How did Donald Trump get this far?; our actions in Kenya since 2007 are an example of why Americans are frustrated [updated 10/10/16]

[I updated to correct an error — the USAID Inspector General, rather than the U.S. Government Accountability Office, conducted the referenced investigation that found USAID funds went into supporting the “yes” campaign in the 2010 Kenya referendum, rather than providing only neutral process support for Kenyan voters.]

Longtime readers of this blog will well recognize Kenya as a glaring example of the refusal of our government and the surrounding networks of foreign policy elites in the larger Washington Beltway community to seriously self-assess and try to level with the American people in such a way as to build trust and confidence (even  in the face of our serious and determined foes).

The stolen election in Kenya and its aftermath in 2007-08 was clearly a catastrophe for both the Kenyan people–whom we are continually trying to assist to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year–and for security interests of the United States (whatever real or rationalized internal claims might or might not exist to justify our policy of “looking, and pointing, the other way” as we saw the election being stolen).  So far as I can assume, the Kibaki team would surely have done whatever was necessary to obtain the ECK certificate as “winner” of the election irrespective of the actual voting even if “we hadn’t even been here” (see here) but the very least we have to conclude is that our elaborate and expensive electoral assistance effort was in crucial respects a failure.  And we certainly do have to consider the possibility that the other donors could have done better to accomplish what were identified as the common objectives without us and our leading role.

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A key reason I have dedicated my “War for History” series to my late friend Joel Barkan–along with my late friend Peter Oriare–was that Joel was one of the rare people in Washington willing to speak out when he saw our country making what he saw as a foreign policy mistake.  He wisely warned IRI that we were risking embarrassment along with the State Department.  Was he thanked when it became obvious that he had been right?–no, he was attacked instead, in the finest Washington tradition of “CYA by pointing your finger at the person who suggested you ought not to show it in the first place”.

Having found myself playing a bit part due to working for a “charity” that got tagged, along with USAID, by our Ambassador to play a role neither my organization nor USAID sought as of the time I moved my family to Kenya to help out, I find myself being the only one seemingly willing to offer any type of public mea culpa for those decisions that I would make differently in hindsight.  And I know that I absolutely did my best even though I was not successful overall.  I cannot help but wonder if that is really the case for everyone, given all the various potential interests to be served.

In spite of how badly things went we have just given ourselves credit–and let the individuals who were in key roles publicly pat themselves on the back–for helping to keep the aftermath of the stolen election from being worse than it was.  I did not have any personal animus against Ambassador Ranneberger and did not want him to be precipitously “recalled” as a result of my complaint about his interference with the election observation, but I would never have imagined that with a big political turnover in the U.S.–based to a great extent on a public loss of confidence in foreign policy decision making–Ranneberger would still end up being one of the most prominent public actors in Kenyan politics–on behalf of my country–for several more years afterward and be our second-longest serving Ambassador to Kenya ever.

Through the persistence of the subsequent Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Rep. Christopher Smith, we eventually learned through a Kevin Kelly story in Kenya’s Daily Nation that the USAID Inspector General had determined that an “eight figure” sum of money had bled over from lawfully neutral process support for constitutional reform into the 2010 “Yes” referendum campaign. Personally believing that on balance Kenyans would be better off to pass rather than defeat the referendum, I was embarrassingly gullible myself in being hesitant to credit Congressman Smith’s concerns in this regard until I saw the reporting on the USAID Inspector General’s findings.  Shocking that the Ambassador who was not neutral in the 2007 vote was not neutral again in 2010!

In the 2013 general election, the administration of the process was in substantial ways even worse than in 2007 as capably pointed out by John Githongo and many others of earned expertise. Our assistance was much more expensive, and while not so controversial, was again not very transparent  at all.  (Still nothing on my public records request to USAID regarding our spending through IFES on Kenya’s IEBC and its corrupt technology procurements.)

And now, here we go again.  The Uhuruto re-election gears up against the ODM-led opposition with the Government of Kenya facing its inevitable referral to the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court since it–inevitably and predictably–refused to meet its legal obligations to cooperate with the Court.

The individual who served as Assistant Secretary of State during the 2007-08 catastrophe, as a private citizen but identified primarily in her role as a former high ranking diplomat, was a key figure again in the 2013 campaign–this time speaking out (informally I assume) to accuse the United States Government of interfering in the election in the opposite direction, in favor of the opposition and against her preferred candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta.  While she was within her rights, her argument seems counterfactual when you look at how U.S. assistance to the Government of Kenya and NDI/ELOG and IFES for the election was actually used in totality: to sell whatever the IEBC decided, even without a transparent tally and even though we had some real knowledge of the corruption issues that have eventually come out to the point of forcing their buyout after the Opposition was willing to protest on the streets this year.

If you will read the ELOG final report from several months after the election, you will see that it appears that the NDI/ELOG Parallel Vote Count had more problems with falloff of planned data collection than the 2007 IRI exit poll–but since it involved a much smaller universe of locations than an exit poll I’m not sure that this could be adjusted for (if attempted).  So the idea that the 49.7% PVT result “VERIFIED” that Uhuruto received more than 50% looks that much more like advocacy for the IEBC rather than facts for the voters.

I would never vote in a scenario that I can readily imagine for Donald Trump or someone much like Donald Trump as best I understand him.  I agree that his positions–none of which I assume reflect any sincere value judgments–are dangerous to our country now and for my children’s future.  But if you don’t understand why many Americans might have some temptation to go for “the candidate of the middle finger” out of frustration with a sense that “Washington” isn’t actually working on their behalf as they send their taxes, you cannot be getting out enough.

One thought on “How did Donald Trump get this far?; our actions in Kenya since 2007 are an example of why Americans are frustrated [updated 10/10/16]

  1. It is a depressingly familiar scenario playing out again in Kenya; there will not be an election on 8 August 2017! Meanwhile the US Embassy forges ahead to fund all manner of voter education programs?

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