This is from my original 2009 Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department for documents related to the 2007 Kenya exit poll I managed as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute’s USAID funded polling program.
Just after the next election in Kenya, in March 2013, the State Department made its original release of documents to me on this 2009 request, as I discussed in my post here at the time: Africa Bureau under Frazer coordinated “recharacterization” of 2007 Kenya exit poll showing Odinga win (New documents: FOIA Series No. 12)
At that time State withheld one document in full on the basis of “predecisional privilege”; I eventually got that document released on appeal, and heard no more.
Yesterday, I checked in with the State Department FOIA web library to see if there was anything new on Kenya from other requesters and my search showed that an additional document had been published online in 2017, unbeknownst to me, in response to my 2009 request. It is an April 24, 2007 cable titled “Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” over the signature of Ambassador Ranneberger to the Secretary of State for the Africa Bureau and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in Washington. “Sensitive But Unclassified” and released with no redaction. No explanation as to why this document, which pre-dates all of the others released or identified to me in 2013, was published online on April 18, 2017; if it was mailed to me at some point I did not receive it. Nonetheless, I am glad to finally have it (although I wish I had known about it when I published my June 2017 summary story on “The Debacle of 2007“ for The Elephant).
The big significance of the cable for me is that it documents that the State Department had in fact changed its approach toward Kibaki and toward the opposition between 2005 and April 2007. This was my perception “on the ground” during the campaign, but I had no explicit documentation until now. It also confirms that as of April, the plan was for a diplomatic observation of the election by State Department personnel only and not an International Observation Mission by the Carter Center as recommended by a 2006 USAID evaluation (referenced in the cable) or by IRI as initiated at the behest of the Ambassador that summer.
Likewise, the cable includes one more recitation that the purpose of the exit poll, formally, was to deter and oppose election fraud through an “independent verification of election results”, not to be “a training exercise never intended to be released” as asserted by Ambassador Ranneberger on a State Department webchat in March 2008 after the quashed but leaked poll had become a “hot potato”, and supported in State Department talking points prepared and circulated in response to media reporting in 2008 and 2009.
Unfortunately for me, when I took over the USAID polling program for IRI in June 2007, the program was operating under a Cooperative Agreement from 2005 that expressed the old policy of being disappointed in the corruption and underperformance within the Kenyan government as reflected in the Anglo Leasing security procurement frauds, the Standard Raid and Artur Brothers, etc. No one at USAID or IRI intimated that the State Department had changed policy and I had to figure it out for myself on the fly.
Here are key excerpts from the cable as published:
3. (SBU) Positioning: Some civil society leaders and opposition members of Parliament have complained recently that the U.S. mission is not close enough to the opposition. In fact, we have close contacts with the opposition from the top levels through the Ambassador to to all levels. However, the opposition longs for the days in 2005 when Foreign Minister Tuju publicly condemned the U.S. mission for supposedly desiring “regime change” in Kenya. They also cite the period in the 1990s when the U.S. mission openly sided against the Moi administration in favor of the multiparty democracy movement. However, the present government, for all its flaws, was elected under conditions widely considered free and fair. As for its indulgence of corrupt members of the political class, we note that the opposition has taken no disciplinary action against notoriously corrupt members within its own ranks. Corruption plagues the entire political class. We will continue to publicly condemn it as a major impediment to Kenya’s progress. We will continue to work closely with the Kibaki administration to achieve USG goals, but we will continue to assert ourselves as completely neutral concerning the election itself. Our strategy is to build capital with the government to be spent as needed over the course of the campaign to address critical electoral issues. We started that process through emphasis on the U.S.-Kenya partnership (reftel B). While we will be strictly neutral among the contending political parties, we will be fiercely partisan in support of the democratic process.
. . . .
8. (SBU) Electoral Reform: As reported in reftel B, electoral reform continues to be a hotly debated topic in Kenya. There is a consensus among all political parties and civil society that reform is required. There are no prominent defenders of the status quo. However, there is no consensus on the scope of reforms and the particulars of those reforms. Since the 2002 general election and the 2005 referendum on the draft constitution were both held under the present electoral system and were deemed free and fair, and since Kenyan society is adequately debating electoral reform, we see no reason for the USG to enter the fray. However, we have urged on all parties a spirit of compromise and an emphasis on the longterm best interests of the nation rather than short term electoral advantage. An opposition leader recently threatened a boycott of elections if his party’s electoral reform demands are not met. We made it clear to him that such intemperate language is not constructive and that boycotts are not acceptable. He stopped issuing boycott threats.
. . . .
– Public Opinion Polling: The International Republican Institute began implementing a public opinion program in 2005. The program seeks to achieve two results: increasing the availability of objective and reliable polling data; and providing an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls. These results make an important contribution to elections and political processes. First, genuine free and fair elections require that citizens make informed choices. The polling data adds to the objective data available to citizens on key electoral issues. Second, the exit polls provide an independent assessment of the accuracy of the official electoral results, thereby supporting the assessment of the credibility of Kenyan electoral processes.
This program also enhances democratic political parties by enhancing the likelihood that candidates base their platforms on the key issues and concerns of their constituents, evidenced in the polling data, rather than the traditional focus on ethnicity and personalized political wrangling.
I will discuss the context and layers of meaning in this “new old” cable more in the near future.