Cablegate: Upcoming by-Election On Kenya's Coast

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1. Summary: The Magarini by-election features ten contending
parties. The putative incumbent, whose seat was vacated by a
court order finding his election in 2002 fraudulent,
represents a Coast Province party that advocates
decentralization and favored treatment of "indigenous"
residents over those hailing from elsewhere in Kenya. He is
backed by the pro-government NARC-Kenya party, which declined
to run a candidate against him. He is likely to win. The
U.S. Mission will field an observation team well-briefed on
the abuses that marred the July 2006 by-elections. End

2. The Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) is organizing a
by-election on 14 May for the parliamentary seat in the
Magarini constituency in Kenya's Coast Province. The
by-election results from a court challenge to the December
2002 election of Harrison Kombe of the Shirikisho party of
Kenya. Nearly four and a half years into Kombe's five year
tenure as a Member of Parliament (MP), the courts determined
that his election was so marred by fraud committed by his
supporters that the seat must be recontested. However, the
court did not hold him personally responsible for electoral
malfeasance or otherwise disqualify him from recontesting.
Since the general election is expected in December 2007, the
victor of the 14 May by-election will be in office less than
seven months before the seat is again contested.
Constituency voters complain that the courts moved too slowly
on the fraud case and that a by-election so soon before a
general election is a pointless expense. However, the
by-election is required under present electoral law.

Portrait of Magarini Constituency

3. Magarini constituency is located along the coast north of
Malindi and south of the mouth of the Tana river. It is
overwhelmingly populated by the Giriama clan of the Mijikenda
people. (The Mijikenda, like the Luhya and the Kalenjin, are
a collection of very loosely affiliated ethnic communities.
They are not a homogenous group like the Kikuyu or the Luo.)
Traditional religious beliefs are quite strong among the
Giriama, although many at least nominally identify with
Christianity. The small town of Mambrui, just over the
constituency border from Malindi, has a mostly Muslim and
non-Giriama population. Most political parties contesting
the by-election have their constituency headquarters in
centrally-located Gongoni town. There are about 42,000
registered voters in the constituency.

The Nine Contenders

4. Nine political parties have registered with ECK to contest
the parliamentary seat. They are:

-- Shirikisho Party of Kenya (SPK). Harrison Kombe will seek
to retain his seat, which is SPK's sole seat in parliament.
SPK is a coastal party advocating decentralization,
especially local election of provincial and district
commissioners rather than their appointment by the central
government. "Shirikisho" means "federation" in ki-Swahili.
But SPK goes beyond mere decentralization to advocate
"majimboism," an independence era ideology that seeks to
restrict access to land, government jobs and even residency
to those indigenous to the region. Kenyans from outside the
coast would require residency permits (internal visas) to
reside within the province. In fact, SPK supporters told
PolCouns that they would prefer keeping non-Giriama fellow
coastals out of their constituency as well. All of this
would require drastic changes to Kenyan law and the country's
constitution. While Kenya has its share of ethnic xenophobes
throughout the country, we do not sense that there is
significant support for SPK's program outside its Giriama
base. Much of the rhetoric of SPK supporters is specifically
anti-Kikuyu. This is ironic given that Kombe consistently
supported Kibaki's Kikuyu-dominated government during his
time in parliament. Kibaki's supporters in the NARC-Kenya
leadership returned the favor by opting not to contest the
constituency despite having on hand a very popular local
candidate (see below). Most observers of Coast Province
politics favor Kombe to win the constituency, but coast
politics are unusually fluid this year so his election is far
from assured. Stil, he has the backing of most
pro-government Mijikenda leaders, although some are
supporting his rival, Franco Esposito (see below). NARC-K
and other pro-government luminaries are expected to campaign
for him.

-- Kenya National Democratic Alliance (KENDA). Franco
Esposito, a naturalized Kenyan of Italian origin and
successful businessman active in the coastal tourism
industry, defected from (pro-Kibaki) NARC-Kenya to KENDA once

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the leadership of NARC-Kenya instructed him to sit out the
contest. While no longer a NARC-Kenya member, he continues
to state that if elected he will support the Kibaki
administration and Kibaki's re-election. Esposito is highly
popular in the region. He has taken a Giriama name and
supports many community development projects in the area. He
won the NARC-Kenya caucus vote to represent the party in the
by-election, and then was told to stand down in favor of SPK
by Vice President Awori. NARC-Kenya has two prominent
factions. One favors grassroots primary elections to
determine parliamentary candidates and a strategy of building
up a national party that can win national power and govern
alone. The other faction prefers candidate selection by the
party leadership and coalition politics. The second camp is
in the ascendancy and has opted to dump the popular Esposito
in favor of Kombe. KENDA was recently taken over by Kamlesh
Pattni, the former Chairman of Goldenburg International, the
infamous "paper company" behind a series of grand scale
corruption schemes that did so much damage to the Kenyan
economy in the 1990s.

-- National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). Samuel Nzai will run
on behalf of the party that President Kibaki formally adheres
to, but which has been abandoned by him and his supporters in
favor of NARC-Kenya. NARC is headed by Health Minister
Charity Ngilu, who, although a member of the government, has
severely critized her fellow ministers and publicly supports
the ODM-K presidential aspirant Raila Odinga.

-- Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K). Amason Kingi
will represent the opposition coalition party considered the
greatest threat to Kibaki's re-election ambition on the
national level, but not a strong player in this constituency.
Still, leading ODM-K figures are likely to campaign for

-- Six micro-parties will contest the by-election: Republican
Party of Kenya, Jeremiah Kazungu (ditched ODM-K when he did
not get the nomination); Safina, Jillo Onotto (ditched NARC-K
when he did not get the nomination); New Democrats Party,
Peter Ziro (ditched SPK when he did not get the nomination);
KADDU, David Noti Kombe (similar ideology to SPK, but
pro-opposition, Kombe was the former KANU MP for Magarini);
Restoration Democrats Party of Kenya, Lucy Muthoni Ng'ang'a;
and Kenya Patriotic Trust, Pastor James Ngala Shida.

Election Observation Plans

5. The U.S. Mission will field a team of observers for the
by-election, including Kenyan colleagues from the region.
The U.S. team will be well briefed on the electoral abuses
that marred the July 2006 by-elections as well as those that
occured in Magarini in 2002. Other missions from donor
countries will also field observers. The effort is
coordinated by the Like-Minded Donors group comprising most
of the missions resident in Nairobi that are both democratic
and have substantial aid programs. Kenyan and international
NGOs also plan observer missions, as does the Human Rights
Commission, which documented and publicized electoral
malfeasance during the July 2006 by-elections. The ECK
welcomes observers and has raised no bureacratic hurdles to
their registration. Christine Karani, ECK's District
Coordinator for Malindi District (including Magarini
constituency) told PolCouns that she and her staff are well
aware of the electoral abuses that marred the 2002 election
in Magarini and are prepared to thwart attempts to repeat
that history (see reftel).

Comment: Kenya's Democracy, a Work in Progress

6. The Magarini by-election illustrates some positive
features of Kenya's democracy, as well as some "areas for
improvement." The fact that the courts reversed the election
of a pro-government MP based on evidence of electoral fraud
is a positive development. This would not have happened
under independent Kenya's two previous regimes. The fact
that it took the courts four years to achieve this feat is
unfortunate, but the court systems of many mature democracies
are no more efficient than is Kenya's. Casual party
switching and opaque party nominations indicate a continuing
lack of internal democracy among Kenyan parties. Parties are
typically owned by the leaders, not by the grassroots
supporters. We are confident that this will improve in time
as Kenyans adjust themselves to multiparty politics with
considerably more democratic space than they have ever known

7. Coast Province, along with Western Province, is among the
regions most "in play" for the December 2007 general
election. Mijikenda politicians have traditionally alligned
themselves with the wining national team and received a
greater share of top government jobs than their numbers would

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warrant, but this time around their political loyalties are
fluid and divided. The fact that Vice President Awori became
personally involved in determing who the government would
back in the race is an indicator of the importance the
political class gives to this contest. Magarini voters are
likely to be visited by many of the country's top political
figures. Balmy Magarini in May 2007 will resemble in that
respect frigid New Hampshire in February 2008.


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