“The War for History” part eleven–what did I mean in part ten in referring to Ranneberger “trying to quash” poll results showing Odinga taking the lead in the presidential race in September 2007?

In response to a reader inquiry, I want to make a clarification of an incident in September 2007 I referred to as background in Part Ten of this War for History series and addressed in more detail in an e-mail that I quoted at length in Part Three. The issue for me was that the Ambassador was expressing an active rather than merely passive favoritism in the Kenyan presidential race for the first time and trying to get me involved in it.

Here is what The New York Times reported in their January 30, 2009 investigative report:

. . . .

Mr. Flottman said he was surprised when, before the election, Mr. Ranneberger made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing Kenyan corruption.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Flottman recalled, the ambassador was even more direct. A few months before the election, Mr. Ranneberger proposed releasing a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga, according to Mr. Flottman, who said he witnessed the episode during a meeting at the ambassador’s office. The suggestion was dropped, he said, after the embassy learned that the pro-Odinga results were already out.

In a meeting in the Ambassador’s office after I was called in to discuss the International Republican Institute’s September 2007 public opinion survey results, which were not yet released, the Ambassador expressed pleasure that our question on preference in the presidential race (which we had an established procedure of not releasing) continued to show a lead for Kibaki as we had in the last survey in March, whereas results from other firms published in the Nairobi papers were showing Odinga as having taken a lead after securing the ODM party nomination. He pressed me to depart from our practice and release our presidential numbers and instructed a member of his staff in attendance to get another firm to not to release their forthcoming presidential numbers. During the meeting the staff member got a message that the other firm had already published their report showing Odinga leading.

So as far as the other polling firm (Steadman, now Synovate) it was “a dog that didn’t bark”; the Ambassador was too late to try to quash their release, no call was made, and I had no reason to think that anyone at the Steadman firm ever knew about the incident and the Ambassador’s instruction to his assistant.

Here is what I quoted in Part Three of this series from a January 2008 e-mail:

In Sept. we did our last general public opinion survey in a series dating back to 2005 (and really a continuation of polling that we had done with Strategic with AID funding since 1999 or earlier).  We had always made a limited public release of general data, privately shown the parties and candidates their own standing and released “horserace” numbers to no one.  By this time all the other polls were being published showing Railia having overtaken Kibaki and building a lead.  Our poll had basically the same results for Kibaki that our March poll had had and showed him ahead.

When the Ambassador got this from AID I was called in and he was all excited about how we had to release our figures and stop Steadman from making a contradictory release the same day.  While we were meeting, [redacted] got an e-mail that Steadman had come out.  [Redacted] agreed with me that changing our policy on this last poll before the election would be transparently and blatantly seen as political, and she told me [redacted] agreed and would work it.  I laid low and never heard back. . .

Telling thing Ambassador said was to the effect that our poll would vindicate what he had been telling Washington, and that if he had misread presidential race “we might as well not even be here”.

And my narrative from Part Ten:

Part of what has troubled me is my conversation with the USAID CTO on the phone from a polling place on the afternoon of the vote on December 27.  It had been agreed internally within IRI that we should not allow any report of our preliminary presidential numbers to leave IRI until after the polls closed at 5:00pm.  We knew that USAID wanted to get the preliminary results that afternoon, and Peter Oriare had estimated that they could be available at 3:00pm.  Within IRI we did not want to be responsible for any situation where the numbers leaked to either the Kibaki or Odinga campaigns before the poll closing, or got out in the media while people were still voting.  This was clearly “best practice”.

More specifically to our particular situation in Nairobi, we were very concerned since we had already been pressured by the Ambassador to depart from precedent to release the numbers he liked from our September poll while he sought to quash the Steadman numbers he didn’t like.  Further, when Ranneberger expressed to me in our meeting at his residence on December 15, 2007 that he wanted to take our lead delegate Connie Newman to meet privately with Kibaki aide Stanley Murage the day before the election major alarm bells had gone off in the IRI front office and it was stressed that such an improper meeting “must not happen”.  We did not know what the Ambassador was up to but knew we needed not to be involved in it.  In this context the desire not to let exit poll numbers get out while voting was still open very much included having them go to the Ambassador in particular.  We had no contractual obligation at all to get USAID an early disclosure on election day.

So observing at a polling place where we were going to close the voting day late that afternoon I got a call from the CTO looking for the preliminary numbers and I put her off.  I had numbers by text message from Peter Oriare but had not been able to study them in detail and go through them carefully with Peter and I tried to put her off.  She got frustrated and said that she would never have had us do the election observation if she thought we could not handle getting her the preliminary exit poll numbers at the same time we were observing and that “the whole reason” they did the exit poll was for “early intelligence of the Ambassador”.  I’m not against intelligence in concept, and I was working for IRI on leave from my job with a defense contractor that does intelligence work, but my purpose and job in Kenya was to support democracy and I did not appreciate being told at that late hour that there was an underlying unexpressed ulterior motive to the polling agreement all along–and such a thing was explicitly contrary to formal IRI policy as well as our USAID agreement. Why was it so important that the Ambassador have the numbers right then–“early”–instead of an hour and a half or so later when the polls closed?  No explanation of that was given.  The USAID officer ended up calling Peter Oriare, our subcontractor, and extracted the numbers directly from him.  Who did the Ambassador share them with and when?  I have no way to know.

I also want to stress that I had confidence in both Strategic Public Relations and Research which did our public opinion surveys and our exit polls for the 2002 and 2007 general elections and 2005 constitutional referendum, and in Steadman, which I hired in December 2007 to do a last minute pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency after the Ambassador had surprisingly suggested that “people were saying” that Raila Odinga might lose his parliamentary seat there to Stanley Livando and thus loses his eligibility to be elected president. The Ambassador’s expressed but unfulfilled desire to try to quash Steadman’s previous report caused me concern about the Ambassador, not about the polling firm.

“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?

 

Merry Christmas, number six

Merry ChrismasMy last post corresponded to the fifth anniversary of this blog, so this in the sixth time I’ve had the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful Festive Season.

This is going to be a challenging time for many Kenyans who will be legitimately concerned about being vulnerable to terrorists, and those who will be legitimately fearful of the forces of their own government.  I trust that the spirit of the season will touch most Kenyans to continue to look out for each other regardless of the animus and contrary ambitions of a relative few.

Ocampo, the Donors and “The Presumption of Arrogance”; a story of babes in the woods of Mt. Kenya?

Let me be clear that I have always supported the pursuit of the ICC cases for the 2007-08 post election killings in Kenya.  Not because the ICC was necessarily a good option but because it was that or nothing.  My country, the United States, officially as a matter of foreign policy articulated by the State Department, always supported prosecution of the post election violence by a “local tribunal” in Kenya.  Which is quite exactly like being in favor of Santa Claus bringing a cure for Ebola in Sierra Leone.  In no way am I against either, but there are obviously more challenging questions begged by the devastating facts presented in these situations. (See “Christmas Shopping–For Sale: Brooklyn Bridge, Ocean Front Property in Arizona, Local Tribunal in Kenya”)

In the context of the “don’t be vague, go to The Hague” vote by Kenya’s Parliament, our U.S. position has been inevitably opaque.  We are not and have never been a member state of the International Criminal Court.  As a general proposition under U.S. law our officials are not to be involved in supporting ICC prosecutions, subject to certain potential exceptions.  Nonetheless, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council the diplomatic strategy of the Kenyan government in the second Kibaki administration put us to a decision as to whether or not to support Security Council intervention to interrupt the ICC prosecutions in the two Kenyan cases.  We declined to do so, to our credit in my opinion.

How to understand what has happened with the pre-trial decisions by Prosecutor Bensouda to drop the charges against the two defendants in the Government/PNU case, Muthaura (on 11 March 2013) and Kenyatta (on 5 December 2014), while the trial in the Opposition/ODM case proceeds?

Almost seven years after the post election violence we are left with complete impunity on the side of those who initiated the conflict by stealing the election and employed two of the three types of large scale killings at issue in the charges of “crimes against humanity”.  ICC Prosecutor Ocampo’s Government/PNU case originally included Kibaki’s Commissioner of Police, Major General Hussein Ali, but the Pre-Trial Chamber declined to confirm the charges against Ali, as it declined to confirm the charges against Henry Kosgey on the Opposition/ODM side.  The greatest cause of death as identified by the Waki Commission report was gunshot wound – understood to be primarily administered by the General Service Unit, Administrative Police and Kenya Police Service forces under Ali’s command.  The “body count” of those who were identifiable by tribe as reported by the Waki Commission was greatest among the Luo–those targeted primarily by the Government side rather than by the militias associated with the Opposition.

So whatever happens with the Ruto and Sang case, the winners of the post election conflict–those on the side of those who stole the election in the first place and who killed to keep and enforce power–remain comfortably immune from any negative consequences, as well as with the benefit of what they have “eaten”.  No more than two individuals face any charges of the many people involved in raising and facilitating the ethnic militias in the Rift Valley that killed innocent Kikuyu in revenge for Kibaki’s election theft and to some extent for leverage in a post election political dispensation, as well as to remove future Kikuyu votes and occupy land as in 1992 and 1997 (when Kenyatta and Ruto were partnered in KANU as now in Jubilee).

Post-election IDP camp at Naivasha, Kenya, 2008

Post-election IDP camp at Naivasha, Kenya, 2008

I do not necessarily blame Ocampo for having tried and failed. He took on what was perhaps inevitably a nearly impossible task given his lack of actual power. I do very much fault him for raising expectations and seeming to believe as well as play to his own press, and then quitting before the end. I am inclined to think that he simply had no realistic understanding of what he was getting into in going after Kibaki’s closest lieutenants on their own turf and was tone deaf to learning.  He seems to have believed that the perceived global stature of the International Criminal Court and his office meant a lot more than it actually did in the warrens of power in Nairobi, no matter how many painted his face on the side of a matatu or a duka. It is hard to imagine how he could have failed to seriously pursue Kenyatta’s telephone and bank records before he left the prosecutor’s office in July 2012. Or how he could have seriously convinced himself that he or his successor would somehow get the records through some notion of “cooperation” from the second Kibaki Administration in which Kenyatta was a key Minister throughout, from his initial appointment during the post election violence on January 8, 2008, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister from April 2008.  Did he pursue evidentiary assistance formally from the United States under those potential legal exceptions I mentioned?

For details on the cases, as I wrote in a post in October ahead of the ICC Status Conference, “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.”

I do not doubt that Ocampo showed personal courage in the prosecutions of Argentina’s ex-generals and compatriots in establishing the credential that led to his appointment as the ICC’s first prosecutor. Nonetheless, the key distinction in that case was a change in government that made such prosecutions feasible. That did not happen in Kenya because the stolen election was allowed to stand, with an eventual settlement that if anything made the situation harder by adding the perpetrators on the Opposition side into that Government as more junior parties, helping to maintain unity for impunity.

As for my country, we tried to have it both ways by supporting impunity for the theft of the election–having at the very best “actively looked the other way” while it was happening– then notionally supporting “justice” for the killings that followed. Not an idea that was ever likely to fit down a real chimney in Kenya.

And yes, I do have more stories for “the war for history” series.  For instance, yes, the State Department did know before the vote in 2007 that the Kibaki Administration had dispatched the Administrative Police to opposition strongholds in support of the Kibaki re-election effort.  Of course if the “AP” hadn’t gotten caught by those Kenyan television journalists it wouldn’t have been such a problem; certainly we Americans did not say anything publicly.  Now that Kenyatta’s grasp on power is that much firmer with the ICC case over, I don’t doubt that he will further ramp up his efforts to formally and informally undermine the new Constitution and shift power back to the Presidency and away from the media, civil society and the citizenry at large to avoid such inconveniences going forward.

This week I got an email from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor with a Request for Proposals for “Countering Closing Civic Space in Kenya and Uganda”.  It’s a nice idea to support those trying to hold on to the freedoms they have won, and the amount of money–as much as $841,000.00 for a regional program for the two countries–would not have been trivial if it weren’t for the many millions we spent on the Kenyan IEBC during its 2012-13 “#Chickengate” binge, and on helping to sell its incomplete at best results to the public in the last election, for instance, among many other examples of the things we keep doing to contradict ourselves on support for rights, reform and democracy.  And of course our much deeper overall long term “partnerships” with the Museveni and Kenyatta governments.

I may be the one showing naivete now, but I do actually believe that by and large most people in my government, as with the other Donors, do wish for better for Kenyans in terms of justice versus impunity, and for the protection of rights and the establishment of a meaningful democracy where voters have agency.  All other things being equal, they would like Kenya to be a country in which powerful killers go to jail and votes count.  It’s just that they can’t bring themselves to make the hard choices or take the risks required.

Who needs “resources” to be cursed by corruption? Kenya falls below Nigeria on 2014 Transparency International index

In the 2014 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index released this week, Kenya tied for 145th worst out of 174 countries, with a score of 25 out of a possible 100, down from 27 in 2013 and 2014.  Nigeria received a 27.

According to the East African Bribery Index for 2014 released by Transparency International in Nairobi, for Kenya, as reported by The Standard, “Police service highest receiver of bribes shows report”:

.  .  .  .
On the probability of actual payment of a bribe when interacting with a sector, the police service was ranked first at 71.1 per cent. The tax service department was second at 31.4 per cent followed by the county administration at 25.9 per cent.
On the national share of the “national bribe”, the police service received the biggest share and almost accounted for almost half of all the bribes paid at 43.5 per cent. The land service department was second at 11.9 per cent followed by the Judiciary at 11.6 per cent.
“Majority of those who interacted with NPS felt if they had not given bribe, they would not have received the services. Twenty-seven per cent of those interacting with Lands services and 26.2 per cent with the Judiciary held the same view,” the report said.
It also emerged that 94 per cent of Kenyans do not report any bribery incident to any authority since majority say they do not know where to report. Others believed no action would be taken towards resolving their complaint.
The report described the current state of corruption in the country as high, with 54 per cent of the people saying corruption had increased within the last 12 months.
Friday’s “Big Story” in the Business Daily reports “Police Chiefs Used Secret Account to Steal Sh2.8bn from taxpayers around the time of the 2013 election.  Before the latest massacre in Mandera, the Kenyan media was starting to pay real attention to the latest #Chickengate scandal involving bribes at the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) after Britain’s Serious Fraud Office brought the bribe payers to public trial over corruption in the contracts to print ballots. (No new news on the other IEBC procurement fraud cases involving the various technology purchases that have been outstanding since directed by the Supreme Court in April 2013.)
 But, not to worry:

“The War for History” part nine: from FOIA, a readout of new Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte

Sometimes a Freedom of Information Act response from the State Department is “like a box of chocolates”–one of my 2009 requests eventually turned up a readout of a visit on February 7, 2008 by Kalonzo Musyoka, appointed Vice President by Kibaki in January, with John Negroponte, then Condelezza Rice’s Deputy Secretary of State. You may remember that in January Jendayi Frazer, in Kenya as Assistant Secretary of State heading the Africa Bureau, had applied the label of “ethnic cleansing” to the post election violence, a term disowned by “Main State” back in Washington.

The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that it found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)

From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:

Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.

Kalonzo Duka

 

African Studies Association event honoring Joel Barkan this weekend

The African Studies Association annual meeting is beginning in Indianapolis and an eminent panel Saturday will recognize Joel’s impact. Being a “Kenya junkie” is not the same for me without him and I wish I could be at the ASA for the appreciation of his legacy.

Roundtable: Honoring the Life, Scholarship and Public Service of Joel Barkan
Saturday, November 22nd, 10:00 to 11:45AM

Chair: John W. Harbeson, Johns Hopkins University

Nic Cheeseman, University of Oxford

Makau W. Mutua, State University of New York (SUNY), Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Robert B. Mattes, University of Cape Town (UCT)

Nelson Kasfir, Dartmouth College

David Throup, Johns Hopkins University

On a bright note, happy birthday today to Charles Hornsby.

“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”

Why “the war for history” matters now (authoritarian momentum in East Africa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last month Freedom House awarded it annual Freedom Award to Maina Kiai “in recognition of his fearless leadership in advocating for constitutional reform, fighting political corruption, and educating Kenyans of their basic civil and human rights.” The same Maina Kiai who pushed for release of the 2007 IRI/USAID exit poll and challenged the U.S. to live up to its principles: “A Deal We Can Live With” by Maina Kiai and L. Muthoni Wanyeki, New York Times, Feb. 12, 2008.