The War for History: Was Kenya’s 2007 election stolen or only “perceived to be” stolen?

As the ICC proceedings play out, understanding the 2008 post election violence and evaluating the role of the parties, including the international actors, requires addressing the conduct of the incumbent Kenyan administration in the election itself.

In my estimation, those of us who observed the election in Nairobi watched as the vote tally was hijacked in a shockingly blunt manner. If this election could not be labelled as stolen, the question has to arise as to whether any election in Africa, as opposed to in Europe, Asia or the Americas, could ever be so labelled, in a context in which diplomatic actors valued “stability” as a key interest. Nonetheless, some who came to Kenya after the election, both from Washington and South Africa, have continued to suggest that the theft of the election may have been only a “perception” from ambiguity, or even asserting that the election was not “rigged” at all.

Because the truth matters in understanding the violence, and in preparing for the future in response to the Chairman of the current IEBC who has labelled the 2007 opposition as mere “sore losers”, I am going to devote much of my attention in the blog this year to articulating “the rest of the story” as I know it, as I continue to wait for release of additional public records under the Freedom of Information Act. I will dedicate these posts to my late friends Dr. Joel Barkan and Dr. Peter Oriare, who worked for a better process.

To begin, let me post here an August 4, 2008 e-mail I sent to Mike McIntire, the investigative reporter for the New York Times who contacted me on July 31, 2008 for an interview about the International Republican Institute exit poll which remained, as of that date, unreleased as allegedly “invalid”:

Mike,

After having some time to reflect on our conversation, I thought it might be useful to emphasize a few points in reference to what we talked about and the documents I have provided:

1. Prof. Joel Barkan at CSIS was our primary (indeed only) Kenya expert on our Election Observation Mission. Professor Barkan was independently identified by IRI to be invited based on his stature as an expert and was also one of those specifically recommended/requested by the Ambassador. Prof. Barkan had headed the Democracy and Governance program for USAID in Kenya during the 1992 elections when IRI conducted a very large USAID-funded observation mission and knew Sheryl Stumbras at USAID and the Ambassador well from his work in Kenya .

2. I got acquainted with Prof. Barkan in the lead up to the observation by e-mail as he offered suggestions, and my discussions with him during and immediately following the election were very influential in forming my own opinions about the nature of the evolving situation with the ECK and the electoral tally and the appropriate handling of the exit poll.

3. Prof. Barkan and I were in agreement that IRI was causing a situation in which it was generating unnecessary controversy and likely embarrassment by refusing to release the poll results on the presidential vote on an ongoing basis.

4. Prof. Barkan was impressed with the methodology of the poll and vouched for the work of Prof. Gibson/UCSD.

5. Again, the decision to involve UCSD pre-dated my arrival to manage the Kenya programs. To my understanding, there was never any question that the point of UCSD’s work was to create data that would be relied on and published–no later than the expiration of IRI’s exclusive right to publicity for the first 180 days. It was also my understanding that IRI was pleased to have Prof. Gibson and UCSD involved because of their strong reputation.

6. With the blessing of IRI Washington, including the press office, I had provided data from the IRI September 2007 public opinion survey to Tom Maliti of the AP in Nairobi for work he was doing on tribal issues as a voting factor. My discussions with Tom and the data were inputs for a story he wrote for the AP that fall linked on the media section on IRI’s website. Tom later asked if IRI would be doing an exit poll as we had done in 2002 and 2005 and I confirmed that we were. It was my understanding that we would have to decide WHEN and in what forum, not IF, the results would be released. [If anyone had asked, I would have been of the opinion that given the way things work in Kenya , we would have to expect the poll results to leak regardless.]

7. The Daily Nation ran a story, I believe the day before the election, in which our pollster, Peter Oriare of Strategic, discussed the fact that Strategic would be conducting an exit poll for IRI. While this was not something that I had authorized or been involved in, I did not consider it to be any type of violation of our relationship or against any wishes that I had conveyed to Strategic.

8. I think it is important to look at the exit poll situation in the context of IRI’s Election Observation Mission Final Report which has now been published as a printed booklet (they FedEx’d me a copy with a cover letter from Lorne in mid-July). The report, which I had the opportunity to provide input on, working with my staff in Nairobi on early drafting and through later editorial input on into April when I was doing follow-up work such as the internal exit poll memo of 4-20 that I sent you, is very explicit that IRI found that “after the polls closed and individual polling stations turned over their results to constituency-level returning centers, the electoral process ceased to be credible”. Likewise, the report states that “To date, there has been no explanation from the ECK as to exactly how or when it determined the final election totals, or how and when that determination was conveyed to President Kibaki to prepare for the inauguration.” The report also notes “. . . the obvious fraud that took place during the tallying of the presidential race . . . ” The Executive Summary states: ” . . . IRI has reason to believe that electoral fraud took place and condemns that fraud. The rigging and falsifying of official documentation constitutes a betrayal of the majority of the Kenyan people who peacefully and patiently waited in long lines to vote on December 27.”

9. It should be recognized that between the time that Kibaki was quickly sworn in and the announcement of the initial agreement at the end of February in the Kofi Annan talks that led to the formation of the GNU in April, there were clear indications that Kibaki and his supporters were using the time to attempt to consolidate power. Initial efforts toward mediation from other African leaders, including Bishop Tutu were dismissed, key cabinet posts were filled unilaterally, etc. Even with Annan talks, the Kibaki position on behalf of the “Government of Kenya” was that it was something less than actual mediation.

10. To this day, there has been nothing done to reform the ECK and there has been no accountability for the misconduct discussed in the IRI EOM report. As best I can tell from what I have read about the hearings conducted around the country by the Kreigler commission, the situation remains one in which partisans of the PNU side argue that there was rigging and misconduct on both sides, that it was as bad in Nyanza by ODM as by PNU in Central and that the ECK decision was appropriate, while partisans of ODM argue that the election was stolen. Because “the ECK is not an independent institution and is subordinate to the executive branch of the Kenyan government” [Finding 1 from the IRI EOM report] the IRI exit poll is the best source of actual disinterested data available under the circumstances.

11. To my understanding, I was charged with managing a foreign assistance program that was intended to be for the benefit of the Kenyan people, funded by USAID, but managed by IRI as an independent NGO. To me, this is something entirely different than something the State Department would do on its own for its own internal purposes–although in that case they would still need to be accountable to the American public and Congress.

12. I think we did a pretty good job with limited resources on the actual election observation. I think we did a pretty good job with the exit poll, too. On balance, my experience as Resident Director of the East Africa office was good, with the exception of the specific situation that arose about the exit poll–just as I had had a positive experience as a volunteer with IRI in Central Asia that led me to be interested in making a bigger commitment to go manage IRI programs in Kenya on leave from my primary career. IRI is a fairly small organization in some ways, but they work all over the world, with programs large and small–ours in Kenya was a small one. As best I know, the program in Kenya had a good reputation and had done good, albeit limited, work in Kenya , over a period of years, due in greatest part to the Kenyans on the local staff. This is not anything like what may have happened in Haiti where the program itself may have gotten out of bounds (and in fact I was told that my successor could not be a member of my local staff because of policy in place as a result of that kind of past experience requiring expatriate leadership in the Country Director position). Whatever happened in Washington regarding the exit poll was a departure from my expectations and experience with IRI otherwise.

13. I am told that things have been “different” in IRI recently by people who have been around the organization for awhile, and it is frequently attributed to a hypersensitivity to the situation where John McCain as the long-time Chairman of the Board has been a leading presidential candidate and then the presumptive Republican nominee. This was something that I did not think about in the context of deciding to take the Kenya position at this particular time (and in the spring of 2007 McCain didn’t look very likely to be the nominee anyway). Another twist in regard to Kenya is Obama’s background there and most recently, the things that are circulating against Obama within the “religious right” regarding some notion that Obama was somehow involved in conspiring in Kenya with Odinga on behalf of Muslims against Christians in the context of the Kenyan election and in the context of the post-election violence–laid against a backdrop in which the policy justification for the State Dept. to support Kibaki would presumably tie into the “extrodinary rendition” controversy and more generally the notion that Kibaki has been an ally of the US in sealing the border with Somalia after the engagement of the Ethipian troops to attempt to restore the TFG and otherwise in anti-terrorism efforts, as well as in regard to other regional issues.

14. Ironically, IRI’s mission in Kenya has to a significant degree focused on working to bring minorities, in particular Muslims [the program is primarily funded through NED as opposed to the specific agreements with USAID for the EOM and the polling], into the mainstream of democratic governance. The most striking difference between the voting reported in the IRI exit poll, and what was reported by the ECK is the opposite outcome in North Eastern Province –by the ECK’s reckoning, Kibaki won in a landslide–in the exit poll, Odinga did. I am no expert on that part of the country, but we did do training for candidates in the province in Garissa, the largest town, and in Mombasa for others in the region, and my expectations would have been much more consistent with the exit poll results than with the ECK tally. Given the requirement that a presidential candidate has to get more than 25% in five of the eight provinces, the NEP vote looms larger than it would based on its limited population in a strict nationwide popular vote.

Ken

4 thoughts on “The War for History: Was Kenya’s 2007 election stolen or only “perceived to be” stolen?

  1. Pingback: Ocampo, the Donors and “The Presumption of Arrogance”; a story of babes in the woods of Mt. Kenya? | AfriCommons Blog

  2. Pingback: The “War for History” Series to date | AfriCommons Blog

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