The blog will be on hiatus for a bit as we self-isolate and address the immediate pandemic. Best wishes to all for health and safety.
The blog will be on hiatus for a bit as we self-isolate and address the immediate pandemic. Best wishes to all for health and safety.
[Update 3/5: “Kenya and Somalia form teams to ease tensions” Daily Nation]
[Update 3/4: Democracy Assistance news– Longtime International Republican Institute board member, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, quietly leaves Republican Party, registers as Independent.]
Temperatures have risen between the Federal Government of Somalia and Kenya as they have risen with Somaliland:
Temperatures rose further after heavy fighting erupted on Monday in the Somali border town of Bulohawo between Somali government troops and forces from the semi-autonomous region of Jubaland.
Legislators from the nearby Kenyan town of Mandera said the fighting was so intense it caused residents there to flee and take shelter.
A Kenyan government statement condemning “violations of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” appeared to indicate that Somali forces had crossed into Mandera during the battle.
“Foreign soldiers – in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions – engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera,” it said.
. . . .
The fighting in Somalia is the latest instance of tensions between Mogadishu and its regional governments.
Jubaland authorities in August accused Mogadishu of interfering in its election and seeking to remove President Ahmed Madobe and get a loyalist in power to increase its control.
Kenya has been further drawn in, as it is accused of harbouring a fugitive Jubaland minister who was arrested by Mogadishu for “serious crimes” but fled from prison in January.
Tensions between the neighbouring countries are also high because of a spat over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.
. . . .
Kenya urged Somalia’s federal and regional governments to focus on defeating the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.
Observers say the myriad feuds between the fragile government in Mogadishu and its federal states is a major obstacle to fighting the armed group.
On Somaliland and Somalia tensions, I will quote the conclusion of an editorial from Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute titled “Farmajo fights separatism the wrong way” from back in January:
Somalia’s dream of unity is understandable and it can be compelling, just as those supporting Somaliland separatism can find their case persuasive. But, what Farmajo forgets or does not understand is that if Somalia is going to reunite with Somaliland, it must perform better than Somaliland. It must be more stable, more secure, more democratic, and less corrupt. It must have a better economy that will be a regional envy. Somalia cannot force Somaliland into its fold militarily; it is not strong enough and occupying Somaliland will never bring peace. Militaristic rhetoric from Farmajo will only exacerbate mistrust born from his relative Siad Barre’s rule and the human rights abuses he perpetrated in Somaliland. What neither Farmajo nor Yamamoto understand is that economic strangulation also will not compel Somaliland to rejoin Somalia. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hargeisa under Mogadishu’s control when even Mogadishu is not under Mogadishu’s control.
Somali nationalists can cast aspersions toward Somaliland nationalists, and they can troll on social media. Farmajo’s advisors and his press spokesmen can insult from an official podium before they retreat into armored cars and locked-down compounds, or take official planes to Doha and Istanbul. But none of their tactics will achieve their goals; indeed, they only make them harder to attain. If Somali nationalists want to restore Somali greatness, there is no substitute for reform. Simply put, for there to be unity, Somalia must be better than Somaliland rather than try to suffocate Somaliland.
If you are interested in “transitional justice” in Kenya, or South Sudan or Sudan, here are recent stories about that some of that process in Mississippi and in nearby Alabama.
Start with a review here from Emory University historian Joseph Crespino in The Wall Street Journal, “Race Against Time review: a reporter for justice.” And from Dean Jobb at the Southern Review of Books: “The journalist who helped solve Mississippi Burning murders”:
Think Spotlight meets All the President’s Men. Mitchell, a born storyteller with a remarkable story to tell, recreates his investigation with the absorbing detail and in-the-moment feel of a police procedural. Readers are along for the ride as he tracks down leads, forges ahead after demoralizing setbacks, and extracts nuggets of information from reluctant sources. They share the sense of victory as key pieces of information come to light and when he finally gets his hands on documents long hidden or long forgotten.
Thanks to his revelations and the public pressure his stories created, prosecutors reopened these cases and secured long-overdue convictions of the surviving killers. Sam Bowers, a former Klan leader, was finally convicted imprisoned in 1998 for ordering the attack that killed Vernon Dahmer. In 2005, eighty-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his role in the murder of the three civil rights workers in the Mississippi Burning case.
Mitchell discovered that his own paper had promoted segregation in the 1960s and had helped the Klan to discredit supporters of the civil rights movement. The Clarion-Ledger had cleaned up its act by the 1990s – collecting a Pulitzer Prize for its advocacy of educational reforms – and to its credit, published Mitchell’s exposés of its own odious past.
Race Against Time underscores the importance of solid, fearless, public-spirited journalism – something more vital than ever in our time of social media distraction and self-serving dismissals of uncomfortable truths as “fake news.” It’s a call to arms against the resurgence of white supremacy and hate crimes. Most of all, Mitchell’s inspiring story of how he told truth to power is a reminder that it’s never too late to do the right thing.
And here is the link to buy a signed first edition from an acclaimed Jackson, Mississippi bookstore where author Jerry Mitchell will do an event on March 18.
I moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1991 from Nashville, Tennessee after law school (with a letter of introduction from the Republican Party in Tennessee to the Republican Party in Mississippi). I joined the Bar after taking the exam in Jackson where Jerry Mitchell was based and in the early years of the pioneering work at the Clarion Ledger newspaper that he recounts in Race Against Time. My only previous trip to the capital city had been to advance a presidential campaign event back during my first year of law school. I spent the rest of the decade having some grand adventures in the private practice of law in the places where “Race Against Time” is set, along with marrying, starting a family, and serving on the local GOP County Committee and a term as President of the local Republican Club. And learning about the history of Mississippi and civil rights from lots of great writing of that era covering especially events of the 1960s, and from the investigative journalism of Jerry Mitchell and the proceedings in the prosecutions of the “cold cases” that he helped to prod to life.
Unfortunately I have yet to meet Jerry Mitchell, but I know the towns and courthouses that he writes about (and I will certainly hope to meet him someday–he is on a very active national book tour now). He posts on Facebook daily moments of history from the Civil Rights Era, which I recommend. I often share them, with the thought that by remembering that necessary changes like voting rights for African Americans that we want to take for granted (or chisel at for reasons of partisanship) do not happen by themselves and that even people who are too “conservative” to like “the liberals” end up incorporating part of the fruits of their labor, because there are always things that need to “change” or be “reformed” just as there are things to be “conserved”, preserved (or pickled and fried as the case may be).
Let me give a shout here to my lovely wife who bought me the book for Valentines Day (and who brought me to Mississippi and into her family and all the great adventures of the American South). I avoid mentioning my family here for the most part just for privacy sake but just have to indulge here. Don’t blame her or our children for how I am.
And here is the link to Jerry Mitchell’s Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.
President Uhuru Kenyatta greets ODM leader Raila Odinga during the National Prayer Breakfast at the Safari Park hotel. [Evans Ouma, Standard] “Waxing spiritual, Raila Odinga lights up Prayer Breakfast”
For a more detailed discussion of Ken Opalo’s new book, see Episode 79 of Kim Yi Dionne and Rachel Beatty Riedl’s great weekly Ufahamuafrica Podcast.
This week’s featured conversation is with Ken Opalo(@kopalo), an Assistant Professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He talks about his newly published book, Legislative Development in Africa: Politics and Postcolonial Legacies. Long-time listeners might recall that Ken was on the show back in 2017, ahead of the Kenyan elections. Have a listen to Rachel’s conversation with Ken about his book and about his next project, which examines government provision of public goods, like health services. Their conversation begins at 13:36.
A roundup of East Africa democracy news and opinion:
Julian Hattem in World Politics Review explains that “Rwanda’s Opposition is Disappearing Along With Kagame’s Credibility“, keyed off the death of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo in custody.
This is a good article and I recommend it (while I have to note my pet peeve that it indulges as so many accounts do in the Kagame mythology that the RPF “marched in from Uganda to end the genocide” rather than noting that they came across the border and began fighting years earlier than their march into Kigale in 1994.)
Is there a day coming where Americans notice the problem even of repression of religious freedom in Rwanda in spite of the lionization of Kagame and his willingness to transact with foreigners on terms not available internally?
In South Sudan, a formal unity government was announced to meet the extended February 22 deadline. Most important details are either unresolved, or to be executed from a dead start, but this was a necessary step for hope for deeper progress, especially for one day when the people are free of their current warlord leaders. Riek Machar upon being re-instated as First Vice President was accordingly released from IGAD “house arrest”.
Update–Here is a report from the International Crisis Group: “A Major Step Toward Ending South Sudan’s Civil War”
Kudos are in order for the diplomatic efforts to step up pressure on both sides, and in particular on Salva Kiir who had the most power and leverage through defacto control of the government. It seems that the State Department under Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy in particular engaged and showed leadership. The US has a unique diplomatic responsibility and opportunity in South Sudan so it is encouraging to see us step up to the plate.
Not sure what to make of this article in which Kalonzo Musyoka and the reporter posit a leading role for himself as Kenya’s envoy: “Kalonzo: How we brokered Kiir Machar peace pact“:
Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka returned to the country on Sunday from Juba after accomplishing a delicate peace deal that saw South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar form a unity government.
The negotiators of the peace agreement heavily relied on Mr Musyoka to achieve the long-delayed process towards ending a six-year civil war that has led to loss of thousands of lives.
It is very much true that (1) Kalonzo was a Kenyan insider under Moi and then Kibaki’s Foreign Minister on though the negotiation of the CPA in 2005; (2) Kenya is inevitably of importance in South Sudanese power struggles because of the role of Nairobi as at least the “back office” and “capitol of capital” for South Sudanese kingpins; (3) Gideon Moi (as reported by The Sentry) and certainly other leading Kenyan figures are major players in financial dealings at issue in South Sudan; (4) the U.S. as the leading international power involved in the nascent building of a South Sudanese nation is closest to Kenya and to Uhuru Kenyatta in particular among the IGAD members and leaders, so Kalonzo in representing Kenya and Uhuru presumably has standing with the US in addition to his own background with the negotiations.
Remember that after his deal with Mwai Kibaki during the 2007 presidential campaign to stay in the race and be appointed Vice President, Kalonzo was trusted enough by Kibaki and his men to represent them in Washington during the Post Election Violence in lobbying against a “unity government” with Raila. At that time in early 2008 Uhuru was also in Kibaki’s initial cabinet Minister of Local Government, as he had been under Moi in 2000-2002, administering Nairobi issues in those pre-devolution days.
Speaking of Nairobi, Uhuru and devolution, the purported “sign over” of governmental powers from Nairobi Governor Sonko, to the Kenyatta Administration, while seemingly suspended from official action by court order and facing impeachment and criminal charges, is the big new story.
According to The Standard, “Human Rights Activist Okiya Omtatah and Lawyer Robbin Murimi filed separate applications at the High Court Nairobi challenging the move.”
Otherwise, as it has become more clear that the BBI is generating inevitable controversy, Ambassador McCarter has tempered his language of American support to emphasize a robust debate with wananchi involvement on “which provisions to enact”. At the same time, three months now since the release of the original BBI Report and almost two years after the Handshake, it remains unclear (or undisclosed) exactly what the “deal” is.
Meanwhile, elections are coming up fast in Burundi on May 20. For the latest on the ongoing pre-election violence, see The New Humanitarian: “Killings, arrests as elections draw near in Burundi.“
EAC Secretary General Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko informed the UN delegation that the EAC observes elections within the context of the National Constitutions of the Partner States.
He assured the delegation that preparations were underway for the launch of a longterm EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the Burundi electoral process in its entirety, as well as a short-term EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the polling only.
“I am confident that the peaceful spirit we have experienced during the party nominations will continue during and after elections,” said the secretary general.
“The EAC is calling on all the people of Burundi to sidestep violence, regardless of the situation,” he added. In 2018, Burundi promulgated a new Constitution.
A vital “must read” from the Daily Nation confirms that in spite of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s promise to release the contracts for the truncated Standard Gauge Railroad project, the Government of Kenya has been withholding the documents concerned about meeting public records obligations. It is said that Kenya signed the undertakings with Chinese state-owned corporations rather than the Chinese State as such, and that the documents include secrecy provisions that the lawyers are interpreting to conflict with Kenyan law as to the Governments obligations to its own citizens for public contracting.
The story details item after item of hugely inflated prices for components such as generators, supplies, machinery and equipment:
This explains how Kenya ended up paying two times more for a diesel train than what Tanzania negotiated for an electric train. A comparison of the costs shows that Tanzania is building an electric rail at half the price of Kenya’s diesel SGR line.
At $1.92 billion, which translates to about Sh192 billion at current exchange rates, for the 422 kilometres, Tanzania’s line is not just cheaper; being electric, it’s designed to support a maximum speed of 160km/hour for passenger trains and 120km/hour for freight.
This pales in comparison to Kenya’s line, whose passenger trains have a maximum speed of 120km/hour with freight hauliers doing 80km/hour at best.
Kenya opted for diesel-powered engine that can be upgraded into electric in future.
It is the results of this greed and negligence that taxpayers are now paying for.
Currently, the revenues generated from the passenger and cargo services on the track cannot meet the operation costs, estimated at Sh1.5 billion a month against average sales of only Sh841 million.
Meanwhile, Kenyans transporters who have allegedly been hurt by Kenyan restrictions intended to forcibly subsidize the non-competitive costs of the Chinese-operated SGR, are seeking the contracts in court. Likewise, the civil society coalition Okoa Mombasa has filed a formal records request as a precursor to a suit if the documents continue to be withheld.
Readers may remember previous reporting of a leaked Auditor General documents indicating that Chinese firms may have been given a security interest in Kenya Port Authority assets and property to secure the loans for these inflated costs. From Maritime Executive in December 2018:
Kenya runs the risk of losing control of the Port of Mombasa if it should default on loans from state financial institution China Exim Bank, according to a new report from Kenya’s auditor general. The terms of a $2.3 billion loan for Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) specify that the port’s assets are collateral, and they are not protected by Kenya’s sovereign immunity due to a waiver in the contract.
KRC accepted the multi-billion-dollar loan in order to build the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway (SGR), with construction services provided by China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC), a division of state-owned conglomerate China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).
“The payment arrangement agreement substantively means that the Authority’s revenue would be used to pay the Government of Kenya’s debt to China Exim bank if the minimum volumes required for [rail] consignment are not met,” auditor F.T. Kimani wrote. “The China Exim bank would become a principle over KPA if KRC defaults in its obligations.”
In addition, any dispute with China Exim Bank would be handled through an arbitration process in China, not in Kenyan courts. The auditor general expressed concern that the port authority had not disclosed these arrangements in its financial statements.
The Auditor General’s term expired before publication of a final report and has been left vacant, conveniently for freedom of action and ability to avoid disclosure by Kenya’s political officials.
The more information that comes to light the more it would appear that the uneconomical nature of the “white elephant” megaproject was baked in from early stages and does not look to be readily resolvable without exterior finance, renegotiation, write down or other intervention.
Meanwhile, The Star covers a report by the Tax Justice Network that Kenya’s financial sector is well designed to hide corruption as the second most secretive in Africa:
Kenya’s financial sector is the among most secretive globally, according to a new report by Tax Justice Network.
The sector has been ranked the second most rigid in Africa after Algeria and among the top 30 in the world in the latest Financial Secrecy Index of 2020.
The annual index by Tax Justice Network (TJN) has scored Kenya’s secrecy rate at 76 per cent, meaning the country is a fertile market to stash ill-gotten private financial wealth and other illicit financial flows (IFFs).
Apparently my post from December 7 “Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” has gotten shared on Facebook and otherwise linked by people with both an aggressive left and aggressive right position as to the U.S. presidential election to the point that I thought it was worth coming back to note that my intention is for this blog to be nonpartisan. I am not a member of a political party at present and am not intending to give any advice here about who anyone should vote for in any of the primaries.
One specific thing that people seem to miss is that in 2007-2008 there was regular direct commercial air service between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Hargeisa, Somaliland. So visiting Hargeisa was not some daunting overland journey or even some exotic series of “puddle jumps”. Again, there was an issue involving permission by the United States Government for United States Government employees and contractors to travel to the country which did not have formal government recognition, even though the United States was funding some aid programs, such as the one I and other International Republican Institute staff managed from our East Africa office in Nairobi and then with a satellite office in Hargeisa opening in the spring of 2008.
Buttigieg’s co-author in the New York Times op-ed from their brief visit to Somaliland was working for the World Bank in Addis and thus conveniently located for a quick trip.
Traveling to and from Hargeisa from Nairobi did require us to overnight in Addis where the Meles Zenawi government had staged a major crackdown on political opposition in the context of the contentious 2005 election and kicked out U.S. democracy assistance organizations including IRI and arrested lots of political dissenters. Thus, walking around the streets in Addis was for me, at least, a tenser environment than what I experienced in Hargeisa, although not quite to the level of Khartoum at that general time. (I never visited Somalia as NDI had the programs there and as best I recollect no commercial air flights were then scheduled into Mogadishu which was still impacted by the early years of the present war with al-Shabaab.)
In fact, see this 2010 Foreign Policy piece from Nathaniel Myers, Buttigieg’s co-author on Somaliland: “Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham“.
I highly commend to my friends who are Africanists or African, or Americans who have not been directly involved in the “national security” professions, a short op-ed piece today from Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.):
The immediate policy debate in Washington being addressed is consideration of reductions to AFRICOM to be redeployed in support of the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy of greater emphasis on “Great Power Competition” relative to “Violent Extremism”/”Global Terrorism” so Adm. Stavridis provides an “ionospheric” look at the Continent and its future in support of his argument.
Adm. Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 after an extremely accomplished career. He served as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, then served as Commander of the European Command and Supreme Allied Commander. The perspective of a recent former SOUTHCOM and EUCOM Commander on AFRICOM is clearly invaluable to understanding that way of seeing the world.
Stavridis graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and climbed the ladder as a distinguished Surface Warfare Officer, along with UN/NATO deployments to Bosnia and Haiti in the 1990s. He ultimately commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group “conducting combat operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom”.
Along the way, he did his PhD in International Relations at Tufts, along with other graduate degrees from Tufts, and the National and Naval War College. After retirement he served as the Dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. So he is simply put a superstar by background and experience.
Today he is the Operating Executive for The Carlyle Group, the famous global defense-focused equity fund [NASDAQ: CG] and the Chair of the “Board of Counselors” of McClarty Associates, the famous Washington-based global consulting firm [“We know diplomacy; We provide diplomatic solutions”].
By way of disclosure, I retired from 12+ years as a defense industry lawyer working primarily in Navy shipbuilding around the time Stavridis retired from the Navy. I was on unpaid “public service leave” for my East Africa democracy assistance work at the International Republican Institute. So Stavridis’ perspective is all “second nature” for me but will not be intuitive to those from other places and backgrounds.
[Longtime readers or those who otherwise follow Kenyan elections closely might remember that McClarty Associates Vice Chairman John Negroponte was Deputy Secretary of State during the 2007-08 election crisis in Kenya. Negroponte met with representatives of the ODM opposition seeking release of the embargoed USAID-funded International Republican Institute exit poll done with the University of California, San Diego, showing an Odinga win. I learned through FOIA that Kalonzo Musyoka met with Negroponte the same day:
The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI 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.
[Update: Feb 25: A review by Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council, the doctors’ union, found that rates themselves charged for services were permissible but verified that a What’s App group was being used to allow managers to have direct input into medical decisions such as discharges warranting better procedures. The Star has taken down a story –which I linked–that seems to have a reflected a PR spin on the report which was itself then leaked on Twitter. So the saga continues.]
Update: Feb. 12, Jaindi Kisero column in Daily Nation recommends, “To ward off greedy investors, fund locals to put up private hospitals“.
Back in 2019 a private equity group from Ft. Worth, Texas and San Francisco, TPG, took over the Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund from its interim manager Alix Partners, the U.S.- based restructuring/insolvency advisors. The Abraaj funds, run out of Dubai by original Pakistani investors, had been apparently fraudulently tapped by management, thus the restructuring under the auspices of a Limited Partner Advisory Committee, which hired Alix.
The Limited Partners included global healthcare giants Phillips and Medtronic, multilateral development lenders including the IFC as well as bilateral development finance agencies such as the US Government’s OPIC, the CDC and Proparco. Likewise the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested.
TPG renamed the Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund as the Evercare Health Fund, to be managed by TPG Growth. At the time of the TPG announcement, Evercare was identified as having a “portfolio which includes 26 hospitals, 18 clinics, 40 diagnostics centres and 2 brownfield and greenfield assets” in Africa and Asia. One of the asset groups in the newly renamed Health Fund was a Kenya for profit group of small hospitals called Nairobi Women’s.
Triggered by an explosive series by prominent Nairobi blogger Owaahh, “Have you ever been to a private hospital“, scrutiny has come down on the group for profiteering behavior toward patients without medical basis. Insurers pulled back and now the Fund has announced an interim management change with the entrepreneur/doctor who built and ran group stepping aside in favor of a three member team of Evercare representatives pending professional reviews.
Update: the latest on the annulment of the election from Quartz Africa. And from The Guardian: “Malawi court annuls 2019 election results and calls for new vote.”
. . . .
In part due to considerable programmatic support – including USAID assistance – monitors observed commendable improvements in the MEC’s electoral preparation, voting process and results transmission system compared to previous elections. Notably, as shown above, the MEC’s final result closely tracked with the USAID-supported non-partisan parallel vote tabulation, implemented by the Malawi Election Support Network (MESN) and National Democratic Institute (NDI).
In addition, despite pre-electoral intimidation and violence against female candidates, 44 of Malawi’s 193 new parliamentarians are women, up from just 32 in 2014.
Nevertheless, many voters have raised questions about the integrity of the process and Malawian opposition parties have petitioned to the courts to annul the results. While USAID/Malawi’s Democracy, Rights and Governance (DRG) team played a significant role in supporting the MEC to deliver a credible election, as well as civil society’s oversight of the process, more work remains to be done. USAID will continue to provide post election support, through NDI and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), to build confidence in Malawi’s political processes and improve citizen-state relations.
USAID Supported a Stronger Electoral Process…
In 2018, USAID joined DFID, European Union, Norway, Irish Aid, and UNDP by investing $1 million in the UNDP’s “Election Basket Fund,” which was established to pool international donor resources in support of the MEC’s election strategy, preparation, management, and tabulation. UNDP led the donor community in helping the MEC with critical institutional reforms and electoral preparations, registered 6.8 million voters through newly-issued biometric ID cards, engaged with political parties in preparation for the elections, supported women’s participation in the electoral process, strengthened the capacity of the Malawi Police Services to mitigate electoral violence, and supported election-day logistics and results transmission.
To complement the UNDP Basket Fund efforts, USAID and DFID jointly provided $4 million to the National Democratic Institute(link is external) (NDI) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems(link is external)(IFES) to improve civil society and political party oversight and engagement. NDI and its partner MESN coordinated with the MEC on civic and voter education initiatives and mobilized long term observers. Working with with Democracy Works Foundation, MISA Malawi and broad group of local actors, NDI produced three televised presidential debates and trained political party monitors for election day oversight.
Given the highly competitive race for president, strengthening citizen confidence in the results management process was critical. On election day, MESN and NDI deployed over 900 observers to monitor all day and conduct a parallel vote tabulation to try to give Malawians greater confidence that the tally of ballots was transparent and accurate. NDI’s partner Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi tracked and reported on media bias and established a fact-checker to combat fake news(link is external) on social media.
IFES helped the MEC to train judges on electoral dispute resolution, established an online election Early Warning/Early Response (EWER)(link is external) system to track and mitigate electoral violence, and provided technical assistance on strategic communications in the lead-up to the elections, and throughout the voting and tabulation processes.
In addition to these measures, USAID’s DRG team coordinated the US Government observer effort on election day. More than 80 observers from the US, UK, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Canada travelled together to visit polling and tabulation stations in 13 of Malawi’s 28 districts and submitted 240 observer reports.
But Challenges Remain …
. . . .
Through these and other efforts, the MEC and electoral stakeholders addressed many critical challenges from the 2014 election. While observers noted a few logistical and organizational problems in some of the more than 5000 polling stations throughout Malawi, the consensus of the observer missions are reflected in the African Union’s Election Observer Mission preliminary statement, which concludes that:
…the 2019 Tripartite Elections have provided Malawians with the opportunity to choose their leaders at various layers of government in accordance with the legal framework for elections in Malawi, and in accordance with the principles espoused in the various instruments of the AU. The elections took place in a peaceful environment and at the time of this statement, the mission had not notes any serious concerns with the process, either witnessed or observed.
Despite these efforts and a generally well conducted election, the public reaction post-election has been largely negative highlighting remaining gaps as well as a concerning level of mistrust between the public towards its democratic institutions and political actors. Neither improved electoral transparency and preparations, election-day operations nor an independent PVT has assuaged the public’s concerns over election rigging. Since the results were announced, Malawi has seen continued protests – some marred by violence – calling for the annulment of the results and resignation of MEC Commissioners. Once again Malawi’s electoral outcome is in the hands of the courts.
Implications for Future
Clearly, we need to do additional work to support both Malawi’s election management and to increase the citizenry’s trust in democratic institutions. The trust issue is critical. Afrobarometer’s recent study(link is external) underscores these issues in its June 2019 paper that shows that in 2017 only 57% of Malawians “agree” or “agree very strongly” that leaders should be chosen through regular, open, and honest elections. This means out of 34 African countries surveyed, Malawi’s trust in democratic systems is 3rd from the bottom – a concerning position for a democracy that has just completed its sixth election.
I hope this can be an occasion for a deeper and more open discussion about the learning opportunities than has happened from the problems over the years in Kenya.