Continued . . .
So on Saturday afternoon, December 15, 2007, I drove to the embassy residence in Muthaiga and was served tea by a woman from the house staff while waiting a few moments for the Ambassador. I had understood from IRI’s president that Ranneberger was going to talk to me and my general impression or assumption was that he wanted to smooth things over after twisting my arm so hard toward getting Ambassador Bellamy, his predecessor, off the IRI Election Observation delegation.
As it turned out, the purpose of the meeting was more substantive. I am not writing to “dish” on a private conversation and I won’t recount everything in general here, but this did involve public business of the U.S. as well as the Kenyan election, regardless of the fact that it took place without witnesses or records on a Saturday afternoon. All circumstances considered I think I ought to explain a couple of salient points from this meeting that remain to me significant in trying to learn what happened with the election twelve days later.
To start, Ranneberger elaborated on the importance of removing Bellamy from the delegation because of the notion that he was perceived as “anti-government,” obviously meaning the Kibaki administration. As mentioned in the New York Times story, what was new in this conversation is that he seemed to be saying that the objection had come from someone in the Kenyan government, although that was not completely explicit. When Ranneberger had originally raised this objection to Bellamy earlier in the month, I had asked for input from our Kenyan program staff who indicated that they did not think that this was Bellamy’s general reputation in Kenya and IRI staff had checked this with State Department contacts in Washington and found no support for that view there either.
The Ambassador definitely did not apologize for giving me “the treatment”, but he was smoothly back to his usual more pleasant/diplomatic self and I certainly did not take the matter personally–I was just the guy on the ground who provided an available pressure point.
Ranneberger did let me know that he knew what Bellamy had been told as to why he had been dropped from the delegation. In other words, he was letting me know, without taking responsibility for the situation himself, that he knew that “we” at IRI had lied to Bellamy. This may not have put us in the best position to hold the “no more b.s.” line with Ranneberger going forward. He didn’t say how he knew about the “story line” to Bellamy and I have no idea myself. IRI was in a difficult situation not of our making on the Bellamy situation–would we cancel the Election Observation (as the only international NGO scheduled to observe, and raise lots of questions we couldn’t very well answer) or let the Ambassador interfere with the delegation? Regardless, once the directive from the top was given to lie to Bellamy about why he was off the list, IRI no longer had completely clean hands.
There are a variety of things from the more substantive part of the discussion that leave open questions in my mind now after what ultimately happened with the ECK and the election. One in particular that stands out now in light of the FOIA disclosure.
The Ambassador told me that Saturday that “people are saying” that Raila Odinga, as the leading opposition candidate for president, ahead in the polls as the vote was nearing, might lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency (which under the existing system would disqualify him from becoming president even if he got the most votes nationally). This was “out of the blue” for me because I certainly was not aware of anyone who thought that. Odinga’s PNU opponent Stanley Livando had made a big splash and spent substantial money when he first announced, but he had not seemed to get obvious traction in the race. Naturally, I wondered who the “people” Ranneberger was referring to were. Ranneberger said that a Raila loss in Langata would be “explosive” and that he wanted to take Ms. Newman with him to observe voting there on election day.
Ranneberger also went on to say that he wanted to take Ms. Newman separately to meet with Kibaki’s State House advisor Stanley Murage on the day before the election with no explanation offered as to why.
After midnight Nairobi time I had a telephone call with the Africa director and the vice presidents in charge at IRI in Washington in the president’s absence. I was given the option to “pull the plug” on the observation mission based on the concerns about Ranneberger’s approach following my meeting with him. The Ambassador, rather than either IRI or USAID, had initiated the observation mission in the first place, and IRI was heavily occupied with other observations. Nonetheless, based on assurances that Ms. Newman would be fully briefed on our agreement that she needed to steer clear of separate interaction with the Ambassador and that the Murage meeting must not happen, and my belief that it would be an “incident” in its own right to cancel the observation, we agreed to go forward with precautions.
I got the idea of commissioning a separate last-minute poll of the Langata parliamentary race. I thought that the notion that Livondo might beat Raila in Langata seemed far fetched, but objective data from before the vote could prove important. We hired the Steadman polling firm for this job, to spread the work. Also Strategic was already heavily occupied with preparing for the exit poll, and Steadman was the firm that Ranneberger had instructed his staff to call (too late as it happened) to quash the release of poll results that he knew would show Raila leading back in October, so I thought that it was that much more likely that word would get back. Further, in the partisan sniping which I generally did not credit, Steadman was claimed by some in opposition to be more aligned with Kibaki so would be extra-credible to verify this race. I also made sure that we scheduled an “oversample” for Langata for the national exit poll so that we would have a statistically valid measure of the actual election day results in the parliamentary race.
On to the new FOIA release: On Tuesday, December 18, Ranneberger sent another cable to the Secretary of State entitled “Kenya Elections: State of Play on Election”. This cable says nothing about the “explosive” Langata parliamentary race issue that Ranneberger had raised with me on Saturday, three days earlier. It concludes: “Given the closeness of the election contest, the perceived legitimacy of the election outcome could determine whether the losing side accepts the results with minimal disturbances. Our staff’s commendable response to the call for volunteers over the Christmas holiday allows us to deploy teams to all sections of the country, providing a representative view of the vote as a whole. In addition, our decision to host the joint observation control room will provide much greater access to real-time information; allowing a more comprehensive analysis of the election process.”
Next, we have a cable from Christmas Eve, December 24, three days before the election. The first thing that morning the IRI observation delegates were briefed on the election by a key Ranneberger aide. I told him then that we had commissioned the separate Langata poll. He said that the Ambassador would be very interested, and I agreed to bring results with me to the embassy residence that evening when the Ambassador hosted a reception for the delegation. The results showed Odinga winning by more than two-to-one.
There are a number of noteworthy items that I will discuss later from this cable, but for today, let me note that Ranneberger has added in this cable a discussion of the Langata race:
“11. We have credible reports that some within the Kibaki camp could be trying to orchestrate a defeat of Odinga in his constituency of Langata, which includes the huge slum of Kibera. This could involve some combination of causing disorder in order to disenfranchise some of his supporters and/or bringing in double-registered Kikuyu supporters of the PNU’s candidate from outside. To be elected President a candidate must fulfill three conditions: have a plurality of the popular vote; have at least 25 percent in 5 of the 8 provinces; and be an elected member of Parliament. Thus, defeat of Odinga in his constituency is a tempting silver bullet. The Ambassador, as well as the UK and German Ambassadors, will observe in the Langata constituency. If Odinga were to lose Langata, Kibaki would become President if he has the next highest vote total and 25 percent in 5 provinces (both candidates will likely meet the 25 percent rule).
12. The outside chance that widespread fraud in the election process could force us to call into question the result would be enormously damaging to U.S. interests. We hold Kenya up as a democratic model not only for the continent, but for the developing world, and we have a vast partnership with this country on key issues ranging from efforts against HIV/AIDS, to collaboration on Somalia and Sudan, to priority anti-terrorism activities.
. . .
14. As long as the electoral process is credible, the U.S.-Kenyan partnership will continue to grow and serve mutual interests regardless of who is elected. While Kibaki has a proven track record with us, Odinga is also a friend of the U.S. . . .
15. It is likely that the winner will schedule a quick inauguration (consistent with past practice) to bless the result and, potentially, to forestall any serious challenge to the results. There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable. The courts are both inefficient and corrupt. Pronouncements by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and observers, particularly from the U.S., will therefore have be [sic] crucial in helping shape the judgment of the Kenyan people. With an 87% approval rating in Kenya, our statements are closely watched and respected. I feel that we are well -prepared to meet this large responsibility and, in the process, to advance U.S. interests.” END
None of this material was mentioned in the briefing to the observation delegation or to me that day. Long after the election, the Standard newspaper reported that the original plan of the Kibaki camp had been to rig the Langata parliamentary race, but at the last minute a switch was made to change the votes at the central tally, supposedly on the basis of the strength of early returns for Odinga in Western and Rift Valley provinces.
To be continued . . . .