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Kenya decides (2013)

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The normal, the unusual, and very strange things about Kenya election

Kenya went to the polls on March 4. It was the first election under the new and quite liberal constitution that was adopted in August 2010.

For Ugandans seeking to understand how the election played out, the following differences with our system will demonstrate the issue well.

By some accounts, Kenya is the second most litigious country in the world after the USA. They were always Kenyans making a long queue to the courts, but since the new constitution it has gone a crazy notch higher. For example, this March 4 election date was not set by the government or the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission (IEBC).


The IEBC had read the constitution to provide that the election would take place in December 2012. Several groups and citizens went to court to challenge that – some wanted it held in August 12, others wanted January 2013, others wanted late 2013. The Supreme Court ruled that it would in March.

By the way, the Constitution referendum that passed the constitution in 2010, and was also held in 2005 (and defeated the proposed constitution then), was not a result of law. A stubborn cleric went to court to seek a ruling that a constitution can only be passed in Kenya with a referendum. The court ruled in his favour, and that is the way it is.

These days those Kenyan judges who rule on these things, including the Chief Justice, apply for the jobs. The Judicial Commission then shortlists and they are interviewed. The interviews are broadcast live. The process can be humiliating, and very hard and embarrassing questions are asked. The names of those who pass those interviews are then passed on to the appropriate Parliamentary committee which grills them again – on live TV.

The names are then seconded to the President to formally appoint.

The same thing happened with the Police Chief. The Police chief David Kimaiyo who oversaw security for the election is a few weeks old in the job. All the candidates who wished to be police chief applied to a commission, they were interviewed, the interviews were broadcast live, and the names were then sent to Parliament and then the president.

Because of this, it is very difficult for the president to fire the Chief Justice (in fact he cannot) and the Police Chief (he can with some struggle).

Oh, by the way, Kenya’s Chief Justice, Dr Willy Mutunga, wears an ear stud. When he appeared before a parliamentary committee, he said he would rather not take up the job than get rid of his earring. So why does he wear it? A radical pan-Africanist and former human rights activists who was jailed by former President Daniel arap Moi, Mutunga says the earring is a connection to his ancestors.

Opinion polls show he is the most trusted individual by far in Kenya, but he has a few enemies. One of them went to Mutunga’s court, and filed a case asking for him to be sacked after his appointment. Reason? Because he was  a “devil worshipper”, arising from his stand that his earring is a connection to his ancestor. Mutunga, for the record, is 66 – though he looks 46.

In Uganda in both 2006 and 2011, attempts by the media to independently tally votes were deemed illegal. An FDC tally centre was raided, and the state turned off The Monitor’s radio link and blocked its website so that it could not publish any results it was tallying.

The Kenya IEBC encouraged the parties to have their own tally centres, although not to release the results as if they were official.

Media houses and some technology companies are allowed to plug into the IEBC computers, so they can see the results as they come in.

The results that are released from every polling station simultaneously go to three places – either the constituency or district tallying centre, the county tallying centre, and the IEBC headquarters tallying centre in Nairobi. When the results are sent, you can see them immediately on giant screens at the national tallying centre. Oh, by the way, the position of chair of the Electoral Commission is interviewed – openly – by Parliament, and then the best candidate’s name sent to the president for appointment.

The two frontrunners in this election were Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whose running mate was Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka. Their parties and others got together and formed the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy’s (CORD) alliance. The other is Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru, whose running mate is former minister William Ruto. They and other parties came together in the Jubilee coalition.

The opinion polls placed Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi in third place. He was the candidate of the Amani coalition.

There was a lot of history in this race. Uhuru is the son of Kenya’s first independence president Jomo Kenyatta. Raila is the son of his first vice president, Jaramogi Oginga.

Jomo was in prison when the British colonialists offered Kenya independence in a deal that would almost certainly have handed Jaramogi the presidency. But Jaramogi refused, saying he would not support any moves toward independence unless Kenyatta was freed.

The two fell out after some time, and Kenyatta dropped Jaramogi as his deputy. In some ways, the battle between Uhuru and Raila is a continuation of the unfinished business from the early independence years.

Mudavadi, on the other hand, is the son of Moses Budamba Mudavadi, an influential politician and minister of the early independence years and during Daniel arap Moi’s rule.

This is part of the evidence that Kenya actually has a privileged ruling class. While they clash, sometimes viciously, in public, it is a well known fact that they have back channels through which they negotiate deals and take care of each other’s interests. Thus Kenyatta never tried to impoverish Jaramogi, and though Raila and his father were bitter enemies of Moi (until in the last days when Raila clinched a political pact with Moi), they were nevertheless enabled to continue growing their wealth and frequently enjoyed some state patronage. This is perhaps one of the starkest differences between Uganda and Kenya.

When the election happened, President Mwai Kibaki pulled off something unusual. He had not endorsed any of the candidates, and therefore not campaigned for any of them. The question of which of the candidates he supports was, therefore, a matter of speculation. Equally remarkable, is the coalition on which he rode to power in the disputed 2007 election, the Party of National Unity (PNU), will not feature on the ballot anywhere. It is hard to imagine any other East African president not campaigning for his favourite.

Just as in 2007, the opinion polls suggested that no candidate would win the 50% plus 1 required in the first round, so a second face-off appeared likely on April 11. The leading parties, of course, claimed they would win outright. Elections in Kenya, except in 2002 when more than 12 opposition parties united to back Kibaki, are rarely won by a margin of more than 10 percentage points.

In 2007 Kibaki – amidst claims of vote fiddling – won 4,578,034 votes (46.4 per cent) against Raila’s 4,352,993 (44.1); the difference between the two being a mere 2.3 percentage points. The kind of result we saw in Uganda in 2011 in which President Yoweri Museveni got 68 percent of the vote, and runner-up Kizza Besigye got 26 percent is virtually impossible in Kenya, especially after the reforms introduced by the 2010 constitution.

There is no single job, except aides in his office, that the new president will appoint without the approval of Parliament. The new government will not have much say over how the budget is divided. There is a Revenue Allocation Committee that will ensure the 47 highly devolved Counties get the share of the money the constitution says they should get.

Then the Senate, a new body, will spend months negotiating the budget. The next minister of Finance will no longer come to Parliament and make dramatic announcements that take effect at midnight. It is estimated that the Executive, will have wiggle room to play with only about 15% of the budget.

The election violence in Kenya of early 2008 hurt its economy and the regional economy big time. Apart from nearly 1,400 deaths and 650,000 people displaced, the cost of electoral violence was estimated to have been around US$3.6 billion in Kenya. Tourism earnings fell by 90%, and 20,000 Kenyans working in the sector lost their jobs.

Foreign direct investment (FDI), which was at $729m by end of 2007 dropped 75 percent to $183m in 2008. Uganda paid dearly for the chaos. Fuel prices at the pump rose by over 50% and it was in short supply. The Uganda Revenue Authority reported daily revenue collection losses of up to US$600,000 due to the disruptions in trade. That was because than 80 percent of Uganda’s imports pass through the port of Mombasa – as do almost all of Rwanda’s.

On average, on that Northern Corridor route, each day some 4,000 light vehicles, 1,250 trucks and 400 buses carry more than 10 million tons of cargo to Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi along the network. Ugandan needs a peaceful election in Kenya.

We end with the two presidential debates. They attracted the largest TV audience of any event ever in Kenya, and were the top trending topics worldwide on Twitter. Unlike Uganda where two attempts to hold a presidential debate with all candidates present have failed, in Kenya they all showed up.

Two of the “minor candidates”  – Paul Muite (who all but said he would invade Uganda over the Migingo Island dispute) and Mohammed Abduba Dida – had been left out. They went to Court. The court ruled that the debates couldn’t continue unless they were included. They were.

Mark you, despite the debates being held by a private Presidential Debates organisation set up by the private media in Kenya, the candidates were not given the questions in advance. They were only told the subject areas.

One instant phone opinion poll showed that 34% of the people who watched the first debate changed their mind about who to vote for. Another poll, conducted through face-to-face interviews, showed that number at 18%. By the time of the second, the number of undecided voters was less than 1%.

Though Dida had no chance in hell, he was the star of the first debate. Very humorous, he had some wacky ideas. In the second debate, he was the star too, in part because of his off-stage performance. He arrived for the debate with all his three wives in tow. A former school teacher, Dida is 39 years old, and not only does he have three wives, he has 11 children. At that age, he is not done yet with both marrying and fathering children. You can be sure we have not heard the last of him. In Uganda, the Born-Agains would have buried him in criticism and ridicule.

cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com & twitter@cobbo3

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