“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”.
We have a hegemonic two party political system in the United States. Neither party attracts the identification of a consistent majority of voters, yet most “independent” voters primarily vote for one party or the other rather than choosing between candidates on a case-by-case basis. During the period of their hegemony the Republican and Democratic parties have changed their regional, ideological, cultural and racial make-up without losing their shared control of substantially all of government at a federal and state level.
At present, American politics is primarily about culture, which is reflected in what political scientists identify as an ideological separation in which the two parties in Congress no longer substantially overlap, especially due to the defeat of liberal and then moderate Republicans especially in the Northeast and Midwest and the success of “tea party” and other movements and political funding mechanisms that have moved Republican representation well to the right. At the same time, the Democratic Party has to a lesser but perhaps growing degree moved left and does not seriously try to compete in large swaths of the country that were its traditional strongholds.
The specific policy issue that constitutes a near absolute “litmus test” divide between the parties remains abortion, which is primarily determined in the courts and is little legislated on at the federal level. While each of the parties has reinforced the rigor of the divide on that issue in recent years they have moved to “sort” across a whole diverse range of issues– most any issue that arises really.
This divide between the parties, culturally derived, then generates reverberation back into the broader culture. While most Americans don’t care that intensely about politics and politicians as such, we seem to me to be becoming more disputatious about issues that come to the fore in politics and governance, more suspicious of each other, less willing to accord legitimacy to opinions we don’t reflexively agree with, and less inclined to listen and learn in a way that would support mutual persuasion and/or compromise.
Shortly after returning to the United States from Kenya in the summer of 2008 I remember being struck in reading Rick Perlstein’s then new sociopolitical history Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America how glad I was to have been too young to have had to really deal with the depth of divisions of “The Sixties” and the “culture wars” and “generation gap” of that era. Unfortunately these divisions have been gearing up since that summer.
Some of this is surely just the ordinary social cycle, some of it is the inevitable stress of an unprecedented era of seemingly permanent war, along with economic trauma from globalization and the finance crisis, but just as the political strategies of Richard Nixon and George Wallace and others had broader consequences of historical import from the late 1960s and 1970s, the decision of so many leaders and elected officials in the Republican Party to actively or passively indulge and humor the bizarre conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya and somehow smuggled into the country as an infant is to me a factor that future historians may view as quite profound.
Obama was a candidate of thin experience with significantly opaque aspects to his background with some legitimate controversies–this was always fair game politically for the Clintons and for Republicans. But, when you are mute or noncommittal when conspiracy theorists turn the basic facts of what could be seen as a uniquely American success story aside from divides of policy, party and ideology into a sinister, evil conspiracy resulting in a wholly illegitimate and unlawful usurpation of the White House by the clear winner of the election you cannot expect to easily manage the impacts over time. Surely any upstanding, patriotic citizen who actually believes the conspiracy is duty-bound to oppose the usurper?
Most senior Republicans could never have believed any of this–I am afraid they just did not have the courage to confront it because they knew it had profound traction at the grassroots as consistently confirmed by polling. John McCain as Obama’s GOP opponent (and International Republican Institute chairman) was notably above the nonsense personally but he was also notably outside the cultural mainstream of the party even by 2008 and more so now. The problem was not so much the campaign as the deligitimization of the elected President.
Thus now we have Donald Trump, unapologetic carnival barker of the birther conspiracy from its revival in 2011, as the dominant front runner for the Republican nomination for President to the chagrin of probably most people of his generation who have actually been involved in the party over the years. Whatever happens from here on out in this particular election campaign which remains partially in flux, the nature and trajectory of one of our only two parties, at the least, has been profoundly impacted. And the consequences will continue to play out well after the next President takes office.
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.
October 29 Statement
LSE’s Africa blog asks: Is Tanzania’s National Election Commission credible?
Of course, this should never have been taken with a straight face by the media as it is wholly implausible. You have to have a “free and fair” count and reporting of the count to have a free and fair election.
Tanzania is one of five EAC member states (and the one with the most stabile recent democratic progress, but a ruling party that has not turned over since independence). Groups of diplomats from the EAC and SADC are not similarly situated to outside, at least notionally independent, observation organizations.
See: How is IGAD’s “diplomatic observation” regarding Kenya’s election process helpful? from February 1, 2013.
Election Observation: Diplomacy or Assistance? from July 25, 2010.
Here is the link to the EU Election Observation Mission which issued a positive but temperate preliminary statement on the progress of the election yesterday. There are always “real world” issues and limitations, but these EOM’s are institutionally established to have some level of bona fide independence, and the government facing this election is not a member of the EU which includes many members with a wide range of relevant interests.
[The point here is you cannot possibly reach a plausible conclusion that an election was “free and fair” or reflected “the will of the people” in the early stages of counting the vote! Would have thought that goes without saying . . .]
The Southern African Development Community election observation mission is led by Oldemiro Baloi, Foreign Minister of Mozambique. Tanzania is a member state of SADC. Amid the “preliminary” statements from the various observation missions being reported by the international media, from Twitter:
@sarahkimani: Baloi: Tanzania’s elections were free, fair, transparent and credible and represent the will of the people of Tanzania. #SABCnews
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.
“Uganda at ‘crossroads’ opposition leader warns” from Amy Fallon for AFP today:
Besigye said he feared Uganda is “now very clearly at a crossroads”, and demanded an overhaul of the electoral commission running the polls.
“If this matter is not corrected at this time, I dare say the country will be at a very serious risk of sliding back into political instability, into violence and chaos,” Besigye said.
“We are very, very determined to do everything within our means to have changes in the management of the election.”
At Africa Watch from the Institutes of Defense Analyses Dr. Stephanie Burchard had a recent update: “Elections in Uganda: a One-Man Show?“.
Meanwhile, on Rwanda, the State Department has released a statement of concern regarding the decision of the Kagame government to form a Constitutional Review Commission that may seek to extend Kagame’s rule by lifting term limits, with a quote from President Obama citing the risk of “instability and strife–as we’ve seen in Burundi.”
Book bitings: I’ve started reading Dr. Burchard’s new book Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa: Causes and Consequences which has a substantial focus from her extensive research in Kenya. Highly recommended so far and available at an introductory publisher’s discount at the link above.
And today’s “Monkey Cage” column in the Washington Post had a very useful conversation about local society and approaches to aid with China Schurz, anthropologist and author of Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda. Will go on the aspirational reading list for me as an interested small donor.
In an interview in today’s edition of Uganda’s state owned New Vision, retiring U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi addressed the current Ugandan campaign for the 2016 elections. In response to a question about civil society concerns about narrowing of the democratic space in Uganda, DeLisi declined to weigh in and went so far as to volunteer a position on behalf of the United States that he would leave the issue of electoral reforms for Ugandans to “discuss among themselves”. Translated from diplospeak, discussion among Ugandans here means that prospective voters can mutter, murmur or swear and Museveni can decide as he will without consequence.
In his most recent re-election in 2011, Museveni stiffed the United States by keeping control of the appointment of Uganda’s electoral commission. See “High level U.S. delegation carries requests to Museveni on fair elections and Iran sanctions” and “Plenty of reason to be concerned about Uganda election” along with linked related posts. This time, the Obama Administration, fresh off dancing with Kenyatta literally and with Hailemariam figuratively, seems to have given up on any aspiration for pro-reform influence well in advance.
From the interview:
You have always asserted that the US mission will not get entangled in local politics. But as an ambassador, what advice would you give to players in the impending elections?
We never said we will not get involved in politics. Just as citizens of this country, we have invested in this country. Do we want this country to be a success with a strong and vibrant democracy? Yes.
If caring about this means getting involved in politics, then we will do. As for which candidate or party to support, that is for people of Uganda to decide.
We talk to leaders of all political parties – NRM, FDC, DP, UPC. Name them, we talk to them. We tell them that there should be a constructive electoral process in which people’s views are respected, where people engage each other respectively, where there is no room for violence.
So that, at the end of the day, no matter who wins the election, it is a credible result that services Uganda well and gives the new leader legitimacy to lead the country effectively and deal with the challenges that will emerge.
Do you share concerns by civil society that political space in Uganda is narrowing?
I don’t know whether it is narrowing down but I perfectly appreciate the challenges of civil society. But this is a constant dialogue we are always having with the Government to ensure that there is room for meaningful dialogue and engagement.
There is the NGO Bill currently before Parliament and during consultations; we have seen the NGO community, civil society engage with MPs in a robust dialogue that has brought significant changes to this piece of legislation. I don’t know what the final law will look like.
I know civil society would have liked to see the issue of electoral reforms addressed fully, but I leave that to Ugandans to debate among themselves about the need to strengthen the democratic process. We have seen in US that even after 250 years, we are still working to improve our democracy.
Update: To understand the context and significance of the Museveni government’s continued stonewalling, see today’s Daily Monitor: The Unresolved Question of Electoral Reforms, What it Means for 2016.