Part Six–What did the U.S. Ambassador report to Washington the day after the Kenyan election?

See the previous posts in this series:  Part One, Two , Three , Four and Five.

There were additional machinations with the Ambassador’s approach to IRI up through election day that I think raised legitimate concern about what his objectives and intentions were in regard to the election, as reflected in my complaint to USAID, but for present purposes, I will skip ahead to the next cable I have received, a report by the Ambassador to the Secretary of State and others on December 28, 2007 entitled “Kenya’s Elections – A Positive Process Thus Far”  [Ed.  Note:  the group of cables I have been discussing is limited to five items from the Central Foreign Policy files in Washington,  whereas the Africa Bureau has made no response to the Department FOIA office as to its records on the same FOIA request, including those kept at the embassy in Nairobi.  Follow up: In October 2011, two years after my request was filed, my status inquiry finally indicated that documents from the Africa Bureau were under review for release.]

So what did the Ambassador say on the day after election?  Here is his summary:

“The relatively smooth and peaceful way in which the elections were carried out on December 27 represents a victory first and foremost for the Kenyan people and their democracy.  Herculean efforts by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), the responsible statements made by the leaders of the main parties, the constructive role played by the media, and strong U.S. support and observation all contributed to this positive outcome.  All observers share a relatively positive view of how the election process was carried  out.  I have made an informal positive statement to the Kenyan media.  It is, however, too early to make final pronouncements.  Septel will provide text of a proposed draft statement that can be issued by Washington on December 29 .  The vote counting will not be completed until the 29th.  The potential for last minute fraud cannot be ruled out.  The electoral process in some areas was characterized by delays and problems with voting procedures and electoral registers, but these were largely resolved in a way that did not disenfranchise voters, who turned out in record numbers.  Initial informal results show opposition candidate Raila Odinga leading President Kibaki by between 3 and 8 points, but this reporting is uneven and not systematic.  The election is still, in our view, too early to call.”

. . .  The most striking impressions from all observers about election day are the peacefulness and orderliness of the process.  Even the most problematic and contentious constituencies completed voting in an acceptable fashion.

For example, I observed the opening of the polls in the Kibera slum, which is a key part of Langata constituency, where presidential candidate Raila Odinga was a candidate for Parliament.  This race was ground zero in the election process given widespread fears that extra-legal efforts would be made to defeat Odinga there, thus making him ineligible to become President (since whoever is elected President must also be an elected member of Parliament).  At 0600 there was already over 5,000 people lined up to vote at the largest polling station in Langata, which is Olympic School in the Kibera slum.  The bigger problem was confusion over voting procedures.  People had begun lining up since just after midnight.  [Ed. Note:  Why?  According to one account I have been provided this was done in the context of the exposure of organized efforts to bus in large numbers of people to disrupt the voting.]  . . . Calls from us to ECK were instrumental in getting senior ECK officials to act quickly to resolve the issues [the need for more full copies of the electoral register for the polling station], and I was able to make some reassuring statements to the media.  ECK Chairman Kivuitu went to Kibera himself to calm people.  In another remarkable testament to the professionalism of ECK officials, all those waiting to vote were eventually processed, and by late evening Kibera was quiet (a truck standing by with riot police was not needed).  .  .  .

“One embarrassing stumble by the ECK actually became on the the day’s best examples of Kenya’s maturing commitment to a responsible democratic process.  The ECK inexplicably failed to include Raila Odinga’s name in the voting register in his own polling station in his Langata constituency, resulting in a potential crisis when Odinga was turned away.  Instead of inflaming the Kibera slum, Odinga simply drove to ECK headquarters and officially protested the omission.  The ECK offered no excuses and acted immediately to amend the register to include Odinga’s name.  There were a few quick press conferences and the situation ended peacefully with Odinga casting his vote.

That the voting process was so relatively smooth and peaceful despite delays and organizational problems testifies to the commitment of the Kenyan people to democratic values.  The leadership of the President and the opposition candidates in calling for peaceful elections and respect for the results was also crucial to this positive outcome.

The other remarkable aspect of the elections was the unprecedented high turnout (which will average somewhere between 65 and 80 percent).  Not surprisingly, Kibaki’s team produced a record turnout of around 85% in his home area of Central Province, and Odinga produced a high turnout in his home area of Nyanza Province.  Many people waited in line for six hours or more.  Some of the turnout was clearly the result of increased participation by youth.  It appears that Odinga will profit from youths’ perception that he represents a younger generation (though he is 63 to Kibaki’s 76, and both are from the same political class) and that he will be more decisive against corruption.

The electoral process thus far deserves a strong statement of support, and clearly meets a high standard for credible, transparent, free and fair elections.  I made an informal statement last night that was carried extensively on Kenyan television.  It is, however, too early to make definitive pronouncements.  The ECK will likely not announce final results until December 29.  The EU and Kenyan domestic observation missions will make statements on the 29th.  By COB Washington time on the 29th we will send a proposed draft for a statement by Washington.  IRI will make a largely positive statement the afternoon of the 28th.

The ballot counting process is carried out in three stages, each fraught with the potential for fraud.  First, the ballots are counted at each polling station in front of party agents.  Party agents were given copies of the results and they were also posted publicly at each station.  My observations and those of our observers indicate that this counting process was generally transparent and efficient.  Second, the ballots were taken to central tally stations in each of the 210 constituencies.  Observations indicate that this process has also been carried out well.  Finaly, the ballots and results of the tally stations are, where possible, being called or sent by e-mail to the ECK and then physically carried to ECK headquarters.  This process, which will be carried out during the course of today and this evening, is where the potential for trouble is currently greatest.  Ballots can be lost, burned, or otherwise destroyed.  Even though results will have been posted at polling stations, any interference with the final phase of the count would raise serious issues that the ECK would have to address (especially if the ballots delivered to the ECK in any way differed from results tabulated at polling stations).  During this period tensions will rise as inevitable rumors circulate (given the history of extensive fraud in all previous elections except the one in 2002).  We have received, unconfirmed reports that the police had to fire into the air at several tally centers to disperse unruly crowds worried that ballots were being tampered with.   Commissioner of Police Ali gave a press conference this morning and said all the rights things to assure people of his commitment to ensure protection for ballots and to highlight the non-political role of the police.

As a result of its generally responsible, extensive, and timely reporting, the media also deserves credit for how well the process has proceeded thus far.   Since before the polls closed the media has been reporting on a 24-hour basis.  They are reporting vote totals based on the results posted at polling stations, but making clear that only the ECK can announce official results.  The results that the media are reporting reflect uneven inputs from around the country, but so far show Odinga leading Kibaki by about almost 10 points.  Two exit polls (with uncertain methodology) also show Odinga winning by 3 -8 points.  The race is, in our view still to [sic] early to call.   It appears, as expected, that these elections will result in a sea change in Parliament, with up to 70 percent of incumbents replaced.  This may in part be due to a wave of ODM support, but is even more the result of dissatisfaction with the incumbents’ perceived inattention to their constituencies and to the exorbitant pay raise that they awarded themselves.  Initial reports indicate that some of the most corrupt incumbents have been defeated.

“Advancing U.S. Interests”

We will keep the Department closely informed as results become clearer.  At this point, there are sound reasons to believe that this election process will be a very positive example for the continent and for the developing world, that it will represent a watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy, and that it will, therefore, significantly advance U.S. interests.  The Kenyan people will view the U.S. as having played an important and neutral role in encouraging a positive election process” [End]

All told, a smashing success then, reports the Ambassador.

No particular security concerns.  Kudos to the ECK, kudos to the police, kudos to the media and kudos to the State Department.  “And that exit poll I commissioned through USAID to ‘provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes’ as I described it in my December 14 cable (and to provide ‘early intelligence’ for me as the USAID officer said on the afternoon of election day)?   Its methodology is ‘uncertain’ ” (even though it was developed by experts, at the expense of USAID and UCSD, with open consultation with USAID all along). [Ed. Note:  The other exit poll Ranneberger referred to in the cable is apparently one conducted by the Institute for Education in Democracy in Nairobi with funding from the British Westminster foundation as I was told.  I was told that the IED, unlike IRI, was not able to obtain complete results from the field in the context of the violence and was not able to publish final results.  I could, arguably, say that its methodology is “uncertain” because I don’t personally know anything about it.]

IRI was criticized by members of the EU Observation Mission for releasing its “largely positive” statement of that day, the 28th, while all the other observation delegations waited.  Ironically, the U.S. was the largest and lead donor for the UNDP election coordination effort, through which other delegations cooperated in waiting to make preliminary statements for the ECK to announce results.

[See Part Seven–One Last FOIA Cable on the 2007 exit poll.]

5 thoughts on “Part Six–What did the U.S. Ambassador report to Washington the day after the Kenyan election?

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