“You are doing a heck of a job”; Biden and Kenyatta get cozy at White House

Remarks by President Biden and President Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya Before Bilateral Meeting

President Biden and President Kenyatta had an apparently cozy visit at the White House. Biden got to host an African head of state after neglecting to do so around the UN General Assembly. Kenyatta got to “bring home” news of a U.S. vaccine donation, personal praise from Biden and a mutual reiteration about how well the Governments of our two countries do on cooperating on terrorism, business and generally on being “partners”. See the account from Kenya’s state media, KBC.

A good way to end the week for Client 13173 of Geneva’s Union Bancaire Privée (see “Secret Assets Exposed by Pandora Papers Expose Uhuru Kenyatta’s Family“, by Will Fitzgibbon in The Elephant, Oct 8).

I do not think it unfair to read the tea leaves from this action by the Biden Administration–on the heels of announcing the appointment of Judd Devermont, late of the Center for Strategic and Studies, to formulate a new Africa policy (as John Bolton in the Trump Administration)–toward deciphering how the U.S. executive branch can be expected to play Kenya’s current election.

Of course, the “heck of a job” line is usually intended to be sarcastic in the United States, as remembered with poignancy by those of us who had personal experience with Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As explained in Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary:

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.
The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”
Brown resigned ten days after he was praised.

George W Bush praises FEMA head Michael Brown in Louisiana after Hurricane KatrinaPresident George W. Bush tells FEMA Administrator Michael Brown he’s doing “a heck of a job.” (Photo: AP)

Phee sworn in replacing Godec to lead State Africa Bureau; Biden’s team can now address policy for Kenyan election

The Elephant published my last post on September 10 as “Amb. Godec is Well Placed to Articulate US Policy for Kenya’s 2022 Polls“.

Amb Molly Phee cuts ribbon at school at Dire Dawa, Ethiopia with Commander of CJTFHOA

120522-F-GA223-001
DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia (May 22, 2012) Rear Admiral Michael Franken, left, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, Kumsa Baysa, principal of Gende Gerada Primary School, Molly Phee, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, Egei Wabere, an Gende Gerada Kebele education coordinator, and Stephen Fitzpatrick, program coordinator for U.S. Agency for International Development gather for a school building dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for a new school house and two latrines at the Gende Gerada Primary School. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens/Released)

This week the Senate worked through a few confirmations for State Department positions, including Amb. Molly Phee as Amb. Godec’s “permanent” successor as acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.  She was sworn in last evening.

In the meantime, preparations for Kenya’s polls, just more than ten months away, continue to lag.

Assistant Secretary Phee, although most of her foreign service career has been spent in other contexts, has recent regional experience as Ambassador to South Sudan 2015-17 and Deputy Chief of Mission to Ethiopia in 2011-14.  She was serving as Chief of Staff to the Special Envoy for South Sudan when nominated to replace Susan Page to become the second Ambassador to South Sudan.

The Elephant also published my “9/11 and the United States-Kenya Relationship“.  See also Paul Tiyambe Zeleza’s longread from the next week, “9/11: The Day That Changed America and the World Order

Ambassador Godec, as Acting Assistant Secretary of State, should articulate U.S. policy for Kenya’s election

Kenya 2013 election IRI Electoral Commission voter education posterAmbassador Robert Godec has served as the Biden Administration’s Acting Assistant Secretary of State since the inauguration.

Ambassador Godec served in Kenya from August 2012, as Chargé d’Affaires following Amb. Scott Gration’s ouster, becoming the Ambassador in January 2013 after November 2012 confirmation hearings ahead of Kenya’s March 2013 election.

Godec thus led U.S. engagement with both the later stages of the 2013 election and the ensuing litigation (both the presidential election petition at the Supreme Court and the on-going attempt to prosecute IEBC technology procurement fraud), the formation of the Jubilee Party in 2016, the eventual replacement of the Issack Hassan-led IEBC following protests in which opposition supporters were killed, the attacks on the USAID-funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) by the Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta and Cabinet members, the change of U.S. Administrations from Obama to Trump, the acquisition of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) from Safran Morpho (n/k/a Idemia), the abduction and murder of IEBC acting ICT Director Chris Msando on the eve of the 2017 vote, the general election and the successful Supreme Court petition annulling the presidential portion of the vote, the boycotted re-run, the announcement of the “Big 4 Agenda” and the post-election diplomatic negotiations, the “People’s President” swearing in, the “Handshake” and most of first year of the Building Bridges Initiative.

For the status of things in December 2018 as Ambassador Godec’s replacement, Ambassador McCarter was being confirmed see: “Something afoot in Kenya: Nation newspaper is running investigative reporting on IEBC procurement corruption in 2017“.

So at this point, Ambassador Godec is a seasoned veteran of Kenya’s post-2007 politics who knows the ground intimately from the last two election cycles.  (His prospective “permanent” replacement, Mary Catherine Phee, was nominated in April and got a favorable vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, but a confirmation vote by the full Senate is blocked along with dozens of other nominees.)

I was asked a few months ago to write an article about U.S. support for the BBI process, but I have been unable to do so because it is not clear to me what our policy has been or is now, and I have not found people involved willing to talk to me.  Given my role in telling the story of what went wrong in 2007 when I was involved myself it is no surprise that I might not be the one that people in Washington want to open up to now, but even people that I am used to talking to privately have not been as forthcoming as usual.  Nonetheless, Kenyans inevitably have questions, and those Americans who care may in the future.

Members of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance-USA have announced that they have sent Freedom of Information Requests to USAID and some Kenyans on social media and in a few cases in print have asserted suspicions or accusations that the U.S. Government was intending to back “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” in the form of the BBI referendum for some negative purpose.  Looking at the degree to which the Obama Administration backed the passage of the new 2010 Constitution as the terminal event of the post-2007 “Reform Agenda”–to the point of having millions of dollars bleed over from neutral democracy assistance programing into supporting the “Yes” campaign in the 2010 referendum during Ambassador Ranneberger’s tenure–I am having a bit of difficulty understanding why my representatives in Washington would be working in general terms to undermine the new Constitution we helped midwife in the first place.  At the same time it has openly been our policy under Ambassador Godec originally and then his predecessor Ambassador McCarter to support the Building Bridges Initiative and we did provide some USAID funding for the conducting the consultative process itself.  I think it would be in the interests of the United States and of Kenyans for the State Department to get out front of the questions now, with the BBI referendum effort rejected both at trial court level and on appeal, and with the Kenyan presidential race that has been going on since the Handshake entering into its later stages.

We remain Kenya’s largest donor, we have many relationships and support many assistance programs of all sorts in Kenya.  Most Kenyans remain in need, and we continue to have the same issues regarding terrorism as during the past 25 years (most especially since the 1998 embassy bombing). In general the geographic neighborhood is experiencing more specific crises and some overall erosion of peace, prosperity and governance.  While we may not be as influential in Kenya as we were prior to 2007, and anyone with money can play in Kenyan politics, we will be engaged and we will have influence in 2022.  So there is no time like the present to articulate what our policy is for the coming year.

Here is my take from December 2019: “Important Kenya BBI reads, and my comments“.

And from January 2020: “How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

New U.S.-Kenya links as election approaches

The Association of Kenyan Diaspora Organizations will be holding its annual conference in Seattle this weekend (August 27-28), including an appearance by IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati who will discuss the status of diaspora voting for the 2022 General Election. See my last post which discusses the diaspora voting issue: “Kenya’s IEBC ‘races’ to fulfill mandate from 2010 Constitution for lawful 2022 general election; behind again after 2013 and 2017 failures“.

Republican Senators urge Biden to prioritize Kenya-U.S. trade dealBusiness Daily, August 25, 2021

BBI Ruling Leaves Kenya at a Crossroads” blog post by Michelle Gavin at Council on Foreign Relations “Africa in Transition“. [Ed. note: Michelle Gavin was also handling the Africa program at CFR during the fraudulent 2007 election and ensuing crisis.  Non-resident fellow Jendayi Frazer, of course, was Asst. Secretary of State during the election and crisis.  Between the two there is unusually intimate institutional memory for the Council on Foreign Relations, along with the related competing interests associated with the connections.]

In the World Politics Review weekly Africa Watch newsletter, Chris Olaoluwa Ogunmodede argues that “A Court Ruling Just Upended Kenya’s Political Landscape“.

Growers Alliance Coffee from Kenya Diaspora Trade: Growers Alliance Coffee from Kenya

Here is the link to read about and order from Growers Alliance Coffee from my old friends Martin and Purity in St. Augustine, Florida.

Kenya’s IEBC “races” to fulfill mandates from 2010 Constitution for lawful 2022 general election; behind again after 2013 and 2017 failures

Kenya 2007 Election campaign posters “Kalonzo Musyoka for President” on duka Eastern Kenya

 

For the latest from Kenya’s IEBC, see “Electoral body in rush to seal 2022 loopholes” from The People’s Daily.

Same issues as 2013 and 2017, same alleged frantic time-crunch.

For instance, the 2010 “New Katiba” granted the right to vote to Kenyans in the diaspora, starting with the 2012 general election. Even though the election was postponed to 2013, the IEBC under then-Chairman Issack Hassan elected to disenfranchise diaspora voters in spite of the coming into force of the new Constitution.

See, “IFES to webccast workshop on Kenya Diaspora voting “, Nov 1, 2012, Africommons.

But see, “Kenya, Attempt to suppress the diaspora vote“, Dec 12, 2012, by Nathan Wangusi, Pambazuka.

After the failures of 2013, in particular the procurement-fraud driven failure of electronic poll books and the breakdown of the results transmission system with no organized manual backup, and full election results not published (see “It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington) Hassan was eventually forced out by protests in 2016.  See my Page covering the 2012-13 election in detail.

After departing the IEBC Hassan has been on the international election assistance circuit, having already traveled to observe (positively) Djiboutian President Guelleh’s 2016 re-election on behalf of IGAD while still IEBC Chairman. Most recently he was associated with a USAID-funded joint International Republican Institute/National Democratic Institute election assessment in Ethiopia this year. (See report released today.)

The current IEBC Chairman, Wafula Chebukati, was then appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta from the nominees of a controversial selection process and took office in January 2017 in time for the general election and annulled presidential vote that August, marked by the unsolved abduction, torture and murder of the ICT Director and the subsequent resignation of a majority of the Commissioners.

Although civil society groups had obtained a 2015 court ruling to enforce the diaspora voting requirement of the Constitution, the IEBC still failed in 2017 to implement more than a very limited, truncated, diaspora vote process.

See “Diaspora Voting in Kenya: a Promise Denied“, Elizabeth Iams Wellman and Beth Elise Whitaker, African Affairs, Vol. 120, Issue 479, April 2021, Pages 199-217. (In 2010, Kenya extended voting rights to its estimated 3,000,000 citizens living abroad . . . Yet . . . fewer than 3,000 Kenyans were permitted to vote from abroad in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. What explains the failure of the Kenyan government to implement diaspora voting on a broader scale? . . . We argue that uncertainty about the number of Kenyan emigrants and their political preferences, paired with a highly competitive electoral climate, meant there was little political will to push for more widespread implementation of diaspora voting.)

A year ago I warned: “Kenya Election Preparation: raising alarm for 2022, past secrets still buried“.

Reporting keeps digging deeper on US decision to “look away” from stolen DRCongo election

The latest breakthrough is from Stephen R. Weissman in Foreign Policy this week: “Why did Washington let a stolen election stand in the Congo?“. Weissman gets significantly more detail than the previous stories have accumulated on the Catholic church organized and U.S. subsidized “parallel vote tabulation”:

This account is based primarily on 20 interviews—including 10 with U.S. officials—that were conducted on background and without attribution to promote candor. Foreign Policy offered the U.S. State Department the opportunity to comment on passages stemming from interviews with U.S. officials, but it declined.

In a Jan. 3, 2019 press statement, the State Department urged CENI to transparently count votes and “ensure” its results “correspond to results announced at each of DRC’s 75,000 polling stations.” At the same time, the department ignored the one resource that could have held the Kabila-dominated, corruption-laden CENI to account: the church’s U.S.-funded election observation project.

Weissman has delivered the type of detailed story that I had always hoped to see some enterprising journalist write about the decision to “look away” from election fraud in Kenya in 2007–in particular what I hoped the New York Times was in the process of reporting in 2008 when I was interviewed about the “spiked” exit poll indicating an opposition win. The DRC is not a close U.S. ally and regional center for the “international community” in the same way that Kenya is, so perhaps the DRC is a more realistic venue for a tougher examination of mixed messages and mixed motives. Also, because violence did not explode in DRC in 2019 it is easier for officials involved to talk to reporters (without personal attribution) about the decision making process.

The next step for reporters who are interested would obviously be to pursue the documentary record.

Regardless, the paradigm is the same in terms of the choices between “diplomacy” and transparency in election assistance and election observation.

Lake lodge Uganda Rwanda Congo

Essential: JOHN GITHONGO – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Choices Facing Kenya and the Kenyattas | The Elephant

JOHN GITHONGO – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Choices Facing Kenya and the Kenyattas | The Elephant
— Read on www.theelephant.info/features/2021/04/23/between-the-devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea-the-choices-facing-kenya-and-the-kenyattas/

How independent will Kenya’s Election Commission be?

Djibouti IGAD Election Observation Mission press conference led by Kenya’s Issack Hassan of IEBC
Former IEBC Chairman Isaack Hassan leads IGAD Election Observation to Djibouti

As noted in my last post, Kenya’s outgoing President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has initiated his process of of appointing new Commissioners to fill longstanding vacancies in most of the seats on Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission. How independent will the Commission be in conducting the expected Building Bridges Initiative constitutional referendum and the 2022 general election?

While I have my own expectations based on my experience from 2007 and 2013 and my investigation and research regarding those two elections, along with watching events of 2016 and 2017 and since, the purpose of this post is to highlight an academic paper on this very subject published in London by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy with funding from Her Majesty’s Government. Nic Cheeseman, renowned Professor of Democracy and “friend of the blog” and Jorgen Elklit, Professor Emeritus at Aarhus University are the authors: “Understanding and Assessing Electoral Commission Independence: a New Framework“.

Take time to read the whole thing, which proposes a systematic way to study and grapple with the question in any country–“eleven criteria through which to evaluate electoral commission independence, grouped into three main categories of autonomy: a) institutional and leadership; b) functional and decision-making; and c) financial and budgetary. For each criteria, a battery of questions is provided to enable readers to qualitatively evaluate whether the degree of independence in each case is: ‘highly satisfactory’, ‘fairly satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’.” But in particular, the authors have chosen Kenya 2017 as one of the three case studies to cover in depth:

Case 1: Separating fact from fiction in Kenya 2017

The Kenyan general election of 2017 provides a compelling example of the difficulty of proving the independence (or otherwise) of electoral commissions. The Kenyan electoral commission is formally independent as indicated by its name, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). It was created by a provision of the 2010 constitution, following the dissolution of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), which had been heavily criticised for mishandling the 2007 general elections. The Commission is made up of seven commissioners, one of who is designated to be the Chair. Although the Commission is appointed by the President, there are a number of positive indicators of formal independence. Most notably, the Commission was created by a provision in the 2010 constitution and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act; the list of commissioners selected by the president must be confirmed by parliament; and, none of the commissioners may be a current member of a political party, implying a degree of insulation from partisan ties. . . .

. . . .

By the end of 2017, it was therefore clear that the electoral commission was not fully independent, that partisan pressure was undermining reform efforts, and that the murder of Mr Msando has generated a great deal of fear and concern for electoral officials at multiple levels. However, it was not clear exactly how far the IEBC’s independence had been compromised, or exactly what the consequences of this had been. The Supreme Court’s nullification of the first election suggests that the problems within the IEBC were substantial, and encouraged the widespread perception that the Commission had been biased in favour of the ruling party. Given a history of controversial elections and of alleged partisan bias it is natural to assume that the independence of the Commission had been fundamentally violated. But it remains possible that these errors resulted from weak governance and capacity rather than a deliberate attempt to rig the election in favour of one side or another because a parallel vote tabulation by domestic observers was in line with the official outcome. The Kenyan case therefore demonstrates how difficult it can be to prove a lack of independence beyond reasonable doubt, even when major questions are raised about the quality of an election.

While Kenya’s IEBC is clearly not a ‘highly independent’ electoral commission, it is harder to say exactly where it belongs. The reports of electoral observers would suggest ‘moderately independent’ but the evidence from dissident commissioners and some civil society groups would say ‘not independent’ at all. A fair evaluation would place it somewhere in between, probably falling on the ‘not independent’ side.

Biding time on democracy in Kenya and Uganda

 

Kenya election 2007 banner for Kibaki Nakuru
Ugandan MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine will speak at the McCain Institute’s virtual 2021 Sedona Forum. The State Department has issued a statement criticizing the January Ugandan election and announcing that it is issuing visa restrictions on unnamed Ugandan officials responsible for undermining the democratic process

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Three years after the resignations of a majority of Kenya’s election commissioners, President Uhuru Kenyatta has formally taken notice of the four vacancies and gazetted the process through which he will appoint replacements.

Why now? While the President has not explained specifically to my knowledge, his ruling Jubilee Party is seeking to have the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission conduct a constitutional referendum within weeks to approve amendments derived from the “Building Bridges Initiative”. (A version of a proposal to amend the constitution was passed by most of Kenya’s county assemblies positioned as a citizen initiative. It is now before Parliament where there is internal debate among proponents as to whether to approve it for referendum as is, or to allow amendments to what has already been passed by the counties, which would raise additional legal questions. Challenges to the legality of the process to date are pending in the courts already.)

Although Kenya’s courts have allowed the IEBC to continue to conduct by-elections and all its other business with only three of seven commission seats filled since the most recent resignations in April 2018 there seems to be an expectation that appointing new commissioners is desirable ahead of the referendum and the general election approaching in August 2022. Legislation signed into law last year changes the appointment powers for choosing the committee that will interview applicants for the IEBC slots and winnow choices for the President. Four of the seven screening committee members will now named by the Parliamentary Service Commission, tipping the balance in favor of the current office holders.

Remember that U.S. president Joe Biden has “been around”, with far more diplomatic experience than any of his four most recent predecessors in the White House. In 2010 as Vice President he met with Kenyan Speaker Kenneth Marende, along with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, ahead of that year’s constitutional referendum during the period in which Kenya was deciding between justice-oriented remedies and impunity for the 2007-08 Post-Election Violence.

This is what I wrote at the time, “Marende praised by U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights, meeting with Biden; South Mugirango by-election this week”:

Kenyan Speaker of Parliament Kenneth Marende seems to be getting an increased international profile. Navanethem Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Marende on Monday, expressing concern regarding progress on prosecution of suspects for post election violence. According to the Standard she singled out Marende for praise, “saying he had made immense contribution in stabilising the country through some historic rulings and the manner he handled issues in Parliament”.

U.S. Vice President Biden will call on Marende Tuesday as well, along with his meeting with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

Interestingly, Marende says that Parliament “would easily pass” legislation to provide for a “local tribunal” to try election violence cases under Kenyan criminal law “if the ICC acted swiftly by taking away key perpetrators of the violence”.

Biden will leave Thursday morning, the day of the South Mugirango by-election to fill the seat vacated by a successful election petition against Omingo Magara, originally of ODM. As it stands the race is hot, with Raila Odinga campaigning for the substitute ODM nominee, Ibrahim Ochoi, William Ruto campaigning for Magara running as a PDP nominee and heavyweights in PNU affiliates split among Magara and other candidates.

 

Stand by . . .

After eleven years I am taking a real hiatus from writing here for early 2021.

Several reasons:

First, there is so much going on in Kenyan politics relative to my time to really delve in, uncover and keep current—it is all very much familiar and still “frozen” from 2007-08 in many ways, but I risk being simply wrong if I write without adequate depth this many years since I have actually lived in Kenya.

Second, I am tired of having and expressing opinions after the all the overwrought drama of the Trump years and watching all of the continuing open and notorious corruption in Kenya and East Africa more generally.

Third, I have made a career change. I have left the corporate world and am back in private law/consulting practice and have some potential intersection between development issues I might write about here and things that I am not able to about as a matter of professional obligation.

Maybe I’ll send some new FOIA requests in the meantime…