Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 Elections from the Truth Trickling Out About 2007–New Cables From FOIA (Part One)

The time for Kenya elections under the new constitution should be August, although there remains some uncertainty on the date of the first election for “the second republic.”  See “The Election Date not Clearly Spelt Out” by Yash Ghai and Jill Ghai in The Star.  Regardless, the point is that elections are in a general sense “next year”, and that since I started this blog in December 2009 we have gone from roughly “40% done” with the allotted time for reforms under the “Government of National Unity” to “80% done”.

One of the points of the mediated settlement agreement between PNU and ODM negotiators that provided for the formation of the “power sharing” coalition government was the investigation of the facts of the disputed 2007 elections. Toward this end, and as part of my own desire to learn what I could about what had been going on around me in the context of my work managing the IRI poll program and election observation program in Nairobi, I submitted three Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department back in September and October of 2009. One of the requests was denied back at the first of this year on the basis that the records were classified, but this weekend I finally received the first partial release of unclassified documents under one of the other two requests.

Regular readers will know that for the last several months my professional circumstances have just not allowed much time for original writing here–that hasn’t changed, but I think this is an important area where I can add value to the learning process and preparations toward more successful elections in 2012, so I will be working my way through what these newly public documents tell us, and don’t tell us, about the last Kenya elections over the next few posts.

This FOIA request covered State Department communications about the 2007 exit poll that was conducted by Strategic Public Relations and Research under contract with IRI, funded under an agreement with USAID and by the University of California, San Diego. This initial partial release covered the “central records” of the State Department in Washington and identified six “cables”, of which four were released in full, one was released with some redaction, and one was held for review with another agency of the government prior to a decision on release.  To date, the Africa Bureau has provided no response to State’s FOIA office regarding the Embassy records.

We’ll start for today with basic points from the first cable, a December 14, 2007 report from Ambassador Ranneberger to Washington on the preparations for the December 27 elections. I remember that day well–it was a Friday.

The day before I had gotten a call from the USAID Democracy and Governance head to fax to the Ambassador our delegate list for the election observation mission. After I had done so I was driving to lunch with my wife and an American friend who had recently been an election observer in another African country for another U.S.-based NGO and wanted to assist the Kenya observation as a volunteer. The Ambassador called and I had to pull over to the side of the road and step out of the car as I was getting loudly “chewed out” about the inclusion of former Ambassador Bellamy on the delegate list. Ambassador Ranneberger elaborated that he did not want to hear that it was not my decision as he was holding me “personally responsible” as the person in charge “on the ground”. He went on to say that he would pull the funding and cancel the election observation if I didn’t get Bellamy off the list, and not to think that he couldn’t do it.

After my calls to USAID and my immediate superior in Washington, IRI’s president called Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport for a trip to Thailand, as he related to me, to tell her to “get her Ambassador under control”, then called Ranneberger from Thailand.  As a result, IRI capitulated and removed Bellamy as a delegate, but I was instructed to accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.  Bellamy was told (not by me) that there was a problem funding his plane ticket.

The next day, on Friday, Ranneberger sent his cable to the Secretary of State touting his election preparations.  Some points of interest:

*Ranneberger notes regarding the UNDP’s $11.3 million comprehensive election assistance program, that the U.S. is the largest donor, providing nearly $3 million.  “As USAID/Kenya’s Democracy & Governance officer is the lead coordinator for all/all donor related election activity, USAID represents the donors on the joint ECK/Donor Steering Committee managing this program.”

*Ranneberger writes regarding Election Observers:  “The Mission is funding an international election observer team headed by the International Republican Institute (IRI).  The team will have about 20 members, and will be headed by former Assistant Secretary Constance Newman.  This team will be strategically deployed to high-profile locations and will coordinate with other international observer missions being fielded by the EU and the Commonwealth.  In addition to the international team, we will field over 50 three-member teams of Mission observers (American and Kenyan staff).  Locations for deployment focus on election “hot spots” where we anticipate the greatest potential for violence or other irregularities as well as constituencies with viable women candidates.  As circumstances on the ground evolve, we can continue to adjust our deployment strategy.”

* Regarding the ECK:  “Developing the capacity of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) lies at the  heart of our strategy.  The USG funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) has been providing support to the ECK since late 2001.  Activities focus on providing appropriate technology for more efficient and transparent elections administration while improving the skills of the ECK technical staff.  This support additionally includes capacity building and technical assistance to support election administration.  Technical assistance includes computerization of the Procurement and Supplies Department, which is responsible for printing and distributing election materials.  Assistance will also support implementation of the ECK’s restructuring plan, strengthening logistics capacity, and accelerating the transmission and display of results.”

*On “Public Opinion Polling”:  “The Mission is funding national public opinion polling to increase the availability of objective and reliable data and to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls (emphasis added).  The implementing partner is IRI.  In addition, we were concerned that other widely published public opinion polls, which showed ODM’s Raila Odinga well ahead of President Kibaki, did not accurately reflect the true status of the contest.  Given the rising political temperature, partially due to the use of blatant ethnic appeals by both sides, we were concerned about the reaction of ODM supporters should their candidate lose in a close outcome when they were led by public opinion polls to expect a landslide victory.  The solution involved quietly reaching out to polling firms and their clients to suggest that poll sampling distribution should be based on the regional distribution of registered voters, not on raw population.  Today, the major polling firms have all adjusted their sampling and limited their responses to those who at least claim to be registered voters.”

That afternoon, Friday, December 14, I got a call as I left the offices of Strategic, the polling firm, where I had been working on exit poll preparations.  A caller who identified himself only as working with the Ambassador said that the Ambassador would like me to see him at the residence the next afternoon and I agreed to come.  In the next post, I’ll pick up the story with that meeting and two more pre-election cables.

Part Two;    Part Three;    Part Four;    Part Five;    Part Six;    Part Seven.

9 thoughts on “Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 Elections from the Truth Trickling Out About 2007–New Cables From FOIA (Part One)

  1. Pingback: Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan election and the new FOIA cables–Part Three « AfriCommons Blog

  2. Pingback: Part Four–Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan Election and new FOIA cables « AfriCommons Blog

  3. Pingback: Part Eight–new Kenya FOIA documents: Diplomacy vs. Assistance Revisited or “Why Observe Elections if We Don’t Tell People What We See?” | AfriCommons Blog

  4. Pingback: Part Nine–New Kenya FOIA Documents: What Narrative Was the State Department’s Africa Bureau Offering the Media While Kenyans Were Voting? And Why? | AfriCommons Blog

  5. Pingback: Expanded: Didn’t we learn from the disaster in 2007? Kenya does not need to be anyone’s “model” anything; it does need truth in its election | AfriCommons Blog

  6. Pingback: Freedom of Information Series (Part Eleven): Better to Learn More Lessons from Kenya’s Last Election After the Next One? | AfriCommons Blog

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