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

Democracy Reading–Waltzing with a Dictator; history and lessons for today

Raymond Bonner’s Waltzing with a Dictator: the Marcoses and the Making of American Policy (©1987, 1988) is long out of print, but used copies are readily available.

This is well worth a read by those interested in American foreign policy and its relationship with authoritarian governments and democratic transitions anywhere, and in international election observation.  One lesson here for Americans, and for those seeking American support for reform, is to appreciate the power of illicit wealth in the hands of foreign authoritarians to help charm key people in power in both Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States.  Nonetheless, in a pinch in the Philippines, we eventually helped with the restoration of democracy irrespective of Cold War interests that had been previously asserted to justify support for the Marcos dictatorship.

The 1986 election in which Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by Corazon  Aquino was a pioneering effort in international election observation and internationally supported domestic observation to combat state-supported election fraud.  Aquino’s accession to the presidency as summarized in her Wikipedia entry:

A self-proclaimed “plain housewife“,[1] she was married to Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., the staunchest critic of President Marcos. She emerged as leader of the opposition after her husband was assassinated on August 21, 1983 upon returning to the Philippines from exile in the United States. In late 1985, Marcos called for snap elections, and Aquino ran for president with former senator Salvador Laurel as her Vice-President. After the elections were held on February 7, 1986, the Batasang Pambansa proclaimed Marcos and his running mate, Arturo Tolentino, as the winners amidst allegations of electoral fraud, with Aquino calling for massive civil disobedience actions. Defections from the Armed Forces and the support of the local Catholic Church led to the People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos and secured Aquino’s accession on February 25, 1986.

Of particular current interest from the Bonner book is the role of Republican Senators Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Richard Lugar of Indiana as election observers who held the line against election fraud and provided key support for “moderates” back in Washington in the Reagan White House against the pro-Marcos “hardliners”.  After seeing blatant election misconduct by the regime, Cochran sent a message by donning his yellow golf pants during the observation–yellow being Aquino’s campaign color.  Lugar was defeated in the 2012 Republican primary by a hardline “tea party” challenger, and Cochran has just been certified as the narrow winner of a primary runoff against a “tea party” challenger in Mississippi.  Within the Carter White House in 1977-81 there was similarly a divide between hawkish pro-Marcos Democrats, people we might think of now as more or less “neocons”, and early human rights advocates.

Egypt: PRESS RELEASE AND PRELIMINARY STATEMENT: Disregard for Egyptians Rights and Freedoms Prevents Genuine, Democratic Presidential Election | Democracy International

PRESS RELEASE AND PRELIMINARY STATEMENT: Disregard for Egyptians Rights and Freedoms Prevents Genuine, Democratic Presidential Election | Democracy International.

Update:  Here is the podcast link for a very interesting conversation on Wednesday on CBC’s The Current with Eric Bjornlund, President of Democracy International, along with Professor Susan Hyde of Yale, on “The Ethics of Observing Egypt’s Presidential Election.” I think it ultimately comes down to simply calling it as you see it. The ethics of “observation” are thus very different than the norms of diplomacy; Democracy International seems to have done a fine job– saw and were willing to say that the process was not genuinely democratic.

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 . . . .

.  .  .  .

Democracy International releases Final Report on Observation of Egyptian Referendum; EU to observe presidential vote

Nasser Sadat Sisi

Nasser Sadat Sisi

Democracy International (DI) organized a comprehensive international observation mission for the constitutional referendum in Egypt on January 14 and 15, 2014. Although the actual administration of the process on the referendum days appeared to allow those citizens who participated to express their will, DI concluded that the restrictive political climate in Egypt impaired the referendum process. The referendum took place against a backdrop of arrests and detention of dissenting voices. There was no real opportunity for those opposed to the government’s “roadmap” or the proposed constitution to dissent. This constrained campaign environment made a robust debate on the substance and merits of the constitution impossible.

Download the full report here.

EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton announced today that the EU would be observing the presidential election scheduled for May 26-27. See the Project on Middle East Democracy Egypt Daily Digest. This may make it more difficult for any decision not to mount a full American observation under USAID, but it strikes me as premature to commit to observing without seeing some progress on the types of concerns that are identified in the Democracy International report on the campaign environment back in January.  The ability to “witness”  on the ground and report accurately on the environment has value but in a presidential election under the circumstances there is risk of being seen as inadvertently giving legitimacy if there is not a bona fide effort by the existing authorities to allow a real competition.

 

Kenya: Security, Corruption, Terror and Elections (and Railroads)

Nairobi Station - Rift Valley Railways

Nairobi Station – Rift Valley Railways

“On Security, Corruption and Terror Attacks” from the Mzalendo blog:

The link between corruption and the country’s susceptibility to is also recognised in the Parliamentary Report on the Inquiry into the Westgate and other attacks in Mandera in North Eastern and Kilifi in the Coastal Region. The report mentions systemic corruption and the link to terror attack stating:

“Corruption has greatly led to the vulnerability of the country in many cases including where immigration officials are compromised thus permitting ‘aliens’ who could be terrorists to enter the country and acquire identification. This enables terrorists ease of movement and are therefore able to plan and execute attacks without the fear of discovery. Further compromising of security officials enables ‘suspected individuals’ to fail to pursue suspected terrorists and enable them to secure early release when caught or reported in suspicious criminal activities.”

Of the link between Kenyan troops in Somalia and the increase in terror attacks in the country the report states, “It should also be interrogated why other countries such as Ethiopia and Burundi who had earlier sent troops to Somalia have not been attacked by the al-shaabab. Tanzania has also not suffered any terrorist attacks after the 1998 bombings. Is it because our security forces are weak, in-disciplined and easily corruptible?”

The report makes further note of nationwide systemic failure on the part of the Immigration Services Department, Department of Refugee Affairs; and Registration of Persons Department, also “rampant corruption by security officers and other government agents,” and  further that, “police officers are corrupt and lax too. They work in cahoots with alShabaab and are paid to pass information to the latter.”

Last week National Assembly rejected the Joint Committees report and the recommendations made therein. However questions and issues in the report raised with regards to the link between corruption and terrorism still remain.

AfriCOG report: Election Day 2013 and its Aftermath:

In commemoration of this historic election, the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) presents its own findings related to election day and its aftermath in this report. In line with its commitment to promote permanent vigilance by citizens over public life and public institutions, AfriCOG provides an account of voters’experiences at the polling station. In addition, the report details the counting, tallying and results transmission procedures, noting the varied problems associated with these procedures. Overall, in contrast to many observer reports, AfriCOG finds that the failure of electoral technology made it impossible to verify the manual counts of election results. This was compounded by a wide array of problems at the polling station, ranging from names missing from the voters’ register to voter bribery.

To conclude, AfriCOG recommends a series of reforms to ensure that future elections live up to constitutional standards for transparency and verifiability.

And “TransCentury sells Rift Valley Railways stake to Citadel”.  The RVR saga continues, alongside the SGR saga.

2013 Kenya Exit Poll — academic study published (updated)

Professors Clark Gibson, James Long and Karen Ferree have now published an article from their 2013 Kenyan election exit poll in The Journal of East African Studies.

The Star has an analysis in Wednesday’s edition. This is the front page, but the story is not yet up online. (Update: Here is The Star story, “Uhuru didn’t get 50% in 2013–U.S. academics“.)

See my May post with the video from an original presentation at Johns Hopkins SAIS here.

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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20140119-035358.jpg

Update: Democracy International press release and preliminary statement.