Three Important Narratives Driving I think it is safe to say that Kenya’s 2017 election is a lot more about 2022 than it is about deciding who will be Kenya’s president over the next five years. And for that we have to thank Deputy President William Ruto. In 2013 Ruto defied all odds and served as kingmaker for Uhuru Kenyatta. In exchange, Kenyatta promised to support his stab at the presidency in 2022, assuming Kenyatta wins reelection this August.
All this to say that Deputy President William Ruto probably has the most to lose in this August’s presidential election. Which probably means that he will also work the hardest of any of the leading national politicians this cycle. And work hard he will, being one of the most electrifying national politicians on the stump (perhaps second only to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho). This, of course, is good news for the incumbent Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta’s reelection prospects.
This week the leading political blocs in the upcoming General Election released their respective manifestos. Jubilee sought to convince Kenyans that it needs another term in office to finish the job it began in 2013. The National Super Alliance Coalition (NASA) presented an agenda for the full implementation of the 2010 Constitution, focusing on equity and inclusivity. Both documents present competing visions of where we are as a country, and where we ought to go.
On one hand, Jubilee which sees the country’s problems as rooted in poor infrastructure and a lousy business environment. Its vision of government intervention in the economy is thus driven by the need to facilitate private investment (mostly through crony capitalism, but also through streamlining of the regulatory environment)
Investments in universal secondary education and 100% transition from primary to secondary school
Completion of 57 large-scale dam projects to improve water access and irrigation
Setting aside 1% of R&D funds to document and disseminate lessons and best practices in policymaking from the 47 counties
Increase of electricity access to up to 100% of Kenyan households (from current ~53%)
Complete several ongoing and planned transport and energy infrastructure projects (six-lane highway from Nairobi to Mombasa, Isiolo-Lamu road, SGR to Malaba etc)
An ambitious nation and state building framework to guarantee equity and inclusivity
Strengthening of the devolved system of government (including in areas of education, health, and agriculture)
Investments in improving agricultural productivity (including for smallholder farmers)
Expansion of social protection for households with orphans and vulnerable children
Implementation of regionalized (cross-country) development plans
in Western Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley.
Kenyatta has had a mixed record in office: The Kenyan economy has grown at more than 5% over the last four years. The same period saw massive investments in infrastructure — including a doubling of the share of the population connected to the grid and a brand new $4b railway line connecting Nairobi to the coast. However, these impressive achievements have been offset by incredible levels of corruption in government – with senior government officials caught literally carrying cash in sacks. Kenyatta is also stumbling towards August 8th plagued with bad headlines of layoffs and the ever-rising cost of living. Barely two months to the election, the country is in the middle of a food crisis occasioned by a failure to plan and a botched response that appears to have been designed to channel funds to cronies of well-connected officials.
The Rift Valley: In 2013 much of the Rift Valley was a lock for Kenyatta (it is William Ruto’s political back yard). This time will be different. Parts of Ruto’s coalition in the Rift, particularly in Kericho and Bomet counties, may swing towards Odinga this year. All Odinga needs is about a third of the votes in these counties. I expect both campaigns to spend a lot of time trying to sway the small pockets of persuadable voters in these two counties.
The Kenyatta Succession in 2022: In 2013 Kenyatta was elected as the head of an alliance, not a party. In 2017 he is running atop a party, the Jubilee Party (JP). It is common knowledge that JP is William Ruto’s project. Because he plans to succeed Kenyatta in 2022, he desperately needs credible commitment from Kenyatta and his allies that they will support his bid when the time comes. JP is an installment towards this goal, and is designed to allow Ruto to whip party members in line during Kenyatta’s second term (on a side note, Ruto needs to read up on the history of political parties in Kenya). But by forcing everyone into one boat, JP may actually end up suppressing turnout in key regions of the country, the last thing that Kenyatta needs in a close election.
The ICC factor (or lack thereof): Because of their respective cases at the ICC, 2013 was a do or die for Kenyatta and Ruto (and their most fervent supporters). This time is different. Both politicians are no longer on trial at the ICC, and so cannot use their cases to rally voters. The lack of such a strong focal rallying point will be a test for Kenyatta’s turnout efforts.
Nearly all of the above factors sound like they favor Odinga. Yet Kenyatta is still the runaway favorite in this year’s election. And the reason for that is turnout.
As I show in the figure below, the turnout rates were uniformly high (above 80%) in nearly all of the 135/290 constituencies that Kenyatta won in 2013. Pro-Odinga constituencies had more spread, with the end result being that the candidate left a lot more votes on the table.
The same dynamics obtained at the county level (see above). In 2013 Odinga beat Kenyatta in 27 of the 47 counties. The counties that Odinga won had a total of 8,373,840 voters, compared to 5,977,056 in the 20 counties won by Kenyatta. The difference was turnout. The counties won by Odinga averaged a turnout rate of 83.3%. The comparable figure for counties won by Kenyatta was 89.7%. At the same time, where Kenyatta won, he won big — averaging 86% of the vote share. Odinga’s average vote share in the 27 counties was a mere 70%.
The same patterns may hold in 2017. The counties won by Odinga currently have 10,547,913 registered voters, compared to 7,556,609 in counties where Kenyatta prevailed. This means that Odinga still has a chance, but in order to win he will have to run up the numbers in his strongholds, while at the same time getting more of his voters to the polls. Given the 2017 registration numbers, and if the turnout and vote share patterns witnessed in 2013 were to hold this year, then Kenyatta would still win with 8,000,936 votes (51.5%) against Odinga’s 7,392,439 votes (47.6%).
The slim hypothetical margin should worry Kenyatta and his campaign team. For instance, with an 89% turnout rate and an average of 85% vote share in the 27 counties Odinga won, and holding Kenyatta’s performance constant, the NASA coalition could best Jubilee this August by garnering 8,921,050votes (55.4%) vs 7,191,975 (44.6%).
Kenyatta is the favorite to win this August on account of incumbency and Jubilee’s turnout advantage. But it is also the case that the election will be close, and that even a small slip up — such as a 3 point swing away from Jubilee between now and August 8th — could result in an Odinga victory.
ut on the other hand is NASA, whose manifesto suggests a firm belief that the ambitious 2010 constitution has yet to be fully implemented; and that the country still requires structural transformation in order to guarantee equitable sharing of national resources, social inclusivity, and equality before the law and the government.
On a spatial left-right scaling, NASA’s manifesto is decidedly to the left of Jubilee. This is reflected in both the specifics in both manifestos and the choice of words in the documents. NASA (see image below) envisions a much bigger role for the government in the effort to transform Kenyan lives than does Jubilee (see above).
Both manifestos and visions for Kenya’s future have merits and demerits. Jubilee has a case to make for working with the country we have without re-litigating the political settlement of 2010 and its (partial) implementation since 2013.
13. Restructuring society doesnot always yield the desired results, and often comes with instability. Their vision of doing their best to build infrastructure and letting hardworking Kenyans do the rest makes sense if one believes that you go to battle with the army you have. Their proposed vision of Kenya is grounded in the idea that a rising tide, even if marked by high levels of inequality, lifts all boats. Simply stated, it is a vision that prizes ends rather than means.
NASA’s vision of structural transformation is also valid in its own right. It prizes means and ends. Their plan for Kenya is informed by the idea that no society can continue to cohere if a section of citizens have deep feelings of structural inequality and discrimination. That we can have all the roads, water and sanitation, and bridges we need, but still flounder if a sizable proportion of Kenyans still feel like second class citizens in their own land. They also contend that inequalities today will breed inequalities tomorrow, and that a future in which only a small segment of the nation has access to the most lucrative economic opportunities and the best government services – simply on account of the language they happen to speak – is one destined to bring conflict. In a nutshell, NASA’s is a nation and state building manifesto that promises to not only increase the number of sufurias in Kenyan kitchens, but also create a new kind of nation-state devoid of the “culture of madharau.”
A priori, it is hard to say which vision fits the country best at this point in our history. Kenyans who have seen their lives improve over the last four years will most certainly want to eschew any radical changes — this is true, despite recent worrying headline economic numbers. Those who have seen their economic situation stagnate or worsen want change now. Looking at the numbers, there is ample evidence in support of either argument.
This is why, unlike some partisan observers, I see no reason to worry that the world would end if either Jubilee or NASA wins. The truth of the matter is that life will go on as before — with messy and contested politics at every turn, and high levels of economic inequality.
It is extremely hard to change or ignore social forces.
If Jubilee wins, it will be hard to continue ignoring issues of equity in perpetuity. Eventually, even diehard Jubilee supporters will realize that the crumbs that fall off the table are a raw deal. In the same vein, a NASA win will not necessarily produce a radical transformation of the Kenyan state. Once in power, the coalition’s leadership will most certainly be disciplined by our unwieldy political economy dominated by so-called cartels and our general structural conservatism.