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One Week in March: Was the Handshake Triggered by the IMF?

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On March 6, Finance CS Henry Rotich writes a letter to the IMF appealing for an extension on a US$ 1.5 billion Stand-by Credit Facility, effectively putting Kenya back into an IMF austerity programme. On March 7, the IMF makes its ‘end-of-mission’ statement, detailing the terms of a bail-out package. On March 9, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga seal a new political deal on the steps of Harambee House. Were these events a coincidence, or as has happened so often in Kenya’s history, orchestrated by the Western patrons of the Kenya State? By JOHN GITHONGO.

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One Week in March: Was the Handshake Triggered by the IMF?
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I remember in the 1980s having a great time with friends who were then living at the University of Nairobi halls of residence. A favourite stop-over for drinks was the Serena Hotel. This was the case at least until the price of beer was decontrolled in early 1993. Beer prices shot up and students were forced to humbler watering holes downtown. The Serena proceeded with a decade-long makeover that’s transformed it into today’s five star, increasingly al Shabaab-proof, world class hotel; and captains of industry and tenderprenuers never again had to share the urinals in the evening with opinionated and inebriated first year university students.

The process of decontrolling prices, generally liberalising the economy and politics accelerated exponentially after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Successive Kenyan regimes have never been big on the social cost of their policies, but even Moi – with his finger ever on the political pulse of the nation – repeatedly balked when pushed by the World Bank and IMF to liberalise the economy through the 1980s. He was especially wedded to the inefficient parastatals that were highly effective political patronage machines. Indeed, it is ironic that in the 21st century, the National Youth Service, National Cereals and Produce Board, Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Kenya Pipeline Company, Uchumi Supermarkets and other such entities have assumed this mirro-role under the very noses of us Kenyans, and the very same Bretton Woods agencies that pushed for ‘reforms’ through the 1980s and 1990s.

I refer to the decontrol we experienced in the 1990s because it transformed Kenya’s sense of its own political and economic sovereignty. In 2003 when NARC came to power, economic advisors joked that officials at the Ministry of Finance were often bleary-eyed because they only went to sleep after they had checked in with the IMF in Washington. By 2008 Kenya had largely been weaned off its dependence on the architects of the Washington Consensus. It helped that China had dramatically raised its commercial profile on the continent in ways that elites could use to their economic and political advantage.

With this in mind and in hindsight, March was a most interesting month for Kenya. Indeed in just one week a series of events combined to affirm a significant reversal in Kenya’s economic sovereignty with far-reaching implications for our politics.

On the 6th of March, the Minister of Finance, Henry Rotich, made the surprise announcement that the government was ‘broke’. He would deny this a day later in rather incongruous fashion. On the same day he and the Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge essentially signed on to an IMF austerity programme.

It wasn’t the traditional IMF programme circa 1980/90s, but it nevertheless was an acknowledgment that we were complying with a range of ‘confidence building’ measures ‘agreed’ with the IMF as we renegotiated our expired precautionary facility with them. For a country like Kenya that has exposed itself to the winds of the international markets to underwrite an ongoing forex-denominated borrowing binge, the IMF’s confidence serves as an insurance to Wall Street that we can, for example, still make our upcoming Eurobond interest payments.

We find ourselves in a conditionality-straitjacket similar to Moi’s in the 1990s. This one may be more politely worded, but the conditions are just as lethal: to secure a six-month extension of the US$ 1.5 billion IMF Stand-by Arrangement, the Fund was demanding that Treasury “[reduces] its fiscal deficit and substantially modify interest controls’. The SBA was due to expire on March 13. Treasury was asking for what was in effect a last-ditch six month extension, to September 2018.

It is thus that the next day, March 7th, the IMF made its ‘end of mission’ pronouncement in Kenya’s regard. Two days later, on the 9th of March, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga stepped out of Harambee House to their now famous ‘handshake’ that has temporarily reordered our politics. Coincidentally the American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was visiting Kenya (and being sacked by President Trump at the same time). I should like to speculate that these events are related.

We find ourselves in a conditionality-straitjacket similar to Moi’s in the 1990s. This one may be more politely worded, but the conditions are just as lethal: to secure a six-month extension of the US$ 1.5 billion IMF Stand-by Arrangement, the Fund was demanding that Treasury “[reduces] its fiscal deficit and substantially modify interest controls’. The SBA was due to expire on March 13. Treasury was asking for what was in effect a last-ditch six month extension, to September 2018.

*****

In November 1991, speaking at a donor consultative meeting in Paris, Kenya’s Finance Minister, the late Professor George Saitoti, announced that the KANU regime had agreed to repeal Section 2A of the constitution and allow the reintroduction of political pluralism. Still, the donors imposed an aid freeze on Kenya primarily as a result of the failure of a pre-agreed economic ‘stabilisation’ programme.

In the years up to 1993 Kenya received over US$1 billion per annum in donor aid – most of it at concessionary rates from Western donors. Indeed, in 1989/90 Kenya received US$1.6 billion from them. And the year before in 1988, KANU had scrapped the secret ballot, holding elections where voters queued behind their candidates. So this aid wasn’t linked to our deteriorating politics then. As a result, the aid freeze of 1991 was not only economically traumatic, the trauma was also political. At the time our understanding was that Moi had caved into intense domestic and international pressure for political and economic liberalisation. That Saitoti chose to make the all-important announcement while facing donors, however, was itself significant. Some insiders at the World Bank at the time insist that Moi misread the moment. The World Bank and IMF had primarily been pressuring Kenya on the economic reform front. It was the bilaterals who had suddenly become more eager about progressive political change.

Indeed, from the mid-1980s the regime had agreed to liberalise the economy which meant doing away with a range of parastatals (that at one point employed over 50 percent of civil servants); and the removal of foreign exchange and price controls, among a raft of other measures.

Initially the government acquiesced to the demands on the understanding that they would be implemented gradually. This was articulated in Sessional Paper No.1 of 1986. The subtext of the reforms would lead to the dismantling of President Moi patronage machine – it was, essentially, political suicide. So he dragged his feet. But then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Moi’s backers in the West, the US and UK in particular quickly started speaking a new language. Ambassadors who had never publicly agitated for transparency, human rights, good governance, accountability – the buzz-words of this new dispensation – when Kenya was a ‘pro-Western anti-communist bastion on the Eastern side of Africa’ suddenly changed their tune. President Moi criss-crossed Kenya complaining about this betrayal and warning that multipartyism in Kenya’s tribal context would lead to division and violence.

Faced with an aid freeze and under enormous pressure to liberalise both the economy and politics, Moi’s grudging acceptance of both was accompanied with his signing off on the Goldenberg scheme that promised to avail the much needed foreign exchange necessary to keep things going through the crunch and finance the 1992 multi-party elections. Thus the Goldenberg scandal was born. The people who walked Goldenberg into State House were the country’s long-serving spy chief, James Kanyotu, and his co-director in Goldenberg International Ltd, Kamlesh Pattni, a 27-year old small-time jeweller. The latter had been trying to flog the scheme to mandarins for some time without success. Now it was eagerly snapped up and transformed into the single most intense conflagration of political corruption in the country’s history.

Kenya saw 10 percent of GDP (US$1 billion at the time) extracted by the Goldenberg scams. The late Kanyotu had saved Moi’s bacon a couple of times before, notably in 1982 when he rushed to the Nyeri Agricultural Show on Friday July 30th to warn the President that Air Force officers were planning a coup and seeking permission to arrest them. Moi refused and the coup attempt took place that Sunday 1st August 1982. Moi in 1991, presented with a solution, did not hesitate to take it.

The people who walked Goldenberg into State House were the country’s long-serving spy chief, James Kanyotu, and his co-director in Goldenberg International Ltd, Kamlesh Pattni, a 27-year old small-time jeweller. The latter had been trying to flog the scheme to mandarins for some time without success. Now it was eagerly snapped up and transformed into the single most intense conflagration of political corruption in the country’s history.

*****

Kenya came out of a failed election process last year with a regime devoid of legitimacy; an economy steeped in debt and hobbled by a wild cycle of looting; an emboldened opposition speaking for almost 70 percent of the country and resolutely implementing a political programme Jubilee couldn’t respond to without a campaign of violence that threatened to burn the entire house down.

For Uhuru Kenyatta, the start of 2018 presented an almost insurmountable set of challenges: implementing an austerity programme while having to deal with a focused opposition breathing down his neck. But he had one thing Moi didn’t have in 1991: the support of both the West and the Bretton Woods institutions. As sub-Saharan Africa teeters on the brink of another debt crisis, the IMF has been generally silent, as even status-quo Western development economists are beginning to question the wisdom and sustainability of the debt binge numerous developing countries have embarked on over the past decade. Here in Kenya David Ndii has been flagging the issue for six years non-stop.

It is probably pure coincidence that the March 9th ‘handshake’ between Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta that relieved so much political pressure from the Jubilee regime came at a moment when Kenyatta needed all the economic wriggle room that the crisis could allow. But just as in Moi’s case in 1991, the handshake deal was fronted, not by the usual political or bureaucratic types, but by the men from the shadows who give advice on matters of national security and preservation of the regime. Indeed, the politicos and bureaucrats were largely cut out of the handshake arrangement. On every side many seemed as surprised by it as most Kenyans. Add to this the fact that the appointed interlocutors are Mr. Odinga’s lawyer, Paul Mwangi, and Dr. Martin Kimani, the head of counter terrorism.

It is probably pure coincidence that the March 9th ‘handshake’ between Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta that relieved so much political pressure from the Jubilee regime came at a moment when Kenyatta needed all the economic wriggle room that the crisis could allow. But just as in Moi’s case in 1991, the handshake deal was fronted, not by the usual political or bureaucratic types, but by the men from the shadows who give advice on matters of national security and preservation of the regime.

I have argued before that Kenya’s elite has often been most amenable to giving up political ground when they are in a fiscal bind. Considered together the political and economic events of March are interesting in their similarities, no matter how apparently tenuous, to the situation in 1991 when Moi reached out to his friend and spy chief (who retired that same year), to sort out the mess of having to win a multi-party election at any cost and finding the resources to do it in the middle of an aid freeze. Kenyatta is attempting to manage his own succession with the economy in a mess; the politics polarised but opposition demobilised for now; and, in the midst of a looting spree that makes Goldenberg look like a minor hold-up in a corner shop. Behind it all one cannot help that feeling that, as they say, ‘we just got owned!’ Literally in our case as Kenyans.

(Research by Juliet A. Atellah)

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John Githongo is one of Kenya’s leading anti-graft campaigners and former anti-corruption czar.

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What Is Trump’s Only Redemption? That He’s an Utter Coward

There is an element to Trump that is almost tragic if he were not such a buffoon. What happens if the next Trump is just mad and brave enough to really commit and go all the way?

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What Is Trump’s Only Redemption? That He’s an Utter Coward
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Consider something for a second: how severe could things have gotten, both in America and globally, if Trump weren’t an utter coward?

I can already hear the murmurs of dissent: “How can he be a coward? Trump just tried to overthrow the US government on live television!” Yes, that is entirely true — and yet he didn’t. The entire tenure of his administration seems to have been a series of near misses; flirting with dangerous ideas and flitting back under the umbrella of normalcy just before the precipice. Every disaster that he helped to foist on the world could have been exponentially worse — if only he had been as committed to being the strongman he always boasted to be.

He isn’t. He’s a little daddy’s boy, a frightened man-child who doesn’t have the courage to follow through on the bull he himself spouts in front of adoring supporters. He’s an entitled, rich, spoilt moron and always has been. For all the bluster, when the chips are down, he’s quick to back off. Remember that boastful kid in primary school who was probably dropped off in his family’s C-Class Mercedes and looked down on everyone within insulting distance? He’d puff himself up and spit on others, until one day someone slapped the hell out of him. Upon getting struck, and family power no longer mattering, it became apparent that he didn’t even know how to throw a punch. That’s Trump in a nutshell. But Trump was also the gleeful little sociopath who led the charge in starting a fire only to have it pointed out there could be consequences without Daddy around. Learning of possible repercussions, he was the type to throw others quickly under the bus and backtrack from his own fomented chaos.

To be clear, in the last year especially, Trump absolutely could have gone horrifyingly further than he did. Could you imagine if Trump, the wannabe little dictator that he is, had the convictions (terrible though they are) of a Museveni or an Uhuru? It was within his power to do so, but he kept pulling back. Take for instance the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States in the summer of 2020. Yes, there was horrible police violence, clashes amongst protesters, chaos and destitution. In the midst of all of those charred buildings and the all-pervasive sense of loss in Minneapolis (the city where George Floyd was executed by police), I had a feeling I could not quite shake off as masked marchers swarmed in the streets around me: couldn’t this have been so much worse? To be clear, there absolutely could have been martial law declared but all those Trumpian threats of militarising entire cities never fully materialised beyond a handful of arrests by unidentified officers of questionable loyalties.

Sure, all these things are a horror and an affront to “Western society”. We get it. But all things are relative in politics so imagine if Uhuru had been in Trump’s shoes. Kagame calling the shots. Museveni. What would have happened? Experience tells me that those ugly bruises and lost eyes from rubber bullets would have needed body bags; the amount of live ammunition used would have been innumerable, and the scale of the tragedy would have been of unheard of proportions. Ask a Kenyan university student how their protests tend to wind up; talk to a random Kampala youth about how things shook out a couple weeks after the presidential election. If you can manage to find one, talk to an opposition leader in Rwanda. If there are any brave enough to filter back into Burundi, ask anyone involved in the coup attempt against Nkurunziza a few years back. The point here isn’t to give undue credit to tyrants, but merely to point out that things can always be drastically worse.

What happened in November of 2020 in Kampala? Protests at the arrest of Bobi Wine were met with such utter brutality it was incredible that anyone would dare stick their head out. Officially 54 people were killed but there are claims that the real death toll is in fact far higher. Take the days after the Kenyan re-election of Uhuru Kenyatta back in 2017, when there seemed to be a sort of suspension of what was to come next as the election drama unfolded and the cops came down hard on Kawangware and Kibera. That’s what being a totalitarian looks like. It is cops firing on crowds, social media shutdowns and mass power cuts. Looking back years from now, the reality will prevail that Trump could easily have gone there but didn’t.

That is the essence of Trump, absolutely having the power to be a world-class dictator, but lacking the organisational skills, intelligence, or conviction to jump in all the way. He always dips his toe in at the deep end, but never dives. The waters of reality are always a bit too cold for him, the soup just a bit too hot for his liking. His legacy will be one of having half-assed it in all aspects of his administration, from fascism to COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. I don’t think that it is any real stretch to look at him and state plainly that he’s just too cowardly to really accomplish anything that he aspires to. While Sevo cranks out press-ups on state television, Trump has spent his time cranking out tweets in between bites of “quarter-pounder” cheeseburgers from the comfort of his own bed.

Of course, the Western media will not countenance such comparisons, let alone acknowledge how much worse the situation could have easily become at the US Capitol last January 6th. For the American media, this is (rightly) a major blow to US democracy, but (wrongly) the single worst thing that could have happened. For instance, what if just two more of the thousands of protesters had discharged the firearms they were carrying inside that crowded Capitol Building? What if the pipe bombs planted near the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee buildings had exploded? What if the mob had wedged its way into the chambers of the Senate and the House quickly enough to get their hands on members of congress? And what if Trump himself had not backed off and sent out a tepid message to his supporters at the 11th hour?

Think about this: in coup d’état terms, the Trump mob had pulled it off. They had taken the single most important government building in the US and had done so quite easily. Their flags were draped from balconies and their cronies were climbing the ramparts to continue streaming through the doors. They took the seat of government and, for a brief period during the process of transitioning power, successfully interrupted the proceedings and forced all the democratically elected members of congress to scurry into the labyrinth of subterranean tunnels below the Capitol Building to save their very lives. That is a coup. A successful one at that. For one committed to following through on his calls to overthrow the government, this would be a crowning achievement.

Picture this: if three years ago Raila Odinga had called on his supporters to storm State House, and they had successfully done so while Uhuru’s re-election  was being certified, forcing members of parliament to flee in their government-issue Prados, what would that be called? I know what the Western media would have said about it, that it is another sad story of a developing country in Africa that just could not get over the hump of real democracy. There probably would have been some backroom deals with international powers, and an intervention from all those British troops that hold the base up on Mount Kenya may not have been entirely out of the question. Perhaps Raila is the most eloquent example as he does have a bit of a track record of stirring up his supporters after controversial elections then backing down “for the sake of the country” after chaos has already erupted.

The coup was complete but Trump pulled out of it quicker than from his marriage to a wife turning 40. Why? Could it be that it is only when his advisors managed to get his ear during cable news commercial breaks that he realised that he might drown in the madness? I for one certainly think so. When he realised that there would be consequences for his little civil war charade, Trump felt what he always feels — fear. Trump didn’t realise there could be ramifications for what he was doing until someone (not named Mike Pence) put the fear deep into him. He backed off, and American democracy continues shakily on into an uncertain future

Now there actually might be consequences — legal ones at that. Banks are cutting ties and media partnerships are being snuffed out in rapid succession. Some Republicans are now actively jumping ship, others have deflected blame or finally acknowledged that there is a central symptom to the American political condition. It is too little, too late of course, and the task of getting Americans locked in a tribal political death embrace to try not to strangle each other is now firmly in the hands of centrist Democrats who may not actually follow through on the massive economic recovery needed for the citizens of the US to survive the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic disaster. Is the US still the preeminent superpower as the Trump administration takes the exit? Yes, unfortunately it is. Imperialism is still alive and well, and frankly could have weighed way more heavily on the global community over the last four years.

A lingering question remains, one that hangs like a suspended piano over the heads of the Democratic establishment: what or who will come along next? It is obvious that the cat has been let out of the dark ethers of conservatism for a while now; just how much has that cohort been emboldened? It is a question that I have asked before, but now as flags were draped on the smoldering fences that were brought down around the US Capitol, the core of the issue remains; what happens if the next Trump is just mad and brave enough to really commit and go all the way? There is an element to Trump that is almost tragic if he were not such a showman; he evoked something amongst a huge swath of the public consciousness, only for it to prove illusory for Trump never understood what he had within his grasp in the first place.

Whoever comes next might just push the boundaries further out, might commit to striking Iran, take concentration camps for immigrants to a greater extreme, declare martial law and put armed troops in the streets with a standing “shoot to kill” order. Someone who might take measures to outlaw efforts to combat global warming and do all of this without batting an eyelid or seeing any reason to back down. The part of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic wasn’t what was visible, but the larger mass just below the surface and out of sight. To put it bluntly, next time the United States might not be pulled back from the brink by cowardice.

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What Kenyans Have Always Wanted is to Limit the Powers of the Executive

As Kenya’s political class considers expanding the executive branch of government, no one seems to be talking about restricting its powers.

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The tyranny of numbers, a phrase first applied to Kenyan politics by one of Kenya’s most well-known political commentators, Mutahi Ngunyi, was repeated ad nauseum during the week of waiting that followed Kenya’s 2013 general elections.

In ads published in the run-up to the 2013 elections by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), people were told to vote, go home and accept the results. Encouraged by a state that had since the 2007 post-electoral violence dominated public discourse and means of coercion, the military pitched camp in polling stations. Many streets in Kenya’s cities and towns remained deserted for days after the polls closed.

According to Ngunyi, the winner of the 2013 elections had been known four months earlier, that is, when the electoral commission stopped registering voters.

In a country whose politics feature a dominant discourse that links political party and ethnicity, the outcome of voter registration that year meant that the Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto-led coalition, the Jubilee Alliance, would start the electoral contest with 47 per cent of the vote assured. With these statistics, their ticket appeared almost impossible to beat. For ethnic constituencies that did not eventually vote for Uhuru Kenyatta – the Jubilee Alliance presidential candidate in 2013 – a sense of hopelessness was widespread.

For them, a bureaucratic, professionalised, dispassionate (even boring) discourse became the main underpinning of the 2013 elections.

This was not the case in 2017.

Uhuru Kenyatta, pressured by opposition protests and a Supreme Court ruling that challenged his victory and ordered a re-run, met with Raila Odinga – his challenger for the presidency in the 2013 and 2017 elections – and offered a settlement. It became known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

In his 2020 Jamhuri Day speech, Uhuru reiterated that the purpose of the BBI process is to abolish the winner-takes-all system by expanding the executive branch of government.

As he explained it, the challenge to Kenya’s politics is the politicisation of ethnicity coupled with a lack of the requisite number of political offices within the executive branch that would satisfy all ethnic constituencies – Kenya has 42 enumerated ethnic groups.

The revised BBI report that was released on 21 October 2020 (the first was published in November 2019) has now retained the position of president, who, if the recommendations are voted for in a referendum, will also get to appoint a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and a cabinet.

Amid heckles and jeers during the launch of the revised BBI report, Deputy President William Ruto asked whether the establishment of the positions of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers would create the much sought-after inclusivity. In his Jamhuri Day speech, the president conceded that they wouldn’t, but that the BBI-proposed position of Leader of Official Opposition – with a shadow cabinet, technical support and a budget – would mean that the loser of the presidential election would still have a role to play in governance.

One could not help but think that the president’s statement was informed by the fact that Odinga lost to him in both the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections –  this despite Odinga’s considerable political influence over vast areas of the country.

The 2010 constitution’s pure presidential system doesn’t anticipate any formal political role for the loser(s) of a presidential election. Raila held no public office between 2013 and 2017, when he lost to Uhuru. This did not help to address the perception amongst his supporters that they had been excluded from the political process for many years. In fact, Raila’s party had won more gubernatorial posts across the country’s 47 counties than the ruling Jubilee Alliance had during the 2013 elections.

While Raila’s attempts to remain politically relevant in the five years between 2013 and 2017 were largely ignored by Uhuru, the resistance against Uhuru’s victory in 2017 wasn’t.

The anger felt by Raila’s supporters in 2017 following the announcement that Uhuru had won the elections – again – could not be separated from the deeply-entrenched feelings of exclusion and marginalisation that were at the centre of the violence that followed the protracted and disputed elections.

The reading of Kenyan politics that is currently being rendered by the BBI process is that all ethnic constituencies must feel that they (essentially, their co-ethnic leaders) are playing a role in what is an otherwise overly centralised, executive-bureaucratic state. This is despite the fact that previous attempts to limit the powers of the executive branch by spreading them across other levels of government have often invited a backlash from the political class.

Kenya’s independence constitution had provided for a Westminster-style, parliamentary system of government, and took power and significant functions of government away from the centralised government in Nairobi, placing significant responsibility (over land, security and education, for instance) in the hands of eight regional governments of equal status known in Swahili as majimbo. The majimbo system was abolished and, between 1964 to 1992, the government was headed by an executive president and the constitution amended over twenty times – largely empowering the executive branch at the expense of parliament and the judiciary. The powers of the president were exercised for the benefit of the president’s cronies and co-ethnics.

By 2010 there was not a meaningful decentralised system of government. The executive, and the presidency at its head, continued to survive attempts at limiting their powers. This has continued since 2010.

As Kenya’s political class considers expanding the executive branch of government, no one seems to be talking about restricting its powers.

Beyond the minimum of 35 per cent of national revenue that the BBI report proposes should be allocated to county governments, it is less clear whether the country’s leaders are prepared to decentralise significant powers and resources away from the executive, and away from Nairobi.

Perhaps the real solution to the challenges of governance the BBI process purports to address is to follow the prescriptions of the defunct Yash Pal Ghai team – it went around the country collecting views for constitutional change in 2003-2004.

According to a paper written by Ghai himself, the Ghai-led Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) had no doubt that, consistent with the goals of the review and the people’s views, there had to be a transfer of very substantial powers and functions of government to local levels.

The CKRC noted – much like Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga now have – that the centralised presidential system tends to ethnicise politics, which threatens national unity.

Kenyans told the CKRC that decisions were made at places far away from them; that their problems arose from government policies over which they had no control; that they wanted greater control over their own destiny and to be free to determine their lifestyle choices and their affairs; and not to be told that they are not patriotic enough!

Yes, the BBI report has proposed that 5 per cent of county revenue be allocated to Members of County Assemblies for a newly-created Ward Development Fund, and that businesses set up by young Kenyans be exempted from taxation for the first seven years of operation. However, this doesn’t amount to any meaningful surrender of power and resources by the executive.

In emphasising the importance of exercising control at the local level, Kenyans told the CKRC that they wanted more communal forms of organisation and a replacement of the infamous Administration Police with a form of community policing. They considered that more powers and resources at the local level would give them greater influence over their parliamentary and local representatives, including greater control over jobs, land and land-based resources.  In short, Kenyans have always yearned for a dispersion of power away from the presidency, and away from the executive and Nairobi. They have asked for the placing of responsibility for public affairs in the hands of additional and more localised levels of government.

This is what would perhaps create the much sought-after inclusivity.

But as the BBI debate rages on, the attention of the political class is now on the proposed new positions within the executive branch. And as the debate becomes inexorably linked to the 2022 Kenyatta-succession race, questions centring on political positions will likely become personalised, especially after the political class cobbles together coalitions to contest the 2022 general elections.

Meanwhile, ordinary Kenyans will be left battling the aftermath of a pandemic, and having to deal with the usual stresses brought on by a political class seeking their votes for another round of five years of exclusion.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Uganda: Democracy for Some, Mere Management for Others

The coming election in Uganda is significant because if there is to be managed change, it will never find a more opportune moment.

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Western powers slowly tied a noose round their own necks by first installing Uganda’s National Resistance Movement regime, and then supporting it uncritically as it embarked on its adventures in militarism, plunder and human rights violations inside and outside Uganda’s borders.

They are now faced with a common boss problem: what to do with an employee of very long standing (possibly even inherited from a predecessor) who may now know more about his department than the new bosses, and who now carries so many of the company’s secrets that summary dismissal would be a risky undertaking?

The elections taking place in Uganda this week have brought that dilemma into sharp relief.

An initial response would be to simply allow this sometimes rude employee to carry on. The problem is time. In both directions. The employee is very old, and those he seeks to manage are very young, and also very poor and very aspirational because of being very young. And also therefore very angry.

Having a president who looks and speaks like them, and whose own personal life journey symbolises their own ambitions, would go a very long way to placating them. This, if for no other reason, is why the West must seriously consider finding a way to induce the good and faithful servant to give way. Nobody lives forever. And so replacement is inevitable one way or another.

But this is clearly not a unified position. The United Kingdom, whose intelligence services were at the forefront of installing the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) in power nearly forty years ago, remains quietly determined to stand by President Yoweri Museveni’s side.

On the other hand, opinion in America’s corridors of power seems divided. With standing operations in Somalia, and a history of western-friendly interventions in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and even Kenya, the Ugandan military is perceived as a huge (and cut-price) asset to the West’s regional security concerns.

The DRC, in particular, with its increasing significance as the source of much of the raw materials that will form the basis of the coming electric engine revolution, has been held firmly in the orbit of Western corporations through the exertions of the regime oligarchs controlling Uganda’s security establishment. To this, one may add the growing global agribusiness revolution in which the fertile lands of the Great Lakes Region are targeted for clearing and exploitation, and for which the regime offers facilitation.

Such human resource is hard to replace and therefore not casually disposed of.

These critical resource questions are backstopped by unjust politics themselves held in place by military means. The entire project therefore hinges ultimately on who has the means to physically enforce their exploitation. In our case, those military means have been personalised to one individual and a small circle of co-conspirators, often related by blood and ethnicity.

However, time presses. Apart from the ageing autocrat at the centre, there is also a time bomb in the form of an impoverished and anxious population of unskilled, under-employed (if at all) and propertyless young people. Change beckons for all sides, whether planned for or not.

This is why this coming election is significant. If there is to be managed change, it will never find a more opportune moment. Even if President Museveni is once again declared winner, there will still remain enough political momentum and pressure that could be harnessed by his one-time Western friends to cause him to look for the exit. It boils down to whether the American security establishment could be made to believe that the things that made President Museveni valuable to them, are transferable elsewhere into the Uganda security establishment. In short, that his sub-imperial footprint can be divorced from his person and entrusted, if not to someone like candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, then at least to security types already embedded within the state structure working under a new, youthful president.

Three possible outcomes then: Kyagulanyi carrying the vote and being declared the winner; Kyagulanyi carrying the vote but President Museveni being declared the winner; or failure to have a winner declared. In all cases, there will be trouble. In the first, a Trump-like resistance from the incumbent. In the second and the third, the usual mass disturbances that have followed each announcement of the winner of the presidential election since the 1990s.

Once the Ugandan political crisis — a story going back to the 1960s — is reduced to a security or “law and order” problem, the West usually sides with whichever force can quickest restore the order they (not we) need.

And this is how the NRM tail seeks to still wag the Western dog: the run-up to voting day has been characterised by heavy emphasis on the risk of alleged “hooligans” out to cause mayhem (“burning down the city” being a popular bogeyman). The NRM’s post-election challenge will be to quickly strip the crisis of all political considerations and make it a discussion about security.

But it would be strategically very risky to try to get Uganda’s current young electorate — and the even younger citizens in general — to accept that whatever social and economic conditions they have lived through in the last few decades (which for most means all of their lives given how young they are) are going to remain in place for even just the next five years. They will not buy into the promises they have seen broken in the past. Their numbers, their living conditions, their economic prospects and their very youth would then point to a situation of permanent unrest.

However, it can be safely assumed that the NRM regime will, to paraphrase US President Donald Trump, not accept any election result that does not declare it the winner.

Leave things as they are and deal with the inevitable degeneration of politics beyond its current state, or enforce a switch now under the cover of an election, or attempt to enforce a switch in the aftermath of the election by harnessing the inevitable discontent.

Those are the boss’ options.

In the meantime, there is food to be grown and work to be done.

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