“The War for History” part eight: “The way not forward; lessons not learned” from Kenya’s failed 2007 election assistance

Here is the contract language requiring a Final Report from the Cooperative Agreement for the USAID – IRI Kenya polling program starting with the 2005 Referendum Exit Poll and culminating with the 2007 General Election Exit Poll:

FinalReportI finally learned last month from my March 2013 Freedom of Information Act request to USAID that the required Final Report was never filed.   Eventually getting to the truth of this involved a significant amount of “beating around the bush” and a previous 2009 FOIA request from the University of California, San Diego that should have disclosed all of the reporting–but to which USAID replied only after two years and then by producing only a copy of this Agreement itself without any of the rest of the contractual documents.

So ultimately there is no explanation in the reporting as to how the 2007 exit poll went from successful in a January 14, 2008 quarterly report from IRI to USAID, to “invalid” in IRI’s February 7, 2008 global press release, and then back to successful months later with public release of the results contradicting the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  Nor the impact of this discrepancy on the overall effectiveness of this 2+ year $570,000 democracy assistance polling program or the overall multimillion dollar U.S. support effort for the 2007 Kenya election.

Lessons from an accurate accounting of what really happened with U.S. assistance for the disastrously failed 2007 election should have been reckoned with in preparing for 2012-13. Unfortunately, in 2013 we had initial reporting of the USAID funded parallel vote tabulation with very limited transparency and seemingly ad hoc communications, and an initial USAID funded Election Observation report offering positive assurance for the reliability of the IEBC’s announced result, only to be quietly contradicted months later by the final Carter Center report.

The biggest problem in 2013 was the catastrophic failure of the Electronic Results Transmission system–the system that was established in Kenya’s election law to provide for the conveyance of the results from the polling station–the only place where the paper ballots are actually counted–to the IEBC.  Sadly, this was directly prefigured by what happened with the similar, if less ambitious, Electronic Results Transmission system–also funded by USAID through IFES and the UNDP–in 2007.  In 2007 the Electoral Commission of Kenya simply voted in December to shelve the computers and not use them, thus creating the opportunity for the Returning Officers to turn off their phones and drop out of the way.

In 2013, we had the spectacle of highly dubious procurement practices by the IEBC with a last minute attempt–or so it was presented–to roll out the technology, even though implementation was clearly not ready.  The system was then shut down by the IEBC, except for the visual graphic steadily broadcast for days showing one candidate with an “early” lead [simply meaning some votes were included and most weren’t] and hundreds of thousands of spoiled ballots that did not turn out to exist.

A source confirmed for me what we all saw–that the IEBC did not have a meaningful backup plan to handle custody and conveyance of the paper forms for the polling stations where the votes had been counted when the transmission system was shut down.

Prior to the election in 2007, the U.S. Ambassador was reporting the electronic transmission system under IFES along with the IRI exit poll as American assistance efforts to support a fair election.  Although my FOIA requests have not been directed at that issue specifically, the results transmission system appears to have dropped off the Ambassador’s list without explanation around the time it was shelved and so far as I remember this issue did not get scrutiny in the media at the time.

The Kreigler Commission report stressed the crucial nature of results transmission and much was made of this in drafting of the new election laws and the talk of preparations and assistance for 2013, but the ECK refused to produce the minutes of its action shelving the 2007 system (or any of its other minutes) and the Commission reported on to President Kibaki and then the Kenyan public without actual answers about what happened in 2007.

See “Didn’t we learn from the disaster in 2007? Kenya does not need to be anyone’s model anything; it needs truth in its election”

One thought on ““The War for History” part eight: “The way not forward; lessons not learned” from Kenya’s failed 2007 election assistance

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

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