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14 July 2017

Kenya: It's not (all) about the next elections

Kenya is approaching its next round of elections; and although close it is clear that the process is unlikely to throw up any real surprises.  The entitled highland elite - across the political spectrum - will continue to dominate the distribution of power and wealth.  And even if Odinga makes the breakthrough he and his group covet so much, it is not clear than even then a new form of politics will have gripped the country.  Insight from ISS is here.

But it is possible that the real issues facing Kenya are not those on offer to the electorate in 2017.  There is no doubt that the country can carry off a credible election; and that despite likely outbreaks of violence, things will be kept manageable.  The national consciousness is still scared by the election violence of 2007.  And the question of whether or not there might be violence is yesterday's news to most Kenyans.

The real - much more existential - question facing Kenya is about the next elections.  What will it take to break the strangle hold of the highland elites on the body politic?  How much longer can they go on taking it in turns to "eat" as Michela Wrong might put it?  The insecurity and generally hostility of the northern parts of Kenya mean that not very much attention is focussed on those parts.  But the (relative) wealth of the beef herds, and the demographic changes expected to seize Kenya leave one wondering if the highlanders have ben considered the prospect of a change driven by the communities - ethnic Somali and others - from the north.

Is it possible that the 2017 election is not the key one?  Is it possible that the next election might deliver a seismic change in Kenyan politics which will leave the country's traditional allies and partners wondering quite what happened to their influence and "eating" opportunities?  Perhaps.

6 July 2017

Central African Republic: When the solution to insecurity isn’t security at all

Central African Republic (CAR) has been in one form or another of political or security crisis for a very long time indeed.  More recently, the political crisis has been overshadowed by the security crisis, with control over the use of force significantly contested; and the international arbiter – a United Nations peace support operation – failing to act with legitimacy or credibility.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the solution to this problem is the reinforcement – either through transformation or funding – of the security sector.  But to do so in a political context which is so weak would simply create another, more influential and forceful actor in an already crowded space.    Alongside this conventional approach to security sector development sits a sense that the architecture of government needs to be strengthened, transformed and/or generally improved.  And it probably does.  But in a context where everything is important, how does one decide what to do and when to do it?

Improving the security situation in a country is not just about strengthening (or limiting) the security actors; nor just about making them both effective and accountable.  Sometimes it is about leadership and vision – essential elements in a country deciding what it wants from its future and how it is going to get it.  In the case of CAR, although all branches of government – and the experience of governance for ordinary people – are critically weak, the stand out problem is a lack of vision.  CAR’s politicians are not providing the leadership that people want and need, and are therefore unable to compete with the overwhelming logic of submitting to the nearest, strongest actor.  It is this lack of vision, rather than an overweening and broadly out of control security sector, which is the country’s most signal weakness and failure.

Addressing this weakness ought to be relatively straightforward.  Surely the good voters of CAR would be susceptible to a credible vison articulated by person, or group of people, able to speak to the issues of daily concern to the citizen.  Curiously, the obstacles to this are a form of unconscious isomorphic mimicry.  CAR’s political leaders are trying so hard to work out how to be attractive to international donors and investment that their political platforms address issues such as debt, legislative agendas and investment strategies rather than the issues likely to be of more direct interest to ordinary citizens – human security; health; education; and access to markets.  Oh, and community security.

In the teeth of an impressive track record of failure, there is an emerging view amongst CAR’s political elite that the problem might be the forms of international alliances on offer.  Where La Francophonie has apparently failed, might perhaps something more Anglo-Saxon be better?  But this apparently binary choice belies a deeper problem.  Not that of choosing between imported value sets and spheres of influence, but the need to develop a much more CAR owned and led vision for the future – drawing on the ideas and resources available in the word today, unlimited by colonial throwbacks and artificial ties.

So the first step in identifying the answers to CAR’s security and development problems should lie not in choosing someone else’s agenda, but in the decolonisation of the minds of the country’s political elite and the solutions which they both propose and seek.