The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading

US Military may be uniquely situated to help in ebola crisis [updated]

[Sept. 19:  For a contra view see this column from @MeanCharlotte in the Los Angeles Times, reflective of views on the right that the military, at least under this president, is not the right tool for “wars” that are metaphorical rather than involving combat (“Ebola isn’t the Islamic State.  It’s a virus.”). Likewise, some of those on the left, particularly in Africa, who are suspicious of AFRICOM in concept, are leery of hidden motives. Many envision a deployment heavy on combat-ready “warfighters” to conduct a mission skewed toward policing or physical security in a way that I don’t expect to be what is planned or what will transpire.  Not disputing the basis for wariness based on experience with recent wars and some relief and development efforts, I “stick to my guns” (metaphorically) in seeing this crisis and the balance of options available differently.]

Regarding the AFRICOM deployment to lead/assist the U.S. response to the ebola crisis in West Africa, here is a link to a fact sheet describing the basic work of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, Maryland.  The Institute was established in 1969 and has as a primary function ongoing work on botulism, plague, anthrax and ebola, among other threats to military personnel and to public health.  They do pioneering work on vaccines in these areas, for instance.

The U.S. military is not necessarily well suited for all the various tasks that it gets assigned because no one else in the U.S. government is staffed or funded or otherwise able to do them.  Addressing an infectious epidemic on a crisis basis is much more suited to military leadership, and our specifically planned for and developed capacities, than general “development” or disaster relief work, I believe.

The U.S. military has a huge medical capacity in its own right to serve the military itself, in peacetime and as deployed around the world, along with civilian dependents and others, separately from combat-specific capacity.  We have a volunteer military, but once you volunteer you are subject to being assigned on a “command and control” basis that makes the military more flexible in a crisis than a civilian governmental or private entity.  I am one of those people who have concerns that we should have more capacity in other parts of our government, including civilian development and diplomacy functions, but such concerns should not makes us unduly reticent to use the resources that are available to help address an immediate human crisis as best we can.

Likewise, I am not an advocate of promiscuous use of the military either for war or as a substitute development agency–see my post from  2010:  “Provocative Question: To Eliminate Redundancy, Should We Move USAID From DOS to DOD?” –so I understand the general concern or skepticism, but in this specific instance we in the United States, and people at risk in West Africa, need to make use of the resources developed and available through the military.

[Update: See this from Foreign Policy: “Can the U.S. Army Degrade and Destroy Ebola?” from an expert who had an opportunity to have input on the planning.]

Catching up on some prior must reads:

“John Githongo: corruption in Kenya is poisoning politics” from The Guardian, July 3.

“After Westgate: opportunities and challenges in the war against Al-Shabaab”, a Chatam House paper by Paul D. Williams, July.

.  .  .  As Al-Shabaab loses territory and its popularity among Somalis continues to dwindle, other clan- and region-based actors will become more salient as national debates over federalism, the decentralization of governance mechanisms beyond Mogadishu and the place of clannism will occupy centre stage. As a consequence, AMISOM’s principal roles should gradually shift from degrading Al-Shabaab towards a broader stabilization agenda: encouraging a national consensus over how to build effective governance structures; developing an effective set of Somali National Security Forces; and ensuring that the Federal Government delivers services and effective governance to its citizens, especially beyond Mogadishu in the settlements recently captured from Al-Shabaab. As it stands, however, AMISOM is not prepared to carry out these activities. More worryingly, nor is the Somali Federal Government.

New Congressional Research Service report on the U.S. response to the Lord’s Resistance Army

The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S. Response was submitted by CRS on May 15 and has been published by the Federation of American Scientists.

The LRA is assessed to remain in much diminished capacity in a territory covering parts of Northern Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan and the Central African Republic, but still resilient in these remote areas.

The most recent concerns are the deterioration of the overall stability and governance of the Central African Republic and South Sudan–with related questions of U.S. and regional priorities.  Likewise there are questions regarding the relationship of continued U.S. support for the Ugandan military to the intention to “review” overall U.S. relations in the wake of Uganda’s new laws targeting homosexuals and more broadly to U.S. support for democracy and human rights within Uganda. In early 2013 AFRICOM’s commander identified the anti-LRA operations, known as “Observant Compass”, as the command’s third highest operational priority after the anti-terrorism efforts in Somalia and Northwest Africa, but obviously a lot of things have been happening since then.

Veterans Day–America and Africa

Happy Veterans Day to my friends and readers in and around the Armed Services.

I always think on these occasions especially of my Uncle Gid and late Uncle Elvin who went off to fight in World War II as farm boys. And my grandfather’s older brothers who fought in Europe in World War I, through that eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, even though their father was a German immigrant (of more than 40 years in Kansas by then) who wondered whether his neighbors would let him continue to live in the area with the country at war.

At my AfriCommons Flickr account I have started a small gallery for photos of Kenyans serving in the U.S. military. The first image below is the only one that has a Creative Commons license for me to repost here. The second image is just for entertainment.

Cleaning Up for Veterans Day

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Nov. 13, 2011) Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Julius Okeyo, originally of Kenya, reaches for a small bit of debris during the community beach clean-up conducted by the crew of USS MILIUS (DDG 69). The Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer was invited to the coastal city to participate in a weekend filled with community events including marching in the Veteran’s Day Parade, a hospital visit and ship tours for the public. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kim McLendon)

“Marines Support Shared Accord in South Africa”

Marines support Shared Accord in South Africa

Basil Mills, a wildlife conservation expert, shows Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion various reptiles and wild life they might encounter in the South African wildness, where they will stay for the length of Exercise Shared Accord 13. Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion supported Exercise Shared Accord 13, a multilateral training engagement with more than 700 servicemembers from the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force along with more than 3,000 South African National Defense Force counterparts in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, from July 24 – Aug. 7. (U.S. Army Africa photo)

Djibouti–what’s next in French Somaliland?

“Developing Djibouti: An American Imperative” by Saleem Ali of the University of Queensland at NationalGeographic.com:

A nominal democracy, the country has been relatively peaceful yet still desperately poor. I had an opportunity to visit Djibouti recently after a visit to Ethiopia for the United Nations African Development Forum. My curiosity to visit this country was sparked by an article I had read in The Washington Post regarding the expansion of US military presence in the region. Landing at Djibouti International airport, one is alarmed to find one side of the air strip almost completely populated by US Airforce presence. The country is also among the few places in the world where drone aircraft can be seen on a civilian air strip, often overwhelming civilian traffic. The presence of these prized new airforce stealth weapons in Djibouti comes from its proximity to the Arabian state of Yemen which has become an increasingly significant hotbed for Al-Qaeda.

Talking to locals, there was little resentment towards American presence but also not much to show for their positive impact on the country. Occasionally one would hear stories of US soldiers volunteering for community service or building some unusual desert residence for local villagers, but the overall development impact of US presence here of over 3000 personnel has been minimal. Unemployment is still over 40% and much of the money that comes in from foreign investment is funnelled back to the foreign-owned businesses in the city. The US government pays only $38 million per year to lease the airfield for the drone operations and the African command base here which is under further expansion.

The lack of US investment in Djibouti is a tremendous missed opportunity to develop a country which could be a low-hanging fruit for citizen diplomacy with the Muslim world. With only 900,000 people and a relatively small land-base and a highly urbanized population, developing Djibouti with aid investment would be very easy to do. . . .

While “easy” may be an exaggeration, I agree with Ali’s point that Djibouti is a place where the United States ought to be committed to “showing our stuff” in terms of development capability.  And of course, as I have written before, a key place where delivering on democracy assistance in advance of, rather than behind, a crisis, ought to be feasible.

h/t John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

 

AFRICOM continued: “The Pivot to Africa” in Foreign Policy

 

An important new piece from Foreign Policy by Rosa Brooks, a former Obama Administration defense official.  She aggressively defends the concept of the military taking on the civil development and assistance roles as a practical approach to U.S. international security given domestic political constraints and the actual challenges faced.  Nonetheless, she concludes that AFRICOM to date is experiencing “the worst of both worlds”:

These problems are not unique to Africom. As other combatant commands have similarly expanded their activities into traditionally civilian domains, they have struggled with similar problems and criticism.

In a sense, we currently inhabit the worst of all possible worlds: The military is increasingly taking on traditionally civilian jobs but doing them clumsily and often halfheartedly, without investing fully in developing the skills necessary for success. Meanwhile, civilian agencies mostly just grumble from the sidelines, waiting for that happy day when Congress gets serious about rebuilding civilian capacity. (I think Samuel Beckett wrote a play about that.) And few people, inside or outside the Pentagon, are taking seriously the need to think in new ways about what “whole-of-government” or a holistic approach to security might truly mean.

The blurring of civilian and military roles is inevitable, but the failure to grapple effectively with this blurring of roles is not. To address threats (and seize opportunities) in this globalized, blurry, chaotic world, we will need to develop new competencies, flexible new structures, and creative new accountability mechanisms. Most critically, we’ll need to let go of our comfortable old assumptions about roles and missions.

Well worthwhile to read the whole piece.  I’ll have some comments in the near future.

Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

QDDR–the second leg of a two-legged stool?

AGOA, AFRICOM and the “Three Ds”

AFRICOM and the “Whale of Government” Approach

Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

Democracy and Competing Objectives: “We need you to back us up”

GAO report . . . highlights changes of effective coordination of civil affairs/development work

“Pack like it’s Arizona”

 

 

Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

From the Small Wars Journal an article entitled “The Slow Motion Coup: Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience”.  The author, William J. Olsen, is a professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, a counterpart to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies:

Or another simple question: Why do we have Combatant Commanders?  This is a model drawn from WWII, made formal and deeply rooted as the result of the Cold War.  Both are over.  Why does the establishment linger?  And if we are to have a pro-consul per region, why a military officer?  Why not a senior civilian with a military adviser?

In this context, something else I have long recommended reading for getting a “feel” for AFRICOM is Chapter Seven of Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground.  The chapter is titled “CENTCOM, Horn of Africa, Winter 2004, with notes on East Africa”.  Although the period Kaplan covers is before the stand up of AFRICOM as a separate Combatant Command, he visits the Marines of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti and accompanies an Army Civil Affairs Team setting up in Lamu, Kenya:

     These teams had a twofold mission: make a sustained contribution to the island’s quality of life, so that the inhabitants would see a relationship with the U.S. as in their best interests; and more immediately, be the advance guard for U.S. Marines from the U.S.S. Germantown coming ashore to repair a school and conduct a MEDCAP.

Lamu was an example of the new paradigm for projecting American power: modernize host country bases for use as strategic outposts, maintain local relationships through humanitarian projects, then use such relationships to hunt down “bad guys.”  Whether it was upgrading a runway, digging a well, or whacking a terrorist, the emphasis was always on small teams.

More broadly:

    The new paradigm gave (Marine) Brig. Gen. Robeson a sort of power that no U.S. ambassador or assistant secretary of state quite had.  Not only wasn’t he burdened by the State Department’s antiquated bureaucratic divisions but his ability to deal with the regions’s leaders and strongmen may also have been helped by a cause-and-effect, working class mind, disciplined by the logic of Marine tactical operations manuals and the classical military education he had received at Fort Leavenworth.  Though democracy was gaining in the region, many of the elected leaders with whom Robeson had developed relationships were former guerrilla fighters and military men . . .

The fact that generals like Mastin Robeson were in the diplomatic forefront, somewhat at the expense of the State Department, troubled commentators who assumed the permanence of industrial-age categories of bureaucratic responsibility, categories helped into being by the nineteenth-century professionalization of European militaries, which consequently separated them from civilian command structures.  But the distinctions appeared to be weakening.

From a review at Foreign Affairs:

Kaplan’s book is wider ranging. His underlying thesis is that the places he visits represent the periphery of a new American empire, whose fate will be determined by how its foot soldiers — the grunts — engage with the local populations. The analogy is to the frontiersmen of the nineteenth century: everywhere he goes he is welcomed to “Injun Country.” It is probably best not to worry too much about the thesis, which is half-baked, and instead enjoy the insights and reportage from a master of this sort of extreme travel writing.

Here is the latest from AFRICOM following last week’s “new policy” on Africa

Aside

Here is the official word from the AFRICOM blog on the current annual joint African Endeavor exercise in West Africa, along with a good comment from David Aronson to the effect that these things make conceptual sense to build the security capacity of African states, but also raise concerns in terms of the potential for this capacity to benefit repressive regimes.

It seems that in the U.S. most people who pay attention to things are asking what then is new in the “New Policy” on Sub-Saharan Africa from the White House last week.  Rhetorically the prioritization on democracy has been there–the question is what concrete steps we are willing to take to do a better job in practice of balancing competing priorities.  The policy announcement speaks to the concerns raised in my last post, but in generalities.

Ultimately, democratic transition involves risk and uncertainty–something different than “security”.  Local perspective is necessary.  In Kenya, for instance, we have seen the al-Qaeda-related Embassy bombing and other acts of terrorism; nonetheless, Kenyans can only dream of the day when poor performance by their own government is not vastly more dangerous than the terrorists.  Even with the current war in Somalia the regular stream of explosions killing Kenyans week in and week out are road accidents.

AGOA, AFRICOM and the “Three Ds”

Just as the big annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Conference is kicking off in Washington, and USAIDs Frontiers in Development conference has ended, the Washington Post has run a large story, “U.S. expands secret intelligence in Africa” which will continue to draw attention, discussing military operations as opposed to anything involving the traditional intelligence agencies.

Briefly, my “macro” level observation is that this is an example of the choices confronting Americans in simply deciding who we want to be in Africa.

There is perhaps a certain irony that in 2012, all these years after the Cold War, the Chinese Communist Party government leads an expansive, rapidly growing commercial presence across Africa, while the U.S. does seem to be specializing more in the military/security area. “Comparative advantage”? Bureaucratic momentum and politics in Washington? Sound policy making reflecting that the U.S. sees itself as quite rich already and has a main priority of preventing future tragic “embassy bombings” and “9-11s”; whereas the Chinese government is relatively speaking “young and hungry”, and needs to build its economic power to hold power at home against any possible future “regime change” from democratization or other domestic pressures?

AFRICOM is an experiment of sorts and it is evolving. The Post story points out that AFRICOM is still doing “aid” projects–by which I assume they mean things like the traditional humanitarian and medical missions carried out by troops, and things like the fish farming program for the DRC military in Eastern Congo I noted some time back along with the military-focused democracy and governance and rule of law training, aside from the more usual military and security training assistance. At the same time, the budgetary pressure in Washington is hugely increased from anything that people would have had in mind back during the finance bubble when the decision to roll out AFRICOM as a “new kind” of combatant command was made. Spending on “development” and “diplomacy” are lowercase priorities when the budget axe swings, verses “the big D” on the traditional military side of a “three Ds” national security strategy.

On one hand, AFRICOM could provide a bureaucratic umbrella of sorts to help shelter some “development and diplomacy” efforts from the budget storm. On the other, it could suck up dollars to pay for programs that are neither efficient nor well coordinated, nor carried out by people who have development or diplomacy as their primary mission.   Regardless, I think it is fair and appropriate to say that at least some people on both the civilian and military side of the effort, who believe in the concept of a “new kind” of command, are concerned about the staying power of the model as conceived and approved against the bureaucratic pressure for military homogenization in the context of the global war on terrorism formerly known as “the Global War on Terrorism”.

Yesterday at the Frontiers in Development program Jim Kolbe, former Republican Congressman and longtime IRI board member, emphasized the importance of development for U.S. national security. I agree.  Having worked in the defense industry myself for 12.5 years, including the time of the USS Cole bombing (the ship was repaired at my workplace), 9-11 (I was in Washington), 7-7 (got the news of the London bombings as an election observer in Osh, Kyrgyzstan) I do not downplay terrorism or undervalue U.S. security–I just want very much for all of us as citizens to take responsibility for making good and deliberative decisions about our long term interests and ultimately the broader role we want to play in the world.

“LRA nutures the next generation of child soldiers”–IRIN story from the DRC

I thought I should note a very interesting story today from IRIN, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

FARADJE, 26 March 2012 (IRIN) – The dilemma for Atati Faustin, 13, from Faradje in Haut-Uélé District, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is that although he misses his younger brother – abducted into the ranks of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) two years ago – he is also afraid of being reunited with him.

“I want my brother back,” he told IRIN, “but if I see him I would run. I am scared of him. I feel like he has died.”

Displaced with about 1,300 people from the nearby village of Kimbinzi in 2008 following repeated LRA attacks, and relocated to Ngubu, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Faradje, he has not yet encountered him, but others in the community have – dishevelled, with dreadlocks, and carrying an AK47 assault rifle and a panga.

Kimbinzi is about 7km from the camp and occasionally some villagers return under a military escort provided by Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) to till the fields, as crops planted on land provided for them close to the River Dungu are routinely destroyed by hippos. Only young men return (during daylight hours) to Kimbinzi in a phenomenon described by relief workers as “pendulum movement” – women and children stay in the relative safety of Ngubu. .  .  .
Ugandan aid worker George Omoma has tracked the carnage left in the LRA’s wake across three countries, where children are not so much collateral damage, as the focus of LRA activity.

“Kony tells his people that it is not you [adults] that will overthrow the [Ugandan] government, it is the children. He wants to create a new generation of the LRA,” Omoma told IRIN.

Omoma is in Dungu helping to establish a rehabilitation centre for child victims of the LRA by the Catholic Church and NGOs Sponsoring Children and the San- Diego-based Invisible Children. When operations start later this year, the facility will be able to provide accommodation, counselling, training and education to hundreds of former child soldiers and abductees. .  .  .  .

Breeding child soldiers

Dominic Ongwen has risen through the ranks to become the LRA’s most senior commander in the DRC and is the armed group’s most notorious example of a kidnapped boy forced into child soldiering and who is now wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Sam Otto Ladere has appeared on the radar with a similar personnel history to Ongwen. He commands a group of 17 fighters falling under the command of Vincent Okumu Binany in the DRC.

Matthew Brubacher, political affairs officer working with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC’s (MONUSCO’s) Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) unit, and an LRA specialist based in the eastern DRC city of Goma, told IRIN Ladere was abducted at a young age from a village west of Gulu.

“Ladere is one of the up and coming commanders. He is very trusted. This was evidenced by his being placed as chief of intelligence after Maj-Gen Acellam Ceasar was suspended following the execution of Lt-Gen Vincent Otti on 2 October 2007, even though Ladere was only a captain,” he said. DDRRR is working on a radio message on their FM network to try and lure him out of the bush.

Omoma said former abductees and child soldiers had told him of Ladere’s brutality.

Kony has taken many wives. At the Juba peace talks in 2006 it was estimated he had about 80 wives and it is unknown how many children the rebel leader has fathered.

“I don’t know how many Kony kids are active in the LRA, probably quite a few. There are a few bush kids now that were born and bred in the LRA. They are pretty wild when they come out as they have never known civilization,” Brubacher said.

Certainly the idea that the LRA has been able to continue to fester and mutate and perhaps in part replicate should be given some consideration in evaluating what priority to place on military efforts against the relatively small number of active fighters that appear to remain at present.