Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan election and the new FOIA cables–Part Three

Before doing more narrative of events in 2007 I want to take stock of the significance of various pieces of new information from the newly released pre-election cables I have written about so far.

Personally I am naturally gratified to finally get the first cable where Ambassador Ranneberger himself refers to the exit poll as having been commissioned by the U.S. Mission “to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes” as part of the American effort to support a free and fair election. This is obviously completely different than what he said in a State Department webchat on March 12, 2008, linked on my chronology of Documents and Stories from the Kenya General Election at right, where he said that it was his understanding that the poll was a “training exercise . . . never intended for publication” rather than the use that he described in the pre-election cable.  He went on to assert that it was not a U.S. government poll and the government did not have a right to release it.   (Further detail on the initiative for funding the exit poll comes in what I was told by the USAID official  who called me at the polls on election day seeking the preliminary results:  “The whole reason we did this poll was for early intelligence for the Ambassador”.   I included this in my “hotline” submissions to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID.)   Legally the Government having funded the poll with tax dollars had under the standard “data rights” clauses in this and other State Department/USAID funding agreements every right to use the polling data which they were provided under the agreement.

Perhaps the most significant new information for me is Ranneberger’s report on December 24 of credible information of a plan by some in the Kibaki camp to “orchestrate a defeat” of Odinga in the Langata parliamentary race through possible disruption of Odinga voters and bringing in outside votes.  Certainly I was very leery when Ranneberger told me on December 15 that “people were saying” that Odinga might lose that race, but he said nothing to me of orchestrated fraud.  Why was this “explosive issue” not mentioned in his cables to Washington of December 14 (the day I was called to come see Ranneberger) or certainly December 18?  Let me be clear that the reason that I commissioned the special Langata survey was not because I wondered whether Odinga really had more support than Livondo, rather it was in hopes of deterring or combating fraud.  I didn’t tell the Ambassador’s staff or anyone else not directly involved about the survey until I had the results safely in hand.

Another very interesting item from the December 24 cable is Ranneberger’s discussion of the likelihood of the declared winner having a quick swearing in to preclude challenge.  Was this an abstract prognostication or was there some information behind it?  How would an opposition candidate, as opposed to the incumbent, pre-empt the announced plans for a ceremony at the national stadium?  He certainly would have had to secure special cooperation from, at least, both the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and the Chief Justice.

•  Freedom of Information Series (africommons.com)