“The War for History” part ten: What was going on in the State Department on Kenya’s failed election, recognizing change at IRI–and how the 2007 exit poll controversy turned into a boon for IRI in Kenya
US Secretary of State Kerry issued a short perfunctory statement of congratulations to Kenyans for Jumhuri Day, mentioning his visit to Kenya in May, but not President Obama’s visit in July.
I get tired of expressing my disappointment in my government’s approach to relations with Kenya’s government and informal power structure and I did not have much to say about Obama’s visit. One particular item that got marginal attention in the Kenyan media and that I chose to ignore was an actual signed agreement between the Government of Kenya and the Government of the United States styled as a “Joint Commitment to Promote Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya“. There is actually a fair bit of detail to this agreement in terms of process, meetings, communications, and such, aside from the platitudes suggesting that the same people with life-long track records of comfort with corruption in Kenya were suddenly born again GooGoos (GooGoo being an old American slang term for “good government” types, referring to reformers who opposed corrupt urban political “machines” in large cities such as Chicago and my hometown of Kansas City).
In spite of the temporary boost to the UhuRuto administration from President Obama’s Nairobi visit, there has been a rising chorus of Kenyan grassroots umbrage to the extreme corruption levels as more and more scandals have emerged without, still, any actual sucessful prosecutions of major figures (meaning major players in either business or politics, or most likely both together) for any of the known thievery.
In the wake of the Pope’s visit, Uhuru–who has made conspicuous use of Roman Catholic photo props in his campaign and PR imagery since the contested 2013 vote–was said to have been moved or shamed to take some action, along the lines of the kinds of things that he had already agreed to do in his July agreement with the United States, to fight “graft”. Perhaps. “You just never know,” as some older conservative friends in Mississippi said when I tried to explain back in 2008 that everyone in Kenya knew that Barack Obama was born in the United States, not in Kenya.
What about on the United States side? Does our government really want to change things now? Here is what I would need to see to be persuaded that we have decided to change the game: 1) public follow up on the Goodyear bribes paid to public officials in Kenya [months have gone by now with no prosecutions in Kenya reported in the press after the parent company in the US turned itself in to the SEC and the Justice Department]; 2) public follow up on the bribery of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the 2013 election procurements [I finally submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request a few months ago to USAID on the procurements we paid for through IFES and for our dealings with the vendor Smith & Ouzman which was convicted in the UK of bribing the Kenyan IEBC–no documents or substantive response yet]; 3) public follow up on the issue of unnamed Kenyan officials being among those bribed by Chinese interests at the UN in New York resulting in U.S. indictments.
It has been credibly reported based on leaks that the new “visa bans” on travel to the US by Kenyan officials are quite extensive. Great. But we do this type of thing, if not quite to this extent, periodically. Over the years it obviously has not added up to any strategic progress even if there may (or may not) have been a few tactical successes here or there. Bottom line is that I don’t think you can really fight corruption with secrecy–you have to chose your priorities. And for my government to ignore the cases that have been publicly exposed in which we have some direct stake leaves me unconvinced that we have actually changed our priorities from 2007 and 2013 when I was in Kenya to see for myself.
One thing that we could do to make sure we are “practicing what we preach” on the governance side is for Congress to have oversight hearings about how we are carrying out the July 25 “Joint Agreement”.
It’s not so much that I’m jaded, it’s just that I have watched this movie before–and even been an “extra” of sorts in one of the previous remakes.
Yes, corruption is obviously getting even worse within this Kenyan administration than within the last. But that was also true when I lived in Kenya during the end of the first Kibaki administration and into the beginning of the second.
There are several readily apparent reasons. For instance, when I lived in Kenya I made the acquaintance of a Western expat whose spouse was in the tourism business. Prior to the 2007 vote count corruption and violence, the tourism business was booming. But corruption was up as a cost of doing business as it was explained to me because to operate you had to pay off a second generation, too–the kids of the senior politicians. Presumably this generational expansion has continued. Why wouldn’t it?
The year before I moved to Kenya the UK and US envoys had been outspokenly opposed to the corruption, in the context of the Anglo Leasing revelations by John Githongo of massive corruption involving national security procurements, touching our own security interests aside from our sensibilities about criminal behavior, along with the outrageous shenanigans involving the Artur Brothers, and the Standard media raid, among others. The British envoy even offered the memorably colorful “vomit on our (the donors’) shoes” metaphor about the extent of the gluttonous “eating”.
But by the time I arrived in mid-2007 things were different. New personnel led the diplomatic missions. On the US side we apparently helped Moi and Kibaki get back together, and hosted Interior Minister John Michuki, of “rattling the snake” fame, who had taken credit for the Standard raid, on a security tour of the U.S. Michuki represented Kibaki at our Embassy’s Fourth of July party, where Moi unofficially planted himself to catch the receiving line.
And then we looked the other way at the corruption of the Electoral Commission of Kenya. Ambassador Ranneberger made sure to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed from our IRI Election Observation Mission on the basis that he was “perceived as anti-government”. Bellamy had spoken out on the corruption, in particular the Standard raid. The week before the vote, Ranneberger noted for the Kenyan public that Kenya was “on track” in fighting the vice of corruption, that we had had Enron in the U.S., that prosecutions for Anglo Leasing and Goldenburg could take time, and that the World Bank had given the Kibaki administration an award for procurement reform (of all things) and that he expected a “free and fair” election. And then we tried at first to sell the ECK’s election “count” even though we knew full well that it was bogus. When that didn’t fly, we supported “power sharing” so long as there was no new election before Kibaki’s full second term was up. According to a news report from Nairobi years later from stolen cables from “Wikileaks” we issued a couple of “travel bans” based on alleged evidence of bribery against two of the ECK commissioners, but we never disclosed this action or the evidence, why we singled out these two or anything else about the matter.
During the post election violence a diplomat explained to me that the reason many of the younger pols in Kibaki’s PNU coalition were against a power sharing settlement was that they didn’t want to share the secondary ministry appointments. Ultimately by adding opposition politicians into the second Kibaki administration through “power sharing” with extra ministries you further expanded the multigenerational set of stomachs to let eat. One way to look at the settlement naturally has been that Kibaki and Raila were willing to stop the fighting (so long as Kibaki retained with further ambiguity the full second term Presidency which the ECK had delivered to him) and the rest were bribed to acquiesce.
So you cannot tell me with a straight face that the diplomatic position of the United States in 2007-08 was to “oppose” corruption as a high rather than a subordinated priority.
After being stung by criticism from the election debacle, Ranneberger was reborn as an outspoken “reform agenda” campaigner for his extended tour on through the passage of a new constitution. He compiled dossiers on money laundering and drug smuggling through politico/business interests and encouraged action, albeit to no avail. His successors quietly moved on, however, and we helped sell a new badly handled election in 2013 by a new, but probably more pervasively corrupted electoral authority. We helped pay for expensive technology that was doomed by procurement fraud but kept quiet. The British Serious Fraud Office successfully prosecuted one of their companies and its owners for bribes on other election procurements, but the Kenyan administration has taken no action to follow up and we have kept our silence.
With time, we have come again to affectionately embrace our usual suspect “partners”, with new programs headquartered in our favorite African city of Nairobi. A photo op in the Oval Office with POTUS and FLOTUS for the Kenyan President and First Lady last year, followed this summer by a glowing official Presidential visit to Nairobi with a telegenic dance party at State House. Never mind what we said before; please can we give you more? Some eloquent speech about the cost of corruption, safely abstract from the burgeoning accumulation of years of specific cases on the impunity docket. Yes we can dance with this new set of shoes without even looking down at the vomit.
Surely then it can be no surprise that things have gotten that much worse. With a new report by Kenyan journalists on the longstanding implication of Kenyan Defense Forces which we help underwrite in Jubaland in the sugar and charcoal smuggling rackets, and fresh levels of embarrassment from the international press from the National Youth Service, irregular handling of bond proceeds amid rising debt levels, more land grabbing and another looted bank, all with a new election cycle approaching, the season has turned again and it is the time for furrowed brows. Time for the U.S. to lead a donor group to call on the current version of the anti-corruption authority. To talk again of “visa bans” and offers again to assist in “asset recovery”.
Instead of another remake, could this be a sequel offering a surprise ending, with say, even a few villains in jail, or at least less rich, as a cautionary tale for some and a bit of hope and inspiration for others? Or is this just another iteration of “the formula” in which the sheriff rides into town, frowns at the drunken brawl, then passes along to enjoy the cinematic scenery on the way home?
Only time will tell. I do think we genuinely would prefer to be against the corruption rather than aligned with it. We just lose our nerve and get distracted by other priorities that seem more immediate. Making a dent in Kenya’s entrenched culture of impunity would take a long hard slog, in the face of bitter opposition formal and informal. It would be messy and likely involve putting up with a bit of embarrassment–it could involve some risk and actual cost. In any event it would take a good while for us to convince the players that we had become serious.
In his book Birth: the Conspiracy to Stop the ’94 Election, Peter Harris, a South African lawyer who was in charge of the “election-monitoring division” of that country’s Independent Electoral Commission in 1994 (under Johann Kriegler, later appointed by President Kibaki to head Kenya’s 2008 IREC or “Kriegler Commission”, charged under Kenya’s 2008 post-election settlement with, inter alia, investigating the failed presidential vote) elaborates:
“Why would anyone want to run a free and fair election that will remove them from power? . . . Enter the election-monitoring division, whose primary job is to ensure that the election is free and fair. . . .
What constitutes a free and fair is a major issue for us. The high level of violence can have a major effect. In short, the tense situation in Bophuthatswana can jeopardize everything.
Declaring an election free and fair depends on a number of considerations, but chief among them is the ‘freedom of voters to vote in secret, free from violence and coercion’, and ‘access to secure voting stations’.
Since his appointment, Steven Friedman and his information and analysis department have been monitoring the situation closely. Their final talks will be to produce a report that will help the commissioners make a finding on whether the election was free and fair and a reflection of the will of the people.
I rather like the ‘will of the people’ bit; it reminds me of one of those classic legal catch-all clauses that provide an escape route if all else fails. It is a bit like ‘sufficient consensus,’ that famous methodology for reaching agreement at constitutional negotiations. In real terms this means if the ANC and the National Party agree there was ‘sufficient consensus’, then bugger the rest. The real reason I like ‘the will of the people’ is because, as we hurtle closer to this election, it is clear to me that there is a lot that can, and probably will, go wrong.
Under Kenyan law under the 2010 Constitution, as in effect for the last election in 2013, this issue of potential circumlocution about election shortcomings is solved: the Constitution mandates a “free and fair” minimum standard. I have written previously that I had picked up on discussion in Washington ahead of the 2013 Kenyan election harking back to the “will of the people” hedging language used by Westerners in reference to Moi’s re-elections in the 1990’s.
I ended up in an indirect disagreement through the pages of Africa in Fact magazine with the spokesmen for the Western government-funded election observation missions (the Carter Center from the US and the EU mission) about the significance of the conspicuous absence of reference to the higher (and legally mandated) standard in their Preliminary Statements following the voting.
The Harris memoir is that hackers penetrated the electoral commission ICT systems and changed vote tallies in progress. And that the fraud was discovered by the embedded IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems) team funded by the U.S., addressed internally within the Electoral Commission and not disclosed at the time.
The hackers were adding votes for third parties apparently not to disrupt the ANC’s win, but rather to manipulate the overall percentage seemingly to avoid letting the ANC have the parliamentary margin to change the new constitution.
The South African Electoral Commission suspended the vote tally without explaining about the infiltration of the system. A technology work around was created but the overall control system for handling the count broke down. Through heroic logistical efforts, intricate private political negotiations and with the grace of fortunate “communications” efforts, the election process was “saved” to the extent of being accepted as a rough approximation of the “will of the people” in the context of moving from majority rule in an electorate of 22 million from the existing system of rule determined by competition among no more than a 3 million voter privileged minority. Close enough for “horseshoes or hand grenades” as we say. Close enough to an actual count of each individual’s vote for a “free and fair” election? Not so much.
In South Africa in 1994 there was an understood consensus that the purpose of the first broadly democratic election was to transfer power from the minority National Party the majority ANC while containing conflict from other factions “white” and “black”. The time allocated and resources available made a free and fair election as such wholly beyond the potential of the endeavor.
Thus the situation in South Africa in 1994 was radically different than the electoral management task presented to the Kenya’s ECK and IEBC (and IFES) in 2007 and 2013.
In 2013 Judge Kriegler was back in Kenya some and was a frequent public commenter on contentious matters involving politics and the electoral commission. It would seem easy to argue that his approach and expectations in Kenya leaned too heavily on the very dissimilar task he faced in his electoral commission experience in South Africa.
The United States invested heavily in its relationship with Tanzania in the “post-Cold War” era and on into the present period of “democratic recession”. The Millenium Challenge Corporation has had the Tanzania compact as a flagship relationship and just voted late last month to proceed with the partnership on the basis of a barely cleared corruption hurdle. I don’t follow Tanzanian politics closely and never lived there, but the consensus in the West appears to be that corruption has worsened in recent years while basic stability and growth in the aggregate size of the economy from a low base have been more positive features. Most Tanzanians remain materially poor and only a small percentage of younger people have jobs as population growth remains rapid.
Western discussion of the election seems to be have been fairly muted given its conceptual significance. I think part of the reason for this is that the match up presents some conumdrums that raise the stakes of commentary and exhortation from the outside. Given that Tanzania has remained under the current version (“CCM”) of the Independence/Cold War era “single party” for all these years, the point of democracy assistance and outside focus would normally be on progress toward levelling the playing field so that someone else could eventually win if the majority of citizens was so inclined.
The twist is that the opposition coalition, representing the pre-existing reformist voices, ended up fronting a candidate, Edward Lowassa, by reputation a leading player in the corruption himself. He was forced out as Prime Minister in 2008–a time when anti-corruption and goverance reform was in vogue among donors–and was pushed aside this year from his expected ruling CCM party nomination to succeed Kikwete before defecting to the opposition Chadema party.
Nonetheless, in Tanzania, unlike in any of its four East African Community neighbors the trajectory toward fair competition and “deeping democracy” has remained plausibly if uncertainly intact. The National Election Commission has registered 24M voters compared to 14M by Kenya’s IEBC in 2013 (estimates suggest Tanzania has a population perhaps around 10% higher). At the same time, there has been recent democratization “backsliding” on issues besides corruption, in particular media freedom.
Among donors there is what Jeffrey Gettleman’s piece in today’s New York Times notes is being called “democracy fatigue”. Maybe things have gone badly enough around the region that we are just happy that Tanzania’s President Kikwete is honoring constitutional term limits, especially in the wake of a derailed constitutional reform effort that was supposed to lead to a referendum on a new charter before this election.
Regardless of the outcome a well run election understood by Tanzanian voters to have been free and fair would be arguably a “feather in the cap” for the MCC model and the general U.S. assistance structure. Which of course is one more important reason for journalists covering the election observations to be responsibly sensitive to the underlying interests and conflicts faced by the various observation missions and individual observers.
See “The Kenyan factor in Tanzania’s 2015 election” in The Citizen.
And “Tanzania’s election crackdown on free speech” in The Daily Beast.
From Nairobi’s Business Daily of February 26, 2015, “Big names face scrutiny in Goodyear bribes scandal“:
Top Kenya government officials are on the spot once again for pocketing more than Sh138 million ($1.5 million) in bribes from a subsidiary of American tyre firm Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, US regulators said.
The bribes were paid in exchange for the award of multi-million shilling tenders to supply tyres to some of Kenya’s largest state corporations, government agencies and public listed firms.
The US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) said Goodyear paid the bribes to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Armed Forces Canteen Organization (Afco), Nzoia Sugar, Kenyan Air Force, Ministry of Roads, Ministry of State for Defence, East African Portland Cement Company (EAPCC) and Telkom Kenya executives to win contracts.
US detectives also established that additional Sh1.3 million ($14,457) was dished out to lure Kenya Police and City Hall officials to award the Ohio-based tyre maker multi-million shilling deals.
The corrupt dealings, committed between 2007 and December 2011, were executed through Treadsetters Tyres Ltd, then a subsidiary of Goodyear.
Goodyear made the illicit payments to Kenyan officials in cash and recorded the spending in its financial books as advertising expenses, according to a forensic audit by the SEC.
“Treadsetters’ general manager and finance director were at the centre of the scheme,” the SEC said in its filings. “They approved payments for phony promotional products, and then directed the finance assistant to write-out the checks to cash.”
The well-orchestrated bribery ring involving Kenyan bureaucrats is captured in a ruling in which Goodyear has agreed to pay a Sh1.48 billion ($16.22 million) fine for engaging in corrupt practices abroad.
The allegations were disclosed by Goodyear in 2012 and hit the Kenyan press in a significant way when the SEC fine was announced almost eight months ago. Many of the disclosed bribes were paid to Kenyan national security officials. In the meantime, we see more successful terrorist attacks and insecurity, but no further news on anything being done to suggest that the Government of Kenya has any substantive intention of treating these bribes as unacceptable.
Where is Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission? Where are Kenya’s journalists and media houses in following the stories they reported? (would be pleased to hear if I’m missing something . . .)
And where is my government? I’m proud of my country for policing our own companies through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but it has been sad to see our support for a “reform agenda” in our relations with Kenya seem to run off into a ditch.
The criminal complaint unsealed yesterday by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York of six individuals, including John Ashe, the former President of the U.N..General Assembly, and five others involved in a bribery and money laundering scheme to illegally advance the fortunes of Chinese-based business interests, includes a section entitled “YAN and PAIO Arrange Additional Payments to Ashe in Exchange for Official Acts on Behalf of a Chinese Security Company”. [See pages 26-30]
The “official acts” alleged involved Ashe acting on behalf of the unnamed “Chinese Security Company” as a go-between with unnamed “Kenyan Officials” to facilitate the pursuit of Kenyan Interior Ministry procurement.
k”Ex-ICT boss tells Parliament that IEBC bungled 2013 election” The 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”
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.
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
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?