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…

New report that Trump Administration learned of staggering procurement corruption at top of DRC’s Election Commission “a few weeks before” 2018 election, stayed mum

In a must read story of “Africa in DC”, Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha peels back several layers of the story of how DRC strongman Joseph Kabila managed his 2016-19 election problem with the new Trump Administration: “A Secretive Company Needed to Convince Washington That Congo’s Election Would Be “Free and Fair.” It Found A Friendly Ear Among Trump Allies.

Previous reporting disclosed internal dissent within the State Department, including an early 2019 story from Robbie Graemer and Jeffcoate O’Donnell I noted here: “Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump Administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote.”

Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.

Update: Here is a link to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act filing of Mer Security and Communications, Ltd of Halon, Israel for the Government of the DRC for the 2018 election. And the filing of Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group for their subcontracted portion, including lobbying the National Security Council, and hosting “the Cobalt Reception”. (Further on Sonoran Group, see “Trump-linked lobbyist turns from Gulf Arabs to more toxic clients,” al-Monitor, Feb. 19, 2020.)

You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.

This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.

The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.

Update: Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy appears to have effectively announced the “climb down” by the State Department on supporting Tshisekedi as the de facto president at a CSIS dinner in Washington on January 30, 2019, while still asserting “In addition, we will continue to voice our disapproval of the poor implementation of a flawed electoral process, which was far below the standards of a fully democratic process. We will hold accountable those most responsible for undermining D.R.C.’s democratic processes and institutions.” Nagy celebrated a peaceful transition of power “that few thought possible”. “Ultimately, the Congolese people have the final word. After President Kabila left office, there have been no meaningful protests to the election outcome. Felix Tshisekedi has vowed to unite the country, reform the security forces and justice sector, fight corruption, and spur greater U.S. investment and it is in our interest to help him succeed.”

On March 21, 2019 the Treasury Department announced personal sanctions against the two top officials of CENI:

Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.

Consider in light of the ultimately similar context from Kabila’s alleged 2011 “re-election” during Secretary Clinton’s State Department tenure as I warned about in a post here on August 8, 2018: “With DRC’s Kabila Backing a Substitute Candidate This Year, Time to Review the International Observation Experience from 2011 Vote”:

At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.

Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.

In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist.  In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).

On the last election:

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring piece is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC — offer technical assistance

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

Should there be an international Code of Conduct for Exit Polls and Parallel Vote Tabulations?

[As the year winds down and things crank up in Kenya’s 2022 presidential campaign and BBI referendum I am going through some of my old unpublished drafts – this is an idea that could matter that the parties involved do not have an incentive to bring forward.]

To me, the answer to the headline question is clearly “yes”.

Very specifically to my experience as in Kenya in 2007 as International Republican Institute Resident East Africa Director, I was able to explain to the USAID Kenya Mission that we at IRI were bound as a party to a published International Code of Conduct in conducting an International Election Observation that required us to maintain independence from the Ambassador.

(Readers may recall that then-Ambassador Ranneberger had pushed for a USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission for Kenya’s 2007 election which USAID had decided not to conduct in their ordinary planning process for the election and that IRI did not seek to undertake.)

We on the IRI staff were able to push back on Ambassador Ranneberger’s desire to select Election Observation Mission delegates, although we ended up informally going along with Ranneberger’s choice of Connie Newman and Chester Crocker as lead delegates (Crocker was not available to travel on the dates required).

The rest of the delegates were our choices rather than the Ambassador’s and we resisted Ranneberger’s expressed desire to remove his predecessor Amb. Mark Bellamy from the Observation until Ranneberger “laid down a marker” as he put it.

Likewise, we invited against Ranneberger’s wishes Bellamy’s predecessor as Ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, who was then the Africa lead at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and later Assistant Secretary of State under Obama (Carson was not cleared to participate–I was privately relieved for two reasons: it got me off the hook on a potential conflict with Ranneberger and while Carson seemed like a real asset for the Observation I thought the optics of having a high ranking Executive Branch employee and particularly one directly in an Intelligence Community job would not be great from an independence standpoint. In hindsight it might have done some real good to have him there.).

Unfortunately, on the now perhaps infamous Exit Poll, I was more or less naked in dealing with USAID and the Ambassador. The polling program was under a separate Cooperative Agreement between the CEPPS (IRI, NDI and IFES) and USAID which had started with the Exit Poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum. (The defeat of the proposed “Wako Draft” Constitution gave rise to the Orange Democratic Party which led Kenya’s opposition in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections, culminating in the March 2018 “handshake” and the present “Building Bridges Initiative” referendum campaign).

The 2005-07 polling program was scheduled to end with a public opinion survey in September 2007, well ahead of the general election, the date of which was not set until weeks later. USAID amended the Agreement to add the general election Exit Poll at the end. It was only after I initially reported a few days before the election that we were going to have to cancel the Exit Poll due to the objection of Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu that I was told by USAID that the Exit Poll as a higher priority for the Ambassador than the Election Observation itself. Kivuitu’s acquiescence was achieved.

On the late afternoon of Election Day as I was dragging my feet on releasing preliminary numbers before the polls closed I was told that “the whole reason” for doing the Exit Poll was for “early intelligence” for the Ambassador and USAID went to our subcontracted polling firm to get the figures. [Remember that I covered all this in complaints to the Inspectors General at USAID and State.]

IRI had no established backstop to protect itself from interference on the Exit Poll because unlike on the Election Observation Mission there was no published Code or Agreement that I could use to push back to preserve our independence.

We had agreed internally at IRI that we should not report any Exit Poll numbers externally including to USAID or the Embassy until the polls closed, and it was quite clear that we had no contractual obligation to make a report during the vote. But given that USAID was willing to go underneath us to the pollster it was out of our hands literally and there were no clear standards beyond that.

The US Government ultimately had rights to our data as a matter of government contracts law and USAID had arguably and ambiguously constrained our ability to release the Exit Poll results to the public in the Amendment to the Cooperative Agreement funding the Exit Poll by providing for “consultation” with the Embassy on “diplomatic or other” considerations. The Cooperative Agreement for the Program was neither classified nor available publicly until I had it released under the Freedom of Information Act years later. The Exit Poll from the 2005 Referendum had been released.

Fortunately we have not seen another disaster quite like Kenya 2007-08, but the questions about transparency and release and reporting of information from election verification and anti-fraud tools are still there. For instance in the most recent elections in the DRC and Malawi, as well as the controversy in Kenya in 2013. This could be addressed by pre-established standards or codes if donors, host governments and democracy assistance organizations or implementers are willing to give up some of their case-by-case flexibility and frankly some of the power of controlling information.

Kenya USAID IRI poll release press conference
Kenya USAID IRI poll release press conference

Catch latest AfriCOG report on State Capture online tomorrow—“Highway Robbery”

On Thursday 12th November at 2pm EAT, AfriCOG will be launching its latest report on state capture – Highway Robbery. Budgeting for State Capture: A case study of infrastructure spending under the Jubilee Administration.

Meeting Details:
Access Link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87889507376
Webinar ID: 878 8950 7376
International numbers available: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kcI3GL4ylM
Thursday 12th Nov, 2pm EAT

Agenda

  • Opening Welcome & Intro: Gladwell Otieno, AfriCOG Executive Director (Moderator)
  • Report Findings: David Ndii, Economist
  • Guest Speaker: Jerotich Seii, Energy Sector and Social Justice Activist #SwitchOffKPLC
  • Q&A and Discussion: Open Forum
  • Closing Remarks: Gladwell Otieno 

Former Auditor General Edward Ouko, speaking at the launch of AfriCOG’s first “State Capture” report spoke of a phenomenon he referred to as “budgeted corruption,” through which government budgets are inflated by monies that are earmarked to be stolen. Ouko characterised the budgeting process as a “highway”, and such projects as “exit lanes”.

With the “Highway Robbery” study, we set out to test the hypothesis that the runaway corruption during the Jubilee administration is evidence of “budgeted corruption”, which is in turn a manifestation of state capture. Budgets and expenditure in three key infrastructure sectors, electricity, roads and water are examined to see the extent to which there is systematic deviation of project choice from PFM value for money norms, and whether that divergence can be construed to be “exit lanes” for budgeted corruption as postulated by the former Auditor General.

AfriCOG’s hope is that this latest study will contribute to the continuing exposure and naming of the structures and operations of state capture, which seem to obviate the conventional reform strategies that civil society has been advocating. Our aim is for citizens to understand that while democracy is the only protection against capture by special interests, at the same time, democracy is fragile, tenuous and must be defended, deepened and imbued with real meaning by a vigilant and enlightened public.

We very much look forward to your attendance. For further information, contact admin@africog.org

Kind regards,
Gladwell Otieno
Executive Director
Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG)

Tanzania presents test for Secretary Pompeo’s new policy on “Elections in Africa”

“The Bulldozer”

On October 8, the US Secretary of State issued an official statement on “Upcoming Elections in Africa”:

“The United States is committed to supporting free, fair, inclusive elections. The conduct of elections is important not only for Africans, but also for defenders of democracy around the world. We believe all sides should participate peacefully in the democratic process. Repression and intimidation have no place in democracies.

The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and association are at the heart of a functioning democracy. Adherence to these democratic norms and to the rule of law allows all citizens to engage in political dialogue and support their choice of candidates, parties, and platforms. We will watch closely the actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process and will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those responsible for election-related violence. As long-time partners to the nations of Africa, we care about the region’s democratic trajectory and are committed to working constructively with international and regional partners.”

Clearly the re-election process of Tanzanian president and ruling party leader Magufuli has not been “free, fair, inclusive” and has involved “repression and intimidation”. See this new AP report from Tom Odula and Cara Anna, dateline Nairobi where most most correspondents who would otherwise be reporting from Tanzania have had to follow the process. (h/t Africa Center for Security Studies).

It was already clear ahead of the vote that the conditions allowed by Magufuli’s government simply did not rise to the level required for a free and fair vote. See this October 26 assessment from Judd Devermont and Marielle Harris of the Africa Program and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington: “A No-Confidence Vote in Tanzania’s Upcoming Elections“.

Also see Der Speigel’s worthwhile long piece featuring opposition candidate Tindu Lissu just ahead of the vote, “Tanzanian Elections: A Country Slides Toward Dictatorship”.

It is sad to see the authoritarian turn in a country that was seen as a star in the region for democratic progress even though there was never an actual transfer of power from CCM as the “independence party” since 1961. The Millennium Challenge Corporation selected Tanzania for a nearly $700M compact in 2008, which was completed in 2013. Execution of a second compact broke down over democratic backsliding and the MCC Board eventually voted to suspend the partnership in 2016.

President George W Bush visited Tanzania himself to highlight PEPFAR and the President’s Malaria Initiative, and to sign the original compact, the largest for the MCC to that date, during Kenya’s Post Election Violence in early February 2008. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice was dispatched to Nairobi to press the US diplomacy for a power sharing deal for Mwai Kibaki’s second term. Immediate former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mpaka, who died in July, was at the time a key member of the African Union sponsored mediation team of Eminent Persons led by Kofi Annan. On February 26, the incumbent President Jakaya Kikwete flew to Nairobi after a breakdown in the mediation and is credited along with Mkapa with helping get the ultimate February 28 peace deal agreed between Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

This year, Kikwete has endorsed Magufuli.

Update: October 29 US Embassy Statement: