Saturday, 30 March 2013

Odinga accepts defeat in Kenya's 2013 presidential election

Kenya's Supreme Court has given its judgment on Raila Odinga's petition, finding there to have been insufficient grounds for accepting Odinga's accusation of irregularities. This closes the chapter of Kenya's election, and means all turn to the leadership of Uhuru Kenyatta to explore what this means for the country's next five years. For his part, Odinga took a difficult and yet honourable stance of accepting defeat and wishing the Kenyatta administration the best for their time in office. Karibu Kenya 2013 - 2018.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Why the Kenya election period is not over

Speaking this morning with a friend of mine working in Nairobi but originally from Siaya, he recounted how he took an overnight bus all the way back home just to vote in the election, only to return again to Nairobi that same evening. Observers both Kenyan and international have been amazed by the commitment Kenyans have shown to the democratic process but all such good faith will turn south if Raila Odinga's petition to the courts is not dealt with fairly or if the fairness of the process is not communicated to ordinary citizens.

Although Odinga has at every point emphasised his commitment to the new judiciary, tensions have arisen over what will happen if his party's petition is either rejected or endorsed. Stories such as the rioting of students in response to discovering a cache of ballot boxes - which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) says were leftovers from a pre-election simulation exercise - have unnecessarily given the impression of widespread irregularity at the polls. Odinga's petition is more definite and serious, for example picking up on the discrepancies between total registered voters and amounts of votes cast. It needs to be dealt with maturely by the judiciary if CORD supporters are not driven to resentment.

Odinga has framed this as a "democracy on trial" campaign, which heightens voter anxiety and brings to a point an all-or-nothing final attempt for him to win back a chance to lead Kenya. On the other hand, Uhuru Kenyatta has for his part said he is ready to seek a fresh mandate from the Kenyan people if the court's response is not in his favour. At the same time, Odinga's supporters have also brought attention to bear on the need to move away from citizen-level hate speech in people's use of social media, encouraging citizens to wear white ribbons or t-shirts and to call for "peace and unity across the ethnic and political divide on Twitter, Facebook and social media blogs." This is the right way to proceed, and demonstrates Kenya's hidden and yet deep yearn for unity. The success of the next two weeks depends on the Supreme Court mirroring and projecting back this profound desire.

Umoja ni nguvu, as Tanzanians would say.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

What President Uhuru Kenyatta's victory means for Kenya in the next five years

Following one of the most tightly fought elections in Kenya to date, Uhuru Kenyatta was today announced as the country’s new president.

The news came after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) conducted an audit of its final tallies to ensure it could rebuff the criticisms – made by supporters of second-place-candidate Raila Odinga – that some provinces had counted more votes than there were registered voters. Odinga’s Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD) will bring their complaints to the Kenyan Supreme Court but, at present, their protests are being outweighed by the ‘thumbs up to polls’ given by the EU mission and the approval given by the African Union and Commonwealth observer groups. The recent groundswell of opinion supports their verdict: Kenya has a new president, who has been freely and fairly elected.

What does Kenyatta’s victory mean for Kenya’s next five years? There are big changes on the way that will challenge and re-design the country as we have come to know it.

When confronted about his large ownership of land in the second televised presidential debate, Kenyatta maintained that he worked on the principle of ‘willing buyer and willing seller’. This market-friendly attitude is certain to influence approaches towards oil exploration and drilling that are set to rock Kenya. Upstream oil companies have been watching the election closely to determine the levels of political stability and compliance in the country. They will read this election as a positive indicator that the incoming government is willing and able to work with them on their own terms, offering stable contracts and a ‘hands-off’ relationship between private firms and public bodies such as the National Oil Corporation of Kenya.

More generally, expect emphasis in the new Kenya on private sector development that transforms the way in which the state is constituted, and the stance it takes to questions concerning the average citizen. Though Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, there will be almost nothing in common with his father’s rule, which combined nationalism and appeals to tradition or African heritage. Even more so than previous president, Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru Kenyatta is a capitalist. Following his brand of capitalism, he is likely to strengthen the connections between business leaders and politicians, often preferring the former over the latter. Consequently, in the next five years, we may see a drift towards ‘illiberal state-building’ – a new trend in African politics described by Jones et al, and exhibited in its most extreme forms in the contemporary cases of Angola, Rwanda, Sudan and Ethiopia. This form of state building seeks to enhance state capacity in a globalised world in order to extend the power and influence of a country’s ‘substantial minorities’. In this case, the Nairobi elite.

Certainly Kenyatta’s administration will take up with vigour the need to facilitate those private sector groups that are seen to be driving Kenya’s development, firms such as Equity Bank, Safaricom, East African Breweries and Brookside Dairies. Most importantly, companies that depend on the state’s facilitation will expand, supporting investments into the insurance industries and perhaps innovations in private banking (such as M-Shwari), which are likely to have mixed effects on the welfare of the poor. Top on the agenda of a forward-looking economic elite will be ‘Silicon Savannah’ projects, which hope to make Kenya an innovative ICT hub for the wider continent of Africa.

This stress on the private sector will be promoted and justified in rhetoric that exalts entrepreneurship and meritocracy. Now a household phrase, ‘Vision 2030’ will continue to be used to persuade the majoritywananchi (citizens) that they must be patient in waiting for trickle-down growth. Given the preference for an international or globalised economy in the elite Nairobi circles in which Kenyatta moves, there is likely to be little change for the average citizen facing inflationary pressures on food and fuel prices, or any leadership taken on the issue of whether foreign manual labour should be used for the country’s infrastructure projects. Kenyatta’s government is also likely to have no qualms about the way large firms operate simultaneously in US dollars and Kenyan Shillings, protecting their capital from inflation, and he will most probably give ample space for state-associated businesses that store capital abroad so as to engage in tax-avoidance. As under Kibaki, there will be emphasis on the need for Nairobi to exhibit a ‘24-hour’ economy that gives implicit support for the city’s prostitution and gambling industries.

The big challenge to Kenyatta’s rule will be his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is due to start this July and seems definite to become a stumbling block for Western diplomats seeking to work with him. Kenyatta may well deal with this challenge head-on, cooperating with the courts whilst maintaining his innocence in a manner reminiscent of Paul Kagame: his actions, Kagame can claim, were relatively small and necessary at a time when the alternative was chaos. More troubling are the suspicions that Kenyatta might be seeking to eliminate witnesses that could stand against him, putting his willingness to comply with the court in a new light. Whatever the outcome, the ICC case looks likely to dominate his international exchanges for the foreseeable future. Domestically, however, Kenyatta’s rhetoric will be firmly focused on the country’s development and the need to move towards a new era of African prosperity, pushing Kenya beyond the precious 5% GDP growth rate.

Get ready for a fast and merciless new Kenya that rushes forward the private sector and unites economic and political elites as a dominant and unapologetic new force for state-building.