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 Amb. 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. I 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.

Some thoughts on US relations with the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the Armenian genocide, in the context of NATO, military vision and religious freedom and pluralism

This is a piece reflecting some partly tongue-in-cheek musing on complex and deadly serious larger questions of “who we want to be” in the world, with specific immediate relevance to the Sudan crisis, Libya and Yemen, along with current issues with Iran that I touched on in my last post.
I decided to subordinate the title and add this preface to make sure that it was clear that I hoped to be taken “seriously but not literally”:

———————————–

If we replaced Turkey with Saudi Arabia in NATO could we acknowledge the Armenian genocide while cutting hypocrisy on current support for religious freedom versus security interests?

Update: “Erdogan dealt stunning blow as Istanbul elects rival candidate” Bloomberg, June 23.

There are a few moving pieces here, but stay with me.

First, we have longstanding unfinished business on simply acknowledging historic fact on the Armenian genocide.

This was a basic premise of the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008–the whole “hope and change” versus fear and loathing thing. The whole Samantha Power to lead our Mission to the UN thing. Unfortunately, it got Overcome By Events, along with the notion that Obama’s personal background, “story” and manner would allow him to be a sort of “Christian Islamist Whisperer” to realize the hopes reflected in his June 2009 Cairo “remarks to the Muslim world” from Al-Azhar.

Instead, we have let ourselves be embarrassingly bullied by Turkey. See “For Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Obama Calls It an ‘Atrocity’ Instead“, NYTimes, April 24, 2014: (“Although Mr. Obama called the acts against the Armenians genocide as a presidential candidate in 2008 and vowed to do so once he reached the White House, he again chose not to follow through on his promise for fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that denies that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide. Instead, Mr. Obama implied that he still thought it was genocide even if he did not say so directly.”). To what benefit? While we have and will continue to have some interests in common with the regime in Turkey it is clear that Turkey continues to move away from democratic values, including respect for religious freedom and tolerance at the same time they have made it clear that the security relationship is very situational. What might have made sense during the Cold War when confronting the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during Turkey’s years of secular authoritarianism make less sense under Turkish Islamism now that even Greece has democratized, the Russians dissolved direct control of the various European and Central Asian republics previously colonized and the Warsaw Pact disbanded in accordance with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Of the Islamist governments in the region, it is Saudi Arabia with whom we seem to be mutually committed rather than Turkey. Likewise, in the context of NATO if there is one Western government more committed to the Saudis than we are, it is the UK (London), the other party to our “special relationship”. Selling arms to the Saudis is a “national emergency” for the Trump Administration, and keeping the Saudis off the list of countries using child soldiers just now and earlier certifying that the Saudis were serious about trying to miss civilians in their Yemen bombings join our commitment to “knowing” as little as possible about the Khashoggi murder in demonstrating some extraordinary bond. Just as British “national security” trumped law enforcement by the UK on the BAE bribery in the al-Yamamah deals.

Our relationship with the Saudis predates the formation of NATO and a time of recognition of reality vis-a-vis Turkey may be the time to more formally recognize what the Saudi alliance has now come to be.

By recognizing the Armenian genocide while formally including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mutual defense obligations, we can show that we disapprove historically of the purging of Christian and other minority religious populations while making clear that our own security as we see it in an immediate sense is our first and foremost priority and that we do not object to exclusivist and repressive Islamist governments that are willing to cooperate militarily and on national security. (And this could be another opportunity for President Trump to cooperate with Kim Kardashian on a policy initiative, as in some criminal justice reforms.)

For insight on a military view of the value of the alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I recommend this writing contest piece from special forces officer Scott Horr in Divergent Opinions: “Assessment of the Impacts of Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 on U.S. Efforts to Confront Iran.”

Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region[1]. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy[2]. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist[3]. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.

In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom[4]. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil[5]. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.

. . . .

For an appreciation of the extent to which things have fallen apart during the Bush, Obama and Trump Administrations, See Janine di Giovanni’s “The Vanishing: the plight of Christians in an age of intolerance” in the December Harpers on the impact of war and oppression in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. And then last month, Emma Green’s Atlantic piece, “The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East: An ancient faith is disappearing from the lands in which it first took root. At stake is not just a religious community, but the fate of pluralism in the region.”

In terms of aid, the Trump Administration deserves credit for stepping up some overdue help and attention to minority religious communities beleaguered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Queda in Iraq/ISIS. At the same time, they have turned a harder, colder shoulder to accepting immigrants while embracing the exponents of Wahabist ideological expansionism who have done so much harm to pluralism and tolerance even in areas where it once thrived.

For a more divergent take suggesting that things have just not been adding up over the years, see retired career soldier and historian Andrew Bacevich’s “America’s War for the Greater Middle East“.

Important reporting from Der Spiegel on “China’s expanding media dominance in Africa”

China’s expanding media dominance in Africa, Spiegel Online, June 14:

Chinese state television is gaining influence in Africa. But while the media outlets involved officially claim their journalism is independent, those who work for the companies tell a different story.

An interview? Or perhaps just a discussion on background? “We have no interest in speaking with you,” Liao Liang writes in an email. And, thank you for understanding, but a visit to his television broadcaster in Nairobi isn’t possible either, he writes. Indeed, the rejection is so complete, it’s as though he is protecting a state secret.

Yet Liao Liang’s mission in the Kenyan capital is hardly confidential: As a senior editor of the China Global Television Network (CGTN), a subsidiary of Chinese state television, his task is that of shining a positive light on his country’s ambitious activities — particularly those in Africa, where China’s reputation has suffered as its footprint has grown.

The broadcaster occupies three floors in the K-Rep Centre, a mirrored-glass high-rise in the upscale neighborhood of Kilimani. The first security check comes right at the building entrance, including a pat-down and questions from the suspicious receptionist. After that, though, there’s no getting by the next receptionist on the third floor. “To be honest,” she says with fake regret, “there is no chance you’ll be allowed to see Mr. Liao.”

Liao Liang is top dog at the broadcaster. He was allegedly an army officer in a previous life, but little else is known about him. CGTN employs around 150 people, including journalists from China, South Africa, Britain, Nigeria and Kenya, yet even when promised anonymity, nobody initially agreed to speak with DER SPIEGEL. “They’re afraid of Liao,” an employee would later say.

Malawi Election follow-up

See Opposition Protests in Malawi Threaten Mutharika’s Already Fragile Mandate, by Elliot Waldman, in World Politics Review, June 13, 2019.

My previous posts of May 25-27: #MalawiDecides2019: My inquiry to the Malawi Electoral Support Network, MESN, on PVT

(Noting “a hole in media reporting and public affairs announcements”:

Dear MESN,

Does your PVT receive funding from USAID (as per usual practice for these GNDEM PVT’s in Africa)? If so, what is the contractual arrangement for this funding? If not, how is the PVT funded? Thank you for a quick response given approaching deadlines!)

With Parliamanentary results released by Malawi Election Commission but final Presidential results announcement stayed, IFES works on Security and Conflict Prevention

Malawi Election Commission announces incumbent win in a ‘squeaker’–waiting on PVT

Malawi PVT released by MESN: Presidential results consistent with MEC official results, but top two candidates’ ranges overlap

I did receive a response from MESN on June 6 to my inquiry:

Thank you for your media inquiry about MESN and our observation of the
2019 Tripartite Elections. MESN receives funding from an array of
development funders. MESN’s funding for both long-term observation and
the parallel vote tabulation (PVT) comes from the United States Agency
for International Development (USAID) through the Malawi Electoral
Integrity Program (MEIP) managed by the Consortium for Elections and
Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) . All questions about the
terms and conditions of funding agreement should be addressed to
USAID. I have attached for your information copies of our preliminary
and verification statements.

From our Embassy before the vote:

It might have been worthwhile for the Embassy to note in its May 23 Tweet that when “Both men were learning more about the system to validate the election results” the USAID Mission Director was visiting a USAID-funded program.

[You will notice if you read my previous posts I do not have any substantive criticism of how the PVT results were reported, rather I was inquiring about the funding prior to the reporting. I also noted in Zimbabwe that the reporting seemed to be carefully worded to avoid being misconstrued in the way that I have been concerned about in Kenya in 2013.]

A U.S. war with Iran would be a big set back for longterm American interests and values in Africa as well as elsewhere

1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.

2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.

3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.

4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.

5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.

6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.

7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.

8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.

As Kenya turns: watch as the Chris Murungaru Anglo Leasing suit against John Githongo heads toward Supreme Court—“feeding the pig of corruption”

Kenya has had that one widely accepted successful presidential election out of six in the multiparty era following the end of the Cold War. The 2002 “Kibaki Tosha” “National Alliance Rainbow Coalition” election has remained the taproot of mythology about Kenyan democracy in the United States to this day, nearly seventeen years later.

The 2002 succession of Moi, with the young Uhuru Kenyatta left to wait his turn, serving as Leader of the Opposition, then Deputy Prime Minister during Kibaki’s two administrations, was supposed to have ushered in an actual spirit of multiparty competition and higher-minded, cleaner governance that was missing as long as Moi was still in State House himself even though he had grudgingly agreed to change the law for the 1992 election to allow non-KANU parties.

The pick up and continuation of the Anglo Leasing national security looting scheme in spite of the turnover from Moi to Kibaki contradicted the myth and was egregious enough to risk the support of State Department diplomats for Kibaki’s re-election. When I arrived in Kenya in mid-2007 I inherited democracy assistance programs that reflected U.S. disappointment in the Kibaki Administration’s corruption as reflected in the Anglo Leasing scandal, which had been sharply and publicly criticized by the previous U.S. Ambassador and British High Commissioner. But the programs had been established back under the previous Ambassador more than a year-and-a-half earlier.

By the eve of the 2007 election the worm had turned:

This is from my Freedom of Information Act Series on on the 2007 election:

Getting back to the narrative, I also remember Tuesday, December 18, 2007, the date that Ranneberger wrote the second of the cables that I received recently through a 2009 FOIA request.

That morning’s Standard featured a big, full page exclusive interview with Ambassador Ranneberger, nine days before the election.  For me this article was something of a benchmark in terms of my instructions to take “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.  There are several reasons I found the article troubling, part related directly to the independence of  our IRI election observation mission, and part related to the Kenyan campaign itself,  in particular the corruption issue.  On corruption:

[From“Envoy Predicts Free and Fair Election”, The Standard,December 18, 2007–an interview with U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger nine days before the Kenyan election]

Q: What are your views on corruption?

A:Lots of people look at Kenya and say lots of big cases have not been resolved because of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg. I always point out that we have lots of corruption even in the US. These cases take a lot of time to bring to justice. We had the famous Enron case. It took over four years to resolve in a system that works efficiently, yet only a couple of people were convicted. These things take a long time.

There has been substantial effort to fight corruption in Kenya and the award the country won for Civil Service reform [from the World Bank] is a pointer to that effect. The fact that the Civil Service is more professional than ever before is progress as are the new procurement laws recently put in place and the freedom of the Press to investigate and expose corruption. More, of course, needs to be done.

The economy has grown by 7 per cent. How much of that has actually trickled down to the people will again be determined by time.

A career diplomat, Ranneberger has been in Kenya for close to one-and-a-half years, and has served in Europe, Latin America and Africa.

During previous days The Standard had been running new revelations about corruption in the Kibaki administration from documents from exiled former Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance  John Githongo. Rumor had it that Githongo wanted to be able to return to Kenya and might want to be able to return to government after the election, although I had no knowledge one way or the other about whether that was true. Githongo’s personal adventure trying to address corruption in the Kibaki administration is the subject of Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat. Wrong rightly noted in her book that stealing the election was the ultimate corruption.

Githongo had previously alleged that the Anglo Leasing scandal that Ranneberger referred to was intended to fund the campaign to re-elect Kibaki. See this from BBC News, January 26, 2006, “Kenya ‘safe’ for anti-graft czar”:

On Wednesday, the World Bank urged Kenya’s president to take tough action against any cabinet ministers found to be corrupt.

The warning came as the World Bank approved a new $25m loan to help fight corruption – a decision slammed by former UK Kenya envoy Sir Edward Clay.

Sir Edward, who has condemned Kenya for not tackling graft, said the new loan would feed the “pig of corruption”.

‘Insensitive’

”The Anglo-Leasing cases represent an excellent opportunity for the authorities to invoke the disciplinary provisions of the code of conduct signed by the new cabinet weeks ago,” said World Bank Kenya director Colin Bruce.

“I believe that this is an historic moment for the government to signal where it stands on the issue of political accountability,” he said.

President Kibaki is under increasing pressure over corruptionPresident Kibaki was elected in 2002 on a pledge to fight corruption.

Some donors, including the UK, have suspended some aid to Kenya over concerns about corruption and Sir Edward, who retired last year, thought the World Bank should have sent out a tough message.“How can the World Bank be so insensitive and hapless to announce new loans to Kenya?” reports the Guardian newspaper.

“They have added insult to injury by feeding the pig of corruption in Kenya when many Kenyans were beginning to hope they might smell the bacon beginning to fry.”

Over the weekend, Mr Githongo’s leaked report said his attempts to investigate the Anglo-Leasing scandal were blocked by four top ministers – Vice-President Moody Awori, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi, Finance Minister David Mwiraria and sacked Transport Minister Chris Murungaru.

Mr Murungi and Mr Awori have publicly denied the claims.

Mr Murungi said the report was “untrue” and an attempt to bring down the government.

Mr Githongo resigned last year amid reports that his life had been threatened.

The money raised by the alleged scam was to be used to fund the ruling Narc coalition’s campaign in elections due next year, Mr Githongo said.

Following the leaking of the 31-page report, the opposition has urged President Kibaki to dissolve cabinet.

Opposition Orange Democratic Movement leader Uhuru Kenyatta said: “This is clear evidence that the government can no longer be trusted to conduct detailed and honest investigations into this saga.”

Other diplomats were maintaining effective “radio silence” in the sensitive closing days of the 2007 campaign, while Ranneberger was speaking out to defend the Kibaki administration’s corruption record. In the meantime, after my December 15 experience at the Embassy residence I was quietly preparing the new last-minute pre-election Langata survey, along with all the other work for the exit poll and Election Observation Mission.

After reading the Standard article, I e-mailed my local USAID officer on the Election Observation and Exit Poll to complain, noting my opinion about the article and where things seemed to be going in regard to my obligation to supervise an objective and independent Observation Mission and the Ambassador’s alternative approach.

Part One;   Part Two;    Part Three;    Part Four;    Part Six;    Part Seven;   Part Eight Part Nine Part Ten

So by December 2007, we had the U.S. Ambassador having pivoted to the role of offering apologetics for Anglo Leasing in the context of Kibaki’s re-election.

At some point after the election debacle I was asked to submit to my Washington office names for IRI to send to an international women’s leadership event and we passed along a current MP and Njoki N’dungu who had an NGO and who had been a member of the Ninth Parliament from 2002-2007. Shortly afterward I was informed by a diplomatic source that N’dungu was “closely connected” to Chris Murungaru of the Anglo Leasing matter. Reporting to Washington it was agreed that the invitation would not have been made had we realized this problem in time.

Today, Uhuru Kenyatta is in his sixth year as president and has in effect adopted Anglo Leasing by paying out more millions on the bogus procurements over the years while notional prosecutions languish. Githongo continues to be subject to nasty tribalist attacks from jingoists for revealing admitted truths that were embarrassing to purported tribal leaders, including from one pundit who may have received some Western support in 2013 while pushing his tribal election theories to demonstrate that the opposition could not compete with UhuRuto.

Today, corruption is worse–no surprise there– but the World Bank is stepping in again, with $75M. The local World Bank Director Colin Bruce was right back when the Anglo Leasing scandal broke that it was “an historic moment for the government to signal where it stands on the issue of political accountability”. The Government of Kenya was quite clear and remains so–it is Kenya’s donors that have twisted and contorted to avoid hearing.

Today, Githongo has a new personal judgment against him for defamation for the leaked publication of his work as Permanent Secretary in trying to “stop these thieves” and protect the Kenyan government and public from looting and insecurity. He is appealing and Kenyans are raising funds to support the appeal.

Today, N’dungu is Justice on the Supreme Court. (She will need to recuse herself from any involvement in the Murungaru versus Githongo matter.)

I have to shake my head in remembering the window back about a decade ago when the U.S. and other Western donors were vocally backing what we called “the reform agenda” and USAID even got involved in supporting the National Council of Churches of Kenya in using the Michela Wrong book, It’s Our Turn to Eat, to teach against corruption.

Now we have a new Ambassador, the fourth since Anglo Leasing broke to the public. As I have written I have a sense that he wants to help change the dynamic on corruption in Kenya. He can make progress if he makes the sacrifices necessary but he does have to realize it will be much harder than it would have been back in 2007 or at so many other turning points in the past and that pushback will come from places other than Kenya.

Update: be sure to read Rasna Warah’s “In Whose Interest? Reflecting on the High Court Ruling Against John Githongo” in The Elephant’s East African Review.