New testimony in Kenya’s Parliament on Election Commission “Chickengate” procurement corruption ahead of visit by Obama and U.S. Congressmen

Ex-ICT boss tells Parliament that IEBC bungled 2013 electionThe Star July 22, 2015:

“We were put under tremendous pressure to ensure the Evids succeeded. Just days before the certification of the register, we were forced to transfer data, leading to serious discrepancies between the BVR register and the Evids one,” Ong’ondi said. Ong’ondi was speaking when he appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chaired by Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo. The committee is probing the acquisition and subsequent failure of electronic devices used by the IEBC.

. . . .

He explained how business interests triumphed over responsibility upon the commission to deliver a reliable and effective ICT infrastructure that could guarantee, beyond reasonable doubt, a transparent election process.

He provided various dates on which Hassan and IEBC commissioner Mohammed Alawi reportedly forced him to meet individuals pursuing tenders in the commission, both in Mombasa and in Nairobi.

“I was forced to meet people pursuing highly valued tenders. During a retreat in Mombasa the chairman asked me to meet one of his friends whom he said was interested in seeking business with the commission,” Ong’ondi said.

Yesterday Hassan said he could not remember the said meeting . . .

. . . .

The International Forum for Electoral Systems had raised concerns that the tender for the supply of the devices be cancelled because of time constraints to effectively rollout the infrastructure. He said the technology was rushed, without enough time to train polling clerks, leading to massive failure of the system in many parts of the country. “It was true that some clerks were seeing the devices for the first time during the voting day.

From the Daily Nation:   “Hassan tried to influence BVR kits tender, MPs told

See also: USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers (February 17, 2015)

Why would we trust the Kenyan IEBC vote tally when they engaged in fraudulent procurement practices for key technology? (March 24, 2013)

Nigeria example shows U.S. and other donors must act now on Kenya IEBC technology procurement corruption (April 1, 2015)

Curriculum Cooking Kenya Vote

“Curriculum Cooking”

American diplomatic perspective on Obama’s Kenya visit, and a few personal thoughts (updated)

Johnnie Carson and Mark Bellamy have a very well done op-ed up in the New York Times on “Obama’s chance to revisit Kenya“.  In case you missed it, I would recommend it as the most worthwhile commentary I have seen in the U.S.-based news media on the presidential trip this week.

I hope the visit goes well and accomplishes something worthwhile for both countries.  The topic of entrepreneurship is certainly an important one for Kenya, where most people do not have employment. [The director for human development of the African Development Bank cites a 80% unemplyment rate for Kenyans under age 35 in support of a loan of $62M to the Government of Kenya to support training for 3000 youth in “technical vocational education” that will “play an important role in supporting the emerging oil, gas and mining industry.” ]

The first U.S. presidential visit to Kenya will unavoidably be a major boost politically for Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration by its nature and will be a boon for the Kenyan president’s elite friends and cronies in other political/business roles in Nairobi.  I am not sure how important a “global summit” of this type is for entrepreneurship as such, but I will try to accentuate the positive in this regard by looking at the trip as a diplomatic endeavor with potential side benefits.

One small thing that I do think should be said:  I hope that before getting to Kenya President Obama will have apologized to former Ambassador Gration for letting him get “run up the flagpole” over doing State Department business on a private email account in light of subsequent news on this topic within the State Department. General Gration did important service to Senator Obama as his military escort on his last trip to Kenya in 2006 and in speaking out about the “birther” and related personal smears as I have previously written (“Gration spoke out on Obama/Odinga “smears” in 2008 campaign” August 16, 2010).  The Ambassador serves at the pleasure of the president and I don’t question the President’s prerogative to change his mind about a political appointment, but in hindsight this should have been handled differently.

On the security front, please read “Ahead of Obama Visit, Kenya Seeks to Show Security Threats Are Under Control” in the Wall Street Journal:

The government’s push to move beyond its security challenges is one of the problems, said Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine who runs a security consultancy .  .  . “Nobody is interested in getting to grips with the situation,” Mr. Franklin said.  “What the government of Kenya is refusing to accept is that we have a genuine insurgency going on.”
He argued that an attack in April at a university in the eastern town of Garissa showed just how little the Kenyan security forces had learned.  Al-Shabaab killed 147 people in an assault that wasn’t put down until late in the day because of delays flying an elite unit out to fight the militants.
“They had all day to kill students,” Mr. Franklin said.
But Mr. Kenyatta’s message that it was time to move on appeared to be gaining the upper hand with Nairobi residents pouring into the Westgate mall over the weekend. . . .

For a great panel discussion of the trip to Kenya and Ethiopia from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, see the audio or visual from last week’s program at CSIS, “Policy Issues in Kenya and Ethiopia Ahead of President Obama’s Trip.”  The panel included Ambassador Mark Bellamy, Terrence Lyons of George Mason University, Sarah Prey of the Open Society Foundations and EJ Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.

Update: Make sure to also see the letter to President Obama from 14 U.S. experts on East Africa released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday.  Signers include Ambassador Bellamy, senior scholars John Harbeson and David Throup and many of the younger generation of policy and civil society leaders in Washington who will be familiar to Americans engaged on American policy in and on Kenya.

How will the Iran nuclear deal play out in East Africa?

I wish I had a clear sense of how this might develop but I don’t.  It seems to me that there may be several areas of impact over the next few years:

+Diplomatic leverage of Museveni, Kenyatta, Kigame et al vis-a-vis the United States will be reduced as one of the main US “asks”–UN votes to maintain nuclear-related sanctions against Iran–drops away.

+While I do not foresee the current US administration raising expectations for other US priorities from these East African leaders, the next US administration might feel some greater freedom to address “the democratic recession,” declining press freedom, and other issues on the formal US policy list.

+Oil prices:  if a lot more Iranian oil gets to market both in the near term from the immediate impact of lifting sanctions and the longer term from the increase in capacity associated with ramped up foreign investment, the prospects for oil production in Uganda and Kenya will be impacted, especially as related to the 2021-22 election cycle.  

+Iran will reassume a stronger role in trade and finance in the region and thus compete more strongly with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.  

+Iran will presumably increase its regional naval presence.

+The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya and subsequent sad state of affairs in that country reduced one major “petrocash” player in East African politics; an Iran less cash-strapped by UN sanctions might have aspirations to finance East African politicians aside from its espionage/security/terrorism enagement.

New Developments on Iran’s Geopolitcal Efforts in Africa–another challenge for democracy?

Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

High Level  U.S. Delegation Carries Requests to Museveni on Fair Elections and Iran Sanctions

The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading

The War for History, part fourteen: dare we learn from 2007-08 in Kenya or is it still too soon to reckon with the whole story?

Kenya’s security situation continues to deteriorate as Kenya’s political leaders move on to focus to the next elections.  Challenges abound on succession and election issues in Burundi, Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda, along with the crises in governance in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia.  Surely this would be a good time to peel back the onion on how the U.S. handled the Kibaki succession/re-election crisis in 2007-08 to learn what we can rather than letting more murky water flow under the bridge?

Knowns and Unknowns, Plausible and Otherwise

Further to the question I raised in Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we – “The War for History” part thirteen, I have certainly confirmed my awareness that, as I have put it, we “actively looked the other way” as the Kenyan election was stolen and thereafter.  I am also am forced to acknowledge that we (meaning my country, the United States, through our empowered government officials, who took the opportunities presented to assert what became our de facto policy, whether or not it was formally planned, vetted, approved, etc.) not only “looked” the other way, but also “pointed” the other way, too.  In other words, the initial approach from the State Department was to divert attention from the known and witnessed election fraud to induce acceptance of the fraudulent “result”.

How much more is there to the story in terms of our intentions before the election?  Did “we” affirmatively wish Kibaki to win, or Odinga to lose, or some combination of the two–and if so, why?  Everyone is, of course, entitled to his or her own opinions and/or preferences regarding a democratic election (although for me as an American I considered it to be none of my business who Kenyans ultimately voted for, both in concept and in any event regarding the specific choice among Raila, Kibaki and Kalonzo, each of whom had long, high profile track records in Kenyan politics and government, and with American diplomats).  The real question becomes, in light of what happened in the election and how we handled it, whether we were in some way culpable beyond the “looking and pointing the other way”?  How much did we know beforehand about the intentions of the Kibaki administration to retain power regardless of the actual vote?  In private, if we knew something, did we secretly object, stay silent, quietly nod, affirmatively recognize, or something else?

It seems important to account for the fact that, as best I knew, Kibaki never said publicly during the campaign that he would countenance the potential to lose the election and turn over power. And further, that to the best of my knowledge and attentive observation at the time, neither the Ambassador nor anyone else in the State Department publicly called Kibaki on this. (Eventually, Moses Wetangula, the Foreign Minister at the time, made a statement regarding Kibaki’s willingneess to “lose,” presumably directed more to his diplomatic counterparts than to Kenyans.)  Compare and contrast Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for re-election in Nigeria this year, wherein American officials up to and including the Secretary of State himself flew to Nigeria ahead of the election to openly warn Jonathan to accept an adverse vote even though he was already stating his willingness to do so.

As an American, especially one who was working at taxpayer expense to support the democratic process, I certainly want to believe the best about all of our conduct in regard to the election.  Unfortunately there are some other facts and questions that remain undigestable for me so far and leave the quesy feeling that there may be more to the story.  For example:

* When the Ambassador told me at the residence on December 15 that “people were saying” that Odinga might lose his Langata constituency and thus be disqualified from taking office even if he won the presidential vote, and that this could be “explosive”, why did his cables to Washington not report this matter until nine days later, just three days before the election (and, perhaps incidentally, after I had written to USAID to complain about the Ambassador’s conduct regarding the IRI election observation, and also let the Ambassador know that I had commissioned a Langata poll in response)?

* Why did the Ambassador want to take Connie Newman–whom he had effectively chosen to be IRI’s lead Election Observation delegate–to meet privately with Stanley Murage the day before the election (I described Murage as by reputation “Kibaki’s Karl Rove” in my reporting to IRI Washington that day, and I have since heard him described by a diplomatic source as “Kibaki’s bag man”)?  Why had the Ambassador ahead of time wanted Connie to stay at his residence or at the Serena Hotel separate from the rest of the Observation Mission at the Mayfair? Why did Connie mislead me about her separate time at the embassy residence when it had been understood among myself and IRI’s top executives that Connie was to be fully briefed to avoid this type of situation with the Ambassador (and my notes from the time show that I was told she was in fact briefed and “on board” before her arrival in Nairobi)? Did the private Murage meeting end up taking place?

* How did Connie know by Saturday evening December 29th, at the Mayfair, that Kibaki would be the announced winner when the ECK’s process at the KICC was still very much ongoing as represented publicly?  She was in regular contact with the Ambassador by cellphone throughout–was he her source?  Is there any other plausible explanation?

* Was then the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington describing what he witnessed and his own actions at the ECK’s headquarters at the KICC fully ingenuous in describing the Ambassador unsuccessfully offering ECK Chairman Kivuitu encouragement not to give in to pressure to announce a manipulated result? Note that this cable was written on the sixth day after the election and the third day after Kivuitu preemptively declared the vote for Kibaki and delivered the certificate of election to him at State House for his Sunday afternoon swearing in, and during the worst of the post-election violence and the time of maximum uncertainty for Kenya’s newish democracy and its longstanding stability. How does the Ambassador’s after-the-fact write up square with Kivuitu unsuccessfully seeking Ambassador’s Ranneberger’s help before the election?

* Why did Connie assert herself so strongly to object to making any public statement about the USAID IRI exit poll when she had no involvement whatsoever in that polling program and had no prior discussion with any of us who were involved?  (Note the Ambassador’s admission in his interview by Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times that he had discussed the exit poll with Connie or “another Institute official”.) My immediate superior, the regional director for Africa, told me contemporaneously that I had made a mistake in bringing up the exit poll in front of Connie as she should not be involved, which I had recognized immediately when Connie jumped in to object.

* Given that the State Department released to me under FOIA redacted versions of a variety of classified cables, why did they withhold in full the documentation about Secretary of State Rice’s January 3, 2008 discussion with EU Foreign Minsiter Javier Solana about the election on the basis of its classification?  What was so sensitive?

* Did Ambassador Ranneberger intervene with Johann Kreigler to steer the Commission of Inquiry into the 2007 Elections–the “Kreigler Commission”–away from an examination of the ECK’s presidential vote tally?  A reliable source reported to me on this, but on second hand information as best I could tell so I don’t know.

*  Why did the Ambassador get involved in brokering the rapprochement between Kibaki and Moi in the summer of 2007?  Why was I told nothing about this by State or USAID, or anyone from IRI?  Did anyone from IRI know before I reported this to Washington in the fall of 2007?  Did this rapprochement lead to Uhuru Kenyatta as KANU Chairman and Leader of the Official Opposition crossing the aisle with KANU to pull out of ODM and support Kibaki?  Did this lead Kibaki and his circle to overestimate his electoral position in the Rift Valley?  Similarly, did this underlie the Ambassador’s overestimation of Kibaki’s strength as a candidate–or otherwise support the assessment that Kibaki would not be seriously challenged for reelection as of that summer? Did our support for a Moi-Kibaki rapprochement lead to our backing down on anticorruption issues in 2007, in spite of John Githongo’s brave revelations about Anglo Leasing? Did all of this lock in Kibaki’s support for Uhuru as his successor, ultimately fulfilling Moi’s original intentions from 2002?

*  Did dealings with Kibaki (and Uhuru) in the 2007 election that the State Department was not willing to disclose tie the hands of the United States in the 2013 election, supporting the policy choice to promote the credibility of the IEBC irrespective of the procurement fraud, failure to deploy and implement essential technology and failure to tally the votes fully?  Or, alternatively, was our policy driven strictly by immediate concerns about stability and the threat of violence, regardless of any such potential overhang from 2007?  Any relation to our striking silence now about the proven corruption at the IEBC in the wake of the British convictions for Smith & Ouzman bribes in Kenya?

* Why would USAID withhold in 2014, under an April 2013 FOIA request, their copies of (unclassified) documents already produced to me in March 2013 by the State Department under a 2009 FOIA request, showing State and USAID  personnel coordinating on the misrepresentation of the USAID IRI  exit poll as an IRI “training exercise” in talking points for the media in 2008 and 2009?  (And given that I requested the documents from the State Department in 2009, and they were cleared for release in October 2012, why were they not mailed to me until March 12, 2013, just after the next Kenyan election?)   People are still being squirrelly after all these years.

Hats off to Connie

Like others who have had an occasion to work with her over recent years I am sure, I found Connie Newman to be a charming and very effective lobbyist (and I am sure she was a charming and effective diplomat during her eleven months at the State Department even though my eleven months at IRI did not overlap with her in that role).  I can appreciate why Ambassador Ranneberger would identify her as his “great friend and mentor” to the media in Nairobi on a visit to Nairobi in 2009.

IRI identified Connie to the Weekly Standard in 2009 as the primary decisionmaker on spiking the exit poll while serving as lead Election Observation delegate, as I did in my 2008 interviews with the New York Times, as well as in my contemporaneous emails to Joel Barkan which I included in this “War for History” series.  So we agreed on that part anyway.

It is easy to see why Nigeria’s Bayelsa State would have Connie and her firm lobby Sidney Blumenthal (“former Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton”), the State Department’s Regional Security Office and Senator Inhofe on their behalf immediately following Obama’s inauguration in 2009, between her unpaid service observing the Kenyan and Nigerian elections for IRI. It is also easy to see, after what happened in Kenya in 2007, why IRI would have a senior staff member placed as co-lead delegate with Connie for Nigeria’s 2015 State Department funded IRI Election Observation Mission. Connie got most of what she wanted in Kenya in 2007, but I never detected that she had any deep personal background in Kenya’s politics (and she has not been registered as a lobbyist in Washington for any of the Kenyan governmental entities) and it was never my sense that she had any separate irons in the fire other than reflecting the Ambassador’s wishes.  So for me the question is what the Ambassador was trying to accomplish and why.  And then, was it successful or not and what have been the costs to whom?

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polls

Some good news: we helped buy and implement a Biometric Voter Registration system for Yemen last year

Registering for Democracy in Yemen”, from the USAID Impact blog.

Seemingly the first of it’s kind in USAID’s Middle East and North Africa region.  Last year.  Up to Kenya standard (probably much better as described).  Going into that year the Acting Inspector General for USAID had indicated that “lack of focus” was one of the Agency’s top challenges.

“IFES Supports New Biometric Voter Registration System in Yemen”

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.
 

 

 

Washington sees that Uhuru’s security approach is counterproductive; Kenya’s democrats still must counter Uhuru’s DC lobbyists to hope for better U.S. policy by 2017

As Kenya’s politics shift into more focused attention on the 2017 presidential race, Kenya’s security environment has become so conspicuously bad that all sorts of people are noticing and commentating in Washington, with an unusually broad consensus that the Uhuruto administration is failing: draconian and corrupt crackdowns unnecessarily alienating Kenyans whose cooperation is needed; corrupt diversion of resources from national security needs as notoriously demonstrated in the successful Anglo Leasing scams; gross incompetence as reflected in the tragically late response to the Garissa University terrorist takeover.

For but one small sample, see today’s “DefenseOne” with headline “How Kenya’s Counterrerrorism Turned Counterproductive”.  You cannot get more mainstream DC than a Council of Foreign Relations post republished in Atlantic Media’s DefenseOne.

One might expect that a lot of people in Washington would be moved to take a hard look in the mirror under the circumstances, given the U.S. policy of, at best, actively looking the other way as Kibaki stole re-election in 2007, and the fact that the U.S. ended up doing far more to help than hurt the Uhuruto election effort that Kibaki supported for his succession in 2013.  But that won’t happen; domestic politics in the era of the “permanent campaign” stifles critical self-examination in our foreign policy establishment in Washington.  Thus it is incumbent on Kenyans who don’t want the U.S. to repeat its mistakes of 2007 and 2013 to engage with American policy now before it is too late for 2017.

Let me digress to make sure there is no confusion about the U.S. role in 2013 and the fact that the U.S. did more to help than hurt the Kenyatta and Ruto ascension in 2013.

Yes, I know, Jendayi Frazer vociferously accused the Obama administration of “interfering” in Kenya’s 2013 campaign, against Uhuruto, because her successor Johnnie Carson made a single reference in one statement that “choices have consequences”.  In reality, so far as I know, Carson’s statement was “damage control” from within the Obama Administration after Obama himself issued a statement to Kenyans on the election of fully vetted bureaucrateez, saying nothing.  Because Obama made an affirmative statement, saying nothing, he created, predictably, an opening for the Uhuruto public relations team to take to the media in Kenya with the assertion that Obama had made it clear that the U.S. had no concern about the election of those accused of prime roles in the 2008 post election violence.  The United States was thus embarrassed by the questions of whether it was being hypocritical on human rights atrocities and whether it was again, as under the first Kenyatta, and Moi, and Kibaki, sucking up to local powers-that-be in Kenya.  Carson’s attempted corrective, of course, made matters that much worse as it handed a tool to Frazer in the international, U.S. and Kenyan media, and to others within Kenya in the Kenyan media, to fire up Uhuru’s and Ruto’s supporters through a false (and profoundly ironic) victimization narrative.

Contrary to what I think were the honest expectations of some Kenyan human rights and democracy advocates, the consequences of the Uhuruto electoral success were nothing more nor less than those that followed directly from having these two particular individuals at the helm of state.  The United States, so far as I knew at the time, never had any intention whatsoever of any type of sanctions or penalty against either the two suspects or against the Kenyan government–and it seems to me that the way the U.S. handled its support of the IEBC and the immediate environment with the election controversy  definitively demonstrates that the U.S. had no desire or intention to impede Uhuru and Ruto from taking power even if we were not going to openly favor them.  Of course the knowledge of what had happened in the 2008 violence imposed some bit of color on the relationship after the Uhuruto inauguration but it didn’t have any major policy impact except to make the U.S. more circumspect, if anything, in any criticism of the Kenyan government and more ginger in avoiding anything seen as unduly supporting the old “reform agenda” from the first few years after the PEV so as not to offend those inflamed against the U.S. by the Uhuruto campaign rhetoric.

Substantively, the primary apparent U.S. role in the 2013 election was to spend many millions of dollars on a largely nontransparent basis to underwrite the IEBC, even though it turned out to be corrupt, and to facilitate sale and acceptance of the “results” it chose to announce. The “verification” of the margin of just a hair over the 50%+1 threshold without the actual tallying of all the votes.  In essence, the larger established pattern from 2007 if not the goriest of details from the backrooms.  While Ambassador Godec and his boss Carson did not embrace Uhuru in the way that Ambassador Ranneberger and presumably Frazer embraced Kibaki, the bottom line priority remained superficial “stability” over “deepening democracy”.

So where does that leave things now with the “chickens coming home to roost” on that superficiality as the ephemeral nature of the “stability agenda” becomes apparent?

Kenyan democrats must be more sophisticated in dealing with Washington–it is crucial that they engage to counter Uhuru’s new lobbyist teams from the Podesta Group (along with Uhuru’s hiring of Tony Blair and whatever other moves of this type have not be widely reported in the media).

In the wake of the 2013 mess at the IEBC, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa initiated a critical unanimous Senate Resolution; that resolution never saw the light of day on the House side.  Why?  Arizona Senator Jeff Flake co-sponsored that resolution and is now Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee.  New Jersey Representative Chris Smith on the House side, whose Subcommittee would not take action on the resolution, is ripe for appeal on these issues as he is supporting a globalized Magnitsky Act approach to broaden and make more consistent U.S. sanction against human rights abuse, and he doggedly and successfully pursued the investigation showing that USAID funding was improperly diverted for partisan ends in the 2010 Kenyan referendum during Ranneberger’s tenure.  In this context, Smith should have no sympathies for actors like Uhuru or Ruto as individuals and certainly should have grave concerns about the monkey business with U.S. assistance at the IEBC.

But given that powerful well-connected people are getting paid by the Kenyan taxpayer to grease the skids in Washington the other way, it is imperative that Kenyans get the truth directly to Washington or risk the consequences of more misguided U.S. policy.  Likewise, Kenyans need to engage directly with the Dutch who funded the NDI pre-election polling in 2013 and the other Western donors who plumped for the ECK/IEBC operations in 2007-13 both through the UNDP and otherwise in the U.S. coordinated basket funding.

+USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers.

UhuRuto Campaign Ad Kenya 2013

UhuRuto billboard March 2013