Kenya’s 2013 elections: Opportunities for change or opportunities for violence?
I’ve been nocturnal of late, crashing on a paper I’m presenting on the post-conflict integration of armed groups into the SPLA at the African Studies Association conference on Saturday. My odd hours may, in part, explain my recollection of the phone call I received this morning from one of my contacts in Kenya. I must’ve mumbled something about Kenya’s upcoming elections – because you know Lesley on Africa thinks about these things in her sleep.
Kenya’s elections are scheduled for 4 March 2013, and they’ll be the first under the new constitution passed in August 2010. These elections are also notable because they are an opportunity to overcome the legacy of the 2007-2008 post-election violence, in spite of the fact that senior politicians (William Ruto and Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta) indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their roles in said violence are allowed to run for president. Ruto has even claimed that he can rule Kenya from the Hague. With the new constitution comes decentralization. For the first time, Kenya’s political elite will be able to compete for positions as governors of one of Kenya’s 47 countries, or for positions in the Senate, which will be the upper house in Parliament. New positions equal new opportunities for access to patronage, and perhaps new opportunities for political competition.
Many Kenya watchers have observed with concern the rise in domestic terrorist attacks linked to Kenya’s ongoing military operations in Somalia since last fall; the rise of communal violence in Coast Province – both in Tana River, but also in response to the extrajudicial killing of Sheikh Aboud Rogo; and the Mombasa Republican Council’s (MRC) threats to disrupt the elections if their grievances go unaddressed. There have been reports that Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is frustrated over low voter registration rates, and earlier this week, the acting U.S. Ambassador to Kenya expressed his concern about the IEBC’s readiness for the election.
This morning, when asked what they thought about these issues, my contact betrayed their frustration with the slow voter registration process, explaining that some eligible voters are both skeptical of the electoral system as an agent of change and wary of the potential for bloodletting in the months surrounding the elections. That said, from what I recall of the conversation, my colleague was optimistic about the potential for the elections to be transformative in Kenya. But is this individual seeing these developments through rose-tinted lenses because they may have a vested interest in the success of the electoral process? Or are outside observers not giving Kenya enough credit to be able to pull off a credible election free of communal violence? It may be a little bit of both. I can’t provide a definitive answer for those questions, but I thought they were important to raise as Kenya enters its final stretch towards the elections.
Some brief thoughts on U.S. Africa policy in a second Obama term
I almost hesitate to add another voice to the “U.S. Africa policy in a (insert presidential candidate here) Administration” debate, but here goes:
Since the release in June of this year of the U.S. Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa, there have been many critiques of the Obama Administration’s Africa policy. Indeed, at first glance, my assessment was that the policy that was released in June 2012 was a longer, better-formatted version of the talking points the President and his Africa team rolled out in 2009. A less skeptical Lesley on Africa now wonders if the document was released not to check a box (like, hey Africa, we’re still thinking about you), but rather to set the groundwork for a (slightly) increased focus on Africa in a possible second administration.
If we go back to 2009, the President had been lauded both for going to Africa early in his term and for not making it a multi-country Africa tour, but integrating a stop in Ghana as part of a larger international trip. The phrase the Administration used at the time was that Africa was not a world apart, but part of the world. Those aspects of that trip set him apart from his two immediate predecessors, although you could hardly argue that President Obama did nearly as much for the continent as Presidents Clinton and Bush 43. (By the way, for really excellent critiques of the Obama Administration’s Africa policy and recommendations on the direction U.S. Africa policy should take, read Laura Seay and Todd Moss. Stellar pieces, really.)
That said, it’s quite simple to understand why President Obama focused on Africa much less than his predecessors. When he took office, the global economy was in meltdown, the U.S. was trying to extract itself from Iraq, develop an interagency Af-Pak strategy, and deal with your run-of-the-mill national security threats – nuclear North Korea and Iran, AQAP in Yemen, and hey, what happens if the state of Pakistan collapses and non-state actors get their hands on loose nukes? And keep in mind this was all before the Arab Spring and its fallout across the Middle East and the Sahel. So from a purely global security perspective, I understand why Africa was relatively neglected.
Another factor, which I haven’t seen discussed as much was the domestic constraint on President Obama due to rumors from the “Birther” movement that he was born in Kenya and was actually a Muslim (gasp!). One could argue that an American President who needed to get re-elected would only be adding fuel to the fire of these rumors if he focused on Africa too much or visited the continent more than he did. That said, as a President who will not be eligible for re-election in 2016, he may not be constrained by those same inhibitors. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if the President has the bandwidth to increase the United States’ focus on Africa in the next four years and actually wishes to do so, I think he has more latitude than he did in his first administration.
Force Reduction Key to South Sudan’s Military Transformation
(Originally published in World Politics Review on November 5, 2012)
South Sudan has embarked on a program to transform the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the country’s preindependence guerrilla army, into a professional, conventional force by 2017. However, the success of this transformation strategy, referred to as Objective Force 2017, is contingent on a number of factors, including the absence of major conflict with Sudan, South Sudan’s ability to recover from the impact of this year’s austerity budget and the military’s ability to undertake a significant reduction in force.
The precise size of the SPLA is not known, but is estimated to be as high as 210,000 soldiers. As Objective Force 2017 establishes the need for the SPLA to have a parade of 120,000, as many as 90,000 soldiers will need to be demobilized in the years to come.
(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website.)
Playing chicken with the UN, Uganda threatens to withdraw from peacekeeping operations
You could argue that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, seeks to replace Muammar Qadhafi as the alpha male of Africa and Meles Zenawi as the pan-African mediator. But those aspirations may have to be put on hold.
In the UN Group of Experts (UN GoE) report that was leaked last month, Uganda and Rwanda were accused of supporting M23, an armed group that has been operating in the eastern Congo since the spring. Although Rwanda’s reputation as the donor darling and example of Singaporean-style economic development has been damaged, it unlike its neighbor, lacks the regional security clout and leverage that Uganda holds.
On Thursday night, Uganda’s Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced to the country’s parliament that the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) would be withdrawing from regional peacekeeping operations to protect the country’s western border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Accusing Western powers of failing to recognize Uganda’s contribution of peace in the region, Mbabazi asked, “Why should we continue involving Uganda where the only reward we get is malignment? Why should the children of Ugandans die and we get malignment as a reward? Why should we invite retaliation by the al-Shabaab by standing with the people of Somalia, only to get malignment by the UN system?” This announcement was the other shoe to drop, following last month’s statements by Uganda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Okello Oryem that the accusations leveled in the report were “rubbish and absurd,” and that the country was “reassessing all its peacekeeping engagements and operations in the region.” The Ugandan government has now sent an envoy to UN Headquarters to inform them of its ‘irreversible’ decision.
As of late September, Uganda only had 47 personnel assigned to UN peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Liberia, and East Timor. Therefore, the brunt of Uganda’s threats would fall upon the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to which the UPDF contributes approximately 6,500 troops (about a third of AMISOM’s authorized force strength of 17,731). The UPDF also provides the force commander – a position that has been held by a Ugandan since the mission began in 2007. To a lesser extent, these threats could also affect Uganda’s contribution of at least 2,000 troops to the African Union-initiated Regional Task Force to hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic and DRC.
Aside from its regional military footprint, Uganda has been chairing the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) effort to facilitate a dialogue with the M23 rebels and, if necessary, plan a multinational military intervention in the eastern Congo. The accusations leveled in the UN GoE report certainly hurt Uganda’s credibility as a mediator in this process, but also threaten Museveni’s legacy as the man who brought an element of stability to Somalia in what many believed to be a suicide mission, when other nations refused to commit troops. (By the way, details for an ICGLR intervention force are still being worked out, and I believe a UN mandate would help facilitate financial and logistical support. Without that kind of support, an intervention would be highly unlikely.)
In reality, however, I doubt that Uganda can pull all of its troops out of peacekeeping operations. Quite simply put, it’s going to cost too much. Museveni’s survival is, in part, contingent on maintaining a large military deployed outside the country’s borders in case he needs them for internal security. While 8,000+ UPDF are deployed in support of AU or UN peacekeeping operations, Museveni doesn’t have to worry about paying them. However, if he brings them home, he’ll need to find a way to keep them occupied – and paid – so they stay out of trouble. Unless there’s a war in Uganda (unlikely) to rally the troops around him, he needs to keep them deployed on someone else’s dime. In addition, one of the reasons Uganda is so important for regional security is due to its involvement in peacekeeping operations. If you take that away, you also lose the justification for allocating the same level of security assistance from international partners to train and equip the UPDF in the future. This is income that Museveni would now have to find a way to make up for.
So to be clear, I don’t expect Uganda’s threats to come to anything. It’s just putting the UN and the West on notice to back the (insert expletive here) off over allegations of providing support to M23.
In possibly unrelated news, the United States’ Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman visited Uganda to discuss advancing regional security and to extend U.S. appreciation for Uganda’s peacekeeping efforts. This was the same day the PM made the announcement to withdraw from peacekeeping operations. #Awkward.