Kenya’s security situation continues to deteriorate as Kenya’s political leaders move on to focus to the next elections. Challenges abound on succession and election issues in Burundi, Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda, along with the crises in governance in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. Surely this would be a good time to peel back the onion on how the U.S. handled the Kibaki succession/re-election crisis in 2007-08 to learn what we can rather than letting more murky water flow under the bridge?
Knowns and Unknowns, Plausible and Otherwise
Further to the question I raised in Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we – “The War for History” part thirteen, I have certainly confirmed my awareness that, as I have put it, we “actively looked the other way” as the Kenyan election was stolen and thereafter. I am also am forced to acknowledge that we (meaning my country, the United States, through our empowered government officials, who took the opportunities presented to assert what became our de facto policy, whether or not it was formally planned, vetted, approved, etc.) not only “looked” the other way, but also “pointed” the other way, too. In other words, the initial approach from the State Department was to divert attention from the known and witnessed election fraud to induce acceptance of the fraudulent “result”.
How much more is there to the story in terms of our intentions before the election? Did “we” affirmatively wish Kibaki to win, or Odinga to lose, or some combination of the two–and if so, why? Everyone is, of course, entitled to his or her own opinions and/or preferences regarding a democratic election (although for me as an American I considered it to be none of my business who Kenyans ultimately voted for, both in concept and in any event regarding the specific choice among Raila, Kibaki and Kalonzo, each of whom had long, high profile track records in Kenyan politics and government, and with American diplomats). The real question becomes, in light of what happened in the election and how we handled it, whether we were in some way culpable beyond the “looking and pointing the other way”? How much did we know beforehand about the intentions of the Kibaki administration to retain power regardless of the actual vote? In private, if we knew something, did we secretly object, stay silent, quietly nod, affirmatively recognize, or something else?
It seems important to account for the fact that, as best I knew, Kibaki never said publicly during the campaign that he would countenance the potential to lose the election and turn over power. And further, that to the best of my knowledge and attentive observation at the time, neither the Ambassador nor anyone else in the State Department publicly called Kibaki on this. (Eventually, Moses Wetangula, the Foreign Minister at the time, made a statement regarding Kibaki’s willingneess to “lose,” presumably directed more to his diplomatic counterparts than to Kenyans.) Compare and contrast Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for re-election in Nigeria this year, wherein American officials up to and including the Secretary of State himself flew to Nigeria ahead of the election to openly warn Jonathan to accept an adverse vote even though he was already stating his willingness to do so.
As an American, especially one who was working at taxpayer expense to support the democratic process, I certainly want to believe the best about all of our conduct in regard to the election. Unfortunately there are some other facts and questions that remain undigestable for me so far and leave the quesy feeling that there may be more to the story. For example:
* When the Ambassador told me at the residence on December 15 that “people were saying” that Odinga might lose his Langata constituency and thus be disqualified from taking office even if he won the presidential vote, and that this could be “explosive”, why did his cables to Washington not report this matter until nine days later, just three days before the election (and, perhaps incidentally, after I had written to USAID to complain about the Ambassador’s conduct regarding the IRI election observation, and also let the Ambassador know that I had commissioned a Langata poll in response)?
* Why did the Ambassador want to take Connie Newman–whom he had effectively chosen to be IRI’s lead Election Observation delegate–to meet privately with Stanley Murage the day before the election (I described Murage as by reputation “Kibaki’s Karl Rove” in my reporting to IRI Washington that day, and I have since heard him described by a diplomatic source as “Kibaki’s bag man”)? Why had the Ambassador ahead of time wanted Connie to stay at his residence or at the Serena Hotel separate from the rest of the Observation Mission at the Mayfair? Why did Connie mislead me about her separate time at the embassy residence when it had been understood among myself and IRI’s top executives that Connie was to be fully briefed to avoid this type of situation with the Ambassador (and my notes from the time show that I was told she was in fact briefed and “on board” before her arrival in Nairobi)? Did the private Murage meeting end up taking place?
* How did Connie know by Saturday evening December 29th, at the Mayfair, that Kibaki would be the announced winner when the ECK’s process at the KICC was still very much ongoing as represented publicly? She was in regular contact with the Ambassador by cellphone throughout–was he her source? Is there any other plausible explanation?
* Was then the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington describing what he witnessed and his own actions at the ECK’s headquarters at the KICC fully ingenuous in describing the Ambassador unsuccessfully offering ECK Chairman Kivuitu encouragement not to give in to pressure to announce a manipulated result? Note that this cable was written on the sixth day after the election and the third day after Kivuitu preemptively declared the vote for Kibaki and delivered the certificate of election to him at State House for his Sunday afternoon swearing in, and during the worst of the post-election violence and the time of maximum uncertainty for Kenya’s newish democracy and its longstanding stability. How does the Ambassador’s after-the-fact write up square with Kivuitu unsuccessfully seeking Ambassador’s Ranneberger’s help before the election?
* Why did Connie assert herself so strongly to object to making any public statement about the USAID IRI exit poll when she had no involvement whatsoever in that polling program and had no prior discussion with any of us who were involved? (Note the Ambassador’s admission in his interview by Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times that he had discussed the exit poll with Connie or “another Institute official”.) My immediate superior, the regional director for Africa, told me contemporaneously that I had made a mistake in bringing up the exit poll in front of Connie as she should not be involved, which I had recognized immediately when Connie jumped in to object.
* Given that the State Department released to me under FOIA redacted versions of a variety of classified cables, why did they withhold in full the documentation about Secretary of State Rice’s January 3, 2008 discussion with EU Foreign Minsiter Javier Solana about the election on the basis of its classification? What was so sensitive?
* Did Ambassador Ranneberger intervene with Johann Kreigler to steer the Commission of Inquiry into the 2007 Elections–the “Kreigler Commission”–away from an examination of the ECK’s presidential vote tally? A reliable source reported to me on this, but on second hand information as best I could tell so I don’t know.
* Why did the Ambassador get involved in brokering the rapprochement between Kibaki and Moi in the summer of 2007? Why was I told nothing about this by State or USAID, or anyone from IRI? Did anyone from IRI know before I reported this to Washington in the fall of 2007? Did this rapprochement lead to Uhuru Kenyatta as KANU Chairman and Leader of the Official Opposition crossing the aisle with KANU to pull out of ODM and support Kibaki? Did this lead Kibaki and his circle to overestimate his electoral position in the Rift Valley? Similarly, did this underlie the Ambassador’s overestimation of Kibaki’s strength as a candidate–or otherwise support the assessment that Kibaki would not be seriously challenged for reelection as of that summer? Did our support for a Moi-Kibaki rapprochement lead to our backing down on anticorruption issues in 2007, in spite of John Githongo’s brave revelations about Anglo Leasing? Did all of this lock in Kibaki’s support for Uhuru as his successor, ultimately fulfilling Moi’s original intentions from 2002?
* Did dealings with Kibaki (and Uhuru) in the 2007 election that the State Department was not willing to disclose tie the hands of the United States in the 2013 election, supporting the policy choice to promote the credibility of the IEBC irrespective of the procurement fraud, failure to deploy and implement essential technology and failure to tally the votes fully? Or, alternatively, was our policy driven strictly by immediate concerns about stability and the threat of violence, regardless of any such potential overhang from 2007? Any relation to our striking silence now about the proven corruption at the IEBC in the wake of the British convictions for Smith & Ouzman bribes in Kenya?
* Why would USAID withhold in 2014, under an April 2013 FOIA request, their copies of (unclassified) documents already produced to me in March 2013 by the State Department under a 2009 FOIA request, showing State and USAID personnel coordinating on the misrepresentation of the USAID IRI exit poll as an IRI “training exercise” in talking points for the media in 2008 and 2009? (And given that I requested the documents from the State Department in 2009, and they were cleared for release in October 2012, why were they not mailed to me until March 12, 2013, just after the next Kenyan election?) People are still being squirrelly after all these years.
Hats off to Connie
Like others who have had an occasion to work with her over recent years I am sure, I found Connie Newman to be a charming and very effective lobbyist (and I am sure she was a charming and effective diplomat during her eleven months at the State Department even though my eleven months at IRI did not overlap with her in that role). I can appreciate why Ambassador Ranneberger would identify her as his “great friend and mentor” to the media in Nairobi on a visit to Nairobi in 2009.
IRI identified Connie to the Weekly Standard in 2009 as the primary decisionmaker on spiking the exit poll while serving as lead Election Observation delegate, as I did in my 2008 interviews with the New York Times, as well as in my contemporaneous emails to Joel Barkan which I included in this “War for History” series. So we agreed on that part anyway.
It is easy to see why Nigeria’s Bayelsa State would have Connie and her firm lobby Sidney Blumenthal (“former Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton”), the State Department’s Regional Security Office and Senator Inhofe on their behalf immediately following Obama’s inauguration in 2009, between her unpaid service observing the Kenyan and Nigerian elections for IRI. It is also easy to see, after what happened in Kenya in 2007, why IRI would have a senior staff member placed as co-lead delegate with Connie for Nigeria’s 2015 State Department funded IRI Election Observation Mission. Connie got most of what she wanted in Kenya in 2007, but I never detected that she had any deep personal background in Kenya’s politics (and she has not been registered as a lobbyist in Washington for any of the Kenyan governmental entities) and it was never my sense that she had any separate irons in the fire other than reflecting the Ambassador’s wishes. So for me the question is what the Ambassador was trying to accomplish and why. And then, was it successful or not and what have been the costs to whom?