Kenya Election Preparation: Standing aside on 2013 investigation to raise alarm for 2022

I feel obligated to raise the alarm about Kenyan election preparation with 2022 fast approaching and a potential contentious constitutional referendum even sooner.

Why worry? The track record.

Blatant fraud in the 2007 presidential election led to extensive violence, followed by “herd impunity” for the politicians involved in both the fraud and the violence. According to a later press report the US issued undisclosed sanctions against some members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on evidence of bribery but made no public disclosure or known follow up.

A murky 2013 election process gave power to primary figures understood by public reputation and ICC charge to be among the most responsible for the 2007-08 violence. Procurement fraud prosecutions from 2013 linger in Kenya’s courts and IEBC recipients of “Chickengate” bribes from a British election vendor have never been prosecuted (the British payers of the bribes have completed their jail time). The IEBC was replaced at the expense of some loss of life to protestors at the hands of the Government.

And of course we all know that Kenya’s 2017 presidential election was legally deficient to the point of being annulled by the Supreme Court, leading to the 2018 “handshake” under which Kenya’s is presently operating. The IEBC has lost a majority of its members–one fleeing the country. The CEO who was hired by and held over from the removed 2013 “Chickengate” group was fired, but there has been no prosecution for the election eve abduction, torture and murder of Chris Msando, the acting ICT Director.

To summarize where I am going to leave my Freedom of Information Act investigation of the failures to properly administer Kenya’s 2013 election:

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to USAID in 2015 for their records on support of the IEBC for 2013. The records were sent to Washington from Nairobi in late 2015 and released gradually between April 2017 and May 2020.

Kenya Election FOIA News: Election Assistance Agreement shows US paid for failed “Results Transmission System” April 13, 2017.

USAID eventually has provided a fair bit of material about their Kenya Electoral Party and Process Strengthening Program, but redacted the basic reporting and evaluation of what went wrong with the failed procurement of a Results Transmission System and the rest of the technology and other failures at the IEBC. To me, the redactions based on the assertion that this material is exempt from FOIA as proprietary commercial information of the not-for-profit International Foundation for Election Systems, IFES, were not plausibly legally justified. At this point, I am disappointed as an American that USAID was unwilling to be more transparent, because I think the continued failure to have an open accounting of the problems in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 election assistance programs leaves us in an unnecessarily poor position to hope to do better in 2022.

USAID finally sent me a heavily redacted version of the last 2032 pages of their 2013 “Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening” program file from my 2015 FOIA request May 6, 2020.

Kenya 2013: Redacted reports to USAID suggest the problems with the IEBC acquisition of the Biometric Voter Registration system and the electronic Poll Books fed into the ultimate failure of the USAID-funded IFES Results Transmission System May 14, 2020.

For some Americans the 2013 election in Kenya was a big success because Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto took over from Mwai Kibaki, Kalonzo Musyoka and PM Raila Odinga without the level of violence associated with the preceding 2007 election. For others of us, and for many Kenyans, the failure of the Results Transmission System and the lack of a credible total vote tally mattered quite a lot. How people actually vote matters. The failure compounded the bad precedents that played out with more election technology procurement and other problems in 2017 and are still “on deck” today.

At this point I am going to leave IFES and USAID to decide what their consciences and legal standards require about the problems from 2013 rather than try to pry more information out through “pro bono” legal work. Three years has gone by since the annulled 2017 vote without even bringing the Kenyan procurement fraud prosecution from 2013 to trial, let alone taking any major steps forward to fix things for 2022 or a pre-election referendum. This is wrong, as well as dangerous, and I think we Americans could help this time if we are willing to (after attending to our own challenges in preparing for our own elections).

I will include one new document to show the nature of the problem: an email between USAID and IFES from the afternoon of March 7, 2013, three days after the vote at a time when the Results Transmission System had failed. IEBC Chairman Issack Hassan had announced that the Commission had shut down the system and I was at the High Court with my AfriCOG friends seeking an injunction to prevent the IEBC from announcing a “winner” without the full results.

The EU Election Observers attended the court hearing but I don’t know if anyone from the USAID-funded international or domestic Election Observation teams did, or what they knew at the time about the procurement failure on the Results Transmission System. Regardless, I think transparency was needed in real time, and I certainly do not see the values served by keeping the substantive reporting on what went wrong under wraps seven years later (aside from the question of FOIA compliance).

Kenya 2013 election Results Transmission System FOIA IFES USAID

See Election Assistance FOIA update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting Kenya IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition, July 18, 2018.

So where are we now? Under the gun again:

Big worries about electoral body and 2022 polls“, Sunday Nation, August 9, 2020:

We’re two years to the next poll if August still holds as the election date, which means the window for reforms is slowly closing, and if we don’t start pushing and getting some of these policies, rules, regulations and structures in place, we risk repeating the same mistakes we made in 2013 and 2017 and even earlier,” warned Ms Regina Opondo, the chairperson of the Election Observation Group (ELOG) steering committee.

Mr Ndung’u Wainaina, the executive director of International Centre for Policy and Conflict, told the Nation that the IEBC needs to be given financial autonomy and to devolve its resources down to the polling stations.

“IEBC should be reformed to restore public confidence, credibility and integrity. The problem is not the Constitution, but how the IEBC Act and recruitment of personnel is designed, which allows gross political interference,” Mr Wainaina said in an email to the Nation.

Here is my page with blog posts from the 2013 election cycle as seen from a public view outside of the Kenyan or donor governments.

What do you think?

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