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Memo to Uhuru Kenyatta: Finish up and Go

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With nothing but political blunders and policy failures behind him, there is only one thing left that Uhuru Kenyatta can do for Kenya, and that is this. Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, please do us and yourself a big favour; you have neither the mandate nor the wherewithal to shape our political destiny. Just finish up and go.

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December 30 ought to be a memorable day on Kenya’s political calendar. On this day in 2002, Mwai Kibaki took office as the first democratically elected President of Kenya. When it is remembered, though, it is not for the inauguration of Kibaki, but for Moi’s humiliation. The only account we have of the chaotic event is that of Lee Njiru, Moi’s communications chief. According to Njiru, as soon as Uhuru Kenyatta conceded defeat on the afternoon of the 29th, the Kibaki people insisted on an immediate handover. The inauguration was scheduled for the following day without any consultations. At 3 p.m. on that day, Moi got tired of waiting and decided to go down to Uhuru park to get it over and done with. This is how he ended up in the chaotic situation, being jeered at and pelted with mud, bottles and whatever else people could lay their hands on. Kibaki’s description of Moi’s tenure as “years of misrule and ineptitude” did not suggest that there was any intention to treat Moi kindly.

Shortly after assuming power, the NARC administration replaced Moi’s face on the currency with Jomo Kenyatta’s. It was ill-advised. By then, the NARC dream had dissolved into a toxic nightmare. The Kibaki men — later to emerge as the Anglo-Leasing cabal — had walked out of Bomas and gone off to write the Wako/Kilifi draft constitution. Seen through the prism of the NARC fallout, this was not just further humiliation of Moi; it symbolised the resurgence of Kikuyu restorationism — the thing Kikuyu supremacists metaphorise as gūcookia rūūī mūkaro, literally, returning the river to its course, meaning the return of power to where it belongs. For some reason, the Kibaki men seemed to have conflated Moi’s humiliation with the redemption of Jomo Kenyatta. They were mistaken. The rejection of Uhuru Kenyatta in the presidential bid in Central Kenya was, in part, antipathy towards his father’s rule which had already cost him the Gatundu parliamentary seat in 1997. Kaī tūgūthīnjīra hiti keerī? (are we to slaughter our goat for hyenas a second time?), people would ask.

A decade later the humiliation was invoked in conversations that would have seemed completely unrelated — the constitutional debate on the features Kenyan currency should have. It is these sentiments that informed the constitutional provision that outlaws portraits of individuals on the currency. So there was considerable disquiet in many quarters recently when new notes revealed a disingenuous way of keeping Kenyatta’s image on the currency — his statue prominently in the foreground of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. There are many arresting images of the KICC that do not feature the statue. The State will no doubt seek, and may find defense in legal interpretation, but it is not lost on anyone that the intention is to defeat the spirit of the Constitution. The timing is awful.

I was at a social gathering in Kiambu recently where the dismay and disillusionment with Uhuru Kenyatta hovered over the otherwise succulent goat ribs and aged single malts like the smell of stale beer. The question was raised as to how the gathering would like their sentiments conveyed to Kenyatta. The “session chairman” distilled the sentiments aired into a four-point message: Andū mena thīna mūno (the people are suffering a lot); Ee toro ta Njoramu (he slumbers like the biblical Joram); Nītūmenyete nī mūkoroku ta ithe (we have learned he is as greedy as his father); Nī gūtee (we wasted our votes).

Seemingly unaware of these undercurrents in his backyard, or perhaps all too aware of them, Kenyatta recently appeared at a public gathering where — forgetting that he is the president of all Kenyans — he unleashed a diatribe in Kikuyu, repeatedly addressing the gathering as “andū aitū” (“our people”), and assuring them that he was on top of things. I gather that the outburst was triggered by his deputy arriving at the meeting fashionably late. We witnessed the same thing happen at Kenneth Matiba’s funeral service in Murang’a when Kenyatta came out guns blazing. But his outburst at the Akorino event is of far greater significance.

I was at a social gathering in Kiambu recently where the dismay and disillusionment with Uhuru Kenyatta hovered over the otherwise succulent goat ribs and aged single malts like the smell of stale beer.

The Uhuru-Ruto political pact was sold to the Kikuyu as a peace treaty that would shield the Kikuyu diaspora in the Rift Valley from politically motivated violence — a homegrown solution for which the Kikuyu sacrificed justice for the victims of the 2007/8 post-election violence. The Akorino community has a large presence in the Rift Valley epicenters of political violence. With their distinctive white turbans, this insular, exclusively Kikuyu sect, is a vulnerable, easy target. During Ruto’s trial at the International Criminal Court, evidence was adduced that the Akorino were specifically targeted using the euphemism “plucking mushrooms.” Ruto was personally implicated in the incitement and his defiant arrival at the Akorino meeting would have been unsettling for both Kenyatta and the Akorino — it was as if he had showed up to remind them that they have a deal, and that choices have consequences. Kenyatta, who is not given to introspection or self-restraint, let rip.

The Kenyatta-Ruto succession is the third chapter in the Kikuyu-Kalenjin land-for-power pact which began with the co-option of KADU into the Government, bringing Moi into the centre of power at the expense of Oginga Odinga. In 1967 Moi was elevated to the vice-presidency at the expense of more capable leaders — notably Tom Mboya. Prof. Anyang Nyong’o recalls asking Lee Kwan Yew for his thoughts on how Singapore’s and Kenya’s development trajectories diverged, to which Lee Kwan Yew quipped that we had killed Mboya. The deal with Moi facilitated the migration of the Kikuyu peasantry into the Rift Valley, which in turn enabled Kenyatta and other wealthy Kikuyu notables to acquire for themselves the migrants’ more valuable ancestral lands in central Kenya.

The Uhuru-Ruto political pact was sold to the Kikuyu as a peace treaty that would shield the Kikuyu diaspora in the Rift Valley from politically motivated violence — a homegrown solution for which the Kikuyu sacrificed justice for the victims of the 2007/8 post-election violence

Then came the Kenyatta succession intrigues that can be said to have begun with Mboya’s assassination and the Gatundu oathing ceremonies that sought to ensure that “biki biki itigakīra Chania (the motorcycle outriders will never cross the Chania River, meaning that power would remain in Kiambu). The machinations ranged from an attempt at constitutional change to preclude the Vice President from assuming power in the event of the president’s death (that elicited Charles Njonjo’s decree purporting to criminalise imagining the death of the president) to the more sinister Ngoroko affair, a hit squad embedded in the anti-stock theft police unit suspected to have been meant to assassinate or otherwise incapacitate Moi when Kenyatta died. The scheme was predicated on Kenyatta dying in Nakuru, his favourite retreat, in which case the schemers would have been the first to know. But Kenyatta died at the Coast.

It is now clear that, for whatever reason, Kenyatta and the interest groups he represents have decided that it is not in their interest that he be succeeded by William Ruto. What is unclear is whether there is a Plan B because Plan A, a corruption takedown, is not working. There is only one way to make it work and that is to convict Ruto for corruption. But such is the obsession with neutralising him that they just could not resist the opportunity to weaponise the change of currency notes for a financial takedown. It is believed that a sizeable chunk of William Ruto’s seemingly inexhaustible political war chest is hoarded in cash that he may not be able to convert to the new currency, in effect rendering the stash valueless.

Prof. Anyang Nyong’o recalls asking Lee Kwan Yew for his thoughts on how Singapore’s and Kenya’s development trajectories diverged, to which Lee Kwan Yew quipped that we had killed Mboya

Article 262 (34) of the Constitution — the transitional provision relating to the currency change — states that “Nothing in Article 231 (4) affects the validity of coins and notes issued before the effective date.” Conflating the currency change mandated by the Constitution with this purported war on money laundering has left Ruto’s takedown hostage to the interpretation of this provision by the courts. But even the presumption that repudiating the cash hoards will cripple Ruto financially, and that crippling him financially will neutralise him politically, is wishful thinking. Uhuru Kenyatta’s anti-Ruto schemes are evidently as hare-brained as his father’s acolytes’ ill-fated anti-Moi schemes. And like Moi before him, the longer he survives this onslaught, and the more Uhuru Kenyatta reverts to type — ethnic chauvinism, contempt, dynastic privilege and arrogance of power — the stronger Ruto becomes.

The Kenyatta-Ruto succession is the third chapter in the Kikuyu-Kalenjin land-for-power pact which began with the co-option of KADU into the Government, bringing Moi into the centre of power at the expense of Oginga Odinga. In 1967 Moi was elevated to the vice-presidency at the expense of more capable leaders — notably Tom Mboya

In their “handshake” memorandum, titled “Building Bridges to a New Kenyan Nation,” Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga promised to lead the nation in correcting the sins of their fathers:

We are grateful for our fathers, we stand on their shoulders. Yet we can also see that the promise of our nation has not been met as fully as it should have been; we know there are different measures our founding fathers should have taken as they forged this young nation. H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta and H.E. Raila Odinga are the two leaders who symbolise the many ways in which the country has gone full circle in its divisions. Intent on not witnessing the country suffer similar future cycles of the same tribulations it has since 1963, they are determined to offer the leadership that prevents future generations inheriting dangerous divisions and offer them a path to a bright future for all.

We have seen none of this. What we see instead is the same shameless politics of self-preservation, cynical ethnic mobilisation, arrogance of power and that quintessential Kenyatta disease — greed.

It has recently emerged that Uhuru Kenyatta is exerting pressure on the government to prioritise the upgrading of the Nairobi Eastern by-pass specifically to benefit the Northlands satellite city project on one of the family’s expansive, dubiously acquired, land holdings. Last week, the official State House twitter handle @StateHouseKenya was promoting Stawi, the lending platform fronted by the Commercial Bank of Africa, the Kenyatta family bank featured in this column some weeks ago. The Central Bank Governor — who is now doubling up as CBA’s chief marketing officer — lied to the public that Stawi will provide cheap credit to small businesses at an interest rate of 9 per cent per year, while in truth, the cost of the loans as measured by the annual percentage rate (APR) averages 35 per cent, and is no different from other digital lenders in the market. Corruption could not be more egregious.

In their “handshake” memorandum, titled “Building Bridges to a New Kenyan Nation,” Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga promised to lead the nation in correcting the sins of their fathers

Yet some Kenyans continue to cling to the hope that he is fighting corruption. Uhuru is not fighting corruption. He is fighting Ruto. And he no longer bothers to hide the fact that he is using state power, his office and public resources to further his private business interests. Much of what we are seeing from him suggests that he may be under the impression that the “Kenya” in Kenyatta is proprietary. One of the sins of the fathers is the personality cult that Uhuru Kenyatta is hell-bent on perpetuating by retaining his father’s image on our currency, against the letter and spirit of the constitution he has sworn to defend. But all is not lost. By showing us the middle finger, Uhuru Kenyatta has ensured that there will come a time to do unto Kenyatta what was done to Moi. And when the music starts, it will not stop at the currency — streets, airports and universities will be fair game.

Having floundered on providing the promised leadership — no surprises there — the handshake is now clinging onto the hope of constitutional amendments to either exclude or neutralise Ruto, a scheme reminiscent of the 1966 Limuru KANU Conference constitutional amendments that replaced the deputy party leader’s position with eight regional vice presidents, in effect ending Oginga Odinga’s chances of succeeding Kenyatta. This constitutional amendment scheme is now a poisoned chalice. We say in Gikuyu, mbūri igūthinjwo ndionagio kahiū (one does not approach a goat for slaughter with the knife in full view).

We have seen none of this. What we see instead is the same shameless politics of self-preservation, cynical ethnic mobilisation, arrogance of power and that quintessential Kenyatta disease — greed.

I have stated many times, and I will restate here again that the leadership that Uhuru and Raila promised behoves them to play the role of honest statesmen who would midwife political reforms leading up to a free and fair election, followed by retirement for both of them. But they have eschewed statesmanship for skulduggery and political intrigue, lending credence to suspicions that the handshake is nothing more than a Kenyatta self-preservation scheme to which Raila Odinga has been enticed with a share of the spoils and a reinstatement of the Odinga clan to the pantheon of Kenya’s ruling dynasties. It is time to end this nonsense.

With nothing but political blunders and policy failures behind him, there is only one thing left that Uhuru Kenyatta can do for Kenya, and that is this:

Mr Uhuru Kenyatta please do us and yourself a big favour; you have neither the mandate nor the wherewithal to shape our political destiny. Just finish up and go.

David Ndii
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David Ndii is a leading Kenyan economist and public intellectual.

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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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