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Thieves, Politics & the Brutality of Succession: The Kenyatta Legacy

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Uhuru’s contentious second term may have opened with the announcement of his ‘Big Four Agenda’ last November; in reality, his final term has only really taken off with the mysterious March 9 ‘handshake’ with Raila Odinga. Both initiatives are personal attempts to craft a legacy – and they are being sabotaged by his administration’s severe addiction to graft, as the latest convulsion of scandals so tellingly demonstrate. How will Kenya’s fifth president be remembered? By JOHN GITHONGO. 

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Thieves, Politics & the Brutality of Succession: The Kenyatta Legacy
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“If a man became a habitual thief, he was looked upon as a public danger and was put to death publicly, sometimes by being beaten to death or burnt in the same way as a witch or wizard. In Gikuyu society theft and witchcraft were considered very serious criminal offenses.”
– Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya

In 1972 Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou became Benin’s head of state through a coup and proceeded to run the country as its ruthless ‘Marxist Leninist/socialist’ dictator until 1990. The small West African nation was the first on the continent to transition to democracy in the ‘wind of change’ that blew across Africa after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Kérékou, popularly known as the ‘Chameleon’ for his capacity for political reinvention, accepted defeat in elections in March 1991 to the Paris-educated ex-Finance Minister and ex-World Bank/IMF official Nicéphore Soglo. Five years later in 1996, in an amazing political rebound, Kérékou defeated Soglo to become the country’s second ever democratically elected head of state.

Kérékou ruled Benin until 2006 and passed away three years ago. His versatility speaks volumes about how Africans regard their leaders. That he was able to unseat Soglo in 1996 was in part a testament to his capacities as a political ‘chameleon’, but also Soglo’s painful economic measures and the corruption that swirled around his generally liberal administration. Africans generally place great currency on leaders who demonstrate often-contradictory qualities: at once firm but also humble, for example. That said there is no type of leader that is given greater leeway by Africans than the one who is not only not a thief but one whose family members as well are not perceived to be thieves. The legacies of clean men are far more resilient in the African collective memory than those of strong leaders, clever ones, those who are good managers, those who implement giant programmes, etc. It is thus that Tanzania’s Mwalimu Nyerere’s memory remains hallowed. Much like that of Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. Similar underlying sentiments and attitudes saw Muhammadu Buhari elected President of Nigeria in 2015. He was an aging former military dictator who’d ruled for a short time (31st December 1983 to 27th August 1985) with painful paternalistic firmness, but, unlike almost all his predecessors Buhari had and has retained one critical quality – he and his family are not perceived to be thieves.

There is no type of leader that is given greater leeway by Africans than the one who is not only not a thief but one whose family members are not perceived to be thieves. The legacies of clean men are far more resilient among Africans than those of strong leaders, clever ones, those who are good managers who implement giant programmes, etc. It is thus that Tanzania’s Mwalimu Nyerere’s memory remains hallowed. Much like that of Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso.

When Kérékou realised his game was up during a National Conference in 1990 he orchestrated a brilliant piece of political theatre. In a nationally televised event he spoke to the Archbishop of Cotonou, Isidore de Souza, confessed his guilt and begged for forgiveness for the excesses of his regime since 1972. When he lost the election in March the following year he retired to his village, became a born-again Christian and lived a humble, quiet life. All of this resonated with the Beninese people profoundly enough that he was able to emerge out of his village in the north to unseat Soglo in 1996.

*****

On the 2nd of May, during his state of the nation address to parliament, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked for the forgiveness of Kenyans for anything he may have done or said anything to undermine the unity of Kenyans especially during the divisive election of 2017. Kenyatta had made a similar apology for KANU’s excesses in September 2004. This time the apology followed a ‘handshake’ political ceasefire with Raila Odinga on the 9th of March that has set in motion political realignments that seem to grow in scale with each passing week.

Kenyatta started his final term as president pronouncing that his regime would focus on four priority areas; a ‘Big Four Agenda’: affordable healthcare; affordable housing; food security and manufacturing. As the month of May drew to an end I’m pretty confident that, if asked to name the four pillars of the Big Four Agenda, a vast majority of Kenyans would be unable to do so. The cost of living and more importantly theft and plunder are the issues that have seized the public imagination. This is partly as a result of the fact that between 2013 and 2017 the Jubilee regime has emerged as the most scandal-prone and corrupt in Kenyan history. The list of dodgy projects and scams has grown steadily over the last almost six years. Early in 2013, there was a scandal surrounding the renting of an aircraft for Deputy President William Ruto that allegedly cost Kenyans US$1 million or thereabouts. This was followed by a series of other scandals involving the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, Office of the President and institutions such as the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), National Youth Service (NYS), Kenya Power, Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the National Youth Fund, the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), police, railways among others. Up to US$3.5 billion is estimated to have gone walkabout.

I’m pretty confident that, if asked to name the four pillars of the Big Four Agenda, a vast majority of Kenyans would not be able to do so. The cost of living and more importantly theft and plunder are the issues that have seized the public imagination. This is partly as a result of the fact that between 2013 and 2017 the Jubilee regime has emerged as the most scandal prone and corrupt in Kenyan history.

A couple of weeks ago another series of mega scams hit the front page of the national newspapers. The institutions implicated in the latest swath of exposés were more or less the same ones as those reported between 2013 and 2015. Speaking to the private sector at one of their meetings even President Kenyatta admitted that his Big Four agenda didn’t stand a chance given the manifestly rampant levels of corruption. The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) chimed in admitting that we are living under Kenya’s most corrupt regime and even somewhat surprisingly the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) spoke forthrightly in this regard as well.

Through most of May a series of exposés have been covered by the media in such titillating detail that it has caused observers to point out two things: first, its clear that the information about the scams is leaked from within the State itself and not painstaking months of investigations by media houses. This has fuelled speculation that it’s all part of a wider political move. Second, the State’s ostensible outrage and even the President and Deputy President’s promises that this time ‘no stone will be left unturned’ in bringing those behind the scams to book, have been met with considerable public skepticism. This is despite one of the most dramatic police actions against suspects involved in corruption just this past week when tens of bureaucrats and businesspeople were arraigned in court as a result of the latest episode of theft from the NYS. Conspicuously missing were the political actors that shepherd all big scams through the system.

Also of some fascination was the fact that after the March 9th handshake, it is clear that the ‘corruption crisis’ is playing out at a time of political realignments as Kenyatta serves out his last presidential term and his deputy William Ruto ramps up his own political machine to contest the 2022 elections.

Events over the past week, with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations; Attorney General’s office and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions leading the theatrical and highly media-friendly response to the latest ructions, have only served as fodder for those who see the unfolding events as a cynical political play in the familiar Kenyan tradition. As a friend observed to me this week: “This is some cold, cynical Machiavellian sh** taking place right here!”

Another interesting aspect of the latest developments is the fact that the president has clearly passed on the burden of prosecuting the ‘war against corruption’ to a new cast of players who have taken to the stage with unusual enthusiasm. The new boss at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, George Kinoti, has a reputation as a hands-on policeman. Sources who know our leading detective agency point out that in the past Kinoti has led efforts to dismantle groups within the force that had themselves become criminal. The Director of Public Prosecutions was recently appointed direct from the national spy service and he has also adopted an exuberant posture. Kenya has a new Attorney General too, the amiable and plain speaking, Paul Kihara Kariuki, who took the unusual step of essentially taking a demotion from the Court of Appeal where he was a senior judge to become the new AG. This combination has lent new impetus to the anti-corruption drive. Given Kenya’s vexed history though, the scepticism with which these activities is no surprise. Conspicuously absence from this new cast is the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), constitutionally charged with leading the charge against corruption. It is notable that Kenyans have not considered the Commission’s absence worthy of any serious debate.

Sources who know our leading detective agency point out that in the past Kinoti has led efforts to dismantle groups within the force that had themselves become criminal. The Director of Public Prosecutions was recently appointed direct from the national spy service and he has also adopted an exuberant posture. Kenya has a new Attorney General too, the amiable and plain speaking, Paul Kihara Kariuki, who took the unusual step of essentially taking a demotion from the Court of Appeal where he was a senior judge to become the new AG. This combination has lent new impetus to the anti-corruption drive.

What has been clear for some time is that Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy won’t be initiatives like the Big Four. Indeed, the irrepressible Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) were already speculating about how the Big Four would be ‘eaten’ via a series of the kind of ‘tenders’ we have become accustomed to. The ‘handshake’ with Raila Odinga and how Kenyatta emerges from the ostensible struggle against the theft and plunder that has characterized his regime thus far, will likely have a more significant bearing on how Kenyans will remember him than railways and houses. The wealth this plunder has made available to our elite is essential to the structure and norms of our politics. It could therefore be that Mr. Kenyatta may have embarked on a project that can only succeed via the catalysing of a process to re-engineer Kenyan politics.

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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 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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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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Uganda Elections 2021: The Elephant Website Blocked Ahead of Poll

For about a month now, some of our readers within Uganda have been reporting problems accessing the website. Following receipt of these reports, we launched investigations which have established that The Elephant has been blocked by some, though not all, internet service providers in the country.

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Dear Readers/Viewers,

For four years now, The Elephant has been one of the premier online sources of news analysis in the East African region with a fast-growing readership across the African continent and beyond.

For about a month now, some of our readers within Uganda have been reporting problems accessing the website. Following receipt of these reports, we launched investigations which have established that The Elephant has been blocked by some, though not all, internet service providers in the country.

We have further ascertained that the directive to do so came from the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) and was implemented beginning 12 December 2020, when we noticed a sudden traffic drop coming from several providers in Uganda, including Africell and Airtel. A forensics report, which provides technical details on the blocking, is available here.

We have written to the UCC requesting a reason for the blocking but are yet to receive a response.

The Elephant wholeheartedly condemns this assault on free speech and on freedom of the press and calls on the Ugandan government to respect the rights of Ugandans to access information.

We would like to assure all our readers that we are doing everything in our power to get the restrictions removed and hope normal access can be restored expeditiously.

As we do this, to circumvent the block, a Bifrost mirror has been deployed. Readers in Uganda can once again access The Elephant on this link.

Thank you.

Best Regards

John Githongo
Publisher

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