U.S. Coast Guard support for maritime security in Africa; looking for news on Kenyan Coast Guard Service

U.S. Coast Guard’s Mission to Africa from U.S. Naval Institute Press, by

Thetis departed Key West for Africa in late February, making it the first Coast Guard cutter to deploy in support of U.S Africa Command since 2012 and the first to participate in an African maritime exercise since 2011, according to Coast Guard news releases. Thetis participated in exercise Obangame Express and made port calls in Nigeria, São Tome and Principe and Cote d’Ivoire, among other work during the deployment.

U.S. military engagement with African nations is critical to protecting U.S. interests and helping stabilize governments on the continent, Adm. James Foggo, the commander of U.S. Forces Africa, explained during a recent edition of his podcast.

Having the U.S. Coast Guard deploy to Africa is useful, Foggo said, because the U.S. Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement mission aligns with what he said African nations frequently cite as their most significant needs: enhancing their maritime security operations to protect fishing rights, stop smuggling and interdict human and drug trafficking.

For many of the nations, Chong said their navies perform missions similar to those of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the most part, the African navies and coast guards protect their fisheries resources from illegal fishing, search for smugglers and and combat the region’s ongoing piracy problems.

In many cases, the African nations use equipment very similar to what the U.S. Coast Guard employs. Smaller nations have patrol boats similar to those used by the U.S. Coast Guard, Chong said. Larger nations have frigates which are the same size as the U.S. Coast Guard’s national security cutters.

“The technology is very comparable to us as far as doing those type of boardings off a smaller platform or off a frigate,” Chong said.

In the case of Nigeria, Chong said Thetis operated with a former U.S. Coast Guard cutter. Current Nigerian navy frigate NNS Thunder (F90) is the former Hamilton-class high endurance cutter USCGC Chase(WHEC-718). Chase was transferred to Nigeria after being decommissioned in 2011.

“We’re helping a lot of these countries and their navies and coast guards to do boarding and security type functions,” Chong told USNI News. “We’re working with them jointly in their own maritime security zones.”

The US Coast Guard has been providing joint training for six Kenyan agencies involved in maritime/waterfront security for some years, and Kenya announced that was forming its own Coast Guard back in 1999, but did not pass legislation to do so until 2018. The Kenya Coast Guard Service was then “launched by the President last November in Mombasa:

Based at the Liwatoni Fisheries Complex in Mombasa, where the ceremony was held [commissioning of Offshore Patrol Vessel purchased from Bangladeshi shipyard as first vessel], the KCGS is tasked with protecting fisheries, enforcing maritime security and safety, preventing smuggling, protecting the maritime ecosystems, search and rescue, and supporting the military in times of war.

See the Ministry of Defense announcement here.

The Kenya Coast Guard Service was established under the Kenya Coast Guard Service Act 2018 and was operationalized on 22 October 2018. The Service, which will be commanded by a Director General, a position currently held by Kenya Navy’s Brigadier Vincent Loonena, has a role of ensuring safety in Kenya’s territorial waters, safeguarding Kenya’s ports and prevention of dumping of harmful wastes and pollutants in Kenya’s waters. It will also offer search and rescue services and prevent illegal commercial activities like fishing on Kenya’s waters. The service shall have its headquarter at Liwatoni, Mombasa and will operate mainly in Mombasa, Kisumu and Lamu.

The launch takes place only a week before the first Global Blue Economy Conference to be held in Nairobi in which over 8000 participants are expected to turn up.

News has been scarce since the Commissioning so I would be pleased to hear from anyone with an update.

Ten years into the major multinational counter piracy missions off the Horn of Africa, are China and India paying their fair share?

Operation Atalanta of the European Union (EUNAVFOR) commenced in December 2008 and was joined by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Combined Task Force for counter piracy force (CTF-151) in 2009.

The Combined Maritime Forces are a multinational security venture based in Bahrain, with U.S. and U.K. top command.

  • 33 member nations: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, The Netherlands,  New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, The Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States and Yemen.

China and India do send ships independently to cooperate in the CTF-151 mission. But given the volume of Chinese and Indian trade and shipping at this point, are they bearing their fair share of the cost?

Piracy has been radically reduced in recent years off Somalia and in the bab-el-Mandeb, Gulf of Aden region patrolled by CTF-151.

For the United States to solve the “free rider” problem for trade competitors, especially the PRC, the best approach it seems to me is to increase our own trade and investment in East Africa, as well as globally where we have facilitated the rise of the PRC as a trading power through free global maritime security, direct and indirect foreign investment, lax cybersecurity and intellectual property protections, etc.

While it has been our policy since my childhood to facilitate the rise of China, although under slightly varying rationales at different times over the years, President Trump has sometimes, along with a few of his advisors, expressed a desire to change this policy and our formal National Security Policy calls for recognition of “great power competition” as the superseding longterm priority to the ongoing war with al-Queda and progeny or similar groups.

National Security Advisor Bolton announced a “New Africa Policy” suggesting some rethinking back in December, but it seems to have been largely overcome by events since then. Bolton’s “back to the 80’s” focus on Cuba and Nicaragua to add to the standoff involving Venezuela, along with primary redirection of focus to the permanent “shadow war” with Iran, takes bandwidth, already constrained, away from African issues. Meanwhile rapidly unfolding events in Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Egypt at a time of increased uncertainty in much of Central Africa with limited clear U.S. engagement suggest that we are very much in flux about whether we are serious about recalibrating our overall reticence to compete in Africa.

Powerful forces of bureaucratic inertia and domestic American politics suggest that we are likely to continue deficit spending to help secure Chinese trade with Africa without get much further toward making it pay for itself at least through the 2020 election.

As of 2017, US exports to Sub-Saharan Africa were $ 11.7B., or somewhat less than the cost of an aircraft carrier or two amphibious assault carriers, with a trade deficit of $3B. Chinese exports were $37.4B with imports of $18.5B. (India had exports of $13.1B and imports of $19.7B.) The Chinese trade surplus with Sub-Saharan Africa approximately equals the annual U.S. Navy Shipbuilding and Conversion budget.

MILSPEAK will never die; and a COMBATANT COMMAND may never be great at Public Diplomacy – AFRICOM and a “Failed Communication”

When General Thomas Waldhauser, the outgoing AFRICOM Commander, went before the Senate Armed Services Committee (“SASC”) for public testimony on the AFRICOM Annual Posture Statement relating to the legislative budget process–a performative function for the Senators and the Senate and the Military–someone seems to have failed to scrub the presentation with an appreciation for how it would look to use an “infographic” to publicly describe to the world–especially to interested citizens in the 53 “partner” states of the AFRICOM Area of Operations (“AOR”)–one of the “U.S. strategic interests in Africa” as to “decrease potential for Africa to become a failed continent”.

Some of us who are “olds” (surely this term is a bit insensitive 🧐) and have spent at least some of our formative years before the pervasiveness of global public communications seem to forget that we Americans live in a global fishbowl of our own making.

General Waldhauser will have spent his career with military electronic communications but will have climbed some ranks before civilian application reached the point that “public” in Washington was automatically realtime “public” nearly everywhere.

Security issues, especially terrorism and civil unrest, have cross-border components that may be magnified by the large number of independent countries in the geographic areas involved, but this sort of loose, broad brush talk that might be useful for selling a budget in a competitive bureaucratic marketplace is embarrassing and counterproductive from the standpoint of official communications and “public diplomacy” because it makes AFRICOM look out of touch and patronizing.

In this way, AFRICOM seems to have accidentally put itself at cross purposes in communications with what is supposed to be the “New Africa Strategy” as announced by the National Security Advisor that is intended to reflect a shift of emphasis to American trade and investment with and in African countries. Since the end of the Cold War we have focused on securing the global “lanes of trade”, especially the world’s only “blue water Navy”, facilitating trade between China as well as India, Japan, the EU and others and African countries, without much real policy focus on our own economic participation beyond aid and philanthropy.

Now that China is so much richer, seems to be re-doubling domestic repression and investing heavily in quickly building out both traditional and “new technology” military tools, while leaning on our longstanding allies in Southeast Asia and showing other geopolitical ambitions, we wish to increase our own economic participation in Africa’s growth for the kind of normal geopolitical reasons that we had de-emphasized in recent years.

In competing against the United States, as well as against Japan, Europe and the UK and other more developed democratic powers in Africa, the PRC naturally wants to sell the idea that the Chinese Communist Party offers some sort of South-South mutual respect to African borrowers and customers in spite of its huge actual size and command structure and the way it treats its own ethnic minorities. Whereas the United States Government has the task not only of assuring African markets of our respect and compatibility, but also of encouraging and persuading, rather than directing, U.S. domiciled companies and investors to go take on risk and invest in African countries.

So clumsy negative hyperbole is not the thing we are looking for here. I have a distaste for some of the slick overproduced happy talk “success stories” that get funded within the rubric of “development assistance” and we need straight honesty from our military leaders about the status of wars we are fighting, but we should avoid being carelessly negative when expressing our aspirations.

I do think on this one that the buck really ought to stop with General Waldhauser — he himself in his many-hatted role should have personally known better and not stepped in that hole. Much of the articulated reason to have AFRICOM–as opposed to not having AFRICOM–was that it was to be a “different type of Command” which integrated personnel from the State Department and USAID directly into its structure to be better at things like diplomacy than the Commands dating to the Cold War, presumably based on lessons learned.

UPDATE: Sept. 8

Investigative reporting from Amanda Sperber in The Nation : “Inside the secretive US air campaign in Somalia“.

From the Longwar Journal (Foundation for Defense of Democracies): “US military intensifies airstrikes against al Shabaab in Somalia“.

McCarter heads for confirmation as Trump’s next Ambassador in Nairobi

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted to favorably report the nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter as Ambassador to Kenya to replace outgoing Ambassador Robert Godec.

This should assure McCarter’s confirmation by the full Senate.

(Updated) Tea Leaves and Poker Hands: Bolton at Heritage on Africa

In a relatively short speech Thursday morning at Washington’s Heritage Foundation, President Trump’s current National Security Advisor John Bolton was said to announce the administration’s “new Africa policy”. Amb. Bolton stuck out during the George W. Bush Administration as both an aggressive hardliner by reputation on policy and as willing to fight hard within the bureaucracy. So no surprise that Bolton says we are not going to let the spigot run on aid projects or peacekeeping missions that are not “winning”, and will target programs more strategically to better match quids and pros, and such.

Overall, Bolton calls the policy “Prosper Africa”. He emphasizes concerns about the perceived unhealthy influence of China and Russia in Africa and frames U.S. interests as focused on competition among external powers. We want Africa to “prosper” through a growing middle class and business deals creating jobs and other benefits in both the U.S. and partner countries and in so doing to strengthen our influence and reduce that of our competitors. We intend to (continue to) play favorites, but in a more explicit and direct way, emphasizing “anchor” governments like Kenya (still our sentimental favorite African country) rather than focusing directly on poverty alleviation or “Sustainable Development Goals” as a global construct.

It seems to have raised eyebrows that Bolton did not mention PEPFAR and democracy and elections among other categories of assistance that we have emphasized both with rhetoric and dollars under Trump’s most recent predecessors. Contra some initial reactions, I anticipate that any major expenditure of political capital by the Administration with Congress to engineer large cuts to popular existing programs is not in the offing.

In fact, when the White House issued a press release “fact sheet” later in the afternoon reporting that it “was issuing” President Trump’s “new Africa policy” it explicitly mentioned “democracy” twice and otherwise sanded down Bolton’s sharper edges. Democracy, especially, as well as our health programs, are a comparative advantage for the United States vis-a-vis the PRC if we want to re-frame our rationale more explicitly in terms of traditional geopolitical competition.

The origins of U.S. development assistance philosophy come from offering a competing model to communism, especially following World War II and to some extent even earlier. Likewise U.S. overt explicit democracy assistance programs were established during the Reagan Administration. So talking more openly and frankly about our concerns about China’s role in Africa in the context of a recalibrated overall relationship that accounts for the Chinese Communist Party’s changes under Xi does not at all have to lead to a retreat from development or democracy assistance.

What plays out over the next two years from any of this remains to be seen.

Instructive are today’s two votes in the Republican led Senate approving resolutions calling for an end to support for Saudi Arabian war efforts in Yemen and condemning the role of the Crown Prince in the murder of American resident Jamal Khashoggi. The peak of unilateral latitude for the Trump Administration has already passed, even before the new Democratic controlled House is seated in the new Congress in January.

Testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, by Judd Devermont, now Africa Diector at venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies, and recently national intelligence officer for Africa, gives a fuller and more nuanced picture of the range of Chinese involvement in Africa. Not all of it is necessarily contradictory to our immediate interests or longer term hopes, even though there are important concerns.

From my personal standpoint, I am still struck by the fact that according to what I read in the newspapers, combined with a letter from Washington, the Chinese hacked my security clearance file–and that of nearly every other clearance holder–from the Office of Personnel Management in Washington during the last Administration. (I also read they “wired” the African Union headquarters, among many other examples.) As for the Russians, they were screwing around in our own Republican Party and to some extent with our general election campaign.

Thus, we most need to be competent, purposeful and mature in conducting our own business in an environment which can be expected to punish complacency. Get through this temporary period of governance by Tweet and tabloid huckster hush money and get our own democracy back on a more even keel. Then we can more effectively deepen our relationships among African countries and with African citizens for the long run. In the meantime, I hope and expect that we will continue most of the incrementally helpful things we have been doing in Africa and not rock the boat too dramatically.

In the meantime, worth noting, for instance, is the presence of Somaliland’s Foreign Minister at Bolton’s speech.

What to make of the policy being announced by Bolton at Heritage instead of by the Secretary of State in an official or semi-official venue? Probably the same reason there are not details and documents: a point of the event is to stamp Bolton’s ideological role within the Administration, the Republican Party, and “The Movement” (big “C” Conservatism with American characteristics is how I might describe it). This is “framing” and “vision” with various audiences rather than actual “policy” as such.

It takes cognizance especially of the geopolitical struggle most compelling on a day-to-day basis in the White House: “red” versus “blue” in the rest of the United States. Thus the focus on competition with “Obama” as a symbol of “blue” who did not announce his “new Africa policy” until nearly the end of his first term. Bolton is a guy with seven pictures of himself on his Twitter profile who tried to mount his own run for President: he obviously enjoys the spotlight and enjoys being a lightening rod for the arena. More substantively, it announces the drawing of a line of demarcation against the perceived “feckless liberalism” of Obama and the perceived namby-pamby do-gooder “compassionate conservatism” that sometimes fuzzed the focus of G.W. Bush in Africa. “Africa” is to be normalized as a geographic space.

Realism of course tells us that the Americans who will make the day to day decisions that actually determine our role in the various African countries do not report to Bolton and that any deep reorientation of policy will require more time and attention than Trump and his cabinet as a whole likely have left in this term. This could tell us much more about what to expect if Trump were re-elected or if the next Administration involved a similar role for Bolton and like-minded officials.

Realism also notes the Administration lost votes on two foreign policy resolutions in the Senate between Bolton’s speech and the White House press release.

Dr. Peter Pham gets new post-midterm Trump diplomatic appointment as Great Lakes Special Envoy [Updated]

Ahead of the long-overdue elections scheduled for next month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the State Department announced the nomination of Dr. Peter Pham, Africa Director at the Atlantic Council, to be Trump’s special envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.

U.S. names new envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes. (AFP)

Pham has a long background in academics and national security related policy/”think work” on Africa from the Right, which is a fairly limited universe. I became aware of Dr. Pham’s work initially as a “friend of IRI” in relation to my work on Somaliland as IRI country director in 2007-08. He was involved in publicly advising the Trump transition on Africa-related issues and was often identified as the frontrunner to be the nominee as Assistant Secretary of State. See “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017, by Helene Cooper.

Pham and his deputy at the Atlantic Council, Bronwyn Bruton, have been prominent critics/skeptics of the initial 2006 invasion of Somalia and aspects of the subsequent “nation building” process there, and Pham has been seen as an advocate for Somaliland. Beyond that, I’m not as familiar with his background on the numerous various immediate issues in the Great Lakes, or how the election results and retirements will re-shape Congressional interests.

I will endeavor to read up.

In the meantime, I have not heard any public comment about any likely impact on a vote on the stalled nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter to replace Ambassador Godec in Kenya.

Update: I had forgotten Pham’s controversial advocacy from November 2012 in the New York Times: To save Congo, let it fall apart“. A view that could be seen as very pro-Kagame/RPF and that is certainly at odds with many considered opinions and perhaps a tough starting point for a new diplomatic posting.

See also, from Foreign Policy: Pompeo to appoint new envoy for troubled central Africa region.”

Update II: Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society on Pham last year in African Arguments:

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasized security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

New Crisis Group report: “China Expands Its Peace and Security Footprint in Africa”

While AFRICOM has reached its tenth anniversary with talk of a drawdown of troop deployments on the Continent and HQ firmly in Stuttgart, Germany, China has used these years to grow out its African military and arm sales relationships, regional and international armed peacekeeping roles and to establish it’s first “overseas” military base in Djibouti.

The Crisis Group gives an overview of current Chinese defense/security/peacekeeping in Africa:

“At the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, Beijing showcased an increasingly strategic approach to its defence relations with African countries and its role in managing challenges to peace and security on the continent.
— Read on www.crisisgroup.org/asia/north-east-asia/china/china-expands-its-peace-and-security-footprint-africa

Should the United States offer to replace Ugandan and Burundian troops in AMISOM?

Hargeysa Somaliland Gate

This is in the nature of a “thought experiment” rather than an actual suggestion at this point, but here goes rough sketch of the basic points:

1) We all recognize–whether we are willing to publicly admit it–that Somalia is in a “permanent” war state although progress has been made from the lowest ebbs over the years. Somalia is like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen in the sense that it is a place in which perpetual fighting appears indefinitely sustainable pending some major change.

2) The current phase of the civil war in Somalia started in December 2006 with a full scale invasion by Ethiopia, with US support, at the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), to displace the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with a re-instated TFG. In early 2007 this gave way to the multilateral AMISOM “peace-keeping” military force of surplus Subsaharan African national troops seconded by their governments. Funding came from the EU and UN, passed through the African Union.

3) As we approach the 12th anniversary of the Ethiopian invasion with the Somali Federal Government (SFG) having significant influence but not consolidated military or civilian control of the country, we all know that there is no immediate prospect of a complete military defeat of Al Shabaab, the al Queda affiliate that coalesced in the breakdown of the ICU in the fighting in 2006-07. Al Shabaab at present no longer controls any major cities, following the Kenyan-led assault on Kismayo in 2012, but has sustaining financial support and territory, and seems to have wider influence in Kenyan territory in particular than in the past. Likewise the latest International Crisis Group report indicates increased influence in Tanzania.

4) Somalia has not had a clearly established national government since 1991– presumably before most of the foot soldiers on any of the sides were born.

5) Ugandan and Burundian troops have been provided to AMISOM by Museveni and Nkrurunziza, the “elected dictators” of Uganda and Burundi, respectively. Under this arrangement the United States provides training and support, and a patina of international legitimacy, to forces under the command of Musveni and Nkurunziza and they in turn loan out on a fully reimbursed basis some of those forces to the EU and UN through the AU.

6) Conceptually, the advantage to the United States from this arrangement, as I once heard it put a few years ago from a military perspective, is “better them than us.” The advantage to Museveni and Nkurunziza is leverage vis-a-vis the United States, the EU, the UK, the UN and the AU. For the AU the arrangement provides at no cost superficial prestige and legitimacy.

7) The disadvantage for the United States is that it also gives Museveni and Nkurunziza superficial prestige and legitimacy in spite of their repudiation of democratic values. It also gives a hint of reverse leverage in the relationship. Rwandan strongman Kagame has explicitly tried to exploit his dispensation of surplus troops to the UN mission in Darfur to ulterior advantage, for an example of the implications. This creates complications and risks in our relationships in East and Central Africa, whatever the perceived savings in regard to the Horn and Somalia.

8) Museveni and Nkurunziza do not have the mitigating factors on their side that buy indulgence for Kagame, whether legitimately or not. Kagame assuages our feelings of guilt or exposure to embarrassment for not taking action to try to stop the genocide in 1994 during the Rwandan civil war, by operating a micro-model of repressive developmentalism in tiny Rwanda. Those equities are simply not in play for Museveni or Nkurunziza who have chosen to become aggressively repressive anyway. Thus U.S. military partnership and EU funding Uganda and Burundi arguably become nakedly hypocritical and opportunistic.

9) Over the years of the fighting in Somalia the United States has significantly drawn down its forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have now significantly increased our overall defense budget. It would seem that direct deployment of United States military personnel for the type of “peacekeeping” fighting engaged in by Ugandan and Burundian forces would be relatively easier now than in the earlier years if this iteration of the war in Somalia.

10) Meanwhile, questions have continued to grow about the sustainability of Museveni’s repressive government as he has continued to accelerate past the off ramps for peaceful transition. Thus, the quandary for the United States in using his forces in support of notionally democratic nation building outside the country while the idea of democratic nation building recedes within Uganda itself.

“Another Fine Mess” in Uganda? Time to read Helen Epstein on “America, Uganda, and the War on Terror” if you haven’t yet

I first bought a copy of “Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror“, by Helen Epstein, then “hot off the press” as a “sizzling indictment” of our policy in Uganda while evacuated to the Florida Panhandle from hurricane Maria last year.

Helen Epstein Uganda Another Fine Mess

This year in Northeast Florida were have missed Florence but are watching our neighbors in the Carolinas with concern. Meanwhile our neighbors in Uganda are suddenly on the radar screen in a heightened way.  Museveni’s political repression has struck an international nerve through the popular musician turned Member of Parliament and opposition by-election campaigner Bobi Wine.

See “Ugandan politician confronts diplomat over torture allegation” from VOA Africa.

Earlier this week Bobi Wine agreed to be represented pro bono in Washington by the Vanguard Africa Group.

Epstein’s book from the Columbia Global Reports series is a quick read (and inexpensive) so there is really no excuse to duck it if you are an American concerned about Uganda. Helen Epstein is an American with “skin in the game” in Uganda. She has lived there and worked with the failing health systems — her “active voice” as a critic comes not from the abstract but the specific. You do not have to agree with her about everything, or think she has figured out all our governmental secrets or inside-the-beltway motivations, but you would be foolish not to take her seriously and account for what she has to say.

Update: let me add here a couple of key blurbs for Epstein’s book from other writers who I have relied on and who will be well familiar to readers here:

William Easterly: “As her new book reveals, Helen Epstein is an eloquent advocate of human rights and democracy for Africans, as well as a courageous critic of how U.S. aid supports oppressive dictators like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.”

Michela Wrong: “For decades, Western policy-makers have hailed Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni as a benign autocrat, a charming African Bismarck and trusted partner in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Another Fine Mess reveals a far darker side to this key African ally, while exposing the cynicism at the heart of American policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. This gripping, iconoclastic, angry book raises a host of uncomfortable questions.”

I want to note that Epstein highlights my old friend the late Joel Barkan’s investigation of Uganda’s economic issues for the World Bank.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss this work with Joel a few years ago. Joel also prepared a prescient warning for American policy makers back in 2011 at CSIS of the risk of instability in Uganda with Museveni’s advancing age, elimination of term limits and need to transition.

[Note: Some of my Washington friends took a bit of umbrage about some of Helen’s real time reportage on Kenya’s last election–fine. If we were more transparent we would not risk being misunderstood; I was not in Kenya for the 2017 vote and at the end of the day we will have to see what the record shows. In that regard I am still working on 2007 and 2013. Uganda is Epstein’s lived experience in a different way.]

Barack Obama, son of American anthropologist, retired President USA, stops in Kenya on way to South Africa after safari

Ten years after 2008 campaign, the “Birthers” have won for now in the U.S., but Obama remains a positive symbol with time for another act:

Former President Obama stopped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, his third visit to Kenya since arriving on the national political scene in the United States in 2004 as an Illinois state legislator through a speech at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry to challenge the re-election of George W. Bush.

It is now ten years since I returned to the United States with my family from our year-long East Africa democracy assistance sojourn in Nairobi in the wake of the failed 2007 election, the post-election violence, and February 28 “peace deal”. The day we flew out of JKIA for Amsterdam en route to Atlanta on the way home to Mississippi I was first exposed to the “birther” conspiracy theory through a front page story in the Daily Nation.

Many may not remember fully now, but recognize that in its inception the “birther” conspiracy theory was not just the idea that then-Senator Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and secretly smuggled into the United States as an infant, and thus not technically eligible to be elected President. It also fit into the context of the claims that Obama was involved as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2007 in a conspiracy with Raila Odinga to steal Kenya’s election on behalf of Muslims, with killing of Christians and embellished from there into a narrative that rather than a loyal American Obama was essentially on the side of al-Queda and the global jihad to establish a sharia-enforcing caliphate. That Obama was in essence on the other side of the war being fought by Americans in the “surge” led by Bush and General Petraeus in Iraq as well as the fundamental underlying values of our democratic republic and Western democracy in general.

The conspiracy theories about the 2007 Kenyan election faded somewhat over time–partly because of the peace deal that put Odinga in Kibaki’s government as Prime Minister where he continued to be friendly to the West and partly because it became clearer that the election was stolen by Kibaki’s side which controlled the ECK (and not by the opposition which didn’t). Reports at the time from the American right at the Heritage Foundation think tank and National Review magazine (“Inside Kenya’s clumsily rigged election” Jan 4, 2008 National Review Online) noting the theft of the election helped American conservatives who cared about facts avoid getting sucked into nonsense about a Luo jihad involving “tribesman” Obama and “cousin” Raila.

While there remain a few holdouts who claim that “we can’t know” who won in Kenya’s 2007 election, they seem to be pretty well limited to personally interested parties at this point with the release of the State Department cables showing that our Ambassador Ranneberger himself saw tallies being changed at the ECK and claimed to have encouraged the late ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu to withstand the pressure to declare Kibaki the winner anyway, even though Ranneberger knew that the Chairman had no way to control the Committee which was thoroughly stacked by Kibaki in the weeks and months before the election.

Once it is recognized that the vote tallies were actually changed at the ECK, Americans–most especially rock-ribbed traditional stalwarts attracted to “the Tea Party” and/or Donald Trump’s “neopatriotism”–will understand that Kenyans had a duty not just a right to protest the 2007 election. Americans would not trust biometric voter registration (or tolerate secret voter lists) but most certainly the traditional American narrative would demand that we march on our county courthouses if our votes were simply changed by our election officials. Ranneberger’s pre-election cables to Washington made clear that as of that time, the Kenyan courts were not independent and would provide no recourse so that voters would be forced to go to the streets if there was fraud that became known.

Once you legitimize protesting the actions of the ECK, and recognize that the largest category of deaths in the Post Election Violence, per the Waki Commission, were those shot by Kibaki’s security forces, and the largest number that were identifiable by tribe were Luo, then the whole notion of some extraneous evil conspiracy somehow involving Obama and the global jihad as the reason for the post election violence becomes that much more irrational. The portion of violence in the Rift Valley that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer insisted on calling “ethnic cleansing” in a January 2008 visit (a label not adopted in Washington) was conducted by Kalenjin militia in the pattern employed by KANU in 1992 and 1997. KANU was a religiously diverse secular party that sought to maintain single-party hegemony through compliant cadres among all major tribes and religious groupings in accordance with its political needs. No suggestion that Moi, who personally identified as a Protestant Christian, was a secret Muslim jihadi even though the victims may have been mostly Christians.

The International Republican Institute/University of California, San Diego exit poll funded by USAID (the one showing an Odinga presidential win by roughly six points that was embargoed for six months) gave more evidence in the details that the 2007 election contest was driven, as normal in Kenyan, by tribal rather than religious alignment with Odinga shown as winning a majority of self-identified Christians and of Muslims (although the margin was greater among Muslims). On the other hand, there was a “gender gap” with women favoring Kibaki and men Odinga.

It may also seem hard to remember now but by January 2009 Obama was sworn in to a wave of good feeling with high approval numbers. He had campaigned as a pragmatic moderate Democrat who was against dumb wars and only for smart ones, a Christian who grew up with limited religion who was popular with the irreligious left, the Christian left and made some real inroads courting what we call “Evangelicals” who were not part of the more politicized harder “Religious Right”. The inaugural celebrations seemed to suggest some real healing from the cultural rifts from “the Sixties” and “Vietnam” that featured so prominently in presidential campaigns throughout my lifetime, as well as a milestone to show that we had come so far in overcoming racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era that black/white racial issues were no longer much a part of those cultural rifts. Maybe we had more in common than our political leaders had been telling us since the rise of Fox News and the Bill Clinton impeachment saga; maybe this president could be a “uniter not a divider” where his predecessor had failed. In part this failure was because the Bush political operation ended up pulling a “bait-and-switch” by mobilizing gullible church networks to support the invasion of Iraq for regime change using a claimed causus belli of active chemical/biological and nuclear weapons programs then firing up the culture wars further to drive turnout to get re-elected over John Kerry. This was a bad error of moral judgment that has continued to reverberate through American politics.

Kerry was certainly a Yankee patrician from “central casting” — as Kenyans well know from the 2017 election — but was unquestionably accurate in pointing out in debate with Bush that we had gotten “stuck in Iraq”. Of course Kerry was too polite, patrician and/or patriotic to go for the jugular and trash Bush for Iraq the the way Donald Trump did in his 2016 campaign.

For saying that we were “stuck in Iraq” Kerry got pilloried as “unpatriotic” aside from the “Swift Boat” sliming he got over his military service in Vietnam–conveniently not a problem for Clinton, Bush, Cheney or Trump who all managed in various ways not to get sent, and unlike Kerry, did not volunteer to actually go to Vietnam. Nonetheless, the unhealed cultural wounds were still such almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon that Vietnam was a winner for Bush over Kerry in spite of Iraq.

Part of the reason that Obama took office with a waive of good feeling and better numbers than he had during the election was that McCain declined to play along with trashing Obama in the darker ways and treated him as a legitimate political adversary. It was good for the country and gave Obama a fair start in office.

“Birtherism,” though, in spite of McCain’s choice, became an enduring American movement which has had a profound effect on our politics and transformed the Republican Party with which I had been involved for much of my life.

Ultimately, the Birther Movement became a tool for Donald Trump as an outsider to gain “free media” and attention and admiration with those who were otherwise profoundly afraid of or opposed to the Obama presidency.

People like John McCain and George W. Bush or his family members in politics, whatever their faults and mistakes on policy choices (even the really big one, invading Iraq, which McCain acknowledges in his latest book, The Restless Wave) were too experienced, too educated, and too well advised to believe craziness about Obama being secretly smuggled into the U.S. as a Kenyan child (although the McCain campaign did check it out to make sure as did the McClatchy newspaper chain) and were morally constrained, in my judgment at least, from deliberately lying about it to hurt Obama. If you cannot buy that it was morals, at least we can agree that they were restrained by a judgment that it was better politics to stay out of that gutter. Hillary Clinton also stayed away (even if one credits the report that her adviser Sidney Blumenthal triggered the McClatchy review to make sure their was nothing to it).

Donald Trump was not similarly constrained and his hectoring of Obama put him in the front row of politics in America. He shared headlines with Obama even as Osama bin-Laden was being killed by the Navy under Obama’s command. Not one to accept defeat in an argument by being proven factually wrong, in this case by the release of Obama’s long form Hawaii birth certificate, Trump bided his time and cranked the Movement back up for his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, discarding it once he had seized the agenda and the Republican Party and the specific “birther” claim was no longer useful to him.

It has been a bit surreal for me to see this happen. Educated middle class Americans of my generation (Obama’s essentially) have a lot to answer for in our complacency I am afraid. Our democratic republic requires more attention and effort than we have delivered in recent years whatever our party or policy preferences.

Fortunately, just as Obama himself has, we hope, time for other acts in his public life as an American after elective politics, the Trump presidency too shall pass and the Birther Movement will be a strange chapter in political history books. It will leave scars and I expect that Trump will be willing to use other lies for domestic advantage that will manipulate gullible people and torque emotions on difficult and divisive social matters. But in the longer term I think we will rise to the occasion and get to a better range of equilibrium. We have significant long term challenges on poverty, education, healthcare and economic mobility and government debt that have been building up during our protracted wartime, but I think Americans getting more engaged and rolling up our sleeves to work on solutions.

Trump as an individual is something of a fluke. Most of the people who voted for him have little in common with him really. I know this because they are my peers, my extended family and friends to a great extent. He lost the national popular vote in a low turnout election. Trump won in large part because neither Obama nor the Clintons succeeded in building a Democratic Party that was seriously competitive in much of the country.

The big difference as of now is that Trump as president in our system still has far less power than the president in any of the East African countries. He will leave office at by the end of his lawful first term or his second if re-elected.

On balance, I think that we will see American policy in its relations with Kenya in the Trump years to continue to be largely a continuation of that under Obama, as reflected in the American approach to supporting both the 2013 election with John Kerry as Secretary of State and 2017 with Kerry as chief election observer and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with Bob Godec as “our man in Kenya” throughout. Just as Obama’s relationship with Kenya in its policy aspects was primarily a continuation of the approach under George W. Bush.

There have been a few major inflection points in the American/Kenyan relationship in the last twenty years, but most have not been specific to whoever was president in either Washington or Nairobi.

The first,of course, was the al-Queda Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, kicking off the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Kenya against various Islamist “violent extremists”. As reflected in the Mombasa rocket attack, the USS Cole bombing, the bombing in Kampala, the various attacks in Kenya, most notoriously the Westgate Mall and Garissa University killings, a persistent understood risk of terrorist incidents have been a regional “fact of life” since. For most Kenyans who are not well secured in their daily bread, and face many bigger daily risks of violent death, terrorism is not quite so central as is to Americans, but has still inevitably shaped both sides of the relationship over the last two decades. And in this context, after 9/11 and our ensuing land wars in South Asia, with the establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti Kenya resumed its regional security role along the lines established in the 1970s and 80s when the United States was fighting the Cold War and Kenyatta and Moi wanted protection from Idi Amin and Siad Barre and the kind of relationship that would be useful to them in avoiding disruption to their domestic rule.

The next inflection point, albeit of lesser magnitude from an American standpoint, was the retirement of Moi and the transition to NARC and Kibaki.

Next was the demise of NARC and the failure of constitutional reform with the 2005 referendum. Relatedly the Anglo Leasing scandal showed security and counter-terrorism were for sale at high levels along with the baseline of corruption in the police and security services that let terrorists move about and in and out of the country. The Artur Brothers and the Standard flamboyantly highlighted the rot.

Next and finally was the start of the war in Somalia to save and reinstate the Transitional Federal Government and oust the ICU in December 2006.

Since that time the United States Government has continued to have and support all our other existing priorities in Kenya such as lifesaving humanitarian health support through PEPFAR and other lower profile programs, food assistance and small farm agricultural support, along with supporting all sorts of philanthropic type programs and the somewhat more controversial “big development” initiatives like Power Africa, frequently in cooperation with other donors.

In recent years we also started devoted more governmental focus to promoting international private financial investment, such as the 2015 U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation investment in the Dubai-based Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, L.P., that has been active in the Nairobi private healthcare market prior to recently entering liquidation under circumstances being investigated.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have been at war in a country with a huge border with Kenya. A country during during much of these last 11 1/2 years which has been too dangerous to support a full diplomatic and aid presence and has thus had those parts of the effort supported from Kenya, as well as a smaller role for Kenya as a host for some U.S. defense forces in addition to those at our base in Djibouti. And from reading the newspapers back in the day and a few books it is apparent that Kenya provided some military support for the invasion by the Ethiopian military at the time to contain potential spread of terrorism.

And in 2011, during Kibaki’s second term, with the support of Prime Minister Odinga, Kenya entered the war directly and formally in its own right.

Roughly nine months later the Kenya Defense Forces were admitted into the AU’s AMISOM peacekeeping collaboration, allowing for financial reimbursement through the Western donors, and eventually drove al-Shabaab, now formally asserting affiliation with al Queda, out of their previous position of direct control of the port at Kismayo (not to say that al Shabaab did not continue to apparently benefit from the illicit charcoal and sugar trade through the port).

A few months before the Ethiopians were invited to restore the TFG in Mogadishu, our Ambassador Bellamy finished his service and Ambassador Ranneberger was similarly appointed by President Bush from the Foreign Service. Within a few months after the start of the war Ranneberger sent a cable to Washington explaining that his approach for “achieving U.S. objectives in Kenya’s elections” was to stay quiet on the debates on constitutional reform and election reform and “build capital” with the incumbent. With the perturbation of the 2008 crisis and the intervention for constitutional reform up through 2010, this has remained the baseline beat of our relationship over the years.

Will the recent moves by Kenya’s dominant new Jubilee Party to align with Communist Party of China structures and philosophy to accompany its huge borrowings from the Chinese State cause any serious rethink in Washington? I have no idea, but it certainly does not seem to have captured any particular place in the priorities of either the retired President Obama or current President Trump.