Part Four–Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan Election and new FOIA cables

See Part One, Two and Three of this series. And the full Freedom of Information Act Series.

Also see Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

The fourth cable I received last weekend under the Freedom of Information Act was a lengthy unclassified report from Monday, December 24 entitled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections”.  The most noteworthy items are the Kibera issue discussed in my last post and, as also discussed there, Ranneberger’s very explicit position regarding what he considered U.S. interests to be in the whole matter–being able to treat the announced outcome as credible.  Otherwise, the cable is pretty much the kind of thing that I would have expected him to write based on my interactions with him personally and more generally with the Embassy, and as an observer of his very conspicuous role as a media figure in Kenya during the campaign.

Overall, Ranneberger was uniformly positive about Kibaki, even on the corruption issue.  He offered no real positives on Odinga other than, if it can be viewed in a positive light, noting that he was generally a more effective campaigner and speaker than Kibaki, but at the same time his criticisms of Odinga were in context fairly mild. Generally the view in the cable seems to be what I saw in muted form in Ranneberger’s statements to Kenyans through the media, and more strongly in his speech to the delegates of the IRI Election Observation at a reception at the Embassy residence that same Christmas Eve and in private conversation:  it certainly seems that Ranneberger preferred a Kibaki re-election, but in this writing to Washington he acknowledged Odinga as a “friend of the United States” like Kibaki and did not suggest at all that Odinga was seriously dangerous, threatening or sinister in some way along the lines of the some of the attacks from hardline Odinga critics in the U.S. or in Kenya.

Likewise, nothing about ideology;  whereas the New York Times picked up on concern back in Washington about Odinga’s background association on the left during the Cold War, going to college in East Germany and naming his son Fidel, I never talked to anyone with the U.S. government in Kenya that gave any indication that they found Odinga to present ideological or economic concerns to the U.S.  Ranneberger did make one derogatory comment about Odinga to me privately, but I would not let the Times use it when they interviewed me because I felt that it could be misleadingly inflammatory and was said only in private in his office in the context of doing legitimate business.

Another statement that he made to me separately in October in the context of the discussion about the pre-release Steadman poll showing Odinga leading Kibaki by a large margin was that “if we’ve been wrong about this all along” in what was reported to Washington about Kibaki’s standing “we might as well not even be here”.  I have no way of knowing what any of his previous reporting had been, but I was certainly struck when I first arrived in Kenya by how positive he seemed to be about the Kenyan administration and political climate in the context of what I had read in the my preparations for taking the post.  He said that he wanted to have an election observation with the notion of telling an African success story.

Under the heading “Messy, But Probably Credible Elections” Ranneberger wrote:

9.  Election day will almost certainly be messy, meaning some violent incidents, and a fair amount of allegations of interference with the voting process.  Both Kibaki and Odinga have senior people around them who are desperate to win, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.  While the potential for dangerous actions must be taken seriously, the track record of the well-run elections in 2002 and the national constitutional referendum in 2005 (which the government lost) bodes well.  The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Samuel Kivitu, is highly respected and determined to run a clean election.  Elaborate procedures are in place to assure a credible and transparent process.  The large number of international observers will also help to limit misconduct.  The EU has about 120 observers, the U.S. Mission is fielding almost 200 observers plus funding an observer mission of the International Republican Institute led by former A/A Connie Newman, and there will be over 17,000 Kenyan domestic observers.  Finally, as we have traveled the country, average Kenyans have emphasized their determination to participate in a free and fair election (even if this is mixed with underlying tribal sentiment).

10.  If Kabaki loses, Odinga supporters will be riotously happy.  At the same time, most of the Kikuyu elite, with their business interests, will want to work out accommodation with the with the new government (many have already launched feelers).  The greater danger is if Odinga loses.  He and his supporters will be very tempted – even if the Electoral Commission and observers deem the process credible — to declare the election fraudulent and to resort to violence.  In that case, there could be significant violence and several tense days while things calm down.  While there is no likely scenario that would lead to generalized instability, substantial violence along tribal lines would be a setback for Kenyan democracy.

Ken

American lawyer who took leave from career and moved family to Nairobi for a year to "help" with democratic development. After stolen '07 election in Kenya and violent aftermath have tried to bring out truth of events for those who care in hope we can improve.

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