The United States looked the other way on a stolen 2007 election in Kenya.
Even though our Ambassador himself saw the changed tally forms at the Electoral Commission in Nairobi. We supported a “settlement” that created a temporary prime minister spot, without defined authority, for the apparent winner (not only did the exit poll done at the instance of the Ambassador and funded by USAID show a substantial win for the opposition candidate Odinga, but a separate State Department analysis in January concluded “advantage Raila.”). “We” nonetheless called on Kenyans to accept the “results”. While we withdrew our congratulations to Kibaki and later asserted that we did not know who won, we were not willing to be publicly honest about what “we” had seen at the ECK as well as what else we did know.
To help pressure for a settlement, we eventually issued “visa ban” letters to three members of the Electoral Commission on the basis of evidence of bribery–but we never revealed this fact or the evidence–it only came to light through stolen cables published in the Daily Nation years later.
We rejected accountability for election theft–thus supporting impunity in this regard. We supported, in concept, justice for the the post-election killings and mayhem. We had a hybrid position; let’s call it “limited, modified impunity”. Of course, the reality is that our supposed solution of “local tribunals” in Kenya for the post-election violence was always a complete pipe dream under the “power sharing” government we helped broker because that government was never going to implement any such thing.
Thus the role of the International Criminal Court as a last resort due to the initiative of the commission led by Justice Waki to provide the names to the ICC as a fallback. We should pat ourselves on the back, I suppose, for helping to pay for the commission at least. Likewise, we have over the subsequent years now declined to go along with the aggressive activities of the Government of Kenya in requesting action from the UN Security Council to squelch the ICC’s prosecution, so we have at least refused to stand in the way of the ICC. At the same time, we haven’t seemed to accomplish anything very noticeable on the protection of witnesses and the other core issues that enshrine impunity in Kenya.
Now, just like in 2007, we have helped pay for another flawed election, this time one which has ended up with a victory for the ticket of “Uhuruto” composed of the two leading politicians charged by the ICC for allegedly having key responsibility for the instrumental political killings of 2008. While it appears plausibly that Uhuruto on March 4 had a higher percentage of support than did Kibaki in 2007, it is also clear that there were substantial irregularities in the handling of the election, over a period of many months, by the “new and improved” IEBC–which was in fact caught even within the Kenya government itself, engaging in unlawful procurement corruption in regard to key technology–technology which was supposed to provide safeguards against the shambolic 2007 tallying process, but failed to be deployed or work.
So after an extraordinary sum of perhaps $240M was spent on an election with only somewhere around 14M registered voters (not sure exactly how many since the register was a series of 33,400 separate paper print outs which were reported by the IEBC to be unavailable for review in the Supreme Court)–we ended up with the same manual count fiasco as in 2007. More system purchases were more opportunities to “eat”, not more reliability.
The IEBC was perceived as being corrupted on both sides instead of stacked completely only on one side like the ECK last time–but there was no one individual trusted like Kivuitu to let everyone down this time. In one respect that helped diffuse the prospect of violence because the voters this time were much more subdued and had lower expectations–and knew what could happen. And there were some other things different this time based on lower expectations from the “international community”–the observer groups spoke out early to bless the IEBC before it was anywhere close to completing its tally and gave it some cover for whatever it would chose to do. Last time, only IRI really did that–and it was rightly criticized for doing so as the count became problematic. This time, private conversation before the election about what to say hearkened back to what observers had said in the first full blown observations of Kenya’s first multi-party elections in 1992 under Moi–the terminology “reflects the will of the Kenyan people” as a way to say the process run by the Government of Kenya could not stand scrutiny but the official candidate had a plurality anyway. The difference being that this time Kenyans had passed a new Constitution that was supposed to end the old first-past-the-post system in favor of a runoff-to-majority that meant that the opposition did not have to unite behind one candidate ahead of time to have any chance against a minority candidate supported by the State.
The U.S. knew, and Kibaki and his supporters, including Uhuru Kenyatta, knew that in 2007 we gave the Government of Kenya a pass on election rigging. This time we didn’t step in and blow the whistle on procurement corruption or otherwise as the process moved towards its unsuccessful conclusion–and we gave the powers that be in Kenya no real reason so far as I know to believe that we had really changed the terms of the deal from 2007.
Now we have another incoherent vote count, but everyone is relieved that major violence did not erupt. The new Electoral Commission argued to the Supreme Court that the Court could not set aside the IEBC’s pronounced premature results on the basis of the irregularities that had been revealed so far, or the known uncertainties, because to do so would create a constitutional crisis–the only way to have another election would be to use the same flawed register and the same flawed Electoral Commission itself. In other words, the Court did not, according to the IEBC, really have the power to challenge its work and its decision which was now fait accompli. The Court announced its ruling–at the last allowable moment (a few hours later than the two weeks permitted if it were as strict with itself as it was with those before it)–yet could not muster any explanation or reasoning whatsoever. It declared itself to have the power, and to be exercising it, to ratify the IEBC’s result, but either couldn’t agree on why or was not comfortable saying until a future date–after the swearing in.
The bottom line here is that the United States has been helping to underwrite failure in Kenya for too long. We got taken for a ride–again. We ought to have more self respect.
The British government has groveled to “get right” with an incoming Uhuruto administration, but we simply do not need to do so.
We provide a disproportionate amount of aid to Kenya–officially roughly a Billion U.S. Dollars each year–unofficiallly I am sure there is more; not to mention extensive private aid that also helps alleviate the suffering of Kenyans left adrift by the corruption and bad priorities of their governments. As far as I can see, we spend a lot of money in Kenya for sentimental rather than legitimate programmatic reasons. And the restaurants and resorts are more upscale and Kenya is more oriented for tourism accompanying official travel and postings. But a lot of the tourist infrastructure is owned by the Kenyatta and Moi families themselves. We ought to grow up and take our responsibilities more seriously.
What has all this spending been adding up to aside from bad elections? Kenya’s Human Development Index score for 2000 was .513 for a “Medium Human Development” ranking of 134th among the scored countries. The 2012 score was .519, for a rank of 145th. Among the 45 “Low Human Development” countries Kenya stands out, along with Zimbabwe for having by far the highest “Mean Years of Schooling”. Yes, from 2000 to 2012 Kenya’s GDP per capita increased by roughly fifty percent–it just didn’t result in much relative overall human development progress for the country as a whole.
The Cold War has been over for almost 25 years. What we have been doing has not been working very well and we can do better.
- Initial thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court ruling (africommons.com)
- Kenya needs a better election review process next time . . . as respondents argue that IEBC has done “so much” that presidential election announcement should stand as good enough (africommons.com)
- Was Kenya’s “Election Observation Group” or ELOG intended to be truly independent of IEBC? Or was it to “build confidence”? (africommons.com)
- What does Kenya’s High Court ruling on the civil society challenge to Uhuru and Ruto eligibility for election say about the state of Kenya’s judiciary? (africommons.com)