Kenya’s elec­tion: What is at stake for the re­gion?

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

Two po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights are com­pet­ing for power in a tightly fought pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Kenya. Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, who came to power in 2013, is seek­ing a se­cond and fi­nal term in of­fice. Raila Odinga, who lost to Keny­atta in the last elec­tion, is his main chal­lenger.

The re­sults of the elec­tion, the sixth since the end of the one-party state in 1991, are sig­nif­i­cant not just for Kenya, but also for the wider re­gion. Kenya is a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic pow­er­house, and a rel­a­tive bas­tion of peace in East Africa. Re­gional lead­ers will be anx­ious about the out­come of the elec­tion and - in the case of an Odinga ad­min­is­tra­tion - about the pri­or­i­ties of the new govern­ment.

Over the years, Keny­atta and Odinga have dif­fered widely on im­por­tant pol­icy is­sues that af­fect se­cu­rity and co­op­er­a­tion in the re­gion.

With­draw­ing troops from AMISOM

Odinga has taken is­sue with Kenya’s in­volve­ment in the African Union Mis­sion in So­ma­lia (AMISOM), a ma­jor re­gional peace­keep­ing oper­a­tion in which Kenya plays a cen­tral role. He has of­ten called for the with­drawal of Kenya’s De­fense Forces (KDF), de­spite be­ing the prime min­is­ter of the govern­ment that sent Kenyan sol­diers to So­ma­lia for the first time. Num­ber­ing more than 3,600 and mainly re­spon­si­ble for Sec­tor 2 - a large swath that en­com­passes the west­ern and south­west­ern bor­der of So­ma­lia with Kenya - the KDF de­ploy­ment plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in the re­gional ef­fort to dis­man­tle and de­feat al-Shabab.

Even though ter­ri­to­ri­ally weak­ened, al-Shabab re­mains a po­tent threat for the re­gion; con­trol­ling ter­ri­to­ries in south­ern and cen­tral parts of So­ma­lia that act as a haven for the group to plot at­tacks. For ex­am­ple, over the past two years, alShabab has over­run three of AMISOM’s For­ward Op­er­at­ing Bases (FOB): KDF FOB in Ceel Adde, Uganda’s FOB in Janaale, and Bu­rundi’s FOB in Leego - all in South-Cen­tral So­ma­lia.

AMISOM has plans to start with­draw­ing troops from So­ma­lia in Oc­to­ber 2018, with a sched­uled full with­drawal com­pleted by 2020, yet the AU mis­sion is un­likely to leave if as­sess­ments still show that the nascent So­mali Na­tional Army is in­ca­pable of tak­ing con­trol.

More­over, the mis­sion still re­quires an ex­tra 28,000 troops to pacify al-Shabab in the south-cen­tral re­gions of Juba­land and Hi­iraan. KDF with­drawal un­der a new Odinga govern­ment will se­verely af­fect the mis­sion, cre­at­ing a vac­uum that will al­low al-Shabab to re-group - en­dan­ger­ing not only the progress made in­side So­ma­lia but also the se­cu­rity of Kenya and the sta­bil­ity of the wider re­gion. In con­trast, Keny­atta has urged re­gional lead­ers to de­ploy more troops and has called on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to help with the ad­di­tional de­ploy­ments.

If Odinga wins the elec­tion, a re­gional diplo­matic cri­sis may also be on the cards, with So­ma­liland, a semi-au­tonomous re­gion that de­clared in­de­pen­dence from So­ma­lia, at cen­tre stage. Dur­ing a ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion at Chatham House last au­tumn, Odinga voiced sup­port for the re­gion’s in­de­pen­dence, stat­ing that he was “a strong sup­porter of the full recog­ni­tion of So­ma­liland”. As ex­pected, his state­ment gar­nered a force­ful re­buke from the So­mali govern­ment.

If an Odinga-led govern­ment recog­nises So­ma­liland, Kenya would be­come the first coun­try to do so. Such an ac­tion will un­doubt­edly wreak diplo­matic havoc, not only caus­ing So­ma­lia to sever ties with Kenya, but also threat­en­ing the African Union, which con­sid­ers the recog­ni­tion of So­ma­liland as the be­gin­ning of a domino ef­fect that could cause other dis­tinct groups within the con­ti­nent to also de­clare in­de­pen­dence.

EAC in­te­gra­tion ef­forts

An Odinga ad­min­is­tra­tion could, how­ever, bring some much-needed en­thu­si­asm to the East African Com­mu­nity’s (EAC) in­te­gra­tion ef­forts. Tan­za­nia’s pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies, which im­pose both tar­iff and non-tar­iff bar­ri­ers, threaten the free flow of trade within the EAC. Tan­za­nian Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli has man­aged to up­stage other re­gional lead­ers, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Keny­atta, and in­crease the pro­file of his na­tion on the global stage. This led to in­ter­state com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the mem­ber states of the EAC and has worked against the goal of ad­vanc­ing the com­mon re­gional in­ter­ests. As a re­sult, Kenya’s re­la­tions with Tan­za­nia have been luke­warm un­der the Keny­atta ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In an ef­fort to de-es­ca­late the on­go­ing trade war be­tween the two na­tions, Kenya and Tan­za­nia reached an agree­ment last week to lift a ban with im­me­di­ate ef­fect on wheat flour, cig­a­rettes, milk and milk prod­ucts. How­ever, de­spite this agree­ment, Tan­za­nia made a u-turn a few days later and blocked 20 Kenyan com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Keny­atta’s Brook­side Dairies, from ac­cess­ing the Tan­za­nian mar­ket.

With the trade row now es­ca­lat­ing, th­ese re­cent de­vel­op­ments add to an al­ready tense re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two lead­ers, and there is not much chance of an im­me­di­ate im­prove­ment if Keny­atta wins an­other term in Au­gust.

How­ever, Odinga and Magu­fuli en­joy a close per­sonal re­la­tion­ship, with Odinga re­cently be­ing ac­corded some­thing ap­proach­ing a state visit by Magu­fuli. Per­haps with Odinga in of­fice, Kenya’s re­la­tions with Tan­za­nia will im­prove and the stalled EAC in­te­gra­tion ef­forts will pick up steam.

How­ever, none of this mat­ters po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence erupts in Kenya. if

The vi­o­lence posi­bil­ity of post-elec­tion

Kenya has a long his­tory of deal­ing with po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence: it oc­curred dur­ing the elec­tions of 1992, 1997 and, most no­tably, in 2007, when Odinga chal­lenged the then in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Mwai Kibaki.

Most polls and early re­sults pointed to a strong lead for Odinga over Kibaki; the days that fol­lowed, how­ever, saw Odinga’s lead quickly nar­row. Three days af­ter the elec­tion, in a closed-door meet­ing, the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of Kenya an­nounced Kibaki as the win­ner by less than a quar­ter of a mil­lion votes. The an­nounce­ment trig­gered wide­spread protests across the coun­try as Odinga’s sup­port­ers ac­cused Kibaki of steal­ing the pres­i­dency. The protests quickly turned into the worst vi­o­lence the coun­try had wit­nessed since in­de­pen­dence - with more than 1,300 killed and 600,000 oth­ers dis­placed from their homes.

Un­for­tu­nately, this year’s vote has many of the same tell-tale signs that marked the 2007 post-elec­tion vi­o­lence. Th­ese in­clude low pub­lic con­fi­dence in the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion, the ap­pear­ance of a par­ti­san ju­di­ciary, and a tight­en­ing race, with most opinion polls putting the two can­di­dates within the mar­gin of er­ror.

Sup­port­ers of both sides firmly be­lieve their can­di­date will win - with many op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers adamant that the only way they can lose is if votes are tam­pered with. Fur­ther­more, dur­ing a re­cent pres­i­den­tial de­bate, Odinga said there would be no vi­o­lence if the elec­tions are con­ducted in a free and fair man­ner, adding un­cer­tainty to an al­ready tense sit­u­a­tion. Af­ter the Au­gust 8 vote, if Odinga loses and does not ei­ther con­cede de­feat or seek ju­di­cial re­course, a re­peat of 2007’s po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence is a real pos­si­bil­ity.

Unrest in Kenya will desta­bilise a re­gion al­ready fac­ing myr­iad chal­lenges. South Su­dan, the youngest coun­try in the block, is fac­ing a civil war that broke out in 2013 and a cat­a­strophic hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. In Bu­rundi, on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal unrest has killed hun­dreds of peo­ple and dis­placed hun­dreds of thou­sands more as the govern­ment cracks down on dis­sent and op­po­si­tion. In So­ma­lia, al-Shabab con­tin­ues to wage a war against the newly in­au­gu­rated So­mali govern­ment and poses a se­cu­rity threat to Kenya and other neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. If Kenya also suc­cumbs to po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, re­gional peace will be­come a lot harder to achieve.

Eco­nom­i­cally, the in­land EAC mem­bers, in­clud­ing Uganda, Rwanda, and South Su­dan, will suf­fer if a re­peat of elec­toral vi­o­lence oc­curs, as they rely on Kenya’s Mom­basa port and the North­ern Cor­ri­dor for im­ported goods.

Re­gard­less of the elec­toral out­come, Kenya’s poli­cies in the re­gion or its po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity will un­dergo a tec­tonic shift and its tra­jec­tory will also shape the re­gion.

Yasin Ahmed Is­mail leads GLAFPOL, a re­search, anal­y­sis and con­sul­tancy group op­er­at­ing in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Pre­vi­ously, he was an an­a­lyst on East Africa at the Cen­ter for Ad­vanced De­fense Stud­ies (C4ADS) in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.