The long view – 15 years ago I was preparing to move my family to Kenya for six months public service leave to work for IRI

In May 2007 I was getting ready to move and reading up on Kenyan politics and history, and talking to people associated currently or previously with the International Republican Institute who knew something about the practical aspects of living and working in Nairobi, which was not as common a thing for Americans then as now.

At my job as Senior Counsel with the big defense contractor Northrop Grumman I was working to close a “Gulf Opportunity Zone” bond issue for “facilities modernization” at The State (of Mississippi) Shipyard at Pascagoula which was under long term lease to the company with rent tied to bond debt.  We were recovering and improving in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  I was also Program Counsel for the Amphibious Assault Carrier program, in which we had a series of contracts for a low “ten figure” sum to build a Navy ship that carried a Marine Expeditionary Unit to wherever they might need to go, with a few helicopters, airplanes and landing vehicles, a hospital and such.

The idea of doing non-profit foreign assistance work was influenced by several things, most especially living through the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  A few weeks before the hurricane hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast I had served as an Election Observer for IRI in Kyrgyzstan, and as the youngest and most expendable delegate I had had a grand adventure in Batken in the Ferghana Valley and found the experience of supporting a peaceful election in a troubled region as a counterpoint to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be inspiring.  Spending some time in an area that was poor and economically regressing also gave me a different perspective on the context of the devastation we soon faced back home from Hurricane Katrina, where in spite of the initial failures we received billions of dollars in assistance.  Even though it was all grossly inefficient, Washington turned on the spigot.  More importantly people from around the country and even around the world came to help “on the ground”, sacrificially, and many of my friends, in particular in my church congregation, did wonders helping those in need while most of my impact involved my work at the shipyard.  All told, I was primed to “do something” intended to be helpful and in particular in the “less rich” world.

It was in this context that I asked for “public service leave” to take the position of Resident Director for East Africa for IRI.  I asked for 18-24 months of unpaid leave, with the expectation that I would have to hope that a spot was available somewhere within the company’s law department after concluding at IRI. I got 6 months of job-protected leave instead, extended at IRI’s request that fall to a full year.

If I had had the background and experience, I might have sought to work in some other area like agriculture.  I had a background in practical party politics which had led to the opportunities to volunteer with IRI.  There was another context for working in democracy assistance specifically though, which was the Iraq war.  I was one of those that had not really been persuaded by the case to invade–it seemed like a “hail mary” so to speak that only made sense in the face of the kind of clear imminent threat that did not seem to be demonstrated.  Likewise, the general “Bush Doctrine” did not seem to me to be consistent with the weight of decisions of war and peace that were required by my Christian values.  By 2005 most Republicans from Washington could admit when they let their hair down overseas that we had made a mistake even if it would be another eleven years before they felt willing to say so publicly in response to Donald Trump’s campaign in the Republican primaries.

At some level, I thought we made the mistake on Iraq because too many of the people who really knew better in Washington in 2002 and 2003–the kind of people who had the experience and regional knowledge that I knew outside of Washington–“went along to go along” rather than exercise their best judgment.

So given my reasons for being in Kenya in the first place, and my own experience watching policy trainwrecks in Washington from the field, I was never going to be the guy to delegate my own responsibilities to do my own job to others, such as the Ambassador, who were not in my chain of command and had different roles to play and different perspectives about the Kenyan election. Nor was I going to willingly personally implicate myself in communicating things that I did not consider to be true when my job as Chief of Party for democracy assistance programs did not countenance “looking and pointing the other way” for extraneous reasons when confronted with election fraud.

I have found some agreement from a range of people in Washington with my observation that “the soft underbelly of American national security is careerism”.  Since I wasn’t in Kenya for IRI because “it was the best job I could get in the Republican Party” or because I wanted to switch careers to try to climb the ladder in U.S. foreign policy in Washington, I did not have the same temptations that others might have had to let myself get steamrolled by the Ambassador or others who did not want to recognize inconvenient facts about the Kenyan election that I had a responsibility to deal with.  Likewise, being an experienced middle aged lawyer used to dealing with government contracts made a great deal of difference, as did being the father of young children whom wanted to be able to explain myself to in years to come.

P.S. In case you have come to this piece fresh without being a previous reader here, the best “witness summary” of my experience and subsequent research is my longread in The Elephant from 2017:  “The Debacle of 2007“, in addition to my Pages with my “War for History” series and my “FOIA Series–Investigating Kenya’s Election“.

Kenya 2007 PEV Make Peace Stop ViolenceA Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret US Exit Poll in New York Times

 

 

 

Did the competing election crisis triggered by Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on the morning of Kenya’s 2007 vote contribute to initial missteps in US response to fraud?

I decided to write this post to follow up an exchange on this topic on Twitter triggered by the 14th anniversary of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned as opposition leader in Pakistan.  I struck a nerve with some Kenyans. The point is not to create excuses but rather as I have always done, to try to understand why things happened as they did so that mistakes become learning tools.

The question is one that was always in the back of my mind but no one has ever raised it with me, nor have I heard it discussed.  I have known over the years, and it should have been obvious to any acute outside observer, that there were differences of opinion within the State Department as to the proper policy response to Kenya’s 2007 election and it seems that different officials at different levels and times took different approaches.

Kenya election State Department declassified cable Condeleeza Rice Javier Solana power sharing Mwai Kibaki Rail

Kenya election State Department declassified cable Condeleeza Rice Javier Solana power sharing Mwai Kibaki Rail

Kenya election State Department declassified cable Condeleeza Rice Javier Solana power sharing Mwai Kibaki Rail

Remember the chronology:

December 18 – Published interview with Ranneberger says he anticipates “free and fair” election (in spite of knowing that US-funded Results Transmission computers had been shelved by Electoral Commission of Kenya and describing in a December 24 cable “credible reports” of efforts to orchestrate rigging in Odinga’s Langata Constituency which would eliminate him as a presidential candidate, having told me on December 15 that “people were saying” that Raila could be defeated in Langata.).

December 27 – Kenya votes; the International Republican Institute front office team in Kenya for the Election Observation Mission were due to fly on from Kenya to Pakistan to observe the election planned for January 8; we learn the news of the Benazir Bhutto assassination on the way to “open” the polls in Nairobi.

December 28 – Ranneberger cable says election went well, although fraud could arise in tally.  He had opined in the December 24 cable that “the outside chance that widespread fraud would force us to call into question the result would be enormously damaging” to U.S. interests, although both the leading candidates were “friendly to the US”.

December 28 – 30 – Fraud arises in tally at ECK headquarters, witnessed by Ranneberger along with EU Chief Observer.

December 30 – ECK resumes suspended count and holds restricted announcement of Kibaki win, followed quickly by twilight swearing in at State House; Ranneberger publicly encourages Kenyans to accept ECK results; live broadcasting suspended, congratulations to Kibaki also issued by spokesman for Main State Department/US while UK and EU question results.

December 31 – (Monday morning) State Department spokesman in Washington withdraws congratulations.

January 2 – Ranneberger’s cable to Washington documents that Ambassador witnessed fraud in the tally: “much can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots and it did” (and that between the December 28 and January 2 cables, Ranneberger held daily conversations with Assistant Secretary Frazer and December 29 and 31 conference calls with the National Security Council and Frazer).

January 3 – Secretary of State Rice, along with Ranneberger, is publicly calling for negotiated power sharing between Kibaki and Odinga. EU joins, following UK, having previously called for remedial action for election fraud (see declassified Rice cable above).

[“Peace deal” is eventually signed on February 28, 2008 which results in limited power sharing with Odinga as Prime Minister and ODM getting some cabinet portfolios and support by Kibaki and Odinga for new constitution that establishes county governments and devolves some powers, while eliminating Prime Minister position; impunity for election fraud and post election violence enshrined on de facto basis. Exit poll funded by USAID as “vote verification” tool showing Odinga win is released by UCSD in July and by IRI in August.]

Given the context of potential turmoil in nuclear armed Pakistan, bordering the escalating war in Afghanistan, during the Iraq “surge”, it could be imagined that those with responsibility for the whole of CENTCOM’s Area of Operations which included Kenya at the time, or even the entire globe in the case of the State Department, might have been initially more reliant on the Ambassador and the Africa Bureau and a little slower to realize that the election had in fact fallen to fraud such that we were “forced to question” the ECK’s “results” [which never were even published].

As preparations for Kenya’s elections lag once again, cut the fog of time and remember what happened in 2007

Polling Station Olympic School Kibera

Flashback to the night of Kibaki’s twilight swearing in . . .

“Kenya could be facing its greatest crisis”, The Telegraph

Analysis

Five years ago yesterday, close to a million people watched as Mwai Kibaki was inaugurated as President of Kenya in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.

Daniel Arap Moi, the authoritarian strongman who had ruled for a quarter of a century, was gone, his hand-picked successor roundly defeated.

A nation rejoiced. Already one of Africa’s most stable countries, Kenya could also now claim to be among its most democratic.

Last night, Mr Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in before a few hundred loyalists at a tawdry ceremony held in the gardens of the official presidential residence.

The contrast could not have been more stark.

As he lumbered towards the podium, Kenya’s cities and towns were erupting in chaos and ethnically motivated bloodshed, a predictable response after the most dubious election since the one-party era ended in 1992.

It is no exaggeration to say that Kenya is potentially facing its most serious crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1963.

The prospect for serious violence between the country’s two most traditionally antagonistic tribes, Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu and the Luo, led by his challenger Raila Odinga, is worryingly high.

Luos, marginalised since independence, have reason to feel aggrieved. Thanks to an alliance that Mr Odinga built with other tribes, they felt that this was their best and possibly last chance of taking power.

The farcical nature of the vote will only heighten their disappointment. The electoral commission initially claimed that roughly a quarter of returning officers disappeared for 36 hours without announcing results and had switched off their mobile phones.

When results did finally emerge, Mr Odinga saw a one million vote lead overturned.

Opinion polls showed that the contest was always going to be close, but if the official results are correct, Kenyans voted in an inexplicably bizarre manner.

After turfing out 20 of Mr Kibaki’s cabinet ministers and reducing his party to a rump in the simultaneous parliamentary poll, they apparently voted in an entirely different manner in the presidential race.

Apart from an unusually high turn-out in some of Mr Kibaki’s strongholds (sometimes more than 100 per cent ), the president then appeared to have won many more votes in some constituencies than first reported.

If it all seems depressingly familiar, it need not have been.

Mr Kibaki had lost a lot of the enormous goodwill that he enjoyed following the 2002 election after a cabal of Kikuyu cronies was accused of corruption. He also reneged on a promise to introduce a new constitution that would have returned many of his overarching powers to parliament.

On the other hand, he allowed a free press to thrive and respected the results of a 2005 referendum that went against him. Many expected he would do the same if he lost last Thursday’s election.

Instead of setting an example to the rest of the continent, Mr Kibaki’s opponents say that he has joined the unholy pantheon of African presidents who have refused to surrender power.

If he has chosen instead to squander his country’s stability and its fragile ethnic harmony it is a tragedy not just for Kenya but for all of Africa.

To be clear, State Department records show Department did flatly misrepresent the Kenya Exit Poll in 2008 to avoid pressure to release it

From a 2017 release in response to my 2009 Freedom of Information Act request on the Exit Poll showing an Opposition win in Kenya’s 2007 Presidential election:

R 170924Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 9024

FOR AF/E AND INR/AA

SUBJECT: ACHIEVING USG GOALS IN KENYA’S ELECTION

12. (U) Ongoing Assistance: USAID/Kenya has ongoing support
in the areas of electoral administration, public opinion
polling and political party strengthening. Program
activities include the following:

. . .

– Public Opinion Polling: The International Republican
Institute began implementing a public opinion program in
2005. The program seeks to achieve two results: increasing
the availability of objective and reliable polling data; and
providing an independent source of verification of electoral
outcomes via exit polls. These results make an important
contribution to elections and political processes. First,
genuine free and fair elections require that citizens make
informed choices. The polling data adds to the objective data
available to citizens on key electoral issues. Second, the
exit polls provide an independent assessment of the accuracy
of the official electoral results, thereby supporting the
assessment of the credibility of Kenyan electoral processes.
This program also enhances democratic political parties by
enhancing the likelihood that candidates base their platforms
on the key issues and concerns of their constituents,
evidenced in the polling data, rather than the traditional
focus on ethnicity and personalized political wrangling.

Read the whole April 2007 Ranneberger cable at the State Department FOIA site.

Yet, after the election, the State Department developed “talking points to deal with press questions if they came” that told a contradictory story, that the exit poll was a “training exercise” rather than an “independent verification of outcomes” and “assessment of credibility of the Kenyan electoral process”:

IRI Exit poll Q&A

Q — Why isn’t the Embassy pressuring to release its exit poll conducted in conjunction with the December general elections?

 

A — As explained on their website, IRI did not conduct the Opinion poll themselves and have real concerns over its validity. Moreover, the poll was conducted as a capacity building or training exercise. We should not Pressure’ firms to bring a product to market that they don’t believe in, whether it is a defective automobile, or a defective opinion poll.

 

Q — Strategic Public Relations ind Research Limited (SPRR), the firm IRI contracted to Conduct the poll, stands by their results and refutes IRI’s statement.
They said they were “shocked and disappointed” at IRI’s decision. What is your reaction to that?

 

A This is a highly technical dispute between private parties over raw data that no one
else has even seen. We understand that IRI is examining the disputed data to see if any of it is usable, which sound’s reasonable under the circumstances.

 

Q — In his recent testimony before Congress and in an editorial that he co-wrote, Maina Kiai, Chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights,
urged Congress to pressure IRI to release the exit poll. In the op-ed, he said it was important to release the exit poll because there are “Suspicions that the institute has
suppressed its results not because they were flawed but because they showed that Mr. Odinga won.” These suspicions, he said, have fueled mistrust. What is your
position?

 

A Again, we should not pressure IRI to release information gathered in a training 
exercise, especially when they lack confidence in its validity.

Additional “AF (Africa Bureau) Press Guidance” with the same misrepresentations were issued on July 9, 2008 after the Exit Poll was finally released in Washington by the University of California, San Diego researchers and it was covered in the McClatchy newspapers.

For further discussion, see “Should there by an international Code of Conduct for Exit Polls and Parallel Vote Tabulations?“:

. . . .

The US Government ultimately had rights to our data as a matter of government contracts law and USAID had arguably and ambiguously constrained our ability to release the Exit Poll results to the public in the Amendment to the Cooperative Agreement funding the Exit Poll by providing for “consultation” with the Embassy on “diplomatic or other” considerations. The Cooperative Agreement for the Program was neither classified nor available publicly until I had it released under the Freedom of Information Act years later. The Exit Poll from the 2005 Referendum had been released.

 

Fortunately we have not seen another disaster quite like Kenya 2007-08, but the questions about transparency and release and reporting of information from election verification and anti-fraud tools are still there. For instance in the most recent elections in the DRC and Malawi, as well as the controversy in Kenya in 2013. This could be addressed by pre-established standards or codes if donors, host governments and democracy assistance organizations or implementers are willing to give up some of their case-by-case flexibility and frankly some of the power of controlling information.

 

Ambassador Godec, as Acting Assistant Secretary of State, should articulate U.S. policy for Kenya’s election

Kenya 2013 election IRI Electoral Commission voter education posterAmbassador Robert Godec has served as the Biden Administration’s Acting Assistant Secretary of State since the inauguration.

Ambassador Godec served in Kenya from August 2012, as Chargé d’Affaires following Amb. Scott Gration’s ouster, becoming the Ambassador in January 2013 after November 2012 confirmation hearings ahead of Kenya’s March 2013 election.

Godec thus led U.S. engagement with both the later stages of the 2013 election and the ensuing litigation (both the presidential election petition at the Supreme Court and the on-going attempt to prosecute IEBC technology procurement fraud), the formation of the Jubilee Party in 2016, the eventual replacement of the Issack Hassan-led IEBC following protests in which opposition supporters were killed, the attacks on the USAID-funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) by the Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta and Cabinet members, the change of U.S. Administrations from Obama to Trump, the acquisition of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) from Safran Morpho (n/k/a Idemia), the abduction and murder of IEBC acting ICT Director Chris Msando on the eve of the 2017 vote, the general election and the successful Supreme Court petition annulling the presidential portion of the vote, the boycotted re-run, the announcement of the “Big 4 Agenda” and the post-election diplomatic negotiations, the “People’s President” swearing in, the “Handshake” and most of first year of the Building Bridges Initiative.

For the status of things in December 2018 as Ambassador Godec’s replacement, Ambassador McCarter was being confirmed see: “Something afoot in Kenya: Nation newspaper is running investigative reporting on IEBC procurement corruption in 2017“.

So at this point, Ambassador Godec is a seasoned veteran of Kenya’s post-2007 politics who knows the ground intimately from the last two election cycles.  (His prospective “permanent” replacement, Mary Catherine Phee, was nominated in April and got a favorable vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, but a confirmation vote by the full Senate is blocked along with dozens of other nominees.)

I was asked a few months ago to write an article about U.S. support for the BBI process, but I have been unable to do so because it is not clear to me what our policy has been or is now, and I have not found people involved willing to talk to me.  Given my role in telling the story of what went wrong in 2007 when I was involved myself it is no surprise that I might not be the one that people in Washington want to open up to now, but even people that I am used to talking to privately have not been as forthcoming as usual.  Nonetheless, Kenyans inevitably have questions, and those Americans who care may in the future.

Members of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance-USA have announced that they have sent Freedom of Information Requests to USAID and some Kenyans on social media and in a few cases in print have asserted suspicions or accusations that the U.S. Government was intending to back “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” in the form of the BBI referendum for some negative purpose.  Looking at the degree to which the Obama Administration backed the passage of the new 2010 Constitution as the terminal event of the post-2007 “Reform Agenda”–to the point of having millions of dollars bleed over from neutral democracy assistance programing into supporting the “Yes” campaign in the 2010 referendum during Ambassador Ranneberger’s tenure–I am having a bit of difficulty understanding why my representatives in Washington would be working in general terms to undermine the new Constitution we helped midwife in the first place.  At the same time it has openly been our policy under Ambassador Godec originally and then his predecessor Ambassador McCarter to support the Building Bridges Initiative and we did provide some USAID funding for the conducting the consultative process itself.  I think it would be in the interests of the United States and of Kenyans for the State Department to get out front of the questions now, with the BBI referendum effort rejected both at trial court level and on appeal, and with the Kenyan presidential race that has been going on since the Handshake entering into its later stages.

We remain Kenya’s largest donor, we have many relationships and support many assistance programs of all sorts in Kenya.  Most Kenyans remain in need, and we continue to have the same issues regarding terrorism as during the past 25 years (most especially since the 1998 embassy bombing). In general the geographic neighborhood is experiencing more specific crises and some overall erosion of peace, prosperity and governance.  While we may not be as influential in Kenya as we were prior to 2007, and anyone with money can play in Kenyan politics, we will be engaged and we will have influence in 2022.  So there is no time like the present to articulate what our policy is for the coming year.

Here is my take from December 2019: “Important Kenya BBI reads, and my comments“.

And from January 2020: “How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

New U.S.-Kenya links as election approaches

The Association of Kenyan Diaspora Organizations will be holding its annual conference in Seattle this weekend (August 27-28), including an appearance by IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati who will discuss the status of diaspora voting for the 2022 General Election. See my last post which discusses the diaspora voting issue: “Kenya’s IEBC ‘races’ to fulfill mandate from 2010 Constitution for lawful 2022 general election; behind again after 2013 and 2017 failures“.

Republican Senators urge Biden to prioritize Kenya-U.S. trade dealBusiness Daily, August 25, 2021

BBI Ruling Leaves Kenya at a Crossroads” blog post by Michelle Gavin at Council on Foreign Relations “Africa in Transition“. [Ed. note: Michelle Gavin was also handling the Africa program at CFR during the fraudulent 2007 election and ensuing crisis.  Non-resident fellow Jendayi Frazer, of course, was Asst. Secretary of State during the election and crisis.  Between the two there is unusually intimate institutional memory for the Council on Foreign Relations, along with the related competing interests associated with the connections.]

In the World Politics Review weekly Africa Watch newsletter, Chris Olaoluwa Ogunmodede argues that “A Court Ruling Just Upended Kenya’s Political Landscape“.

Growers Alliance Coffee from Kenya Diaspora Trade: Growers Alliance Coffee from Kenya

Here is the link to read about and order from Growers Alliance Coffee from my old friends Martin and Purity in St. Augustine, Florida.

Kenya’s IEBC “races” to fulfill mandates from 2010 Constitution for lawful 2022 general election; behind again after 2013 and 2017 failures

Kenya 2007 Election campaign posters “Kalonzo Musyoka for President” on duka Eastern Kenya

 

For the latest from Kenya’s IEBC, see “Electoral body in rush to seal 2022 loopholes” from The People’s Daily.

Same issues as 2013 and 2017, same alleged frantic time-crunch.

For instance, the 2010 “New Katiba” granted the right to vote to Kenyans in the diaspora, starting with the 2012 general election. Even though the election was postponed to 2013, the IEBC under then-Chairman Issack Hassan elected to disenfranchise diaspora voters in spite of the coming into force of the new Constitution.

See, “IFES to webccast workshop on Kenya Diaspora voting “, Nov 1, 2012, Africommons.

But see, “Kenya, Attempt to suppress the diaspora vote“, Dec 12, 2012, by Nathan Wangusi, Pambazuka.

After the failures of 2013, in particular the procurement-fraud driven failure of electronic poll books and the breakdown of the results transmission system with no organized manual backup, and full election results not published (see “It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington) Hassan was eventually forced out by protests in 2016.  See my Page covering the 2012-13 election in detail.

After departing the IEBC Hassan has been on the international election assistance circuit, having already traveled to observe (positively) Djiboutian President Guelleh’s 2016 re-election on behalf of IGAD while still IEBC Chairman. Most recently he was associated with a USAID-funded joint International Republican Institute/National Democratic Institute election assessment in Ethiopia this year. (See report released today.)

The current IEBC Chairman, Wafula Chebukati, was then appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta from the nominees of a controversial selection process and took office in January 2017 in time for the general election and annulled presidential vote that August, marked by the unsolved abduction, torture and murder of the ICT Director and the subsequent resignation of a majority of the Commissioners.

Although civil society groups had obtained a 2015 court ruling to enforce the diaspora voting requirement of the Constitution, the IEBC still failed in 2017 to implement more than a very limited, truncated, diaspora vote process.

See “Diaspora Voting in Kenya: a Promise Denied“, Elizabeth Iams Wellman and Beth Elise Whitaker, African Affairs, Vol. 120, Issue 479, April 2021, Pages 199-217. (In 2010, Kenya extended voting rights to its estimated 3,000,000 citizens living abroad . . . Yet . . . fewer than 3,000 Kenyans were permitted to vote from abroad in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. What explains the failure of the Kenyan government to implement diaspora voting on a broader scale? . . . We argue that uncertainty about the number of Kenyan emigrants and their political preferences, paired with a highly competitive electoral climate, meant there was little political will to push for more widespread implementation of diaspora voting.)

A year ago I warned: “Kenya Election Preparation: raising alarm for 2022, past secrets still buried“.

Reporting keeps digging deeper on US decision to “look away” from stolen DRCongo election

The latest breakthrough is from Stephen R. Weissman in Foreign Policy this week: “Why did Washington let a stolen election stand in the Congo?“. Weissman gets significantly more detail than the previous stories have accumulated on the Catholic church organized and U.S. subsidized “parallel vote tabulation”:

This account is based primarily on 20 interviews—including 10 with U.S. officials—that were conducted on background and without attribution to promote candor. Foreign Policy offered the U.S. State Department the opportunity to comment on passages stemming from interviews with U.S. officials, but it declined.

In a Jan. 3, 2019 press statement, the State Department urged CENI to transparently count votes and “ensure” its results “correspond to results announced at each of DRC’s 75,000 polling stations.” At the same time, the department ignored the one resource that could have held the Kabila-dominated, corruption-laden CENI to account: the church’s U.S.-funded election observation project.

Weissman has delivered the type of detailed story that I had always hoped to see some enterprising journalist write about the decision to “look away” from election fraud in Kenya in 2007–in particular what I hoped the New York Times was in the process of reporting in 2008 when I was interviewed about the “spiked” exit poll indicating an opposition win. The DRC is not a close U.S. ally and regional center for the “international community” in the same way that Kenya is, so perhaps the DRC is a more realistic venue for a tougher examination of mixed messages and mixed motives. Also, because violence did not explode in DRC in 2019 it is easier for officials involved to talk to reporters (without personal attribution) about the decision making process.

The next step for reporters who are interested would obviously be to pursue the documentary record.

Regardless, the paradigm is the same in terms of the choices between “diplomacy” and transparency in election assistance and election observation.

Lake lodge Uganda Rwanda Congo

New report that Trump Administration learned of staggering procurement corruption at top of DRC’s Election Commission “a few weeks before” 2018 election, stayed mum

In a must read story of “Africa in DC”, Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha peels back several layers of the story of how DRC strongman Joseph Kabila managed his 2016-19 election problem with the new Trump Administration: “A Secretive Company Needed to Convince Washington That Congo’s Election Would Be “Free and Fair.” It Found A Friendly Ear Among Trump Allies.

Previous reporting disclosed internal dissent within the State Department, including an early 2019 story from Robbie Graemer and Jeffcoate O’Donnell I noted here: “Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump Administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote.”

Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.

Update: Here is a link to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act filing of Mer Security and Communications, Ltd of Halon, Israel for the Government of the DRC for the 2018 election. And the filing of Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group for their subcontracted portion, including lobbying the National Security Council, and hosting “the Cobalt Reception”. (Further on Sonoran Group, see “Trump-linked lobbyist turns from Gulf Arabs to more toxic clients,” al-Monitor, Feb. 19, 2020.)

You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.

This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.

The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.

Update: Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy appears to have effectively announced the “climb down” by the State Department on supporting Tshisekedi as the de facto president at a CSIS dinner in Washington on January 30, 2019, while still asserting “In addition, we will continue to voice our disapproval of the poor implementation of a flawed electoral process, which was far below the standards of a fully democratic process. We will hold accountable those most responsible for undermining D.R.C.’s democratic processes and institutions.” Nagy celebrated a peaceful transition of power “that few thought possible”. “Ultimately, the Congolese people have the final word. After President Kabila left office, there have been no meaningful protests to the election outcome. Felix Tshisekedi has vowed to unite the country, reform the security forces and justice sector, fight corruption, and spur greater U.S. investment and it is in our interest to help him succeed.”

On March 21, 2019 the Treasury Department announced personal sanctions against the two top officials of CENI:

Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.

Consider in light of the ultimately similar context from Kabila’s alleged 2011 “re-election” during Secretary Clinton’s State Department tenure as I warned about in a post here on August 8, 2018: “With DRC’s Kabila Backing a Substitute Candidate This Year, Time to Review the International Observation Experience from 2011 Vote”:

At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.

Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.

In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist.  In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).

On the last election:

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring piece is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC — offer technical assistance

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

Ugandan People’s Defense Forces raid on opposition candidate Bobi Wine’s Headquarters puts US in awkward position

The UPDF has raided the political headquarters of Ugandan opposition MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine, per Reuters and other news reports.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, told Reuters dozens of police and soldiers barged into the offices of his National Unity Platform (NUP) party in Kamwokya, a suburb of the Ugandan capital Kampala

The security personnel, he said, seized documents containing signatures from supporters that his party had collected to back his nomination, as well as 23 million shillings ($6,207.83).

We have Americans working to support Bobi Wine, and presumably Museveni as well, in the campaigns, and Americans working through USAID to support the democratic process. Uganda has always been a challenging environment on democratization–one in which our diplomats face an extra helping of competing priorities.

Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power but remains more stable under Museveni’s rule than at most times prior to his military ascension in 1986. Museveni is a critic of the West who generally does business with the United States and generally facilitates our humanitarian and development aid programs, while doing business as well with China, North Korea, the former Gaddafi regime in Libya and other non-democratic actors.

Over the years that I have been informally watching (since 2008 really) we have offered occasional but muted criticism of Museveni’s disappointing performance on “deepening democracy”. See, i.e., Uganda: Retiring US Ambassador “stings Museveni for overstaying in power” but emphasizes support for Uganda’s role in regional stability”.

Uganda billboard Museveni and Gaddafi

The use of the Ugandan military in the domestic election process against democratic norms, however, presents a particular problem because of the strong military-military relationship.

Ten years ago, ahead of Uganda’s 2011 election, I wrote a blog post entitled “Democracy and Competing Objectives: We need you to back us up”:

I also had a senior military officer, a general, say to me, “It really doesn’t help us when you all don’t come out and criticize sort of half-hearted democratic elections. You tell us ‘Democracy, Democracy’; then you accept when we don’t have fully up to a minimal level of standard, because you’ve got presumably some other competing objective there that mitigates against that, because otherwise we don’t understand the point of continuing to strive for that standard. We need you to back us up and to back up our societies.”

This was Kate Almquist, now Senior Fellow for Security and Development at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, at a Military Strategy Forum on AFRICOM at CSIS in July (2010). Ms. Almquist was Assistant Director for Africa at USAID from May 2007 to 2009. She is speaking on a panel, relating her recent discussions with senior African military leaders at the Africa Center in response to a question about “competing objectives” regarding U.S. “strategic partners” including Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, and “how do we know U.S. military support is not increasing autocratic tendencies and not decreasing democratic space?”

Since this event we’ve had a substandard election season in Rwanda–as well as the leak of a draft UN report using the term genocide in reference to Rwandan activity in the DRC. In Uganda, Museveni has announced formally that he is running for re-election, while continuing to refuse action to relinquish the unilateral appointment of the Electoral Commission. At the same time, Rwanda is threatening to pull its “peacekeeping” soldiers out of Darfur, and Uganda is offering an additional 10,000 soldiers to be “peacekeepers” in Somalia. The conundrums continue.

Here is a link to the audio and video from CSIS (also available on podcast). This discussion starts at 32:50 in the panel following General Ward’s speech.