Monday, 15 December 2014

Kenyan citizens' 2006 expectations of how many years it will take the country to succeed in fighting corruption

A 2006 survey by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission asked the somewhat strange question of how many years citizens thought it would take the country to rid itself of corruption. Here are the results broken down by province. As you can see, those on the coast and around the lake are most pessimistic, and those of north-eastern and Nairobi most optimistic.

When these results are compared with perceptions of actual corruption, they cluster geographically around the same areas, suggesting pessimism in fighting corruption tracks fairly neatly with actual experiences of corruption.

Source information: Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, ‘National Corruption Perception Survey 2006’ (Jun 2007). (accessed 07/08/14), p. 46. Responses were gathered from 5,039 citizens, though this sub-question only applied to 79.8 percent of the total sample. Kenya’s provinces are presented according to the Districts and Provinces Act 1992. These provinces were valid at the end of Moi's regime in 2002 and considered legal until the repealing of the old constitution in August 2010.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

"If you rattle a snake..." Reflection on the 2006 Kenya government's attack on its media

In 2006 the Kenyan police violently raided the offices and printing press of the Standard Group media organisation. What was the government afraid of seeing reported? The article takes a look back and asks what really happened:

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Must read extract from Susanne D Mueller's "Kenya and the International Criminal Court" (2014)

Mueller, S. D., ‘Kenya and the International Criminal Court (ICC): politics, the election and the law’. Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (2014), pp. 25-42.

pp. 33-4:

"Indicative of the attempts to undermine the ICC process were the plethora of attacks against witnesses. This included intimidating, bribing and killing them. The message being sent both by the state, which did nothing to protect witnesses and victims as required by the Rome Statute, and allegedly by the defendants and their supporters, was that if individuals cooperated with the ICC's investigations, they would pay heavy costs. Many did.

Shortly after the end of the PEV [Post-Election Violence], on 8 March 2008, Virginia Nyakio was murdered in a particularly bloody slaying. Nyakio was the wife of Mungiki's leader Maina Njenga, and might have known too much about Mungiki's involvement in the retaliatory violence in Nakuru and Naivasha, or have played a part in it herself. Two months later on 6 July 2008, Maina Diambo, Mungiki's Nairobi Coordinator, was murdered. On 5 November 2009, on the same day the ICC's Chief Prosecutor said he would ask the PTC [Pre Trial Chamber] to begin an investigation, Maina Njenga's deputy, Njuguna Gitau, was shot dead on Lithuli Avenue in Nairobi shortly after Njenga left jail. In March 2009, two members of the Oscar Foundation, a human rights organization, were killed a month after speaking to Philip Alston, the UN's Special Representative on Extra-Judicial Killings, about the murder of Mungiki members. In a May 2010 US Government Wikileaks cable, the United States Embassy in Kenya discussed "the steady rise in the number of individuals threatened or killed for apparent political reasons." It said that former Waki Commission witnesses "ha[d] already been threatened." The cable also spoke about the embassy's "multiple sources" who accused Kenyatta and Ruto of "directing a campaign of intimidation against potential witnesses." It also alleged that Njuguna Gitau "may have been the lynchpin to channel funding from Uhuru Kenyatta to the Mungiki." In the confirmation of charges hearings, the prosecutor noted that the above murders sought to eliminate individuals who had led the retaliatory attacks in Nakuru and Naivasha to keep them from implicating the organizers of the violence."

Friday, 31 October 2014

Kenyans must choose between being a hawk or dove nation

This month, President Uhuru Kenyatta chose to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in continuation of his case as a suspected organiser of violence during the breakdown of law and order that followed Kenya's 2007 election. One of the strange things about his ICC trial is that, while Kenyatta denies the charges, there is a certain PR supremacy he has gained in domestic politics for being someone prepared to do hard things when necessary. In times of chaos, it is believed, Kenyatta has the guts to stand up for his community. This is of course contradictory, because either he organised the killing of those of other ethnic groups in 2008 or he didn't - there are no two ways about it. Nevertheless his ability to appear a "dove" at the international level and a "hawk" at home has done wonders for his political career.

But the longer this goes on the more we will have to ask: What does Kenyatta see himself as? What does he want Kenya to be, a dove or a hawk nation?

Kenya's history is in being the dove of Africa: friendly to international trade, welcoming to tourists, enthusiastic in participating with international charities. But the Kenya of Kenyatta is none of these things.

Tanzania now tends to be preferred to Kenya as a regional trading partner because it has less opportunistic corruption, a better managed port and links to the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Tourists in Kenya are suffering the ongoing threat of terrorism and, when their embassies support their evacuation away from danger zones, the Kenyan media writes furiously that these embassies are against the country's development. Most of all, and something hardly known within Kenya, the reputation of charitable organisations operating in the country has suffered steep decline. The credit crunch of Europe and North America from 2007 onwards has forced governments and charities to provide better justification for their spending, and to watch carefully against any wastage. This makes givers think twice about whether Kenya is the best place to provide help, riddled as the country's NGO sector is with corruption.

This leaves us with the option of becoming a hawk nation, as Kenyatta seems to prefer. A hawk nation is one that tells other people the rules and makes those who deviate from these rules feel the consequences. It is about dictating terms to others, and using economic and military might to build the right environment for one's own interests.

Being a "hawk" is a term used in American politics for those who prefer war to diplomacy. It has connotations with the symbolic eagle of the Roman Empire, where Rome followed a policy of either assimilating or conquering those it came across - either way you are forced to play by the Empire's rules.

That is the approach Kenyatta is pursuing, though he is focusing for the time being on appearing a hawk mostly at home. This is evident enough in his decision last month to be the first Kenyan president to attend a public event wearing combat military fatigues. When local artist Collins Okello drew a picture of it that went viral on social media, the president was flattered enough to invite the artist to state house for his 53rd birthday.

And so Kenya is being led at home by a hawk, but on the international stage by a dove. This contradiction cannot hold for long, and embassies based in Nairobi have already woken up to that fact. The key thing now is to ask which of the two Kenyans really want.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The flexibility of Kenya's media

Below are two photos of the front pages of the same Kenyan newspaper, The Standard, as published yesterday. The top is the Nairobi version of the newspaper and the bottom is the Kisumu version. The Nairobi edition discusses President Uhuru Kenyatta's dismissal of demands for greater support for the country's county governments. The Kisumu edition, on the other hand, discusses the political ambitions of Raila Odinga, Kenya's opposition leader.

Two worlds. Two Kenyas.

I thank Seth Ouma for getting the images.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Connecting African jurisprudence to universal jurisprudence through a shared understanding of contract

Chapter I've published in the book African Legal Theory and Contemporary Problems by Oche Onazi


The chapter considers African understandings of the person as a social being and connects these to relational theories of contract law. By merging African experience with a universalistic approach to persons’ capacities to form contracts, a jurisprudential position is proposed that is inclusive of, and yet not particular to, the continent of Africa. The chapter begins with the examination of those aspects of social and political culture that are considered more pronounced in Africa, and then explores the reasons for general disillusionment in them, specifically the view that African culture is anathema to the consolidation of the nation-state. It is argued that the conceptions of neutral-bureaucratic models of statehood or contract do little justice even to the normative underpinnings necessary for Western political systems. A truly African jurisprudence does not lie, therefore, in claiming particularism on the part of African legal or political systems but instead in understanding how jurisprudence learns and develops through human experiences of reality, and how the continent of Africa therefore brings rich material to this general debate. The relational nature of contracts renders their jurisprudence inclusive of the social contexts surrounding promise-making, and this presents an extremely worthwhile example of how African jurisprudence can meet with universal jurisprudence. The so-called ‘particularities’ of African social interpretations of the person thus help inform general understandings of the nature and purpose of legal frameworks everywhere.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Trust Creation in the Informal Economy: The Case of Plastic Bag Sellers of Mwanza, Tanzania

An article I've published in the African Sociological Review:


Consideration is made of the early stages of trust in a tiny political economy. The article presents an embedded account of the social status and economic position of plastic bag sellers of Soko Kuu market in Mwanza, Tanzania, to demonstrate the dilemmas of trust faced and the solutions that are found. Evidence is taken from interviews with boys and young men whose profession consists of the wholesale purchase and individual retail of different types of plastic bag in the main market of Mwanza. The reputation and standing of bag sellers is very low, presenting a tough challenge for maintaining networks of trust within their own professional group or when bridging trustful relations to other economic groups. Plastic bag sellers tend to be young and bearers of a reputation for thievery. At the same time, the fact that they achieve relatively high levels of profit in such an informal setting presents a puzzle as to how the trust needed for all economic activity has been secured. Acknowledging the lack of institutional guarantees for entrenching or enforcing these relationships of trust, the phenomena of anchors of trust is identified as having supported the early hardening of social norms between parties. Amongst plastic bag sellers, the dire need for short change in order to make a sale ignites participation and cooperation with goods sellers, who in turn come to distinguish between good and bad plastic bag sellers. Trust anchors are the positive opposite to social dilemmas: opportunities for building relationships of trust, based on mutually understood vulnerability. For future social policy attempting to grapple with the informal economy, such zones of trust creation must be identified and worked with.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

How an attempt at 'libel tourism' rebounded on a Tanzanian tycoon

Article originally appeared here on Free Speech Debate.

In 2000, Sarah Hermitage and Stewart Middleton settled in Tanzania, buying a 550 acre farm on which they employed about 150 Tanzanian staff. The British couple purchased the land from Benjamin Mengi, who later claimed he had not been paid in full. Following legal disputes, the staff of the farm suffered assault, arrest and imprisonment from local authorities, and the property of the farm was damaged. Alongside this treatment, The Guardian and Nipashe – two Tanzanian newspapers belonging to the IPP Media group run by Benjamin’s brother, Reginald Mengi – conducted a defamatory campaign against the British couple.
In 2008 the couple left Tanzania, fearing for their safety, and Hermitage blogged about her experiences, discouraging others from investing in Tanzania. In particular, Hermitage wrote five blog posts and two emails which accused Reginald Mengi of influencing the output of newspapers under IPP media. In response, Reginald Mengi sued for libel in a British court, arguing that he “was not responsible, not accountable and not answerable” for the newspapers’ editorial content. In an important decision, the judge found in favour of Hermitage, concluding that “the campaign in the Guardian and Nipashe facilitated Benjamin’s corruption of local officials and intimidation of the Middletons and thus helped Benjamin to destroy their investments and grab their properties; and that Mr [Reginald] Mengi, since he either encouraged or knowingly permitted the campaign, was in that sense complicit in Benjamin’s corruption and intimidation.” Reginald Mengi was ordered to pay over 1 million pounds for the cost of the lawsuit.
In a similar vein to Rupert Murdoch’s defence when News International was accused of phone hacking, Reginald Mengi’s position rested on a claim of ignorance, arguing that Hermitage was exaggerating his influence when she accused him of masterminding a media campaign. If media houses are to be held to account, however, their proprietors and management must accept responsibility for their editorial content. To refuse this responsibility renders citizens at an unfair disadvantage by making media strategies almost impossible to source.
Unfortunately, the actions of the Mengi brothers have encouraged a view of Tanzania as a place of lawlessness and unpredictable investment, like Zimbabwe, when the reality is that Tanzania is one of the most stable and peaceful countries in Africa. This framing will not be helped by the decision of the British couple to take Tanzania to an international arbitration court over their lack of state-provided protection as foreign investors. How the libel case even came to the High Court says something about the over-breadth of UK libel laws at the time. Under the new British Defamation Act, which became law in 2013, such a ridiculous piece of ‘libel tourism’ would no longer be possible.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Pressures on the middle class in Kenya's 2013 election

Article I've published in the Journal of Modern African Studies:


Whilst the middle class are often heralded as forerunners for consolidating democracy, the experiences of Kikuyu in Kenya's 2013 election reveal how under-problematised the socio-economic group is for understanding the pressures faced in voting. The article presents evidence from diary entries of young middle class Kikuyu residing in Nairobi who recorded their feelings and impressions across a period of one month surrounding the country's elections. The diary writers describe the key moments at which they felt the need to switch from supporting third-placed presidential hopefuls to supporting one of the two favourites. Topics felt to pressure voters most keenly were ethnicity, social media, debate surrounding the International Criminal Court and the lack of confidence in others of the middle class. Unlike election analyses which assume static preferences and voting blocks, this methodology allows exploration of the ongoing negotiations and deliberations that influence voting intentions over time. The tensions felt by middle class Kikuyu during the election period made them wish they were members of either of the two other classes, who were in turn viewed as able to influence politics through money or popular power. These feelings of disempowerment ensured voting attitudes fell closely in line with ethnic affiliations, despite members of the middle class remaining wholly dissatisfied with ethnic labelling throughout. It is argued that the economic autonomy of middle class voters did not help disengage them from political tribalism in assessing how to vote.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Urban trust in Kenya and Tanzania

Article I've published with the Canadian Journal of African Studies:


Literature connecting ethnic diversity with public goods provision has found public goods to be poorly and unevenly supplied in ethnically heterogeneous communities. Scrutinising this hypothesis, the study contrasts an ethnically homogenous community in Kenya with an ethnically heterogeneous one in Tanzania, documenting levels of trust and cooperation in public goods provision. Interviews and focus groups with market-sellers of Mwanza (Tanzania) and Kisumu (Kenya) reveal how the two professionally similar populations differ starkly in the way they participate in public goods, and in an opposite direction to that which would be predicted by the current literature on ethnicity. On the topic of the organisation of security and cleaning within markets in Mwanza, ethnically heterogeneous market-sellers' sense of solidarity facilitates a greater degree of seller-on-seller trust. In Kisumu, in contrast, with participants reflective of the dominant Luo ethnicity, the lack of state provision of public services has seen a feeble and individualistic response. The findings demonstrate how ethnic distribution matters less for public goods provision than commitments amongst citizens themselves and between citizens and local authorities.


Les écrits qui relient diversité ethnique et fourniture de biens publics ont tendance à conclure que les biens publics sont fournis de manière médiocre et inégale dans les communautés hétérogènes sur le plan ethnique. Cette étude examine de près cette hypothèse et contraste une communauté homogène sur le plan ethnique au Kenya et une communauté hétérogène sur le plan ethnique en Tanzanie, en documentant le degré de confiance et de coopération dans la fourniture de biens publics. Des entretiens et des groupes de réflexion avec des marchands de Mwanza (Tanzanie) et de Kisumu (Kenya) révèlent comment ces deux populations, si elles sont professionnellement similaires, se différencient fortement sur le plan de la manière dont elles participent à la fourniture des biens publics, et ce à l'inverse de ce que prédiraient les écrits actuels traitant des questions ethniques. Sur le thème de l'organisation de la sécurité et du nettoyage dans les marchés de Mwanza, le sentiment de solidarité parmi les marchands hétérogènes sur le plan ethnique facilite un degré supérieur de confiance entre marchands. À Kisumu, en revanche, où les participants sont issus de l'ethnie Luo dominante, le manque de prestation par l'État de services publics a suscité une réaction faible et individualiste. Les constatations montrent que la distribution ethnique importe moins pour la fourniture de biens publics que les engagements entre les citoyens eux-mêmes et entre les citoyens et les autorités locales.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Oh no, evil goes viral!

After reading a Zimbabwean article felt to be racist, "jagracie" wrote into the website FreeSpeechDebate and asked the editors to write a reply. Here's my best attempt: