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

From a COMESA Press Release yesterday:

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

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

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

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

Think I am too jaded?  Enjoy this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated) U.S. and IGAD statements on #Djibouti election

imageIn the previous Djibouti election in 2011 the incumbent administration kicked out the US-funded Democracy International Election Observation Mission–this time we didn’t go, nor offer substantive criticism of Guellah’s latest re-election:

“The United States commends the Djiboutian people for peacefully exercising their right to vote during their country’s April 8 presidential election.

While elections are an integral component of all democratic societies, democracy is also built on the foundation of rule of law, civil liberties, and open political discourse between all stakeholders. We encourage the Government of Djibouti to support the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression for all of Djibouti’s citizens.

The United States has a strong partnership with Djibouti. We look forward to advancing our shared interests and helping Djiboutians build a more prosperous, secure, and democratic future. We take note of the reports released by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union, and others and the recommendations by the African Union on improving future electoral processes in Djibouti. We hope to work with the Government of Djibouti to advance those recommendations.”

In addition to hosting AFRICOM’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and Japanese military, Djibouti has also agreed to what appears to be a significantly larger Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) base.  Obviously we can’t buy love, but perhaps Djibouti can buy quiet on democratization pressures?

See “Jostling for Djibouti” from Katrina Manson at the Financial Times. Outstanding journalism, setting the scene in the country before the vote.

From RFI’s Clea Broadhurst following the vote:

Ahead of Friday’s vote, opposition groups had complained of curbs on freedom of assembly while rights groups accused the government of political repression and crackdowns on basic freedoms.

Djibouti has been on the radar of human rights groups for some time, with allegations of a pattern of political repression and lack of freedom of expression. Just days before Friday’s election, three BBC journalists were detained and expelled from the country without explanation.

“Everybody knew that Ismaïl Omar Guelleh would be the winner of those elections. It’s important to understand the real opposition did boycott those elections because there was absolutely no guarantee for a fair, transparent and democratic election,” Dimitri Verdonck, the president of the association Culture and Progress working on human rights issues in Djibouti, told RFI.

“It’s important to know also that the international community is looking at these elections with a very high level of caution. The European Union did not send any observers in Djibouti, same goes for the United States and other partners of Djibouti – the only ones who did accept to be there during the elections are the Arab League and some members of the African Union. But nobody wants to give any credibility to these elections.”

Well, not no one exactly:  the dependable and indefatigable Issack Hassan, chair of Kenya’s IEBC, headed up an IGAD observation delegation. “The overall objective of the Mission was to observe the Presidential Elections held on April l 8th in Djibouti in the efforts by this country to conduct free, fair, and credible elections by providing positive and constructive feedback.”

Here is the Conclusion from the IGAD EOM Preliminary Statement:

CONCLUSION
IGAD Election Observer Mission was limited to three days observation only which entailed two days of pre-election assessment and the observation of the voting day on the poll opening, polling, poll closing and vote, counting and tallying processes. Therefore, the Mission will not be in a position to provide complete and comprehensive conclusions on the entire election process. However based on what it has been able to observe, the Mission preliminary conclusion is that the 2016 Presidential election was conducted in a transparent, peaceful, and orderly manner and in accordance with the Constitution and the laws governing the Republic of Djibouti.

IGAD wishes to take this opportunity to express its gratitude to Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Cooperation and the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Djibouti, the Constitutional Council, the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) as well as the Media for the assistance rendered to IGAD to make the Observer Mission task easy.

Finally, the Observer Mission would like to congratulate the people of the Republic of Djibouti for the peaceful and orderly manner in which they conducted the election and wish them peace, continuous progress and prosperity.

Done on 9th April 2016, Kempinski Palace Hotel,
Djibouti, Republic of Djibouti

Djibouti–what’s next in French Somaliland?

“Developing Djibouti: An American Imperative” by Saleem Ali of the University of Queensland at NationalGeographic.com:

A nominal democracy, the country has been relatively peaceful yet still desperately poor. I had an opportunity to visit Djibouti recently after a visit to Ethiopia for the United Nations African Development Forum. My curiosity to visit this country was sparked by an article I had read in The Washington Post regarding the expansion of US military presence in the region. Landing at Djibouti International airport, one is alarmed to find one side of the air strip almost completely populated by US Airforce presence. The country is also among the few places in the world where drone aircraft can be seen on a civilian air strip, often overwhelming civilian traffic. The presence of these prized new airforce stealth weapons in Djibouti comes from its proximity to the Arabian state of Yemen which has become an increasingly significant hotbed for Al-Qaeda.

Talking to locals, there was little resentment towards American presence but also not much to show for their positive impact on the country. Occasionally one would hear stories of US soldiers volunteering for community service or building some unusual desert residence for local villagers, but the overall development impact of US presence here of over 3000 personnel has been minimal. Unemployment is still over 40% and much of the money that comes in from foreign investment is funnelled back to the foreign-owned businesses in the city. The US government pays only $38 million per year to lease the airfield for the drone operations and the African command base here which is under further expansion.

The lack of US investment in Djibouti is a tremendous missed opportunity to develop a country which could be a low-hanging fruit for citizen diplomacy with the Muslim world. With only 900,000 people and a relatively small land-base and a highly urbanized population, developing Djibouti with aid investment would be very easy to do. . . .

While “easy” may be an exaggeration, I agree with Ali’s point that Djibouti is a place where the United States ought to be committed to “showing our stuff” in terms of development capability.  And of course, as I have written before, a key place where delivering on democracy assistance in advance of, rather than behind, a crisis, ought to be feasible.

h/t John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review