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.

Is the conviction of IMF head Christine Legard, after the Strauss-Kahn affair, warning to look deeper at Kenya’s Eurobond questions?

There are substantial unanswered questions about the proceeds of Kenya’s Eurobond sales, and the murkiness accompanying all this is unnecessary.  Likewise, anyone who pays any attention at all knew long before the 2014 Eurobond transactions that it is a well established practice for major transactions by the Government of Kenya to be subject to what might be called a “corruption tax” or a “re-election tax” where some portion of the funds goes separately to the politicians in power directly through cash payments, through payments to companies in which they are equity participants in some fashion (“Mobiltelea”, “Goldenburg”, “Anglo Leasing”), payments to companies owned by their immediate family members or other relatives, etc.

The primary assurance internationally that there was nothing untoward about the handling of the bond sale proceeds and that there has been nothing to see has come from the statements to that effect from the IMF, accompanied by Nairobi visits by Ms. Legard.

For a lot of people in the West, who can accept that power in Kenya does not necessarily equate to complete veracity on issues of grand corruption, there seems to be a strange willingness to take the word of political figures from Western countries when they achieve power or status in some international institution.  There can be some legitimate reasons for this, perhaps, but there are also illegitimate ones.  In this case, the United States has the responsibility to get to the bottom of the Eurobond matter rather than simply taking the word of whomever at the IMF.  We all saw some strange dealings at the World Bank in relation to the Kibaki re-election campaign in 2007 and we all know that “the Nairobi curse” makes it very seductive for international organizations who work in and out of Nairobi and enjoy its comforts and convenience to look the other way on matters of corruption that would offend their “hosts” in the Government of Kenya.

Here is the link from BBC announcing the conviction. 

“Eurobond billions: the international side of the story” is one of David Ndii’s recent columns on the subject in the Daily Nation.  Ndii asks explicitly why the IMF has “cooked the books” one way to address missing Eurobond proceeds while Kenya’s Treasury “cooked the books” in a contradictory way. Given what we know was going on in Mozambique and in Malaysia–as well as all of what we know about the establish rule of corruption in Kenya–it is grossly negligent to allow these questions to go unanswered.  If there is a source of the smoke on Kenya’s bond sale proceeds other than the fires of corruption, it ought to be easy enough to see.  I’m from Missouri, and just being from Paris and telling me with a French rather than Kenyan accent is not a substitute for showing me.

[This post has  been slightly edited.]

As it was in 2007, is it now in 2016? “Too much corruption” in Kenya to risk a change in power at elections?

imageI wrote about my most important conversation from the 2007 campaign in Kenya here in installment 13 of my “War for History” series:

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the Minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process. I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.

He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”  The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide. . .  .

With the latest news of scandal from the Ministry of Health, following the National Youth Service and Devolution Ministry scandals, it would seem that we are on familiar ground. The Minister from my 2007 breakfast remains an interlocutor and leader of the formation of the “Jubilee Party” now as he was of the “Party of National Unity” as Kibaki’s 2007 re-election vehicle.  (Same person who explained later which bills he would use to bribe which voters based on poverty and gender.)

In the 2007 campaign, the local World Bank representative and US Ambassador Ranneberger provided significant public support for the Kibaki Administration on the corruption problem faced by the re-election campaign in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal and the revelations by John Githongo and others. See Part Five of my Freedom of Information Act Series.

(I understand that Ranneberger was outspoken against corruption later, after the disaster of the stolen 2007 election and the PEV; also that he was publicly against corruption in the very early part of his tenure in 2006, before the Kibaki re-election geared up and, perhaps coincidentally, before the the Ethiopians entered Somalia to restore the TFG and displace the ICU. I stand by my characterization of his public voice to Kenyans during the campaign.)

My government has been awfully quiet
about the burgeoning scandals in the Uhuruto administration. It’s interesting to remember that then-Senator Obama was noted for his “tough love” and blunt words on corruption during his 2006 visit to Kenya (again in the very early days of Ranneberger’s tenure). Part of this season’s “public diplomacy” has been a “partnership” agreement to fight corruption between the Obama and Kenyatta administrations from the President’s Nairobi visit last year, but we don’t seem to talk about it much publicly in terms of implementation.

It is none of my business who Kenyans vote for next year.  It may be that most Kenyans, like the majority of Americans, are likely to end up voting in ways that are fairly predictable “culturally” for the time being and will filter their perceptions of government performance accordingly.

But it does not have to be the case that my government tacitly enables corruption in Kenya’s government.

I don’t like to pay to replace Kenyan public services in vital areas like health that Kenya’s government could well afford but for greed and corruption. I don’t like to see sophisticated Kenyan elites take Westerners for useful idiots to enrich themselves and their personal networks while stealing from the poor and sick.  And even if we are not willing to seriously undertake the hard and potentially risky challenges to meaningfully and consistently support democratic reforms–because it seems dangerous while Kenya is again a “Front Line State” in a neighborhood where other places where we have looked away from corruption, like South Sudan and DRC, are worse off, or because its a nice place to live and have meetings and do small things to help poor people and animals at (American) taxpayer expense or for whatever reason–I want my government to find and uphold its own democratic integrity to rise above playing footsie with fakers in Kenya.

In the meantime, it has been more than a year now with no documents from my 2015 Freedom of Information Act request about our assistance through USAID for the corrupted IEBC procurement process for the 2013 election, but IFES is soliciting proposals from Kenyans for innovation grants for 2017 under the big new USAID program “KEAP” for 2017.  If we are not transparent, at a minimum, we cannot assist democracy or good governance.

We have all sorts of great, worthwhile assistance programs in Kenya, but in the big picture we work against ourselves and limit meaningful progress by supporting or coddling crooks and their offspring.

image

American diplomatic perspective on Obama’s Kenya visit, and a few personal thoughts (updated)

Johnnie Carson and Mark Bellamy have a very well done op-ed up in the New York Times on “Obama’s chance to revisit Kenya“.  In case you missed it, I would recommend it as the most worthwhile commentary I have seen in the U.S.-based news media on the presidential trip this week.

I hope the visit goes well and accomplishes something worthwhile for both countries.  The topic of entrepreneurship is certainly an important one for Kenya, where most people do not have employment. [The director for human development of the African Development Bank cites a 80% unemplyment rate for Kenyans under age 35 in support of a loan of $62M to the Government of Kenya to support training for 3000 youth in “technical vocational education” that will “play an important role in supporting the emerging oil, gas and mining industry.” ]

The first U.S. presidential visit to Kenya will unavoidably be a major boost politically for Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration by its nature and will be a boon for the Kenyan president’s elite friends and cronies in other political/business roles in Nairobi.  I am not sure how important a “global summit” of this type is for entrepreneurship as such, but I will try to accentuate the positive in this regard by looking at the trip as a diplomatic endeavor with potential side benefits.

One small thing that I do think should be said:  I hope that before getting to Kenya President Obama will have apologized to former Ambassador Gration for letting him get “run up the flagpole” over doing State Department business on a private email account in light of subsequent news on this topic within the State Department. General Gration did important service to Senator Obama as his military escort on his last trip to Kenya in 2006 and in speaking out about the “birther” and related personal smears as I have previously written (“Gration spoke out on Obama/Odinga “smears” in 2008 campaign” August 16, 2010).  The Ambassador serves at the pleasure of the president and I don’t question the President’s prerogative to change his mind about a political appointment, but in hindsight this should have been handled differently.

On the security front, please read “Ahead of Obama Visit, Kenya Seeks to Show Security Threats Are Under Control” in the Wall Street Journal:

The government’s push to move beyond its security challenges is one of the problems, said Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine who runs a security consultancy .  .  . “Nobody is interested in getting to grips with the situation,” Mr. Franklin said.  “What the government of Kenya is refusing to accept is that we have a genuine insurgency going on.”
He argued that an attack in April at a university in the eastern town of Garissa showed just how little the Kenyan security forces had learned.  Al-Shabaab killed 147 people in an assault that wasn’t put down until late in the day because of delays flying an elite unit out to fight the militants.
“They had all day to kill students,” Mr. Franklin said.
But Mr. Kenyatta’s message that it was time to move on appeared to be gaining the upper hand with Nairobi residents pouring into the Westgate mall over the weekend. . . .

For a great panel discussion of the trip to Kenya and Ethiopia from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, see the audio or visual from last week’s program at CSIS, “Policy Issues in Kenya and Ethiopia Ahead of President Obama’s Trip.”  The panel included Ambassador Mark Bellamy, Terrence Lyons of George Mason University, Sarah Prey of the Open Society Foundations and EJ Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.

Update: Make sure to also see the letter to President Obama from 14 U.S. experts on East Africa released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday.  Signers include Ambassador Bellamy, senior scholars John Harbeson and David Throup and many of the younger generation of policy and civil society leaders in Washington who will be familiar to Americans engaged on American policy in and on Kenya.

How will the Iran nuclear deal play out in East Africa?

I wish I had a clear sense of how this might develop but I don’t.  It seems to me that there may be several areas of impact over the next few years:

+Diplomatic leverage of Museveni, Kenyatta, Kigame et al vis-a-vis the United States will be reduced as one of the main US “asks”–UN votes to maintain nuclear-related sanctions against Iran–drops away.

+While I do not foresee the current US administration raising expectations for other US priorities from these East African leaders, the next US administration might feel some greater freedom to address “the democratic recession,” declining press freedom, and other issues on the formal US policy list.

+Oil prices:  if a lot more Iranian oil gets to market both in the near term from the immediate impact of lifting sanctions and the longer term from the increase in capacity associated with ramped up foreign investment, the prospects for oil production in Uganda and Kenya will be impacted, especially as related to the 2021-22 election cycle.

+Iran will reassume a stronger role in trade and finance in the region and thus compete more strongly with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

+Iran will presumably increase its regional naval presence.

+The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya and subsequent sad state of affairs in that country reduced one major “petrocash” player in East African politics; an Iran less cash-strapped by UN sanctions might have aspirations to finance East African politicians aside from its espionage/security/terrorism enagement.

New Developments on Iran’s Geopolitcal Efforts in Africa–another challenge for democracy?

Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

High Level  U.S. Delegation Carries Requests to Museveni on Fair Elections and Iran Sanctions

The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading