In the looking glass: How USAID sees its democracy support in the 2013 Kenya Election

Thanks to a post this week from Government Executive magazine’s NextGov.com I saw that USAID has published on the web its December 2013 “Rapid Assessment Review” of USAID support for Kenya’s 2013 elections.

The post from NextGov’s Emerging Tech by Joseph Marks, “How Technology Failed to Fix Kenya’s Election”:

It’s perhaps the most common story in all of government technology: A challenge arises; new technology seems to offer the perfect solution; but something happens between concept and execution that makes that technology seem more like a culprit than a savior and that leads people to complain the old analog solution might have worked better.

That interference could come from a delayed procurement, miscommunication between different vendors, a lack of testing or training before launch or a host of other factors.

This December 2013 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development describes more than a dozen such interferences that foiled the international community’s attempts to use technology to improve outcomes in Kenya’s March 2013 elections.

.  .  .  .

Kudos to USAID for publishing this.  Although there is one major “glitch” that I will explain, the report is generally quite useful.  In particular for Kenyans who want to understand the process by which their leaders are chosen, there is much here that is not otherwise readily available to those outside the Government of Kenya itself.  Thus, Kenyans active in political parties and civil society, the media and others that are especially interested in elections will want to take time to read the whole report carefully.  Likewise for interested foreign “friends of Kenya” who hope for better elections in the future, especially those of us who are U.S. taxpayers.

The “glitch” is that the report was released with a December 31, 2013 date, which is several weeks after publication of the Carter Center’s final USAID funded Election Observation Report,  but references only a non-published June “draft final” report and the April 4 Carter Center preliminary statement.  So it appears that the report was written without reference to the actual Carter Center final report, likely inadvertently through the fact that the authors were doing this study simultaneously with the Carter Center’s work.  See my post Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical final report from Kenya Election Observation.

On one hand this is a fundamental problem leading to a quite critical misunderstanding. The assessment presents a quote from the Carter Center’s April 4 statement that the failure of the USAID supported Electronic Results Transmission system still left a paper tally system that was sufficiently handled to provide “enough guarantees to preserve the expression of the will of the Kenyan voters” which is contradicted by the Final Report.

Nonetheless, this is in prefatory material and the point of the assessment is not to make conclusions about the election process itself, but to self assess USAID’s programming, and a bit of a “rosy tint” that allows the whole thing to be packaged as “lessons learned” for other missions in the context of an overall “success” with various subsidiary failings may have made the difference in getting this ultimately published on the internet, with a lot of pertinent information and a fair bit of candor for a “self assessment” overall.  I am still deep in the bowels of the Freedom of Information Act legal process seeking more modest bits of information about the election support effort for 2007 as an example of what can happen within the bureaucracy when no one can claim “success”.

Please take time to read the whole thing and I will be grateful for anyone who wishes to e-mail thoughts or comments, and of course any public comments here.  I will discuss some details in various upcoming posts.

IRI Poll Releae Press Conference

 

Leave a Reply