A horrifying assassination has set the country on edge just days before an already tense general election
It was a political killing in the country's worst tradition. Musalia Mudavadi, a joint leader of the opposition, called it 'a dagger into the heart of Kenyan democracy' and President Uhuru Kenyatta urged people not to speculate about the killers and their motives. Yet the brutal murder on the night of 29 July of a senior information technology official at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Christopher Chege Msando, has heightened anxiety that next week's general elections will prompt violent clashes.
Widely hailed as politically independent and a strong advocate of new voting technology, Msando had vital inside knowledge about passwords and information systems to be used in transmitting and recording the results of the elections on 8 August. As the IEBC's Acting Information and Communications Director, he was due to give a public demonstration on 1 August of how the electronic voter identification and tallying would work. He was responsible for key electoral data on voter identity and verification, on results transmission and the electronic tallying of results from across the country.
Given the opposition's strong suspicions of vote-rigging, the credibility of the elections depends heavily on the integrity of the integrated electoral management system that Msando helped to develop. His badly mutilated body was found hidden in a bush 15 kilometres west of the Kenyan capital, not far from the Nairobi to Nakuru highway. The body of Carol Ngumbu, a medical student believed to be in Msando's car when it was hijacked, was found nearby.
Msando had been reported missing on 28 July and he appears to have been killed on the night of 29 July. The IEBC Chairman, lawyer Wafula Chebukati, stated that Msando 'had been definitely tortured and murdered' and requested better security for IEBC staff. Some think the killers wanted secret information to hack into the Commission's database but were also sending a message to put Msando's colleagues under still more pressure.
Climate of fear
A climate of fear is growing. Buses heading upcountry from Nairobi bus stations this week are full of families fleeing what they fear will be violent clashes around the capital after the elections. Security insiders say the military will adopt a 'shoot to kill policy' if mass protests erupt. Bus fares to some destinations have suddenly doubled. The bus routes most in demand are those heading to strongholds of the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) of Nyanza and Western Kenya, homelands respectively of the Luo and Luhya ethnic groups.
Kikuyu people in those areas and at the coast are quietly leaving for central Kenya and Nairobi. In the past, human rights observers have reported ethnic hate leaflets against Luo in Naivasha and against Kikuyu in Eldoret. Despite assurances to electors from Nasa leaders and the government that elections will be peaceful and people should remain where they are registered to vote, many urban Kenyans are unconvinced.
Opposition activists have launched a tactic of 'Adopt a bus station', where they actively discourage people who are registered to vote in the capital from leaving. Nairobi is the most cosmopolitan city in the country and has returned a majority for the opposition in previous elections.
This time, the stakes are particularly high, both for the country's political direction and its ageing political class. Will the elections reinforce ethnic identity politics or help to make a generational shift to a more open system, bringing in a younger generation of activists and office holders? Specifically, the careers of three men hang on the outcome: President Kenyatta; Deputy President William Ruto, who hopes that the alliance between his Kalenjin constituency and Kenyatta's Kikuyu will bring him the presidency four years from now; and serial presidential candidate Raila Odinga, for whom, at 72, this is the last chance of the top job.
Kenya has been in election mode since the previous contest in 2013 (AC Vol 58 No 15, The high cost of fighting fraud). After returning from 'a sabbatical' at Boston University's African Leadership Centre in May 2014, Odinga organised opposition mass rallies to push the Kenyatta government into a national dialogue or else face unspecified consequences. The proposed dialogue was a kind of all-party convention on a raft of policy issues including security, unemployment, inflation, inequality and devolution.
It sounded like a grand coalition by default. Odinga wanted his organisation, the Coalition for Reform and Democracy, to oversee the dialogue. The party organised the 'Saba Saba' (Seven Seven) rally on 7 July, 2014, at Nairobi's Uhuru Park, hoping to spark a movement for change along th lines of the Arab Spring (AC Vol 38 No 16, Saba saba). So worried were business and the leaders of Kenyatta's Jubilee Party that the government sent thousands of troops on to the streets and cordoned off the park.
This was followed by the 'Okoa Kenya' (Save Kenya) campaign, a petition for a constitutional referendum to reform the electoral commission and the judiciary, two institutions which Odinga saw as having barred him from electoral victory in 2007 and 2013 (AC Vol 55 No 22, An executive not executing). According to the Commission, Odinga's campaign failed to secure the million genuine signatures required to trigger a constitutional amendment. So Odinga doubled down on the IEBC, focusing on the appointment of its top officials and access to public scrutiny.
Persistence paid off and Odinga's campaign got the IEBC to replace its top management, two of whom were named in anti-corruption cases in Britain. A new management team started work in January 2017 under Chebukati. Odinga and his colleagues, now joined together in a strengthened opposition alliance under the Nasa umbrella, kept up relentless pressure on the IEBC, accusing it of bias towards the Jubilee government.
The lack of trust on all sides and frenzied political mobilisation has shaped this year's election campaign. Both sides expect the contest to be close. In 2013, the IEBC declared Kenyatta victor by the narrowest of margins (8,418 votes) and the Kenya Supreme Court upheld the results. Odinga complained that he had been robbed of victory, just as in 2007. In 2013, though, the official results and challenges didn't trigger mass protests, partly because of civic activism and partly because of the trauma of the 2007-08 election and post-election violence.
This year, Odinga and his closest advisors have made post-election peace conditional on the poll being judged free and fair. In October 2015, George Aladwa, a former Mayor of Nairobi, told a rally in Kibera to be prepared to die for Raila 'in reasonable numbers' should he be cheated of victory as in previous elections. Odinga has repeatedly defended Aladwa, saying he was quoted out of context. Nasa has failed to qualify statements by top policy advisor David Ndii that 'Kenya will burn' if there are 'sham elections like those of 2013'. Social media posts supporting Nasa reiterate that line, time and again. That sounds like preparations for an uprising, perhaps in the 19 counties and slums around Nairobi that government agencies identified as security hotspots.
Yet the ruling party also bears great responsibility for the overheated politics around these elections. With its own army of grass-roots activists and social-media publicists, the Kikuyu-Kalenjin alliance that underpins the Jubilee Party has been as willing to play ethnic politics as its opponents in Nasa.
Like many incumbents facing election, Jubilee is parcelling out the largesse. True, the economy has been growing at between 5-6% a year under Jubilee, partly fuelled by massive borrowing to build roads, power stations and airports. Most of all, the government celebrates the Chinese-built standard-gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi, one of the world's most costly rail projects, kilometre-for-kilometre. Public sector debt has risen to about 50% of gross domestic product but the government insists that is still sustainable. Yet opposition supporters and civic activists refer to the new railway as 'Jubilee's railway', saying it does nothing to deal with immediate issues such as the soaring price of maize and growing joblessness in the towns.
The Jubilee campaign has focused mainly on the building programme and economic stability. Political continuity will mean more big projects for all, they argue. This ignores the factors that are driving voters to Nasa. Prime among these is the dominance of Kikuyu and Kalenjin people in public appointments, to the exclusion of those groups which are Nasa's core supporters: Luo, Luhya and Kamba, as well as Coastal ethnic groups such as the Digo and Giriama.
Perceptions from the lists of senior appointments in the daily press reinforce those feelings. 'Roads and railways', complains one Nasa blogger, 'do not create a national cohesiveness of the kind we had after the 2002 elections' that drove Daniel arap Moi's autocratic government from office by a landslide.
Nothing angers Kenyans across party lines as much as Jubilee's permissive approach to corruption. At a national summit on governance held at State House last October, President Kenyatta told his audience, with some desperation: 'I have tried more than any other president before me to fight corruption… Now what do you want me to do? Do you want me to get people shot by a firing squad at Uhuru Park so that crowds can be happy?' There are indeed a lot of corruption cases pending in the courts, some for decades.
Critics from the opposition, even some in Jubilee, ask about the cases that never made it to the sluggish court system in the first place. There are widespread stories of questionable multi-million dollar deals linked to William Ruto and his Kalenjin 'Sky Team' inner circle, while the Kenyatta family remains one of the richest in the country and one of the biggest landowners. Many see the Jubilee elite as protecting its own narrow band of associates and allies. Anger has been growing among the poorest in Jubilee heartlands such as Central and Rift, although this won't do much to boost votes for Nasa.
Under the new constitution, with its 47 counties, the political battle is sliced and diced differently. National groupings, such as Jubilee and Nasa, have to court support from each of the county governors or their challengers. Both parties are falling down on that task. It may be due to infighting among its component parties but Nasa has failed to endorse governorship candidates in 13 counties, which looks certain to undermine its campaigning efforts on the ground. Jubilee, already strong in those counties, could garner still more votes for its presidential candidate, Kenyatta, in the face of Nasa's confusion.
Yet in other counties, Jubilee governors could be trounced, also costing Kenyatta votes. Many county governors risk being voted out because they are publicly linked to cases of abuse of public funds. None so far has been prosecuted.
In an egregious case, a former Planning and Devolution Minister, Anne Mumbi Waiguru, has been named repeatedly in the corruption scandal involving 791 million Kenya shillings (US$7.62 mn.) at the National Youth Service. Then her name was removed from the charge list of the 15 officials now facing trial (AC Vol 57 No 23, Nairobi flaunts its credentials).
A confidante of Kenyatta's, Waiguru is running for the governorship of Kirinyaga on a Jubilee ticket. Her case has provoked particular anger, partly because Kenyatta is widely seen as favouring his associates. For many, it makes his defence of the government's anti-corruption record highly disingenuous. Jubilee has tried its best to pin excesses of corruption on Odinga when he was prime minister in the 2007-13 coalition government, but Nasa's attacks are proving more immediate, with a young electorate judging the government on its last four years in power.
On a broader level, this election will test the relative weight of issues such as corruption, jobs and public services against the ability of national parties to mobilise their ethnic constituencies, both to turn out and to defend their votes. Both Jubilee and Nasa boast of hundreds of thousands of supporters willing to do just that. When it comes down to the wire next week, those claims will be tested as political organisation on the ground will be decisive.
Promises and lies
In broad brush, the manifestos of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) and the Jubilee Party differ more in rhetoric than in substance. Both parties pledge faster economic growth, millions of jobs for restless young people, free secondary education, state-funded health care, better roads and railways, more devolution of power and a relentless fight against corruption. Both promise to implement 'Kenya Vision 2030', making the country a middle-income industrialised one. Yet important differences over the details have emerged on the campaign trail:
Ethnic inclusivity: Nasa lambasts a government dominated by two ethnic groups (Kalenjin and Kikuyu) and promises a more inclusive government and national reconciliation. Jubilee denies the charges and accuses Nasa of 'dividing Kenyans along tribal lines'.
Parliamentary government: Nasa will amend the constitution, returning Kenya to an elected president with a cabinet appointed solely from members of parliament and a prime minister responsible to Parliament. Jubilee will consolidate the constitution as it is.
Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Report: Nasa will fully implement the 2013 TJRC, which promises restitution for 'historical injustices' perpetrated since Independence in 1963. That would favour the 'marginalised ethnic groups' that largely support Nasa. Jubilee says enough restitution has been done by the new constitution and implementing the TJRC would be ethnically divisive.
Troops in Somalia: Nasa pledges to withdraw Kenyan troops now fighting Al Haraka al Shabaab al Mujahideen in the African Union Mission in Somalia. It insists that Kenya's involvement has provoked Al Shabaab attacks on the country, as Al Shabaab itself claims. Jubilee sees this as reckless, arguing that it was repeated Shabaab terrorist attacks that led to Kenya's intervention. Nasa's proposed withdrawal would make Kenya more vulnerable, says Jubilee.
Public sector debt: Jubilee argues that the growing debt has been used to fund much-needed infrastructure and is within sustainable limits, according to the International Monetary Fund. Nasa wants to rein in foreign borrowing, reduce waste in government but boost domestic investment and avoid mega-projects, according to its policy advisor, David Ndii. Nevertheless, a separate Nasa 'manifesto implementation plan' lists many big communication and energy projects.
Poverty and inequality: Jubilee promises 'growth that will leave no Kenyan behind' and it wants to expand its 'social protection' of 2,000 Kenya shilling (US$19.26) monthly cash donations to poor Kenyans aged over 70. Nasa promises to eradicate poverty through regional development plans, lowering the cost of living and cutting housing rents through state control. The rent control policy has been severely criticised by Jubilee and by business people.
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