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.
With Al-Shabaab on the Run, Kenya Moves on Kismaayo
(Originally published on RUSI.org on September 5, 2012)
In October 2011, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) invaded southern Somalia with the stated purpose of dismantling Al-Shabaab and seizing the port city of Kismaayo, from which the Islamist militant organisation earns the majority of its revenues. After an initially swift invasion, Kenyan forces languished in southern Somalia for seven months before conquering the city of Afmadow, which lay only 90 miles from its common border with Somalia. Upon seizing Afmadow, both Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and KDF Chief of General Staff, General Julius Karangi projected that Kismaayo would fall by 20 August – the date of the expiration of the mandate of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Like previous targets articulated during the course of the Kenyan military’s involvement in Somalia, the attack on Kismaayo has since been delayed, but is imminent nonetheless.
When Kenya sent troops across the border last autumn, there were many reservations about the KDF’s prospects for success. The failure, to date, of successive military interventions by the United States, Ethiopia, the United Nations (UN) and, until recently, the African Union (AU) was but one of these concerns. Although the KDF is a professional military that has formerly participated in AU and UN peacekeeping operations, it had no expeditionary experience outside of these deployments, and has had limited experience fighting an unconventional adversary like Al-Shabaab. Compounding these challenges, Kenyan forces entered Somalia right at the outset of the rainy season and were stalled for several months, burdened by the logistical challenges imposed by the poor infrastructure of southern Somalia.
(Read the rest of the article on the RUSI website.)
Kenya’s Coast Province Could Be Flashpoint in Run-Up to Elections
(Originally published in World Politics Review on August 17, 2012)
An ongoing standoff in Kenya’s Coast province between the central government and the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) could make the region a flashpoint for next year’s elections.
Formed in 1999 to address the region’s marginalization, the MRC was designated by the government as an organized criminal group in 2010. Claiming this action unconstitutional, the MRC filed a case with the High Court in Mombasa, which last month ruled in the MRC’s favor. Nevertheless, the MRC has maintained its threats to boycott and otherwise disrupt Kenya’s March 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections if its demands are not met. …
(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website)
Key questions for African-initiated intervention force for eastern DRC
On August 7th and 8th, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) heads of state met to discuss the deployment of an international force to fight the M23 rebel movement that has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu region since April of this year. While they did not end up reaching a consensus on an intervention force, I still thought I’d attempt to think through the kind of questions that would need to be answered to establish such a force.
- What would the mission be? Like the current discussions the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is having about a regional intervention force for Mali, it will be essential for regional stakeholders to articulate what their objectives are and what their concept of operations might be in order to attain said objectives. Will they be focusing on fighting M23, or will they also be addressing instability caused by the Raia Mutomboki? Would this force attempt to address the underlying causes of the ongoing conflict in North Kivu, which could be a long-term commitment that would surpass a purely military intervention? Would this force focus on protecting civilians while allowing the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC in French) to deal with rebel groups? Starting to answer these types of mission-oriented questions would be a prerequisite for obtaining African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) mandates, which could facilitate international support – which gets to my next question.
- Who would pay for this deployment?Troop-contributing countries (I’ll get to who they might be in a minute) would need to determine whether they can afford to pay the salaries of the units they would deploy, the use of (or acquisition of) contingent-owned equipment during the deployment, the transport of military assets to the eastern Congo, and the maintenance of these assets in the field. (I’m sure I forgot something, but you get the picture.) If troop-contributing countries cannot foot the bill, then the AU, UN, European Union (EU), United States would need to be willing and capable of providing financial assistance – either on a bilateral basis or on a multilateral basis – which gets to my next question.
- What framework would be used for an intervention force? The UN already has just under 20,000 military and police personnel as part of the UN Organization and Stabilization Mission in the DRC(MONUSCO), but it is possible that the UN (and the AU for that matter) are overtasked, both globally and in the DRC itself. Therefore, we might be looking at a sub-regional organization taking the lead akin to what ECOWAS is attempting to do in Mali. Unlike the situation in Mali, however, the DRC is not a member of a sub-regional organization that has a functional security component with a precedent for regional military intervention. The DRC is a member of both the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC in French) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and these sub-regional organizations are supposed to have regional brigades that would fall under the African Standby Force (ASF). However, I don’t know whether the SADC Standby Force Brigade (SADCBRIG) or its CEEAC equivalent, the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC in French), would be willing and capable of leading an intervention force. Therefore, if there is no sub-regional organization that has an established military component is able to take the lead, then how would this intervention force be comprised?
- Who would the players be? Since we don’t know whether a sub-regional organization or a multilateral coalition of countries would intervene in the DRC, it’s difficult to ascertain which countries could be part of this notional force. But since the ICGLR is talking about such a force, we’ll start with their members: Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan (not sure if South Sudan is a member), Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. If I were compiling an intervention dream team from these members, I would want Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda on my team. Why these and not the others? Off the top of my head, these countries have reasonably professional militaries with proven warfighting capabilities, are active in AU and UN peacekeeping operations (with the exception of Angola), and have countries stable enough that deploying soldiers abroad would probably not inhibit their armed forces from addressing other national security threats. That said, many of these countries have baggage in the DRC as a result of their involvement in the 1998-2003 civil war (Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda), or more recently, alleged support for M23 (ahem…Rwanda). Also, would these countries even be interested in intervening? I would say Rwanda would because of the threat it perceives from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Angola’s participation would depend on the extent to which its security is affected by events on the opposite side of the Congo, as well as the extent to which the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA in Portuguese) feels more comfortable keeping the military at home in case there is instability surrounding this month’s elections or to contain additional protests by civil war veterans. And while I don’t think Kenya has baggage in the DRC, I doubt that instability in North Kivu is compelling enough to deploy the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) there when their focus is really on Somalia. Thus, the militaries that might be the most capable of fighting M23 in North Kivu may either fail to be perceived as a neutral force or their countries lack a compelling reason to get involved. As a result, an intervention force might have to look further afield to get troop contributors or make do with less capable forces.
So I guess the bottom line is that I don’t think an intervention force will come to fruition for the eastern Congo due to some of the issues I’ve raised above.
Ban on the Mombasa Republican Council Lifted
On Wednesday, the High Court in Mombasa ruled that the Kenyan government’s ban on the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) was unconstitutional. Established in 1999 to address the issue of marginalization of the Coast region by the central government, the MRC began to call for secession of the Coast region in 2008. This objective, which is based on what the group argues to be historical grounds, is reflected in their rallying cry “Pwani si Kenya” or “The Coast is not part of Kenya.”
The MRC’s grievances include a lack of employment opportunities in the region, issues with land tenure for the indigenous people of the coast (in contrast to title deeds issued to people who have settled there from other parts of Kenya), and the harassment and arbitrary arrests of its members by Kenyan security forces. Furthermore, given the role the region plays in contributing to the economic development of the country through revenues from tourism and the port of Mombasa, the MRC accuses the Kenyan government of being unresponsive to the region’s concerns.
The Court’s ruling lifted the ban imposed on the MRC’s activities by gazette notice number 12585 from October 2010, which declared the MRC, along with 32 other groups, to be organized criminal organizations under the Prevention of Organized Crimes Act of 2010. Later that year, the MRC filed a civil case with the High Court in Mombasa challenging the government’s ban. To date, the MRC has been the only one of these groups to challenge the state’s designation in court.
Citing a lack of evidence that the MRC had engaged in criminal activity, the Court accordingly declared that the government had failed to justify that the ban was justifiable and proportionate. However, the Court issued a caveat to its ruling, stating that it should not be seen as an endorsement of secession and dismemberment of the country, and warning that the MRC’s agenda must not incite war, violence, or hate speech. The Court observed that the group had the attributes of a political movement, and advised that it register as a political party and pursue its agenda through legal means. Kenya’s 2010 constitution offers a measure of devolution through which local grievances could be addressed, and elections in March of next year will be the first under this constitution. Nevertheless, the MRC believes that, even with increased local political representation as a result of the new constitution, elections cannot change the fortunes of the region.
Following the ruling, government officials with security portfolios met on Thursday to discuss the potential implications of the ruling for the security of Coast Province, amid fears that MRC grievances could make the region a flashpoint for the March 2013 elections. Kenya’s Attorney General has also announced the government’s intention to appeal the Court’s ruling, claiming that “the court decision failed to consider the legitimate constitutional concerns of the government in ensuring that any group or organization challenging the constitutional authority and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kenya cannot enjoy protection from Constitution.”
Regardless of how various parts of the government decide to move forward in the aftermath of this week’s events, the High Court ruling has a few key implications:
- The High Court ruling is a victory for the MRC, as it is now allowed to carry out non-violent political mobilization. However, it also potentially undermines the group’s claim that it cannot seek redress for political and economic wrongs within the framework of the Kenyan Constitution and thus needs its own state. This could create ideological conflicts that could fracture the cohesion of the movement around the idea of secession.
- Should the MRC continue to call for secession of the Coast, which I suspect it will, the Kenyan government will have to determine if this will continue to preclude opening a dialogue with the MRC – or more generally, with aggrieved coastal populations.
- What happens next will largely depend on whether either the MRC or the Kenyan government resort to violence. If the former resorts to violence, we will probably see the Kenyan security services responding in a heavy-handed manner, which could propagate further acts of violence on the part of the MRC. If the latter resorts to violence, this could also escalate the conflict, forcing legitimate socio-historical grievances to transform the MRC from a group that espouses non-violent protest to one that adopts more violent methods.
I hope to write on this topic in more detail in the next week or so – admittedly, I have left a bit out about the MRC, including allegations that it has an armed wing and has links to al-Shabaab. But for now, for further reading on the MRC I would recommend Emmanuel Kisiang`ani and Mashaka Lewela, “Kenya’s Mombasa Republican Council: liberators or nascent radical fanatics?” and Paul Goldsmith, “The Mombasa Republican Council Conflict Assessment: Threats and Opportunities for Engagement.” Also, when I was in Coast last month, I met a researcher doing fieldwork for a report on the MRC, so I’m hoping that in addition to these two sources, we will soon have another great resource that sheds light on the group and the government’s response to the situation as it continues to develop.
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