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

Here is the requirement for the Final Report from the Cooperative Agreement for the USAID/IRI polling program starting with the 2005 Referendum Exit Poll and culminating with the 2007 General Election Exit Poll. The final report that I finally learned last month from my Freedom of Information Act request to USAID was never filed, in spite of 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 returned only the Agreement itself.

FinalReportSo 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, to unsuccessful, and then back to successful months later or 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. election support.

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 and hundred of thousands of spoiled ballots that weren’t.  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 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

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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

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.

Why is IRI’s report on the Kenya 2007 Exit Poll missing from the USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse? (FOIA Series Part 13)

This is the latest on my ongoing Freedom of Information Act requests to get the U.S. government records on the USAID programs I supervised for the International Republican Institute as East Africa Director for the 2007 Kenya election.

In mid-2009 I assisted my former colleagues from the University of California, San Diego on the 2007 Kenya exit poll in submitting a FOIA request to USAID for a broad set of basic records under the USAID/IRI polling program, including comparative materials from the prior 2002 and 2005 USAID/IRI exit polls. Unfortunately, it took USAID roughly two years to produce anything, and when they did it was rather aggressively nonresponsive.  They simply sent a copy of the Cooperative Agreement under which the program operated from 2005-2007 (the final agreement started with the exit poll for the 2005 constitutional referendum and went though pre-election polls in the fall of 2007, with an amendment to add the 2007 exit poll at the end) with none of the reports, results, correspondence or anything else at all.  My academic colleagues had expected to get the historical documentation from IRI in consideration of the supplemental funding they povided to IRI for the exit poll, but were left to FOIA when IRI didn’t come through.

Upon returning from the 2013 Kenya election when there was another round of questions on the USAID/NDI/ELOG sample PVT and the communications around it, I submitted a new USAID FOIA of my own to try again for the 2007 exit poll records. This time I have been fortunate enough to have what appears to be active and engaged efforts by the current USAID FOIA office to seek records and keep me up to date on the request.  Unfortunately it has still been another 13 months now of waiting.

A key document that should answer a number of questions is the IRI final report on the 2005-2007 polling program, which was originally due during my tenure at IRI in early 2008. At the time I completed my IRI service to return to my permanent job in the U.S. IRI’s second extension to file the report was winding down. At that point, IRI was faced with a quandary as it had posted on its website on February 7, 2008 a statement that it was not releasing the exit poll results because it had determined that they were “invalid” the evening following a demand by Senator Russ Feingold in a hearing of his Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and the Africa Assistant Administrator for USAID report back to him on why the exit poll had not been released. Previously, however, in January IRI had filed its quarterly performance report with USAID reporting that the poll had been successfully conducted.

According to the requirements of the Cooperative Agreement between USAID and IRI, three copies of the final report were to be submitted by IRI, one to the agreement officer in Washington, one to the Democracy and Governance lead in Kenya, and another to the USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) in Washington. I was able to learn in a conference call with the FOIA office last week that they have been unable to find such a copy on file in Development Experience Clearinghouse. Likewise, the other copy in Washington has not yet turned up, so it is being sought through the mission in Kenya.

Strange.

In the meantime, on the State Department side I have written, again, to the Appeals Officer to request a decision or the status of my April 2013 appeal of the withholding of a document about the USAID exit poll from my 2009 FOIA request on the asserted basis of a “deliberative process” exemption from the FOIA.The documents produced to me under the 2009 request show the Africa Bureau at State mischaracterizing the exit poll in response to media inquiries as a capacity building “exercise” that was never intended to be released. To the contrary, both the USAID contractual documents themselves and the Ambassador’s own released State Department cables from before the election describe the exit poll as a key part of efforts to prevent election fraud and support a democratic process, along with the IRI election observation mission. My appeal argues in a nutshell that there is not a legitimately protected agency deliberative process for the State Department to decide whether or not to be truthful in response to after-the-fact press inquiries about a USAID program.

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 . . . .

.  .  .  .

In the looking glass: How USAID sees its democracy support in the 2013 Kenya Election

Thanks to a post this week from Government Executive magazine’s NextGov.com I saw that USAID has published on the web its December 2013 “Rapid Assessment Review” of USAID support for Kenya’s 2013 elections.

The post from NextGov’s Emerging Tech by Joseph Marks, “How Technology Failed to Fix Kenya’s Election”:

It’s perhaps the most common story in all of government technology: A challenge arises; new technology seems to offer the perfect solution; but something happens between concept and execution that makes that technology seem more like a culprit than a savior and that leads people to complain the old analog solution might have worked better.

That interference could come from a delayed procurement, miscommunication between different vendors, a lack of testing or training before launch or a host of other factors.

This December 2013 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development describes more than a dozen such interferences that foiled the international community’s attempts to use technology to improve outcomes in Kenya’s March 2013 elections.

.  .  .  .

Kudos to USAID for publishing this.  Although there is one major “glitch” that I will explain, the report is generally quite useful.  In particular for Kenyans who want to understand the process by which their leaders are chosen, there is much here that is not otherwise readily available to those outside the Government of Kenya itself.  Thus, Kenyans active in political parties and civil society, the media and others that are especially interested in elections will want to take time to read the whole report carefully.  Likewise for interested foreign “friends of Kenya” who hope for better elections in the future, especially those of us who are U.S. taxpayers.

The “glitch” is that the report was released with a December 31, 2013 date, which is several weeks after publication of the Carter Center’s final USAID funded Election Observation Report,  but references only a non-published June “draft final” report and the April 4 Carter Center preliminary statement.  So it appears that the report was written without reference to the actual Carter Center final report, likely inadvertently through the fact that the authors were doing this study simultaneously with the Carter Center’s work.  See my post Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical final report from Kenya Election Observation.

On one hand this is a fundamental problem leading to a quite critical misunderstanding. The assessment presents a quote from the Carter Center’s April 4 statement that the failure of the USAID supported Electronic Results Transmission system still left a paper tally system that was sufficiently handled to provide “enough guarantees to preserve the expression of the will of the Kenyan voters” which is contradicted by the Final Report.

Nonetheless, this is in prefatory material and the point of the assessment is not to make conclusions about the election process itself, but to self assess USAID’s programming, and a bit of a “rosy tint” that allows the whole thing to be packaged as “lessons learned” for other missions in the context of an overall “success” with various subsidiary failings may have made the difference in getting this ultimately published on the internet, with a lot of pertinent information and a fair bit of candor for a “self assessment” overall.  I am still deep in the bowels of the Freedom of Information Act legal process seeking more modest bits of information about the election support effort for 2007 as an example of what can happen within the bureaucracy when no one can claim “success”.

Please take time to read the whole thing and I will be grateful for anyone who wishes to e-mail thoughts or comments, and of course any public comments here.  I will discuss some details in various upcoming posts.

IRI Poll Releae Press Conference