Dr. Peter Pham gets new post-midterm Trump diplomatic appointment as Great Lakes Special Envoy [Updated]

Ahead of the long-overdue elections scheduled for next month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the State Department announced the nomination of Dr. Peter Pham, Africa Director at the Atlantic Council, to be Trump’s special envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.

U.S. names new envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes. (AFP)

Pham has a long background in academics and national security related policy/”think work” on Africa from the Right, which is a fairly limited universe. I became aware of Dr. Pham’s work initially as a “friend of IRI” in relation to my work on Somaliland as IRI country director in 2007-08. He was involved in publicly advising the Trump transition on Africa-related issues and was often identified as the frontrunner to be the nominee as Assistant Secretary of State. See “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017, by Helene Cooper.

Pham and his deputy at the Atlantic Council, Bronwyn Bruton, have been prominent critics/skeptics of the initial 2006 invasion of Somalia and aspects of the subsequent “nation building” process there, and Pham has been seen as an advocate for Somaliland. Beyond that, I’m not as familiar with his background on the numerous various immediate issues in the Great Lakes, or how the election results and retirements will re-shape Congressional interests.

I will endeavor to read up.

In the meantime, I have not heard any public comment about any likely impact on a vote on the stalled nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter to replace Ambassador Godec in Kenya.

Update: I had forgotten Pham’s controversial advocacy from November 2012 in the New York Times: To save Congo, let it fall apart“. A view that could be seen as very pro-Kagame/RPF and that is certainly at odds with many considered opinions and perhaps a tough starting point for a new diplomatic posting.

See also, from Foreign Policy: Pompeo to appoint new envoy for troubled central Africa region.”

Update II: Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society on Pham last year in African Arguments:

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasized security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

“Another Fine Mess” in Uganda? Time to read Helen Epstein on “America, Uganda, and the War on Terror” if you haven’t yet

I first bought a copy of “Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror“, by Helen Epstein, then “hot off the press” as a “sizzling indictment” of our policy in Uganda while evacuated to the Florida Panhandle from hurricane Maria last year.

Helen Epstein Uganda Another Fine Mess

This year in Northeast Florida were have missed Florence but are watching our neighbors in the Carolinas with concern. Meanwhile our neighbors in Uganda are suddenly on the radar screen in a heightened way.  Museveni’s political repression has struck an international nerve through the popular musician turned Member of Parliament and opposition by-election campaigner Bobi Wine.

See “Ugandan politician confronts diplomat over torture allegation” from VOA Africa.

Earlier this week Bobi Wine agreed to be represented pro bono in Washington by the Vanguard Africa Group.

Epstein’s book from the Columbia Global Reports series is a quick read (and inexpensive) so there is really no excuse to duck it if you are an American concerned about Uganda. Helen Epstein is an American with “skin in the game” in Uganda. She has lived there and worked with the failing health systems — her “active voice” as a critic comes not from the abstract but the specific. You do not have to agree with her about everything, or think she has figured out all our governmental secrets or inside-the-beltway motivations, but you would be foolish not to take her seriously and account for what she has to say.

Update: let me add here a couple of key blurbs for Epstein’s book from other writers who I have relied on and who will be well familiar to readers here:

William Easterly: “As her new book reveals, Helen Epstein is an eloquent advocate of human rights and democracy for Africans, as well as a courageous critic of how U.S. aid supports oppressive dictators like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.”

Michela Wrong: “For decades, Western policy-makers have hailed Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni as a benign autocrat, a charming African Bismarck and trusted partner in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Another Fine Mess reveals a far darker side to this key African ally, while exposing the cynicism at the heart of American policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. This gripping, iconoclastic, angry book raises a host of uncomfortable questions.”

I want to note that Epstein highlights my old friend the late Joel Barkan’s investigation of Uganda’s economic issues for the World Bank.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss this work with Joel a few years ago. Joel also prepared a prescient warning for American policy makers back in 2011 at CSIS of the risk of instability in Uganda with Museveni’s advancing age, elimination of term limits and need to transition.

[Note: Some of my Washington friends took a bit of umbrage about some of Helen’s real time reportage on Kenya’s last election–fine. If we were more transparent we would not risk being misunderstood; I was not in Kenya for the 2017 vote and at the end of the day we will have to see what the record shows. In that regard I am still working on 2007 and 2013. Uganda is Epstein’s lived experience in a different way.]

“The great observer gamble” is a “must read” on the Zimbabwe election and international election observation

An important election and election observation drama is playing out now in Zimbabwe, and “The great observer gamble” (free feature) in Africa Confidential is the key explainer.

Subhead: “After an eight-month charm offensive wooing bankers and diplomats, the government is failing the legitimacy test”

Please follow the link and read in full.

In this case the U.S.-funded joint NDI-IRI international observation mission made a difference in international understanding of the difficult realities of the election in the context of seemingly conclusory approvals from the regional SADC (of which Zimbabwe is a member) and the African Union.

I have no criticism of the NDI-IRI effort and as far as I can tell my old colleagues have upped their game in important ways in this situation from my previous experience in Kenya. At the same time I would note that with the incumbent government already under sanction and not an important U.S. ally, and in a fairly small (in population) country with lots of opposition support in the U.S., this was a case where it was easier to stick to the facts of the vote without getting caught in a diplomatic undertow.

An important question now is how IFES in supporting the Zimbabwe Election Commission will handle the announced election challenge litigation from the primary opposition. With a fraction of one percent margin over the 50 percent runoff threshold and a lot of delay and uncertainty with the central tally (aside from voter register and larger “playing field” issues, this looks quite a lot like Kenya 2013, which I have been looking into through the Freedom of Information Act.

Mnangagwa’s team may have done enough to allow the most enthusiastic business people and governments to step up re-engagement. Much will depend on the strength of the opposition’s case at the election tribunal and the credibility of its handling by the courts.

Africa Confidential

[Update – the judicial challenge has been file. As in Kenya the process is truncated by a 14 day deadline for the court to rule.]

[This is one of my photos from the IRI Kenya 2007 Observation, as we arrived at Olympic Primary School in Kibera, Nairobi. One of the Zimbabwean newspaper sites used a copy of this image with the gentleman on the left cropped out for their Zim coverage.]

With DRC’s Kabila backing substitute candidate this year, time to review international observation experience from 2011 vote

[Updated Aug 9]

The Democratic Republic of Congo stands out as a wealthy country with mostly very poor voters, a fairly poor government, extremely poor governance, high corruption, pervasive political violence, a current humanitarian crisis on a Yemani scale and as a “honeypot” for some of the worst people in the world.

The announcement, at the filing deadline, that term-limited incumbent president Joseph Kabila would not be his faction’s candidate in the upcoming national elections (legally due last year) has generated some relief. See “Joseph Kabila, Congo strongman, will step down after 17 years in power” in the New York Times.

In Congress, Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he approved of Mr. Kabila’s decision — “after 17 dark and bloody years” — to step down.

“Now, deadly government crackdowns must stop so the Congolese people can choose their next president in free, fair and transparent elections,” Mr. Royce said. “Any credible election will allow opposition candidates to run campaigns free from legal harassment, intimidation and physical harm.”

A decent election in December would be a huge “win” for Congolese and for international democracy advocates but sobriety is in order as to whether that becomes a realistic possiblity as the much-delayed date approaches.

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

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

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

On the last election:

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

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

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

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

Barack Obama, son of American anthropologist, retired President USA, stops in Kenya on way to South Africa after safari

Ten years after 2008 campaign, the “Birthers” have won for now in the U.S., but Obama remains a positive symbol with time for another act:

Former President Obama stopped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, his third visit to Kenya since arriving on the national political scene in the United States in 2004 as an Illinois state legislator through a speech at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry to challenge the re-election of George W. Bush.

It is now ten years since I returned to the United States with my family from our year-long East Africa democracy assistance sojourn in Nairobi in the wake of the failed 2007 election, the post-election violence, and February 28 “peace deal”. The day we flew out of JKIA for Amsterdam en route to Atlanta on the way home to Mississippi I was first exposed to the “birther” conspiracy theory through a front page story in the Daily Nation.

Many may not remember fully now, but recognize that in its inception the “birther” conspiracy theory was not just the idea that then-Senator Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and secretly smuggled into the United States as an infant, and thus not technically eligible to be elected President. It also fit into the context of the claims that Obama was involved as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2007 in a conspiracy with Raila Odinga to steal Kenya’s election on behalf of Muslims, with killing of Christians and embellished from there into a narrative that rather than a loyal American Obama was essentially on the side of al-Queda and the global jihad to establish a sharia-enforcing caliphate. That Obama was in essence on the other side of the war being fought by Americans in the “surge” led by Bush and General Petraeus in Iraq as well as the fundamental underlying values of our democratic republic and Western democracy in general.

The conspiracy theories about the 2007 Kenyan election faded somewhat over time–partly because of the peace deal that put Odinga in Kibaki’s government as Prime Minister where he continued to be friendly to the West and partly because it became clearer that the election was stolen by Kibaki’s side which controlled the ECK (and not by the opposition which didn’t). Reports at the time from the American right at the Heritage Foundation think tank and National Review magazine (“Inside Kenya’s clumsily rigged election” Jan 4, 2008 National Review Online) noting the theft of the election helped American conservatives who cared about facts avoid getting sucked into nonsense about a Luo jihad involving “tribesman” Obama and “cousin” Raila.

While there remain a few holdouts who claim that “we can’t know” who won in Kenya’s 2007 election, they seem to be pretty well limited to personally interested parties at this point with the release of the State Department cables showing that our Ambassador Ranneberger himself saw tallies being changed at the ECK and claimed to have encouraged the late ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu to withstand the pressure to declare Kibaki the winner anyway, even though Ranneberger knew that the Chairman had no way to control the Committee which was thoroughly stacked by Kibaki in the weeks and months before the election.

Once it is recognized that the vote tallies were actually changed at the ECK, Americans–most especially rock-ribbed traditional stalwarts attracted to “the Tea Party” and/or Donald Trump’s “neopatriotism”–will understand that Kenyans had a duty not just a right to protest the 2007 election. Americans would not trust biometric voter registration (or tolerate secret voter lists) but most certainly the traditional American narrative would demand that we march on our county courthouses if our votes were simply changed by our election officials. Ranneberger’s pre-election cables to Washington made clear that as of that time, the Kenyan courts were not independent and would provide no recourse so that voters would be forced to go to the streets if there was fraud that became known.

Once you legitimize protesting the actions of the ECK, and recognize that the largest category of deaths in the Post Election Violence, per the Waki Commission, were those shot by Kibaki’s security forces, and the largest number that were identifiable by tribe were Luo, then the whole notion of some extraneous evil conspiracy somehow involving Obama and the global jihad as the reason for the post election violence becomes that much more irrational. The portion of violence in the Rift Valley that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer insisted on calling “ethnic cleansing” in a January 2008 visit (a label not adopted in Washington) was conducted by Kalenjin militia in the pattern employed by KANU in 1992 and 1997. KANU was a religiously diverse secular party that sought to maintain single-party hegemony through compliant cadres among all major tribes and religious groupings in accordance with its political needs. No suggestion that Moi, who personally identified as a Protestant Christian, was a secret Muslim jihadi even though the victims may have been mostly Christians.

The International Republican Institute/University of California, San Diego exit poll funded by USAID (the one showing an Odinga presidential win by roughly six points that was embargoed for six months) gave more evidence in the details that the 2007 election contest was driven, as normal in Kenyan, by tribal rather than religious alignment with Odinga shown as winning a majority of self-identified Christians and of Muslims (although the margin was greater among Muslims). On the other hand, there was a “gender gap” with women favoring Kibaki and men Odinga.

It may also seem hard to remember now but by January 2009 Obama was sworn in to a wave of good feeling with high approval numbers. He had campaigned as a pragmatic moderate Democrat who was against dumb wars and only for smart ones, a Christian who grew up with limited religion who was popular with the irreligious left, the Christian left and made some real inroads courting what we call “Evangelicals” who were not part of the more politicized harder “Religious Right”. The inaugural celebrations seemed to suggest some real healing from the cultural rifts from “the Sixties” and “Vietnam” that featured so prominently in presidential campaigns throughout my lifetime, as well as a milestone to show that we had come so far in overcoming racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era that black/white racial issues were no longer much a part of those cultural rifts. Maybe we had more in common than our political leaders had been telling us since the rise of Fox News and the Bill Clinton impeachment saga; maybe this president could be a “uniter not a divider” where his predecessor had failed. In part this failure was because the Bush political operation ended up pulling a “bait-and-switch” by mobilizing gullible church networks to support the invasion of Iraq for regime change using a claimed causus belli of active chemical/biological and nuclear weapons programs then firing up the culture wars further to drive turnout to get re-elected over John Kerry. This was a bad error of moral judgment that has continued to reverberate through American politics.

Kerry was certainly a Yankee patrician from “central casting” — as Kenyans well know from the 2017 election — but was unquestionably accurate in pointing out in debate with Bush that we had gotten “stuck in Iraq”. Of course Kerry was too polite, patrician and/or patriotic to go for the jugular and trash Bush for Iraq the the way Donald Trump did in his 2016 campaign.

For saying that we were “stuck in Iraq” Kerry got pilloried as “unpatriotic” aside from the “Swift Boat” sliming he got over his military service in Vietnam–conveniently not a problem for Clinton, Bush, Cheney or Trump who all managed in various ways not to get sent, and unlike Kerry, did not volunteer to actually go to Vietnam. Nonetheless, the unhealed cultural wounds were still such almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon that Vietnam was a winner for Bush over Kerry in spite of Iraq.

Part of the reason that Obama took office with a waive of good feeling and better numbers than he had during the election was that McCain declined to play along with trashing Obama in the darker ways and treated him as a legitimate political adversary. It was good for the country and gave Obama a fair start in office.

“Birtherism,” though, in spite of McCain’s choice, became an enduring American movement which has had a profound effect on our politics and transformed the Republican Party with which I had been involved for much of my life.

Ultimately, the Birther Movement became a tool for Donald Trump as an outsider to gain “free media” and attention and admiration with those who were otherwise profoundly afraid of or opposed to the Obama presidency.

People like John McCain and George W. Bush or his family members in politics, whatever their faults and mistakes on policy choices (even the really big one, invading Iraq, which McCain acknowledges in his latest book, The Restless Wave) were too experienced, too educated, and too well advised to believe craziness about Obama being secretly smuggled into the U.S. as a Kenyan child (although the McCain campaign did check it out to make sure as did the McClatchy newspaper chain) and were morally constrained, in my judgment at least, from deliberately lying about it to hurt Obama. If you cannot buy that it was morals, at least we can agree that they were restrained by a judgment that it was better politics to stay out of that gutter. Hillary Clinton also stayed away (even if one credits the report that her adviser Sidney Blumenthal triggered the McClatchy review to make sure their was nothing to it).

Donald Trump was not similarly constrained and his hectoring of Obama put him in the front row of politics in America. He shared headlines with Obama even as Osama bin-Laden was being killed by the Navy under Obama’s command. Not one to accept defeat in an argument by being proven factually wrong, in this case by the release of Obama’s long form Hawaii birth certificate, Trump bided his time and cranked the Movement back up for his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, discarding it once he had seized the agenda and the Republican Party and the specific “birther” claim was no longer useful to him.

It has been a bit surreal for me to see this happen. Educated middle class Americans of my generation (Obama’s essentially) have a lot to answer for in our complacency I am afraid. Our democratic republic requires more attention and effort than we have delivered in recent years whatever our party or policy preferences.

Fortunately, just as Obama himself has, we hope, time for other acts in his public life as an American after elective politics, the Trump presidency too shall pass and the Birther Movement will be a strange chapter in political history books. It will leave scars and I expect that Trump will be willing to use other lies for domestic advantage that will manipulate gullible people and torque emotions on difficult and divisive social matters. But in the longer term I think we will rise to the occasion and get to a better range of equilibrium. We have significant long term challenges on poverty, education, healthcare and economic mobility and government debt that have been building up during our protracted wartime, but I think Americans getting more engaged and rolling up our sleeves to work on solutions.

Trump as an individual is something of a fluke. Most of the people who voted for him have little in common with him really. I know this because they are my peers, my extended family and friends to a great extent. He lost the national popular vote in a low turnout election. Trump won in large part because neither Obama nor the Clintons succeeded in building a Democratic Party that was seriously competitive in much of the country.

The big difference as of now is that Trump as president in our system still has far less power than the president in any of the East African countries. He will leave office at by the end of his lawful first term or his second if re-elected.

On balance, I think that we will see American policy in its relations with Kenya in the Trump years to continue to be largely a continuation of that under Obama, as reflected in the American approach to supporting both the 2013 election with John Kerry as Secretary of State and 2017 with Kerry as chief election observer and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with Bob Godec as “our man in Kenya” throughout. Just as Obama’s relationship with Kenya in its policy aspects was primarily a continuation of the approach under George W. Bush.

There have been a few major inflection points in the American/Kenyan relationship in the last twenty years, but most have not been specific to whoever was president in either Washington or Nairobi.

The first,of course, was the al-Queda Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, kicking off the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Kenya against various Islamist “violent extremists”. As reflected in the Mombasa rocket attack, the USS Cole bombing, the bombing in Kampala, the various attacks in Kenya, most notoriously the Westgate Mall and Garissa University killings, a persistent understood risk of terrorist incidents have been a regional “fact of life” since. For most Kenyans who are not well secured in their daily bread, and face many bigger daily risks of violent death, terrorism is not quite so central as is to Americans, but has still inevitably shaped both sides of the relationship over the last two decades. And in this context, after 9/11 and our ensuing land wars in South Asia, with the establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti Kenya resumed its regional security role along the lines established in the 1970s and 80s when the United States was fighting the Cold War and Kenyatta and Moi wanted protection from Idi Amin and Siad Barre and the kind of relationship that would be useful to them in avoiding disruption to their domestic rule.

The next inflection point, albeit of lesser magnitude from an American standpoint, was the retirement of Moi and the transition to NARC and Kibaki.

Next was the demise of NARC and the failure of constitutional reform with the 2005 referendum. Relatedly the Anglo Leasing scandal showed security and counter-terrorism were for sale at high levels along with the baseline of corruption in the police and security services that let terrorists move about and in and out of the country. The Artur Brothers and the Standard flamboyantly highlighted the rot.

Next and finally was the start of the war in Somalia to save and reinstate the Transitional Federal Government and oust the ICU in December 2006.

Since that time the United States Government has continued to have and support all our other existing priorities in Kenya such as lifesaving humanitarian health support through PEPFAR and other lower profile programs, food assistance and small farm agricultural support, along with supporting all sorts of philanthropic type programs and the somewhat more controversial “big development” initiatives like Power Africa, frequently in cooperation with other donors.

In recent years we also started devoted more governmental focus to promoting international private financial investment, such as the 2015 U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation investment in the Dubai-based Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, L.P., that has been active in the Nairobi private healthcare market prior to recently entering liquidation under circumstances being investigated.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have been at war in a country with a huge border with Kenya. A country during during much of these last 11 1/2 years which has been too dangerous to support a full diplomatic and aid presence and has thus had those parts of the effort supported from Kenya, as well as a smaller role for Kenya as a host for some U.S. defense forces in addition to those at our base in Djibouti. And from reading the newspapers back in the day and a few books it is apparent that Kenya provided some military support for the invasion by the Ethiopian military at the time to contain potential spread of terrorism.

And in 2011, during Kibaki’s second term, with the support of Prime Minister Odinga, Kenya entered the war directly and formally in its own right.

Roughly nine months later the Kenya Defense Forces were admitted into the AU’s AMISOM peacekeeping collaboration, allowing for financial reimbursement through the Western donors, and eventually drove al-Shabaab, now formally asserting affiliation with al Queda, out of their previous position of direct control of the port at Kismayo (not to say that al Shabaab did not continue to apparently benefit from the illicit charcoal and sugar trade through the port).

A few months before the Ethiopians were invited to restore the TFG in Mogadishu, our Ambassador Bellamy finished his service and Ambassador Ranneberger was similarly appointed by President Bush from the Foreign Service. Within a few months after the start of the war Ranneberger sent a cable to Washington explaining that his approach for “achieving U.S. objectives in Kenya’s elections” was to stay quiet on the debates on constitutional reform and election reform and “build capital” with the incumbent. With the perturbation of the 2008 crisis and the intervention for constitutional reform up through 2010, this has remained the baseline beat of our relationship over the years.

Will the recent moves by Kenya’s dominant new Jubilee Party to align with Communist Party of China structures and philosophy to accompany its huge borrowings from the Chinese State cause any serious rethink in Washington? I have no idea, but it certainly does not seem to have captured any particular place in the priorities of either the retired President Obama or current President Trump.

USAID documents show profound U.S. policy shift in Kenya from disappointment on reforms and corruption in 2005-06 to Ranneberger’s April 2007 “building capital” with Kibaki

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polling station Nairobi

In my last post I discussed the late FOIA release of an April 2007 cable setting out U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s explanation of a policy of hands-off neutrality on election reform proposals, and a “plague on both their houses” view of corruption. Ranneberger’s approach was to “build capital” with incumbent Mwai Kibaki’s Kenyan government heading into his re-election campaign, while distancing the U.S. from dissenting opposition and civil society voices.

A very different take was set forth only a few months before in documents released to me by USAID in 2014 under a FOIA request relating to the exit and public opinion polling program I managed in that 2007 election cycle as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute. In memoranda from November 2006 to release a second round of $250,000 in funds for the polling program which had started with an exit poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum, USAID noted “a policy shift toward NGO and civil society partners in light of the weakening of Kenya’s Executive Branch as a reliable and willing partner in areas such as Democracy and Governance”.

Here are excerpts from the documents linked above:

PROGRAM BACKGROUND

Embassy Nairobi has requested that the funds be used to support activities to strengthen democracy and governance, environmental sustainability and economic development and trade. All the programs will be managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In FY 2006, the funds will be used as follows:

*Democracy and Governance ($2,570,000):

$2.25 million will be used to support domestic and international observations, including training for political party agents and independent observers, allowing them to assess whether the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 are non-violent, transparent, and competitive.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

*The U.S. Government seeks to build a democratic and economically prosperous Kenya. This is addressed through five strategic objectives focusing on: reducing fertility and the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission; improving natural resource management; improving the balance of power among the institutions of governance; increasing rural household incomes; and supporting education for children of marginalized populations.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

I. SUMMARY

The Recipient [IRI] shall institute a program to improve and increase access to objective, reliable information on citizen views and reform priorities through public opinion polling. The Recipient’s activities aim to provide this information to the Kenyan public, Kenyan policymakers, and the diplomatic community and to improve the science and popular perception of opinion survey research in the country.

II. BACKGROUND

The degradation of political discourse and consensus-building in Kenya since the country’s landmark 2002 election has culminated in the stalemate over the constitutional reform process. Having ridden a wave of public optimism into power, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) followed through on several of its most important promises during its first year in power. Shortly after taking office, President Mwai Kibaki’s government instituted free primary education nationwide. It also made a strong start in attacking the problem of corruption, beginning with a purge of corrupt members of the judiciary. However, in many areas of concern the performance of the government has been disappointing. Despite its promise of a new constitution within 100 days of taking office, deep disagreements within the NARC government about the content of various drafts have kept this new constitution from Kenyans for nearly three years. Furthermore, NARC’s promises of 500,000 new jobs per year and a vastly reduced crime rate have not materialized. Most unfortunate has been the government’s lack of seriousness in dealing with the resurgence of corruption at high levels of the Kenyan government, resulting in severe criticism by donor countries and civil society groups. Poverty and unemployment remain high; electricity, water, and other services are provided on an irregular basis; and violent crime is prevalent and uncontrolled. Expectations among Kenyans were high that the new leadership would bring rapid relief, but most of the problems have worsened, remained unchanged, or been only marginally improved during NARC’s first three years in office.

. . . .

A chief obstacle for the political parties and other major stakeholders in Kenya has been the lack of reliable information on the concerns and opinions of ordinary Kenyans. Policy priorities are set by political elites who have almost no access to data regarding trends in public opinion and no means by which to gauge how popular or unpopular specific policies are with different segments of the population. In he first few years of this decade, a number of influential opinion polls were conducted that showed the deep satisfaction of the Kenyan public with the Moi government and their desire for a viable alternative to come out of the scattered opposition. These surveys, including one poll conducted by the Recipient [IRI] in 2002 that showed for the first time that a united opposition could beat the Kenya African National Union (KANU), gave strong impetus to the formation of the NARC coalition.

However, after 2002, opinion polling did not become a regular feature of the Kenyan political scene . . . Some major media houses . . . most of these polls have focused exclusively on the “horse race” issues most likely to sell newspapers . . . Moreover, the methods used in some of the most widely-reported polls have been fiercely criticized . . .

. . . .

The future of democracy in Kenya is now much more uncertain than it seemed amid the euphoria of the 2002 election . . . .

It needs to be noted as well that in seeking release of additional funding for the IRI polling in 2006 USAID noted the IRI’s successful performance to date, including the “accurate” 2005 exit poll with the completion of all items on the program work plan, which included the public release of the exit poll results.

(Thus I was taken aback by the objection to public release of the 2007 exit poll results under an extension of the same program, not having incorporated a new direction of “building capital” into the program.)

“Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” (FOIA Update): Ranneberger April 2007 cable shows shift in US approach to upcoming Kenya election to “build capital with the government”

Kenya 2007 Election campaign posters “Kalonzo Musyoka for President” on duka Eastern KenyaA breakthrough on unraveling the story of Kenya’s stolen 2007 election:

This is from my original 2009 Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department for documents related to the 2007 Kenya exit poll I managed as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute’s USAID funded polling program.

Just after the next election in Kenya, in March 2013, the State Department made its original release of documents to me on this 2009 request, as I discussed in my post here at the time: Africa Bureau under Frazer coordinated “recharacterization” of 2007 Kenya exit poll showing Odinga win (New documents: FOIA Series No. 12)

At that time State withheld one document in full on the basis of “predecisional privilege”; I eventually got that document released on appeal, and heard no more.

Yesterday, I checked in with the State Department FOIA web library to see if there was anything new on Kenya from other requesters and my search showed that an additional document had been published online in 2017, unbeknownst to me, in response to my 2009 request. It is an April 24, 2007 cable titled “Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” over the signature of Ambassador Ranneberger to the Secretary of State for the Africa Bureau and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in Washington. “Sensitive But Unclassified” and released with no redaction. No explanation as to why this document, which pre-dates all of the others released or identified to me in 2013, was published online on April 18, 2017; if it was mailed to me at some point I did not receive it. Nonetheless, I am glad to finally have it (although I wish I had known about it when I published my June 2017 summary story on “The Debacle of 2007 for The Elephant).

The big significance of the cable for me is that it documents that the State Department had in fact changed its approach toward Kibaki and toward the opposition between 2005 and April 2007. This was my perception “on the ground” during the campaign, but I had no explicit documentation until now. It also confirms that as of April, the plan was for a diplomatic observation of the election by State Department personnel only and not an International Observation Mission by the Carter Center as recommended by a 2006 USAID evaluation (referenced in the cable) or by IRI as initiated at the behest of the Ambassador that summer.

Likewise, the cable includes one more recitation that the purpose of the exit poll, formally, was to deter and oppose election fraud through an “independent verification of election results”, not to be “a training exercise never intended to be released” as asserted by Ambassador Ranneberger on a State Department webchat in March 2008 after the quashed but leaked poll had become a “hot potato”, and supported in State Department talking points prepared and circulated in response to media reporting in 2008 and 2009.

Unfortunately for me, when I took over the USAID polling program for IRI in June 2007, the program was operating under a Cooperative Agreement from 2005 that expressed the old policy of being disappointed in the corruption and underperformance within the Kenyan government as reflected in the Anglo Leasing security procurement frauds, the Standard Raid and Artur Brothers, etc. No one at USAID or IRI intimated that the State Department had changed policy and I had to figure it out for myself on the fly.

Here are key excerpts from the cable as published:

3. (SBU) Positioning: Some civil society leaders and opposition members of Parliament have complained recently that the U.S. mission is not close enough to the opposition. In fact, we have close contacts with the opposition from the top levels through the Ambassador to to all levels. However, the opposition longs for the days in 2005 when Foreign Minister Tuju publicly condemned the U.S. mission for supposedly desiring “regime change” in Kenya. They also cite the period in the 1990s when the U.S. mission openly sided against the Moi administration in favor of the multiparty democracy movement. However, the present government, for all its flaws, was elected under conditions widely considered free and fair. As for its indulgence of corrupt members of the political class, we note that the opposition has taken no disciplinary action against notoriously corrupt members within its own ranks. Corruption plagues the entire political class. We will continue to publicly condemn it as a major impediment to Kenya’s progress. We will continue to work closely with the Kibaki administration to achieve USG goals, but we will continue to assert ourselves as completely neutral concerning the election itself. Our strategy is to build capital with the government to be spent as needed over the course of the campaign to address critical electoral issues. We started that process through emphasis on the U.S.-Kenya partnership (reftel B). While we will be strictly neutral among the contending political parties, we will be fiercely partisan in support of the democratic process.

. . . .

8. (SBU) Electoral Reform: As reported in reftel B, electoral reform continues to be a hotly debated topic in Kenya. There is a consensus among all political parties and civil society that reform is required. There are no prominent defenders of the status quo. However, there is no consensus on the scope of reforms and the particulars of those reforms. Since the 2002 general election and the 2005 referendum on the draft constitution were both held under the present electoral system and were deemed free and fair, and since Kenyan society is adequately debating electoral reform, we see no reason for the USG to enter the fray. However, we have urged on all parties a spirit of compromise and an emphasis on the longterm best interests of the nation rather than short term electoral advantage. An opposition leader recently threatened a boycott of elections if his party’s electoral reform demands are not met. We made it clear to him that such intemperate language is not constructive and that boycotts are not acceptable. He stopped issuing boycott threats.

. . . .

– Public Opinion Polling: The International Republican Institute began implementing a public opinion program in 2005. The program seeks to achieve two results: increasing the availability of objective and reliable polling data; and providing an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls. These results make an important contribution to elections and political processes. First, genuine free and fair elections require that citizens make informed choices. The polling data adds to the objective data available to citizens on key electoral issues. Second, the exit polls provide an independent assessment of the accuracy of the official electoral results, thereby supporting the assessment of the credibility of Kenyan electoral processes.

This program also enhances democratic political parties by enhancing the likelihood that candidates base their platforms on the key issues and concerns of their constituents, evidenced in the polling data, rather than the traditional focus on ethnicity and personalized political wrangling.

2007 Kenya election Kibaki billboard

I will discuss the context and layers of meaning in this “new old” cable more in the near future.

“Six Years An Ambassador” : Godec’s Kenya valedictory with Macharia Gaitho

Macharia Gaitho seems to have been of late the designated Kenyan columnist to convey certain background perspectives from the American Embassy.  His April 8 Sunday Nation column provides in interview form a review by outgoing Ambassador Godec of his tenure and the position of the State Department at present.

For me the primary “takeaway” is, as the Nation headlined, the continued/renewed statement of the need for “national dialogue”. The issues were apparent from the 2017 election going back to the 2007-08 election. The “handshake” of a month ago is said to open an opportunity for that dialogue. Likewise the U.S. position is reiterated on the status of the October 26 election and Kenyatta as legitimate per the IEBC and Supreme Court as the U.S. sees it.

I have not met Godec and I really do not have an opinion about him personally. I am not able to say, with the late American humorist Will Rogers, that “I never met a man I didn’t like” but I try to be able to say “I never dislike a man that I’ve never met.”

What makes me sad is that Godec as the Ambassador has been controversial and drawn more anger as well as more disappointment from many Kenyans than I have seen in the past.

Some of the heat would fall on the shoulders of anyone who was the voice of the controversial policies from Washington. Some of it reflects more specifically the reasons that “national dialogue” is needed: the 2008 “peace deal” got only perhaps half-executed and a lot of Kenyans are unenthused as they should be about getting the short end of the stick over the past ten years from their own government. As a “friend” of the Government of Kenya we naturally find ourselves with some “guilt by association” from the Kenyan public. And of course some of it is the behind the scenes stuff that we Americans back home have to hope to evaluate, someday, from the media or private conversations with insiders or the Freedom of Information Act, if ever.

Godec was candid enough to acknowledge that “peace” was prioritized first as a “must” in United States foreign policy in regard to Kenyan elections as but noted that we continued to also support other equities of justice and fairness. For instance, we support  allowing civil society freedom to operate. Nothing was said however to indicate we ourselves need to take a fresh look at our own role in supporting the election mechanisms or our role in supporting reform and transparency out of our own experience in these last three Kenyan election cycles.

It perhaps goes without saying that we no longer mention any notion or prospect of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post election violence. (Or pre-election 2013 for that matter.) That was something we always used to talk about.

Ambassador Godec noted that his biggest regret was the ongoing security situation as reflected in the Westgate and Garissa University attacks. I assume we are not waiting for those reports from the Government of Kenya on those attacks that Kenyans have been waiting on. (Of course both Kenya and the United States remain at war in Somalia as we were when the Ambassador arrived as Charge in 2012.)

The biggest thing that really struck me from Ambassador Godec’s interview was that there are now 28,000 Americans living in Kenya. More people have been realizing what a great place to live Kenya can be if you are an American, as I can attest. I hope that’s a good thing.

I also hope the Ambassador will sit down with The Elephant as a newer Kenyan publication that is able to generate more depth on current controversies than the big media groups usually feel able.

“Michael & Me” – retrospective thoughts on tying up with Amb. Ranneberger and separating “foreign policy” from “personality”

With a new political appointment announced for the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, Raila Odinga’s criticism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on his last U.S. visit of the role of the U.S. and U.K. envoys in supporting Kenyan elections for favoring immediate stability over democracy raises the underlying question of how much of the issue has to do with specific envoys and how much is pre-determined policy handed down from Washington or London.

Thus some overdue consideration of my interactions with Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in 2007-08 in that context:

I have written about the actions of the Ambassador as “the point of the spear” that I dealt with in Nairobi with a desire to be cautious to speak to direct knowledge, along with such documents as I have obtained from FOIA, and other direct sources. Addressing specific interactions with the Ambassador and comparing those with his now-disclosed reporting to Washington raises some questions, but does not provide clear answers, as to how responsibility should fall as to decisions about how the State Department played Kenya’s 2007 election during Ranneberger’s tenure.

Obviously I got along fine with Ranneberger for a period of months before we “crossed up” over specifics of my job with the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the month of the election; where I did not agree with his approach, it not lead me to personally dislike him, nor did I feel I was informed adequately or was otherwise in a position to challenge how he was doing his job as Ambassador. Rather my obligation as I saw it was to stand my ground to be able to do my own job. At some level the problem was simply institutional in that Ranneberger felt that his job encompassed managing my work in managing the IRI Election Observation Mission and I did not (nor did IRI as I was told without exception).

When Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other about issues from our interactions during the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times in a story published in January 2009, soon after the Obama inauguration, Ranneberger was quoted as reacting by claiming that he was being falsely accused by people who were out to get him.

By the time the Times story ran I had been back at my job in the States as a lawyer for defense contractor Northrop Grumman for a year-and-a-half. It was potentially consequential to be called a liar in the New York Times by the serving American Ambassador to a country in which my company at the time had business for the U.S. as a national security contractor.

Fortunately I was treated very well by my client/employer (as when they held my job open for me to take “public service leave” to support democracy in Kenya in the first place). When my security clearance came up for renewal a year later I seemed to draw some flack from somewhere leading to a follow up along the lines of whether I had in some sense let my loyalties “go native” to which I re-iterated my loyally clean conscience. Since my clearance was renewed I did not lose my job. (Likewise, I assumed that it was understood that I had not been lying in my interviews with The Times.)

It was well after the Times story ran that it was mentioned to me in passing that there were efforts from Kenyans to persuade Washington to replace Ranneberger. I was never involved in such efforts and did not know anything about the topic when I was interviewed by the Times July 2008 or in a follow up after the U.S. election that November. The decision to accept the interview request from the Times was strictly mine and I did not consult with anyone about whether to agree or what to say. As I have written here, I requested a meeting with IRI with no reply that October (2008) and had a discussion with the IRI Press Secretary that November but again IRI never followed up with me.

I can say this: I was surprised that the Obama Administration continued to be represented by Ranneberger for more than half of Obama’s first term after the election debacle. I would have assumed that Obama’s message from the campaign of a changed foreign policy approach along with the personal factors of being identified with Kenya through his father and having visited Kenya I believe three times by then, would have given extra assurance that Obama would want to get a fresh start after the previous mess sooner rather than later. But just for these “macro” reasons, not because of any details of the election saga I filled in for investigating reporters.

At some point subsequently I made an extracurricular call on a staffer to Sen. Feingold to inquire as to what response the Asst. Secretary of State and the Asst. Administrator for USAID had provided to the Senator’s demand for answers as to why the USAID/IRI exit poll was being embargoed at his hearing on February 8, 2008 Subcommittee Hearing on the Kenyan elections. I got nothing in the way of cooperation on my inquiry, but did get out of the blue and to my surprise what may have been a less than ingenuous question that “since it seems like we are going to need a new Ambassador” if I had any recommendations. Perhaps this reflected in some fashion Ranneberger’s conspiratorial notion of my motives? [no way to know, it just seems strange; I had no relationship with that office or stature that would warrant the question, especially in the context of being stonewalled on the small actual request for information that prompted the visit]

Here is how I viewed things at the time of Ranneberger’s departure from the Embassy in September 2011 (from a draft I did not post then):

Ambassador Ranneberger has been giving “exit interviews” and traveling to say his goodbyes to return to Washington.  He has indicated that he loves Kenya in particular of his postings and would like to settle in Kenya (although he says he has not acquired property) and he has introduced the woman that he has described as the “Queen” to his “King”, with hints of a future wedding.

The British Royal wedding was a big hit in Kenya, and now we have the “changing of the guard” at the U.S. embassy as well.  Swapping U.S. ambassadors is an unusually high profile public event in Kenya right now because, aside from the U.S. being “the sole superpower” and Kenya being a tourist destination and Nairobi being a big regional haven for “the international community” and being important in the regional economy, Ranneberger himself plays so large in Kenyan media and politics.  Ironically, he is just a bit like Prime Minister Raila Odinga in this way.

Ranneberger has somewhat reinvented his public persona in Kenya the last couple of years, in that he now openly criticizes and challenges Kenyan politicians and is outspoken against corruption.  Readers of this blog will know that I agree with him on corruption and that corruption is nothing new.

His style of saying a great deal in public and taking a high profile was there before, and is largely a matter of taste.  Some people like it, some people dislike it.  I am in between personally.  My ultimate disagreement with him while I was IRI East Africa Director in Kenya was over content and underlying substance during the election, not over style and I have never borne him any personal ill will.

A key difference between Raila and Ranneberger is that Raila is in reality “the second man” in the Kenyan government and power structure behind the President who is extraordinarily quiet in the way that he conducts business and exercises that power while Raila takes a more public role both in Kenya and internationally.  Ranneberger, on the other hand, is in most cases the only American present with a significant public profile.

The recent position as anti-corruption critic is clearly a departure from Ranneberger’s stance during my time with IRI in Kenya during the 2007 election campaign and the aftermath of the vote.

Nine days before the 2007 election Ranneberger appeared in the Standard newspaper in a big full page “exclusive interview” with his official photo. He announced that he was confident that the election would be “free and fair”.

“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 Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission chairman John Githongo.  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.

It may be that Kenyans benefited from a re-born zeal for the post-debacle “Reform Agenda” from Ranneberger, given a second chance of sorts under a new U.S. administration. Likewise, Ranneberger’s aggressive behind the scenes style may have been valuable in helping “deliver” finally a reformed Kenyan constitution through the 2010 referendum. At the same time, the bleed over of millions of dollars from officially neutral process support for the referendum into the “Yes” campaign suggests that the “new” Ranneberger was not quite so different–just as the new administration was not quite as different as many expected either.

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polling station Nairobi

CIA reported that Kenyans expected a Ugandan air strike the week of July 27, 1976 on Nairobi or Nakuru “where President Kenyatta spends much of his time”

This item of Kenya – Uganda – United States history comes from a recently declassified Presidential Daily Brief from the CIA from the Ford Administration.  Unfortunately about half of the item relating to Kenya and Uganda has been redacted even though it is more than 40 years old, predating even the Museveni government in Uganda by a decade.

This detail is provided: “The Kenyans have asked the U.S. Embassy to give as little publicity as possible to the current visits of U.S. military units to Kenya.  They also asked that the visits be officially described as routine.  The Kenyans, who last week said the U.S. presence has helped deter Amin,  are apparently concerned the visits could damage Kenya’s non-aligned credentials.”

The PDB of July 26 of July 26 had reported that the Kenyan military had returned to full alert after a partial standdown the week before over reports of aggressive intentions from Uganda in the wake of Kenyan sanctions.  “The Kenyans say they have information that Ugandan MiGs, flown by Palestinians, practiced bombing exercises last week [redacted] Amin continues to seek military equipment. [redacted] Uganda has requested artillery, rockets, antiaircraft batteries and hand grenades from Tripoli.”

The basic concept of the United States at some level backstopping the military security of the Kenya during the governments of the Kenyatta family, and during the Moi and Kibaki years between, has endured, along with the preference for Kenya’s rulers to keep fairly quiet about its value to them.

This long history of military support at the expense of American taxpayers, along with billions of dollars in civil aid, has not won any support for democratization from the current ruling party in Kenya which is now explicitly aligning itself with the Communist Party of China for party training instead of the western models offered by American, German and Dutch organizations, such as IRI and NDI, over the past 25 years.