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

In my last post in this series, Part Eight, I noted my frustration that the Africa Bureau after roughly 30 months, in response to my 2009 FOIA request, had provided none of the actual documentation from the large-scale 2007 Kenyan general election observation conducted through the Embassy,

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?]

Let’s remember how Ambassador Ranneberger concluded his December 24, 2007 cable “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections”:

24 DEC 07  UNCLAS NAIROBI 004830

“It is likely that the winner will schedule a quick inauguration (consistent with past practice) to bless the result and, potentially, to forestall any serious challenge to the results.  There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable.The courts are both inefficient and corrupt.  Pronouncements by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and observers, particularly from the U.S., will therefore, have be [sic] crucial in helping shape the judgment of the Kenyan people.  With an 87 percent approval rating in Kenya, our statements are closely watched and respected.  I feel that we are well-prepared to meet this large responsibility and, in the process, to advance U.S. interests. [emphasis added]

So what was the narrative?  We have all known about the quick congratulations to Kibaki on winning the election from back in the United States on Sunday December 30 after the ECK’s announcement (and that the U.S. was the only country to issue such congratulations, which were quickly withdrawn–and that later Uganda’s Museveni also congratulated Kibaki).  Something new that I have learned from the FOIA response however, is that the Africa Bureau issued a very interesting December 27 “Press Guidance”  that projects an outcome narrative while the voting is still going on.  Here it is in its entirety:

Kenya:  Elections

Key Points

The U.S. fully supports a transparent and credible electoral process.  The U.S.-Kenyan partnership will continue to grow regardless of who is elected.

Kenya’s elections have proceeded with very little violence.  This morning, there was a report of two killed and three injured near a polling station in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, but it is not known if the killings were related to the election.

There were reports of minor incidents such as pushing and shoving at polling stations.  Votes are being tallied tonight and tomorrow.  The Electoral Commission of  Kenya (ECK) has responded well to reports of problems and does not appear to be acting with bias or favoritism.

Voter turnout nationwide has been high.

Late last night and early this morning, 160 U.S. Embassy officials in 56 U.S. Embassy observation teams successfully deployed nationwide to monitor the elections.


On December 27, Kenya will hold presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections.  More than 2,500 candidates are vying for the 2010 seats in Parliament, and there are three main Presidential candidates.  Ethnic and tribal affiliation remains the most influential factor in voting choices for races at all levels of government.  We expect that the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will announce the results on either December 28 or December 29.  A team of observers organized by the International Republican Institute will monitor the elections, in addition to Kenyan and other international observers.  The presidential inauguration will likely take place on December 31.  Because the Kenyan government did not fix an inauguration date in advance, it was not possible to arrange for a high-level Presidential delegation to attend.

In the Presidential race, the most recent polls show incumbent Mwai Kibaki at 43 percent, challenger Raila Odinga at 46 percent, and dark horse candidate Kalonzo Musyoka at 10 percent.  If Kibaki wins by a small margin, it is possible that Odinga will allege that the elections are flawed, will refuse to accept the result, and may incite his supporters to protests that could easily become violent.

It sounds to me like the Africa Bureau was “spinning” ahead of time to question the legitimacy of opposition protests rather than remaining objective to entertain the possibility (or likelihood based on what was known about the ECK by this time) of an election “result” of questionable legitimacy.  And as Ranneberger had noted, if the election was stolen there was simply no recourse other than protest.

Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 Election from the Truth Trickling Out About 2007–New Cables From FOIA (Part One)

Lessons from 2007 and New FOIA Cables–Part Two

Lessons from the Kenyan 2007 Election and New FOIA Cables–Part Three

Part Four–Lessons from the Kenyan 2007 Election and New FOIA Cables

Part Five–Lessons from the 2007 Election and New FOIA Cables

Part Six–What Did the U.S. Ambassador Report to Washington the Day After the Kenyan Election?

Part Seven–One Last FOIA Cable on the 2007 Exit Poll

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


3 thoughts on “Part Nine–New Kenya FOIA Documents: What Narrative Was the State Department’s Africa Bureau Offering the Media While Kenyans Were Voting? And Why?

  1. Pingback: Fire devours Kenya’s ancient forests « This Day – One Day

  2. 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

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

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