Judiciary – the last bastion of resistance against the Jubilee party’s quest for complete control of all the arms of government – are pulverised.

There is a feeling among Raila’s core constituency that he has betrayed his comrades and their support base for a brotherhood fellowship that is as confounding as it difficult to swallow. The net result has been the gradual disintegration of NASA, the once formidable opposition coalition.

“Wa chung Kanye?” (Where do we stand?), asks the woman at K-City market, as the news of the opposition NASA senator Moses Wetangula’s ouster and his replacement with James Orengo as the minority leader is broadcast in the car stereo next to the washing bay. It is now truly mindboggling to tell what either Raila Odinga or James Orengo now stand for after the handshake. Raila, it seems, has abandoned the resistance struggle for the woolly cause of “national reconciliation and unity”, a political process which, unlike the 2008 political pact, is bound neither by a deadline nor by a timeline, nor by a credible threat that can hold either the Jubilee party’s or President Uhuru’s feet to the fire. The handshake has left Raila’s political base utterly confused. It’s a covenant that recalls Thomas Hobbes’ pithy quip: “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.”

Currently, only David Ndii’s take resonates with the protest scars on Kisumu’s cityscape. The protest crowds want to rake up the past. The ODM MPs’ talk of compensation as opposed to the 12-point gamut of the Uhuru-Raila handshake agreement certainly misses the significance of the marks on Kisumu’s roads signs.

In an interview with Citizen TV, Ndii strenuously and variously suggested that the handshake signaled Kenya’s Kairos – that opportune moment when the tensions and contradictions of Kenya’s neocolonial state, laid bare by the bloody 2007 presidential election, must be resolved. It is an opportunity for Kenyans, on their own or led by Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, to reconstitute the Kenyan nation and its moral underpinnings and to resolve its contradictions: It should be a moment when Kenyans decide whether we want to continue with dictatorship or want to embrace democracy. It should be a moment where we decide to do away with ethnic domination and consider ethnic inclusivity, through cross-party and cross-ethnic dialogues.

Ndii seems to suggests that the handshake signaled the end of ordinary times, times for everyday Kenyan political talk of “development,” “peace,” “unity,” “power-sharing or nusu-mkate”, the stock-in-trade phrases that the state and many reactionary Kenyans bandy around to silence dissent and to dismiss critics as unconstructive and unworthy interlocutors. For Ndii, Kairos is the moment for a markedly different kind of political conversation and action, which could rescue Kenya from its existential threat and ethnic implosion.

This moment underpins the desires of the Kisumu protest crowds, who have become cynical about both ODM and the Jubilee party.

Both the ODM and Jubilee’s disparate talks seem to be rewinding the historical clock, away from Ndii’s kairos, a historical watershed, and back to the Aden Duale–Fred Matiangi’s chronos, ordinary times, when and where evils still pays, and the soul of the men in charge of the government’s coercive powers is unrepentant. It’s ordinary times when one can use brute force and still talk about “development, peace and service delivery” while civil and political rights and the Judiciary – the last bastion of resistance against the Jubilee party’s quest for complete control of all the arms of government – are pulverised.

ODM MPs, having smelt state power, now have a spring in their steps as they arrogantly exert their powers within the now wobbly NASA coalition. Orengo, ensconced in his new position as the Senate’s minority chief whip, has now also come to symbolise betrayal. Increasingly, these MPs’ talk seems to be narrowing down people grievances to mostly to one type of injury: physical injury. They are also shifting towards the development/peace talk within the party’s core support base.

Uhuru and Raila’s widely reported handshake is still evoking mixed feelings: a sense of betrayal and confusion, but now giving way to a creeping and begrudging acceptance of the promise of the Harambee House deal.

At a newsstand in Nyalenda, one of Kisumu’s bustling ghettos, a young man quips, “Kalonzo odhi omos Ruto…wan waduaro kwe…wanwiwa ruko…mono jopinje moko keto mwandu gi Kisumu,” (Kalonzo should go and shake Ruto’s hands…we want peace…our penchant for protest discourages others from investing in Kisumu.) It a remarkable shift, a shift that echoes mostly ODM party officials’ and MPs’ views regarding the handshake and which also elevates Raila above his comrades-in-arm, Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetangula and Musalia Mudavadi.

It is a disappointing end to a protracted struggle driven from below by fearless foot soldiers who had put their lives on the line for electoral justice and a Raila presidency. Kenya’s nascent broad-based opposition coalition has suffered a major setback. And the Jubilee Party has scored a major victory, albeit a momentary one.

The Jubilee securocrats believe that the opposition comprises dispensable actors in a liberal democracy, not insurgents who can defeat them through extralegal warfare. Uhuru and Raila’s widely reported handshake is still evoking mixed feelings: a sense of betrayal and confusion, but now giving way to a creeping and begrudging acceptance of the promise of the Harambee House deal. “Baba is always right,” say many, either as a way of expressing unquestioning loyalty to Raila Odinga or granting him the benefit of the doubt that he did not throw the opposition under the bus.

What will the two midwives of the Harambee House deal, Martin Kimani and Paul Mwangi, a counter-insurgent securocat and Raila’s everyday lawyer, respectively, deliver? Will they initiate a process to re-write the tragic history of the neocolonial Kenyan state? Or will they recast recent events as merely a glitch that temporarily halted the country’s relentless pursuit of “development”?

Continue Reading

Features

OUR ANCESTORS’ WILDEST DREAMS: Reclaiming Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy

Published

on

OUR ANCESTORS’ WILDEST DREAMS: Reclaiming Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy

African traditions and cultures have always held an awareness of the life cycle, from birth to death and the afterlife. The life cycle made us aware of the transitions from birth, through initiations, to child-bearing and rearing, to old age, to death, and thereafter to the journeys to the spiritual worlds of the ancestors and spirits.

In the afterlife, ancestors held sway on the day-to-day life of every community in many ways. Ancestors were consulted, honoured, and venerated, and in moments of crisis, asked to intervene (or stop intervening), so that life could return to an even keel. In many ways, the ancestor was not just an idea, but also a part of daily living, part of the eldership. Interestingly, ancestors included both female and male persons who had lived and transitioned.

Scholarship is awash with various studies on the idea of the ancestor – a continuing member of society, an elder who has a say in the day-to-day life of the community. Growing up, we learned, some of us via folklore, and some via Geography, History and Civics (GHC) classes (and some of us, through both) that ancestors are an active part of spiritual life. In a sense, ancestors are an extension of God, the creator, the primordial ancestor, the source of all life, or at the very least, an active part of the pantheon of the spiritual life of the people, which included the Creator and the spirits.

“Civilised” Africans stopped the practice of venerating ancestors because of an internalised conflict that pitted these ancestors with a God that was a watered-down white variation, incapable of seeing the value of honouring those from whom we came, those that walked before us and prepared the way for us.

Of course, critical discourse on ancestors has waned over the years, in part due to what I call the colonio-patriarchal gaze, which introduced functionalism and structuralism as part of its anthropological and religious distortions of African culture. The “civilising” and “missionising” discourse that classified our understanding of ancestors as a pagan and primitive practice consigned the nuanced view of the afterlife to a fixed idea of worship. “Civilised” Africans stopped the practice of venerating ancestors because of an internalised conflict that pitted these ancestors with a God that was a watered-down white variation, incapable of seeing the value of honouring those from whom we came, those that walked before us and prepared the way for us.

Worse, the colonio-patriarchal gaze also consigned women to the margins, entrenching racist-patriarchy as the default position. While in Old Africa women held esteemed positions of honour and of power, post-colonial Africa conceptualised women on a Victorian model that needed women to be hapless and helpless before men. Nanjala Nyabola, in one of her op-eds in the Tana Forum, calls this the “patriarchal understanding of the role of women that merely exchanged European patriarchy for an invented African tradition that has all but erased the herstories of women”. This erasure was based on an invented African tradition extended to the continuum of the living and the afterlife, and worse, to the understanding of women’s being as only relevant where connected to men.

We see this in our storytelling, for example, where women are either Mama-so-and-so, or a wife/part of a harem of wives/ a saintly grandmother, full of wisdom, demure. Women’s needs must subscribe to a certain way of being, despite the many ways in which women have continued to resist from time immemorial. We only need to think of women like the late Prof. Wangari Maathai and the women who resisted the occupation of Uhuru Park alongside her to understand that women have historically resisted the proscriptions of colonio-patriarchy.

Which brings us to subject of the transition of Mama Winnie Madikizela As soon as news of Mama’s passing broke, the Kenyan dailies joined their international counterparts in weaving a tale deeply steeped in colonio-patriarchy. “Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie dies at 81”, the Standard newspaper announced, setting the tone that positioned Winnie as irreverently connected in a previous way, an ex to the great Nelson Mandela.

“Winnie Mandela: South Africa’s flawed heroine dies”, the Nation broke the news, further positioning this ex of a great man as fundamentally flawed. Three days later, the Nation would follow up with the headline: “Mandela and his 3 wives: Evelyn, Winnie and Graca”, diverting the story from Winnie’s transition from life to the afterlife to the male prowess of Mandela, who had three wives. In this article, quoted from AFP, Mandela’s first wife Evelyn, a “cousin of ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu”, was described as “a demure country girl in sharp contrast to…his feisty wife Winnie” – (of course, even the framing of Evelyn’s identity as also connected to the Walter Sisulu apart from being Mandela’s first wife cannot be missed).

To erase Mama Winnie’s herstory is to erase the injustices of apartheid. It is to condemn her for fighting during war. It is to ridicule her for not being a demure, village girl in the face of violence, rape, plunder and racism. It is to reward apartheid and its adherents.

The “contrast” is made deeper when we are told that while both women came from the same village, “Winnie took to the city”. Indeed, the idea that the city as a space that “unsanitises” women from demure to troublesome is as old as colonio-patriarchy itself. The city becomes the place where women are “urbanised” into becoming ungovernable, mainly through empowerment, education being the top of the list. While Evelyn “buried herself in religion”, Winnie would deliver incendiary speeches, get jailed, and even kept a “young lover”. These qualities, decidedly non-rural and non-religious, turning Winnie into a “flawed” phenomenon. These “flaws” became the sum total of her life, the distillation of all her life’s work, including keeping the fire of revolution burning in South Africa while her husband spent 27 years in jail.

Even her imprisonment is framed differently. For Mandela, prison life only served to turn him into a monkish sage who would preach forgiveness and win the Nobel Peace Prize. For Mama Winnie, prison only served to enrage her, morph her into a beast that would kill innocents such as Stompie, take young lovers, and create the football club that she used as a personal militia. Let us also not forget that while in prison, Winnie was subjected to the most humiliating torture.

While married to Nelson Mandela for about 38 years, it would emerge that the couple only spent a total of five years together. These five years would become the lynchpin of the reading of Winnie’s life – how she spent her solitary years being unfaithful and indiscrete towards her iconic husband, how she disgraced him by using her young lovers to kill innocents, and how she dared to “maintain” her young lover even after her larger-than-life husband came back to her from a 27 year-jail term.

Those who have advocated for a more nuanced reading of Winnie’s life have been vilified and asked to consider that Mama Winnie was not perfect, that she had her flaws. While a compelling argument, the point is not lost that those pointing at her “flaws” are doing it from the position of colonio-patriarchy.

The timbre of these reports is not just disturbing; they, for me, point to a deeper narrative where women who transition from life to the afterlife are not accorded the same dignity and veneration that men are. This is one of the lasting legacies of colonialism, where women were relegated to the margins of men’s lives, both when living and in death. The invention of a picture of “African womanhood” that does not work for the majority of African women who stand up to be counted becomes problematic because it does not work, period. To erase Mama Winnie’s herstory is to erase the injustices of apartheid. It is to condemn her for fighting during war. It is to ridicule her for not being a demure, village girl in the face of violence, rape, plunder and racism. It is to reward apartheid and its adherents.

Compare, for instance, the soft, even magnanimous, approach to the death of P.W Botha, who was actively opposed to anti-apartheid activities and was found guilty of human rights violations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Or the rewarding of F.W. de Klerk with a Nobel Peace Prize despite his support of apartheid and state-sanctioned violence against South African blacks towards the end of apartheid when he was the president of South Africa.

For both men, apartheid is contextualised so that their crimes against blacks appear less abhorrent than those committed by their predecessors. For example, history is kind to Botha for not being as “brutal” as his predecessors. This kindness and nuanced reading is missing when Mama Winnie is dubbed a “flawed” ex-wife. In fact, her crimes take on a salacious character. The brutal murder of Stompie is often connected to her supposed “flings” with younger men. The story even subtracts from the horrible death of Stompie, and becomes firmly hinged on Winnie’s supposed and imagined sexual life.

Such salacious readings are mainly consigned to women throughout history. The great painter Frida Kahlo’s story has always been centred on her tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera, and hinged on her imagined sexual life, rather than the breathtaking beauty of her work, and her incredible life story. Many pundits seek to remind us of the ways in which the late Prof. Wangari Maathai was divorced from her husband, and led a “nude protest” at Uhuru Park. Her hard-won Nobel Peace Prize becomes a footnote, as does her life’s work in education and the environment, which she began as a teenage girl.

Female ancestors, embodying the earth, were seen as giving the earth its fertility. Part of the pantheon of the spiritual, their names were evoked for blessing, fertility and the wellbeing of the earth.

So why then must we see these women who have transitioned as ancestors? Why must we honour them, and seek to vociferously end the erasure of their lives? Film-maker Ava Duvernay popularised the saying “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams” after breaking out as the first African-American woman to direct a big-budget film production. In subsequent interviews, she directly made reference to female ancestors, paying homage to them by saying that she would never had accomplished her life’s work if these female ancestors had not laid the groundwork.

For us in Kenya and in Africa, this is doubly true. Our female ancestors have continued to lay the groundwork for us, propelling us to become who we are today. Our departed grandmothers and mothers have left us with nuggets of wisdom, joy, and even pain, with which we have forged ahead into becoming. Our female elders and ancestors, from Queen Nzinga of Angola to Mekatilili wa Menza of the Mijikenda, Queen Lozikeyi of the Ndebele, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti of Nigeria, Miriam Makeba, Wangari Maathai, and now, Winnie Mandela, have all dug on rock to ensure we find footing in soft ground. They have led revolutions, won wars, led armies, and won countless, if unappreciated and erased, victories. Paying homage to them as elders and ancestors is the least we can do. Paying forward their labours is imperative. The soil they dug up from rock cannot be desecrated with erasures, and without action. We must resist erasures, and continue with the tasks of planting where they gave us soil, so that future generations will find rock-hewn forests.

Female ancestors, embodying the earth, were seen as giving the earth its fertility. Part of the pantheon of the spiritual, their names were evoked for blessing, fertility and the wellbeing of the earth.

There is also the belief that the state of the earth is commensurate with the status of women, both those that are alive and those that have transitioned. If we are to observe the state of the earth today, it is clear what the status of women is. The transition of Mama Winnie reminds us that we must resist and reclaim the spaces of our female ancestors from colonio-patriarchy. This is the urgent and imperative assignment of our generation.

Continue Reading

Features

A NEGOTIATED DEMOCRACY: Factors that influenced Somaliland’s 2017 election

Published

on

A NEGOTIATED DEMOCRACY: Factors that influenced Somaliland’s 2017 election

On 13 November 2017, the people of Somaliland went to the polls to choose their fifth president since breaking away from Somalia in May 1991. Despite a delay of 28 months, international and local observers described the election as credible and peaceful. The fact that the election finally took place, and did so in a calm and orderly manner, was welcomed with a tangible sigh of relief, at home and internationally, and with pride on the part of Somalilanders.

A number of “firsts” added to this sense of achievement. Voters were registered using iris recognition technology to preclude double voting, making Somaliland an early pioneer in embracing biometric technology in elections. Unlike in the past, the incumbent was not a candidate, paving the way for a more robust campaign that featured, for the first time, a televised debate between the three presidential candidates, and the three vice-presidential candidates. It was also the most inclusive election, with all six regions taking part. The government made its largest financial contribution to an election, underlining how seriously Somaliland was taking its political future. For the first time, the government agreed to a code of conduct with the media to ensure balanced coverage by the state-owned media.

The advances in the 2017 electoral process took place against a background of widespread and profound frustration within Somaliland with a hybrid system of government that combines clan-based representation with Western political institutions. Over time, the merger became a fusion of weaknesses, incorporating neither the integrity and clarity of the traditional system nor the institutions and levers of accountability that underpin Western norms of governance. The multiple delays in holding the presidential elections also led to the gradual erosion of public trust in government institutions and to diminishing international goodwill. By November 2017, there was a convergence between domestic dissatisfaction and international pressure, making the election a defining moment in Somaliland’s political trajectory.

From remote villages to big towns, everyone from nomadic pastoralists across Somaliland to the elites in the capital, Hargeisa and in the large Diaspora communities, followed the election closely even if they did not vote. While they had different views of what they hoped for, there was a strong consensus that the political landscape needed an overhaul after seven years of the same administration.

Voters’ priorities

Desire for tangible improvements in their living standards dominated voters’ expectations. In our conversations with both urban and rural voters, the provision of water and enhancing the quality and coverage of educational and health services was repeatedly emphasised. The urgency of tackling crippling inflation, which has increased food prices and made poor people feel even more impoverished, was underlined across the board. Employment among youth and the development of road networks, electricity and other public utilities were also high on the list of priorities for most people. Rural communities, reeling from the effects of a severe drought in which they lost most of their livestock, the main source of their livelihood, called for investment in agriculture.

The advances in the 2017 electoral process took place against a background of widespread and profound frustration within Somaliland with a hybrid system of government that combines clan-based representation with Western political institutions. Over time, the merger became a fusion of weaknesses, incorporating neither the integrity and clarity of the traditional system nor the institutions and levers of accountability that underpin Western norms of governance.

Voters in urban areas, particularly young people, view political favouritism as one of the major impediments to their employment prospects and the reason so many of them embark on the treacherous journey to Europe ((known as tahrib). Consequently, the role of government in creating a fair and equitable environment for employment, business opportunities, economic investments, the distribution of resources, access to government services and political appointments, mattered to all voters. Fighting corruption, making the legal system work for everyone, curbing the powers of the police and putting an end to the arrest and detention of journalists also carried weight with voters.

However, these priorities did not, for the most part, shape the decisions made when voters actually cast their ballots.

Official party programmes and campaigns

To guarantee the formation of political associations with cross-clan representations, the Constitution of 2001 imposed a limit of three political parties. In addition to Kulmiye, the party of the sitting President, two other parties, Waddani and the Justice and Welfare party (UCID), joined the contest in 2017. While Kulmiye and UCID were participating in a presidential election for the third time, Waddani, registered in 2012, was a newcomer to the political arena. The leader of UCID had sought the presidency in earlier elections, but Waddani and Kulmiye fielded new candidates.

All three political parties had written programmes, popularly referred to as manifestos. Those of the opposition – Waddani and UCID – were largely a response to what were described as the shortcomings of the ruling party. They pledged major changes across all sectors. The party in power, Kulmiye, spelt out what it saw as its achievements and promised continuity while making further improvements.

Economic and social issues, international recognition and good governance all featured prominently in the manifestos. With the use of social media and increased media coverage, more voters than ever had access to party manifestos. Some of the parties held presentation sessions across all six regions to give voters the chance to question senior officials about their stated plans.

The manifestos, however, were not intended for all voters, especially given the high levels of illiteracy, particularly outside the main towns. Target audiences were the slim minority of educated voters, mainly young people, seen as independent of clan interests and who might, therefore, be swayed by a party’s stance and ideology. But they constituted an insignificant proportion of voters, their impact further undermined by the fact that they are scattered.

Illiteracy, reinforced by a strong oral culture, meant that a large percentage of voters were influenced by what they heard at rallies and in private meetings and what they witnessed on television. An official for Waddani said his party put at 65% the voters “who are not interested in the programme.” Their recruitment, he added, required using what he called traditional methods to get their support. This largely consisted of bringing party officials from their area “to show where their clan fits in the party hierarchy and probably in the next government”, as well as discussions about the sharing of power and resources.

One civil servant blamed constituents for letting politicians get away with making “blank statements about impossible deliverables which lack the how part.” People, she said, never asked the parties for concrete solutions and preferred instead to listen to speeches about “heavenly rivers flowing through their neighbourhoods.” At the same time, she acknowledged that voters know, from experience, that party programmes are not implemented after elections precisely because “parties are built on the foundation of clan interests and not ideologies.”

Yusuf Osman Abdulle, a poet known as Shaacir, said it was unrealistic to expect the population in Somaliland to choose between political parties based on written documents. “Given the low literacy rate and the very poor quality of our educational system, you don’t expect our society to be where they can choose parties based on what they are promising or what they have done in the past,” he explained. “The thing everyone understands is: Who are the candidates? What clans do they belong to? What is the relationship between his clan and my clan?”

And that indeed was what mattered. The heartbeat, and heat, of the campaigns was not about policies.

Forging alliances

As happens with elections the world over, 2017 revealed the patronage system at work. In Somaliland, the politics of vote-seeking is directly tied to the clan-based social structure. Far more significant and decisive than the large public rallies held during the official 21-day campaign period were the numerous behind-the-scenes meetings between party leaders and traditional elders, politicians and businessmen, which had kicked off during the previous six months.

Voters in urban areas, particularly young people, view political favouritism as one of the major impediments to their employment prospects and the reason so many of them embark on the treacherous journey to Europe ((known as tahrib).

As in previous elections, parties found it easier to maximise votes by securing the loyalty of clan elders who then become responsible for bringing the vast majority of their constituents on board. The campaigns that mattered were outsourced to elders, often from the same clan as the candidates, to meet with other clan leaders and build coalitions. Historical relationships between their respective clans and forging new relationships going into the future became the focus of discussions.

At the same time, party leaders also met with the elites of clans – elders, politicians and businessmen – to give clan-specific assurances in exchange for garnering political support, including political posts and development projects. At times, these pledges were captured in written documents signed by the party leadership. Party officials from those clans were given centre stage to show how well they were represented in the party, photo opportunities which were then broadcast through the media.

An official involved in the youth wing of Kulmiye in Hargeisa was straightforward about the political calculations at play.” A key winning strategy both for the ruling party and the main opposition party [Waddani],” he said, “was to bring in as many known figures as possible in the party from a certain clan. You can then expect more votes from that clan.”

Saying it was too simplistic to argue that parties go out and seek votes from clans, he underlined the importance of “intermediaries” between the parties and the clans, or what others referred to as political brokers. These are men [always], close to both elders and the party leaders, who work hard to implement the elders’ decisions. Parties, he commented, make either personal or group promises to them in exchange for influencing their clan or constituency. “When we talk about political parties spending millions of dollars in election campaigns, this is where the bulk of it goes to. And perhaps these elites distribute a fraction of that money to their followers.”

A party official in Borama, the capital of Awdal region, contrasted his “official” responsibilities and his true mission. As a regional official, he was charged with overseeing different offices and addressing crowds. But what he defined as the more important task “took place behind the scenes and it was to mobilise voters from my sub-clan.”

His counterpart in the small town of Salahley, 60 kilometres from Hargeisa, said elders had more powers over the community. He conceded that they, and not he as a party official, attracted the most votes. He attributed their hold over people to the fact that “everyone knows they will need the elder at some point.”

In the small town of Abdaal, in Sahil region, a young Waddani supporter worked with other members of football teams to oppose the elders, most of whom were behind Kulmiye. He said people did not take the challenge of competing with elders for votes seriously and “they were right”. Asked about politicians and elders who were not strong advocates of clan solidarity, an elder in the same town, Abdaal, was quick in dismissing their relevance. “There were very few of them and they had almost no influence over voters since they had defied the position of their clans,” he said.

The task of the elders, supported by their politicians, is to persuade, or pressure, their clan members to fall in line with the party of their choice. The lure of public service jobs for the youth and commitments to develop the region are stressed. Financial contributions are made for ongoing activities in the area, such as the construction of roads, schools and clinics, and money and khat are liberally distributed to men during campaign periods. In rural areas, affected by the 2016/2017 drought, the distribution of water, food and non-food items made a crucial difference to the outcome.

The blend of the traditional clan structure with modern governance institutions is reflected in the fact that the clans of the three presidential candidates were the stable base of support for their parties. Success, therefore, depended on establishing as broad an array of partnerships as possible with other clans. This is demonstrated, for example, in the parties’ choice of their vice-presidential candidates.

Practical considerations deepen the dependence of parties on the political clout of elders. Political parties do not have permanent offices at the district or regional levels, as became apparent when we visited a number of regions in February and March. They are, instead, concentrated at their headquarters in Hargeisa. Without grassroots branches, there is little to bring parties close to communities and foster a sense of belonging to, and ownership of, the parties. By the time senior officials visit the districts, usually close to elections, elders have already laid the groundwork.

“The thing everyone understands is: Who are the candidates? What clans do they belong to? What is the relationship between his clan and my clan?”

The difficulties parties face in raising their own funds currently makes it nearly impossible for them to keep their distance from elders. The three parties are closely associated with their founders and/or individuals who occupy key positions. Consequently, they become dependent on businessmen and contributions from their clans, including households. One observer commented: “If they campaigned purely on policies, they will not generate funds.”

The political influence of clan elders

An academic in Hargeisa described the election as “a clan project run by elders, politicians and the economic class.” Despite its many encouraging aspects, the last election was seen as inimical to Somaliland’s future as a democracy. No election has been so openly clan-based and so visibly steered by elders.

The campaigns featured inflammatory speeches, ugly rhetoric and defamation of individuals and clans – messages that were spread by the traditional media and extensive use of social media. Since clans were the deciding factor, the messages were designed so as to attract a specific clan and unite some against others. Since clans tend to reside in the same localities, even in the same neighbourhoods in towns, it was easier to hone messages and target particular groups.

Having co-opted clan elders as their principal vote-gatherers, party leaders gave them unfettered power to guide voters. Elders did not mince their words or moderate their actions, threatening reprisals against those who did not toe the line. Several party offices for both Waddani and Kulmiye were attacked and vehicles stoned.

The fact that all three candidates came from the largest clan family in Somaliland, the Isaaq, amplified inter-clan dynamics, pushing people into further sub-sub-clan classifications. Small villages and towns, populated by the same clans or sub-clans, were divided into the smallest possible units, sometimes reaching household levels. A Kulmiye organiser in Salahley spoke of several sub-clan assemblies with each setting up meeting places for their party.

The media – print, television and websites – and especially the privately-owned outlets, contributed to the charged political atmosphere in countless ways, through selective reporting, fake news and endless reportage of elders and politicians insulting each other. The huge number of events hosted by parties, whereby people speaking in the name of a certain clan had deserted another party to join theirs, were given extensive exposure by virtually all news outlets. One TV network, in an effort to paint Waddani as a pro-Somalia party that planned to impose federalism on Somaliland, showed a false photo of the Waddani leader meeting with the current President of Somalia who was at the time a candidate for that office.

The toxic nature of these campaigns inevitably created a pernicious political environment that threatened Somaliland’s most treasured asset – a long reign of peace.

The moment of truth

Unfortunately, and to the detriment of Somaliland, the near exclusive emphasis on clan considerations, channelled through the media, social media and clan gatherings, swayed many voters, including the youth. Discussions with those who voted show they had, for the most part, positive expectations of candidates from their clan or the candidate supported by their clan, and voted to express support for the clan’s position. They also paint an entirely negative picture of the opposing candidates from other clans, out of fear and/or animosity. A young university student in Hargeisa spoke of her mindset when she voted: “I was influenced by what I saw as a threat that can personally affect me should the candidates from other clans win the election. It was a battle between clans.”

Underlining the extent to which voting along clan lines is inextricably linked with perceptions of self-interest and fairness, she added: “You have better chances of getting employed if the President or a Minister is from your clan. I know it is not a healthy feeling, but it is just a reality.”

Angry about what he saw as the political marginalisation of his clan, a young and educated employee of an NGO said resolving social and economic problems did not figure in his calculations. His sole aim was to see his candidate triumph even though he considered the other two candidates “way better on most issues.”

A party official in Borama, the capital of Awdal region, contrasted his “official” responsibilities and his true mission. As a regional official, he was charged with overseeing different offices and addressing crowds. But what he defined as the more important task “took place behind the scenes and it was to mobilise voters from my sub-clan.”

Some voters, while admitting they voted in line with their clan, believe this was in the broader interests of Somaliland. A man living in the small town of Dilla in Awdal region argued that voting in step with his clan “was for the good of Somaliland so as to prevent two clans establishing dominance.”

Amal said that politicians only come to her village of Tuli in Awdal during elections and she expects nothing in return. Nevertheless, she found herself vulnerable when politicians descended on Tuli in 2017 and “labelled us as sub-clan X and sub-clan Y.” Amal, along with her neighbours, succumbed to the messages the intensified as 13 November, the date of the election, approached. Speaking in late February, she said a united community had been torn apart and people no longer communicated as easily as in the past.

Bucking the trend

Not everyone, of course, bowed to the wishes of their elders and local politicians. Some voters made independent choices. But many of those who stood their ground, particularly women who were expected to vote as decreed by their menfolk, said they paid a heavy price for their position.

Many of those who did not vote, despite the insistence of close relatives relaying messages from elders, said they based their decision on what they regarded as the absence of realistic and feasible programmes by the parties. A staff member of a human rights group in Hargeisa said he failed to find “timelines or convincing details of exactly how they would carry out their commitments.” A long-term civil servant in Hargeisa said she had seen ministers come and go over the years without any attention paid to election manifestoes. So why, she asked, “should I spend my energy for nothing?”

Khadar, a driver in Dilla, said his income had doubled, and his life had become easier and safer since a tarmac road was built by the previous administration connecting Dilla, Borama and Hargeisa. When it came to the elections, the construction of this road, he said, and not the opinion of his elders, determined which party he voted for.

Maimuna in Dilla held out against intense pressure, including being labelled a traitor. Elders, her own children and her in-laws failed to convince her when she refused to support one of the opposition parties. Her customers boycotted her business but she would not budge. Calling her position “odd and 100% personal because women’s choices are strongly affected by their husbands and male community elders”, she cited an aversion to change as the reason she went with the ruling party. Describing 2017 as “a very divisive election”, she said “it ruined relationships between individuals and families.”

In Salahley, Rahma had initially agreed with her elders to back Waddani. But when the head of UCID announced the Quran would guide the actions of his party, she switched to UCID and refused to back down despite entreaties from her local elders.

Regardless of internal divisions, voters in Somaliland see elections as an important step towards the prospects of international recognition.

Aspirations for international recognition

Asked about the most vital issue at stake in November 2017, Mustafa Awad, who follows Somaliland’s political fortunes closely, did not hesitate to say it was “the same as every other election since the 2001 referendum – international recognition.” The pursuit of Somaliland’s recognition by the international community is of course intensely political, not only domestically, but also in the region and internationally. It is also a practical issue, in terms of greater diplomatic and commercial ties with the outside world, acceptance of Somaliland passports to ease the current nightmare of travel and an increase in foreign aid.

An academic in Hargeisa described the election as “a clan project run by elders, politicians and the economic class.” Despite its many encouraging aspects, the last election was seen as inimical to Somaliland’s future as a democracy. No election has been so openly clan-based and so visibly steered by elders.

The feeling of being a voiceless and invisible people, of not belonging to the community of nations, has left a deeply felt psychological wound. Commitment to the electoral process, and consolidating Somaliland’s position as a democratic oasis in a region not known for free, fair and peaceful elections, is regarded as “the gateway to this much-coveted recognition” in the words of Mustafa.

The aftermath

It is imperative for Somaliland to reflect collectively over the recent elections, particularly because elections for both parliamentary and local government councils will be held in less than a year. To move forward and capitalise on its achievements, every society needs self-analysis in order to correct mistakes, assess weaknesses and improve on its successes.

Some of the key challenges mentioned by voters, and those who abstained, include healing the rifts created or magnified by the elections. The extent to which relationships between clans, between communities living in close proximity and even within families were disrupted, entrenching old divides and creating new political and social fault lines, is uppermost in the minds of most people. The consequences of the unparalleled level of discord are still felt across Somaliland, especially because the animosity was intimate, between people who know each other and interact on a daily basis.

Other issues of common concern include how to hold the new government accountable from a non-political perspective and as ordinary citizens and the absence of opportunities for remaining politically engaged outside the existing parties. Dissatisfaction with the role and performance of parliamentarians and local councils, the absence of sufficient platforms for political debate and discussion and a host of problems related to the mechanics of voting were also mentioned repeatedly.

The transition of elders from politically neutral peacemakers to powerful politicians is an acute and widely shared source of disquiet. The pivotal role of elders in enabling Somaliland to overcome the internal conflicts of the 1990s, precisely because of their detachment from political squabbles and their prioritisation of peace above all else, has been well-documented. The loss of this neutrality has worrying implications for the resolution of future conflicts and for democratisation.

Safia, a civil servant, wants to see elders confined to their traditional role, and banned from speaking on behalf of voters, in the hope that people will then organise themselves into groupings of their choice. The difficulty of coaxing people to demand public action over a common cause, such as poor roads or the absence of water, underlines for many the dangerous and debilitating encroachment of clan politics in everyday life.

Focusing on the larger public interest, however, requires room for manoeuvre, which parties in Somaliland currently do not have, given their dependence on their clan constituencies. Cutting ties with elders and prominent clan figures risks loss of support and creates resistance, a prospect no politician with an eye on the next election is likely to welcome.

The transition of elders from politically neutral peacemakers to powerful politicians is an acute and widely shared source of disquiet. The pivotal role of elders in enabling Somaliland to overcome the internal conflicts of the 1990s, precisely because of their detachment from political squabbles and their prioritisation of peace above all else, has been well-documented. The loss of this neutrality has worrying implications for the resolution of future conflicts and for democratisation.

Unless voters can hold a government to account, it is impossible to compel a new administration to deliver on its election commitments. The space for accountability in Somaliland is already limited. This is further constrained by the low level of rights awareness among both the public and government officials, and by the nature of a system where most people voted out of clan allegiance. Successive governments have promoted a perception of demands for accountability as an opposition-fuelled process, leading to controversy and pitting pro-government and anti-government supporters against each other, often along clan lines. This situation will persist as long as politics is trapped in its current form.

The irony, as pointed out by Khaled Ismail Abdi, who works with media groups, is that people who voted for change then wait for the government to solve all their problems, imposing an unrealistic burden on an administration with few resources. When the hoped-for-changes fail to materialise, there are few avenues, outside of the clan, to seek redress. Addressing the government, as an expression of civic responsibility and a right, is not seen as an option.

Two decades is a very short period, particularly in the wake of war and conflict, to institutionalise the norms of a full-fledged democracy. In that time, Somaliland has indeed made strides that can be built upon to strengthen its political infrastructure and, for the sake of future generations, move away from being a clan-based polity. This requires an engaged citizenry to encourage the emergence of political leaders and parties independent of clan identity and committed to reinforcing Somaliland’s nascent democratic institutions.

Note: Pseudonyms have been used throughout this article.

Continue Reading

Trending