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

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

Knowns and Unknowns, Plausible and Otherwise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hats off to Connie

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

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

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

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polls

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

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

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

“IFES Supports New Biometric Voter Registration System in Yemen”

Keeping the bar low for Election Observation Missions? ICYMI, IGAD congratulated Sudan’s Bashir on “peaceable and largely credible” election

From AllAfrica.com:

Ambassador Mahboub Maalim, Executive Secretary of IGAD, extended his warmest congratulations to President Omar Al-Bashir for his re-election to the presidency of the Sudan.
Ambassador Mahboub Maalim, noting the role of IGAD in observing the elections in Sudan, noted that the elections “were largely conducted in a peaceful and credible manner.”
Ambassador Maalim said: “I congratulate you on your victory and wish to express IGAD’s confidence that your leadership will continue to make earnest efforts to achieve lasting peace as well as prosperity for the people of the Sudan.” the Executive Secretary added that “I also wish you every success in these efforts and wish to affirm that you can count on my continued support.”

Here is the AU EOM preliminary statement as reported by the Sudan Vision.  The AU’s pre-election assesment had noted that predicate conditions were not in place for a fair election.

Nigeria example shows U.S. and other donors should act now on Kenya IEBC technology procurement corruption

For the 2013 election, I have a copy of one last minute USAID procurement through IFES for the Kenyan IEBC related to the failed electronic results transmission system; I would assume there were other USAID procurements involved for the IEBC.  Notably, the Supreme Court of Kenya found that the main cause of the failure of the electronic results transmission system and the electronic voter identification system appeared to be procurement “squabbles” among IEBC members. “It is, indeed, likely, that the acquisition process was marked by competing interests involving impropriety, or even criminality: and we recommend that this matter be entrusted to the relevant State agency, for further investigation and possible prosecution.”   “Thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court opinion” April 13, 2013.  See also, “Why would we trust the IEBC vote tally when they engaged on fraudulent procurement processes for key technology?”, March 24, 2013.

From “USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers“, February 17,2005.

Election technology can work, in Africa, just as elsewhere, when it is not sabotaged by corruption.  Nigeria, a much harder case than Kenya, proved that this weekend.

While technology is “not a panacea”, it would have mattered in Kenya in 2007 when it was purchased for Kenya’s ECK at the expense of American taxpayers as an important part of our USAID assistance program if it had not been simply “shelved” by the ECK at the last minute (in a meeting the records of which the ECK refused to turn over to the “Kreigler Commission” charged with investigating the failed election).  It was a central part of the planned assistance program for 2013 shaped on the basis of the Kreigler Commission’s recommendations for what was required based on what was done and not done in 2007.  It was also in 2013 a central and necessary part of election process under the new Kenyan law for the new IEBC, replacing the discredited and disbanded ECK.  It mattered that it did not work, and that it could not have worked because of the failure to procure what was needed when it was needed.

Aside from the basic issues regarding the technology procurements that we have all known about since the 2013 election (and before in some cases)–so thus for more than two years at a minimum–we now have in addition–the “Chickengate” matter where bribery of IEBC officials for ballot paper printing contracts by a British company and its officials, through a Kenyan agent formerly employed by the IEBC, was proven in a court of law to the standards required for criminal convictions.

Yet we see no indication of legal action by the Kenyan government to follow through even on those bribes already proven in the British Court, much less a serious fulfillment of the two-year old recommendation of the Supreme Court of Kenya for the Government to investigate and possibly prosecute the technology procurement cases.  We certainly see that corruption issues are admitted to be remain pervasive at all levels of the current Kenyan government–and perhaps there is a newfound intention to address some of them (time will tell) but apparently no new mention of the IEBC. See “Read the list of public officers implicated in corruption and what the EACC accuses them ofThe Star, March 31. And “Analysis: Kenyatta’s corrupted corruption probe” by Simon Allison in The Daily Maverick, March 30.

What are we waiting for?  Shouldn’t we (the United States) have enough self respect to at least suspend our underwriting of this nonsense and to at least make it clear that we will investigate how our own dollars were spent regardless of what the Government of Kenya elects to do or not do?  Likewise other donors who may have paid for part of this?

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Why does the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee keep leaving the Carter Center off their election hearings?

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations is holding a hearing Wednesday morning, March 18, on U.S. Election Support in Africa.

Good.  Unfortunately, as was that much more conspicuous with the hearing about the 2013 Kenyan election, the subcommittee has scheduled testimony from the IFES/NDI/IRI troika, but without the Carter Center scheduled.  The Carter Center conducted the USAID-funded Election Observation Mission itself for Kenya in 2013, so the omission was hard to understand on a hearing on that very election; it is still hard to understand for an Africa-wide hearing.  (I have no idea why things have turned out this way, I am simply making the point that Congress would have an opportunity to be better informed if this wasn’t just an “all in the Beltway” experience.)

For Kenya’s last vote, see Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

For further discussion of the Subcommittee’s April 2013 Kenya hearing, see AfriCOG’s Seema Shah asks in Foreign Policy: “Are U.S. Election Watchdogs Enabling Bad Behavior in Kenya?”

In new developments, now with the British #Chickengate prosecutions for bribing Kenyan election officials: USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers.

The Carter Center also observed the 2002 and 1997 elections in Kenya, along with many others, including the most recent election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011 which provides perhaps another set of lessons as the Kabila government arrests democracy supporters and even a U.S. diplomat.

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC–offer technical assistance.

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

IRI Poll Releae Press Conference

The “War for History” Series to date

♠The War for History: was Kenya’s 2007 election stolen or only “perceived to be” stolen?

♠Part Two of “The War for History”: my e-mails to Joel Barkan of January 2, 2008

♠Part Three of “The War for “History”: continuing my e-mail reports to Joel Barkan

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

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

♠(Part Six): Why “The War for History” matters now–authoritarian momentum in East Africa

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

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

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

♠”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

♠”The War for History” part eleven: what did I mean in “part ten” in referring to Ranneberger “trying to quash” poll results showing Odinga taking the lead in the presidential race in September 2007?

♠”The War for History” part twelve: why did Ranneberger and Lambsdorf react so differently to the election fraud they witnessed together?

Any questions?  There is plenty more I can elaborate on details but I think the general picture is clear that the election was stolen.  Such ambiguity as has existed has been generated by people who have known better.  In an upcoming post I will explain why, as opposed to just how, as I was told, the election was stolen–and why the success of the fraud has preempted reform in Kenya.

 

“[T]o dance on the graves . . .”–KPTJ letter to UK Serious Fraud Office on #Chickengate convictions

By NJONJO MUE, as printed at Business Daily, “Smith & Ouzman director’s crime goes beyond ‘chicken’ offer to IEBC officials”:

Mr Mue is programme adviser at Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice.

Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ), a coalition of more than 30 legal, human rights and governance civil society groups would like to commend UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for the successful prosecution of Smith & Ouzman, and two of its directors for overseas corruption, including the bribery of Kenyan election officials to obtain contracts for printing of poll materials.

We write this letter to give our perspective on the impact of corruption on elections. We do this in the hope that you will bring these matters to the attention of the court so that they may inform its deliberations on the sentencing of the directors and the company and the subsequent confiscation hearing.

We would also like to strongly suggest that the SFO call expert witness on this point so that the court can be fully informed about it. We would be happy to provide relevant names of experts in this area should the SFO need such assistance.

KPTJ was formed in the wake of the widespread violence that engulfed Kenya following the disputed 2007 presidential elections.

More than 1,100 people were killed, over half a million displaced from their homes, hundreds of women and men sexually assaulted as well as property worth billions of shillings destroyed in the chaos.

Kenya was saved from a full-scale civil war only by international mediation efforts led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The mediation agreed on a raft of measures to address both the immediate crisis and the long-term underlying issues to bring permanent stability to the country, including constitutional and institutional reforms.

A commission of inquiry appointed to review the elections recommended a complete overhaul of the electoral process, including the disbandment of the then Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and a fresh registration of voters.

The ECK was replaced by the Interim Independent Election Commission, the body whose officials Smith & Ouzman subsequently bribed to obtain business from.

The above background is important in order to demonstrate a number of key points.

First, both Kenyans and the international community invested a lot of time, money and hard work to ensure that the devastating political violence of 2008 would never occur again.

This was done through reforming the election management body and the appointment of new commissioners, among other measures.

For Smith & Ouzman to casually bribe  the new poll officials and justify it by claiming that they were just doing  business the “African way” is not just an insult to Kenyans and Africans, it is to dance on the graves of those who paid the ultimate price due to the failed elections.

Second, Kenya has frequently paid a high price in terms of lives lost and property destroyed as a result of disputed elections, the post-election violence being only the most extreme example.

Political violence in turn is often the direct consequence of having elections managed by officials of questionable integrity who cannot be trusted to deliver a free and fair election.

When Smith & Ouzman bribes poll officials to obtain contracts for printing election materials, the country not only incurs financial loss due to the inflated price, but also it ultimately pays a much higher price in terms of the loss of integrity of the electoral body and the subsequent instability and political uncertainty that the loss brings.

As far as financial consequences are concerned, it is notable that Kenya’s elections have been said to be among the world’s most expensive per capita, in spite of their generally poor quality.

Third, an election body, like a bank, survives on public trust and derives legitimacy and credibility not from the technical sophistication of their poll materials, tools and procedures, but from public faith in its impartiality, competence and integrity.

The bribery claims against Kenyan poll officials has resulted in loss of public faith in the agency and may lead to disputed elections and violence in future.
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“The War for History” part twelve: Why did Rannenberger and Lambsdorf react so differently to the election fraud they witnessed together?

Election Observation as “Diplomacy or Assistance” in practice

We learned four years after the 2007 Kenyan election from my 2009 Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department that U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger had witnessed in person the inflation of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya leading to the announcement of Kibaki as the winner of the election by 230,000 votes on December 30, 2007. This is described in my post Part Ten—FOIA Documents from the Kenya 2007 election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots, and it did”.

We also learned that Ranneberger was with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorf, at the ECK while witnessing what happened.

Ranneberger’s cable back to Washington explaining what he saw and his version of its significance is notably backward looking, as it is dated January 2, 2008, the Wednesday after Kibaki was sworn in at twilight Sunday.  He explains that most of his contemporaneous reporting to Washington had been oral due to the exigencies of events. By the time of this cable quite a number of people were dead and injured by the police in suppressing protest and by other violence such as the infamous church burning in the Rift Valley.

On January 1, 2008, the day before the cable, the EU Election Observation Mission released its Preliminary Statement on the election, with Lambsdorf presenting and answering questions from the press and public at the Intercontinental Hotel.  The EU Observers strongly criticized the fraud.  The EU at that time was pressing for remedial action on the election fraud while the US was pushing for a “power sharing” settlement after Ranneberger initially promoted acceptance of the results speaking to the media from Nairobi.  Back in Washington the State Department’s Africa Bureau had election day media guidance stressing that the opposition might claim fraud regardless if they lost and when the results were announced the State Department spokesman issued congratulations to Kibaki that evening which were “walked back” the next day.

On December 28, the day after the election, Ranneberger sent the last of the cables I have been provided before the January 2 cable explaining the fraudulent tallying, titled “Kenya’s Elections–A Positive Process Thus Far” as discussed in “Part Six–What did the U.S. Ambassador report to Washington the day after the Kenyan election?”. In this cable he reiterated his assertion that it was in the diplomatic interest of the United States for the election to be a “positive example” and a “watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy”.

“Advancing U.S. Interests”

We will keep the Department closely informed as results become clearer. At this point, there are sound reasons to believe that this election process will be a very positive example for the continent and for the developing world, that it will represent a watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy, and that it will, therefore, significantly advance U.S. interests. The Kenyan people will view the U.S. as having played an important and neutral role in encouraging a positive election process” [End]

In a December 24 cable titled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections” Ranneberger had been explicit that it was in the U.S. diplomatic interest to be able to treat the announced outcome by the ECK as credible.

Thus we have a clear example of an election observer and a diplomat witnessing election fraud together and reacting in contradictory ways, and an explanation from the diplomat from the produced cables of his a priori position as to the interests of his client in how the election would come to be seen.

We don’t know from any of this what anyone in Washington thought about the interests of the United States as opposed to Ranneberger’s assertions to them.  Nor where Kivuitu’s expression of concern to Ranneberger prior to the election (which is not reflected in these cables) fits in; nor a possible election eve meeting among the Ambassador, Kibaki advisor Stanley Murage and Connie Newman, the designated lead delegate for the International  Republican Institute election observation mission (it was agreed in advance among the IRI staff that such a meeting “must not happen” but in spite of my precautions there were a couple of logistical windows of opportunity when such a meeting may have been possible; again nothing in the cables I have received to explain the purpose of a meeting or whether or not it actually took place).

What we do know is that an independent election observation mission is in a position to be objective about the facts of the conduct of an election in way that a diplomatic mission is unlikely to be. In terms of the “war for history”–whether Kibaki’s second term was in fact the result of a stolen election–the independent observers rather than the diplomats should be the point of reference for the facts.

“The War for History” part eleven–what did I mean in Part Ten in referring to Ranneberger “trying to quash” poll results showing Odinga taking the lead in the presidential race in September 2007?

In response to a reader inquiry, I want to make a clarification of an incident in September 2007 I referred to as background in Part Ten of this War for History series and addressed in more detail in an e-mail that I quoted at length in Part Three. The issue for me was that the Ambassador was expressing an active rather than merely passive favoritism in the Kenyan presidential race for the first time and trying to get me involved in it.

Here is what The New York Times reported in their January 30, 2009 investigative report:

. . . .

Mr. Flottman said he was surprised when, before the election, Mr. Ranneberger made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing Kenyan corruption.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Flottman recalled, the ambassador was even more direct. A few months before the election, Mr. Ranneberger proposed releasing a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga, according to Mr. Flottman, who said he witnessed the episode during a meeting at the ambassador’s office. The suggestion was dropped, he said, after the embassy learned that the pro-Odinga results were already out.

In a meeting in the Ambassador’s office after I was called in to discuss the International Republican Institute’s September 2007 public opinion survey results, which were not yet released, the Ambassador expressed pleasure that our question on preference in the presidential race (which we had an established procedure of not releasing) continued to show a lead for Kibaki as we had in the last survey in March, whereas results from other firms published in the Nairobi papers were showing Odinga as having taken a lead after securing the ODM party nomination. He pressed me to depart from our practice and release our presidential numbers and instructed a member of his staff in attendance to get another firm to not to release their forthcoming presidential numbers. During the meeting the staff member got a message that the other firm had already published their report showing Odinga leading.

So as far as the other polling firm (Steadman, now Synovate) it was “a dog that didn’t bark”; the Ambassador was too late to try to quash their release, no call was made, and I had no reason to think that anyone at the Steadman firm ever knew about the incident and the Ambassador’s instruction to his assistant.

Here is what I quoted in Part Three of this series from a January 2008 e-mail:

In Sept. we did our last general public opinion survey in a series dating back to 2005 (and really a continuation of polling that we had done with Strategic with AID funding since 1999 or earlier).  We had always made a limited public release of general data, privately shown the parties and candidates their own standing and released “horserace” numbers to no one.  By this time all the other polls were being published showing Railia having overtaken Kibaki and building a lead.  Our poll had basically the same results for Kibaki that our March poll had had and showed him ahead.

When the Ambassador got this from AID I was called in and he was all excited about how we had to release our figures and stop Steadman from making a contradictory release the same day.  While we were meeting, [redacted] got an e-mail that Steadman had come out.  [Redacted] agreed with me that changing our policy on this last poll before the election would be transparently and blatantly seen as political, and she told me [redacted] agreed and would work it.  I laid low and never heard back. . .

Telling thing Ambassador said was to the effect that our poll would vindicate what he had been telling Washington, and that if he had misread presidential race “we might as well not even be here”.

And my narrative from Part Ten:

Part of what has troubled me is my conversation with the USAID CTO on the phone from a polling place on the afternoon of the vote on December 27.  It had been agreed internally within IRI that we should not allow any report of our preliminary presidential numbers to leave IRI until after the polls closed at 5:00pm.  We knew that USAID wanted to get the preliminary results that afternoon, and Peter Oriare had estimated that they could be available at 3:00pm.  Within IRI we did not want to be responsible for any situation where the numbers leaked to either the Kibaki or Odinga campaigns before the poll closing, or got out in the media while people were still voting.  This was clearly “best practice”.

More specifically to our particular situation in Nairobi, we were very concerned since we had already been pressured by the Ambassador to depart from precedent to release the numbers he liked from our September poll while he sought to quash the Steadman numbers he didn’t like.  Further, when Ranneberger expressed to me in our meeting at his residence on December 15, 2007 that he wanted to take our lead delegate Connie Newman to meet privately with Kibaki aide Stanley Murage the day before the election major alarm bells had gone off in the IRI front office and it was stressed that such an improper meeting “must not happen”.  We did not know what the Ambassador was up to but knew we needed not to be involved in it.  In this context the desire not to let exit poll numbers get out while voting was still open very much included having them go to the Ambassador in particular.  We had no contractual obligation at all to get USAID an early disclosure on election day.

So observing at a polling place where we were going to close the voting day late that afternoon I got a call from the CTO looking for the preliminary numbers and I put her off.  I had numbers by text message from Peter Oriare but had not been able to study them in detail and go through them carefully with Peter and I tried to put her off.  She got frustrated and said that she would never have had us do the election observation if she thought we could not handle getting her the preliminary exit poll numbers at the same time we were observing and that “the whole reason” they did the exit poll was for “early intelligence of the Ambassador”.  I’m not against intelligence in concept, and I was working for IRI on leave from my job with a defense contractor that does intelligence work, but my purpose and job in Kenya was to support democracy and I did not appreciate being told at that late hour that there was an underlying unexpressed ulterior motive to the polling agreement all along–and such a thing was explicitly contrary to formal IRI policy as well as our USAID agreement. Why was it so important that the Ambassador have the numbers right then–“early”–instead of an hour and a half or so later when the polls closed?  No explanation of that was given.  The USAID officer ended up calling Peter Oriare, our subcontractor, and extracted the numbers directly from him.  Who did the Ambassador share them with and when?  I have no way to know.

I also want to stress that I had confidence in both Strategic Public Relations and Research which did our public opinion surveys and our exit polls for the 2002 and 2007 general elections and 2005 constitutional referendum, and in Steadman, which I hired in December 2007 to do a last minute pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency after the Ambassador had surprisingly suggested that “people were saying” that Raila Odinga might lose his parliamentary seat there to Stanley Livando and thus loses his eligibility to be elected president. The Ambassador’s expressed but unfulfilled desire to try to quash Steadman’s previous report caused me concern about the Ambassador, not about the polling firm.

Tonight in Washington–important African Politics event

Wednesday, January 14 from 6 – 8 pm

American University
School of International Studies

Celebrating the launch of Dr. Carl LeVan’s new book, Dictators and Democracy in African Development: The Political Economy of Good Governance in Nigeria. Click here to RSVP for this social event being hosted by the Comparative and Regional Studies Program.

Special guests include: Congressman John Conyers,
and former U.S. Ambassadors to Nigeria:
Princeton Lyman
John Campbell
Robin Sanders
Howard Jeter

What are the conditions for good governance in Africa, and why do many democracies struggle with persistent poverty? Drawing on a study of Nigeria since independence, I challenge conventional explanations for government performance such as regime type and oil wealth. Using veto players theory and original data from extensive field research, I link the political structure of the policy process to divergent outcomes across two broad categories of public policy. This generates a dilemma with important implications for African countries struggling with institutional trade-offs presented by different regimes.

Carl has been a good friend to me and the blog as a teacher of African Politics and been very kind to help me learn. Anyone interested in events in Nigeria and the upcoming elections would do well to meet Carl and read his timely new book.

Check out his homepage and Development for Security blog here.