The last of the five State Department cables released to me last month regarding the USAID Kenyan exit poll is from February 21, 2008. This is the cable with some redaction. I suppose all of this may be out on the internet anyway via Wikileaks, but as I have noted previously I am not able to use that material and am only working with unclassified information provided through regular lawful means and published news.
The subject matter of this cable is “Secretary Rices’s February 18, 2008 visit with Kenyan business and civil society leaders.” The names of the Kenyans are redacted. On the U.S. side of the conversation were Secretary Rice, Ambassador Ranneberger and Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, along with the spokesman for the National Security Council and a notetaker. Here is the exit poll discussion:
______________ stressed the need for accountability–so that Kenyans who turned out in record numbers for the December election learn what happened to their votes, and the leaders behind vigilantism and state violence be held to account. Constitutional reform, [s/he] said, is necessary to address two great problems: gross partiality by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and excessive power held by the executive branch of government. Noting that Kenya’s Diaspora in the UK reportedly are mobilizing funds to support ethnic militias, ____ asked the Secretary to make sure that the same is not happening in the United States. [ S/he] then questioned why a survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) was not released that suggested that ODM candidate Odinga may have won the December elections. IRI says the survey was in training analysis and has methodological errors calling into question its reliability.
Secretary Rice clarified that the IRI is wholly independent of the US government and that its views, analysis and conclusions should not be confused with USG policy. Assistant Secretary Frazer underscored this by relaying that she was asked about the IRI survey by members of the United States Congress, and affirmed that she had no information about why the survey was not released and had no position on whether it should be released or not.
The cable, which was sent over Rice’s name and “from” the Secretary’s delegation, does not provide any information about the source of its statement that “IRI says the survey was in training analysis and has methodological errors calling into question its reliability”. I never heard the “training exercise” justification for not releasing the poll within IRI, although I did see it from the Ambassador in his “web chat” Q & A a few weeks later in March, as I have noted. Likewise, there were no bona fide issues with the methodology of the poll as conducted on December 27, as IRI later acknowledged in publishing the results in August.
Again, the “training exercise” notion is specifically contradictory to what Ranneberger wrote in his previous cables–as well as what I was explicitly told by USAID, as well as the purposes of the program set out in the USAID funding agreement to IRI. Secretary Rice was right about IRI being independent, and the specifics of what she said are unexceptionable–however, the implication that the exit poll in Kenya that the Kenyan civil society leaders were asking for was somehow IRI “private property” is completely wrong as has been explained. USAID initiated the poll and funded it with tax dollars–“for early intelligence for the Ambassador” as I was told on election day or as a check on potential election fraud as the Ambassador wrote in his cables to Washington before the election–and the US Government owned the rights to the data (not to say that Kenyans didn’t also have rights to it as well).
Ultimately, this only became complicated because certain people involved could not bring themselves, for whatever reason or reasons, to address the facts in a clear and forthright manner.
The quest for accountability to Kenyan voters has remained unanswered sadly. A news story in the Daily Nation in 2011, in the final item on my chronology of links to coverage of the Kenyan election, reports from an alleged leaked cable that ten days before this February 18, 2008 meeting at the Ambassador’s residence, the State Department issued “visa bans” against ECK members based on evidence regarding bribery–but did not disclose this circumstance, or the evidence, at this meeting (I checked with a participant). We, the United States, made clear that we were willing to step up financial and rhetorical support for reforms in Kenya–such as the new constitution–under a deal in which the new Kibaki administration shared power with the opposition under an Kofi Annan-brokered deal–but we brushed aside the issue of the fraud in the election.
[Note on the exit poll methodology and funding: In preparing for the 2007 exit poll I had looked back at the 2002 and 2005 exit polls conducted under the same USAID program by IRI and Strategic Public Relations and Research–although everyone had been satisfied at the time, the USCD experts and I felt that we needed a lot more from this poll. The election was expected to be much closer than the 2002 election and 2005 referendum and the outcome could come down to the 25% in 5 provinces requirement–the previous polls were less reliable at the provincial as opposed to national level. I successfully pushed the polling firm, Strategic, hard to agree to do much more work for very little more money, since the funding that was added extend the polling program was comparable to that for the previous polls. We had a small amount of additional funding through UCSD, but there was never any “private” IRI funding available to me in the East Africa office for our Kenya programming so I had no choice but to drive a hard bargain. In a time of very high inflation in Kenya, of course, Strategic’s actual costs would be significantly higher in 2007 than on the 2002 or 2005 exit polls. After the failure to release the poll on a more timely basis ended up in the New York Times in 2009, IRI pulled out a lot of irrelevant material from pre-contract negotiations with Strategic. This had nothing to do with waiting for several months to release the poll under the methodolgy that was ultimately agreed to by IRI and UCSD, and Strategic, with the implicit blessing of USAID, shortly before the election.]