“The War for History” part nine: from FOIA, a readout of new Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte

Sometimes a Freedom of Information Act response from the State Department is “like a box of chocolates”–one of my 2009 requests eventually turned up a readout of a visit on February 7, 2008 by Kalonzo Musyoka, appointed Vice President by Kibaki in January, with John Negroponte, then Condelezza Rice’s Deputy Secretary of State. You may remember that in January Jendayi Frazer, in Kenya as Assistant Secretary of State heading the Africa Bureau, had applied the label of “ethnic cleansing” to the post election violence, a term disowned by “Main State” back in Washington.

The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that it found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)

From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:

Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.

Kalonzo Duka

 

African Studies Association event honoring Joel Barkan this weekend

The African Studies Association annual meeting is beginning in Indianapolis and an eminent panel Saturday will recognize Joel’s impact. Being a “Kenya junkie” is not the same for me without him and I wish I could be at the ASA for the appreciation of his legacy.

Roundtable: Honoring the Life, Scholarship and Public Service of Joel Barkan
Saturday, November 22nd, 10:00 to 11:45AM

Chair: John W. Harbeson, Johns Hopkins University

Nic Cheeseman, University of Oxford

Makau W. Mutua, State University of New York (SUNY), Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Robert B. Mattes, University of Cape Town (UCT)

Nelson Kasfir, Dartmouth College

David Throup, Johns Hopkins University

On a bright note, happy birthday today to Charles Hornsby.

“The War for History” part eight: “The way not forward; lessons not learned” from Kenya’s failed 2007 election assistance

Here is the requirement for the Final Report from the Cooperative Agreement for the USAID/IRI polling program starting with the 2005 Referendum Exit Poll and culminating with the 2007 General Election Exit Poll. The final report that I finally learned last month from my Freedom of Information Act request to USAID was never filed, in spite of a significant amount of “beating around the bush” and a previous 2009 FOIA request from the University of California, San Diego that should have disclosed all of the reporting but returned only the Agreement itself.

FinalReportSo ultimately there is no explanation in the reporting as to how the 2007 exit poll went from successful in a January 14, 2008 quarterly report, to unsuccessful, and then back to successful months later or the impact of this discrepancy on the overall effectiveness of this 2+ year $570,000 democracy assistance polling program or the overall multimillion dollar U.S. election support.

Lessons from an accurate accounting of what really happened with U.S. assistance for the disastrously failed 2007 election should have been reckoned with in preparing for 2012-13. Unfortunately, in 2013 we had initial reporting of the USAID funded parallel vote tabulation with very limited transparency and seemingly ad hoc communications, and an initial USAID funded Election Observation report offering positive assurance for the reliability of the IEBC’s announced result, only to be quietly contradicted months later by the final Carter Center report.

The biggest problem in 2013 was the catastrophic failure of the Electronic Results Transmission system–the system that was established in Kenya’s election law to provide for the conveyance of the results from the polling station–the only place where the paper ballots are actually counted–to the IEBC.  Sadly, this was directly prefigured by what happened with the similar, if less ambitious, Electronic Results Transmission system–also funded by USAID through IFES and the UNDP–in 2007.  In 2007 the Electoral Commission of Kenya simply voted in December to shelve the computers and not use them, thus creating the opportunity for the Returning Officers to turn off their phones and drop out of the way.  In 2013, we had the spectacle of highly dubious procurement practices by the IEBC with a last minute attempt–or so it was presented–to roll out the technology, even though implementation was clearly not ready.  The system was then shut down by the IEBC, except for the visual graphic steadily broadcast for days showing one candidate with an early lead and hundred of thousands of spoiled ballots that weren’t.  A source confirmed for me what we all saw–that the IEBC did not have a meaningful backup plan to handle custody and conveyance of the paper forms for the polling stations when the transmission system was shut down.

Prior to the election in 2007, the U.S. Ambassador was reporting the electronic transmission system under IFES along with the IRI exit poll as American assistance efforts to support a fair election.  Although my FOIA requests have not been directed at that issue specifically, the results transmission system appears to have dropped off the Ambassador’s list without explanation around the time it was shelved and so far as I remember this issue did not get scrutiny in the media at the time.

The Kreigler Commission report stressed the crucial nature of results transmission and much was made of this in drafting of the new election laws and the talk of preparations and assistance for 2013, but the ECK refused to produce the minutes of its action shelving the 2007 system (or any of its other minutes) and the Commission reported on to President Kibaki and then the public without actual answers about what happened in 2007.

See “Didn’t we learn from the disaster in 2007? Kenya does not need to be anyone’s model anything; it needs truth in its election”

Why “the war for history” matters now

Efforts to retroactively legitimize the 2007 Kenyan election and turn away from the questions of why election fraud was allowed to stand also help divert attention from the current questions of what the United States and Kenya’s other diplomatic “partners” will do or not do now in the face of the current retrenchment of hard won freedoms and democratic openness. Kenya is less free and less secure now than it was in 2007. When a few more years have gone by will 2002 still be a remembered as a turning point for democracy in Kenya or just a false “spring” producing only a temporary thaw in authoritarian governance?

Here is some good context from Freedom House from April of this year.

“Authoritarian Contagion in Africa” by Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs, on the Freedon at Issue blog:

The broader phenomenon illustrated by Kenyatta’s actions [seeking restrictions on civil society and the press] is not just a matter of coincidence or independent imitation. Whether they are selling sophisticated technology to track down dissidents online or sharing legislative approaches that provide a patina of legitimacy for their crackdowns on political opponents, repressive governments are actively working together to push back against nonviolent movements for democratic change. Indeed, such authoritarian solidarity has arguably outpaced collaboration among the world’s democratic states, which are often feckless in mobilizing to defend their own values and assist likeminded activists under duress.

In East Africa, evidence of authoritarian contagion is growing. The governments of Uganda, once seen as a great hope for democracy, and South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance, are contemplating restrictive legislation targeting NGOs.

However, the true regional pioneer of this approach has been Ethiopia. Under longtime prime minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, the Ethiopian government issued laws on NGOs, the media, and terrorism that have collectively devastated the country’s political opposition and civil society. The most prominent democracy and human rights groups have been forced to abandon or radically scale back their work, and many of the leading activists have fled into exile.

Other leaders in East Africa and beyond no doubt observed with interest as the international community failed to mount any serious challenge to the Ethiopian government’s repressive actions. Donor countries declined to use their extensive development aid as leverage. Instead they meekly promised to monitor how the new laws were implemented. Whether out of consideration for Ethiopia’s role in combating terrorism in Somalia or fear that the country would turn to China as an alternative patron, the world’s wealthy democracies declined to challenge the Meles regime even after its legislation’s ruinous effects became apparent.

The citizens of Kenya, particularly those who opposed Kenyatta’s presidential candidacy or documented his role in fueling past ethnic violence, may now be paying the price for the international community’s hesitation to act on Ethiopia. It is certainly possible that Kenyatta—facing an international indictment—would have taken the same steps in the absence of a successful model for repression in the region. But his political allies might well have deserted him if they had reason to believe that Kenya would pay some meaningful price for antidemocratic initiatives.

One hopes that the United States and other democratic donor governments will draw their own lessons from these experiences, finally recognizing that the prioritization of security and macroeconomic concerns over democratic performance is a self-defeating strategy. In the long run, repressive states are less stable, less prosperous, and less friendly to democratic partners than open societies, and the spread of authoritarian practices can only damage the interests of Washington and its allies.

Last month Freedom House awarded it annual Freedom Award to Maina Kiai “in recognition of his fearless leadership in advocating for constitutional reform, fighting political corruption, and educating Kenyans of their basic civil and human rights.” The same Maina Kiai who pushed for release of the 2007 exit poll and challenged the U.S. to live up to its principles.

“The War for History” part seven: what, specifically, happened with Kenyans’ votes?

I am only aware of one specifically articulated explanation of the “much [that] can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots” as Ambassador Ranneberger described it to Washington on January 2, 2008. Here it is, from my March 2009 submission to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID:

Subsequent to the election, I met privately with a highly placed diplomatic official who told me that the theft of the election by the incumbent administration had been carried out through bribery of Kenyan election officials in the field, in particular the Returning Officers at the constituency level. The source said that these officials received large payments which left them financially secure in return for turning off their cell phones and otherwise making themselves unavailable to allow the vote numbers in the presidential race to be inflated. The source stated that the government he worked for was unable to identify this method of rigging in time to do anything about it because it was carried out “at the last minute”, very shortly before the voting. [Months later a story was published in the Standard regarding the vote fraud which stated that the original plan had been for Kibaki’s re-election to be assured by declaring Langata Constituency for Livondo over Odinga, but that as it became clear that the ODM ticket was carrying large margins from Western and Rift Valley Provinces it was decided that this was not tenable and the approach was switched to inflating the votes from elsewhere.]

This discussion took place in January 2008, during the post election violence, with the exit poll issue “pending”. I found it credible and believed it then, as I do now. Nothing in any of the less fact specific analysis produced by diplomatic or social science sources that I have seen over the years is inconsistent or suggests a contradiction with this information. The Kriegler Commission elected explicitly to stay well away from the type of investigation that would have confronted the Commission with the existence of such facts. I promptly reported the conversation to IRI Washington as I consistently reported such conversations during the election campaign and immediate crisis.

FOIA Update: I timed this series based on information from the USAID FOIA office that I would be getting the complete response to my April 2013 request to them for the documents relating to the exit poll by October 17. They were kind enough to call and let me know that it would be delayed to last week and after checking back they sent me a lengthy heavily lawyered letter and some documents. We have broad areas of disagreement at this point and I have asked them to reconsider their approach in some respects. Pending that, I did finally establish by virtue of the letter from USAID that IRI never filed the final report on the 2005-2007 USAID Kenya polling program, covering the 2005 and 2007 exit polls. Likewise, I have an officially public copy of the IRI January 14, 2008 quarterly report where IRI reported to USAID that the poll had been successfully conducted in spite of the challenges presented.

See Why is IRI’s report on the Kenya 2007 exit poll missing from USAID’s Development Experience Clearinghouse? (FOIA Series Part 13).

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“The War for History” part six: USAID ended up saying exit poll “disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner” in 2007 Kenya election

From USAID’s Frontlines magazine for August 2008:

Kenya’s President Lost Disputed Election, Poll Shows
NAIROBI, Kenya—An exit poll carried out with a grant from USAID in Kenya after elections six months ago that unleashed a wave of political and ethic killings, disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner.

President Mwai Kibaki, whom official results credited with a two-point margin of victory in the December vote, finished nearly 6 points behind in the exit poll, which was released in July by researchers from the University of
California, San Diego.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga scored “a clear win outside the margin of error” according to surveys of voters as they left polling places on Election Day, the poll’s author said.

The exit poll was first reported on by the McClatchy news agency. It was financed by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan democracy-building organization, with a grant from USAID.

Amid post-election violence, IRI decided not to release the poll. But the poll’s authors and the former head of the institute’s program in Kenya stand by the research, which the authors presented July 8 in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the exit poll, Odinga had 46.07 percent of the vote and Kibaki had 40.17
percent.

Part Five of “The War for History”: “sitting on” the exit poll in January and February 2008

In Nairobi I had remained optimistic through the end of January 2008 that IRI would ultimately decide to release the results of the exit poll.  I had been told by my immediate superior in Washington repeatedly that the then-president of IRI would be the final decision maker and “wanted” to release the results.  I told people in Nairobi, including senior politicians, when it came up that the issue remained under consideration.

After I was told there was to be a final meeting in Washington to make the decision on Friday, February 1, I scheduled lunch for the next Tuesday with Shashank Bengali, East Africa correspondent for the McClatchy papers (now with the Los Angeles Times) who had broken a story on the results previously, with the expectation that I would then finally be able to disclose them. I prepared a memo at the request of my boss explaining details of the poll results and their quality, concluding with my recommendation that they should be made public.  I was told to remove the recommendation from the end of the final document. Then I was told following that February 1 meeting that the decision had gone the other way and we would not be releasing, so I had to report that to Bengali at our lunch instead.  I obtained an agreement from my boss that I would be given the opportunity to “fact check” whatever statement would be released from Washington and advance notice to prepare the local IRI staff for the consequences in Nairobi.

In my “fact checking” role I objected vigorously to the draft statement prepared by IRI’s PR shop asserting that the results had been found to be “invalid”.  Recognizing that the IRI Washington hierarchy had the right to decide whether IRI would release the numbers, I was offended by characterizing the poll in a factually unjustified way and misleading the public to make an excuse. This seemed on par with the decision to tell Ambassador Mark Bellamy that he was dropped from the election observation because we could not buy his plane ticket when in fact it was because Ambassador Ranneberger created a showdown over the assertion that Bellamy was perceived to be unfavorable to the incumbent government–except that being less than truthful about the exit poll was a much more consequential matter.

In discussing the matter with my boss and batting away other notions to justify not releasing the results I was told that the bottom line was they were not being released because to do so was “not in the best interests of IRI”.  Those interests were not explained. Likewise it was said that the decision had been “going that way” since mid-January. On the morning of February 8 Nairobi time I got a call from a staff member in Washington who told me that the offending draft had gone up on the IRI web site overnight, in violation of my agreement, following the events in Washington that day, February 7 (the Senate hearings, which IRI had not attended, where Assistant Secretary of State Frazer and the Assistant USAID Administrator were grilled on why the exit poll had not been released, and a visit to IRI headquarters from ODM representatives to press for release of the poll.  Also that day ODM met with Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte to press unsuccessfully for release of the poll.)

Our longtime pollster, the late Dr. Peter Oriare, who was predictably devastated by the statement from Washington, defended the poll in a story in The Star which quoted both my boss in Washington and me, and was published in print (no website yet) the morning of Friday, February 15.  I had declined to tell The Starthat the Washington statement “reflected my personal opinion”.  I left later that day for my scheduled and overdue trip to Somaliland and the Washington office dispatched Nairobi staff from our Sudan and Somaliland programs to personally deliver copies of the February 7 “invalid” statement to key political negotiators on both sides, including Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi and Martha Karua–to which I objected from afar. 

These IRI employees had not been involved in the exit poll and would have had no way to know the statement from Washington was inaccurate. It was particularly noteworthy that the delegation, as I learned later, had missed the new Justice Minister Martha Karua in her office and chased her down at the Serena hotel where the Kofi Annan-led mediation was taking place.

Hon. Karua was leading the PNU mediation team and was identified at the time as one of those key Kibaki hardliners who opposed compromise.  She had her own stake as newly elevated to a key cabinet post by Kibaki on January 8 and as the leader of the NARC-Kenya party.  She has said subsequently that she in fact believed at the time that Kibaki had legitimately won the election–I cannot evaluate retroactively her subjective beliefs, but I was and remain troubled by the fact that she was told in person on February 15 that the exit poll, to be released in July and August showing a large Odinga win, was “invalid” and would not be released because of that lack of validity.  The mediation quickly broke down, although Kibaki and Odinga later reached their deal of February 28.

Whatever the machinations of the Ambassador and/or anyone else in the State Department, IRI’s Washington office at that time managed to make the situation more embarrassing and more difficult for the Kenya program aside from failing to have to courage to meaningfully stand against election fraud until too late to really matter.

Part Four of “The War for History”: yes, the exit poll discriminated against dead voters

Had I known before late afternoon on election day, 27 December, that “the whole reason” for the USAID-IRI exit poll was “early intelligence for the Ambassador” rather than as a tool to deter and detect potential fraud (as our consultant from UCSD and I were explicitly told some weeks before) I might have made more note of the fact that the exit poll by design generally excluded non-living voters as it was based on live interviews of people who had personally come to the polling place and cast ballots.

Admittedly if the purpose of the exit poll was to predict who the ECK would determine to be the winner, as opposed to simply how living Kenyans voted, this was a serious limitation.

One specific idiosyncrasy that afternoon that was immediately salient was the issue of release to the Ambassador of preliminary numbers reported and collated as of two hours before the polls were to generally close.  I have no statistical reference or otherwise scientific and peer reviewed material to cite for this observation, but it would have been my seat-of-the-pants judgment as the “person on the ground” with some practical experience in campaigns and elections and even with “machine politics” that deceased voters have a pronounced tendency to vote last in sequence among the various voting blocs.

For those wishing to observe the voting process rather than influence it, there are two related reasons why you will not want exit poll numbers to “get out” to actors in the process before the polls close.  One is that potential voters supporting the candidate who is “behind” are perceived to be subject to being discouraged.  Even if this is not a big enough factor to “matter” in the primary race at issue, it has been seen to impact the outcome of other races on the same ballot.  Another is that some voters who might not otherwise elect to turn out may be spurred to action by the perception that their candidate is trailing.  The dead voters are one identifiable bloc that may be particularly susceptible to an appeal of this type.

At the time, I didn’t have any numbers or details to go on that would support a specific adjustment for dead voters in the exit poll.  Some months later the Kreigler Commission estimated a figure of 1.2M decedents who were registered to vote on election day; in January 2010 as discussed in a previous post, Undersecretary of State Maria Otero was headlined in the Kenyan press on a visit saying “we are aware that more than two million dead people voted in 2007″. 

Had these types of numbers been available to me on election day I would have understood the stakes that much better.  Even though this type of voting in the United States peaked before I was born, we can easily see empirical evidence in history of a pronounced tendency of the dead voter bloc to support the party which controls the electoral mechanism, in this case in Nairobi, the ECK.  With the kinds of numbers on the voting role, if ODM/Odinga had roughly six percent more live votes as reflected in the exit poll, the percentage of the deceased who needed to be inspired to cast ballots would be much lower than the overall turnout figures.

In corresponding with a diplomat from an allied country (one with which the U.S. has a mutual defense treaty) before the ECK decision I was told that his expectation was that Odinga would win by roughly five percent.  I replied that this was interesting as I had decided that roughly five percent was probably the minimum threshold for a margin for Odinga that would result in him being accepted as the winner by the ECK.  In hindsight I was probably “drinking the CoolAid” of democratization a bit myself.

 

 

Part Three of “The War for History”: Continuing my email reports to Joel Barkan

Continuing with my Jan. 2-3, 2008 e-mails reporting back to Joel Barkan in Washington from Nairobi:

When I reported the call to Washington, Lorne eventually and reluctantly made the decision to scratch Bellamy (he was not told the truth to my chagrin).  Lorne then called Asst. Sec. Frazier on his way to the airport to tell her to get her Ambassador in line, then when he landed in Thailand he called the Ambassador to tell him to stop interfering in our EO.

After the Ambassador first raised his objection to Bellamy a few days earlier we had research Bellamy’s record and found no problems and checked out the political perception in Kenya and also found no problems.  Likewise, we had confirmed with the State Dept in Washington and confirmed that they had no issues with Bellamy being a delegate.  Likewise, we had confirmed that USAID was not objecting (and that they acknowledged they had no right to).

In the meantime, I had gotten a call from the Embassy that next Friday afternoon to come to Ambassador’s residence to see him on Saturday afternoon.  When I visit him, he in a fashion apologized for getting spun up with me, but reiterated that it was vital to the credibility of our whole delegation that Bellamy be struck because he was absolutely “perceived as anti-govenment”.  Whether he intended to or not, he left me with the distinct impression that the “perception” had been conveyed straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak (one of the provisions in our international agreement covering EOM standards prohibits allowing a government or other party any ability to veto members of our delegations).

Further, the Ambassador told me that “people” were saying that Raila might lose Langata.  He said that he would be personally observing the voting in Langata and wanted to take Connie with him for part of the day.  He also said that he wanted to take Connie privately to meet with Stanley Murage before the election.

When I reported this to DC, needless to say alarm bells went off.  We nixed letting Connie go off observing separately with the Ambassador and insisted that Connie would not be available for any off-schedule private meetings.  Serious consideration was given to cancelling the EO and I think it would have been cancelled if I didn’t say that I thought that I could manage the situation here.

When I told Sheryl about the Murage gambit she audibly gasped on the other end of the phone but didn’t comment.  She

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Part Two of “The War for History”: My emails to Joel Barkan on January 2, 2008

In the immediate aftermath of the 2007 Kenya election I exchanged emails with Joel Barkan who had just returned to Washington from the IRI/USAID Election Observation Mission. On January 2, 2008 Joel was trying to understand why the exit poll had not been released “to calm Raila’s people and perhaps prevent tomorrow’s march.” He wrote:You know, if this is not released before six months out, both IRI and probably the embassy will be accused of a cover up.  I would reflect again on how this should be played . . .“.  This is my response:

Joel,

My e-mail shows that I responded to this message, but the “sent” box does not reflect this.  There was a connection problem and my copy of the text will not come up.  What I drafted was long and I will attempt to reconstruct in some fashion:

I completely agree with your thoughts.  At the urging of our polling firm and UCSD I argued this as vigorously as I knew how within IRI to no avail.  I see a major embarrassment in the works as time passes.

This was a much better poll than our previous exit polls in 2002 and 2005 in which we had expressed pride thanks to the tireless work of James Long/UCSD.  The previous sampling was 3,000 in 55 constituencies. {Ed. note: 2007 sample size was 5500 in 179 constituencies in 71 districts out of a total of 212 constituencies in 72 districts}

My original agreement with IRI DC was that we should not release data to anyone while the polls were still open even though USAID had said that they would like preliminary data that Strategic said would be available around 3pm.  This was consistent with agreed US practice to avoid influence on voting.  In spite of this, Sheryl pressed me while I was still at polling place on the afternoon/evening of the election saying that the primary reason for funding the poll was for “early intelligence”.  She got the data by calling Strategic directly.

I sent Sheryl an e-mail confirming that she had gotten the data from Strategic and that I understood that the data was for “internal use of USAID only” and not to go to anyone else.

Frankly, I was concerned that the data would get to the Kibaki camp and that they would make tactical use of it.

Background:  On Thursday, two week before the election, I got a message from Sheryl that the Ambassador needed a copy of our last delegate list asap and she sent me a fax for him.  I sent the list, noting that it was to be released to media the next day.  On my way to lunch I got a call on my cell from the Ambassador raising hell about Mark Bellamy being on the list, saying that he was “laying down a marker” and that he would hold me “personally responsible” as IRI’s “person on the ground” even though I had in previous conversations explained that I had little or no influence over the delegate selection in DC.

More to follow:  Just got an e-mail from our press office with a mention of our failure to release the poll in Slate.

Ken