Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Michela Wrong Got Right and Wrong (A Wonk's View)

Author's Note. This post has been edited to correct it with the latest Census figures. February 27th, 2013. ~WMB

Image of Anti-Corruption activist, John Githongo, a Kikuyu.
Michela Wrong has a very interesting article in the New York Times today on the Kenyan election. It is called Running on Amnesia (February 22, 2013: New York Times).

The article represents and engaging and interesting overview of the Kenyan election, and overall I agree with the broad brushstrokes. Her main point, that I agree with, is that Kenyan politicians are asking voters to cast their votes in complete ignorance of the horrible deeds that those same politicians committed very recently. Her second main point that I support is that the members of the international business community have not demanded accountability from those same politicians on issues of democracy and human rights.

Now, some constructive criticism. I know Michela Wrong is the author of "Our Time to Eat" which I have read. I also know she is good friends with John Githongo, whom I very much admire. But I hope that Ms. Wrong will accept my thoughts on how she could improve her work.

I am afraid that sometimes Ms. Wrong's book, and her article suffer from what I like to call "drive by journalism." I know that it is very hard to get the details right in an 800 word op ed, but unfortunately, her book has some of the same flaws as this article.

Perhaps I am picking nits, but I often feel that Ms. Wrong's work reinforces stereotypes and plays into the negative hegemonic discourse regarding the continent, the region, and Kenya itself.

Lets start with the first paragraph. "I was negotiating one of Nairobi's terrifying traffic circles - a maneuver that requires jumping over a lattice of open sewers while playing chickenwith aline of trucks snorting their way toward Uganda and Congo -

Well, some might accuse me of misplaced nationalism, but this description just does not ring true to me. I am half Kenyan, but I was raised in the US and I hold a US passport. I am the first to criticize my mother's country, but I like to be fair. I spend a lot of time in Kenya. I spent two years teaching there in Kabarak University (2004-2006), and I have spent at least two months a year there since 2006. I also have family in Kenya and have been back and forth for decades.

What is my objection? Nairobi has really come a long way since I used to visit in the 1970s and 1980s. The only open sewers I have seen in Nairobi are in the slums of Mathare or Kibera. She does not really describe which part of town she is in. I personally do not like driving in Nairobi, and I will agree that driving there is terrifying, but the city contains both the richest, and the poorest neighborhoods that you can see in the continent. As a whole, however, she starts her story with a depiction of a city that sounds more like Mogadishu than Nairobi to me.  To me, this just reinforces stereotypes about the poverty of the continent.

Next objection "The Kikuyu are the largest and most economically successful trible; the Kalenjin, a looser ethnic grouping, come second in size. Kenya's last three presidents have all been either Kikuyu or Kalenjin. "

I have a few bones to pick with this language. Please note that there are about 42 ethnic communities in Kenya, give or take a few. It is correct that the Kikuyu are the largest group. The Kalenjin are NOT the second largest group, and they are not a true "community." They are an amalgamation invented by the British of several small groups who speak mutually intelligible languages, including the Nandi, the Tugen, and the Kipsigi, among others. One thing I learned the hard way when I taught at Kabarak was that those subgroups do not always get along that well.  There was a census conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2009. Kenya-Census-2009 (Thank you to my cousin, Wanyiri Githaiga, for alerting me to this data, and correcting my statistics) See also Kenya Population Data. 

Here is my scholarly version: By virtue of demographics, the two most politically powerful language groups in Kenya have historically been the Dholuo (Luo) and the Agikuyu (Kikuyu). According to the 2009 Census, Kenya's Population was 38,000,000 in 2009. The CIA in 2012 put that number at 43,000,000. 

Here is a run down to fthe biggest groups 


I LOVE IT That a significant number of citizens identify themselves as Kenyan first!!!

Two post-Independence presidents have come from the Agikuyu: Jomo Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki. The Luo and the Kalenjin have been important factors in Kenyan politics, with the Kalenjin contributing Kenya‘s second President, Daniel arap Moi. Two of the most powerful post-Independence leaders have come from the Luo: Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya. Oginga‘s son, Raila Odinga, carries his father‘s mantle as the undisputed leader of the loyal opposition and acts as a veritable force of nature in Kenyan politics. Kibaki has tacitly recognized the crucial political role of the Luo and the Luyha by giving the Vice Presidency to the Luyha and naming various Luos to crucial ministries at various points in his presidency. In particular, the Luo have recently controlled the powerful Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Akamba group, who are small in population, are nonetheless a powerful political swing group—a role that echoes their historic position as traders between other language groups in Kenya. The Luyha and the Kamba will be the groups to watch in the 2013 elections. 
Another pet peeve of mine is that I have yet to see hard statistical evidence that Kikuyu are the most economically successful group. There are lots of very poor Kikuyu living in the same slums of Kibera and Mathare as the rest of their country folk. Due to the shockingly high level of inequality in Kenya, and the political power of Kenyatta and Kibaki, a high percentage of the Kikuyu elite have gotten to participate in the political elite, but many Kikuyu are peasants with two or three acres, and an even larger group, like most Kenyans, are landless.  What is true is that both the Dholuo and the Gikuyu were early adopters of Christianity, and thus, both groups got access to education earlier than other groups. This means that they have been able to take advantage of the fruits of independence more effectively than other communities, which often leads to business success.

Okay, so now I have noted that the Kalenjin are most likely NOT the second largest group. Also, it is not clear at all that either the Kikuyu or the Kalenjin are monolithic and vote as a bloc, as I think Ms. Wrong's article implies. Indeed, given that the country's population is somewhere around 43,000,000, the Kikuyu comprise close to ten million persons. The language group is diverse and broken into three geographical areas, Kiambu, Muranga, and Nyeri. They all speak the same language and share the same basic customs, but they are heterogeneous, and have different regional personalities, and indeed, politics. Thus, I reject the suggestion of hegemony in Ms. Wrong's work, and really prefer a more differentiated and nuanced picture of all of these groups.

My final complaint is that Kenya has only had three president's since independence, so I do not find it informative to say "Kenya's last three presidents." Further, The first President, Jomo Kenyatta was selected in part with the acquiescence of the British,and the Kikuyu were crucial in the fight for independence. The second president, Daniel arap Moi, was the Vice President acting under Kenyatta, and continued the tradition of an authoritarian dictatorship with the veneer of democratic elections begun by his predecessor. Only the third president, Mwai Kibaki, was elected in something that looked like a free and fair election in 2002.

Okay, next, "Anything to keep Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a Luo who almost certainly should have won the 2007 election from becoming President." Well, the last time I checked, Ruto and Odinga were working together in 2007.  Second, as Wrong herself notes, Odinga is no angel, and certainly had a hand in the 2007 violence, even if he was not indicted. Third, there is no way of knowing who would have won the 2007 vote if things had been conducted fairly. Certainly, as was the case in Gore/Bush, the election was operating on a razor thin margin, and it is entirely possible that given Nairobi's proximity to Kikuyu country, Kibaki had a chance of winning fair and square in 2007 without rigging. We will never know, so Monday morning quarterbacking is not helpful, but does add fuel to the fire. For an exhaustive and detailed view of the 2007 election, take a look at the Kriegler and Waki reports.

I think that we need to reject the narrative of tribal feuding, and instead direct our narrative towards a political class that intermarries, works together to steal land and money from the people of Kenya, and will change bedfellows as quickly as tires if they think it will help them gain a job in the nation's kleptocracy. That kleptocracy, by the way, has members from every tribe in the nation. Let us focus on running an election where wananchi have a chance of winning. The real divide in Kenya is not between ethnic communities, it is between the political elite, and everyone else.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Why am I interested?

I am interested in this election because I am a "reverse Obama." My mother (deceased) was Kenyan. She is a Kikuyu from Othaya, near Nyeri, in Central Province. My father is a white American of German descent, via the appalachias as well as New York. I grew up in the US, and consider myself mainly to be African-American, although I visited Kenya frequently as a child. 

My husband is also Kenyan, and how I met him is a long story. He is a Kikuyu, from Muranga, but that is not why I married him. He was a successful Safari guide when I met him, and was also a strong entrepreneur in other areas. We not have a safari company together, which services Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania. African Wildcats Adventure Safaris. He is very cosmopolitan, however, and speaks fluent French and Spanish. 

The bottom line is that due to being raised in America, and being half white, I am not a tribalist. Rather, I like to think of myself as a global citizen. Further, I have been carefully studying the use of information technology as a factor in democratization in Kenya and East Africa for a decade. You can check out some of my work here. www.warigiabowman.com I also had the good luck to live in Egypt during the Revolution. I have seen the power of information technology, and it will be increasingly important in this election. 

I am specifically interested in the use of telecommunications and ICTs (information and communications technology) by the Government of Kenya (GoK) in the voting and vote counting process. I am also interested in the use of short message service, twitter, and facebook 1) to send around "hate speech" or invalid rumors 2) to encourage friends and family to vote a certain way 3) to organize political speech such as rallies.

I also wish to investigate, through the use of media reports and other mechanisms, how the GoK uses information and communications technology in verifying the vote tally or otherwise promoting transparency. 

So that is my story!
Warigia and Hamadi's traditional wedding in Othaya, Central Province, Kenya 2004


My take on the candidates in the Kenyan Presidential Election

Uhuru Kenyatta at a Political Rally
Although there are multiple contenders for the presidency there are only two serious “horses” in the race, current Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy Prime Minster Uhuru Kenyatta. The “third forces,” such as Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua and Musalia Mudavadi continue to float above water against the odds but have low chances of winning. Most news sources list a total of fifteen presidential candidates as of November. That being said, given the Constitution's rules, a runoff is highly likely in this situation, and the lesser candidates will be very important in terms of deciding the final victor. Also, given that Uhuru Kenyatta is facing the ICC, it is possible that one of the other candidates could make a real showing. These candidate profiles are my personal take. You might like it, and you might not like it. However, I think that these views are accurate.

Raila Odinga
Odinga is part of the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) and is the current Prime Minister of Kenya. He was awarded this position in 2008 after a power-sharing agreement due to the widespread protests after the 2007 election where many Kenyans felt Mwai Kibaki’s win was illegitimate and that in fact Odinga won. Odinga has been a member of parliament since 1992 and has served in various ministerial positions. As the son of Jaramogi Odinga Odinga, he has always been involved in the government. While he has a “cult-like” following and is admired as he is outspoken and has political tact, he also faces a large amount of criticism and controversy. In 1982 he was detained for a failed coup attempt against President Moi and again in 1988 for his criticisms of the president. He has also publicly condemned homosexuality. My reading of the Krieger Report indicates that there is credible evidence that he was heavily involved in or at least knew about the ethnic and political violence in 2007/2008, and specifically orchestrated the murder and attacks against Kikuyu and Bantu in the last presidential election. “His charm and humor move crowds, but people do not know whether to fear, love, respect, admire, or hate him.”

Uhuru Kenyatta
Kenyatta is part of the Party of National Unity and The National Alliance and the current Deputy Prime Minister of Kenya. The son of Jomo Kenyatta (founding father of Kenya), he was Daniel Moi’s preferred successor before he stepped down but was unsuccessful. He was an avid supporter of Kibaki in 2007 and is currently under investigation by the ICC for committing crimes against humanity during the post election violence. He has been active in politics since 1997 and has been surrounded with controversy and scandals dealing with the Kenyan budget. However, his is credited for beneficial programs and reforms including using social networking in the creation of a budget. He has great deal of support mainly due to his influence of the Kikuyu community, the largest ethnic population. However, the Kikuyu community is split, and not all blindly follow Kenyatta. His family is one of the largest landowners in Kenya. One might argue that he is a spoiled plutocrat. Many rumors suggest that he has a drinking or a drug problem. The ICC alleges that UK hired Mungiki to attack and murder Luos living in Naivasha.

William Ruto
Ruto, who is Kenyatta’s running mate, is part of ODM, United Republican Party, and Kenya African National Union and is the former agriculture minister is currently suspended on various corruption charges. He has been in politics for over thirteen years and has put his presidential ambitions on the side to support his part affiliate Odinga win the massive Rift Valley vote and most recently, partnered with Kenyatta. He is also facing crimes against humanity charges for his involvement in the post 2007 election violence. He was the mastermind behind the political violence in 2007/2008. He specifically orchestrated, knew about, organized, and facilitated the payment of Kalenjin Youth to murder and rape Kikuyu and Bantu, and also paid for their houses to be burned. I find it completely shocking and disappointing that Kenyatta is working with him. In fact, he should not be walking the streets at all.

Martha Wangari Karua
Karua is part of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) and is a member of the Kenyan parliament and represents the Cichugy Constituency. She served in the judiciary for two decades and has a strong legal background. She was recognized by the Human Rights Watch as a human rights monitor and has spearheaded numerous reforms in the areas of constitutional and administrative law. “She is aggressive and outspoken and probably the most vibrant female politician in Kenya.” She is honest and smart, and one of the only candidates who has actually laid out a platform that speaks to the issues. 

Peter Kenneth
Kenneth is a lawyer by profession and served as a member of parliament since 2002. He is currently the Planning and National Development Assistant Minister. He has a great track record in parliament and the best developed constituency. Kenneth is known as an overall good guy as he paid taxes before the new constitution required it. However, he lacks national support and is less aggressive than other candidates. There is talk of him joining various alliances. 

Musalia Mudavadi
Mudavadi is a member of ODM and has been a part of past political alliances. In 2002 he was Kenyatta’s Vice President pick and in 2007 he ran as Odinga’s running mate. Currently is Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minster. He is under investigation for fraud by the Kenyan Anti-corruption Commission.

Kalonzo Musyoka
Musyoka, who is Odinga’s running mate, is a member of ODM and the current Vice President of Kenya. He was appointed the position by Kibaki after his unsuccessful attempt for the presidency. He served in the cabinets of both Moi and Kibaki. He is an ethnic Kingpin for the Kamba Community which will be crucial in this election. My critique is that he seems to available to the highest bidder. He has no clear ideology. 

Revised very slightly on March 15, 2013 to note that UK has been charged with murder in Naivasha, but these are as yet unproven allegations. 


Friday, February 22, 2013

So Where Are We in All Of This?

Top Candidates in the Kenyan Election. February 22, 2013

Mwenzangu, the Kenyan election is going to be closely watched.

If it goes well, it could signal a sea change in African politics. If the Kenyan 2013 Presidential Election goes smoothly, and is not very violent, than it will mean that there are at least three African countries with well-functioning multi-party democracies: Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya.

If the Kenyan election goes poorly, and erupts in violence, it will reconfirm stereotypes about the inability of Africans to govern.

As we approach the election, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga are neck and neck. According to the IPSOS polling firm, Political Party/Alliance Preference and Presidential Candidate Preference, Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Alliance garners 44.8 percent of the vote whereas Raila Odinga and the CORD Alliance is garnering 44.4 percent. For the statisticians out there, that race is not only too close to call, it is within less than one percentage point. The same page above has a really cool map of the race by county. Indeed, according to Mr. Tom Wolf at IPSOS Synovate,

With nine days to go, none of the candidates appeared able to garner the 50 per cent-plus one vote threshold set by the Constitution for one to be declared an outright winner.

This means a runoff is likely. With Mudavadi polling 5.2 and other candidates such as Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth in the mix, anything could happen in the second round runoff. Hold on to your seatbelts folks, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

One point that most in the press are not reporting that really disturbs me is the issue of "dynastic succession." Can we really call Kenya a democracy when 50 years after independence, the two strongest candidates are scions of the lions of Independence? The race is not actually competitive when Kenya's royalty names its princes.


A Very Big Trip

Hi friends

I am off to go see the Kenyan Presidential Election of 2013. Please follow my antics and observations here, and at my twitter feed, @warigiabowman

I will give you unbiased, objective reporting with a little bit of fun, whimsy and culture thrown in!

Yours, WMB