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Cain and Abel Politics: What Killed the Bromance Between Uhuru and Ruto?

11 min read.

As Kenyans head towards a tumultuous election in 2022, many are wondering what role the Kenyatta family empire played in sidelining Deputy President William Ruto and whether the new love affair between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga – which plays out in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – is more about retaining power than about peace and justice.

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Cain and Abel Politics: What Killed the Bromance Between Uhuru and Ruto?
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On October 17, 2019, while speaking at the unveiling of the plaque for the expressway linking the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the Westlands area in Nairobi, President Uhuru Kenyatta said: “Wanasema ati BBI ni ya kutafutia Uhuru kazi. Mimi sitaki kazi, nimechoka. Eeeh, BBI ni ya kuhakikisha ya kwamba hakuna Mkenya hatamwaga damu tena katika nchi yetu kwa sababu ya siasa. Tuko pamoja?” People are saying BBI is an excuse for getting Uhuru a job. I don’t want a job, I’m tired. BBI is for ensuring that no Kenyan will ever shed blood again because of politics. Are we together?

Exactly a month later, on November 16, the president met a 3,000-strong delegation of MPs, senators, former MPs and other leaders from the Mt Kenya region at Sagana State Lodge in Kiganjo, Nyeri County, for an eyeball-to-eyeball face-off meeting. This meeting had been overdue because, as the president himself acknowledged, there had been simmering disapproval of his leadership in his backyard that had led to loud murmurs of discontent and grievances.

At the meeting, to which he came late, delegates had been asked to assemble as early as 8 am, (Uhuru himself arrived in the afternoon). President Uhuru conducted the business of the day in the Gikuyu language. “Ati Uhuru niigutuika Prime Minister? Ndingethura kuneneha ringi…” You mean, Uhuru can be the Prime Minister? Huh, I wouldn’t mind being at the helm once more…” expressed the president, while claiming that he did not know the contents of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

In 30 short days, President Uhuru had forgotten his vow to Kenyans that he would give up presidential powers in 2022. At Sagana, he had the effrontery to allow himself to be enticed with an (executive) job offer that of a prime minister, which was purportedly contained in a document whose contents he allegedly knew nothing about.

In the seven years that he has been president, Uhuru has become the master of doublespeak: he will wax lyrical about one thing, and then will do the exact opposite. And when put to task about his sudden change of position, he will blame overwhelming demons or will become overtly angry and hot-tempered.

Restricting ourselves to his promise of “going home” once his term is over, because apparently he is “tired”, the “sudden surprise” posture of interest in the prime minister’s position is very telling. “The BBI is all about creating the position of an executive prime minister for Uhuru Kenyatta,” said a Jubilee MP who counts the president and his deputy as his personal friends and has known them since the time they were all in KANU. Dubbing it BBI (II), the MP said, “This is the real BBI, forget about BBI I and the shenanigans that took place at Bomas of Kenya.”

After the BBI team rounded off its town hall-like meetings across the country sometime in early August last year, it launched its report at the Bomas of Kenya on November 27, 2019, where it publicly handed over the report to the “handshake” duo: President Uhuru and ex-Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the former 2017 presidential contender under the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition outfit. “What we saw on that day was a charade, a farcical display of political tomfoolery of a people whose intentions were to test the waters, even as they tested the patience of Deputy President William Ruto,” said the Jubilee MP.

“The BBI is all about creating the position of an executive prime minister for Uhuru Kenyatta,” said a Jubilee MP who counts the president and his deputy as his personal friends and has known them since the time they were all in KANU. Dubbing it BBI (II), the MP said, “This is the real BBI, forget about BBI I and the shenanigans that took place at Bomas of Kenya.”

That charade was witnessed by scores of Kenyans across the country – the function was beamed live on radio and television stations. Seventy-year-old Wandia Kimaita, who watched the proceedings from Iriani village in Mathira constituency in Nyeri, was later to observe how she was appalled by how President Uhuru treated his deputy. “I really sympathised with Deputy President Ruto for all the humiliation he underwent that day. Why would Uhuru behave like this; seemingly gleeful and laughing recklessly? This was unbecoming of the President. Even if they humiliate him [Ruto], my vote is still with him.”

A matter of trust

The 156-page BBI (I) document that was hailed at the Bomas jamboree as a “peace document” included a non-executive position of prime minister, with its attendant deputies. The prime minister in the BBI (I) report is an appointee of the president who wields executive powers.

“The BBI (II) is about expanding the executive,” said the influential Jubilee MP. “It is about creating a powerful position for the ‘tired’ president. It is true, the president doesn’t intend to extend his presidential term, but it is not true that once his terms expires, he wants to fade into oblivion. He wants to stick around in a powerful position within the government because – I’ll be very forthright with you – the Kenyatta family doesn’t trust one William Ruto.”

This trust issue is something that has consistently cropped up in my interviews with Jubilee Party politicians, most of whom are past or present MPs from Central Kenya and the greater Rift Valley regions who have remained close to the two powerful men. I have also spoken to Jubilee Party mandarins and aficionados who have worked around and with President Uhuru and his deputy and who, therefore, can, with a fair amount of surety, authoritatively comment on the two. The verdict I always get on why the bromance between the president and his deputy has been waning since January 2018 (when Uhuru and Raila shook hands) is that trust between the two has been broken.

But in seeking to understand precisely why, after fighting so hard to retain their power as incumbents in 2017, their bromance “suddenly” died, I sought the views of two senior politicians, one from Central Kenya and the other from Rift Valley, who are knowledgeable in Kenya’s presidential and succession politics. Both have been witnesses to Kenya’s tumultuous presidential successions at their critical junctures.

“The now emerging problems between Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are not about the presumed governance style, the apparent contestations and greed for power, state theft, or even ethnic affiliations. They are just about one thing – trust,” said a senior veteran Central Kenya politician, who requested anonymity. “The Kenyatta family simply doesn’t trust Ruto. Trust is not something you feed someone like porridge – if the trust is not there, it’s not there; you cannot force yourself to trust someone.”

The Kenyatta family is not convinced that Ruto, once he assumes the reins of the presidency, will not destroy their business empire – they know it, said the politician. “They are persuaded that this is what he will do when he becomes president.” The politician claimed that the Kenyatta family (here he referred specifically to Mama Ngina, Uhuru’s mother, and Muhoho, his younger brother) categorically asked Uhuru to stick around because he was too young to exit the political scene, least of all, to even contemplate going home. They advised him to work to create the position of an executive prime minister purely in order to protect and safeguard the family’s wealth.

Why the position of the prime minister? I asked. “Because it doesn’t interfere with the constitutionally-mandated two-term presidential limit. The idea of changing the constitution to sneak in a third term clause was going to be messy and Kenyans were going to reject it outright,” said the senior politician. “Hence, no one can accuse him of abrogating the law. Still, he would have to change the constitution to accommodate the new position and its deputies”.

“The now emerging problems between Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are not about the presumed governance style, the apparent contestations and greed for power, state theft, or even ethnic affiliations. They are just about one thing – trust,” said a senior veteran Central Kenya politician, who requested anonymity.

Recently, President Uhuru spoke about being betrayed by people he had entrusted to work for him: he was referring to his deputy after the narrative of corruption failed to fly. He now seems to have stumbled on a new idea: the trust narrative, which he hopes Kenyans this time will buy, pointed out the veteran politician. “William Ruto was being used as a ladder by the Kenyatta family to capture power; after that he was going to be dumped like a used rag”.

“Uhuru telling us that he has been betrayed is really stale news,” said a mzee from Limuru. “Who tells Uhuru he’s the only one who can be betrayed? We entrusted him with the presidency, and he has betrayed us big time. That’s why we don’t want him anywhere near the executive – he should just go quietly and leave us alone. They want to create the position of the executive prime minister with this BBI (II) for him, we know, and we will defeat the referendum when it comes.”

The mzee said that the BBI project has one linear argument: “Don’t vote for Ruto because he’s bad, he’s untrustworthy. What I object to, is the moral highhandedness of the purveyors of BBI to think that we Kikuyus don’t know Ruto is bad. We know he is very bad. Has Uhuru and all the others been good? Ruto is corrupt, a thief, will bring down the country…we know. They have numerously hinted to us that the country will be worse off…where is it now? Is it any better? Who has amassed more wealth and money in this country than the Kenyatta family? Who has brought down the country? Who did we elect as president? Is it Ruto? If Ruto has been the president, please let us know.

“To paint Ruto as the most wicked politician will not change our resolve: we [Kikuyus] will still vote for him in 2022. Those talking about Ruto have nothing else to talk about, or offer any alternative. It’s best they keep quiet and go away. Agikorwo Gikuyu matigothoma na giki kia Uhuru…gutiri hindi magathoma, megutura me ngombo cia mbari ya Kenyatta”. If Kikuyus this time will not learn from the travails that Uhuru has made them go through…they will never learn, they will remain slaves to the Kenyatta family.”

The senior politician from Central Kenya said the president has been telling Kenyans – and specifically Kikuyus – that the sole aim of BBI is to sue for peace and that this country should never go to war again, which the Kikuyus totally agree with. “But they part company when then he tells them, by his words and deeds, that they should shun William Ruto…”

The senior politician from Central Kenya said the president has been telling Kenyans – and specifically Kikuyus – that the sole aim of BBI is to sue for peace and that this country should never go to war again, which the Kikuyus totally agree with. “But they part company when then he tells them, by his words and deeds, that they should shun William Ruto. How? ‘If we don’t want Rift Valley Kikuyus to ever shed blood again because of politics, it is prudent then we vote for one William Ruto’ say the Kikuyus. But the president doesn’t seem to get it, or does he?”

“The Kenyatta family’s property”

The politician said President Uhuru cannot believe the Kikuyus have turned their back on him. “Because since 1963, it has always worked: The Kenyatta family has always beckoned on the Kikuyus to do their bidding without fail and without opposition. The Kikuyus have been the Kenyatta family’s property – they do with them as they wish. Now the family is facing open rebellion and the president doesn’t want to believe it’s over – it’s the people who are tired with the Kenyatta family, for taking them too much for granted and ensuring they are economically finished.” The politician said that the Kenyatta family replaced the British masters who had ruled Kenya for 70 year, as the new black Kenyan colonisers.

“All what the Kenyattas want is to expand and ensure their business empire is intact and thriving going forward, the rest are details. Everybody else could be eating cake for all they care. The only thing that has grown in this seven years is the Kenyatta family businesses. As its empire grew, the converse has been happening to the Kikuyu people and the rest of Kenyans.”

The politician, who knows Uhuru since his formative years, says the president is living in the past: “He’s used to getting his way, doesn’t listen to [wise] counsel, but worse still, and more ruefully, to hide his ineptitude, his stupefying reaction is to be bombastic, dictatorial, lose his temper and throw tantrums. He cannot believe Kikuyus are no longer enamoured by the Kenyattas, much less him. He wants to be feared, just like his father and Moi wanted. When that doesn’t happen, he becomes abusive and insults everyone. He wants to be feared and loved at the same time.”

The BBI (II) is a dynastic elite pact between the Kenyatta and Moi families that is assisted by Raila Odinga to retain their stranglehold on the country’s political power, surmised a senior from Rift Valley and a close friend of the deputy president. “For Uhuru to hang onto power, he has to expand the executive to accommodate and calm the aspirations of several other ethnic kings to assuage his own power grab.”

To this extent, said the politician, BBI (II) wants the executive expanded into having a president and his two deputy presidents, an executive prime minister and his two deputies and finally regional governors. “In short, BBI (II), by proposing the new positions of regional governors, is resorting to the old format of a provincial administration structure of provincial commissioners, district officers and local chiefs reporting to the centre.” The politician hinted that the centre has never been comfortable with devolution. The recent unconstitutional transfer of powers from the Nairobi County to the executive is just a curtain-raiser of things to come.”

For this to happen, the grand architects of BBI (II) cannot escape a referendum. “Änd this is where their real problems will begin,” said the Ruto ally. “Why? Because Ruto has stolen the thunder from President Uhuru and Raila. His strategy is to fight within the BBI territory and not without. As his close friend told me, he is better off peeing inside than outside, which is why Ruto and his team decided to not openly fight the proponents of BBI and their document.”

“But the 60-million-dollar question is this,” posed the politician, “Do you think if it came to the referendum question and Ruto decided to oppose it, the BBI (II) proponents would defeat him in a straight fight?” The Ruto ally told me that the deputy president was toying with several options in his efforts to tame BBI (II). One of them is to, at the appropriate time, assemble a team of between 30 to 50 legal experts who would have scrutinised and scoured the document with a toothcomb before going to court and arguing that the document is neither anchored in the Kenyan law nor recognised by any constitutional statutes.

The beginning of the year saw BBI (II) commence its popularisation campaign meetings in what one Jubilee Party mandarin cheekily described as NASA zones: Kakamega, Kisii, Mombasa and Kitui. “Let’s see how they are going to fair on in Eldoret, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Meru, Nakuru and Nyeri.”

The BBI (II) is a dynastic elite pact between the Kenyatta and Moi families that is assisted by Raila Odinga to retain their stranglehold on the country’s political power, surmised a senior from Rift Valley and a close friend of the deputy president. “For Uhuru to hang onto power, he has to expand the executive to accommodate and calm the aspirations of several other ethnic kings to assuage his own power grab.”

A friend who works at the Makueni County governor’s office in Wote told me he recently accompanied the governor to inspect some county projects and the people who generally are happy with their governor, Prof Kivutha Kibwana, did not fail to put him to task over his apparent cozying up to BBI (II) mandarins.

“Musomi withinwa ni kyao yiulu wa BBI? Na yiikwaatene na maundu ma andu onthe. Nitwisi BBI nikyau…tikwondu wa mathina maitu…indi ni kwa kuaana maunini kwa ala oi nakumuthingii Uhuru silikalini.” Professor, why are you getting entangled with this BBI politics? We know what BBI is all about…it’s not about our welfare…it’s about elite power sharing and sneaking Uhuru back to power.

On January 20, 2019, Jubilee Party MPs and senators who are aligned to the deputy president, after congregating in Naivasha town for two days, issued a raft of ultimatums concerning the ongoing BBI (II) meetings. They styled their meeting like a Parliamentary Group meeting, which the party Secretary-General and Cabinet Secretary without portfolio, Raphael Tuju, objected to by issuing a press statement saying the MPs’ meeting was not a Jubilee Party affair. “We have noted with great concern the manner in which BBI popularisation rallies have been conducted so far,” said part of the Naivasha memo. “The discussions have mainly been on personalities and positions for the political class.”

On that same day, the president, feeling the heat of the Naivasha meeting, summoned Ruto to his office at State House, Nairobi. According to my sources, the president was breathing fire. Why are Jubilee Party MPs rebelling against him? asked a worked-up president to his deputy. The president also wondered loudly why Kikuyu MPs were taking him on. Convene a parliamentary group meeting and call the MPs to order, was supposedly his deputy’s answer.

Indeed, even as 2022 fast approaches and the political temperature in the country rises amidst hard economic times, food insecurity and locust invasions, it is crystal clear that BBI (II) inspires little confidence, especially in the president’s own backyard where people are tired of being held hostage by the Kenyatta family. It is a reminder that Kenya is stuck in a deep political rut and held hostage by a cabal of ethno-chauvinists who have perfected the art of subverting democracy by introducing a new cast of enemies-turned-allies.

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Politics

China and Africa’s Debt Crisis

Ahead of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Tim Zajontz looks at the immense amounts of debt African governments owe Chinese lenders. This debt is central to capitalist accumulation and financial extraction from the African continent. Zajontz argues that Chinese capital is now pivotal to the global circuit of capital and China, just like other creditors, uses debt for the conquest of Africa and its resources.

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From 29-30 November, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) gathered for the first time since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic at the ministerial level. While the official narrative around the 8th FOCAC meeting in Dakar reiterates ‘win-win cooperation’ (合作共赢) and promises to ‘Deepen China-Africa Partnership and Promote Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa Community with a Shared Future in the New Era’, the unburdened enthusiasm that once surrounded high-level FOCAC meetings is long gone. Particularly, the immense amounts of debt that some African governments owe Chinese lenders have become a delicate issue affecting Africa-China relations. Several African governments are currently negotiating with creditors and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) how to restructure and manage their debts. It is clear now that, after a decade of unfettered lending from Chinese and non-Chinese creditors, the post-pandemic ‘payback period’ will come at immense social costs. Africa’s debt owed to China will therefore be high up on the agenda of in camera meetings between African and Chinese officials in Dakar.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic added urgency to the matter, China’s rise to become the world’s largest bilateral creditor, holding 57% of low-income countries’ bilateral debt in 2020, has caused controversies in African capitals and beyond. Chinese overseas lending has been infamously branded as ‘debt trap diplomacy’ and politically instrumentalised by the Trump administration and other hypocrites in the West. The latter have been quick to accuse China of leveraging its influence in Africa through loans, whilst they have usually remained entirely silent regarding the complicity of Western capital in the systematic underdevelopment of the continent. There have since been commendable research efforts to demystify the ‘debt trap’ narrative and to shed light (especially by means of more reliable data) on a topic that is complicated by the opacity pertaining to African debt exposure to China. Accordingly, the China-Africa Project, a news outlet covering Africa-China relations, has recently put to rest the narrative of a ‘Chinese debt trap diplomacy’.

In a recent article in ROAPE, I reflect on the scholarly debate on debt in the rapidly growing field of China-Africa studies and call for a critical research agenda which problematises the function of debt in late capitalism and calls into question dominant development paradigms and policies that have sustained Africa’s financial dependency. According to World Bank figures, the external debt stock of ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’ has more than doubled throughout the 2010s, from $305 billion in 2010 to $705 billion in 2020.

After highly indebted African states had seen debt write-offs under multilateral debt relief initiatives in the 2000s, Africa’s current debt cycle commenced against the background of the ‘commodities super cycle’ and related ‘Africa rising’ narratives. African governments, now with relatively clean balance sheets, rushed onto global capital markets, and increasingly to Chinese policy banks, to sign bonds, loans and export credits. Debt accumulation in Africa has since been further fuelled by the now hegemonic paradigm of ‘infrastructure-led development’, which, as described by Seth Schindler and J. Miguel Kanai, is promoted by a ‘global growth coalition’ that advocates ‘financing and financializing infrastructure’ to get African ‘territories right’ for their seamless integration into global markets.

Much of the scholarly debate around African debt owed to China has been focused on providing an evidence-based corrective to the ‘debt trap narrative’ – doubtlessly a commendable effort. However, we must not risk reducing debt to its discourse but expose its centrality to capitalist accumulation generally and financial extraction from the African continent in particular. Just like capital, debt is a social relation marked by asymmetrical material relations and power differentials between debtor and lender. As Tim Di Muzio and Richard Robbins argue in Debt as Power, ‘debt within capitalist modernity is a social technology of power […]. In capitalism, the prevailing logic is the logic of differential accumulation, and given that debt instruments far outweigh equity instruments, we can safely claim that interest-bearing debt is the primary way in which economic inequality is generated as more money is redistributed to creditors.’ It is primarily the asymmetry inherent to the debt relationship and resultant power differentials – not only the politicised ‘debt trap’ narrative, flawed and problematic as it is – that have made it increasingly difficult for the Chinese government to sustain official narratives that suggest the horizontality of relations between China and the global South.

Chinese (state) capital is now pivotal to the global circuit of capital and, just like other creditors, employs the social technology of debt in Africa and elsewhere. The massive increase in Chinese overseas lending over the last two decades has been central to efforts to address chronic overaccumulation within the Chinese economy through what David Harvey called ‘spatio-temporal fixes’, the geographical expansion and temporal deferral (for instance by means of debt financing) of surplus capital. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become the superstructure to organise a series of such ‘fixes’ and the African continent – in line with the logic of uneven geographical development that is inherent to capitalism – a welcome outlet for Chinese surplus materials and finance capital.

It is now clear that several African governments have overextended themselves by taking on unsustainable amounts of loan financing (both from Chinese and non-Chinese sources). While Chinese lenders have been lenient to reschedule debt payments amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, African governments cannot expect blanket debt forgiveness from Beijing. China’s current spatio-temporal fixes need to see returns eventually.

As the IMF is yet again visiting Addis Ababa, Lusaka, and Nairobi to resurrect fiscal discipline and to ensure debtor compliance for the post-pandemic payback period, it is high time to acknowledge that periodic cycles of debt financing, debt distress and structural adjustment are systemic features of Africa’s integration into the global capitalist economy. It seems apposite to remember Thomas Sankara who – three months before his assassination in 1987 – argued that, ‘controlled and dominated by imperialism, debt is a skilfully managed reconquest of Africa, intended to subjugate its growth and development’. At the time, several African countries had plunged into severe debt crises which paved the way for externally ‘prescribed’ structural adjustment programmes and heralded the era of disciplinary neoliberalism, long before the latter ravaged capitalist heartlands.

Today, three and a half decades after Sankara’s famous speech at the Summit of the Organisation of African Unity, history appears to repeat itself, as Africa is yet again grappling with ‘the issue of debt’. It remains to be seen whether this time around African leaders can form the ‘united front against debt’ that Sankara called for in 1987. The upcoming FOCAC ministerial meeting in Dakar will give a first indication to this effect.

This article was published in the Review of African political Economy (ROAPE).

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Politics

‘Teach and Go Home’: Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission and the Terrors of Bureaucracy

The TSC has no mandate, and no qualification, to be peeping into classrooms and making pedagogical decisions. The litany of bureaucracy that it imposes on teachers must be abolished.

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On the afternoon of Friday, 12 November, Martha Omollo, a teacher in Nairobi County, was called to her school and served with a letter from the Teachers Service Commission, the government employer of teachers in public schools. The letter, which was dated that day, informed her that she had been transferred to a school in Trans Nzoia County, 400 kilometres away, and that she was to report ready to teach the following Monday, 15th November.

Earlier in the week, Omollo had been the spokesperson of the Teachers’ Pressure Group, which had called into question the loyalty of the union leaders to its members, and the opaque health insurance scheme into which teachers pay through involuntary salary deductions. Shortly after the press conference, Omollo received a call from the TSC Nairobi County office warning her not to publicly discuss issues facing teachers.

The idea that a teacher can pack her bags in the middle of the term and move 400 km away, ready to teach in three days, is nothing short of cruel. The move clearly disregards human nature, and the fact that teaching is, by its very essence, a profession of relationship. Teachers cannot take care of students’ minds and wellbeing when they themselves are anxious about their own wellbeing, and worse, when they are denied the freedom of thought and speech. The transfer communicates that the TSC does not care, and worse, it callously turns one teacher into a warning to other teachers.

Similar treatment of a teacher was witnessed in April this year. The media reported about a teacher, Magdalene Kimani, who trekked to a school 20km away for a number of days to administer national examinations. In reaction to this fairly innocent report, the county education office sent her a “show cause” letter, yet the report was initiated by the media rather than the other way round. The education officials were heartless to ignore the teacher’s 20km trek and then issue a threatening letter to her.

These two cases are just a microcosm of the harassment that Kenyan teachers endure under the TSC. For instance, the TSC has carried out massive transfers of teachers away from their home areas in a procedure called “delocalization”. In her appearance before the Senate, Nancy Macharia, the CEO of the TSC, justified the initiative affecting thousands of teachers as a move to encourage “national cohesion”. It is amazing that one can think that cohesion comes from displacing teachers, disrupting their families, and showing no care about what worried teachers mean for students. To make such moves that increase teachers’ anxiety during school unrest is insensitive and a symptom of bureaucratic hubris.

It should not surprise Kenyans, therefore, that this callousness is bound to show up in the schools and public spaces. Senior government officials display an amazing lack of emotional intelligence and sensitivity to ordinary professionals, and a seeming ignorance of the harm that their actions against juniors imply for the larger public. Teachers who are anxious and who feel disrespected cannot treat children with dignity and respond to the extra-ordinary circumstances of the children under their care. To expect otherwise, as the TSC seems to do, is the definition of either hubris or inhumanity.

Take, for instance, the forms that teachers have to fill in regularly. According to the TSC, teachers have to fill in 18 forms, but teachers say that the forms are more than that. The ludicrous CBC promise of paying attention to individual learners has meant that teachers fill in forms detailing the special learners in their class, the nature of the learners’ challenges, and the remedies that the teachers have taken to address those challenges. Teachers are also expected to file reports on how they have covered what KICD calls “strands” and “subs-strands”. Now that this is assessment season, teachers are also required by the Kenya National Examinations Council to assess students conducting group activities, but the assessments require the teacher to grade each individual student along six or seven measurements. This means that for one subject taught to one class of sixty students, a teacher is filling in 60 rows x 7 columns.

Senior government officials display an amazing lack of emotional intelligence and sensitivity to ordinary professionals.

The problem with this work is not simply the amount. It’s that the work is demeaning. Teachers are filling in paperwork about teaching rather than doing the actual teaching. In the language of the anthropologist David Graeber, this is the “bullshitization” of work caused by an increase in bureaucrats with nothing to do but supervise others. The point of these forms is not to improve teaching and learning, as the bureaucrats have deluded themselves. The point is control by people who spend their days in offices and do not understand the beauty and mystery of the human connection between teachers and children, nor the fact that that beauty and mystery cannot be translated into numerical measurements. By some perverse psychology, Graeber explains, work in the neoliberal era has meant an exponential increase in administrators who subsequently use bureaucratic tools to terrorize the people doing the actual work.

I do not use the word “terrorize” lightly. The word has been used by education scholars in their assessments of performance appraisal for teachers, including by the eminent British education sociologist Stephen J. Ball, in his well-cited journal article The Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity. The nature of terror is to plant shame and fear in the individual, make the individual feel isolated and therefore incapable of changing anything about their condition. Terror is also characterized by a lack of predictability. And because the system is always incoherent and inconsistent, teachers can never tell where the attack will come from. No matter what the teacher does, the teacher is never good enough.

One teacher told me that with TPAD, teachers are told to rate themselves but not too much, and then punished for not achieving 100 per cent performance. The teacher put it this way: “During the introduction of TPAD, we were directed that we should not rate ourselves more than 80 per cent even when you know you have met the ‘targets’. During the recent interviews, those without evidence of it were disqualified.”

The point is control by people who spend their days in offices and do not understand the beauty and mystery of the human connection between teachers and children.

​Another tragically hilarious story was recounted in a letter to the editor of the Nation newspaper some years back. The letter, titled “TSC should listen to teachers’ voice on appraisal row”, read:

Back in 2010, quality assurance and standards personnel from the Ministry of Education visited the school I was teaching in then.

As a routine, they demanded to inspect teachers’ ‘tools of trade’, as they called them. These included schemes of work, records of work books, lesson notes and lesson plans and files containing learners’ progress reports, amongst many others. We complied. Only one member of staff had all these. The rest of us, in a staff of 27, including the principal, had one or more documents missing.

After perusal, we were given a lengthy lecture on how ‘lazy’ we had become, and that only one of us merited a recognition in a public forum, notably, the school’s Annual General Meeting, and that the institution would be posting better results were we to emulate our colleague.

After the exit of the QASO personnel, the entire staffroom burst into laughter. Months later, the teacher in question was transferred following complaints from parents and learners over his below par delivery and alcoholism.

This is an egregious story of how bureaucrats confuse measures and tools of work with the actual work itself. Humiliating teachers for not having submitted complete records is similar to judging a carpenter’s work not by the furniture but by the carpenter’s hammer. For the teacher, part of the torture of performance appraisal comes from the consciousness that the work that one is doing is barely a reflection of the real work of teaching. As the story shows, a teacher actually teaching in the classroom is unlikely to achieve perfect record keeping, and yet, it is the lack of record keeping that is used to judge the teacher as lax and incompetent.

As Ball explains, the goal of teacher appraisals is not the improvement of teaching, as education bureaucrats claim. The real goal is to capture the teacher’s soul. The demand for performativity seeks to change not what teachers do, but who the teachers are. It is a vicious power grab aimed at denying teachers the ability to make judgements based on their professional opinion, and at making the bureaucrats and managers, rather than the children in their classrooms, the main focus of teaching. This obsession is so acute in the TSC, that as the latest wave of school fires began a few weeks ago, teachers were simultaneously receiving text messages from their employer reminding them to meet the deadlines for their appraisals. In other words, our children are not a priority for the education bureaucrats. It is for this reason that many teachers have adopted the “teach and go home” philosophy. It even has an acronym: TAGH.

The common sense of cruelty

How is this cruelty so easily enforced without public resistance?

Part of what makes appraisals so difficult to resist is that they sound like common sense. The argument of the managerialists and politicians in support of appraisals goes something like this: Public education is useless and is failing our children (the Kenyan version is that it produces incompetent graduates). The problem is the teachers. To improve our education and make teachers work better, teachers need to be policed with appraisals or performance contracts, where their performance is measured by a score.

This logic is devilishly convincing when one has no personal experience of teaching. I have been studying performance management in education for a decade, and to this day, I still struggle with explaining why the system is abusive. The common sense character comes from Anglo-American billionaires and politicians whose power and access to the media allows them to spread the narrative of truant and incompetent teachers who are overpaid by the state and protected by permanent and pensionable terms (called “tenure” in the US). Teachers in the US, UK and Australia, among other English-speaking countries have gallantly resisted this attack, but their struggle has been rendered longer and harder by the fact that politicians and billionaires have used the media to poison the public’s opinion of teachers.

The demand for performativity seeks to change not what teachers do, but who the teachers are.

The demonization of teachers is, in reality, an effort to end job security for teachers and replace it with appraisals, or what American conservatives call “teacher accountability”. To avoid the political mess of firing teachers en masse, these haters of teachers call for more measurement of teachers’ work. They also advocate for drastic measures like shaming and firing teachers, and closing schools that do not meet “standards”, standards that are solely determined by students’ examination scores. Appraisal management is a large-scale and sanitized form of “constructive dismissal”, which is the technical term for workplace bullying, where a worker is deliberately mistreated so that they can quit. The tactics are working, because many teachers tell me that they want to quit.

Microsoft seems to be preparing for such a scenario where the number of trained teachers will be so insufficient that technology will have to do the teachers’ work. Microsoft came on my radar when one teacher wrote to me that part of the TSC’s regime of form-filling includes teachers uploading their notes on Microsoft. It appears that when the president attended the Global Partners for Education conference in London in August 2021, one of the events was to sign a deal with Microsoft whose goal was vaguely defined as “to enable the best use of technology to dramatically enhance learning.”

The article gives no details of what Microsoft intends to do with those notes, but one can legitimately worry that the point is to eventually use those notes to create lessons for which Microsoft will charge Kenyans, and probably without honouring the copyright of teachers. If such is the case, then the teaching profession is essentially a plantation in which the TSC is the foreman that terrorizes teachers to extract materials for foreign companies to exploit.

There is yet another common sense narrative to make us accommodate this potential exploitation, and this narrative came with CBC. It is the narrative of “individual talent” and “personalized learning”. When Kenyans hear it, they think the discussion is about a human teacher giving loving and individual attention to each child, when in fact, the corporates are talking about children learning from tablets and without teachers.

This hatred for teachers is not about education. It’s a cruel contempt for society and especially for the poor whom, the rich think, do not deserve a good education, least of all at public expense. Others suggest that it comes from contempt for teachers as people with expertise, and as members of unions that are still standing up against the casualization of labour. Rev. William J. Barber also mentioned another logic of this attack: “The reason they want to privatize education is because a lot of people who are greedy know that they can’t make as much money out in other markets now. So they want to come in and siphon off money from the government for their own personal pockets. Some of them don’t hate government; they just hate government money going to anybody but them.”

Whatever the case, the war against teachers and public education, which has a peculiarly Anglo-American character, is a war that has been waged against Kenyan public school teachers since 2010, led by the current president who was Finance Minister and Acting Education Minister then, and with the help of the British Government. As Nimi Hoffman details in her article, the DfID engaged British academics who used unethical means to push for a project that undermined teachers’ unions through hiring contract teachers on low pay. The project was piloted in Kakamega County and was rigorously resisted by the teachers’ unions.

It is for this reason that many teachers have adopted the philosophy of “teach and go home”.

The relentless effort to casualize teaching continued in April 2015, when the TSC announced the replacement of the punitive performance management system with a more “encouraging” appraisal system. The pilot project was funded by the World Bank, and the British Council funded the implementation of appraisals. To anticipate the resistance of the union officials, the then TSC chief executive officer Gabriel Lengoiboni reminded them that they had implicitly accepted the project when they participated in the benchmarking trip to Britain in 2014.

Education policy in Africa has largely been influenced in this way. Foreign governments offer trips abroad for teachers, and the familiarity disempowers teachers from questioning or opposing the policy being subtly pushed through this informal networking. Even the Bologna Process, largely responsible for the bureaucratization of Kenyan higher education, was entrenched through sponsored trips to Europe for African vice-chancellors and senior academics.

Truth is exposure

The way to end this intricate system of decadence in the school system is through public exposure. But education leaders in Kenya are notoriously secretive, fanatically hostile to self-examination and ironically, steadfastly resistant to public interrogation. Learning institutions muzzle teaching professionals despite academic freedom being guaranteed by the constitution. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development replaced the education system with competency but avoided any debate in the media about their choice. The TSC terrorizes teachers in the shadows and punishes teachers for any publicity in the media. In the universities, public debate is discouraged through an insidious rebuke of disagreement as “attacking people personally” and with calls for intervention from a third party to lead in reconciliation. Being a teacher in Kenya’s colonial school system is like living in a bad version of the movie “Stepford Wives”, where people are supposed to ignore reality and humanity and live in a fictional utopia.

There is little difference between this scenario and witchcraft. The defining characteristic of witchcraft is that actions happen in the shadows, supposedly with no human actors, as if brought about by the wind, with nobody to hold accountable. There is no one to name, no one to be held responsible. Education institutions maintain a stoic silence in the delusion that because education bureaucrats have blocked their ears and cannot hear alternative voices and visions of education, those alternatives do not exist.

The demonization of teachers is, in reality, an effort to end job security for teachers and replace it with appraisals, or what American conservatives call “teacher accountability”.

This is why we need a Truth and Justice Commission for education. We need a public forum where Kenyans are forced to hear all the participants in education, especially those who are the most vulnerable. It is time for Kenyans to stop listening to the disjointed stories of the media, the propaganda of the private sector, and the silence of educational institutions, and to construct for themselves a complete story that connects the dots between the brutality suffered by our children, the terror experienced by teachers, the deaf ears of education bureaucrats and the sadism of the Kenyan public. Our faith in the colonial education system is a national delusion that can only be cured by the truth.

In the immediate, TPAD and the litany of bureaucracy which the TSC imposes on teachers needs to be abolished. The TSC has no mandate, and no qualification, to be peeping into the classrooms and making pedagogical decisions. Despite its “Commission”, tag the TSC’s role is mainly human resource clerical work. If the TSC officers want to enjoy the dignity of teaching, they are welcome to join us in the classroom. As they know, there are not enough teachers, and moving with their salaries to the classroom would save the country some money for hiring teachers. Likewise, the yearly assessments of the Kenya National Examination Council need to be done away with. With the introduction of CBC, the KICD promised Kenyans the end of exam obsession. It is ridiculous that CBC is now increasing yearly assessments all the way down to primary school. And Martha Omollo’s transfer should be reversed. The remedial measures should be guided by this simple principle: our children deserve to be taught by adults who are free in thinking, creative in teaching, and caring in interaction.

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Prebendal Politics and Transition to Democracy in Somalia

The Somali political space is a marketplace that does not allow for free and fair elections and diminishes the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process, hindering the emergence of democracy in Somalia.

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Prebendal Politics and Transition to Democracy in Somalia
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Government should belong to the people, be for the people and by the people. This is the democratic ideal borne out of man’s innate desire for good governance, societal stability, and development. Credible elections are the hub around which the practice of ideal and sustainable democracy revolves.

As such, it is closely tied to the growth and development of democratic political order. To realise this democratic ideal, however, electing people to participate in government should be freely and fairly done to allow for the right choice of the electorates to emerge. The elections process is the only means of guaranteeing the credibility and sanctity of democratic practice. The election becomes a crucial point in the continuum of democratisation and an imperative means of giving voice to the people’s will, which is the basis of government authority.

Fundamentally, democratic development involves the practice and sustainability of regular, credible electoral conducts and processes. In fact, one of the cardinal features of democratic practice is the conduct of credible, free and fair elections. Therefore, the cardinal issue in a democratic polity could viewed as the method of selecting people who govern at any point in time.

Indirect election

Conducting elections in fragile countries like Somalia cannot be an easy task by any yardstick. Conducting free and fair elections in such a polity, that gives the victor free reign to grab resources, is a much more difficult assignment the success of which even angels cannot guarantee. This is in large part because of the insecurity, political infighting amongst the elites, endemic corruption and the threat from Al-Shabaab. The militant group has historically made it difficult to hold elections in Somalia by threatening to attack polling places.

To minimize concerns about Al-Shabaab disrupting elections, Somali political leaders and their international allies have supported a narrow voting process based on a power-sharing formula between clans, rather than a popular vote (universal suffrage is still a distant dream for the country) and adopted the electoral college model. In the model, elders are selected from across the diverse clans and they, in turn, nominate or elect parliamentarians, who in turn elect the president. Initially, one elder from each clan picked one member of parliament (MP), but this has now changed to an electoral college system. In this system, each clan still appoints one member of parliament, but instead of one person deciding, each clan picks 51 of its members to vote for that clan’s one representative in the lower house of parliament as happened in 2016/17 indirect election.

Since early 2000, Somalia has had four indirect national elections and witnessed a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian to another. In 2012, 135 traditional clan elders elected members of parliament, who in turn elected their speakers and the federal president. In 2016, elections were conducted in one location in each federal member state. The 135 traditional clan elders also selected the members of the 275 electoral colleges made up of 51 delegates per seat, constituting the total college of 14,025. On the other hand, the senate (upper house) members were nominated by the federal member state presidents, while the federal member state parliament selected the final members of the upper house.

The ongoing (2020/21) election mirrors the 2016 exercise but has expanded the number of delegates involved in the lower house (electoral collegeElectoral College) from 51 to 101 delegates. This expansion raised the number of participants in the lower house election from 14,025 to 27,775—a notable growth in suffrage. Furthermore, the September 2020 agreement increased the number of voting centres per member state from one to two. It also established federal and state election commissions to oversee the polls. However, elections in Somalia have lacked the basic ingredients of democratic elections as most Somalis are not included in the voting. The elections have also been characterised by pervasive corruption and widespread electoral fraud.

It is common knowledge in Somalia that running in an election and winning requires not only political clout but also a lot of money. An aspiring politician needs the help of a well-heeled or well-grounded politician or a money bag to bankroll their political campaign to see success in such an endeavour. This is mainly because taking political office in Somalia has come to be seen primarily as a means of enrichment and of gaining influence, and not as an opportunity to serve the people.

Somali elites and prospective parliamentarians receive campaign funding from both internal and external actors. External actors include neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, Gulf countries and Western allies. On the other hand, internally, the key powerbrokers are the elites who have captured states and regions, and particularly those who had mastered the art of obtaining contracts during the war; they have built business empires in the import/export sectors, construction and rebuilding, clearance and customs and are now playing a critical role in politics.

The cost of democracy 

In the electoral collegeElectoral College system, the price of votes ranges from US$5,000 to US$30,000, with politics at the local and national levels recognised to have become increasingly monetised over time. Some candidates are said to have offered bribes of up to US$1.3 million to secure votes. Jeffrey Gentlemen reports that in 2012 former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud gave several clan elders a US$5,000 bribe each to influence the choice of their clan’s representatives in Parliament.

The 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections that brought Hassan Sheikh to power had little legitimacy, and they were criticised as the most fraudulent in Somalia’s history. Hassan Sheikh was elected as President, backed by the Qatari Government with money brought to Mogadishu by Farah Abdulkadir (a former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs), and business and political allies in Mogadishu. The various processes and elections to put together the leadership of the federal member states were also marred by high levels of corruption and intimidation.

Taking political office in Somalia has come to be seen primarily as a means of enrichment and of gaining influence, and not as an opportunity to serve the people.

The 2016/17 federal election involved a significant amount of money. Farmaajo’s win surprised most observers, and Somali analysts estimate that at least US$20 million changed hands during the parliamentary elections that culminated in the presidential election. Farmaajo’s supporters had hoped that he could be the answer to corruption and extremism in Somalia, but he too succumbed to corruption. He is believed to have influenced elections in the federal member states using money and coercion. During Farmaajo’s time in office corruption worsened and security deteriorated.

Between 2017 and 2021, elections were held across the federal member states that optimised the defining features of prebend, the salience of clan identity, and the pervasive use of violence and money. In Puntland, incumbent President Said Abdullahi Dani narrowly won the election after carefully crafting an alliance of two clan-based interests, The Saleban Clans.  An estimated US$15 million changed hands in the week before the election, with all candidates using money to buy support.

In Galmudug, FGS employed the Somalia National Army (SNA) and Ethiopian military support to restrict opposition figures and elders access to voting centres. The FGS was able to disarm Ahla Sunna Wal Jamma using financial incentives. Eventually, Ahmed Abdi Kaariye, also known as Qoor, won the election with the support of the federal government.

In the Hirshabelle election, the FGS spent more than US$1.2 million to secure the election of the Hirshabelle president. Former Al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow was the running favourite in the South-West State elections. Robow is from an influential Leysan sub-clan (one of the largest in South-west State) with a loyal clan militia, and he was considered widely popular among the broader population. He reportedly refused a significant financial pay-off not to take part in the election and was duly arrested by Ethiopian forces acting on behalf of the federal government before the election itself.

The arrest of Mukhtar Robow and the blatant intervention of Ethiopian forces on behalf of the federal government led to a demonstration and a reported 15 deaths. A critical statement by Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, in which he raised questions over allegations of abuses by forces loyal to the federal government saw him declared persona non grata.

The long-delayed parliamentary and presidential election was supposed to offer Somalis universal suffrage. However, given the security and logistical challenges of conducting an election in Somalia, as mentioned previously, Somalis opted for indirect election, and so far, the election of members of the senate has been concluded. It is commendable that the majority of senators have been elected by the FMS state legislature in accordance with the electoral model adopted on 17 September. However, the senate election was marred by foul play where FMS presidents and elites pre-determined the winners of every seat, contrary to the agreements and the national interest. The cases of corruption were widely reported; bribes were given to the state legislatures by aspiring senators and their sponsors, including federal and regional executives.

The election for the lower house has just started. Each of the 275 members of the lower house will be elected by an electoral college of 101 clan elders and civil society, determined through the collaboration of the FMS authorities, clan elders and civil society. Nonetheless, the lack of criteria by which the members of civil society and clan elders will be selected has created great concern among the public. It is widely believed that the federal member state presidents have the upper hand in the process, as they also play a role in determining clan elders and civil society. Corruption and vote buying are widespread in all regions; prospective parliamentarians are buying votes.

Abdi Malik Abdullahi tweeted, “2021 electoral process in Somalia is commercialised and sham.” On her part, Hodan Ali tweeted, “Somali politicians poised to spend 10s of millions of dollars on election rigging/buying while millions face killer drought conditions across the country.” Nadeef shared similar view. He noted, “I have realised that Somali leaders are not trying to fix any of our problems. They are trying to make enough money and get enough power so that problems that affect us don’t reach them.”

Given the foregoing, it is clear that taking political office is perceived more as a means to personal economic advancement. This, no doubt, intensifies the unhealthy rivalry and competition for political office that triggers corruption, election rigging, violent conflicts and even coups. In recent years, those seeking power have included prominent scholars coming from all corners of the world to seek elective office on the strength of the size of their pocket. Indeed, the Somali political space is a marketplace that does not allow for free and fair elections and diminishes the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process, hindering the emergence of democracy in Somalia.

External Influence 

In both Somalia and the West, these influences are believed to be coming from five or six Middle Eastern and African countries with various interests in Somalia. These countries include Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan. They have been increasingly involved in providing the political elites with campaign money to secure their specific objectives such as access to oil, port and airport development projects, and other business opportunities. Turkey has financial and infrastructure interests in Somalia, including significant investment in the Mogadishu airport. Qatar is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and wishes to see its regional influence expand in East Africa. The United Arab Emirates opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, and may therefore be acting to counteract Qatari influence in East Africa.

Corruption and vote buying are widespread in all regions; prospective parliamentarians are buying votes.

The Gulf crisis has made Somalia a proxy ground for strategic rivalries across the wider region. Qatar and Turkey have supported the last two presidents. Under Farmaajo’s presidency, the UAE supported federal member states and their oppositions, enhancing the bargaining power of federal member state elites in the political marketplace. The UAE is reported to have made payments to parliamentarians and has directed considerable investment towards Puntland, Somaliland and Galmudug. The UAE has also maintained its corporate interests in port development and strategic infrastructure in Berbera, Bossaso and Hobyo.

On the other hand, maritime disputes between Kenya and Somalia have raised Kenya’s involvement profile. FGS has accused Kenya of supporting Jubaland president Ahmed Madobe against the federal government. Ethiopia remains one of the most influential actors in Somalia and since the election of Abiy Ahmed in 2018, the country has taken a much stronger position in supporting the federal government.

Domestic dynamics

Internal actors including clan elders, political entrepreneurs, conglomerates and technocrats are entangled in a web of political clientelism, kickbacks and redistribution, and debt relations. The federal formula has shaped elite political competition around access to external rents in Somalia.

In recent years, those seeking power have included prominent scholars coming from all corners of the world to seek elective office on the strength of the size of their pocket.

These actors use territorial control, access to strategic infrastructure and foreign exchange to protect their ill-gotten assets and to secure new opportunities. These businesses cope with containing cost and risk by stashing wealth abroad and by avoiding growth to circumvent the attention of governance providers and armed actors who may wish to extract or take a stake in an expanding business.

Consequences of state capture by elites and external actors

The consequences of corruption will be far-reaching. Donors will expect to call the shots after an election. This will constitute a cog in the wheel of progress of such a political entity, with outside forces dictating the direction politics and development will take. It may become difficult for the Somali government to act in the interests of the Somali people rather than those of foreign capital since the occupants of political office will owe allegiance to the money bag (the godfather) rather than the state.

It has become increasingly clear that the main incentive for joining politics in Somalia has become prebendal as the issues of democratic ideals and political ideology are relegated to the background. Ideally, ideology serves as a guide to an individual politician and to a political party’s development initiatives, policies, programmes and actions. This is because a political leadership that emerges without ideology will lack development focus and discipline and not be subject to the rule of law.

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