Kenya Taking Big Gamble On Uhuru, Ruto Bid
I was mulling over elections again. Unsurprisingly: I think the next election will be the single biggest make-or-break factor for Kenya. A repeat of 2007/2008 will be worse than last time, but a peaceful election will, I expect, yield a collective outbreath, and then a surge in investment inflows – from companies interested in Kenya, from companies interested in oil and from companies interested in the regional market. And people are waiting and watching: This week, I was out for dinner with a few South African investment bankers, swapping a lovely Thai dinner for some of my thoughts on what was going on in Kenya and my outlook for the next 12 months.
The South Africans looked at me with shrugged-shouldered incomprehension when we got to the point that Kenya will most likely have two presidential candidates who have court cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mind you, court cases not because of disputes over rent arrears or some such matter, but crimes against humanity. How is that even remotely conceivable, they wondered? (Not that this was an intra-African superiority competition: they acknowledged their spear of the nation’s corruption-case bothers as well).
They had read the papers where there was more shoulder-shrugging material: When commenting on the ICC’s decision to start the cases in April 2013, Kenya’s Justice Minister, Mr Eugene Wamalwa, careened and swerved, skilfully managing to miss the point entirely: ‘This in effect brings to closure the acrimonious debate as to whether the ICC process would be used as a political tool to lock out some presidential candidates. Because the court has now ruled, they are free to contest the elections and thereafter proceed with the cases.’
Well, no. Because whether someone can run or not is not – or should not - a question of whether their court cases leave them enough time to campaign. It’s a question of the reputation and standing of people aspiring to become the highest public officers. And even if you consider this a fabricated matter, then at least there’s still the pragmatic issue of how you could possibly run a whole country while dealing with a very complex court case. Such extracurricular obligations would severely limit the time that a sitting president can devote to service to the country, not the least because the accused have to be physically present in court during the trial.
Unless, of course, you pursue the Bashir model of not going to Den Hague and not participating in the trial - perhaps easier to do when elected president? That opens another uncomfortable scenario: Instead of an absentee president, you have a very-much-at-home-because-he-can’t-travel-anymore president – inconvenient and often a little awkward, as Mr Mugabe and Mr Bashir have found out.
What if the so-called ‘international community’ then decides to follow up with sanctions to help reinforce the ICC’s authority? Kenya is a sovereign state, sure – but sanctions and a stuck-at-home president don’t help economic growth along.
Election years are often not good years for policy making and general governing. Kenya seems to have been stuck in campaign mode pretty much since the Grand Coalition agreement had been signed, but what I’ve seen recently was distinctly underwhelming: the silly stand-off with parliament over price controls (back to the future much?), the fact that MPs only just now seem to wake up that they’ve written a law that requires them to have degrees (evidence if any was ever needed that it makes sense to insist on some level of education).
There’s a lot of talk about large infrastructure projects and public-private partnerships to finance them, and much noise over Lamu Port and the Northern Corridor but the necessary legislation is still pending somewhere, and probably won’t get much attention amidst the on-going campaigns and coalition negotiations.
And there are public finances – the money that you give to GoK to do things for you: In a recent article, John Githongo cites figures by the Coalition for Accountable Political Financing, who ‘estimated that the top presidential candidates will spend between US$100 million (Sh8.4bn) and US$150 million (Sh12.6bn) each. The presidential campaigns alone could cost US$500 million (Sh42bn).’
He says: ‘Traditionally, the period after the reading of the last budget before an election is the start of shakedown season. Aspirants start by hitting up members of the private sector, then investors who are still in a fragile contractual condition, before moving on to squeeze as much out of the public purse as possible via kickbacks, skimming off procurement contracts and the like. (…) It is thus that giant public works projects seemingly hurriedly cooked up in the year prior to polls have a habit of becoming white elephants whose utility declines once they have finished serving as vehicles to mobilise election finances.’
But these are old school methods, he argues, and can’t explain where the money for such massive spending will come from: ‘The looting of police and other agencies in the sector turned national security into the last refuge of the corrupt. (…) From around 2005, however, it also became clear that drugs and money laundering had become important sources of political resources.’ I hope for a peaceful March 2013. And I’d not put too much money down before.