As Kenya’s politics shift into more focused attention on the 2017 presidential race, Kenya’s security environment has become so conspicuously bad that all sorts of people are noticing and commentating in Washington, with an unusually broad consensus that the Uhuruto administration is failing: draconian and corrupt crackdowns unnecessarily alienating Kenyans whose cooperation is needed; corrupt diversion of resources from national security needs as notoriously demonstrated in the successful Anglo Leasing scams; gross incompetence as reflected in the tragically late response to the Garissa University terrorist takeover.
For but one small sample, see today’s “DefenseOne” with headline “How Kenya’s Counterrerrorism Turned Counterproductive”. You cannot get more mainstream DC than a Council of Foreign Relations post republished in Atlantic Media’s DefenseOne.
One might expect that a lot of people in Washington would be moved to take a hard look in the mirror under the circumstances, given the U.S. policy of, at best, actively looking the other way as Kibaki stole re-election in 2007, and the fact that the U.S. ended up doing far more to help than hurt the Uhuruto election effort that Kibaki supported for his succession in 2013. But that won’t happen; domestic politics in the era of the “permanent campaign” stifles critical self-examination in our foreign policy establishment in Washington. Thus it is incumbent on Kenyans who don’t want the U.S. to repeat its mistakes of 2007 and 2013 to engage with American policy now before it is too late for 2017.
Let me digress to make sure there is no confusion about the U.S. role in 2013 and the fact that the U.S. did more to help than hurt the Kenyatta and Ruto ascension in 2013.
Yes, I know, Jendayi Frazer vociferously accused the Obama administration of “interfering” in Kenya’s 2013 campaign, against Uhuruto, because her successor Johnnie Carson made a single reference in one statement that “choices have consequences”. In reality, so far as I know, Carson’s statement was “damage control” from within the Obama Administration after Obama himself issued a statement to Kenyans on the election of fully vetted bureaucrateez, saying nothing. Because Obama made an affirmative statement, saying nothing, he created, predictably, an opening for the Uhuruto public relations team to take to the media in Kenya with the assertion that Obama had made it clear that the U.S. had no concern about the election of those accused of prime roles in the 2008 post election violence. The United States was thus embarrassed by the questions of whether it was being hypocritical on human rights atrocities and whether it was again, as under the first Kenyatta, and Moi, and Kibaki, sucking up to local powers-that-be in Kenya. Carson’s attempted corrective, of course, made matters that much worse as it handed a tool to Frazer in the international, U.S. and Kenyan media, and to others within Kenya in the Kenyan media, to fire up Uhuru’s and Ruto’s supporters through a false (and profoundly ironic) victimization narrative.
Contrary to what I think were the honest expectations of some Kenyan human rights and democracy advocates, the consequences of the Uhuruto electoral success were nothing more nor less than those that followed directly from having these two particular individuals at the helm of state. The United States, so far as I knew at the time, never had any intention whatsoever of any type of sanctions or penalty against either the two suspects or against the Kenyan government–and it seems to me that the way the U.S. handled its support of the IEBC and the immediate environment with the election controversy definitively demonstrates that the U.S. had no desire or intention to impede Uhuru and Ruto from taking power even if we were not going to openly favor them. Of course the knowledge of what had happened in the 2008 violence imposed some bit of color on the relationship after the Uhuruto inauguration but it didn’t have any major policy impact except to make the U.S. more circumspect, if anything, in any criticism of the Kenyan government and more ginger in avoiding anything seen as unduly supporting the old “reform agenda” from the first few years after the PEV so as not to offend those inflamed against the U.S. by the Uhuruto campaign rhetoric.
Substantively, the primary apparent U.S. role in the 2013 election was to spend many millions of dollars on a largely nontransparent basis to underwrite the IEBC, even though it turned out to be corrupt, and to facilitate sale and acceptance of the “results” it chose to announce. The “verification” of the margin of just a hair over the 50%+1 threshold without the actual tallying of all the votes. In essence, the larger established pattern from 2007 if not the goriest of details from the backrooms. While Ambassador Godec and his boss Carson did not embrace Uhuru in the way that Ambassador Ranneberger and presumably Frazer embraced Kibaki, the bottom line priority remained superficial “stability” over “deepening democracy”.
So where does that leave things now with the “chickens coming home to roost” on that superficiality as the ephemeral nature of the “stability agenda” becomes apparent?
Kenyan democrats must be more sophisticated in dealing with Washington–it is crucial that they engage to counter Uhuru’s new lobbyist teams from the Podesta Group (along with Uhuru’s hiring of Tony Blair and whatever other moves of this type have not be widely reported in the media).
In the wake of the 2013 mess at the IEBC, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa initiated a critical unanimous Senate Resolution; that resolution never saw the light of day on the House side. Why? Arizona Senator Jeff Flake co-sponsored that resolution and is now Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee. New Jersey Representative Chris Smith on the House side, whose Subcommittee would not take action on the resolution, is ripe for appeal on these issues as he is supporting a globalized Magnitsky Act approach to broaden and make more consistent U.S. sanction against human rights abuse, and he doggedly and successfully pursued the investigation showing that USAID funding was improperly diverted for partisan ends in the 2010 Kenyan referendum during Ranneberger’s tenure. In this context, Smith should have no sympathies for actors like Uhuru or Ruto as individuals and certainly should have grave concerns about the monkey business with U.S. assistance at the IEBC.
But given that powerful well-connected people are getting paid by the Kenyan taxpayer to grease the skids in Washington the other way, it is imperative that Kenyans get the truth directly to Washington or risk the consequences of more misguided U.S. policy. Likewise, Kenyans need to engage directly with the Dutch who funded the NDI pre-election polling in 2013 and the other Western donors who plumped for the ECK/IEBC operations in 2007-13 both through the UNDP and otherwise in the U.S. coordinated basket funding.