Why “the war for history” matters now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joel,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken

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

As the ICC proceedings play out, understanding the 2008 post election violence and evaluating the role of the parties, including the international actors, requires addressing the conduct of the incumbent Kenyan administration in the election itself.

In my estimation, those of us who observed the election in Nairobi watched as the vote tally was hijacked in a shockingly blunt manner. If this election could not be labelled as stolen, the question has to arise as to whether any election in Africa, as opposed to in Europe, Asia or the Americas, could ever be so labelled, in a context in which diplomatic actors valued “stability” as a key interest. Nonetheless, some who came to Kenya after the election, both from Washington and South Africa, have continued to suggest that the theft of the election may have been only a “perception” from ambiguity, or even asserting that the election was not “rigged” at all.

Because the truth matters in understanding the violence, and in preparing for the future in response to the Chairman of the current IEBC who has labelled the 2007 opposition as mere “sore losers”, I am going to devote much of my attention in the blog this year to articulating “the rest of the story” as I know it, as I continue to wait for release of additional public records under the Freedom of Information Act. I will dedicate these posts to my late friends Dr. Joel Barkan and Dr. Peter Oriare, who worked for a better process.

To begin, let me post here an August 4, 2008 e-mail I sent to Mike McIntire, the investigative reporter for the New York Times who contacted me on July 31, 2008 for an interview about the International Republican Institute exit poll which remained, as of that date, unreleased as allegedly “invalid”:

Mike,

After having some time to reflect on our conversation, I thought it might be useful to emphasize a few points in reference to what we talked about and the documents I have provided:

1. Prof. Joel Barkan at CSIS was our primary (indeed only) Kenya expert on our Election Observation Mission. Professor Barkan was independently identified by IRI to be invited based on his stature as an expert and was also one of those specifically recommended/requested by the Ambassador. Prof. Barkan had headed the Democracy and Governance program for USAID in Kenya during the 1992 elections when IRI conducted a very large USAID-funded observation mission and knew Sheryl Stumbras at USAID and the Ambassador well from his work in Kenya .

2. I got acquainted with Prof. Barkan in the lead up to the observation by e-mail as he offered suggestions, and my discussions with him during and immediately following the election were very influential in forming my own opinions about the nature of the evolving situation with the ECK and the electoral tally and the appropriate handling of the exit poll.

3. Prof. Barkan and I were in agreement that IRI was causing a situation in which it was generating unnecessary controversy and likely embarrassment by refusing to release the poll results on the presidential vote on an ongoing basis.

4. Prof. Barkan was impressed with the methodology of the poll and vouched for the work of Prof. Gibson/UCSD.

5. Again, the decision to involve UCSD pre-dated my arrival to manage the Kenya programs. To my understanding, there was never any question that the point of UCSD’s work was to create data that would be relied on and published–no later than the expiration of IRI’s exclusive right to publicity for the first 180 days. It was also my understanding that IRI was pleased to have Prof. Gibson and UCSD involved because of their strong reputation.

6. With the blessing of IRI Washington, including the press office, I had provided data from the IRI September 2007 public opinion survey to Tom Maliti of the AP in Nairobi for work he was doing on tribal issues as a voting factor. My discussions with Tom and the data were inputs for a story he wrote for the AP that fall linked on the media section on IRI’s website. Tom later asked if IRI would be doing an exit poll as we had done in 2002 and 2005 and I confirmed that we were. It was my understanding that we would have to decide WHEN and in what forum, not IF, the results would be released. [If anyone had asked, I would have been of the opinion that given the way things work in Kenya , we would have to expect the poll results to leak regardless.]

7. The Daily Nation ran a story, I believe the day before the election, in which our pollster, Peter Oriare of Strategic, discussed the fact that Strategic would be conducting an exit poll for IRI. While this was not something that I had authorized or been involved in, I did not consider it to be any type of violation of our relationship or against any wishes that I had conveyed to Strategic.

8. I think it is important to look at the exit poll situation in the context of IRI’s Election Observation Mission Final Report which has now been published as a printed booklet (they FedEx’d me a copy with a cover letter from Lorne in mid-July). The report, which I had the opportunity to provide input on, working with my staff in Nairobi on early drafting and through later editorial input on into April when I was doing follow-up work such as the internal exit poll memo of 4-20 that I sent you, is very explicit that IRI found that “after the polls closed and individual polling stations turned over their results to constituency-level returning centers, the electoral process ceased to be credible”. Likewise, the report states that “To date, there has been no explanation from the ECK as to exactly how or when it determined the final election totals, or how and when that determination was conveyed to President Kibaki to prepare for the inauguration.” The report also notes “. . . the obvious fraud that took place during the tallying of the presidential race . . . ” The Executive Summary states: ” . . . IRI has reason to believe that electoral fraud took place and condemns that fraud. The rigging and falsifying of official documentation constitutes a betrayal of the majority of the Kenyan people who peacefully and patiently waited in long lines to vote on December 27.”

9. It should be recognized that between the time that Kibaki was quickly sworn in and the announcement of the initial agreement at the end of February in the Kofi Annan talks that led to the formation of the GNU in April, there were clear indications that Kibaki and his supporters were using the time to attempt to consolidate power. Initial efforts toward mediation from other African leaders, including Bishop Tutu were dismissed, key cabinet posts were filled unilaterally, etc. Even with Annan talks, the Kibaki position on behalf of the “Government of Kenya” was that it was something less than actual mediation.

10. To this day, there has been nothing done to reform the ECK and there has been no accountability for the misconduct discussed in the IRI EOM report. As best I can tell from what I have read about the hearings conducted around the country by the Kreigler commission, the situation remains one in which partisans of the PNU side argue that there was rigging and misconduct on both sides, that it was as bad in Nyanza by ODM as by PNU in Central and that the ECK decision was appropriate, while partisans of ODM argue that the election was stolen. Because “the ECK is not an independent institution and is subordinate to the executive branch of the Kenyan government” [Finding 1 from the IRI EOM report] the IRI exit poll is the best source of actual disinterested data available under the circumstances.

11. To my understanding, I was charged with managing a foreign assistance program that was intended to be for the benefit of the Kenyan people, funded by USAID, but managed by IRI as an independent NGO. To me, this is something entirely different than something the State Department would do on its own for its own internal purposes–although in that case they would still need to be accountable to the American public and Congress.

12. I think we did a pretty good job with limited resources on the actual election observation. I think we did a pretty good job with the exit poll, too. On balance, my experience as Resident Director of the East Africa office was good, with the exception of the specific situation that arose about the exit poll–just as I had had a positive experience as a volunteer with IRI in Central Asia that led me to be interested in making a bigger commitment to go manage IRI programs in Kenya on leave from my primary career. IRI is a fairly small organization in some ways, but they work all over the world, with programs large and small–ours in Kenya was a small one. As best I know, the program in Kenya had a good reputation and had done good, albeit limited, work in Kenya , over a period of years, due in greatest part to the Kenyans on the local staff. This is not anything like what may have happened in Haiti where the program itself may have gotten out of bounds (and in fact I was told that my successor could not be a member of my local staff because of policy in place as a result of that kind of past experience requiring expatriate leadership in the Country Director position). Whatever happened in Washington regarding the exit poll was a departure from my expectations and experience with IRI otherwise.

13. I am told that things have been “different” in IRI recently by people who have been around the organization for awhile, and it is frequently attributed to a hypersensitivity to the situation where John McCain as the long-time Chairman of the Board has been a leading presidential candidate and then the presumptive Republican nominee. This was something that I did not think about in the context of deciding to take the Kenya position at this particular time (and in the spring of 2007 McCain didn’t look very likely to be the nominee anyway). Another twist in regard to Kenya is Obama’s background there and most recently, the things that are circulating against Obama within the “religious right” regarding some notion that Obama was somehow involved in conspiring in Kenya with Odinga on behalf of Muslims against Christians in the context of the Kenyan election and in the context of the post-election violence–laid against a backdrop in which the policy justification for the State Dept. to support Kibaki would presumably tie into the “extrodinary rendition” controversy and more generally the notion that Kibaki has been an ally of the US in sealing the border with Somalia after the engagement of the Ethipian troops to attempt to restore the TFG and otherwise in anti-terrorism efforts, as well as in regard to other regional issues.

14. Ironically, IRI’s mission in Kenya has to a significant degree focused on working to bring minorities, in particular Muslims [the program is primarily funded through NED as opposed to the specific agreements with USAID for the EOM and the polling], into the mainstream of democratic governance. The most striking difference between the voting reported in the IRI exit poll, and what was reported by the ECK is the opposite outcome in North Eastern Province –by the ECK’s reckoning, Kibaki won in a landslide–in the exit poll, Odinga did. I am no expert on that part of the country, but we did do training for candidates in the province in Garissa, the largest town, and in Mombasa for others in the region, and my expectations would have been much more consistent with the exit poll results than with the ECK tally. Given the requirement that a presidential candidate has to get more than 25% in five of the eight provinces, the NEP vote looms larger than it would based on its limited population in a strict nationwide popular vote.

Ken

The United States sure could use multiparty democracy, too

Big political news in the U.S. is the election loss of the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, in the Republican primary. Losing a primary is something that “just doesn’t happen” to Majority Leaders (never in the 20th century or the first five elections of the 21st).
While Cantor was substantively to the right of Ronald Reagan and any of the other broadly popular conservative figures of the modern Republican Party, and was known as a key figure in blocking compromise by House Republicans with House Democrats in recent years, there is a perception that his loss will make future legislative compromises even less likely.

John McCain, the International Republican Institute chairman, has previously noted publicly the potential demand for a “third” party that would compete for the plurality of American voters that the Republican and Democratic Parties in present form merely tolerate (naturally he didn’t put it quite that way–he had a Republican primary coming up).

We have a political system that seems to be pretty well ossified under the control of two parties that have both changed quite dramatically during the period of their mutual hegemony. Each party presently has a majority in one house of our bicameral legislature, yet disapproval of this Congress comes about as close to a consensus as you will find in the United States today. Most voters don’t vote in most elections, especially primaries which functionally decide the outcome of vast numbers of legislative seats in districts that are dominated by a single party, often for demographically derived reasons.

The present reality on the ground has departed rather dramatically from our own traditions in important respects, and is at odds with the conceptual rationale for a “two party system” in which each party competes to build a governing majority.

What should we do? My suggestion: let’s enlist our official nonpartisan democracy and party-building experts at the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute. Offer the help to ourselves that we offer others. Heal ourselves first. Certainly in present circumstances it would be unduly controversial to consult any of the foreign democracy groups like the Westminster Foundation or the German party foundations, but IRI and NDI have well established Congressional relations on both sides.

It would be sort of like the instructions we all get when flying. Even if you are accompanying a child or disabled person, if there is a problem, put the oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth first, so you can breath freely enough to help.

Democracy International Observers express pessimistic realism ahead of Egyptian vote

I had missed this last week   I thought it was very much worth noting in terms of what election observation missions can do to add clarity before a vote.

“Mass Death Sentences, Arrests and Crackdowns: Why Egypt’s Elections Are Already in Trouble” from BuzzFeed, May 13:

United States election observers say they are pessimistic about Egypt’s chances of holding free and democratic elections in two weeks, the first time that an international monitoring group has spoken up to criticize Egypt’s presidential elections.

Democracy International, a U.S.–based NGO has had a team on the ground for weeks, said the widespread arrest of Egyptian activists, a crackdown on protest groups, and mass death sentences were all signs that Egypt’s elections, slated for May 26–27, can hardly be part of the “democratic roadmap” that the White House has required of Egypt in exchange for releasing aid.

“The environment for political participation is not as you would hope would be the case in a democratic transition,” said Dan Murphy, the director of elections and political processes for Democracy International. Last month, U.S. officials announced they would resume some military aid to Egypt, following a previous decision to withhold aid until the country made progress on a “democratic roadmap.” The decision to restore aid was criticized by many diplomats and observers, who said the decision was “baffling” considering Egypt’s current human rights record.

U.S. officials have expressed hope that following this month’s presidential elections, billions of dollars in aid will be once again delivered to Egypt. They have said that following the elections, the White House will determine whether Egypt is pursuing a democratic roadmap that would see a inclusive, pluralistic political environment.

According to the observers who have already been on the ground for weeks, Egypt’s current state of affairs is hardly a transition toward democracy.

.  .  .  .

There have been no debates, and very few public forums in which Egyptians can educate themselves about the upcoming vote, according to Democracy International, a private U.S.–based NGO funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which operates in more than 60 countries. The group recently took part in monitoring Egypt’s national referendum on a new constitution, of which they expressed “serious concerns” about the political climate, which they said virtually guaranteed a yes vote.

“There was no real opportunity for those opposed to the government’s roadmap or the proposed constitution to dissent,” read a statement released days after the vote, citing “a backdrop of arrests and detention of dissenting voices.”

Murphy said the Democracy International team was currently in Egypt to see if any of the recommendations issued following the referendum vote had been heeded. At the moment, he added, there was a great deal of concern.

“Have some of these problems, which we cited in the referendum gotten better at all? Have any of our recommendations been heeded? Is there space for people with dissenting views to participate in debate more than after referendum process? At the moment we are very concerned that this is not the case,” said Murphy.

Democracy International and a team led by the European Union are the two largest foreign groups set to monitor the presidential vote. Both groups are already on the ground . . . .

.  .  .  .

To eliminate redundancy with constrained budgets and growing demand: Is it time to merge IRI and NDI?

Donkey

Mara Herd

This is a post I started a few years ago and let sit.  I usually avoid writing about things that directly mention the International Republican Institute other than as specifically necessary in regard to the 2007 election in Kenya and some advocacy for people arrested in Egypt.   It’s awkward for a lot of reasons to write about IRI,  the most personally important of which is my deep affection for people that work there.  And to the extent I have criticisms it would be my desire that they become better rather than that they be harmed.

Nonetheless, I think the structure of democracy assistance is something we need to think about and almost everyone who is in a position to be engaged is also in a position to feel constrained from speaking freely or has an unavoidable conflict of interest.  And its is an especially challenging time for the effort to share or support democracy so I am going to suck it up and proceed:

—————–

In an era of hyperpartisanship in the U.S. we are also faced with a divided government and a real question about our collective ability to do the basic business of governance in terms of passing budgets, for instance.

More specific to democracy support, the old notion that “politics stops at the water’s edge” is long dead. Every issue anywhere is contested space between Democrats and Republicans in grappling for power. [The attack on the U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 being perhaps the most conspicuous example.] There are profound divisions in a few areas of policy and culture between the Republican and Democratic base voters.  Nonetheless, it is also clear, ironically perhaps, that in the present moment there is not any clearly identified and coherent policy difference between the parties on foreign affairs as such. Now in the early stages of the 2013-16 presidential campaign, Republican Senator Rand Paul appears to be his party’s front runner for the nomination. The traditional Republican foreign policy establishment has less disagreement on specific points of foreign policy with the Obama Administration than with Senator Paul. And much of its membership would presumably in private vote for a Democrat seen as somewhat more hawkish and interventionist than Obama, such as for instance Hillary Clinton, than for Paul. Some piece of the base of the Democratic Party might well feel obligated to vote for Paul over Clinton in a general election if it came to it.

Referencing the policies of the most recent Republican Administration, which was in office when I worked for IRI in East Africa, there is no reason to think that Jeb Bush, for instance, believes in the “Bush Doctrine” and certainly Ron Paul doesn’t.  Foreign policy was important in the 2008 Democratic primaries and in the 2008 general election and there was at that time a sharp perceived difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin over the aspects of foreign policy that were important to most voters and that difference was essential to Obama’s election.  Not so much in 2012 in either the Republican primaries or in the general election.  All presidential elections matter with great intensity for Washington foreign policy people because they decide who gets what jobs (like do you go to the State Department or stay at IRI or NDI or some think tank) and in general everyone is either Democrat or Republican and either wins completely or loses completely, heads or tails, each time.  For most American voters the relationship of parties and elections to foreign affairs is completely different.

The traditions of the Democratic and Republican foreign policy establishment in Washington are based on the Cold War, like the structure of the National Endowment of Democracy itself, with IRI and NDI along with the overseas arms of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO as its “core” “private” institutes. Relatedly this tradition and structure is also critically Eurocentric. Going on a quarter century after the fall of the Soviet Union the terms of the contest between a democratic Washington and an authoritarian Moscow are very different in Europe itself today–and much less of immediate relevance in, say, Africa. The old days of the American Democrats supporting the democratic left in Europe and the American Republicans supporting the right–both as a pro-American alternative to Soviet-aligned Communists–are interesting history that we should learn more from, but they are history.  And we are not nearly so Eurocentric now in our policies and relationships in Africa, Asia and Latin America, so we have different types of opportunities to support democracy and its related values in those regions rather than dividing everyone up as pro-Western Bloc versus pro-Eastern Bloc.

In practice today, I don’t see the Democratic Party in power in Washington really aligned with the “democratic left” in other countries, given the lack of need to shore up against Marxist/Communist forces (among other reasons) nor much particular interest in the Republican Party in supporting more rightist or conservative parties abroad per se.  Generally Republican and Democrat campaign and media consultants, like lobbyists, seem to work for whoever they come to terms with commercially in any given emerging or frontier market rather than on the basis of some coherent party related framework.

Formally, IRI and NDI are completely overlapping as they are both non-partisan.  Occasionally they are said to be “affiliated” with their respective parties, but more frequently they are said to have “no connection” to parties.  Ultimately this is simply confusing and unclear–and not really consistent with the principles that the organizations are trying to teach to others.  In Germany where the government funds overseas institutes of the parties, the law is different and the government provides funding for the parties themselves in a way that would presumably be unconstitutional in the United States.  So you don’t have a counterpart to this strange melange of “nonpartisan Republican” or “nonpartisan Democratic” even though the German organizations are said to be a model for setting up IRI and NDI back in the early 1980s.

In my personal experience, I had the clear impression that IRI was quite serious about being legally compliant in terms of the 501(c)(3) nonpartisan formalities [and this was noteworthy in an  a organization that did not have an overall compliance component at that time--I am not going to be a whistleblower or even a public critic on this but have noted that they have gotten in at least a little difficulty with the government for ignoring cost accounting regulations that I told them they shouldn't ignore when I worked for them].  I have no reason to assume that NDI is not equally serious.  In the case of IRI, with the chairman running for president two different times during his tenure, they know that the Democrats have had incentive to catch them if they were to get tangled with a Republican campaign; and of course everything is potentially tit-for-tat in that regard for the other side.

At the same time, both parties have an incentive to make as much use of “their” respective unaffiliates as permissible on a mutally backscratching basis.  While there are certain cultural and stylistic differences in how this plays out–as any observer of the current American political scene can well imagine–I don’t think this warrants the whole separate infrastructure of two duplicate organizations.  For instance, unaffliliated Republicans could still do programming at the Republican National Convention and unaffiliated Democrats could still do programming at the Democratic National Convention even if it was under the umbrella of one unaffiliated nonpartisan organization instead of two separate unaffiliated nonpartisan organizations. And the unaffiliated Republicans could apply a conservative orientation to have programming that is solid, on-message stuff supporting the party line; and the unaffiliated Democrats could be liberal-minded and have a “soft power” approach that involves people on both sides at the convention of their side.

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My Joel Barkan tribute

I have been very much saddened by the sudden passing of Joel Barkan, the dean of American Kenya experts and a real friend to me during these years since we got together through the 2007 Kenyan election tragedy. Joel and his career are eloquently remembered here by his colleagues at CSIS–please take a moment for this.

Joel and I last corresponded two days before he died from a pulmonary embolism on January 10. He was having a wonderful time with his family in Mexico City and looking forward to going on to Colorado to ski. I was getting ready to observe the referendum in Egypt and got a chance to thank him again for providing me an introduction to the leadership of Democracy International a few years ago. Joel was always palpably excited about the time he and his wife Sandy got to spend with their adult children and I know that he had a fulfilling family life as well as an amazingly productive career. It’s just hard to accept that he is suddenly not here and I want to express my deepest condolences both to his family and to those many friends who knew him so much longer than I was privileged to.

It is especially sad that two of the friends that I came to admire and respect through the 2007 Kenyan exit poll saga have now passed away. See my tribute to Dr. Peter Oriare here.

When then-Ambassador Ranneberger listed the people he wanted the International Republican Institute to invite to observe the 2007 Kenyan election, Joel was the only person on both the Ambassador’s list and on IRI’s. Fortunately Joel agreed to come for the election and was our primary Kenya expert for our observation mission. On January 10, 2008, during the post election violence with no negotiation process under way, Joel was a panelist at a well-attended and high profile Washington event, Kenya: A Post Election Assessment, (program information and the video here) at the Wilson Center and co-sponsored by CSIS. Joel cited the IRI/USAID exit poll suggesting an opposition win, noting that it was “unfortunate” that it had not been released, although it had been covered by Slate magazine. IRI was chagrined–for whatever reason–that the exit poll had been brought into the discussion in Washington; I explained to the IRI Washington office that I had provided Joel the information on the embargoed poll results when he asked about them since he was our subject matter expert on the election observation and another member of the delegation had already gotten themselves engaged on the poll. Later, Joel supported the formal release of the poll results by the University of California, San Diego, researchers at CSIS once IRI’s contractual six month period of exclusivity with the University were up, in spite of pressure to stop it. IRI finally published the poll themselves the next month, but Joel still got attacked for doing what he thought was the only right and appropriate thing. Fortunately, Joel had thick skin and deep respect from those who knew him and his work.

Ironically, perhaps, it was Joel who served as the initial Democracy and Governance advisor for USAID for East Africa back in 1992 when IRI was selected to observe the initial post Cold War multi-party election in Kenya. Joel sent me a copy of Ambassador Smith Hempstone’s memoir, Rogue Ambassador from those years when he served as President George H.W. Bush’s political appointee in Nairobi. Hempstone explains that he had recommended to Moi that NDI be invited to observe that election. Moi refused to accept NDI but would agree to IRI. (Although Hempstone’s book does not mention it, during that 1992 election and into the next year Moi was represented in the United States by famed GOP consultant Charlie Black. Black was IRI Chairman McCain’s consultant in his own presidential bid in the US. during the 2008 contretemps in Kenya. With the average American democracy assistance worker too young to have much memory of the Cold War, much less have played in it, Joel’s institutional memory of both Kenyan politics and American policy was a tremendous resource, freely shared with those who cared about being right about Kenya.)

So Joel and I bonded initially over the shared experience of watching the post-vote fiasco unfold at the Electoral Commission of Kenya, then the shared conviction that a mistake was being made by not releasing the exit poll, and ultimately the common experience of attracting opprobrium for being seen as out of step with powers that were at IRI. He taught me a great deal, and will inspire me always. I will continue to miss him.

Detours, roadmaps and returning to the blog

Let me apologize for my long absence. Aside from taking another more successful run at a relatively non-digital family Christmas and vacation time, I have made a deliberate choice to maintain an unusual level of non-verbal reflection and discretion in preparing to travel to Egypt and serve as an election observer there with Democracy International for the constitutional referendum this week.

I’m on my way back to the U.S. now, passing through the purgatory of one of those Northern European airports. I am very grateful for the invitation from DI to serve again as an official volunteer observer after my intervening experiences in other roles in relation to observation missions in Kenya. Likewise I am grateful to my fellow taxpayers for funding the effort and the hardworking staff and volunteers who made things work as well as possible in my estimation.

Likewise, I am especially grateful not to have been arrested, given that some of my friends and colleagues doing similar U.S. democracy support work in Egypt in recent years have had their lives interrupted by being prosecuted. I hope this is a good sign for the future, but I wouldn’t want to read too much into my limited experience in this regard yet. The election was what it was, and as described by DI, and I saw a piece of it, and got to meet and interact Egyptians in a variety of contexts, almost all of which were positive. I continued my learning process, mostly from the people I was around, and will endeavor to reflect that here going forward. I hope Egypt will have more and bigger elections and I hope that I will be able at some point to go back and see the process continue to progress.

In the meantime, I promise to get back to punching away on democracy in East Africa promptly.

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Update: Democracy International press release and preliminary statement.

Updated: Burgeoning South Sudan crisis will increase Kenya’s leverage over donors, NGOs, international media

The news from South Sudan seems quite serious and disturbing. This is an area of special responsibility for the United States, and needless to say, I hope we are able to help.

Nairobi’s role for many years as the “back office” for international assistance to South Sudan has always given the Government of Kenya extra leverage through control of visas and work permits. My twitter feed indicates that the U.S. is recommending that Americans evacuate South Sudan as the current crisis swells with reports indicating 400-500 people may have been killed.

This brings to bear what I have called “the Nairobi curse” for Kenyans seeking political space, democracy and civil liberties of their own and hope for support from the international community. The thing you always hear, but never read, from internationals working in Kenya is “what if I can’t renew my work permit” because of some offense taken by someone in the Kenyan government.

Back in 2007-08 when I was East Africa director for IRI in Nairobi, we shared space with our separate Sudan program, which was much, much bigger than our Kenya program (and was IRI’s second largest program worldwide I was told, after Iraq). Under my East Africa office, our Somaliland program also got more funding than Kenya. Obviously there would have been repercussions from soured relations with the Kenyan administration. The same situation would pertain for NDI or other international organizations with large permanent regional operations based in Nairobi.

In my case, I arrived in Nairobi on the job in June 2007 expecting my work permit to come through within perhaps a few weeks of ordinary bureaucracy. With no explanation, it was not forthcoming until February 2008 during the late stages of the post election violence period. Thus, I did not have my permit issued yet when I was dealing with our controversial election observation and the issues about whether or not to release the exit poll that showed the opposition ODM winning the presidential race rather than the ECK’s official choice of Kibaki.
At some point that month I was summoned to an Immigration office at Nyayo House (where political prisoners where tortured in the basement during the Moi era) for no readily apparent reason and received the permit shortly thereafter. Of course Nairobi was a much more easy going place before the 2007 election than it is now. Nothing was ever said to connect any of this delay to anything to do with politics or the election and it may have been strictly a coincidence.

Fortunately for me, I was on leave from my job as a lawyer back in the United States, so being denied a permit and thus losing my job in Kenya and having to move my family back precipitously would not have been consequential for me in the way that it would have been for the typical young NGO worker. Everyone has their own story I am sure.

Earlier this year the Kenyan government announced, for instance, that it would start enforcing work permit rules for academic researchers on short assignments. Lots of room to maneuver for creatively repressive politicians.

By the way, Uhuru did end up signing that Media Bill.

Update: See the editorial in today’s Star: Work Permit Crackdown Is Counter-Productive. And the news story, “Rules on Work Permits Tighten“.