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Chris Msando: Year 53 in the History of State Assassinations

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A year later, the IEBC official’s murder remains a mystery about which the Government of Kenya is deeply disinterested – as it is of the scores killed in 2017 in honour of electoral injustice. Like all the ones that preceded his, that succeeded his, the State, hostage to its ethos of mediocrity, purveyor of fear, enemy of truth, is deeply implicated. When will we stop silencing our best and brightest? By MIRIAM ABRAHAM.

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Chris Msando: Year 53 in the History of State Assassinations
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It is hard to believe that it is a year since Christopher Msando, the ICT manager at Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was brutally tortured and murdered. I can still hear his confident voice as he explained in layman’s language how the gadgets to be used for the 2017 General Election (KIEMS kits) would work. I can still hear his reassuring voice that the gadgets would not follow the footsteps of the spectacular failure of 2013.

I can see him working with KPMG, the company hired to audit the register of voters, meticulously identifying some of the problems with the register including multiple persons sharing the same national identification number and suggesting solutions. I can see him in the boardroom expressing alarm that the data center was heating up again and urging for a secondary data center to be put in place immediately. Somberly explaining some loopholes in the technology and how to fix them.

I can hear his booming voice, his laughter in the corridors as he joked with his colleagues. I can see his face brighten whenever he found a solution to a nagging technology-related problem. I recall the meticulousness with which he handled all tasks assigned to him. The dedication to his job that led him to spend long days and nights at work.

I can vividly see Chris standing at Safari Park before 800 staff from across the country, responding to their questions, allaying their fears and assuring them that technology would not be the weak-link during the 2017 election. I can hear him explaining to the media and civil society the various measures in place to avert deceased voters from showing up at polling stations on 8 August. I can see him on television assuring Kenyans that the election would not be manipulated under his watch.

I did not expect that his words would be taken literally. That he would be among the deceased voters deliberately eliminated from participating in the electoral process. That indeed the alleged manipulation of technology on 8th August would not take place under his watch. That he would be silenced forever in the most cowardly, callous and brutal manner. And that his killers would never be brought to book. That he who fervently believed in justice and honesty would not benefit from the same.

You see, Chris belongs to a small cadre of professional public servants fully committed to their work. Those few men and women whom politicians would not bat an eyelid to sacrifice for their own political interests. He is not the first nor the last public servant in Kenya to pay the ultimate price. On February 12th 1990 Kenya’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Robert Ouko was kidnapped and murdered by individuals around the presidency in a manner not too dissimilar to the way Chris was brutally dispatched. Pio Pinto, Tom Mboya, J.M. Kariuki and many other less notable public figures have been murdered by the elite since independence. Indeed the extrajudicial assassination of senior figures is an enduring characteristic of Kenyan elite political competition.

I did not expect that his words would be taken literally. That he would be among the deceased voters deliberately eliminated from participating in the electoral process. That the alleged manipulation of technology on 8th August would not take place under his watch. That he would be silenced forever in the most cowardly, callous and brutal manner. And that his killers would never be brought to book. That he who fervently believed in justice and honesty would not benefit from the same.

Every few years we have these public officials who are sacrificed in the interest of the political class. The politicians view everything from the short-term gains of acquiring power. And when public officials get into their cross-hairs, they do not hesitate to eliminate them. The same fate befalls those who fall during the electioneering period. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found in a joint report in October that at least 67 people were killed countrywide during the first round of voting in August, most of them either shot or beaten to death by police. During the second election, Human Rights Watch documented 37 more killings, most by police, in Nairobi’s Embakasi, Kawangware, Dandora, Mathare, Kibera, Kangemi, Kariobangi, and Riverside neighborhoods.

Any life lost is one too many, but what is baffling is how quickly we move on and hope that these horrors will not be repeated. We fail to make changes to the systemic structures that allow these murders to continue. We protect the political structure that has no respect for lives or even professionalism. We do not push for accountability mechanisms that at least could serve as a deterrent for future targeting of public officials like Chris. We ‘move on’ very quickly and await the next tragedy.

Chris belongs to a small cadre of professional public servants fully committed to their work. Those few men and women whom politicians would not bat an eyelid to sacrifice for their own political interests. He is not the first nor the last public servant in Kenya to pay the ultimate price.

By not pushing hard to increase the political cost of these murders, we lay the ground for those behind these actions not to think twice before they pounce on their next victim. The political elite in power know that there would be no political cost to their actions. They know that as Kenyans we are divided along the so-called peace and justice paradigm. Our logic as a country appears to be to place a high premium on ‘peace’ and stability and let those whose family members are murdered mourn quietly without rocking the boat.

This certainly appears to be the case for Chris Msando and the at least 67 people who were killed by police during the 2017 election period. Last week, we watched as Mama Chris narrated her elusive search for justice with tears in her eyes. It is scandalous that she is alone, with her family, in seeking answers to her son’s brutal murder. It is scandalous that the national assembly – lame as it may be perceived- has not sought to have a public inquest into Chris’ murder and that of Jacob Juma, Kabete MP George Muchai, Baby Samantha Pendo, Stephanie Moraa Nyarangi, Jeremiah Maranga, Thomas Odhiambo Okul, Bernard Okoth Odoyo, Raphael Ayieko, Victor Okoth Obondo, Privel Ochieng Ameso, Shady Omondi Juma. Even the traditional human rights organizations in Kenya have maintained a deafening silence on these cases.

It is unacceptable to let these atrocities remain uninvestigated even in our current political context of handshakes and building bridges to nowhere. As President Barack Obama recently said in his speech in South Africa: “It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back; that the pendulum has swung permanently…We have to resist that cynicism.” Change may take time but it certainly eventually comes.

What is baffling is how quickly we move on and hope that these horrors will not be repeated. We fail to make changes to the systemic structures that allow these murders to continue. We protect the political structure that has no respect for lives or even professionalism.

History tells us that this change does not come on its own. It has to start by creating a critical mass of leaders that are willing to ask the tough questions, even in the political context of our time. Our own history in Kenya is replete with leaders who stood up against the political system at the risk of their lives. In the 1970s we had the likes of Jean Marie Seroney, J.M. Kariuki, Martin Shikuku, A.R. Kapila among others.

The striking commonality in all of [the assassinations] was that they were all young men and women. Yet today, it is the young people who are looking up to veteran opposition leaders – some who paid their dues during their youth – for leadership. But there are signs that nascent steps towards this may just be emerging.

The striking commonality in all of them was that they were all young men and women. Yet today, it is the young people who are looking up to veteran opposition leaders – some who paid their dues during their youth – for leadership. But there are signs that nascent steps towards this may just be emerging. As the great American anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” As Yash Pal Ghai recently wrote in the eReview “the youth of Kenya who suffer the most of all the inhabitants of the city’s informal settlements are organizing themselves around social justice, focusing on protecting their rights”. It appears that unlike many of us who keep whining about the handshake and other ills facing the country, they are indeed putting their energies to good use. The youth, whether during the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt or in Burkina Faso, have often led the change movement. Our hope in saving us the agony of burying and mourning the brutal murder of another brilliant young man like Chris Msando lies with the youth, the millennials.

(Research by Juliet Atellah)

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Ms. Abraham is a governance and institutional development expert.

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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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What Kenyans Have Always Wanted is to Limit the Powers of the Executive
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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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Democracy for Some, Mere Management for Others
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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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Uganda Elections 2021: The Elephant Website Blocked Ahead of Poll
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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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