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Inside the deep state that never loses power

By Special Correspondent | August 16th 2020 at 13:05:24 GMT +0300

Voting at the NSSF grounds in Nairobi. The public service is often a powerful wing of the deep state. It has its own energy and has mastered the way things are done. It can mess up even a sitting president. [File]

Raila Odinga’s elder brother, Dr. Oburu Oginga, was the person who lifted the lid on the raging public debate on the deep state in Kenya. Taking a distant prognostic look at his younger sibling’s political future, after the 2022 elections, Oburu told a public gathering in their Luo Nyanza backyard, “We have always lost the election because the deep state did not want us to win. This time we have the deep state. We are sure of victory.”

Oburu’s overflow of enthusiasm about the future is a factor of the friendly relationship between his brother and President Uhuru Kenyatta, because of the March 9, 2018, handshake.

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The Senate Leader of Minority, Mr James Orengo, has hinted several times that ODM plans to work with the President’s wing of the ruling Jubilee Party in 2022. He has said that they will field a common presidential candidate. That candidate, he believes, will be Raila. As if to put things beyond doubt, Jubilee Deputy Chairman, Mr. David Murathe, last week told the country to prepare to receive Raila as the fifth president.

“The time has come when he must be rewarded for his many sacrifices for this country,” Murathe said.

 It is through this prism that the emerging conversation about the role of the deep state in Kenya’s elections must be understood. The implication is that it is not necessarily what the voters say, or what they will say, through the ballot box that will matter, or matters. What matters is what some people who are called “the deep state” want.

The power behind the throne

Hence, what the people have said may remain silent in cold ballot boxes and silent computer servers, while what the deep state wants is blasted through the radios and television channels. Victory and defeat is declared. A non-elected individual is hoisted on the population for the next five years. 

 In plain language, it is called stealing the election. It is not just anybody who can steal an election, where such things are done. It is the powerful and dominant classes that do so. It does not even have to be the president.

At the height of the chaotic controversy that informed the bungled 2007 presidential election, President Mwai Kibaki told Kenyans, “I was told that I had won the election.” Indeed, informal sources have it that Kibaki was ready to concede defeat. However, there were those who firmly told him that he could not. They told him that he had won. Who were these people, and who were they working with? 

 The answer to who the deep state begins with this question. Raila has ridiculed the Deputy President, William Ruto, for daring the faceless deep state to take the fight to him. “I am with God and with the people,” he said, “Bring on the fight, we are ready for you.” Also miffed by the deputy president’s sentiments was the Cotu Secretary General, Francis Atwoli. Atwoli told off the DP, saying, “You are preparing to reject the election results in 2022. But you are also part of the deep state, because you are the DP.” Raila echoed Atwoli’s sentiments.

History has taught us, however, that being in office alone does not make one a part of the deep state. More often, you are the servant of the deep state. That is why those in office have sometimes been unceremoniously bundled out in sudden changes of regime.

If the president was in charge of that dreaded institution, he would not be removed unceremoniously, as has happened in some countries from time to time. For, the deep state is the power behind the throne. When you control it, you cannot be removed. 

There is authority, and there is power. Those with power often don’t have authority. And, conversely, those with authority don’t have power. Hence, the president is the person who is authorized to rule, to sign laws, and to do all that the laws authorize. To put it almost inelegantly, an authorized person has the authority. And the authority comes from the laws.

A powerful person may not, therefore, have authority. He can, however, use his power to get the authorized person to act. The deep state, therefore, forces the hand that has authority to do what it wants to be done.

When he was asked whether he was sure that President Kibaki had won the 2007 presidential election, Electoral Commission of Kenya chairman, Samuel Kivuitu said, “I don’t know. I was only told to announce that he had won. And I announced.” 

Governments have owners

 Informal powerful groups and networks outside government, therefore, are what constitute the deep state. They are the state behind the state and they run the state. Even when the head of state belongs to the networks – which is rarely the case – he does not have absolute power.

It is because of such limitations that we have often heard of such happenings as “palace coups.” They are changes in office, including members of the same group. They may be bloody, or bloodless.  The critical thing is that the owners of power transfer authority from one person to another one.

These powerful networks have their own agendas that are not necessarily in harmony with what the people want. They are found in such places as in heavy industrial and commercial communities. Others are found in state organizations like the military, intelligence services, the media and even in the leadership of religious communities and organizations. When the former Malava Member of Parliament, Joshua Angatia, was made Minister for Health, he habitually complained of “powerful civil servants” who were “frustrating” him.

The public service is often a powerful wing of the deep state. It has its own energy and has mastered the way things are done. Kenya has had some very powerful public servants and politicians in the past, whom they want to recognize as part of the deep state in their country. 

This state can mess up even a sitting president. When the elected class arrives in positions of authority, it mostly knows nothing about the way the public service works.

A newly elected president may appoint his Cabinet and other top public officials. When they get to their stations, however, they have to be taught how the system works. But it is not just an innocent system. It is often a system of complex interests. It runs on the fuel of treachery, machination and self-pursuit. 

The interests may range from supplies, or procurements, of heavy military equipment by offshore military-industrial complex networks. They will want to have their people in place, everywhere to facilitate their schemes. They infiltrate the police, intelligence services, administrative authorities all the way to the heart of political authority. They are informed about the goings on everywhere, to the minutest detail. They know who can help them to meet their goals and who is not good for them. They are the deep state.

The international networks infiltrating your government have their flows into overseas governments, too.

When those governments comment on your local situation, they are only sounding boards for other interests. For, strictly, a foreign government has no major interest in your country as a government. Yet that government keeps a watching presence over your country, through diplomatic missions, spies, and sundry business cowboys.

Bob Denard, a French national, was a notorious mercenary who represented various deep state interests in Africa in the 1970s to the 1990s. He was associated with many coup dé-tats, seemingly with the approval of his country. He serves to remind us that overseas friends have their own interests. 

When Kenya was on the brink of disaster in January 2008, the international community flew in very fast, to rescue the Eldorado of East Africa. As the PNU and ODM negotiators at the 2008 Kofi Annan-led mediation talks dug in and stonewalled, the United States sounded a warning shot to both sides.

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, jetted into Nairobi for separate meetings with President Kibaki and ODM’s Raila. She gave them a deadline within which a settlement should be found. If this did not happen, then the international community would find its own solution to the 2008 crises. Annan stopped meeting the representatives of the two sides and went into a closed door meeting with Kibaki and Raila. In no time, he came out of the room to announce, “We’ve got a deal.” 

Like a tiger, it only pounces

 The deep state had spoken. For the deep state stretches out to those distant horizons. It is probably even more correct to say that it stretches from those horizons and comes here, via other places. It develops links with common players and spreads wings into the entire region. When you say that you have the deep state with you, that is the amorphous network whose blessing you claim to have.

Conversely, when you challenge the deep state to bring it on, those are the systems with which you are spoiling for a fight. It will be interesting to establish if ODM has explored this formless network and gained its support. Equally interesting is to know how the deputy president purposes to beat a faceless entity that is a motely of networks with numerous selfish agendas.

 A number of things are, however, not in doubt. First is that deep state is not one thing that sits in one place and sings in unison. Local super rich classes are a part of it. They are interested in putting in place a government that will protect their businesses and wealth. The big guns in the military, intelligence and secret police want to remain stable and secure. .

Powerful foreign interests want stability in the country and in the region, for their own selfish agendas. They will support a candidate who seems easy to work with. Regional leaders have their own interests too. Sometimes all of these groups will quietly support and fund several candidates at the same time.

Mercenaries with no loyalties

 Also not in doubt is that the deep state can influence, or even control, election results. In the 2000 elections in the United States, there was a tied tussle between the Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush Jr. and Al Gore of the Democratic Party, over the vote in the state of Florida. The situation lacked the trademark American electoral clarity until it ended up in the Supreme Court. Eventually, Bush was declared the winner. Some felt it was the deep state at work. We do not know what happened in the American situation. However, elsewhere in Africa, it is not uncommon to hear that the court has been directed to decide in a certain way.

 Finally, the deep state never declares itself to be the deep state. Being an amorphous entity, it has no way of telling individual candidates that it is supporting them, as the deep state.

One tentacle of this formless octopus may stretch out to support this candidate, while the other one reaches out for someone else. And when it does, it does not want you to announce to the world about that support. It is therefore absurd to proclaim to the world that you have the support of the deep state. 

 Conversely, can a candidate and the people defeat the deep state, as the deputy president suggests? No, the deep state is never defeated. For, being a free entity, it quickly changes sides. If elements of it see that the people are heavily slanted towards a candidate they did not want, they will swiftly cut off support to their original candidate and switch allegiance.

These people are mercenaries, whose only interest is themselves. As they must always win, they will shamelessly go with the strong side, provided that they are convinced that they can manipulate you once you are in government. If they don’t trust that they can manage you, they will steal your election.

Such are the networks Oburu says will support his brother for president in 2022, while Ruto is telling him to bring them on.


Deep State Elections Succession Politics
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