A simple question: is the Obama Administration in favor of or opposed to corruption at Kenya’s IEBC?

You can still argue this either way, but time is getting away from us.

If you want to argue the “opposed” side you have to extrapolate from generalities and broad high-minded notional statements (and American laws we don’t necessarily talk about).  We must be against corruption in the IEBC–because we support free and fair elections always everywhere and likewise we are against corruption in Africa generally.  At the national level we are so committed to our broad anti-corruption values as to sign bilateral U.S.-Kenya agreements and form working groups with our partners in the Uhuru Kenyatta/William Ruto administration to “help” them in their “war” on corruption.

On the other hand, if you want to argue the “in favor” side you get to take the case down to the brass tacks of the specific facts of Kenyan elections and the exercise of state power, the ECK, the IIEC, the IEBC, specific USAID programs including “our” heavy investment in selling Issack Hassan (a bit like our investment in Kivuitu before him, but more assertive), the Kenyan Supreme Court’s directive on procurement corruption of March 2013, the successful Chickengate prosecutions of British bribe payers to IIEC officials “mentioning” Hassan himself, opening up a whole different and pre-existing area of corruption separate from the demonstrably irregular purchases of failed technology–and the thundering silence of the United States on these matters.

You can also point out how much worse corruption has gotten in Kenya since Kenyatta succeeded Kibaki in power.  And that as such, “partnering” with Kenyatta for a “war” that no one seriously believes he himself wishes to fight might look like “eyewash” for mutual political cover instead of a substantive effort at reform?

Yes, the U.S. Embassy did recently release a joint statement with other Western donors/underwriters of the elections noting the fact of the Kenyan publics’ loss of confidence in the IEBC and supporting “dialogue”.  I expressed my appreciation for this in a previous post. (I would also point out that “dialogue” between Jubilee and CORD is more likely to be about the interests of the politicians than the integrity of the process and voters conceptually; CORD as well as Jubilee made mistakes on the IEBC in 2013).

What my government failed to do was actually speak up about the corruption in the Kenyan electoral management body, each iteration of which “we” have helped pay for since 2002.  Likewise, my government wasn’t willing to speak up for “dialogue” until opposition supporters were willing to get shot down and beaten up by the police to make the point.  Arguably the associated publicity in the international media is bad for “confidence” even though the police brutality was wholy and completely predictable (and as I keep noting, “we” have been spending money on “training” the Kenyan police since 1977!).

Now that Kenyatta and Ruto have called our bluff on “dialogue” and the protests against the IEBC corruption and the responsive police shootings have resumed, this simple question of where my government under President Obama stands, in favor or opposed to corruption at the IEBC, begs for a clear answer.

Maybe we already have it–but I hope not.  I am patriotic enough as an American to be disturbed and disappointed when”we” act in ways that contradict our common values–and to be optimistic, with Churchill, of our proclivity to come around to the right thing after stumbling through alternatives.

The situation is not likely to get better by itself.  I see it as a personal test of character for President Obama.  

On the 2007 Kenyan election disaster, where I found myself accidently embroiled in the policy fiasco, I have been able to allow myself to hope that the key U.S. decisions may not have risen to the attention of President Bush himself (however much he liked to call himself “the decider”) until it was too late in the sense that the election was already both corrupted and observed by Kenyans themselves to be corrupted (in spite of the best effort of some American officials to sweep the corruption under the rug) and people being killed accordingly.  President  Obama, on the other hand, even though I’ve never seen him as so much “into” Kenya per se, has more personal background with these specific problems than the key policy people under him.  The buck unavoidably stops with the President this time.

Trying to duck the basic question to leave the challenge to a new President is a singularly bad idea, and in fact is an indirect but clear answer that we favor rather than oppose the existing corruption levels as election preparation and protest and violent suppression proceed.  

Who would expect the team of Trump, Manafort and Stone–led by the Birther-in-Chief, with the direct personal lineage to Moi and KANU’92, and thus UhuRuto–to stand up for IEBC reform?  Likewise, who would expect Mrs. Clinton to stand up to Tony Podesta as Uhuru’s latest lobbyist in Washington?  If President Obama doesn’t act soon he will have spoken conclusively to say that yes, on balance, his Administration is more supportive of than opposed to the corruption at the IEBC.

I think there is a true humanitarian as well as moral purpose to be served by going ahead and speaking clearly rather than answering by silence.  Silence can leave false hope.  Kenyans are certainly not counting on us.  They aren’t fools and they know how and why we supported the first Kenyatta and Moi.  But we are their favorite foreign power just as they are our favorite African country for a variety of purposes.  We do a lot of things for Kenyans with our tax dollars, like pay for AIDS medicines, since their own government prefers other priorities.  Kenyans voted overwhelmingly for the new constitution that we supported back during the second Kibaki term and the first Obama term, so our interests can align and we can be reformist when we are willing.  Being clear about our intentions is the least we should do.  

No incumbent Kenyan president has ever left office through an election or failed to be re-elected when he ran.  Kenyans know that Kenyatta has the power to stay in office irrespective of any vote if he chooses to; they also know his potential willingness to be the first might depend on whether the IEBC is by next year at least potentially open to a vote tally that goes against the President and how the U.S. and its allies might react to varying further levels of use of force on his behalf.  If we are at peace with continuing to underwrite an IEBC that has been caught being corrupt, aside from failing at its most basic task of delivering an open vote tally in 2013, then we should simply tell Kenyans now so they can know that they are on their own and weigh the risks accordingly.

3 thoughts on “A simple question: is the Obama Administration in favor of or opposed to corruption at Kenya’s IEBC?

  1. Now that the IEBC Selection Panel has suspended interviews of shortlisted applicants for Chairperson and solicited additional applications from qualified individuals it’s not so much issues of corruption that ought to concern the US and other friendly nations and multilateral donors –apparently ready to spend $85 million on next year’s election. Rather serious deficiencies in governance, administrative incompetence and and a seemingly deaf, dumb and blind political class all point to a very bleak election year with increasing prospects for widespread nihilistic violence. Parliament amended the Election Laws Act, 2011 to permit noncitizens to apply for positions on the new IEBC; I was the only noncitizen to apply for Chairperson and Members’ consideration but failed to be shortlisted in order to be publicly interrogated by the Selection Team. The criteria for excluding applicants –nine of 14 for Chairperson and more than 700 for Commissioners– are completely unknown; once the date for submitting applications (7 November 2016) came and went the entire screening process became opaque and mysterious; no real disquiet has been publicly expressed by the usual suspects in the world of human rights and good governance although this may change when the enormity of the looming disaster starts to filter through.
    None of this is inevitable but decisions need to be made soonest especially concerning how long we can wait before putting some qualified, nonpartisan individual into the Chairperson’s hot seat not merely to get through the 2017 elections but to build a credible electoral agency during the six year nonrenewable term of office.
    Spoiler Alert: I’m still everyone’s best bet…

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