Election Observation and Democracy Assistance: what is CEPPS?

CEPPS stands for the the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening; the members are the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES).

Although CEPPS has been functioning as a USAID master funding mechanism for Cooperative Agreements for Democracy Assistance since the early post-Cold War era in 1995, it is only more recently that it has started to take on a more public face as an entity as opposed to the three constituent organizations. (See the explanation from their branding strategists here (with the colorful image of a Masaii woman voting).

While I have no idea why this has evolved in recent times, I will note that building up CEPPS as an “entity” with its own brand could be seen from outside as a way to establish an alternative structure directly tied to USAID in lieu of more funding for democracy assistance through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

IRI and NDI are two of four core NED institutions. IRI and NDI were incorporated by the leaders of the Republican and Democratic National Committees respectively, pursuant to the legislation establishing the National Endowment for Democracy as private organization, with a bipartisan board and Congressionally-appropriated funding and subject to the Freedom of Information Act. (The other two NED core institutions are the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) affiliated with the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Solidarity Center affiliated with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations or AFL-CIO.)

IFES, on the other hand, which the branding material describes as a “core institution” of CEPPS, borrowing the NED terminology for the consortium members, is a more explicitly “private” entity created later in the Reagan Administration than NED in 1987 at the instance of then-USAID Director Peter McPherson as he describes in a 2017 interview on the IFES website. McPherson went to a American political campaign manager with a “bipartisan tone,” Cliff White, to found the nonprofit because among the contractors USAID used there was a lack of technical expertise on the mechanics of organizing and holding elections. USAID provided an initial grant but IFES is not part of the Congressional mandate and annual budget appropriation process of NED and its four “core institutions” including IRI and NDI.

Readers will remember that IFES is a nonprofit corporation (like IRI and NDI) and was registered as such with the Kenyan government when President Kenyatta and his party leaders and government officials attacked IFES for not being registered as an “NGO” in late 2016 and early 2017 and allegedly being too cooperative with the opposition while managing the USAID election assistance and supporting the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Of course since IFES had been working on the same basis in essentially the same role with ECK since 2001 under Samuel Kivuitu’s Chairmanship and the IIEC and then IEBC under Issack Hassan, I saw this as pre-election “muscle flexing” by the incumbent President Kenyatta and his coalition directed at both the new Chebukati-led Independent Commission taking office in January to replace Hassan’s group after opposition protests and at IFES. The democracy donor diplomatic group led by US Ambassador Godec pushed back but Kenyatta’s Administration used its control of Immigration to force out the IFES Country Director and another key IFES employee. An outside replacement Country Director was “parachuted in” mid-March for the August 8 election.

See also “USAID is using a model for Kenya election assistance contracting that creates unnecessary conflicts of interest between organizations supporting election observation, voter education and embedded support to the Election Commission“.

Here is a discussion of USAID use of CEPPs from a review conducted by the Office of Inspector General for USAID focused on Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East released November 26, 2019, titled “Additional Actions Are Needed to Improve USAID’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Programs”:

CEPPS was founded in 1995 by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and holds a global Leader with Associate assistance award with the DRG Center to implement a variety of DRG activities, including political party assistance programs.

According to USAID officials, CEPPS received a series of global assistance awards from USAID for 1995 through 2020, which helped CEPPS partners develop a capacity to deliver political party assistance programming and establish a global footprint with a presence in every region in which USAID operates. The current global assistance mechanism was awarded in 2015 (a cooperative agreement) and provides missions the option to offer funding opportunities directly to CEPPS rather than develop a notice of funding opportunity locally.

Agency mission and headquarters personnel reported that, overall, CEPPS partners have excellent technical leadership and organizational experience to work collaboratively with host-country political leaders. CEPPS partners have developed strong work relationships with local stakeholders in many countries and are acknowledged as global leaders in the DRG sector. For example, in Ukraine, mission officials tancpraised the NDI, IRI, and IFES Chiefs of Party as outstanding leaders who are highly accomplished and respected in their areas of expertise. They noted that the technical skills and positive reputations of these individuals are an asset for the mission and its DRG portfolio.

However, Agency officials also noted that missions often default to working with CEPPS partners through USAID’s global assistance award with the DRG Center—instead of pursuing opportunities to partner with other organizations that can provide similar services. Relying on CEPPS gives significant influence to a small group of partners to implement political party assistance programs and increases USAID’s reputational risk. Specific concerns reported to us by USAID officials include:

• NDI, IRI, and IFES have significant political connections and powerful benefactors on their boards of directors, including sitting Members of the U.S. Congress, former Ambassadors, and other political appointees. NDI and IRI in particular could be perceived as extensions of the U.S. Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively, by host-country stakeholders. For example, NDI’s website acknowledges that it has a “loose affiliation” with the U.S. Democratic Party and IRI’s current Chairman is a U.S. Senator in the Republican Party.

• In Georgia, CEPPS attempted to exclude a host-country democratic political party. In a 2017 letter to USAID/Georgia written on behalf of NDI and IRI, CEPPS stated that it would temporarily suspend assistance to a Georgian political party because of media reports of derogatory remarks made by party leaders about CEPPS partner staff, along with CEPPS’s disagreement with the party’s political platform and rhetoric. The mission responded to CEPPS’s letter by directing NDI and IRI to continue delivering assistance to the Georgian political party in compliance with USAID’s Political Party Assistance Policy.

USAID is using a model for Kenya election assistance contracting that creates unnecessary conflicts of interest between organizations supporting election observation, voter education and embedded support to the Election Commission

Kenya challenged vote Kenya election 2007 ECK Presiding Officer holding ballot with disputed marking

USAID has used the multiyear year cooperative agreements with CEPPS, the “consortium” of IRI, NDI and IFES, since the 1990s as a vehicle to award democracy assistance work. There are a variety of internal practical advantages to this in terms of bureaucratic speed and convenience.

In 2007 when I was East Africa Director at IRI in Nairobi, IRI’s public opinion polling program was conducted as a separate 2005 “follow” agreement under a overall master CEPPS “leader” agreement. All the work was done separately by IRI. When Ambassador Ranneberger wanted an exit poll for election day, USAID just issued a modification to our agreement to add on the additional work.

When the Ambassador wanted IRI to conduct an International Election Observation things were more involved because USAID had already decided not to do an Observation and IRI was not anxious to do one either. And there was no agreement in place as the only work we were doing for USAID was the polling program. Nonetheless, USAID was ultimately prepared to “move heaven and earth” to meet the Ambassador’s wish as they told me, and allocated a small amount of Economic Support Funds to support a new “follow” agreement for an Election Observation Mission. A Request For Proposals was issued to CEPPS, but it was written on a basis that excluded NDI as conflicted out due to its work with the political parties and IFES was conflicted out based on its work with the Electoral Commission of Kenya, so that IRI was the only available CEPPS entity to conduct the Observation Mission.

We conducted the Election Observation Mission and the Exit Poll, and reported on them to USAID, without being entangled with the separate work that IFES was doing with the Election Commission (ECK). I did not know any inside details of the ECK’s decision not to use the laptop computers purchased for them by USAID through IFES to do Results Transmission; likewise, no one at IFES (or NDI) had input or involvement in the Exit Poll or International Election Observation.

For the 2013 election, however, USAID’s FOIA response discussed in my previous post shows that the package of election assistance from early 2011 was bundled together in one “follow” agreement with CEPPS including the embedded technical support from IFES, including advice on the BVR and Poll Book acquisitions and the acquisition and development of the Results Transmission System handled by IFES, party and domestic observation support handled by NDI (too much is redacted to be specific on this part of the work) and voter education handled by IRI.

Appropriately, the International Election Observation Mission was funded separately through the Carter Center (and there is nothing about that in my FOIA request).

In 2017, the consolidated approach was ramped up a notch. USAID issued a published invitation for proposals (a good step for transparency and development of fresh thinking) but they wanted one entity to be in overall management of the work. Thus when they selected a team of IFES, NDI and IRI along the lines of 2013, IFES was in a supervisory position for the work, which this time included an International Observation Mission by NDI along with NDI’s domestic observation support and other normal work.

As it turns out, NDI’s International Observation took place and did preliminary reporting (as well as a pre-election assessment) but never issued a final report. At some point before the election USAID accepted an unsolicited proposal from the Carter Center to do an International Observation Mission separate from NDI’s work under the overall IFES-led Kenya Election Assistance Program. This was the delegation led by former Secretary of State John Kerry who had been in office during the 2013 election.

This is all more confusing and opaque than it needs to be! Aside from the inevitable conflicts associated with “observing” your own work and with maintaining trust where you know of critical risks and problems that your recipient government partners” are choosing not to disclose to their own public.

Please note that Hargeisa, Somaliland in mid-2008 was safer and less repressive than Addis or Khartoum (re that Pete Buttigieg vacation trip)

Apparently my post from December 7 “Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” has gotten shared on Facebook and otherwise linked by people with both an aggressive left and aggressive right position as to the U.S. presidential election to the point that I thought it was worth coming back to note that my intention is for this blog to be nonpartisan. I am not a member of a political party at present and am not intending to give any advice here about who anyone should vote for in any of the primaries.

One specific thing that people seem to miss is that in 2007-2008 there was regular direct commercial air service between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Hargeisa, Somaliland. So visiting Hargeisa was not some daunting overland journey or even some exotic series of “puddle jumps”. Again, there was an issue involving permission by the United States Government for United States Government employees and contractors to travel to the country which did not have formal government recognition, even though the United States was funding some aid programs, such as the one I and other International Republican Institute staff managed from our East Africa office in Nairobi and then with a satellite office in Hargeisa opening in the spring of 2008.

Hargeisa Somaliland Ministry Tourism and Culture murals

Somaliland Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Hargeisa

Buttigieg’s co-author in the New York Times op-ed from their brief visit to Somaliland was working for the World Bank in Addis and thus conveniently located for a quick trip.

Shopkeeper and daughter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia youth bakery

Youth working at bakery in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Traveling to and from Hargeisa from Nairobi did require us to overnight in Addis where the Meles Zenawi government had staged a major crackdown on political opposition in the context of the contentious 2005 election and kicked out U.S. democracy assistance organizations including IRI and arrested lots of political dissenters. Thus, walking around the streets in Addis was for me, at least, a tenser environment than what I experienced in Hargeisa, although not quite to the level of Khartoum at that general time. (I never visited Somalia as NDI had the programs there and as best I recollect no commercial air flights were then scheduled into Mogadishu which was still impacted by the early years of the present war with al-Shabaab.)

In fact, see this 2010 Foreign Policy piece from Nathaniel Myers, Buttigieg’s co-author on Somaliland: “Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham“.

Hargeisa Somaliland Student AssemblyHargeisa Somaliland donkey tankerHargeisa Somaliland Red Sea marketHargeisa Somaliland Jibril Super Market and Baby ShopHargeisa Somaliland Deeq Alla Shop and Cold Drinks

Retired Admiral Stavridis publishes op-ed demonstrating American “National Security Establishment” view of “Africa’s Security and the Power Struggle”

I highly commend to my friends who are Africanists or African, or Americans who have not been directly involved in the “national security” professions, a short op-ed piece today from Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.):

Africa’s Security and the Power Struggle

The immediate policy debate in Washington being addressed is consideration of reductions to AFRICOM to be redeployed in support of the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy of greater emphasis on “Great Power Competition” relative to “Violent Extremism”/”Global Terrorism” so Adm. Stavridis provides an “ionospheric” look at the Continent and its future in support of his argument.

Adm. Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 after an extremely accomplished career. He served as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, then served as Commander of the European Command and Supreme Allied Commander. The perspective of a recent former SOUTHCOM and EUCOM Commander on AFRICOM is clearly invaluable to understanding that way of seeing the world.

Stavridis graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and climbed the ladder as a distinguished Surface Warfare Officer, along with UN/NATO deployments to Bosnia and Haiti in the 1990s. He ultimately commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group “conducting combat operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom”.

Along the way, he did his PhD in International Relations at Tufts, along with other graduate degrees from Tufts, and the National and Naval War College. After retirement he served as the Dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. So he is simply put a superstar by background and experience.

Today he is the Operating Executive for The Carlyle Group, the famous global defense-focused equity fund [NASDAQ: CG] and the Chair of the “Board of Counselors” of McClarty Associates, the famous Washington-based global consulting firm [“We know diplomacy; We provide diplomatic solutions”].

By way of disclosure, I retired from 12+ years as a defense industry lawyer working primarily in Navy shipbuilding around the time Stavridis retired from the Navy. I was on unpaid “public service leave” for my East Africa democracy assistance work at the International Republican Institute. So Stavridis’ perspective is all “second nature” for me but will not be intuitive to those from other places and backgrounds.

[Longtime readers or those who otherwise follow Kenyan elections closely might remember that McClarty Associates Vice Chairman John Negroponte was Deputy Secretary of State during the 2007-08 election crisis in Kenya. Negroponte met with representatives of the ODM opposition seeking release of the embargoed USAID-funded International Republican Institute exit poll done with the University of California, San Diego, showing an Odinga win. I learned through FOIA that Kalonzo Musyoka met with Negroponte the same day:

The War for History” part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte:

The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)

From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:

Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.

No time like the present for diplomatic resolution between Somaliland and Somalia, once elections are on track

James Swan, the retired American diplomat and subsequent Albright Stonebridge advisor in Nairobi, appointed last year as UN representative for Somalia, was in Hargeisa, Somaliland last week for the first time in six months. The UN maintains a full time office in Somaliland. Swan spoke to encourage implementation of agreement among the parties to hold long delayed parliamentary elections in 2020, and to “welcome initiatives aimed at mutual confidence and fostering dialogue between Hargeisa and Mogadishu“.

Somaliland Hargeisa independence democracy

Unfortunately it appears the new agreement to resolve the impasse among Somaliland’s three recognized political parties has not yet been implemented.

See Somaliland: President Yet to Solve Elections Impasse as Agreed (Somaliland Sun, 13 Jan 2020):

Somalilandsun -After agreements from two meetings between president Muse Bihi Abdi and Opposition parties Wadani and UCID leaders Abdirahman Irro and Eng. Feisal Ali respectively, the fate of parliamentary and local council elections remains in the dark.

The darkness emanates from the still in office new national elections commission NEC that has been disputed by the opposition parties leading to an agreement that the former NEC commissioners be returned to office thence elections sometimes in 2020 as pursued by the international community with a stake in the Somaliland democratization process.

Following the two meetings between the three principle politicians in the country it was agreed that president Bihi shall uphold the agreements to reinstate the former NEC as per elders mediation that had garnered support from the international community.

But despite all arrangements more the 10 January date in which the president promised to finalize the issue nothing has been done and the status remain the same notwithstanding numerous visits and meets with senior IC diplomats the latest being the UN SRSG to Somaliland and Somalia Amb James Swan.

While the commitment to 10 January was hailed as a conclusive decision failure to implement anything returns the country to the days of political tensions.

A statement released this week from the Minister of Information states that the Government concluded following the agreement among the parties that legal authority was lacking for either the President or Parliament to effect the negotiated agreement and replace the existing membership of the National Election Council. The Government argues the only way to proceed would be to call for voluntary resignations which is reportedly not acceptable to the other parties.

Somaliland receives support from “16 United Nations offices, agencies, funds and programmes active in Somaliland” according to Swan’s statement in addition to support and diplomatic interaction from the EU, the UK, the US and various other individual nations, including Kenya and the UAE–while still subject to the protracted “limbo” associated with a lack of formal recognition.

Somaliland has now been functionally independent almost as long as it was part of the independent Republic of Somalia following independence from the UK and joinder with the former Italian Somalia. I agree that once parliamentary elections are finally held it would be wise for the US and the UK to step up a concerted diplomatic effort to facilitate with the UN and AU a durable resolution of Somaliland’s status and relationship with the federal Somali government in Mogadishu and the regional government in Puntland. This will have to include resolution of the Suul and Sonaag borders and at least a mechanism to address mineral rights issues.

The venerable Edna Adan, world famous for her work in women’s health and her teaching Maternity Hospital, and previously Foreign Minister from 2003-06, has been designated as Somaliland’s lead representative for negotiations.

The diplomatic task will never be easy with the passions involved but I think the effort is timely now with a balance of progress in the South and the risk of some unexpected disruption to the status quo from waiting too long. The move of the Gulf Cooperation Council to establish a Red Sea security initiative without reference to Somaliland, while others have supported national maritime security efforts by Somaliland is an example highlighting the growing potential for international misunderstandings as the Horn region attracts growing outside interest.

Kenya’s long awaited “Building Bridges Initiative” report published on-line

Following the post-election negotiations between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during December 2017 – March 2018, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 “handshake” between the two, Kenyans have witnessed a prolonged period of political stasis in which Kenyatta has run the Government as he sees fit without opposition and former Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President Ruto and their factions have carried on their 2022 campaigns.

We now have a 150+ page published report from the Government of Kenya representing the work product of a dual team of insiders for the two “sides” (Raila/ODM and Uhuru) making various recommendations for political governance issues as are always “on the table” in “post-Colonial” Kenya.

Formally, this has been called the “Building Bridges Initiative” implemented by the “Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce” and has incorporated the usual process of donor supported public “input” sessions around the country to “popularize” the process, the teams of insiders and what they will agree on and eventually announce.

The adjustments proposed from the public comments and news so far appear to be relatively nondramatic and reflect what one would expect for an elite consensus process where the primary issue is the adjustment of interests among those at the table.

Here is the official website for the Building Bridges Initiative.

For background, here is my post from December 7, 2017, “Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi, public statements adjusted to call for ‘national conversation’ as substitute for ‘national dialogue’“:

I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.

In the latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.

Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

US response to South Sudan corruption: a shoe drops

New action today on South Sudan corruption today, offering hope on the question from my last post “How quickly will the United States Government act in “analysis, evaluation and investigation” of The Sentry report on South Sudan?

Statement from The Sentry: “US Sanctions Al-Cardinal, Tycoon Named in Reports of The Sentry“:

October 11, 2019 (Washington D.C.) — Today, the United States placed sanctions on Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali, widely known as Al-Cardinal, a tycoon with ties to the U.S., UK, and UAE.

Today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) target Al-Cardinal and his network of businesses, and come in the wake of two recent investigative reports by The Sentry “The Taking of South Sudan” and “Al-Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch,” that detailed the business activities of Al-Cardinal, among others, and urged governments to sanction him and his networks.

. . . .

Joshua White, Director of Policy and Analysis at The Sentry, said: “The Sentry applauds today’s action by the Department of the Treasury, which should serve as a warning to the financial facilitators and commercial enablers of corrupt South Sudanese elites that they will lose access to the dollar unless they cease doing business that funds violence in the country. The United Kingdom and other European countries, as well as those in the region, should follow suit . . .

. . . .

The Sentry’s investigation found that Al-Cardinal has exploited opaque procurement processes, weak oversight institutions, and cozy relationships with South Sudan’s most powerful politicians to line his own pockets.

“A major enabler of corruption and violence for President Salva Kiir’s government,” according to the The Sentry’s reporting, Al-Cardinal has been embroiled in major procurement scandals, set up private businesses with ruthless military generals, imported military equipment during a bloody civil war and landed lucrative contracts linked to the implementation of the peace deal in South Sudan.

Read the full report “Al Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch”: https://eno.ug/al-
Read the full report “The Taking of South Sudan”: https://eno.ug/

Reuters: “US imposes sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen for fraud, bribery“:

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen, Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal and Kur Ajing Ater, for their involvement in bribery, kickbacks and procurement fraud with senior government officials, the Treasury Department said on Friday.

After the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Benjamin Bol Mel, a key adviser to the South Sudanese president, in 2017, Mel used an account in the name of the companies of Al-Cardinal to evade sanctions and store personal funds, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

In early 2019, the South Sudanese government paid millions of dollars to a company owned by Al-Cardinal ostensibly for food, but that in fact was routed to senior South Sudanese government officials, the Treasury Department said. . . .

How quickly will the United States Government act in “analysis, evaluation and investigation” of The Sentry report on South Sudan?

On October 2, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy, the top U.S. diplomat assigned to Africa, conducted a post-UN General Assembly telephonic press briefing and availability for journalists in various Embassies on the continent. Read the full transcript here.

There were a striking number of questions about Sudan and South Sudan, but I thought this was most pertinent:

QUESTION: Okay, I can talk? All right, my name is Emmanuel from Eye Radio in Juba. I believe Mr. Tibor, you have come across the recent report that was released recently by The Sentry about implicating some South Sudanese top government officials and actually come out with recommendations to the U.S. government, so what is your current recommendations?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Thanks very much for raising that. Because I know the people involved in The Sentry very well. As a matter of fact, one of the key people John Prendergast, I have known and respected for a very long time. Our Department of State, U.S. government, we welcome the Sentry’s efforts to bring light to corrupt practices in South Sudan. We know for a long time that there’s been quite a relationship between corruption and conflict, unfortunately. Innocent people have suffered. The United States will very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations in The Sentry report and as you all know, the United States of America maintains the right to use all of the tools available whether diplomatic or whether financial or anything else to respond.

Right now there are allegations, they’re very serious allegations but they do require some careful analysis, evaluation and investigation. Thank you very much, over and out.

Here is the link to The Sentry report, “The Taking of South Sudan“.

So before the “over and out” Asst. Sec. Nagy does commit the US to “very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations” but it is a bit ambiguous as to whether he is committing the US to the next step of “investigation” that he says is “required” since he characterizes the report’s findings as “allegations”.

My gut reaction is to think of Asst. Sec. Nagy as someone who would like us to conduct ourselves well when it comes to underwriting the type of conduct outlined in The Sentry report (although I don’t know him at all nor was I familiar before he was tapped for this job from retirement). At the same time, you don’t make a life as a diplomat without learning to carefully say very little and make it sound like it is more for those who want something enough to hear it. So, how quickly will we do our review/analysis/evaluation? What will we do next? How quickly will we investigate? Will we send the FBI? Career Justice Department prosectors? Alternatively, the Attorney General?

How on earth did USAID in Kenya end up helping to finance Michuki’s imperial Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club? (revised)

(The end of this post has been revised to reflect skepticism about an allegation by Kenya’s Minister of Natural Resources in 1998 that land for Windsor was irregularly allocated to Michuki from Karura Forest based on the geographic separation between Windsor and the Forest.  Not a central issue, but I want to be as fair as possible.)

This very interesting piece of diplomatic and development history is noted in a recent oral history interview by a former USAID official, Kiertisak Toh, which I have introduced and excerpted below. I have not found reference in the Kenyan or U.S. media to the USAID role in this high profile development started in 1988.

For John Michuki, the Kenyan baron of the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club and Kibaki’s Interior Minister during my time in Kenya, please see my post on the occasion of his passing in 2012: “The Michuki Rule, and personal memories: Independence Day, snakes and freedom” and “Don’t forget about the Standard raid“. See “Trust and Accountability: Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peaceful election” with thoughts about his impact on the post election violence. More expansively, for a politico/business biography with an eye to multiplicity of controversies over the years, see “Who is John ‘Kimeedero’ Michuki?” at The Kenya-Stockholm Blog. “Death of an old guardsman” from The Economist:

But as the country’s internal security minister, his hands were covered in blood. He was implicated in mass extrajudicial killings in 2007, in which hundreds of young Kenyan men were shot in the back of the head or bludgeoned to death for their alleged involvement in the Mungiki organised crime gang. And in 2006 Mr Michuki made a fool of himself by bringing to Kenya a pair of Armenian gangsters to shut down newspapers and television critical of the government. Since then, the country’s media have operated more or less freely.

To many Mr Michuki was a bridge to an older Africa. The space between tribal traditions and the palatial Windsor Golf Club, which Mr Michuki built at the north end of Nairobi, can be measured in his life span. He was born in 1932 into a large polygamous Kikuyu family. Orphaned as a child, Mr Michuki left his rural home for Nairobi. He found work in a uniform shop sewing on buttons before battling his way through primary and secondary school. He was loyal to the crown in its bloody hammering of the Mau Mau insurgency. Choosing the British over his countrymen set him at odds with the founding myth of Kenya, but Mr Michuki was too intelligent and “no nonsense” to let it hinder his career. He won a scholarship to Oxford, and became a district commissioner. He was put in charge of newly independent Kenya’s treasury. He ran the Kenya Commercial Bank and got involved in politics. Like the then attorney-general, Charles Njonjo, Mr Michuki had an Anglophile sense of things “being done properly.”

To Mr Michuku, that meant keeping his buttons polished and being on time, but it did not mean transparency. He was part of the cabal of Kikuyu and Meru politicians, intelligence officers and businessmen who ran a state within a state and turned a blind eye to dodgy land and business dealings. President Mwai Kibaki yesterday called Mr Michuki a “true family friend and a dependable ally.” The shame was that his acuity and vigour were not more often put at the service of the common man. . . .

The Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club is explicitly neocolonial. No one’s heart is going to bleed for the British Royal Family over the cultural appropriation but as an American taxpayer, I feel a bit wretched on learning my “assistance dollars” were used directly instead of just indirectly to subsidize Kenya’s oligarchs in this way. (Disclosure: I have been a member of a private golf club myself, years ago, although I gave it up when I had children. But I am also aware of a variety of laws and regulations in the United States designed to keep governmental development and tax subsidies away from underwriting golf courses, even those that are far less exclusively targeted to the rich than Michuki’s Windsor.) [And, yes, I understand we are spending millions on President Trump’s golf resorts, and I object to that accordingly; that is straightforward self-dealing by our chief executive himself, rather than a misallocation of meagre development resources from poor to rich.]

I highly recommend reading the full Toh oral history interview for anyone interested in understanding the course of relations between Kenya and the United States from the mid-1980s through 2005, as well as one insider’s perspective on the tension between democratization and economic development assistance goals (Toh is an economist by background and initially worked in that capacity for USAID before rising into administration):

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Foreign Assistance Series KIERTISAK TOH Interviewed by: Carol Peasley Initial interview date: February 9, 2018 Copyright 2018 ADST (funded by USAID Cooperative Agreement).

Toh’s positions in Kenya:

USAID/Kenya – Program Economist 1986-1989

USAID/Washington – Program Economist, Africa Bureau/East Africa 1991-1992

USAID/Kenya – Mission Director 2001-2005

. . . .

Q: Well, why don’t you talk- So, this was- you’re in Kenya in 1986 to 1989, so at that point was it a pretty good size program in Kenya, was it one of our premiere programs?

TOH: Yes, it was a high profile and one of the largest programs in Africa with big ESF [Economic Support Funds] money and CIP, Commodity Import Program. We were in the Cold War era. Kenya was considered our geopolitical and strategic partner in the region.

Q: Oh, there was a Commodity Input Program there. Oh, I didn’t realize that.

TOH: And a large- I guess we tried to make the CIP as part of the private sector development program. Kenya at the time had foreign exchange controls which were a barrier to private business to import.

Q: Ah. So, it was a large ESF program. Was that because the U.S. military was using the Port of Mombasa?

TOH: I think so. Q: Yes, okay, so there was a military link to that. So, a large ESF and that was mostly Commodity Import Program?

TOH: Yes, mostly tied to Commodity Import Program. The foreign exchange part of the CIP program provided the balance-of-payments support and the counterpart local currency served as budget support mostly tied to USAID project.

Q: Private sector development. Was the- would imports tied to any sector or anything or were they just broad- do you recall?

TOH: It was broad until 1989 when we turned part (or most, not sure) of the ESF into targeted support for fertilizer imports.

Q: Well, the importers would have been providing the local currency, right? They would have been buying the- in essence buying the dollars?

TOH: In general, we provided the dollars to the Central Bank. The idea was for the government to make it easier for importers to get import licenses and through Central Bank the foreign exchange to pay for imports. The private sector bought the foreign exchange with the local currency, Kenyan shillings, which was deposited in the special accounts at the Central Bank. The local currency legally belonged to the government. But we agreed to program these funds jointly. A big portion of the local currency went to support USAID projects and other private sector development activities..

Q: Right, okay. So, it really was to liberalize then the whole foreign exchange regime?

TOH: Right.

Q: With the local currency used for private enterprise development, did some of that go into credit programs to the banks, or do you recall? Or some of it budget support to ministries. How would it have been used, do you recall?

TOH: Part of these shillings might have been used to support microenterprise credit and loans to businesses. I remember one of the loans went to an influential Kenyan government official to help finance the Windsor Golf Club. When I went back to Kenya the third time (2001) we tried to clean up the outstanding default loan. I am not sure whether we were able to recover the loan. Our private sector development program, except for the microcredit and the CIP programs, was not well targeted. We kind of followed the “thousand points of light” approach.

Q: Women-owned micro-enterprises, because Kenya had one of the big success stories of microenterprise for women, right? KREP?

TOH: Right, yes. We had a project, I think, that helped KREP, Kenya Rural Enterprise Project. And I still have an account with KREP.

. . . .

Fundamentally, diplomacy and development, though can be complementary, are inherently different in their missions, targets, how success is measured. Diplomacy is about maintaining favorable economic and political relationships abroad; it tends to be short-term orientated and transactional. The mission of development is about saving lives and support for long-term equitable growth and poverty reduction; it tends to be concerned with long-term transformative and sustainable changes. The targets for diplomacy are political leaders and citizens where geostrategic and foreign policy interests are most significant. The targets for development are populations where potential impact on poverty, human suffering, and human development is greatest. The success of diplomacy is measured by the strength of the relationship with the U.S. and support for U.S. political priorities. The success of development is measured by the progress in terms of saving lives, reducing poverty, and enhancing equitable, broad-based economic growth.

There are a lot of interesting items to follow up on here: 1) has the Windsor loan balance been collected or not?; 2) why was this project selected and approved, how much money was involved, etc.? 3) in 1998 Minster of Natural Resources claimed in Parliament that Michuki’s Windsor Golf Hotel and the Belgian Embassy had been irregularly allocated land from Karura Forest, but the Windsor club is not adjacent to the Forest so the allegation does not seem to make sense in that way, but it would be interesting to understand the acquisition of the land. [Note: I have revised this to express skepticism about Lotado’s allegation based on the geography as raised by readers.]

Follow-up: in which Amb. McCarter and I experience some downsides of “Twitter diplomacy”

In my last post, I explored the fact that Ambassador Kyle McCarter is the United States’ first Ambassador to Kenya to come from a background in elective politics. Because he had just done what seemed to be a well-received television interview I added in introductory material to the original draft to reflect that.

In the aftermath of following the interview with an invitation for questions on Twitter, the Ambassador got drawn into the Kenyan controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power coal plant proposed for the Lamu area on the Coast. My sense is that he seemed to respond to a Kenyan political and legal controversy as a politician would in asserting his own opinion and judgment based on his own experience and positions–an easy thing to do on Twitter–in a quite different way than a diplomat would normally react.

In the context of following this discussion, I did a bit of quick updating on the internet of the status of the coal mining industry in Sen. McCarter’s former State Senate district in Illinois. By coincidence I spent some time visiting in the area as a young lawyer back in the 1990s and knew that at that time there was a perception of economic strain associated with a decline in local mining employment. After going through some history of mining, I found a recent article in a local newspaper about a young mayor of a town in the area responding to the economic circumstances by promoting solar energy in his immediate community. I shared the article with the Ambassador and a Kenyan leader on the citizen fight against corruption in the power generation and resale businesses in Kenya (as opposed to an anti-coal activist or someone otherwise involved in the Lamu case).

The Ambassador responded tartly that coal provided 95% of the power in his region in Illinois, he knew the mines and plants, and that coal was the cleanest and cheapest approach to needed power in the context of the highest environmental standards in the world. Further, he was not inclined to be persuaded by “well paid activists” and that “facts are stubborn things.”

This furthered an impression–hopefully not intended–that the Ambassador was weighing in on the Kenyan legal and policy controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power deal.

The next day, the Kenyan court finally issued its ruling that the Amu permit for the Lamu plant had been improperly granted without a meaningful, legally adequate environmental review. From the outside, as a casual observer with a background in Kenyan policy making and the history of these large projects, along with awareness of the established record of corruption in the Kenyan power sector, this looked to me like a straightforward victory for the rule of law in Kenya. The sort of thing we say we want and that USAID and the State and Justice Departments and others have been spending our money on.

Likewise, this generated pushback form “Kenyans on Twitter” who felt patronized or insulted, as well as those who have a different view on “macro” issues relating to power generation and environmental issues than they interpreted the Ambassador to have Tweeted. As for me, I had just intended to share an interesting recent news article, without comment, and not to get under anyone’s skin, or debate the philosophy of coal economics in the global context.

Kenya Lama donkey and cannon on waterfront seawall on harbor

One thing is certain with active Twitter use: all of us who Tweet actively will “step in it” sometimes. The Ambassador well knows this because his ultimate voice vote confirmation in the Senate was held up for some months in apparent reaction to a few previous Tweets that generated push back and follow-up. The Ambassador is also representing the United States and has a professional communications staff of public servants to help him.