Case of collective anxiety for Greater Horn of Africa as Kenyans vote in a devolved govt

If there is a single event that could be marked down as a pivotal point for East Africa and one that sets the tone for the rest of 2013, it would have to be the Kenyan elections.

All of East Africa will be watching closely as Kenyans head to the polls. Two dates have been circled for the past few months — March 4 (Election Day) and April 11 (the date for the election run-off should a clear winner not emerge on March 4).

For the Greater Horn of East Africa (GHEA) this election represents a case of collective anxiety. The 2007 general election in Kenya and the political fallout remain fresh in the minds of East Africa’s citizens, politicians and businesses. If there were ever an instance of an entire region suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, GHEA would be a primary example when the post-election violence erupted in Kenya between December and January 2007 and 2008 respectively.

The irony of Kenya’s previous election is that it showed how integrated the region truly is despite the scepticism expressed by some.

The 2007-2008 post-election crisis and violence showed the extent to which the region is intertwined. Each partner state of the East African Community felt the consequences of a Kenya in turmoil. Landlocked countries, specifically Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi were in dire straits as their main trade arteries with Mombasa port were closed off.

Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam port was overwhelmed with the diverted traffic.

The region has passed a certain threshold and now when anything major happens domestically in one country, it has a direct impact on all the countries in the neighbourhood.

This is why the 2013 Kenyan election is as much a regional issue as it is a national one. It is why, for the lead-up to this year’s election, there is an all-hands-on-deck approach to Kenya by the EAC partner states.

Aly Khan Satchu, CEO of Rich Management and well-known economist in the region, in answering a question posed to him on what is at stake for the EAC and regional integration on March 4, said, “Kenya remains the anchor state and the geopolitical pivot of the EAC.” Translation? Everything is at stake!

The two leading candidates of the election, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, have everything at stake in this election. They simultaneously have everything to gain and everything to lose depending on how things shape out. Their reactions to a loss will be incredibly important for the trajectory of Kenya’s future.


Their actions could either strengthen Kenya’s institutions that were created as a result of the fallout from 2007 or completely undermine it. For Kenya, its future as a unitary state is at stake.

At the most dramatic level, the outcome of this election will affirm or undermine this unity. Bold and courageous leadership will be needed to oversee the consequences of a devolved government and its implementation while simultaneously keep the country’s fiscal house in order. This type of leadership will be essential in preventing misuse of funds, quarrels over jurisdiction and resource allocation. Without it, we will see more marginalised communities.

Finally, for the entire region this election is significant. As Mr Satchu stated, Kenya is a regional economic anchor state.

The region needs a dynamic, confident and engaged Kenya for its own long-term welfare and prospects. Will the election outcome lead to an outward or inward looking Kenya? Will the country be too bogged down on understanding devolution and implementing it to focus on issues outside its borders?

It is apparent that this election is now perceived as an existential moment for the candidates, a sort of do or die and a judgement on everything each candidate stands for.

This is especially true for Odinga and Kenyatta. For Odinga, losing this election may be just as painful or even more so than the 2007-2008 election, especially if the polls run smoothly and are declared free and fair.

Up until a few months ago, Odinga seemed a shoo-in for the presidency. However, internal divisions within his camp and the strength of the Kenyatta-Ruto ticket have weakened the perceived inevitability of his election.

For Kenyatta, this is an all-in election given the ICC indictment hanging over his head. The only way for Kenyatta to be vindicated is to win the election, which could potentially delegitimise the ICC.

Many would acknowledge Kenya’s importance in the region and the broader international community and there is a subtle understanding that the international community will not allow Kenya to be a pariah state. Sanctions on Kenya will have a negative impact on the region, and may destabilise the economic make-up of the EAC partner states.

Kenya is a geostrategic hub for both international organisations like the United Nations and a key player and partner for counterterrorism, signified by its involvement in Somalia. Most international partners will think twice before isolating Kenya. Uhuru Kenyatta must be well aware of this trump card.

Observer missions

The importance of this election to the region is manifest in the number and size of observer missions deployed.

The EAC Secretariat sent in observers to monitor the voter registration exercise in November 2012. In February 2013, it was reported that the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) will join in with the EAC to have a joint election monitoring unit in Kenya.

The European Union is expected to have its team of observers on site for a longer period than usual and has sent representatives to monitor the voter registration process. The United States is supporting the Carter Centre as an observer mission but is working closely with Kenya through the new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilisation Operations at the Department of State. The African Union will also deploy observers.

This writer broadly agrees with the sentiment that “the national poll will be peaceful and free — at least in comparison with 2007’s election — but the growing devolution of power across the country will trigger, or exacerbate, more localised conflicts, particular in the east (part of the country).”

Three critical things stand out that are different from the last election:

No confusion on who is president: On March 5 and April 12 President Mwai Kibaki will still remain President of Kenya. This is starkly different from the previous election when Kibaki was a contesting incumbent. That situation presented some confusion for the security apparatus delaying and hindering their ability to restore law and order in the country. No such confusion will exist now.

The president may use the Constitutional and moral authority vested in the presidency to ensure the election runs smoothly and law and order is preserved following the announcement of the results. He can guarantee a smooth transfer of power and neutralise the political disunity that was cemented in 2007-2008.

No element of surprise: While few anticipated the post-election violence nearly five years ago, everyone seems to be prepared in 2013 for any eventuality.

The UhuRuto ticket: In what is now perceived as an x-factor, the alliance between Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto has provided an interesting dynamic to the entire election. Kenyatta represents the Kikuyu ethnic group while Ruto represents the Kalenjin, two groups that have historically been at loggerheads most notably during the last election. While it is not clear how these two candidates will react if they lose, a victory for them may just prevent an outbreak of serious unrest.

There is a high probability that the elections will go to a runoff because neither candidate has enough votes to garner 50 per cent plus one of the electorate.

If that is the case, the period between March 3 and April 11 will be just as tense as the days leading up to the election. It is in this period that two individuals will be the most important people in Kenya and two people we must closely watch, President Mwai Kibaki and the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga.

However, in the midst of this uncertainty about the election conduct and results, there are certain things that we know will happen the day after everything is said and done.

The implementation of the devolution process is expected to radically change service delivery and government-citizen relations in Kenya. Devolution is critical in trying to promote equity and social development by decentralising representation and government through the reduction of central authority. This process has to be managed effectively and this is a challenge the next president will have to address from the first minutes in office.

One of the key questions that Kenyans will have to address is how the implementation of devolved governance will be paid for. Analysts foresee a slowdown in Kenya’s economy in the second half of 2013, coupled with rising inflation.

As Mr Satchu put it “The devolution process is the equivalent of economic shock therapy. Questions around economic capacity at the devolved level, around duplication and even multiplication of functions means that I am certain we will have an inflationary burst at the outset.”

The elections will just be the beginning of a long and difficult process for Kenyans. Two outcomes may result from Kenya’s execution of the devolution process as mandated by the constitution.

“If devolution is successful, it could help promote economic and social development since the government will be closer to the people and be able to better cater to the different needs of the counties.” This is if everything goes according to plan. Things could easily go the other way and backfire, “devolution could create some unexpected negative consequences, such as exacerbate regional inequalities and marginalise minority ethnic groups in some communities (our emphasis).”

Key challenges
Katindi Sivi-Njonjo, programme director for the Society for International Development and an expert in scenarios and the devolution process, highlighted some of the key challenges Kenyans will have to face the morning after the elections. She warns that devolution will result in some marginalisation of ethnic groups and bring about new minorities. Specifically she talks of a “likelihood that ethnic groups that have ancestral inheritance in a particular county will want to control all instruments of governance and development to the exclusion of other ethnic migrants to that county in the recent past.”

This will weaken national cohesion and increase ethnic nationalism. There is also a question of how much these local leaders will consolidate or undermine the president’s new authority depending on his/her political and ethnic affiliation.

Ms Njonjo warns of new frontiers of ethnic conflicts within counties if devolution is not implemented properly. This would be intensified with country corruption as she points to “experiences with past devolved funds indicates that almost one third of resources were unaccounted for.”

Finally the cost of devolution is something that needs to be addressed. Devolution will be incredibly expensive and the new administration will have to be able to pay for it without compromising or undermining national development. What is clear from both manifestos mentioned earlier is that both Odinga and Kenyatta are promising decades of big Kenyan government.

Government will solve Kenya’s social, economic and political issues. How, will these candidates propose to pay for their policies and devolution is something that remains to be seen.

No matter the outcome, all polls and analysis point to a Kenya intensely divided after the election. The next president will have to embrace a dose of pragmatism, realpolitik and serve as Healer-in-Chief.
In the lead up to the election the country is already divided by internal ethnic divisions. Indeed, one of the unintended consequences of the ICC was the “exacerbation of ethnic fault lines.” When we asked Mr Satchu whether the country would be more divided than in 2008, he responded, “I think a lot depends on how conclusive the victory is at the ballot box. If it is too close to call, then I expect division. A lot will depend on the leader and the leadership he or she shows.” This emphasises that the next president will have to spend some political capital on reconciliation.

Surprisingly missing from the campaign debates is the Somalia question. How long will KDF troops remain in Somalia? What is the end game? How will a Kenyatta presidency unfold if the West and international partners isolate it? Can they risk isolating Kenya especially after all the progress made in Somalia by Kenya via the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom)?

The next president will have to navigate these rocky issues while expecting that a vengeful Al Shabaab could cause some headaches within the country. For Kenyatta, Somalia can be the trump card that prevents the Western powers from implementing sanctions because there is a clear understanding that the country is crucial to keeping Somalia stable and Al Shabaab at bay. This is probably why Al Shabaab is specifically mentioned in his manifesto, while it is not mentioned in Odinga’s.

Somalia and Al Shabaab may have been invisible during the political campaigns. They will reassert themselves very quickly once the president-elect takes the oath of office. There is also the expectation by the Somali population that occupying troops will depart their territory soon and therefore there will be a need to engage with the civilian Somali leadership as well and provide the necessary assurances.

Additional reporting by the SID East Africa Team
The Greater Horn Outlook is published by the Society for International Development as part of the Searchlight and Trend Monitoring Project of the Rockefeller Foundation. Monthly reports can be found on its website:

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