Are there some limits to impunity for killings in Kenya?

No doubt anyone reading this blog will have read of the abduction and execution-style murders of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri.

If you haven’t read it, here is Jeffrey Gettleman’s account in the New York Times, Three Kenyans last seen at police station found dead“.

As expendible as the lives of ordinary Kenyan citizens have always proven to be when they inconvenience or otherwise run afoul of the various state security forces, there are categories of people that are presumably understood to be off limits.

Thus the heightened shock and outrage when Kimani as a veteran young rights and justice lawyer with the respected American-based International Justice Mission is found murdered with his client and their taxi driver after being waylaid in returning from a court hearing.

Murder cases in which powerful people associated with state forces are obvious suspects are ordinarily “unsolved” and forgotten in various lengths of time depending on the prominence of the victim.  There is such a long list . . . Sometimes an unconvincing resolution is put forward processed through the system to buy time while we forget.

In this case, Kimani may have turned the tables by getting a handwritten note out of an “informal” Administrative Police holding cell to be found by a passerby–without this it seems doubtful that we would ever know that they were in AP custody between their abduction and their killing.  But we do know and are now responsible for that knowledge.

Will Kimani, Mwenda and Muiruri be forgetten after due processing of outrage, or will Kimani’s handwritten “brief” be a turning point for justice in Kenya?  Maybe this will be a time when there is no hiding and no excuses are accepted; I think IJM is serious and committed and this case has resonance across the broad community of those who dream of a more just Kenya.  No time like the present.

A simple question: is the Obama Administration in favor of or opposed to corruption at Kenya’s IEBC?

You can still argue this either way, but time is getting away from us.

If you want to argue the “opposed” side you have to extrapolate from generalities and broad high-minded notional statements (and American laws we don’t necessarily talk about).  We must be against corruption in the IEBC–because we support free and fair elections always everywhere and likewise we are against corruption in Africa generally.  At the national level we are so committed to our broad anti-corruption values as to sign bilateral U.S.-Kenya agreements and form working groups with our partners in the Uhuru Kenyatta/William Ruto administration to “help” them in their “war” on corruption.

On the other hand, if you want to argue the “in favor” side you get to take the case down to the brass tacks of the specific facts of Kenyan elections and the exercise of state power, the ECK, the IIEC, the IEBC, specific USAID programs including “our” heavy investment in selling Issack Hassan (a bit like our investment in Kivuitu before him, but more assertive), the Kenyan Supreme Court’s directive on procurement corruption of March 2013, the successful Chickengate prosecutions of British bribe payers to IIEC officials “mentioning” Hassan himself, opening up a whole different and pre-existing area of corruption separate from the demonstrably irregular purchases of failed technology–and the thundering silence of the United States on these matters.

You can also point out how much worse corruption has gotten in Kenya since Kenyatta succeeded Kibaki in power.  And that as such, “partnering” with Kenyatta for a “war” that no one seriously believes he himself wishes to fight might look like “eyewash” for mutual political cover instead of a substantive effort at reform?

Yes, the U.S. Embassy did recently release a joint statement with other Western donors/underwriters of the elections noting the fact of the Kenyan publics’ loss of confidence in the IEBC and supporting “dialogue”.  I expressed my appreciation for this in a previous post. (I would also point out that “dialogue” between Jubilee and CORD is more likely to be about the interests of the politicians than the integrity of the process and voters conceptually; CORD as well as Jubilee made mistakes on the IEBC in 2013).

What my government failed to do was actually speak up about the corruption in the Kenyan electoral management body, each iteration of which “we” have helped pay for since 2002.  Likewise, my government wasn’t willing to speak up for “dialogue” until opposition supporters were willing to get shot down and beaten up by the police to make the point.  Arguably the associated publicity in the international media is bad for “confidence” even though the police brutality was wholy and completely predictable (and as I keep noting, “we” have been spending money on “training” the Kenyan police since 1977!).

Now that Kenyatta and Ruto have called our bluff on “dialogue” and the protests against the IEBC corruption and the responsive police shootings have resumed, this simple question of where my government under President Obama stands, in favor or opposed to corruption at the IEBC, begs for a clear answer.

Maybe we already have it–but I hope not.  I am patriotic enough as an American to be disturbed and disappointed when”we” act in ways that contradict our common values–and to be optimistic, with Churchill, of our proclivity to come around to the right thing after stumbling through alternatives.

The situation is not likely to get better by itself.  I see it as a personal test of character for President Obama.  

On the 2007 Kenyan election disaster, where I found myself accidently embroiled in the policy fiasco, I have been able to allow myself to hope that the key U.S. decisions may not have risen to the attention of President Bush himself (however much he liked to call himself “the decider”) until it was too late in the sense that the election was already both corrupted and observed by Kenyans themselves to be corrupted (in spite of the best effort of some American officials to sweep the corruption under the rug) and people being killed accordingly.  President  Obama, on the other hand, even though I’ve never seen him as so much “into” Kenya per se, has more personal background with these specific problems than the key policy people under him.  The buck unavoidably stops with the President this time.

Trying to duck the basic question to leave the challenge to a new President is a singularly bad idea, and in fact is an indirect but clear answer that we favor rather than oppose the existing corruption levels as election preparation and protest and violent suppression proceed.  

Who would expect the team of Trump, Manafort and Stone–led by the Birther-in-Chief, with the direct personal lineage to Moi and KANU’92, and thus UhuRuto–to stand up for IEBC reform?  Likewise, who would expect Mrs. Clinton to stand up to Tony Podesta as Uhuru’s latest lobbyist in Washington?  If President Obama doesn’t act soon he will have spoken conclusively to say that yes, on balance, his Administration is more supportive of than opposed to the corruption at the IEBC.

I think there is a true humanitarian as well as moral purpose to be served by going ahead and speaking clearly rather than answering by silence.  Silence can leave false hope.  Kenyans are certainly not counting on us.  They aren’t fools and they know how and why we supported the first Kenyatta and Moi.  But we are their favorite foreign power just as they are our favorite African country for a variety of purposes.  We do a lot of things for Kenyans with our tax dollars, like pay for AIDS medicines, since their own government prefers other priorities.  Kenyans voted overwhelmingly for the new constitution that we supported back during the second Kibaki term and the first Obama term, so our interests can align and we can be reformist when we are willing.  Being clear about our intentions is the least we should do.  

No incumbent Kenyan president has ever left office through an election or failed to be re-elected when he ran.  Kenyans know that Kenyatta has the power to stay in office irrespective of any vote if he chooses to; they also know his potential willingness to be the first might depend on whether the IEBC is by next year at least potentially open to a vote tally that goes against the President and how the U.S. and its allies might react to varying further levels of use of force on his behalf.  If we are at peace with continuing to underwrite an IEBC that has been caught being corrupt, aside from failing at its most basic task of delivering an open vote tally in 2013, then we should simply tell Kenyans now so they can know that they are on their own and weigh the risks accordingly.

Latest “gangland style hit” of opposing voice in Kenya reminds of neglected seventh anniversary of the murder of Oscar Foundation leaders

Here is my remembrance post from last year for the sixth anniversary of the murders of Oscar Kingara and John Paul Oulu.  

The hit last week of Jacob Juma–a combative and controversial businessman who had taken on a public profile as a vocal critic of corruption in the Kenyatta government, and political proponent of the opposition–was clearly intended to send a chilling message.  Care was taken to make sure the killing was unambiguously seen to be an assassination even though it happened overnight without known third party witnesses.  It would have been simple to raise doubts about common robbery as a motive if the killers were worried about being caught as opposed to frightening other potential victims.

Juma had been “vocal” on  most of the hotest contemporary corruption topics, including the multi-faceted looting at the National Youth Service and the “Eurobond” debt.  The day of the hit, May 5, he was focused on the IEBC and “tweeted” a picture of former U.S. Ambassador Smith Hempstone from time of the end of the Cold War and the “second liberation” to the current ambassador.  

Kingara and Oulu will continue to be missed as Kenya is faced with yet another extrajudicial killing–the kind of thing that the Oscar Foundation investigated when its leaders where denounced by the Kenyan Government, then assassinated.

Assessing Kenya’s election campaign

Best new current periodical article:

“Kenya’s elections: turbulence ahead” in New African.

This piece notes the dynamics from the recent by-elections in Malindi and Kericho in the context of the refusal to address the outstanding corruption matters with the IEBC from the most recent general elections, most notoriously the Smith & Ouzman convictions.

It can be no surprise in context to Kenya watchers to see the Uhuruto administration teargassing opposition protests of Hassan and company at the IEBC this week.

It would seem that we can safely say that the demise of any remedial action associated with the Post Election Violence has now brought to an unsuccessful close the notion of a post-2008 “reform agenda” with the exception of the fact of devolution.  De facto implementation of most of the promise of distributed and restrained powers of His Excellency Hon. C.g.h., President and Commander in Chief of the Defense Forces of the Republic of Kenya will await another political epoch.  Certainly the IEBC now lacks the credibility the ECK had in 2006-07.

The American Deputy Secretary of State will arrive soon for a “bonfire of the ivories” and regional confab about how to save what’s left of the African elephants from poaching, giving important visibility and associational credibility again to the messaging of the Kenyatta administration.  I assume that “we” think this will help the elephants in some fashion even if Kenyatta’s family doesn’t have to explain itself on the issue and corruption in other areas continues to burgeon.  Apparently diplomatic manners allow us to memorialize elephants cut down by violence if not so much the PEV victims and witnesses at this juncture.

Mudavadi offers wise response to Uhuruto victory rally on Post Election Violence

“Greatness is not attained by glorifying yourself in times of victory. It comes only when you handle victory in great humility,” he said.

The former Vice President said the Afraha rally was in bad faith particularly for the 2007-08 post-election violence victims who are still in tears and despair nine years later.

“Kenya’s healing lies not in holding a roadshow prayer rally. It lies in the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report which Jubilee, with her numbers, has deliberately failed to push for adoption in Parliament. The report offers better options for healing, compensation of PEV victims, cohesion and measures of dealing with ethnicity that has crippled our state,” he said.

Mudavadi dismisses Afraha rally as “roadshow”.

Mudavadi was Raila’s running mate in 2007 and presumably would have been in place to become Prime Minister under a new constitution if the Kibaki vote totals had not been marked up at the ECK to keep Kibaki in office and unleashing carnage.  In 2012, Mudavadi was the original choice of some more responsible, less jingoistic elements of the Kikuyu establishment over Uhuru, and had a signed deal for Uhuru’s support, for which Uhuru reneged.  Ultimately, Mudavadi seems to have proved to be too temperate, too sober for the times.

From this blog four years ago:

The political establishment in Kenya will not be easily moved in the 2012 elections, now most likely ending up to be in 2013 through a complicated series of legal wickets for which no one has claimed responsibility and for which there is no obvious popular support. I hope it is finally dawning of any doubters that the Government of Kenya as an institution is quite mobilized on balance to try to stop the ICC, as it has been–and not in favor of any substitute local justice mechanism.

Impunity consolidates power with “mistrial” for Ruto and Sang; congratulations to American friends and factors of UhuRuto administration

As I noted in my post at the time of the dismissal of the Uhuru Kenyatta charges in December 20014, Ocampo, the Donors and “The Presumption of Arrogance,” a story of babes in the woods of Mt. Kenya?,  the United States’ support for “local tribunals” for the murder and mayhem in the 2007-08 political contest connected to the failed December 27, 2007 general election was akin to support for Santa Claus to bring a cure for Ebola.  Local tribunals were never going to happen under any scenario after we helped divert attention from the falsification of the vote tallies in the presidential race to give Kibaki an unwarranted second term and a continued monopoly over state violence.

It was always the ICC or nothing; we have now gone from six cases to none, without even getting any of the perps to trial.  Eight years after the PEV, we can say conclusively that the violence worked in spite of the (temporary) grousing of some in the “international community” and the steadfast courage of Kenyan human rights and democracy advocates.

Presumably we will never see the evidence regarding the post election murders in the possession of the Kenyan Government, but someday perhaps we will know what evidence the United States Government gathered.

I was sad to see Kikuyu wananchi celebrating the demise of the Kenyatta prosecution on the notion that Kenyatta had effected the violence to protect his “tribesmen”.  Certainly I have always felt that his motivations were, to the contrary, to protect and advance his own power and privilege, and I see Ruto in the same light.

UhuRuto Campaign Ad Kenya 2013

UhuRuto billboard March 2013

Updated: Once more, with feeling: Museveni’s election commission has scheduled his latest re-election for Thursday

Contrary to what one would expect for a fair competition for elective office, Museveni appoints his own seven member election commission (with confirmation by the Parliament controlled by his NRM).

But international observers can surely be counted on to blow the whistle on any “funny business” as Kenyan Senator Amos Wako, Attorney General from 1991 to 2011, is co-chair of the Commonwealth observation delegation, with Nigeria’s former president Obasanjo.  Wako is especially known for observing Kenya’s Goldenburg and Anglo Leasing scandals as Attorney General.

Last time, in 2011, the United States made some public effort at least to press Museveni to allow an independent election commission.  Museveni called our bluff and said no, so we did not say much this time.

Here is the latest release today from CEON-U, or the Citizen Election Observers Network working with NDI funding.

Here is a link to the longstanding CCEDU or the Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.

Update 2-17 – Rosebell’s Blog gives a good overview of tense atmosphere during the last weeks of the campaign: “Worrying war rhetoric ahead of Feb. 18 Uganda vote”.

And Jeffrey Gettleman’s analysis piece for today’s New York Times: “Uganda, Firmly Under One Man’s Rule, Dusts Off Trappings of an Election.”

And, from Andrew Green in Foreign Policy: “A real debate before Uganda’s fake election.”

Top new posts of 2015

USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers

Washington sees that Uhuru’s security approach is counterproductive; Kenya’s democrats must still counter Uhuru’s DC lobbyists to hope for better U.S. policy by 2017

“The War for History” part ten: What was going on in the State Department on Kenya’s failed election, recognizing change at IRI–and how the 2007 exit poll controversy turned into a boon for IRI in Kenya

Jamhuri Day no. 52–Secret “visa bans” are too little, too late from the USA to revive Kenya’s democratic spirit of 2002

Integrity Centre

US Secretary of State Kerry issued a short perfunctory statement of congratulations to Kenyans for Jumhuri Day, mentioning his visit to Kenya in May, but not President Obama’s visit in July.

I get tired of expressing my disappointment in my government’s approach to relations with Kenya’s government and informal power structure and I did not have much to say about Obama’s visit.  One particular item that got marginal attention in the Kenyan media and that I chose to ignore was an actual signed agreement between the Government of Kenya and the Government of the United States styled as a “Joint Commitment to Promote Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya“.  There is actually a fair bit of detail to this agreement in terms of process, meetings, communications, and such, aside from the platitudes suggesting that the same people with life-long track records of comfort with corruption in Kenya were suddenly born again  GooGoos (GooGoo being an old American slang term for “good government” types, referring to reformers who opposed corrupt urban political “machines” in large cities such as Chicago and my hometown of Kansas City).

In spite of the temporary boost to the UhuRuto administration from President Obama’s Nairobi visit, there has been a rising chorus of Kenyan grassroots umbrage to the extreme corruption levels as more and more scandals have emerged without, still, any actual sucessful prosecutions of major figures (meaning major players in either business or politics, or most likely both together) for any of the known thievery.

In the wake of the Pope’s visit, Uhuru–who has made conspicuous use of Roman Catholic photo props in his campaign and PR imagery since the contested 2013 vote–was said to have been moved or shamed to take some action, along the lines of the kinds of things that he had already agreed to do in his July agreement with the United States, to fight “graft”.  Perhaps.  “You just never know,” as some older conservative friends in Mississippi said when I tried to explain back in 2008 that everyone in Kenya knew that Barack Obama was born in the United States, not in Kenya.

What about on the United States side?  Does our government really want to change things now?  Here is what I would need to see to be persuaded that we have decided to change the game: 1) public follow up on the Goodyear bribes paid to public officials in Kenya [months have gone by now with no prosecutions in Kenya reported in the press after the parent company in the US turned itself in to the SEC and the Justice Department]; 2) public follow up on the bribery of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the 2013 election procurements [I finally submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request a few months ago to USAID on the procurements we paid for through IFES and for our dealings with the vendor Smith & Ouzman which was convicted in the UK of bribing the Kenyan IEBC–no documents or substantive response yet]; 3) public follow up on the issue of unnamed Kenyan officials being among those bribed by Chinese interests at the UN in New York resulting in U.S. indictments.

It has been credibly reported based on leaks that the new “visa bans” on travel to the US by Kenyan officials are quite extensive.  Great.  But we do this type of thing, if not quite to this extent, periodically.  Over the years it obviously has not added up to any strategic progress even if there may (or may not) have been a few tactical successes here or there. Bottom line is that I don’t think you can really fight corruption with secrecy–you have to chose your priorities.  And for my government to ignore the cases that have been publicly exposed in which we have some direct stake leaves me unconvinced that we have actually changed our priorities from 2007 and 2013 when I was in Kenya to see for myself.

One thing that we could do to make sure we are “practicing what we preach” on the governance side is for Congress to have oversight hearings about how we are carrying out the July 25 “Joint Agreement”.

Having apologized for having gotten our shoes in the way of the vomit, donors to Kenya’s government are now finally alarmed again about the (ongoing) corruption

Here is the latest from Kenya’s Journalists for Justice on the corrupt involvement of personnel in the Kenya Defense Forces in the charcoal and sugar smuggling trade.

It’s not so much that I’m jaded, it’s just that I have watched this movie before–and even been an “extra” of sorts in one of the previous remakes.

Yes, corruption is obviously getting even worse within this Kenyan administration than within the last.  But that was also true when I lived in Kenya during the end of the first Kibaki administration and into the beginning of the second.

There are several readily apparent reasons.  For instance, when I lived in Kenya I made the acquaintance of a Western expat whose spouse was in the tourism business. Prior to the 2007 vote count corruption and violence, the tourism business was booming.  But corruption was up as a cost of doing business as it was explained to me because to operate you had to pay off a second generation, too–the kids of the senior politicians.  Presumably this generational expansion has continued.  Why wouldn’t it?

The year before I moved to Kenya the UK and US envoys had been outspokenly opposed to the corruption, in the context of the Anglo Leasing revelations by John Githongo of massive corruption involving national security procurements, touching our own security interests aside from our sensibilities about criminal behavior, along with the outrageous shenanigans involving the Artur Brothers, and the Standard media raid, among others.  The British envoy even offered the memorably colorful “vomit on our (the donors’) shoes” metaphor about the extent of the gluttonous “eating”.

But by the time I arrived in mid-2007 things were different.  New personnel led the diplomatic missions.  On the US side we apparently helped Moi and Kibaki get back together, and hosted Interior Minister John Michuki, of “rattling the snake” fame, who had taken credit for the Standard raid, on a security tour of the U.S.  Michuki represented Kibaki at our Embassy’s Fourth of July party, where Moi unofficially planted himself to catch the receiving line.

And then we looked the other way at the corruption of the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  Ambassador Ranneberger made sure to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed from our IRI Election Observation Mission on the basis that he was “perceived as anti-government”.  Bellamy had spoken out on the corruption, in particular the Standard raid.  The week before the vote, Ranneberger noted for the Kenyan public that Kenya was “on track” in fighting the vice of corruption, that  we had had Enron in the U.S., that prosecutions for Anglo Leasing and Goldenburg could take time, and that the World Bank had given the Kibaki administration an award for procurement reform (of all things) and that he expected a “free and fair” election.  And then we tried at first to sell the ECK’s election “count” even though we knew full well that it was bogus.  When that didn’t fly, we supported “power sharing” so long as there was no new election before Kibaki’s full second term was up.  According to a news report from Nairobi years later from stolen cables from “Wikileaks” we issued a couple of “travel bans” based on alleged evidence of bribery against two of the ECK commissioners, but we never disclosed this action or the evidence, why we singled out these two or anything else about the matter.

During the post election violence a diplomat explained to me that the reason many of the younger pols in Kibaki’s PNU coalition were against a power sharing settlement was that they didn’t want to share the secondary ministry appointments.  Ultimately by adding opposition politicians into the second Kibaki administration through “power sharing” with extra ministries you further expanded the multigenerational set of stomachs to let eat.  One way to look at the settlement naturally has been that Kibaki and Raila were willing to stop the fighting (so long as Kibaki retained with further ambiguity the full second term Presidency which the ECK had delivered to him) and the rest were bribed to acquiesce.

So you cannot tell me with a straight face that the diplomatic position of the United States in 2007-08 was to “oppose” corruption as a high rather than a subordinated priority.

After being stung by criticism from the election debacle, Ranneberger was reborn as an outspoken “reform agenda” campaigner for his extended tour on through the passage of a new constitution.  He compiled dossiers on money laundering and drug smuggling through politico/business interests and encouraged action, albeit to no avail. His successors quietly moved on, however, and we helped sell a new badly handled election in 2013 by a new, but probably more pervasively corrupted electoral authority.  We helped pay for expensive technology that was doomed by procurement fraud but kept quiet.  The British Serious Fraud Office successfully prosecuted one of their companies and its owners for bribes on other election procurements, but the Kenyan administration has taken no action to follow up and we have kept our silence.

With time, we have come again to affectionately embrace our usual suspect “partners”, with new programs headquartered in our favorite African city of Nairobi.  A photo op in the Oval Office with POTUS and FLOTUS for the Kenyan President and First Lady last year, followed this summer by a glowing official Presidential visit to Nairobi with a telegenic dance party at State House.   Never mind what we said before; please can we give you more?  Some eloquent speech about the cost of corruption, safely abstract from the burgeoning accumulation of years of specific cases on the impunity docket.  Yes we can dance with this new set of shoes without even looking down at the vomit.

Surely then it can be no surprise that things have gotten that much worse.  With a new report by Kenyan journalists on the longstanding implication of Kenyan Defense Forces which we help underwrite in Jubaland in the sugar and charcoal smuggling rackets, and fresh levels of embarrassment from the international press from the National Youth Service, irregular handling of bond proceeds amid rising debt levels, more land grabbing and another looted bank, all with a new election cycle approaching, the season has turned again and it is the time for furrowed brows.  Time for the U.S. to lead a donor group to call on the current version of the anti-corruption authority.  To talk again of “visa bans” and offers again to assist in “asset recovery”.

Instead of another remake, could this be a sequel offering a surprise ending, with say, even a few villains in jail, or at least less rich, as a cautionary tale for some and a bit of hope and inspiration for others? Or is this just another iteration of “the formula” in which the sheriff rides into town, frowns at the drunken brawl, then passes along to enjoy the cinematic scenery on the way home?

Only time will tell.  I do think we genuinely would prefer to be against the corruption rather than aligned with it.  We just lose our nerve and get distracted by other priorities that seem more immediate.  Making a dent in Kenya’s entrenched culture of impunity would take a long hard slog, in the face of bitter opposition formal and informal.  It would be messy and likely involve putting up with a bit of embarrassment–it could involve some risk and actual cost.  In any event  it would take a good while for us to convince the players that we had become serious.