Why has Uhuru Kenyatta’s government acted against USAID and IFES?

[Update: here is a Joint Statement by the heads of various donor country missions on international assistance for the Kenyan election.  And here is the text of the statement from U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec:

Nairobi, Kenya – The United States firmly rejects the recent unfounded allegations against the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program (KEAP) and its implementing partners.  The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is a well-respected organization with deep expertise and experience in supporting democratic elections around the world.  IFES is registered in Kenya under the Companies Act and has legal standing to conduct programs here.  USAID provides elections assistance under our Development Assistance Grant Agreement with the Government of Kenya, which allows for the issuance of work permits for implementing partner staff, including IFES.

We are disappointed by the attempt to discredit the United States’ efforts to assist Kenyans in the conduct of free, fair, peaceful, and credible elections in 2017.  Our assistance was requested by the Government of Kenya and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), adheres strictly to Kenyan law and regulations, and is provided under careful oversight by the Government of Kenya, IEBC, and USAID.   We do this important work transparently without favoring any party or candidate.

We call on everyone to focus on the issue at hand — ensuring that the voice of the Kenyan people is heard and respected in the upcoming elections.]

The Government of Kenya has announced action to terminate cooperation with the USAID Kenya Electoral Assistance Program being administered by the American INGO IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, claiming that the U.S. government is secretly seeking “regime change” and asserting as a weapon the notion that IFES, which has been working in Kenya since 2002, is “unregistered”.

Any reader of this blog will understand that my concerns about the role of IFES in Kenya’s 2007 and 2013 elections in supporting the ECK, IIEC and then IEBC are the opposite of those in Kenyatta’s attack.

While Kenyatta claims that assistance money is being used to support “regime change”, the reality has been entirely different:  the problem from 2007 and 2013 was that US tax dollars were spent in a way that ended up subsidizing corrupt electoral bodies who did not deliver sound elections–to the benefit of Kibaki (and Kenyatta) in 2007 and Kenyatta in 2013.   The problems were not disclosed publicly, putting us in the undesirable position of being “accessories” to the incumbent regime’s use of its existing power to shield itself from the risk of a fair vote.

Most recently I have been waiting for processing of documents for release under the Freedom of Information Act from USAID regarding our support of the IEBC’s technology systems in 2013.

I was in Washington this month at the African Studies Association and got a chance to catch up with people in and out of government who keep track of things in East Africa for a living.  I picked up on no indication that next year’s election in Kenya was yet high on anyone’s priority list for the U.S. government with all the immediate as opposed to future potential crises.  I also failed to detect a major policy shift for the U.S. to go from prioritizing first “stability” in Kenya as we have since 2007 (if not always since independence) as opposed to prioritizing “freedom” and/or “fairness” in the next election–much less a subversive agenda to oust Kenyatta through “regime change”.

The money we Americans spend on civic education in Kenya to bolster democracy is not inconsequential–you could do good things in civic education in one of our own states for $20M–but is only a small fraction of what we spend to assist Kenyans in the areas of health and food.  Security is our primary foreign policy priority in Kenya, and poverty-driven needs in health especially, and in food and agriculture, more traditional education and such are our main priority in assistance.

I am not sure how my government will react to being falsely accused in this situation.  Uhuru Kenyatta is personally ungrateful for our help in regard to civic education and otherwise for election assistance.  I suspect that he prefers to run his own re-election with as little attention paid to the process as possible.

Certainly the Government of Kenya, officially a middle income country, could do for its poor much of what we do if its politicians were willing.  We seem to have sentimental attachments to these programs in Kenya but I’m not sure that we ought not to focus more on places that are poorer and where governments are at least reasonably cooperative.

I will regret the loss of opportunity for Kenyans if the Government of Kenya does not change course.  Here is a statement from six Kenya civil society groups:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s