“Preliminary Findings” released by Kenyan civil society coalition on election

Following the unlawful raid on AfriCOG in Nairobi yesterday, today the Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu election monitoring program which has been engaged since long before any of the International Election Observation Missions were constituted, released its Preliminary Findings.

Please read for yourself (especially if you have commented publicly so far on Kenya’s election).

Before Kenya’s vote, read Daniel Branch’s The Fire Next Time

If you missed it, amid all the international media scene setters, and very last minute diplomatic appeals, take 9 minutes for “The Fire Next Time: Why memories of the 2007-08 post election violence remain alive.” from Daniel Branch in The Elephant.

Much wisdom on why Kenya has remained stuck following “the debacle of 2007”.

Always “steady progress” – COMESA “elders” to observe COMESA member elections in Kenya and Rwanda

From a COMESA Press Release yesterday:

COMESA believes that elections play a pivotal role in societal transformation in the region and provide a footstall for entrenching democratic principles.

Premised on this critical role, Member States have continued holding periodic elections which have heralded a new dawn by signifying steady progress towards deepening and institutionalizing democracy in the 19-member bloc.

Nonetheless, COMESA is still dispatching teams of Election Observers to issue Preliminary Statements just after the upcoming elections in Rwanda on August 4 and Kenya on August 8, with further reports after 90 days.

Zimbabwean Ambassador Dr. Simbi Mubako will lead the team for Kenya to arrive 30 July.

Think I am too jaded?  Enjoy this:

The presidential elections in Rwanda follows the 2015 referendum that unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that allowed President Kagame to run for office in 2017.  The forthcoming elections are considered important in Rwanda’s socio-economic and political progress.

In the past years, Rwanda has made significant progress in consolidating its political stability, economic growth and development.  Furthermore, Rwanda has recorded major milestones in consolidating democracy through holding periodic parliamentary and presidential elections as stipulated in its legal framework.

Since 2008, COMESA has continued to support the elections process in Rwanda.  COMESA observed the parliamentary that were held in 2008, 2013 and the presidential elections held in 2010.

I am all for extra diplomats and elders from the region being in Kenya for the election to meet diplomatic needs that may arise.  But let’s not confuse this type of “intramembership” diplomatic obsevation with an independent election observation. 

[See U.S. and IGAD Statements on Djibouti election from last year, featuring Kenya’s Issack Hassan for IGAD]

US State Dept clears another possible $250M+ sale of light attack aircraft for Kenya; Human Development Index shows Kenya at 146 of 188 countries with “region’s worst jobs crisis”

Update: see Daily Nation: “Analysts skeptical of impact in Somalia of Kenya arms purchases“.

From the Defense Security Cooperation Agency release:

. . . .
This proposed sale contributes to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of a strong regional partner who is a regional security leader, undertaking critical operations against al-Shabaab, and a troop contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

The proposed sale of the MD 530F helicopters, weapons, ammunition, support items and technical support will advance Kenya’s efforts to conduct scout and attack rotary wing aircraft operations in support of their AMISOM mission. The MD 530F will also replace Kenya’s aging MD500 fleet, which is the current reconnaissance platform supporting Kenyan ground forces. This sale will significantly enhance the Kenyan Army’s modernization efforts and increase interoperability with the U.S. Armed Forces and other partners in the region. Additionally, a strong national defense and dedicated military force will assist Kenya in its efforts to maintain stability in East Africa.

Kenya will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.

The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The principal contractor will be MD Helicopters, Mesa, AZ. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
. . . .

The $418M L3 Air Tractor sale approved by the State Department in January remains pending for U.S. Congressional approval after objections raised by Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina.

Kenya had the largest military spending in the East African region in 2016 at $908M as reported by SIPRI.  Finalization of these two sales of attack aircraft this year would account for dollars equivalent to roughly 60% of last year’s spending.

Here is the headline story from Business Daily: UN report shows Kenya’s jobs crisis worst in region“.  The full UN Human Development Index report and related material can be downloaded here.

It may be worth noting that the United States spends quite a lot of money through many institutions scattered across our country and in many others on the study of and writing reports about the factors driving security threats from the types of things we are concerned about in East Africa.  I am not an expert on this and do not have time to read most of this as an interested amateur, but generally speaking I think the research tends to highlight concerns related to the Human Development Index factors and in particular the jobs crisis over any problems with lack of military hardware.  Perhaps I misunderstand.

Initial Trump budget proposes to eliminate United States Institute of Peace, Wilson Center and African Development Foundation 

Of the laundry list of independent U.S. Government agencies Trump’s initial “skinny budget” submission to Congress proposes to eliminate, the USIP and the Wilson Center are specifically active on issues relating to democracy, war and peace in East Africa and the African Development Foundation is the one Africa-specific agency.

See this story in The Atlantic.

Meanwhile, in the Kenyan hinterlands, the usual emergency starts again . . .

The The East African reports that “Kenya saw drought coming, but did little to avert food crisis“.  None of us have any reason to be surprised–most especially when there is a re-election to run. This is what I wrote as the last famine developed in 2011:

Another drought, more famine.  One of the early and formative conversations I had shortly after arriving to work in Kenya was with a judge who encouraged me to take note of the living conditions of…

Source: Meanwhile, in the Kenyan hinterlands, the usual emergency starts again . . .

Back home: in the State of Tennessee alone “opiod” abuse is killing each year as many people as were killed in Kenya’s Post Election Violence of ’07-08

This is a quote from an email bulletin I received today from the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.  She is an impressive woman I knew back in the local Republican Party in Nashville during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations when I was in law school:

Earlier this month, I announced the formation of an Opioid Abuse Task Force to combat the epidemic of opioid addiction in Tennessee. In 2015, more than 1,400 Tennesseans died from opioid abuse and there are currently more opioid prescriptions in our state than there are people. We cannot let this problem get any worse, and that’s why I am proud of my colleagues for working swiftly to come up with solutions to this problem.

Back then in the late 1980s the state government was run by Democrats with Republicans gaining ground in federal offices and presidential campaigns, as in most of the South.  East Tennessee, where my mother grew up on a family dairy farm on the outskirts of a small town, had a Republican tradition as upland area that had been pro-Union or at least non-successionist in the Civil War, whereas the Confederate areas stayed fairly Democratic.  For this reason Tennessee had an unusually competitive two party system with genuine efforts to sway overlapping groups of potential voters.

In more recent years, although I have not had the opportunity to be around much the GOP seems to have gradually consolidated control and the Democrats have receded into the cities.  The GOP has simultaneously moved steadily to the right from being a center-right/right coalition back 25ish years ago and power has devolved from the party organizations to voters in open primaries (as in most Southern states voter registration in Tennesssee is not by party).  As politics has moved right, the culture has moved “left” as in the rest of the country and much of what we “conservatives” thought we wanted to conserve is not so much in evidence anymore, as reflected in part in the dislocations associated with things like the opiod epidemic.  

The opiod epidemic is a pretty fascinating story of policy, political and cultural failure–needless to say it’s embarrassing as hell to talk about and that much harder to solve.

Fortunately Donald Trump, leader of his new Republican Party spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Greater Washington today and promised a huge military build up to go along with the pre-existing program of paying pharmaceutical companies for the opioids.  So not to worry–next week back to our regularly scheduled programming about elections for Africans.

Carson finds best hope for U.S. Africa policy to be “benign neglect” outside security sector (update)

[Update: Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State today, with the votes of those Republicans who had raised questions about his commitmant to human rights and other issues related to his career long tenure at oil major Exxon.  He takes over a State Department where perhaps 1,000 officers and employees have signed a leaked “dissent” from President Trump’s immigration and refugee order impacting those of Somali, Sudanese and Libyan nationality, among seven countries.  Tillerson has said he was not consulted on the Executive Order.]

Former Obama administration Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson finds “Trump’s Africa policy unclear and uncertain” but expects a broad pulling back from existing bipartisan programs in a piece at African Arguments:

. . . .

Trump has exhibited no interest in Africa. Nor have any of his closest White House advisors. Except for some campaign comments about Libya and Benghazi, the new president has made very few remarks about the continent. And despite his global network of hotel, golf and tourist holdings, he appears to have no investments or business relationships in sub-Saharan Africa.

The one member of Trump’s inner circle that may have an interest in Africa is Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson. He has some experience of Africa because of his many years in the oil industry with ExxonMobil, most of whose successful dealings on the continent were with largely corrupt and authoritarian leaders.

If Tillerson appoints a moderate and experienced Africa expert to run the Africa Bureau – and there are a dozen Republicans who meet that definition – and if he is able to keep policy in the control of the State Department, African issues may not be pushed aside completely. But irrespective of who manages Trump’s Africa policy, there will be a major change from recent previous administrations.

President Obama pushed a strong democratic agenda and launched half a dozen new development programmes including Power Africa, Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative. Before him, Bush’s “compassionate” approach led to the establishment of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), two of America’s most widely-praised programmes on the continent.

But Trump’s view is more myopic . . .

Under Trump, any focus on Africa will likely be on military and security issues, not democracy, good governance or human rights.  These policies are likely to find greater favour with Africa’s autocrats than civil society or local business leaders.

. . . .  Photo from church of African-American freedmen from Cumberland Island, Georgia for Black History Month

“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.