Part Eight–new Kenya FOIA documents: Diplomacy vs. Assistance Revisited or “Why Observe Elections if We Don’t Tell People What We See?”

We are in full swing now in the 2012/13 presidential campaign in Kenya, but unfortunately there remains much confusion, misunderstanding and simple lack of awareness over what actually happened in the 2007 elections.  I have gotten a couple of additional partial releases of a few documents from the State Department in December and again this month from my 2009 Freedom of Information Act requests about the State Department’s 2007 election observation and the exit poll, and since we are running out of time to get ready for the upcoming elections, it seems time to start introducing some more of this information.

New this month is the release of a grand total of three documents purporting to be the entirety of the releasable documentation from the Africa Bureau (as opposed to the cables in the central State Department records) related to and derived from the State Department led observation of the Kenya elections.  One (undescribed) document was withheld in full bringing the total Africa Bureau documentation to four items.  In other words, in sprite of the fact that “160 Embassy officials in 56 U.S. Embassy observation teams successfully deployed nationwide to monitor the elections” according to the election day Africa Bureau press guidance (one of the documents released) they did not generate records.

The question could be raised then whether the point of the State Department observation through the Embassy became not so much to observe as to be observed observing.  Being observed observing gives an extra patina of gravity to whatever narrative you wish to present about the election afterwards; and who can question without an independent look at your data? [or an independent exit poll?]

Again, this highlights the difference between the diplomatic function with its command structure to carry out foreign policy with its multiplicity of interests and objectives, but clarity in who is being served, on the one hand, and the function of an independent international election observation mission, funded as a matter of “democracy assistance” intended to serve the very much narrower interest of the internal democratic process in the host country to advance values shared by the funding nation/s and a broader international community (and accepted in theory by the host country).

The one document released that substantively describes observation of voting by State Department personnel is a November 20, 2007 email which is a headquarters “readout” of a video conference held “with Post to discuss the experiences of Post’s first-ever observation of the political primary process in Kenya.”:  Here is the text:

The Observation Effort:
*21 teams (total about 60 people) deployed to the field. This is our first time observing the primaries. We expect to deploy about 50 (100+ people) teams to the general elections as part of the larger international observer effort. The EU plans to deploy 150 people.
*These will be Kenya’s 4th multiparty elections but only the second “free and fair”.

Negatives Observed:
*The process was very poorly organized. We would say the the parties embarrassed themselves, except most of the party leaders have no shame and are thus immune from embarrassment. General feeling is that apparent total lack of organization is not an accident, but reflects efforts to rig/manipulate the outcomes.
*There were obvious deals between the incumbents and local party operatives.
*The process was well-run and by the book only in where parties had no hope of winning in that area anyway. Where there were real stakes, manipulation was rampant and obvious.
*Ballots were delayed for many hours in many locations; some politicians felt this was intentional and especially disenfranchised women voters, who either couldn’t wait all day or had to go home before dark for safety reasons.
*Hate literature observed to date is overwhelmingly generated by PNU supporters.

Positives Observed:
*Turnout was surprisingly good. People were very determined to vote. Many waited from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later for ballots to arrive. In some cases where ballots were delayed, people agreed amongst themselves to vote on whatever pieces of paper and honored the results.
*Dozens of outgoing MPs (including some we are very happy to see go, i.e. [REDACTED] were eliminated at this stage, which suggests that you can’t always manipulate the results.
*Our sample was biased as we purposely went to areas where trouble was expected and/or stakes were high, so we likely observed a disproportionate amount of rigging, etc.
*With the recent passage of the Political Parties Bill, this is the last time that the party nomination process will be run by the parties themselves. In the future, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will run it (at least, for all parties who want public money). PNU contracted with the ECK to run their primary this time, but it didn’t happen in practice–party leaders took over and wouldn’t let ECK do its job.

After the Primaries:
*We expect a lot of horse trading. Some winners were DQed on appeal and even without an appeal. There were also many “directed nominations,” which led to the resuscitation and handpicking of many old dinosaurs/unpopular incumbents notwithstanding voter opposition.
*There may be blowback with an impact on turnout for Dec. 27. There were widespread feelings of bitterness and disappointment, especially among ODM supporters, who expected to participate in a “new beginning.” Many people complained that, populist image notwithstanding, ODM is run like a dictatorship and that the way of doing things is no different than KANU used to do in the past. The positive difference is that the electorate is much more vocal and active in demanding transparency and participation in the electoral process. The howls of protest regarding some of the directed nominations show the electorate’s increasing maturity and lack of interest in this kind of politics.
*Many unsuccessful candidates have jumped to smaller/marginal parties. There is a cottage industry of sorts selling nominations.

Possible Impact on Main Parties:
*The disappointment and frustration with the nominating process was greatest among ODM supporters. Will this experience sap the energy of ODM supporters, or can ODM redeem itself? Will people continue to be willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity?
*Fear/stability is a powerful motivating factor in Kibaki’s reelection prospects. The contest between ODM and PNU can be characterized as “hope vs. fear.”
*PNU has much less internal discipline and message consistency. Virtually all PNU parties are fielding their own candidates for Parliamentary seats, so not much of a real coalition.

Political Violence
*Two possible types. One, aspirant (often incumbent) MPs use paid gangsters (and sometimes local police officials) to intimidate or disrupt the polling process (trash polling stations, threaten voters waiting in line and/or election officials). Two, spontaneous voter uprisings, where voters feel they are being disenfranchised and attach the presiding officers. If the ECK runs an efficient process as expected, this should lessen the possibility of voter violence. —–END—–

For context, this November 20, 2007 summary of what was observed during the primary elections was roughly a month after the Ambassador’s intervention in the public opinion polling as described in previous documents and a month before the Ambassador’s public statement predicting a “free and fair” election the week before the general election. Nairobi is the State Department’s biggest Sub-Saharan post; it was staffed with smart and observant people and obviously well funded–the problem was not what the State Department did not know, rather it was what it would not say.

Meeting

Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 elections from the truth trickling out bout 2007–new FOIA cables (Part One)

Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

8 thoughts on “Part Eight–new Kenya FOIA documents: Diplomacy vs. Assistance Revisited or “Why Observe Elections if We Don’t Tell People What We See?”

  1. Pingback: Part Nine–New Kenya FOIA Documents: What Narrative Was the State Department’s Africa Bureau Offering the Media While Kenyans Were Voting? And Why? | AfriCommons Blog

  2. Pingback: Observations from the IFES Kenyan Election Event in Washington | AfriCommons Blog

  3. Pingback: Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 Election–Ranneberger at the ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and final tabulation of ballots and it did” | AfriCommons Blog

  4. Pingback: Part Five–Lessons from the Kenyan 2007 elections and the new FOIA cables | AfriCommons Blog

  5. Pingback: Freedom of Information Series (Part Eleven): Better to Learn More Lessons from Kenya’s Last Election After the Next One? | AfriCommons Blog

  6. Pingback: Kenya’s party primaries Thursday will be key test for credible elections–international community should speak candidly this time | AfriCommons Blog

  7. Pingback: “Kenya’s Elections: Observing the observers” | AfriCommons Blog

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