Overcoming Kenya’s political crisis and advancing Democracy, Rule of Law and Stability
The Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, former Prime Minister of Kenya and Leader of The National Super Alliance coalition (NASA).
9th November 2017
It’s very special for me to be here again at CSIS. A democratic, secure and stable African future can only be attained through the power of ideas and candid, informed debate, and that is always plentiful in this house. Your continuing commitment to Africa is a blessing for the continent and for the US too.
I am very glad to be here with close friends as well, first and foremost Mark Bellamy, and of course Johnnie Carson. These two remain the most astute and caring US ambassadors Kenya ever had, and subsequently the two most astute ambassadors Kenya ever had in the US!
The distinguished guests here attest to the recognition of Kenya as one of the most strategically important nations in Africa. Despite its relatively small economy, Kenya has played an outsize role in continental leadership because of its half century-long stability.
That stability also co-existed with vast democratic deficits which were successfully fought by a lengthy, painful but always peaceful struggle for greater freedoms. That is what brought us the extraordinary democratic and economic transformations few in Africa have achieved.
We were a safe haven from which concerned international partners could tackle all the crises that wracked virtually every one of our neighbors over the decades.
These achievements helped us maintain not just peace but an exceptional level of innovation and entrepreneurship that is renowned around the world, thanks to our people’s openness in embracing global currents, as well as our vibrant civil society and media.
Our partners too have played a crucial role in our great gains and in stabilizing our country when disasters occurred or threatened.
But all of this progress is being imperiled through our current crisis, the most long-lasting Kenya has ever endured. The world must not be deceived that this is merely an “electoral” crisis triggered by the third straight rigged election.
The crisis is all-encompassing and has resulted from the attempt to unlawfully hold on to power. It threatens to undo everything we have achieved, tearing apart our democratic and interethnic fabric.
Let me be blunt. Kenya is hurtling towards outright dictatorship. The Jubilee government has ridden roughshod over or looted every institution that they could in order to achieve their goal of long-term control of the state, or at least till their self-declared goal of ruling till at least 2032.
The regime has targeted and inflicted particularly severe damage on the two institutions that are central to the preservation of democracy and peace through the delivery of free, fair and credible elections – The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Supreme Court of Kenya. These two critical institutions have been targeted through nothing less than a reign of terror.
The electoral commission was comprehensively undermined before the August election. The assault on the Supreme Court began after the courageous Chief Justice David Maraga and his fellow Justices astounded Kenyans and the world by annulling that election of President Uhuru Kenyatta for pervasive “irregularities and illegalities.”
Among the other great setbacks for Kenya in the current crisis has been the disappointing role of our partners, who were with us in the decisive struggle for multi democracy in the early 1990s. They also intervened with lightning speed during our catastrophe a decade ago, when mass violence erupted after the tainted 2007 election.
Kenya matters. Or at least it did then. In this crisis, though, the US and other pro-democracy friends chose to avert their gaze from the unfolding electoral lawlessness, and continued against all the evidence to support a deeply tainted electoral process.
To give the most recent example, Commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati courageously confessed that his electoral commission was driven by politically-motivated pressures and that he could not guarantee a free and fair election in the 26 October re-run.
But in a stand that astounded Kenyans, western envoys two days later announced that they believed the commission could hold a credible poll and supported that highly controversial election. It was an utterly bizarre sight.
But I am convinced all is not lost yet. What Kenyans are asking is something small – a fresh, credible election. Numerous independent institutions, as well as international media previously supportive of Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, had strongly opposed the holding of that election.
This nearly universal stance has vindicated NASA’s position that a credible election is the only option Kenya has to give peace a chance, and even more important, heal a nation that has been torn into angry bits. But holding such an election needs a radically changed, non-confrontational environment in which the two sides can campaign on the basis of what they offer Kenyans for a better future.
I have come to Washington to convey a simple message we need a much fuller engagement from the many arms of governance that your country possesses to assist the envoys based in Nairobi. The envoys’ efforts up to now have not succeeded in defusing the crisis, but let me be blunt again, they have sometimes contributed to the problem.
Despite the grave challenges, I see glimmers of hope from the events of the past few days. Kenyans were very pleased that the US and other friends refused to congratulate Mr. Kenyatta after the electoral commission announced that he had been elected President –- after an election more woefully tainted than the annulled August one.
A solution must be found in Kenya soon. Each day this crisis continues, the divisions, polarization and radicalization deepen. The killings of scores of unarmed protestors by police, including infants and children shot inside their homes, and the severe financial hardships being inflicted upon millions by the currently paralyzed economy, are adding to the tinder.
The most inflammatory recent development was the Supreme Court’s being prevented from convening to hear the case about whether the 26th October re-run election should be held. But the evening before, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu’s bodyguard was shot and grievously wounded. That sent shock waves and the Court immediately asked for increased protection from the police.
When that request was turned down, a number of Justices did not feel safe to travel to the Court, a resulting in the lack of the required quorum. In which other democratic country has a Supreme Court been prevented from hearing case this way?
What I call the reign of terror against the Supreme Court and the electoral commission began with the torture and murder of Chris Msando, the Commission’s Chief of Technology responsible for the integrity of the entire voting system one week before the 8th August election. He had received death threats and sought protection from the police, in vain.
Kenyans know that the decades-long struggle for justice and our grand new Constitutional order was waged and won peacefully. That is why NASA’s leadership is centered on a campaign of peaceful resistance to unlawfully constituted authority. We have convened a People’s Assembly to guide the country to a fresh, free and fair presidential election, as decreed by the Supreme Court.
That record of anti-democratic criminal behavior, which has included systematic measures limiting civil society and media protections, has made many wonder how our long-standing democratic partners have not publicly spoken up against these depredations.
Most of us worry that this is a result of international policies that exclusively focus on security and stability, and that the envoys in Nairobi believe only President Kenyatta can deliver this with his own force and security-first agenda.
But when that agenda is accompanied by a government’s increasing authoritarianism and plans to stay permanently in power, Kenya’s historic stability is at fundamental risk. An anti-democratic culture in a freedom-loving country like Kenya is a recipe for radicalization and extremism.
That campaign and war against extremism and terrorism is pivotal in our time and in our region. But to succeed, it must begin WITHIN each of our countries by building a state that shuns sectarianism and makes inclusion and equity as its core values.
But that central continental struggle is not succeeding because too many countries have regressed in the last decade and lack an internal program of democratic inclusion and respect for rights, especially of marginalized communities, where extremism frequently originates. Too many African leaders just assess where western governments stand and align with their security policies.
As things stand now, anger and radicalization is growing by the day and unless this election crisis is expeditiously rectified, Kenya could be rendered incapable of protecting its own and its partners’ fundamental interests. The depth of this crisis can be seen in the hitherto unheard of phenomenon of mainstream Kenyans feeling so deeply excluded that they are openly toying with the secessionist idea.
The path to enhance Kenya’s security – and therefore this region’s – would not be a terribly complex one in a democratic state with clean elections. The rascals would always be thrown out by the people! But it does seem that the path to sustainable security is an impossible one for a regime which is essentially composed of a powerful elite which has been at our country’s helm for the last 55 years.
In addition, our four presidents have come from only two communities and the next one preparing to take over after Uhuru is not from of the other 42 communities either.
As I said at the outset, these ills co-exist with extra-ordinary accomplishments by talented, hardworking and outward-looking Kenyans. Kenya’s future, and indeed Africa’s, lies in democracy.
Both the regime and our traditional partners must retrace their steps and accept that the current state of affairs endangers the nation, the region and the security and stability of the entire free world.