Tonight in Washington–important African Politics event

Wednesday, January 14 from 6 – 8 pm

American University
School of International Studies

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

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

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

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

Check out his homepage and Development for Security blog here.

“The War for History” part ten: What was going on in the State Department on Kenya’s failed election, recognizing change at IRI–and how the 2007 exit poll controversy turned into a boon for IRI in Kenya

The International Republican Institute’s New Leader and Kenya

The new president of the International Republican Institute (“IRI”) since January 2014, Mark Green, visited Kenya this past summer with a personal background in East Africa.  He and his wife taught for a year in western Kenya in the 1980s and he came back to observe the election in 2002 as a Member of Congress from Wisconsin (he was elected in 1998).  After unsuccessfully running for governor in 2006 he led the Washington office of Malaria No More and was appointed Ambassador to Tanzania by President Bush in August 2007.

Ironically, Green was appointed Ambassador in the wake of a controversy in which his predecessor, a political appointee who had been Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, was accused of interference with the intended independence of the Peace Corp operation in Tanzania.  The Peace Corp headquarters defended their Country Director who was expelled from Tanzania by Green’s predecessor.  The expulsion was enough of an issue that first Senator Dodd and then Senator Kerry put a “hold” on Green’s confirmation as replacement until the State Department issued an apology and Green gave assurances that his approach would be substantially different.  Ambassador Green had significant support in moving through the controversy from Senator Feingold, the Democratic Chairman of the Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee–also from Wisconsin–who emphasized Green’s background with the region.

It was just a few months later that Senator Feingold, on February 7, 2008 grilled Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer and Assistant USAID Administrator Kathleen Almquist on why the USAID-funded exit poll conducted through IRI on the Kenyan election on December 27 had not been released.  It was that evening that IRI released their statement that the poll was “invalid” which they did not reverse until six months later, the day before testimony about the exit poll in Nairobi before the Kreigler Commission.  [To be precise, IRI did not retract their statement that the poll was “invalid”; they rather issued a new statement releasing the poll and thus in fact superseding their previous characterization.]

Diplomats on the ground: East Africa during the Kenyan crisis 2007-08

As Ambassador in Tanzania from 2007-09, Green hosted President Bush on the President’s February 2008 Africa visit.  Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rice flew to Nairobi to meet with the ODM and PNU leaders on February 18 and push for a power sharing deal that made space for the opposition in the second Kibaki Administration that had been inaugurated by Kibaki’s twilight swearing in on December 30.

Before Rice visited, the State Department had issued congratulations to Kibaki, then backed off, while Ambassador Ranneberger was initially encouraging Kenyans to accept the election results as announced by the ECK. Kibaki had appointed his core team of fifteen top ministers, including the new Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Uhuru Kenyatta in the Local Government portfolio with jurisdiction over Nairobi, on January 8, four days after Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer arrived to lead the State Department team in person in Nairobi.  Frazer joined other Western diplomats in objecting to the new appointments but, as with Kibaki’s swearing in, the new appointments became fait accompli.  See “Fury as Kenyan leader names ministers”.  By his arrival in Africa on February 17, President Bush himself, however, was warning of consequences to a continuing failure to negotiate power sharing:

“We’ve been plenty active on these issues, and we’ll continue to be active on these issues because they’re important issues for the U.S. security and for our interests,” Bush said after landing in the tiny coastal country of Benin. He noted he will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya on Monday. “The key is that the leaders hear from her firsthand the U.S. desires to see that there be no violence and that there be a power-sharing agreement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties.”

A senior administration official later told reporters that the administration wants to use the Rice visit to pressure Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to compromise with his opposition. The official expressed frustration that Kibaki seems to assume unqualified U.S. support and said that Rice will tell him, “If you can’t make a deal, you’re not going to have good relations with and support of the United States.” The official added, “We’re not going to support a Kenya government that’s going on as business as usual.”  [emphasis added]

“Bush, in Africa, issues warning to Kenya”, Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2008.

As Ambassador in Tanzania, Green received the cables from Ambassador Ranneberger in Kenya that I have discussed in my FOIA Series on this blog, including Ranneberger’s pre-election description of the planned exit poll: “The Mission is funding national public opinion polling to increase the availability of objective and reliable data and to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls.  The implementing partner is IRI.” [emphasis added].  Likewise Ambassador Ranneberger’s January 2 cable describing personally witnessing the altered vote tallies received at the ECK headquarters prior to the announcement of Kibaki as winner on December 30.  See Part Ten–FOIA Documents From Kenya’s 2007 Election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and the tabulation of ballots, and it did”.

I was in Somaliland for IRI the day Secretary Rice spent in Nairobi.  She also met that day with some other Kenyans at the embassy residence and a cable over her name regarding “Secretary Rice’s February 18, 2008 visit with Kenyan business and civil society leaders” was sent on February 21 from “USDEL SECRETARY KENYA” to Washington “IMMEDIATE” and to “AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM PRIORITY” along with other interested posts.  Under a section of the cable labeled “Worries about Hardliners, Militias, and Accountability”  are three paragraphs: Continue reading

The “top ten” most shared posts from the first five years of AfriCommons

Famed Photojournalist Mo Dhillon responds to AU on ICC trials: “African Unity leading Africa toward disaster”

134 days after election, Kenya’s IEBC fails to produce results in Parliament

Was Kenya’s “Election Observation Group” or ELOG intended to be truly independent? Or was it to “build confidence”? [Update 3-30 on Further Overselling ELOG and ELOG’s use by Counsel for the Government in Court]

Ethiopian President Meles has died

Somaliland rejects UNSOM presence; Kenya reading

The U.S. “official” infatuation with Kenya in numbers

Kenya’s IEBC dangles “kitu kidogo” for political parties to avoid publishing results

Kenya’s elections: Observing the observers

The challenge for the West in Kenya’s 2012 election–and how we can learn and do better this time

What does Kenya’s High Court ruling on the civil society challenge to Uhuru and Ruto eligibility for election say about the state of Kenya’s judiciary?

It’s mid-May, do you know where you’re election results are?

 

“The War for History” part eight: “The way not forward; lessons not learned” from Kenya’s failed 2007 election assistance [revised 1Dec]

Here is the contract language requiring a Final Report from the Cooperative Agreement for the USAID – IRI Kenya polling program starting with the 2005 Referendum Exit Poll and culminating with the 2007 General Election Exit Poll:

FinalReportI finally learned last month from my March 2013 Freedom of Information Act request to USAID that the required Final Report was never filed.   Eventually getting to the truth of this involved a significant amount of “beating around the bush” and a previous 2009 FOIA request from the University of California, San Diego that should have disclosed all of the reporting–but to which USAID replied only after two years and then by producing only a copy of this Agreement itself without any of the rest of the contractual documents.

So ultimately there is no explanation in the reporting as to how the 2007 exit poll went from successful in a January 14, 2008 quarterly report from IRI to USAID, to “invalid” in IRI’s February 7, 2008 global press release, and then back to successful months later with public release of the results contradicting the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  Nor the impact of this discrepancy on the overall effectiveness of this 2+ year $570,000 democracy assistance polling program or the overall multimillion dollar U.S. support effort for the 2007 Kenya election.

Lessons from an accurate accounting of what really happened with U.S. assistance for the disastrously failed 2007 election should have been reckoned with in preparing for 2012-13. Unfortunately, in 2013 we had initial reporting of the USAID funded parallel vote tabulation with very limited transparency and seemingly ad hoc communications, and an initial USAID funded Election Observation report offering positive assurance for the reliability of the IEBC’s announced result, only to be quietly contradicted months later by the final Carter Center report.

The biggest problem in 2013 was the catastrophic failure of the Electronic Results Transmission system–the system that was established in Kenya’s election law to provide for the conveyance of the results from the polling station–the only place where the paper ballots are actually counted–to the IEBC.  Sadly, this was directly prefigured by what happened with the similar, if less ambitious, Electronic Results Transmission system–also funded by USAID through IFES and the UNDP–in 2007.  In 2007 the Electoral Commission of Kenya simply voted in December to shelve the computers and not use them, thus creating the opportunity for the Returning Officers to turn off their phones and drop out of the way.

In 2013, we had the spectacle of highly dubious procurement practices by the IEBC with a last minute attempt–or so it was presented–to roll out the technology, even though implementation was clearly not ready.  The system was then shut down by the IEBC, except for the visual graphic steadily broadcast for days showing one candidate with an “early” lead [simply meaning some votes were included and most weren’t] and hundreds of thousands of spoiled ballots that did not turn out to exist.

A source confirmed for me what we all saw–that the IEBC did not have a meaningful backup plan to handle custody and conveyance of the paper forms for the polling stations where the votes had been counted when the transmission system was shut down.

Prior to the election in 2007, the U.S. Ambassador was reporting the electronic transmission system under IFES along with the IRI exit poll as American assistance efforts to support a fair election.  Although my FOIA requests have not been directed at that issue specifically, the results transmission system appears to have dropped off the Ambassador’s list without explanation around the time it was shelved and so far as I remember this issue did not get scrutiny in the media at the time.

The Kreigler Commission report stressed the crucial nature of results transmission and much was made of this in drafting of the new election laws and the talk of preparations and assistance for 2013, but the ECK refused to produce the minutes of its action shelving the 2007 system (or any of its other minutes) and the Commission reported on to President Kibaki and then the public without actual answers about what happened in 2007.

See “Didn’t we learn from the disaster in 2007? Kenya does not need to be anyone’s model anything; it needs truth in its election”

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

Had I known before late afternoon on election day, 27 December, that “the whole reason” for the USAID-IRI exit poll was “early intelligence for the Ambassador” rather than as a tool to deter and detect potential fraud (as our consultant from UCSD and I were explicitly told some weeks before) I might have made more note of the fact that the exit poll by design generally excluded non-living voters as it was based on live interviews of people who had personally come to the polling place and cast ballots.

Admittedly if the purpose of the exit poll was to predict who the ECK would determine to be the winner, as opposed to simply how living Kenyans voted, this was a serious limitation.

One specific idiosyncrasy that afternoon that was immediately salient was the issue of release to the Ambassador of preliminary numbers reported and collated as of two hours before the polls were to generally close.  I have no statistical reference or otherwise scientific and peer reviewed material to cite for this observation, but it would have been my seat-of-the-pants judgment as the “person on the ground” with some practical experience in campaigns and elections and even with “machine politics” that deceased voters have a pronounced tendency to vote last in sequence among the various voting blocs.

For those wishing to observe the voting process rather than influence it, there are two related reasons why you will not want exit poll numbers to “get out” to actors in the process before the polls close.  One is that potential voters supporting the candidate who is “behind” are perceived to be subject to being discouraged.  Even if this is not a big enough factor to “matter” in the primary race at issue, it has been seen to impact the outcome of other races on the same ballot.  Another is that some voters who might not otherwise elect to turn out may be spurred to action by the perception that their candidate is trailing.  The dead voters are one identifiable bloc that may be particularly susceptible to an appeal of this type.

At the time, I didn’t have any numbers or details to go on that would support a specific adjustment for dead voters in the exit poll.  Some months later the Kreigler Commission estimated a figure of 1.2M decedents who were registered to vote on election day; in January 2010 as discussed in a previous post, Undersecretary of State Maria Otero was headlined in the Kenyan press on a visit saying “we are aware that more than two million dead people voted in 2007″. 

Had these types of numbers been available to me on election day I would have understood the stakes that much better.  Even though this type of voting in the United States peaked before I was born, we can easily see empirical evidence in history of a pronounced tendency of the dead voter bloc to support the party which controls the electoral mechanism, in this case in Nairobi, the ECK.  With the kinds of numbers on the voting role, if ODM/Odinga had roughly six percent more live votes as reflected in the exit poll, the percentage of the deceased who needed to be inspired to cast ballots would be much lower than the overall turnout figures.

In corresponding with a diplomat from an allied country (one with which the U.S. has a mutual defense treaty) before the ECK decision I was told that his expectation was that Odinga would win by roughly five percent.  I replied that this was interesting as I had decided that roughly five percent was probably the minimum threshold for a margin for Odinga that would result in him being accepted as the winner by the ECK.  In hindsight I was probably “drinking the CoolAid” of democratization a bit myself.

 

 

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

Continue reading

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

Choices and Consequences: Next for Kenyatta’s ICC Defense, October 8 Status Conference [updated]

The International Criminal Court has ruled that Kenya’s President Kenyatta must appear in the Hague for the status conference in his case on the confirmed charges relating to the Mungiki revenge attacks in the eastern Rift Valley during the post-election violence in early 2008. At the time in question he was KANU leader and Kibaki’s new Minster of Local Government following the January 8 appointment of the “upper half” of a new cabinet prior to the African Union sponsored mediation led by Kofi Annan.

The AU process as structured between ODM and PNU negotiating teams stalemated, with the active resistance of key Kibaki “hardliners” and parts of the PNU coalition, including KANU, but Annan was able to get a last minute deal signed off on by Kibaki and Odinga that ended the immediate crisis on February 28.  The settlement led to a Government of National Unity, with the addition of more cabinet ministers and a new, and ultimately temporary position of Prime Minister for Odinga, along with the agreement to appoint commissions to investigate the election itself and the post election violence.

The “Waki Commission” investigating the violence, in an unprecedented display of independence, provided a sealed envelope of key suspects to Annan for potential referral to the International Criminal Court in the event local prosecutions were not forthcoming, along with its extensive public report and redacted annex of persons credibly identified as having a possible individual responsibility for investigation.  (The “Kreigler Commission” followed the ordinary practice of presidential commissions from the Moi era and reported privately to the President, and then released a public report disclosing broad flaws in the overall administration of the election but ducking investigation of the central tally at the ECK headquarters in Nairobi as discussed in Ambassador Ranneberger’s cable here.)

Eventually, Annan turned the envelope over to the ICC, which authorized investigation. Charges were initiated by the Prosecutor against six and confirmed by the Court against four in January 2012, of which one was dismissed by the new Prosecutor.  So how has the defense of the cases been conducted since, or perhaps more descriptively, the counterattack?

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Susanne Mueller’s article from the Journal of East African Studies earlier this year, “Kenya and the International Criminal Court (ICC): politics, the election and the law”, perhaps gives the clearest account of how the game has been played so far:

. . . The ICC began to examine the Kenya situation in 2008-09, well before the 2013 election.  This constituted a potential risk that continued to increase once the ICC received permission to start a formal investigation and the cases progressed.

The election came into play when two of the ICC indictees — Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, and William Ruto, a Kalenjin — decided to run for president and deputy president… It was an opportunistic alliance of convenience as the ICC had accused both individuals of masterminding the 2007-08 ethnically targeted violence against each other’s communities. Ironically, this union, the negative ethnicity that accompanied it, and the ICC’s involvement also may have partly deterred violence in the 2013 election.

Winning the election was part of a key defense strategy to undercut the ICC by seizing political power, flexing it to deflect the ICC, and opening up the possibility of not showing up for trial if all else failed. The strategy entailed using a series of delaying tactics to ensure that the ICC trials would not start until after the defendants had won the election and gained power at the highest level. The tactics ranged from mobilizing international organizations against the ICC, making numerous legal challenges designed to delay the court, and the intimidation of potential witnesses, allegedly by defense sympathizers and go betweens, to keep them from assisting the ICC.

The tactics were part of a larger design to undercut the ICC. Demonizing opponents, politicizing ethnicity, and attacking the ICC as a tool of the West both before and during the presidential campaign served this end and victory in the election. Once they won the 2013 election, Kenyatta and Ruto came up with another tactic: asking for concessions based on their political power, including pleas to drop their cases or not be physically present at trials.

Mueller suggests that understanding the interplay between law and politics in this situation, while very much business as usual in Kenya where “the rule of law is still weak, politicized and hard to enforce [and] individuals are often sanctioned for trying” raises serious questions of much broader international application as the Kenyatta, Ruto and Sang cases play out on a global stage in the arena of treaties, international organizations and international human rights norms.

Within Kenya there have been two momentous court decisions since the 2007-08 election and ensuing violence.  Both were decided at the High Court (the Kenyan trial court, not the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court).  The first was the ruling that President Kibaki was not entitled to unilaterally nominate the new Attorney General and Chief Justice.  This led to the compromise whereby President Kibaki agreed to obtain the consent of the Prime Minister for a new selection for the Chief Justice, paving the way for the litigation of the CORD petition over the IEBC’s administration of the election process and the 2013 version of the central presidential vote tally (with the new Attorney General as amicus on the other side of the case).  The second was the lower court ruling that declined, eventually, shortly before the election date, to decide whether or not ICC crimes against humanity suspects were eligible to run for president under the integrity provisions of the new 2010 Kenyan constitution.  Thus in one instance a High Court stood up, and in another one stood aside, and ultimately the larger questions of power and violence at the highest levels within Kenya have been preserved for politics rather than law.

How will the Attorney General and the Kenyan State conduct itself on the international legal stage at its October 7 status conference, and how will Uhruru Kenyatta, as defendant first, and then President, conduct himself on October 8 at his status conference?  I suspect Kenyatta will go, in his own personal interest as a defendant, knowing that he remains a long way from actually facing trial so far, even though by attending he will be undermining some of the anti-ICC forces he has unleashed in his counterattack on the Court.

For me, one the biggest tart ironies of the whole saga is the recent role of the African Union in joining the attack on the Court.  The crimes alleged arose out of a purely Kenyan election dispute.  If the AU wanted to support the inviolate primacy of the Kenyan presidency, why did it not stay out of the matter in the first place in 2008?  The involvement of the ICC is the result of the settlement brokered by Kofi Annan as AU-endorsed emissary, which was agreed to personally by Kenya’s sitting president at the time!

A few thoughts about ethnic polarization in Kenya as we wait on the ICC

image

I want to touch here briefly on what I have seen and heard in regard to ethnic “issues”–prejudice, discrimination, suspicion, solidarity, hate speech, and such–in Kenya.

An important thing for outsiders to realize is how complex, and deliberately obscured, these things are in Kenyan politics–and how much of what is said in popular fora in the United States is at least misleading if not flatly wrong factually and in some cases deliberately malicious. (I have finally just now brought myself to read the whole Chapter 4 on “Kenya, Odinga, Communism and Islam” in Jerome Corsi’s book The Obama Nation which was published shortly after I returned from Kenya in the summer of 2008 during the American presidential campaign.  It was a major bestseller and thousands of Americans may have read more about Kenyan politics in that chapter than they have ever read elsewhere over their lifetimes.  Corsi has a Ph.D in Political Science from Harvard, so he is certainly credentialed far beyond me, and he is way too smart to get into the “birther” nonsense that captivated so many American politicians for a few years, but he paints a picture of the Kenyan election and the post election violence that is very much at odds with my understanding and experience, as well as anything I heard expressed internally at the International Republican Institute, or through my family’s church in Kenya or from our missionary friends or at my children’s missionary supported school.  In other words, malicious.)

One of the most important and interesting things that I have learned (so far) from my Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department relating to observation of the 2007 Kenyan election was that the Ambassador’s staff reported to him and up the chain during the campaign that while there was hate speech showing up on both sides of the ODM/Odinga and PNU/Kibaki contest, the greater weight of it was directed against Odinga.  This surprised me because I had relatively limited separate interaction with anyone else at the State Department besides the Ambassador and his personal approach and attitude in my dealings with him certainly gave no hint of this background from his staff in the context of his tactics in addressing the Kenyan campaign.

The bottom line here is there is plenty of this “negative ethnicity” to go around and most of it you will never see in the newspaper or otherwise in the media–even in Kenya, much less of course internationally.  My personal experiences before the election in 2007 involved going to lunch with young middle class professional Kenyans–essentially strangers to me–who would openly and unashamedly if privately express the type of stereotypes about members of other tribes that you or I might hear in a private club in New Orleans about “the blacks” (if you are “white like me” anyway).

The attacks on Kikuyu in parts of the Rift Valley that underlie the ICC charges against Ruto and Sang were sick and sickening (as were those in 1992 and 1997) and so were the attacks in Naivasha and elsewhere that underlie the ICC charges against Kenyatta.  So was the post election violence in Nairobi and Kisumu and other places that were not covered in the ICC charges. The families in Nairobi that I knew that suffered personally from the violence in those early weeks of 2008 were from various “tribes”.  The families that sheltered in our compound happened to be Luhya and Luo; my staff were diverse but Kikuyu were more represented than others.  All of us who were there are all colored emotionally I am sure by our personal experiences in that searing time.

Whether Ocampo as ICC prosecutor used good judgment choosing to bring charges against only six individuals as “most responsible” I do not have enough information to evaluate.  To be frank, there are aspects of Ocampo’s approach as a lawyer and public figure during those last years of his tenure at the ICC that I am not personally enthused about.  To be fair, as a real man and a real lawyer, he was never going to be as “big” as so many Kenyans looked for him to be when they were painting his picture on matatus and such, and he realistically never had any chance for more than some very small success against the dragon of impunity in Kenya.  Just as the Government of Kenya was never really going to prosecute the post election killers, the Government of Kenya was never really going to cooperate with the prosecution by the ICC.  Now we will have to see if the Trial Chamber is willing to pursue enforcement of the Government’s obligations or not.

Personally, I am not inclined to believe that the facts of the charges against the remaining three ICC defendants are based on either mistaken identity, or on some massive international conspiracy to frame them.  I could be wrong of course.  As far as Uhuru, I tend to credit the observation of a Kikuyu friend who said “I don’t support Raila, but its an open secret” that Uhuru did the gist of what he is accused of doing.  I heard things about these matters in Nairobi in “real time” in early 2008 from the same types of general discussion that covered a lot of other important information that you won’t ever see in a Kenyan newspaper.  But all hearsay.  Maybe if the cases are dismissed, someday we will find out who really did it.

The most important question though is whether Kenyans want to treat each other differently badly enough to change the underlying kind of prejudice that makes a dangerous minority of Kenyans vulnerable to the hate speech from the politicians who will continue to use it until it stops working for them. Better democracy and effective governance for broader development in Kenya will depend on this change.

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.