Ethiopia: Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Illness and Potential Political Changes in the Greater Horn

When Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi missed an African Union summit this past weekend, rumors spread that he was ill. News agencies reported yesterday that Meles was in “critical condition” in Brussels. By late in the day the Ethiopian government had announced that Meles was “in good condition.” Under Article 75 of the 1994 Ethiopian constitution (.pdf), Deputy Prime Minister (and Minister of Foreign Affairs) Haile-Mariam Desalegne will act on the Prime Minister’s behalf in his absence.

Meles, a former rebel leader who took power in 1991, has previously stated his desire to step down when his current term ends in 2015. If Meles leaves office, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front will almost certainly retain power, but Meles’ absence would represent a significant political change for Ethiopia.

Indeed, Meles’ illness potentially foreshadows a coming period of political change (specifically the installation of new heads of state) for several countries in the greater Horn of Africa. Change could occur in several ways.

First, there is retirement. Meles is not the only leader in the region who has said he will step down in 2015 – Sudanese President Omar al Bashir made the same promise during a small wave of protests in early 2011, and Djibouti’s President Ismael Guellah has stated that he will step down in 2016. Some observers have doubted the sincerity of these pledges, but Meles in particular sometimes seems fatigued and ready to give up the job, an appearance that this illness underscores.

Elections will bring changes in leadership elsewhere in the region. Many observers expect Somalia’s ongoing political transition, which includes presidential elections next month, to produce a government fairly similar in personnel to the current Transitional Federal Government. But in Kenya, presidential elections set to take place in 2013 must produce a new head of state. President Mwai Kibaki, who has reached the limit of two five-year terms, cannot run again, leaving the field open to a number of major politicians, including current Prime Minister Raila Odinga and current Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Other transitions, as Meles’ case reminds us, could come about because of sudden illness or death, a grim possibility but one that must be mentioned. These leaders are not old: indeed, all of them (not counting Kibaki) are short of seventy – Meles was born in 1955, Bashir in 1944, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir in 1951, Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in 1964, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki in 1946, Djibouti’s President Ismail Guellah in 1947, and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni around 1944. Yet four of them have been in power for over nineteen years (Museveni came to power in 1986, Bashir in 1989, Meles in 1991, and Isaias in 1993). The high stress of being head of state seems to accelerate aging in some leaders. There remain only six African leaders who have been in office longer than Museveni.

Finally, no leader in the region has faced a monumental threat from mass protests, but significant anti-regime protests have occurred in the last two years in Sudan, Uganda, and Djibouti. If nothing else, such protests add to the pressures these heads of state face in other areas.

It is possible, of course, that in three or four years only Kenya, out of all the countries in the greater Horn, will have new leadership. But a combination of factors could produce transitions in Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and elsewhere, potentially shaking up, within a relatively short period of time, what has long been a fairly stable roster of leaders.

Kenya: Secessionist Protests in Mombasa

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki addressed the nation yesterday, promising “a smooth transition” after the March 2013 presidential elections, in which Kibaki will not compete. Kibaki also spoke out yesterday against the secessionist group the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), saying, “The Coast region has been part of, is part of and will remain part of the Republic of Kenya.” Earlier in the day, the MRC had staged a protest in Mombasa, during which a protester died in a clash with police. The MRC (founded 1996) is currently outlawed, but members have gone to court to challenge that ruling.

The MRC has undertaken a number of protest actions recently. Top Kenyan leaders say they will not engage in dialogue with the group.

The illegal group has also threatened to evict people from other communities who live and work in the Coast unless their secession demands are met.

They have also threatened to boycott the next General Election and have increasingly intimidated coastal residents.

Recently, the group disrupted mock elections in Malindi conducted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, injured its officials and security agents.

On Monday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga told the illegal group that it must denounce its separatist claims before the government can engage it in dialogue.

Kenyan MPs are reportedly “divided” on the issue of the MRC, with some favoring Kibaki’s stance and others urging dialogue with the group.

A Facebook page on the MRC details their position:

The MRC says the coastal strip is not in need of any protection by the Kenya Government that was inherited from Colonial Britain. It says that it has in place a structured system, complete with a constitution, so it is ready to govern. The MRC officials also add that it is funded by top businessmen and politicians in the region (Mombasa).

The MRC is adamantly pushing for the partitioning of Kenya’s territory, raising issues of marginalization, discrimination and neglect of the coast people. The MRC says it does not support the use of violence. The officials add that the members should not be considered rebels as they are only fighting for what they perceive to be their country – Mombasa. The MRC also say that theirs is an inter religious affair, because it affected all coast people, an assertion that was proven recently when the Pwani Church released a statement in support of what the MRC was doing.

The MRC states that despite the coast being a major contributor to the national economy (through the Port of Mombasa and Tourism in general), the coast people are yet to benefit from its resources and so they are under developed as a result.

For more information on the MRC and the historical background of coastal secessionism in Kenya, see Think Africa Press.

Kenya: Ruto, Sang, and Kosgey Back to The Hague for ICC Confirmation of Charges Hearing

September will mark a new phase in the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s legal proceedings against six Kenyans accused of fomenting post-election violence in 2007-2008. From September 1-12, three of the six (William Ruto, Joshua Arap Sang, and Henry Kosgey) will attend “confirmation of charges” hearings in The Hague, where the ICC will determine whether enough evidence exists to go forward with a trial. Later in the month, the three remaining suspects (Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura, and Hussein Ali) will undergo the same process.

A key question going forward will be whether, and how, the ICC case affects Kenya’s internal politics.

Profiles of all six suspects are available here, but two suspects, Ruto and Kenyatta, are prominent candidates in the 2012 presidential race, and are also participants in key struggles taking place in the present. Ruto is the head of a dissident faction within the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), the party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Odinga has moved to kick Ruto out of both the party and the new cabinet. The ICC indictment may have weakened Ruto’s position politically, but Ruto remains defiant, saying that he will run for president even if the trial is still ongoing. Kenyatta, meanwhile, survived the cabinet reshuffle, keeping his position as Finance Minister and remaining a major player in Kenya’s inflation crisis. President Mwai Kibaki may have been willing to sacrifice Ruto for a better relationship with Odinga and a shot at a legacy less tarnished by the 2007-2008 violence, but Kenyatta, ICC indictment notwithstanding, seems “too big to fail.” And though, as Reuters points out, Odinga has a lead in the polls, “his rivals’ combined support could unsettle him.” One source argues that a Kenyatta-Ruto “coalition of the damned” could beat Odinga, and put someone else – presumably Kenyatta – into the president’s seat next year.

As Ruto, Sang, and Kosgey head to The Hague this week, it will be important how their constituencies react. Ruto’s prayer rallies have generated press coverage, as have his remarks calling on other ODM leaders not to support the ICC case. These remarks underscore the potential of the ICC case to heighten tensions within and between parties, and between the country’s different ethnic groups.

NTV Kenya has a video report on the ICC case:

Kenya’s Conflict with the ICC Continues

In January, I wrote that the standoff between Kenya and the International Criminal Court over the so-called “Ocampo six” was one of 2011’s top stories to watch in Africa. On December 15 of last year, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo announced his intention to try six prominent Kenyans on suspicion of fomenting electoral violence in 2007-2008. Since then, the case has caused controversy within Kenya and internationally, raising important issues about the future of Kenyan politics, questions about international justice and African sovereignty, and new tensions in Kenya’s relationship with the US.

The matter of the “Ocampo six” reverberates strongly in Kenyan politics because of the high profile of the targets. They include Higher Education Minister William Ruto (suspended), Industrialisation Minister Henry Kosgey, Head of the Civil Service Ambassador Francis Muthaura, former Police Commissioner Major General (Rtd) Mohammed Hussein Ali, and KASS FM radio presenter Joshua arap Sang, all of whom are well known in Kenya. Perhaps most importantly, the sixth member of the list is Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. The younger Kenyatta, who is currently both Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, is a strong candidate to replace current President Mwai Kibaki. The accusations against Kenyatta and the others could affect the 2012 elections in Kenya.

Domestically, the situation has already divided Kenyans. One poll of around 2,000 mobile phone users indicates majority support for the trials among the population, but many elites have reacted to the ICC’s actions with hostility. A week after Ocampo’s announcement, the Kenyan parliament “voted overwhelmingly for the country to pull out of the treaty which created the [ICC].” President Kibaki also sided against the ICC, arguing that Kenya needed local tribunals to deal with the problems stemming from 2008’s violence. These decisions in turn angered some civil society groups.

Internationally, the issue is also making waves. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka meets this week with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and with US government officials to urge a deferral of the case by a year. The AU supports Kenya’s request, but international organizations like Human Rights Watch have called on both the AU and the Kenyan government to allow the ICC’s work to continue.

The conflict has deepened feelings among some Kenyans, especially elites, that the ICC represents a new and insidious form of Western domination of Africans. The BBC reports that when the Kenyan parliament voted to leave the ICC,

MPs decried the ICC as a colonial, anti-African court and said that Kenya was surrendering its sovereignty.

“It is only Africans from former colonies who are being tried at the ICC,” Kenya’s Daily Nation paper quotes Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi as saying.

“No American or British will be tried at the ICC and we should not willingly allow ourselves to return to colonialism,” he said.

This feeling has intersected with ongoing tensions in the US-Kenya relationship. These tensions concern punitive measures the US has already taken against Kenyan elites in response to the 2008 violence. Revelations about Kenya in the Wikileaks embassy cable dump exacerbated these tensions, and now Kenya’s Daily Nation is writing about “How Kenya Rejected America’s ICC Plot.” The newspaper sees the US as an aggressive and hypocritical actor aiming to undermine Kenyan sovereignty:

The American government tried for years, without success, to pressure Kenya into signing an agreement to protect Americans who might be wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Documents released by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks show US frustration that Kenya resisted all types of inducements, arm-twisting and threats to sign the so-called Article 98 agreement.

That is a bilateral agreement by which Kenya would undertake not to hand over to The Hague any American citizen sought for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, mass murder or other crimes of that nature.

Ironically, the US is now at the forefront in pressing the government to accede to ICC trials for key officials facing possible indictment for the post-election violence.

The US is itself not a party to the ICC and has over the past six years waged a worldwide campaign to protect its military forces and civilians from jurisdiction of the international court.

The pressure applied by the US included visa bans against ministers and other officials, cutbacks in military cooperation and development aid; and travel warnings that adversely affected the flow of American tourists to Kenya by depicting the country as unsafe because of terrorism threats.

The ICC issue includes more parties than just the US and Kenya, but it could affect that relationship more than any other.

A final thought is that if Uhuru Kenyatta becomes the next president of Kenya (and my speculation that he might win comes from a knowledgeable Kenyan acquaintance, not from hard data, so take this with a grain of salt), the ICC’s credibility may slip further in Africa. If in 2012 there are two African heads of state (Kenyatta and Sudanese President Omar al Bashir) who refuse the ICC’s summons, the Court may end up looking ineffectual. The stakes, then, in Kenya’s battle with the ICC are high on both sides.

Kenya: President Kibaki Criticizes US Ambassador Ranneberger over Wikileaks Revelations [UPDATED]

Two weeks ago, I wrote that US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s calls for prominent Kenyan officials to step down would put US influence in Kenya to the test. New Wikileaks revelations about US attitudes toward Kenya are now prompting Kenyan elites, including President Mwai Kibaki, to criticize Ranneberger. Some Kenyan officials are even calling for the ambassador’s recall to Washington. It does not seem now that Ranneberger’s rhetoric will produce the changes he sought, and in fact he may lose his post, which could in damage US prestige in Kenya.

VOA reports:

Since the release of classified cables by WikiLeaks on December 8 and 9, Michael Ranneberger has been called a rogue ambassador and many politicians are demanding his recall to Washington.


Speaking [Sunday] at a celebration in Nairobi, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki criticized Ranneberger for his alleged attempts to influence national affairs.


Ranneberger is widely known for his youth outreach efforts in Kenya. Recently, politicians have accused him of using U.S. aid programs to incite the nation’s youth and foment change in the country’s leadership. Last week, Prime Minister Raila Odinga asked Ranneberger to end his outreach campaigns.

The Prime Minister called Sunday for Kenya’s international partners to respect its people as well as its sovereignty.

In the WikiLeaks exposed communiqués to Washington, Rannenberger cited Kenya’s “rampant, high-level corruption” – as well as its “culture of impunity” – as the two main obstacles in the path of reform. He included the president and prime minister as part of an “old guard” with vested interests in the culture of impunity.


Nairobi University School of Diplomacy and International Relations Professor Gerrishon Ikiara said the damage done to the Ambassador’s credibility likely will prompt his recall to Washington.

Whether Ranneberger stays or goes, I think Washington should take Kenyan leaders’ reactions to his leaked statements seriously. I do not mean that Washington should stop urging reform and denouncing corruption in Kenya. I do mean that the attitudes Washington’s representatives display toward Kenya, both in public and in private, have repercussions that can undermine stated US policies in Kenya. At a critical moment for Kenyan justice – namely, today’s announcement by International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of six Kenyan politicians he will prosecute for “crimes against humanity during the post-election violence of 2008,” and fears that more ethnic violence is on the horizon – a more respectful attitude toward Kenya on the part of Washington could have given Washington more influence over the situation. Instead, the US must decide whether to recall a diplomat who has been publicly denounced by the leaders he is supposed to engage.

NTV Kenya has footage of President Kibaki’s speech:


Moreno-Ocampo releases the names of top Kenyan officials he will prosecute. The BBC has more.

President Obama responds:

US President Barack Obama Wednesday called on all Kenyans to cooperate with an International Criminal Court investigation into the violence triggered after contested elections there three years ago that left more than 1,500 people dead.

“I urge all of Kenya’s leaders, and the people whom they serve, to cooperate fully with the ICC investigation and remain focused on implementation of the reform agenda and the future of your nation,” he said.

A Test for US Influence in Kenya [UPDATED]

Since 2009, Obama administration officials have used harsh language and diplomatic pressure in an attempt to promote political reform in Kenya. The pattern continued this week with a new demand from Ambassador Michael Ranneberger that the Kenyan government “step up the fight against corruption, and replace Chief Justice Evan Gicheru and Attorney General Amos Wako.” Ranneberger’s call allows for a partial test of US influence in Kenya: how will the government respond? If the officials step down early, the US will have successfully flexed diplomatic muscle in one of Africa’s most important countries. If they do not, US prestige could take a hit on the continent.

The Daily Nation has more of Ranneberger‘s remarks:

Mr Ranneberger said two major issues threaten the future stability of development: “The culture of impunity and negative ethnicity.”

“We have seen in recent weeks a great deal of focus on corruption. Several officials have ‘stepped aside’. But we have seen before that ministers have temporarily stepped aside for alleged wrongdoing only to return in new incarnations. To demonstrate seriousness, actual prosecutions are essential and then imprisonment of those found guilty,” he said.

He called for corrupt ministers to be jailed.

According to the new Constitution, the CJ must be replaced by February and the AG by August of 2011. Mr Ranneberger said speedy action must be taken to find suitable replacements who can marshall a purge against corruption in government.

“We therefore urge the appointment of a new Attorney General and a new Chief Justice of the highest repute, and we urge that the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission be strengthened with additional resources,” he said.

He said President Obama is watching Kenya’s reform agenda “with a sense of urgency”, adding that the US is Kenya’s largest development partner contributing over US$1 billion annually.

Although Gicheru is out within four months, and Wako within a year, no matter what, Ranneberger seems to want them to leave early and perhaps to face trial as well. That posture represents an escalation over his earlier public pronouncements: “While Ambassador Ranneberger has previously called for strict vetting for future Justice and Attorney General appointments, this is the first time he has called for the two officials to step down.”

Ranneberger’s speech comes at a potentially awkward moment in US-Kenyan relations, as the latest Wikileaks revelations include documents from the US Embassy in Nairobi that are unflattering to Kenya:

Leaked reports from the US embassy in Nairobi depict Kenya as “a swamp of flourishing corruption,” the German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday.

“Almost every single sentence in the embassy reports speaks with disdain of the government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga,” adds Der Spiegel.

These documents will not necessarily damage the relationship between Washington and Nairobi, and some high Kenyan officials are sympathetic to Washington’s perspective. The head of Kenya’s Anti-Corruption Authority, PLO Lumumba, indicated some agreement with Ranneberger’s perspective in an interview with VOA. But I wonder whether other Kenyan officials, including the president and prime minister, might find offensive the idea that Washington views Kenya with contempt, and I wonder whether they might feel that the US ambassador overstepped his role by calling for the ouster of specific government officials.

In any case, Washington’s views on Kenya are becoming clear both through officials’ own remarks and through leaks. Now Kenyan authorities will have to decide how to respond.

[UPDATE]: Now we’re seeing some fallout from Wikileaks in Kenya.


Kenya says it is surprised and shocked by reported comments about the country contained in leaked U.S. diplomatic memos.

The German magazine Der Spiegel says the cables depict Kenya as a “swamp of corruption.”

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua says that if the report is true, the comments are malicious and a total misrepresentation of Kenya and its leaders.

Mutua says the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, called Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday to apologize for what is expected to come out.  Mutua adds, however, that the U.S. has not detailed what the cables say or for what it is apologizing.

If you tell someone what to do, and then they start to think that you hold them in contempt, are they more or less likely to do what you wanted?

Vice President Biden’s Africa Trip

One big story I couldn’t cover while traveling last week was Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa. Biden traveled partly as Obama’s surrogate at the World Cup and other events, and partly to deliver messages urging reform and stability in different African countries, including not only Kenya but also its neighbors, particularly Sudan.

Biden traveled first to Egypt and met with President Hosni Mubarak. They discussed Gaza, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Sudan, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and next year’s elections in Egypt.

The Vice President spent the next two days in Kenya, where he gave a speech linking political reform with increased American investment. Biden also focused on Kenya’s role in East Africa. While in Kenya he met with Southern Sudanese officials and attended a discussion about Somalia.

Kenya’s East African sees regional worries trumping US concerns about Kenya’s internal politics.

US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Kenya can be seen as signaling a shift in the Obama administration’s approach to East Africa.

Comments by Mr Biden, coupled with reports of an expanding US “secret war” against Al Qaeda, suggest that Washington is now focusing more on Kenya’s strategic sub-regional role than on concerns about corruption and human rights abuses within the country.

The coalition government’s agreement on constitutional reforms represents a major reason for the marked change in Washington’s tone. But growing US trepidation over instability in the region – particularly in Somalia – has also contributed to the decision to cultivate a more co-operative relationship with Kenya.

NTV Kenya goes so far as to say that Biden “endorsed” the new Kenyan constitution, which has sparked controversy in Kenya because of provisions relating to shari’a courts.

On Thursday Biden traveled to South Africa to attend the World Cup. The South African leg of his visit, where Biden met with his counterpart Kgalema Motlanthe, seems to have focused less on substantive political discussions than on the political symbolism of an American presence at the World Cup, but in South African Biden talked Sudan, as he did elsewhere.

Biden’s trip to Africa is a clear sequel to Secretary Clinton’s seven-country journey to the continent last summer, which also included stops in Kenya and South Africa. Whereas Clinton’s approach sometimes seemed stern, Biden’s style has been called “cheerful.” But the same political issues and challenges remain in play, especially with regard to Kenya, where Washington wants to push for reforms but also preserve an alliance with a regional power. Kenya’s perceived importance to Washington has increased even more since last year, it seems, because of continued instability in Somalia but also because of the potential for serious disruption connected with the January 2011 referendum in Sudan.

At Foreign Policy, in fact, Josh Rogin writes that the trip was “all about Sudan.” Rogin says that Biden’s meetings with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and with other African leaders show that concern about Sudan is moving up the hierarchy in the Obama administration. Apparently choosing whom to send to the inauguration ceremonies in Khartoum split Obama’s Africa/foreign policy team last month. Biden’s efforts on Sudan coincided with other US diplomatic moves, including a separate meeting between Scott Gration and Egyptian officials and a stronger strain of criticism toward Sudan coming from the State Department. The absence of Nigeria and Angola from Biden’s itinerary, countries Clinton visited last summer, also suggests that the trip was primarily focused on political stability in East Africa and not on broader US economic interests on the continent.

The Brookings Institution offered a number of perspectives on the trip as it started last week. Check them out and see what you agree or disagree with. Diplomatically, it seems to me that the trip was a success in terms of its stated and presumed aims. But I still feel that Washington’s approach to Africa is narrowly focused on attempts to engineer political outcomes, a strategy that often backfires and also distracts from other kinds of engagement, particularly economic partnership (the language is there, but is always tied to reform, and always overshadowed by politics) and cultural dialogue. In any case, Biden seems to have been a hit, though of course many African leaders are hoping for a visit by the Big Man himself.