Welcome to the AfriCommons blog– by Ken Flottman
This blog was started as a “hobby” project in late 2009 while I was in my professional life a lawyer for Northrop Grumman Corporation in their shipbuilding operations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My family and I had returned from a year’s stint living in Nairobi, Kenya during which Northrop Grumman was gracious enough to grant me unpaid “public service” leave to work for the International Republican Institute, as a nonpartisan charity providing democracy assistance as their Resident Director for East Africa.
In the wake of the catastrophic failure of the December 2007 Kenyan presidential election through changing of vote tallies facilitated, as best I understand, by bribery of election officials, I ended up in public controversy with the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and some people at IRI so I was motivated to blog about my experiences in part as a way to make information available about what really happened from my perspective to people that needed it, and uphold my reputation with people that knew me personally or had a special interest while staying out of the media per se and generally out of the political fray in such a way that it would cause extraneous difficulty (Ken 2016)
(Original) I write about and highlight news and commentary on East Africa, particularly Kenya, and link to resources for further study. As an American, I often look especially at US interests, relationships and activities in the area, and how those interests, relationships and activities impact the East Africans who live there. This blog strictly reflects my personal opinions and interests, and has no relationship whatsoever with any client or any other organization that I am involved with or represent.
Please e-mail me at africommons [at] gmail.com with questions or comments, and any suggestions to make this blog useful to you.
I am especially concerned with “democratization” and governance issues, including transparency and corruption and the media. This relates to my work in the region as Nairobi-based Resident Director for East Africa for the American NGO, the International Republican Institute (“IRI”) in 2007-08 and subequent consulting and engagement.
My work in Kenya included the controversial 2007 general elections and managing USAID-funded election observation preparations and an exit poll that became the subject of considerable controversy in its own right–see my separate page on that subject.
I had the unusual fortune of working for a non-partisan democracy organization chaired by Senator McCain, in Kenya, during the time that Senators McCain and Obama ran for and locked up the Republican and Democratic nominations for President of the United States, respectively, and the “birther” movement was born in the United States, and during the time that Kenya experienced a failed presidential election and the unprecedented violence triggered from that election.
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 (and more recently the 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 health care administration after another stint in private practice.
Although I have lived in Mississippi for years [update: as of mid-2013 I am dividing my time between Mississippi and Florida] 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
I see US partisan interests as unhelpful and often pernicious in terms of support or cooperation for development in Africa; likewise, American ideological concepts of left and right as they interrelate with Africa are more likely to be long outdated baggage of the Cold War than anything constructively useful to either Africans or Americans now. I was non-partisan in Africa and am now in writing about it. In our present era of globalization, and of bitter partisanship and “the permanent campaign” in Washington, it seems to me a difficult challenge for Americans to be partisan at home while non-partisan abroad.
Under US law, IRI is to be a non-governmental, non-partisan, non-profit, charitable, religious or scientific organization, although all of the funding available to me for the East Africa office and the programs we conducted was from the US Government.
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 today, I especially appreciate the change in both places.