The Africanists

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Instability in Kenya: The Perfect Storm

After just over one year in government, it is becoming clear that the Jubilee regime would seem to be imploding in slow motion. It is one thing for a regime to be hated and feared, as Moi’s was in large parts of the country; both are very defining emotions. Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime faces the particular ignominy of becoming the laughing stock of its own people and the subject of sneering derision, as was seen on social media in response to his “digital government” insisting in this day and age on the “airlifting of presidential speeches” on the pretext of ensuring their security. A regime doesn’t have to ‘fall’ to implode; it merely needs to be perceived as becoming increasingly irrelevant or, at worst, having become its own enemy in the prosecution of its core functions as a state.

For a regime that was slick and professional in running its election campaign and fighting off the ICC, and is still a master of theatre and ceremony  – launching initiatives with fanfare, balloons, billboards and adverts – the simple blunders that have cost tremendously in terms of public trust come as somewhat of a surprise. There are those of the President’s advisors who must have thought it was a great idea to show off his new Ksh.55 million specially built Austrian armoured quasi-tank that was unveiled on Madaraka Day this year. However, this left many Kenyans aghast: the President has been assuring us that his regime is on top of security despite the fierce challenges and confusion posed and caused by Al Shabaab in particular, but he is clearly so spooked it has purchased a mini-tank to protect him. His handlers don’t appear to have the wits about them to appreciate how crass it was to flaunt this “boy’s toy” to a populace that has been fairly shaken by the threat of terrorism that is become part of the everyday Kenyan reality. Meanwhile ordinary wananchi(people) make do with matatus in heavy traffic, worrying about the grenade-chucking trouble makers who many are beginning to believe are not Al Shabaab at all but may be even elements of the State itself! The assassination of yet another prominent Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Idris in Mombasa has only added to the fundamental disquiet, particularly as he was considered a leading voice of moderation.

HE DECAY OF PRESIDENTIAL AUTHORITY

Of greater concern to me are stories that have made it into the media over the past months, all building up to a worrying conclusion. It began with the President announcing the re-deployment of hundreds of purchasing officers in March. Media reports initially alleged that these officers had refused to move stations, even after the Principle Secretary in the Ministry of Finance issued a memo actioning the presidential directive. Then there is the curious case of the defiant insistence by MPs belonging to the ruling coalition to censure the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning, that many have argued to be more of an opportunity to publicly teach the president a lesson than it is about Ms. Waiguru. Add to this the fact that not once but twice – with the highly publicised pay-cuts and the executive order on tourism that are both yet to be implemented –  the president has publicly issued an order that the civil service has struggled, or even worse refused, to implement. One begins to get a sense that presidential authority is decaying like a rotting banana before our very eyes. The concern that some civil servants have that some of these orders are unconstitutional; the steadfastness thus far of MPs opposed to Waiguru; the penchant politicians have developed for lecturing the President on how to do his job (as was witnessed at Jubilee’s recent Parliamentary group meeting at State House Nairobi and at public events) are all symptomatic of this.

 

JUBILEE’S DANGEROUS INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS

As I have said before, one of the good things about the Jubilee administration is that it was honest enough not come to power promising to fight corruption. Sadly, corruption has not only spread and deepened under this administration, but this ‘dot.com’ regime is emerging as the most avaricious in Kenyan history. Indeed, this has led to cynicism regarding the growing cacophony of complaints from within the URP side of the Jubilee coalition to the effect that “their people” have been denied ‘plum’ positions in favour of the President’s kinsmen. A plum post is a euphemism for occupying a position so one can steal from it. Fragmentation with the ruling coalition is potentially more destabilising than anything even the rejuvenated opposition can do. The payment to an Anglo Leasing type company, the opaque Standard Gauge Railway contract with the Chinese, the mysterious Safaricom security contract with the regime lead the list of initiatives that have hardened negative perceptions against the regime with regard to fighting graft, despite the President’s expressed frustration with powerful corruption networks. As previously observed, he has realised late that these networks are more powerful than the presidency; the Anglo Leasing saga has demonstrated the extent to which key public departments are essentially the back offices of the networks.

ROUND ONE TO AL SHABAAB

When Raila Odinga left the country almost three months ago, his opponents and pundits were writing his political obituary. Deepening impunity with regard to corruption; the sky-rocketing cost of living; senior officials who contradict each other on statements of the greatest national import; powerful perceptions of tribalism in public appointments; the postponement again and again of the primary school laptop scheme; the quietly effected deployment of the army to man roadblocks on key trunk roads; all combine to deepen an overwhelming sense of a government that has lost its grip on the conduct of the affairs of state. Add to that a dramatic increase in insecurity to which the government has responded with Operation Usalama Watch profiling Somalis and Muslims (using a script that I don’t think Al Shabaab could have written better); and travel advisories from the West that have temporarily crashed the tourism industry at the Coast; and it is no wonder that the Kenyan population is deeply rattled.

When university students called a strike some weeks back on a weekday, it was surprising the number of companies and individuals who chose to avoid downtown Nairobi and stay home. So too, declining numbers of patrons at some of our most popular malls are indicative that the security situation has the population really shaken. Kenyans are a resilient lot in general, and violence actually isn’t that new to us, especially when combined with politics. The difference this time is we don’t believe the government is on top of that situation or capable of dealing with whatever eventualities arise, given the current leadership. As a result Al Shabaab seems to have won the first round in its war against us – getting us to change the way we live our lives, creating genuine fear and, most importantly, dividing us along ethnic and religious lines – the latter which is not in our tradition as Kenyans.

#BABA WHILE YOU WERE AWAY

All the above factors threaten to create the perfect storm of blunders, missteps, and outright dumb ideas (often driven by greed) resulting in a polarised population, with more and more people increasingly losing confidence in the ability of this government to govern. This has in turn created a giant political vacuum. When Raila Odinga returned to Kenya two months ago after his sabbatical in the US, the streets of Nairobi were empty. Those not gathered at Uhuru Park to celebrate his return were keeping off the streets lest the welcome got out of hand.  Both groups seem to sense that something is about to happen; we don’t know what or when, but most of us fear it is a bad thing. The opposition’s calls for people to turn out in large numbers on one hand was rivalled by appeals by the ruling coalition for peace or warnings against disrupting what everyone accepts is a very fragile peace. The problem for the middle class is that among the poor, many of the youth want this thing to happen and are incoherently forceful that it will be a convulsion that’s not likely to be bloodless. The thing has started in Garissa, Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Mombasa, Bungoma and Nairobi, for example, albeit as a sort of slow burn insurgency.

The massive throng that massed at Uhuru Park to welcome Odinga back wasn’t necessarily only a crowd of CORD supporters. It was, in my opinion, just as it was on the Twitter hashtag #BabaWhileYouWereAway: a cross-section of Kenyans letting the Jubilee regime know just how angry, frustrated and disillusioned they are. It was thus that Nairobi’s CORD governor got caught up in this profound moment and wasn’t allowed to speak by the heckling crowd – less because he is perceived as an anti-Raila governor in CORD and more to do with the fact that he is perceived as the CORD Governor in bed with a regime that the masses gathered there oppose. Some Jubilee supporters have since dismissed the rally as a flop because ‘Raila didn’t say anything’. Actually, he didn’t have to. The rally wasn’t about Raila Odinga and CORD – it was about the restoration of dignity that the space created to vent outrage
with a faltering, corrupt regime that despises the poor. In turn Odinga was not there as the leader of CORD but as something bigger than even him –  ‘Baba’(father) in a country ran by vijana(youngsters)who’ve lost the plot. He has become the vehicle for Kenya’s discontent, giving it voice and affirming it. Indeed, he is riding a tiger in many ways. A step wrong and it can consume him too.

The fragility of our current condition is not something any responsible person can gloat about.

This article appeared earlier in The Star

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