Election Observation as “Diplomacy or Assistance” continued–how I spent my pre-election Christmas in Kenya

In my Freedom of Information Act Series I have described how then-Ambassador Ranneberger got his predecessor, Ambassador Mark Bellamy removed from the International Republican Institute’s Election Observation Mission shortly before the last Kenyan election, implying an objection to Bellamy from the Kibaki government. While IRI capitulated in removing Bellamy, I was told to accept “no more b.s.” from Ranneberger in interfering with the IRI Election Observation.  As problems continued to arise, this is a letter I wrote to my USAID officer on December 22, 2007, five days before the voting:

I think that you and I have had a good working relationship over a period of months until just recently, reflecting efforts and intentions on both our parts.  The problem now is that we are in a position of working in part at cross purposes, regardless of how much effort we continue to put into trying to be cooperative.

Previously I thought that you had some real level of agreement with my basic position regarding IRI’s independence, in spite of the contradictory viewpoint of the Ambassador.  At this point, it seems clear that we just do not have a meeting of the minds about this.

As far as IRI is concerned a major line was crossed last week and we expected that there would be as a result of Lorne Craner’s intervention a recognition that IRI’s independence would be respected going forward.  Unfortunately, the only substantive change seems to be that we have one less delegate–one of the best qualified members of the team that we had selected.  And of course people in the State Dept. did know what our own plan was before the Ambassador intervened.  I find the whole situation embarrassing personally.

I have tried to move us to a situation where we agreed to document at least by e-mail the specific things we were doing in terms of direct involvement of the USG with the IRI EO.  I think this is the least we should do and was intended to move us forward in terms of making sure we all understood each other, both personally and contractually.  I am tired of suggestions, directions, demands, “markers”, etc. to do things that people are not comfortable putting in writing.  If it should not be put in writing, maybe it should not be part of how we conduct ourselves here.

There are a variety of basic things that USAID can do that would in fact help IRI do the best it can.  One easy and obvious one would be to add IRI to the distribution list for ECK events, recognizing that the ECK is not at the point of providing IRI with timely notice, or in many cases, any notice, of its activities.  The other would be to provide us security information to assist us in protecting the safety of our teams.  Certainly having ——– come over and brief the teams is a big help.

 As far as I am concerned, if IRI is not substantively independent, rather than just offering an appearance or representation of independence, then all of our work here is at best a waste of time in terms of actually providing assistance to the Kenyan people as per the MOU between USAID and the GOK.  At worst, we could undermine the ability of IRI to accomplish anything substantive in Kenya in the future and taint our election work elsewhere.  IRI adds value if we are independent; we do not add value if we are not independent. (emphasis added)

Please give consideration to this and let me know what you suggest.

At the end of the day IRI’s final report on the Election Observation found strong evidence of fraud, when it was released more than six months later in July, and IRI released the Exit Poll indicating an opposition win one more month later, in August 2008. By that time the election was long over and the President along with his initial appointees stayed in office. The next chance for Kenyans to vote will not be until  March 2013.

Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

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