“Tribute to Dr. Peter Oriare: Media Scholar of Great Repute” and a friend to me, to the International Republican Institute, and to Americans who believe in democracy

Dr. Peter Oriare

“Tribute to Dr. Peter Oriare, Media Scholar of Great Repute”

“University of Nairobi mourns committed teacher”

My friend, Dr. Peter Oriare, was in his own way one of those who got hurt because of the election misconduct in 2007. I was very sad to hear on my return from Washington that while I was at the African Studies Association meeting, Peter died back in Nairobi.  At 45 he was too young, the proud father of young children.  I would greatly encourage anyone interested in Kenyan democracy to read the tribute and story linked above.

I am thankful to have known and worked with Peter.  I certainly relied on him in Kenya.   Along with the local staff at the International Republican Institute in Nairobi he was one of the people that made my year working in Kenya an experience that I will always treasure.  When I arrived in Nairobi in June of 2007, we had funded only our baseline National Endowment for Democracy programming working with parliamentary candidates and our ongoing USAID polling program for which I was approved as Chief of Party the week before.  The current polling program had been in place since an exit poll for the 2005 constitutional referendum,and had most recently included a public opinion survey from that spring which we were just then briefing to prospective presidential candidates.  Peter worked with Strategic Public Relations and Research and was our primary point of contact with the firm as well as teaching and working to finish his doctorate at the University of Nairobi.

When I took over as the fourth American to lead the IRI office under that 2005 polling program, my ability to do my job depended on Peter’s expertise and continuity. Peter had worked with everyone in the IRI office and had been our primary local polling expert partner since 2000, before the IRI office opened in 2002.  The polling program was touted as a major success story for both USAID and for the International Republican Institute in Kenya and Peter was the single most consistent element.  Peter had a strong relationship not only with IRI and the USAID Democracy and Governance program locally but with others in the international democracy community.  He led important work in media monitoring for the 2007 election that was crucial to the international understanding of the situation in Kenya.

Peter believed in transparency and he advocated internally for release of the presidential “horse race” figures from our September 2007 public opinion survey which showed Kibaki leading when most polls were showing Raila as having pulled ahead, and when our contract with USAID was amended to add the 2007 exit poll, he expected to release it as well.  The established policy reason that IRI did not release the “horse race” numbers comparing the presidential candidates in our pre-election public opinion surveys–that we wanted to support democracy by informing the public, policy makers and politicians with out having a direct impact on the race itself–obviously did not come into play on the exit poll when people would have already voted when it would be released.

I pushed Peter and Strategic hard in negotiating the contract for the exit poll in the fall of 2007.  We had a modest amount of additional funding from USAID, and some money from Dr. Clark Gibson at the University of California, San Diego–and we had overhead in Washington and Nairobi.  Because it was obviously a close race, we needed results that were methodologically sound and statistically valid at the provincial level and not just the national level, to be able to evaluate the presidential threshold of 25% of the vote in five provinces.   I needed substantially more work from Strategic than they had done in the 2002 and 2005 exit polls, which were universally accepted as successful, but in elections that were not as close.  Ultimately we agreed on the additional work for very little additional money given Kenya’s inflation, and the poll was well executed as millions of Kenyas voted peacefully.

The preliminary results called in by cellphone–which were  obtained by USAID and given to the Ambassador on election day–even though such reporting was entirely outside the scope of anything in the USAID agreement with IRI and I didn’t want anything to get out while the polls were still open–had Raila ahead by a margin of roughly 8 points.  When the actual surveys were obtained and coded and necessary adjustments made for situations such as the seizure of some questionnaires by police–some of which were recovered and some not–the final figure was roughly 6 points.  This was the number in Nairobi in mid-January, 2008 with all the surveys back and coded.  That  was the number on February 7 when someone “inside the Beltway” in Washington decided to throw Peter under the bus by publishing internationally a statement from IRI that poll was “invalid” after State Department and USAID officials were questioned about it by then Subcommittee Chairman Feingold at his hearing in the Senate.  That was the number when I turned over the original questionnaires to my successor in Nairobi in May 2008; the number when the results were released in July at CSIS in Washington by UCSD after IRI’s six month embargo; and the number soon thereafter when the New York Times called me working on their story and asked for an interview.   It was still the number when IRI released the results in August–reconfirmed by a firm in Oklahoma–the day before the UCSD testimony at the Kriegler Commission;  and it is still the number  today, when the poll has been used in published work from scholars in Asia and Europe, as well as in Africa and the United States.

Peter had every right to be proud of his work on this exit poll and it was rightly noted by Rosemary Okello in her tribute as a part of his positive legacy for Kenyan democracy, and for polling and scholarship everywhere.

This is what I wrote in recommending Peter on Linked-In in 2009:

Peter is a true professional, with a strong commitment to his work and high values. He is calm under pressure. He offers deep knowledge and experience and I would be very pleased to have the opportunity to work with him again in the future. July 6, 2009

Top qualities: Personable , Expert

Ken hired Peter in 2007, and hired him/her more than once.

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2 thoughts on ““Tribute to Dr. Peter Oriare: Media Scholar of Great Repute” and a friend to me, to the International Republican Institute, and to Americans who believe in democracy

  1. Pingback: The War for History: Was Kenya’s 2007 election stolen or only “perceived to be” stolen? | AfriCommons Blog

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