Welcome to the AFRICOMMONS blog — by Ken Flottman
An American look at Kenya and the East Africa region, with emphasis on our relationships and activities in the area, and how those interests, relationships and activities impact the East Africans who live there. Since 2009.
As a lawyer for a major American defense contractor working primarily on U.S. Navy shipbuilding, I took “public service leave” to relocate to Nairobi with my family in 2007 as East Africa Resident Director for the International Republican Institute.
This democracy assistance work, including an Election Observation Mission and an Exit Poll, coincided with the December 2007 Kenyan general elections. The presidential vote was a catastrophic failure, rigged through the changing of vote tallies enabled, as best I understand, by bribery of election officials, and leading to both spontaneous and orchestrated mass violence.
A key purpose of the blog has been to investigate this disaster through the Freedom of Information Act and other research and to build a record in addition to sharing my own experience.
My account of the experience and investigation was published in The Elephant in 2017 as “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen with US Connivance“.
I managed a USAID-funded election observation and an exit poll that became the subject of considerable controversy as it contradicted the apparently rigged results announced by the Election Commission of an incumbent win, but was not released for several months–see my separate page on that subject.
It was a strange fortune to work for a non-partisan Republican Party-affliated democracy organization chaired by Senator John McCain, in Kenya, during the time that Sen. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama ran for and clinched the Republican and Democratic nominations for President of the United States, respectively, and the “Birther Movement”, later led by Donald Trump, was born in the United States.
Over the years I have become an engaged “Kenya watcher”, including additional consulting work and observation of the next Kenyan election in 2013, while moving from the defense industry to healthcare in my legal career. I published several other pieces around the elections in The Star in Nairobi in 2013 as well as The Elephant in 2017 and since.
Please e-mail me at africommons [at] gmail.com with questions or comments, and any suggestions to make this blog useful to you.
Some Personal Geography
I live with my family on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the American “Deep South”–an area known best to the rest of the world for our experience with Hurricane Katrina (in 2005, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil rig blowout). And of course Mississippi as a whole is most often thought of for its place in the history of race relations and civil rights in the United States, and as a “less developed” region in some respects. It is a nice place to live and work in the early 21st Century, as is Kenya. We are active in our local church congregation and community as well as keeping an eye on things going on in the wider world.
My primary professional career is as a lawyer, originally in private practice and for ten+ years “in-house” with large publicly held corporations in the U.S. defense industry, and now in healthcare administration after another stint in private practice.
Although I have lived in the Deep South for years I grew up in the suburbs of a large Midwestern city. I studied political science and economics at the University of Missouri and law at Vanderbilt. [Fun fact: I was admitted to the Class of ’85 with Michelle Obama at Princeton but attended Mizzou in the class with Sheryl Crow and Brad Pitt instead.]
I thus look at East African and American issues here from a distinctively “outside the beltway”, “Third Coast” perspective.
My prior involvement in IRI’s international work dated to service as a volunteer seminar instructor for candidates for parliament in Mongolia in December 1999. I was an IRI Election Observation delegate for Kyrgyzstan’s special presidential election in July 2005 (and had a curated photography exhibit of images from the Kyrgyzstan election at a local public arts and culture center in 2006-07).
Partisanship and Ideology
Under US law, IRI is to be a non-governmental, non-partisan, non-profit, charitable, religious or scientific organization. The funding available to me for the East Africa office and the programs we conducted was from the US Government directly through USAID or from the National Endowment for Democracy.
I had some type of title with Republican Party organizations or activities during most of the time from 1980 to 2000, but not since. I was State Chairman of the College Republicans in Missouri back during the Reagan Administration when Jack Abramoff was National Chairman and led junkets to South Africa under apartheid, during the general time when Barak Obama got his first taste of political involvement speaking to students at Columbia protesting to support the divestiture movement. As a “white” parent raising my children in Mississippi, I was especially appreciate of the change in both places.