Yesterday, I returned to the ‘Kenya at 50’ conference for the last panel of the first day, ‘Politics: The Grand Narrative.’ I’m not sure if it was because it was the end of the day, or the overly broad focus, but I did not find this panel to be nearly as engaging as the first I attended.
The exception was the first speaker, Charles Hornsby, an independent UK scholar of Kenya. Like all of the speakers, he spoke in grand sweeping terms, although he managed to convey a bit more succinct information than the others. I learned that the average parliamentarian was likely to serve only one term in office and he provided some interesting info on the dynastic families of Kenyan politics (Kenyatta’s, Moi’s, and Odinga’s). For example, I had not known that a son of former President Moi was elected to Kenya’s Senate in the most recent elections. Hornsby noted that these families “are brands…almost like a football team.”
Hornsby had also done some serious research on the validity of the Presidential elections in 2013. He carefully couched his findings, but the message I took away is that Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance probably may well have engaged in a sophisticated scheme to slightly enhance its electoral success.
He was followed by Daniel Branch, of the University of Warwick who spoke of the rapid demographic shifts that Kenya has experienced since independence.
I completely lost focus when the third speaker, John Harrington of the British Institute in Eastern Africa spoke on ‘Satire and the Politics of Corruption in Kenya.’
Susanne Mueller of Boston University spoke on opposition politics, noting that a ‘climate of fear’ predominates. Unlike the other speakers, she directly addressed the International Criminal Court indictments of President Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto. Perhaps only half jokingly, she spoke of ‘Kenya’s new opposition group, which is the ICC.’
A Kenyan graduate student, Ken Opalo of Stanford University (the only Kenyan I heard during the day’s activities) delivered an extremely sound comparative analysis of the Kenyan and Zambian legislatures and argued for the importance of institutions in authoritarian states; with particular emphasis on explaining the traditional strength of Kenya’s legislature. I found his observation that Kenya’s founding President, Jomo Kenyatta, initially enjoyed only weak control of his party, KANU, in comparison to the dominance of UNIP in Zamia by Kenneth Kaunda to be particularly insightful.
Was anyone around for lunch to hear Johnnie Carson speak about the consequences of Kenya’s choices in their election this year?