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]

Happy National Day and Thanks for the Troops (Burundi)

2016_06_28-Burundi_Rotation-2

AMISOM flickr photo- Burundian troops rotate home
The State Department issued this statement today, as Burundi’s long crisis drags:

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, congratulations to the people of Burundi on the 55th anniversary of your independence.

We applaud Burundi’s ongoing commitment to international peacekeeping operations and recognize the positive impact its troops have had in Somalia.

The United States stands with all Burundians committed to peace and prosperity. As you reflect on your history and address the challenges of today, we send best wishes for a bright future.

In the meantime, the Burundian government has accused the West and “international organizations” of conspiring with the Rwandan government to seek regime change and to steal Burundi’s resources.

Museveni’s Election Commission has released voting station data–putting Kenya’s IEBC to shame

See “Ballot box stuffing in Uganda elections: early analysis of open election data surfaces suspicious stations“from Drew Bollinger at developmentSEED.org.

Those who follow Kenya’s elections will remember that in the 2007 election, the Electoral Commission of Kenya, despite its generous USAID funding, never did publish alleged results at all below the level of the 212 parliamentary constituencies.  That in itself was damning evidence of the conclusion of my “War for History” series that all of us involved essentially saw the election being brazenly stolen.

In 2013 the “results” were again long kept secret by what was then then called the Independent Electoral  and Boundaries Commission or IEBC.  See “It’s mid-May, do you know where your election results are?” and “It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington”. (Much later partial publication was made, with many polling stations never surfacing, in spite of the claim by the IEBC that it had been able to reliably determine within days the presidential winner by .07% over the required threshold to avoid a second round of voting.)

Certainly the Ugandan election process roundly deserves the condemnation it has received, and the Election Commission is unequivocally appointed by the president/general Museveni himself rather than through a process that would create more plausible hopes of independence.  Nonetheless, the Ugandan EC has at least surpassed Kenya’s ECK and IEBC in it’s most fundamental of duties by an initial release of results.

Updated: Once more, with feeling: Museveni’s election commission has scheduled his latest re-election for Thursday

Contrary to what one would expect for a fair competition for elective office, Museveni appoints his own seven member election commission (with confirmation by the Parliament controlled by his NRM).

But international observers can surely be counted on to blow the whistle on any “funny business” as Kenyan Senator Amos Wako, Attorney General from 1991 to 2011, is co-chair of the Commonwealth observation delegation, with Nigeria’s former president Obasanjo.  Wako is especially known for observing Kenya’s Goldenburg and Anglo Leasing scandals as Attorney General.

Last time, in 2011, the United States made some public effort at least to press Museveni to allow an independent election commission.  Museveni called our bluff and said no, so we did not say much this time.

Here is the latest release today from CEON-U, or the Citizen Election Observers Network working with NDI funding.

Here is a link to the longstanding CCEDU or the Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.

Update 2-17 – Rosebell’s Blog gives a good overview of tense atmosphere during the last weeks of the campaign: “Worrying war rhetoric ahead of Feb. 18 Uganda vote”.

And Jeffrey Gettleman’s analysis piece for today’s New York Times: “Uganda, Firmly Under One Man’s Rule, Dusts Off Trappings of an Election.”

And, from Andrew Green in Foreign Policy: “A real debate before Uganda’s fake election.”

Is Libya to Burundi in 2016 as Somalia was to Rwanda in 1994?

US Army deployedI have no answer to this question, and I hope and pray it is just something to think about abstractly.

What I am getting at is that for purposes of public consumption at least the Western democracies were in denial in 1994 about the risk of mass slaughter and eventually genocide and failed to act to an extent that we all pretty well have acknowledged shame about.  (No one bothers to suggest that China, Russia or other non-Western powers would be expected to be similarly troubled.) It seems to be recognized that the U.S. was the “indispensable” party that would have had to push forward to make intervention happen, but elected instead to pull back.  There is regret that we did not take affirmative action.

It also seems to be accepted that the “Black Hawk Down” disaster and generally unsatisfying experience of “humanitarian” intervention in Somalia took strong measures involving Americans off the table for Rwanda.  The Genocide Documentation Project by the National Security Archive and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has helped us to see now how this actually played out back then.

Post-Rwanda 1994, of course, there has been over the years the notion that we learned a valuable lesson from that particular genocide and could now say “never again” with a newly “doctrinized” post-Cold War sense of purpose of a Responsibility to Protect.

Unfortunately the timing gets complicated by other events.  We are in a presidential election year.  Now the last major “humanitarian” intervention involving U.S. forces was Libya.  While initially celebrated, it has become a politically dicey sore spot.  The tragic loss of American lives later at Benghazi was fortunately not televised, but we now have a feature Hollywood movie coming anyway.  While Washington collectively is not yet ready to examine the decision making process on intervening or not, the specics of the Benghazi incident have attracted more investigation than I recall from “Black Hawk Down” as such.  The larger negative geopolitical fallout from the intervention in Libya has become much more apparent much sooner than in Somalia in the early ’90s and already appears to be a major concern of many facets and no easy solutions.

In that sense the factors supporting a cautionary holding back from acting are greater in 2016 than in 1994 (and of course I haven’t even mentioned Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan).

We have hoped that we would not be indispensable on Burundi, in particular that the (post-Gaddafi) African Union could find common purpose and means to act.  That hasn’t happened.  My perception is that there might be reason to hope for this sort of AU action many years in the future but that the capacity is really just not there now.

It has to be noted that governance in the region has continued to be dominated by what could be called a “league of extraordinary generals”–Kagame and Museveni as well as, in a sense, Nkurunziza.  Nearby Mugabe remains and Kabila the younger.  Who can really be an honest broker or claim with a straight face to be primarily acting on global “humanitarian” values without outside leadership?

Museveni and Nkurunziza are militarily allied with the West in the current AMISOM effort in Somalia which will need to continue for some long time yet.  Museveni is involved with the US in our Lord’s Resistance Army operation which presumably is indefinite at this point.  Kagame has apparently decided to postpone the transition to a postwar elected leadership by his constitutional referendum lifting term limits, like Museveni did long ago.  He probably expects a relationship at least as good with the next U. S. administration for his re-election in 2017. He appears to continue to be a darling of Davos and to be working with a variety of endeavors involving commodities trade and related regionalization that enjoy quasi-official support around Washington aside from the public foreign aid.

And now we see the leak through Reuters of the confidential report under UN auspices of Rwandan involvement in training and supporting rebels in Burundi already.

If, God forbid, things turn sharply for the worse in Burundi, and there “isn’t anyone else,” would the U.S. seriously consider an emergency humanitarian intervention or not?  If not, are we prepared to explain to our children why not, again, while living also with the consequences?  I am in no way qualified to advocate for or against a particular course of action, nor do I know the backstory of the latest facts on the ground, I am just asking the questions as to our policy parameters as a taxpayer/citizen/ voter and a person of humanitarian concern.

Tanzania Decides: EU, Commonwealth, AU and SADC observers issue joint statement regarding election and Zanzibar annulment; call for transparency

October 29 Statement
internationalobservermissionsjointstatement_en.pdf

LSE’s Africa blog asks: Is Tanzania’s National Election Commission credible? 

Cancellation of election in Zanzibar should be wake up call on credibility of diplomatic “election observers” [updated]

Zanzibar HatariThe EAC, along with SADC as noted in my post yesterday, declared the Tanzanian election “free and fair” early in the vote count.

Of course, this should never have been taken with a straight face by the media as it is wholly implausible. You have to have a “free and fair” count and reporting of the count to have a free and fair election.

Tanzania is one of five EAC member states (and the one with the most stabile recent democratic progress, but a ruling party that has not turned over since independence).  Groups of diplomats from the EAC and SADC are not similarly situated to outside, at least notionally independent, observation organizations.

See:  How is IGAD’s “diplomatic observation” regarding Kenya’s election process helpful? from February 1, 2013.

Election Observation: Diplomacy or Assistance? from July 25, 2010.

Here is the link to the EU Election Observation Mission which issued a positive but temperate preliminary statement on the progress of the election yesterday.  There are always “real world” issues and limitations, but these EOM’s are institutionally established to have some level of bona fide independence, and the government facing this election is not a member of the EU which includes many members with a wide range of relevant interests.

Tanzania vote count continues; SADC observers find election was “free and fair” and represents “the will of the people” [updated]

[The point here is you cannot possibly reach a plausible conclusion that an election was “free and fair” or reflected “the will of the people” in the early stages of counting the vote! Would have thought that goes without saying . . .]

The Southern African Development Community election observation mission is led by Oldemiro Baloi, Foreign Minister of Mozambique. Tanzania is a member state of SADC.  Amid the “preliminary” statements from the various observation missions being reported by the international media, from Twitter:

@sarahkimani: Baloi: Tanzania’s elections were free, fair, transparent and credible and represent the will of the people of Tanzania. #SABCnews

 “The last hopeful place” for democratic progress in East Africa–Tanzania’s election is important test for US Millenium Challenge Corporation model

imageThe United States invested heavily in its relationship with Tanzania in the “post-Cold War” era and on into the present period of “democratic recession”.  The Millenium Challenge Corporation has had the Tanzania compact as a flagship relationship and just voted late last month to proceed with the partnership on the basis of a barely cleared corruption hurdle.  I don’t follow Tanzanian politics closely and never lived there, but the consensus in the West appears to be that corruption has worsened in recent years while basic stability and growth in the aggregate size of the economy from a low base have been more positive features.  Most Tanzanians remain materially poor and only a small percentage of younger people have jobs as population growth remains rapid.

Western discussion of the election seems to be have been fairly muted given its conceptual significance.  I think part of the reason for this is that the match up presents some conumdrums that raise the stakes of commentary and exhortation from the outside.  Given that Tanzania has remained under the current version (“CCM”) of the Independence/Cold War era “single party” for all these years, the point of democracy assistance and outside focus would normally be on progress toward levelling the playing field so that someone else could eventually win if the majority of citizens was so inclined.

The twist is that the opposition coalition, representing the pre-existing reformist voices, ended up fronting a candidate, Edward Lowassa, by reputation a leading player in the corruption himself.  He was forced out as Prime Minister in 2008–a time when anti-corruption and goverance reform was in vogue among donors–and was pushed aside this year from his expected ruling CCM party nomination to succeed Kikwete before defecting to the opposition Chadema party.

Nonetheless, in Tanzania, unlike in any of its four East African Community neighbors the trajectory toward fair competition and “deeping democracy” has remained plausibly if uncertainly intact.  The National Election Commission has registered 24M voters compared to 14M by Kenya’s IEBC in 2013 (estimates suggest Tanzania has a population perhaps around 10% higher).  At the same time, there has been recent democratization “backsliding” on issues besides corruption, in particular media freedom.

Among donors there is what Jeffrey Gettleman’s piece in today’s New York Times notes is being called “democracy fatigue”.  Maybe things have gone badly enough around the region that we are just happy that Tanzania’s President Kikwete is honoring constitutional term limits, especially in the wake of a derailed constitutional reform effort that was supposed to lead to a referendum on a new charter before this election.

Regardless of the outcome a well run election understood by Tanzanian voters to have been free and fair would be arguably a “feather in the cap” for the MCC model and the general U.S. assistance structure.  Which of course is one more important reason for journalists covering the election observations to be responsibly sensitive to the underlying interests and conflicts faced by the various observation missions and individual observers.

See “The Kenyan factor in Tanzania’s 2015 electionin The Citizen.

And “Tanzania’s election crackdown on free speech” in The Daily Beast.

Why “the war for history” matters now: “authoritarian momentum in East Africa” (Part Six)

Efforts to retroactively legitimize the 2007 Kenyan election and turn away from the questions of why election fraud was allowed to stand also help divert attention from the current questions of what the United States and Kenya’s other diplomatic “partners” will do or not do now in the face of the current retrenchment of hard won freedoms and democratic openness. Kenya is less free and less secure now than it was in 2007. When a few more years have gone by will 2002 still be a remembered as a turning point for democracy in Kenya or just a false “spring” producing only a temporary thaw in authoritarian governance?

Here is some good context from Freedom House from April of this year.

“Authoritarian Contagion in Africa” by Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs, on the Freedom at Issue blog:

The broader phenomenon illustrated by Kenyatta’s actions [seeking restrictions on civil society and the press] is not just a matter of coincidence or independent imitation. Whether they are selling sophisticated technology to track down dissidents online or sharing legislative approaches that provide a patina of legitimacy for their crackdowns on political opponents, repressive governments are actively working together to push back against nonviolent movements for democratic change. Indeed, such authoritarian solidarity has arguably outpaced collaboration among the world’s democratic states, which are often feckless in mobilizing to defend their own values and assist likeminded activists under duress.

In East Africa, evidence of authoritarian contagion is growing. The governments of Uganda, once seen as a great hope for democracy, and South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance, are contemplating restrictive legislation targeting NGOs.

However, the true regional pioneer of this approach has been Ethiopia. Under longtime prime minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, the Ethiopian government issued laws on NGOs, the media, and terrorism that have collectively devastated the country’s political opposition and civil society. The most prominent democracy and human rights groups have been forced to abandon or radically scale back their work, and many of the leading activists have fled into exile.

Other leaders in East Africa and beyond no doubt observed with interest as the international community failed to mount any serious challenge to the Ethiopian government’s repressive actions. Donor countries declined to use their extensive development aid as leverage. Instead they meekly promised to monitor how the new laws were implemented. Whether out of consideration for Ethiopia’s role in combating terrorism in Somalia or fear that the country would turn to China as an alternative patron, the world’s wealthy democracies declined to challenge the Meles regime even after its legislation’s ruinous effects became apparent.

The citizens of Kenya, particularly those who opposed Kenyatta’s presidential candidacy or documented his role in fueling past ethnic violence, may now be paying the price for the international community’s hesitation to act on Ethiopia. It is certainly possible that Kenyatta—facing an international indictment—would have taken the same steps in the absence of a successful model for repression in the region. But his political allies might well have deserted him if they had reason to believe that Kenya would pay some meaningful price for antidemocratic initiatives.

One hopes that the United States and other democratic donor governments will draw their own lessons from these experiences, finally recognizing that the prioritization of security and macroeconomic concerns over democratic performance is a self-defeating strategy. In the long run, repressive states are less stable, less prosperous, and less friendly to democratic partners than open societies, and the spread of authoritarian practices can only damage the interests of Washington and its allies.

Last month Freedom House awarded it annual Freedom Award to Maina Kiai “in recognition of his fearless leadership in advocating for constitutional reform, fighting political corruption, and educating Kenyans of their basic civil and human rights.” The same Maina Kiai who pushed for release of the 2007 IRI/USAID exit poll and challenged the U.S. to live up to its principles: “A Deal We Can Live With” by Maina Kiai and L. Muthoni Wanyeki, New York Times, Feb. 12, 2008.