“[T]he non-problematic side of Republican neo-conservativism”?; Trump’s convention and IRI

Back in 2012, I drafted but didn’t publish a post with a couple of long quotes about the International Republican Institute programming at the Republican convention.  I’m  posting it below following a brief introduction.

2012 was back in the “good old days” when the Republican Party could still nominate a candidate for president who could be elected and had served as a state governor ahead of running for president.  Way back in 2007-08 during my brief time working for IRI the GOP chose the Chairman of IRI, Senator John McCain, as its nominee for president; clearly a different era.

And thus now we see especially starkly one of the risks of using the two current political party institutes as primary vehicles for official U.S. democracy assistance:  does Donald Trump represent democratic ideals and values outside the U.S?  does Trump himself believe in democracy as an ideal as opposed to a personal opportunity (see V. Putin)?  will people who actually work for IRI democracy programs vote for Trump with a secret ballot?  do we want potential democrats from developing nations to come to witness Trump’s convention? how can IRI be partners with “center right” parties in Western democracies if Republican primary voters have repudiated the “center right”?  (some less polite questions come to mind, but I’ll stop there–the basic point is that IRI and NDI should be merged to be truly non-partisan to do taxpayer funded democracy assistance overseas without the baggage of Trump, Clinton and whomever else as partisan figures in U.S politics).

Without further ado:

From Hannah Harrison, a graduate student at the University of Alaska attending both the Republican and Democratic Conventions as part of an academic seminar, in the Homer (AK) Tribune:

Conventions, however, serve another equally as important but perhaps under-appreciated purpose. These four days in Tampa will be an opportunity for Republicans to unify under a common goal (the nomination), to reinvigorate party members tired from a long campaign, and to get ready for that final push toward November.
The RNC hosts a multitude of important and fascinating guests. One such group is the International Republican Institute (IRI), which hosts foreign diplomats from conservative parties from across the globe. Some 150 international leaders have convened in Tampa to observe the RNC, meet with political advisors and American politicians, and have the opportunity to discuss what American foreign policy might look like under the next administration.
These high powered men and women shape the conservative movements in their own nations and will take away from the RNC a deeper understanding of the atmosphere of American politics. They will come to understand that we are a divided nation, but the division is narrow, nuanced, and difficult to govern by.

John Judis at The New Republic’s “The Plank” blog:

But at the convention, the campaign was careful not to draw any controversial conclusions from these philosophical musings about American greatness. The main session on foreign policy was hosted by the International Republican Institute, which Congress established in 1983 along with its partisan twin, the National Democratic Institute. Run by a former John McCain aide Lorne Craner, it exemplifies the non-problematic side of Republican neo-conservatism—the emphasis on encouraging democratic movements in authoritarian or formerly authoritarian countries through education and training. It held a meeting at an auditorium in Tampa on “The Future of U.S. National Security Policy.” The speakers consisted of four Romney foreign policy advisors, led by Richard Williamson, a former Reagan administration official who was also one of McCain’s principal surrogates in the 2008 campaign. The graying heavy-set Williamson, who looks like former Secretary of State Richard Eagleburger, would probably not fill a high post in a Romney administration, but he is perfect for this campaign, because he can, if necessary, take the edge off Romney’s more bald assertions.

The panelists sat on stage before a table, with several hundred campaign delegates, press, present and former Republican officials, and foreign diplomats in attendance. Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, who chaired the meeting, asked the panelists at one point about Romney’s statement that Russia is America’s “chief geopolitical foe.” Williamson explained that Romney was not trying to revive the Cold War. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “He talked about a geopolitical not a military foe.” (In fact, Romney has warned of Russia as a military threat.)

Another panelist former Minnesota Senator Norman Coleman jumped in to offer a further clarification, or dilution of Romney’s statement. “He talked about a ‘foe’ and not an ‘enemy,’” Coleman explained, although Coleman did not explain what the difference was, and I don’t think a dictionary would be much help. The panelists praised the bill coming up in Congress that would penalize any foreign official involved in human rights violations—a bill that is aimed partly at the Russians—but conspicuously steered clear of redline proposals, such as re-committing the United States to building anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe.

Romney’s representatives took a similar stand on other specifics. They said we should sell weapons to Taiwan, but adhere strictly to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. We should arm Syrian rebels (which it turns out the Obama administration has been doing covertly), but—in answer to a question from Foreign Policy blogger Josh Rogin—not establish a “no-fly zone.” We should declare that an Iranian nuclear weapon was “totally unacceptable,” but merely keep armed force an option. We should support human rights, but need not do so, Williamson assured the audience, by putting “boots on the ground.”

The speakers kept calling for a “robust” foreign policy and insisting that America should lead, and they denounced the Obama administration for failing to lead, but they offered very little indication that Romney would act any differently from Obama. That’s clearly what they intended to do. They wanted to get the rhetorical message across without committing Romney to any specific policies. Interestingly, Williamson and another Romney advisor, former George W. Bush State Department official Pierre Prosper, took a harder rhetorical line toward Russia at a posh smaller gathering at the Tampa City Club hosted by the neo-conservative Foreign Policy Initiative, which has key Romney advisors among its founders, and the institute of Modern Russia, headed by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of the jailed tycoon. That was probably because of the audience. But they still steered clear of proposing any provocative actions that could invite a serious examination of Romney’s foreign policy.

[2016 Note: For a view of how this year’s Republican operation in Cleveland looks from the perspective of a close American “developed world” ally and overseas development partner, see “Jumping the shark at the RNC” from Australia’s Lowy Institute.

A simple question: is the Obama Administration in favor of or opposed to corruption at Kenya’s IEBC?

You can still argue this either way, but time is getting away from us.

If you want to argue the “opposed” side you have to extrapolate from generalities and broad high-minded notional statements (and American laws we don’t necessarily talk about).  We must be against corruption in the IEBC–because we support free and fair elections always everywhere and likewise we are against corruption in Africa generally.  At the national level we are so committed to our broad anti-corruption values as to sign bilateral U.S.-Kenya agreements and form working groups with our partners in the Uhuru Kenyatta/William Ruto administration to “help” them in their “war” on corruption.

On the other hand, if you want to argue the “in favor” side you get to take the case down to the brass tacks of the specific facts of Kenyan elections and the exercise of state power, the ECK, the IIEC, the IEBC, specific USAID programs including “our” heavy investment in selling Issack Hassan (a bit like our investment in Kivuitu before him, but more assertive), the Kenyan Supreme Court’s directive on procurement corruption of March 2013, the successful Chickengate prosecutions of British bribe payers to IIEC officials “mentioning” Hassan himself, opening up a whole different and pre-existing area of corruption separate from the demonstrably irregular purchases of failed technology–and the thundering silence of the United States on these matters.

You can also point out how much worse corruption has gotten in Kenya since Kenyatta succeeded Kibaki in power.  And that as such, “partnering” with Kenyatta for a “war” that no one seriously believes he himself wishes to fight might look like “eyewash” for mutual political cover instead of a substantive effort at reform?

Yes, the U.S. Embassy did recently release a joint statement with other Western donors/underwriters of the elections noting the fact of the Kenyan publics’ loss of confidence in the IEBC and supporting “dialogue”.  I expressed my appreciation for this in a previous post. (I would also point out that “dialogue” between Jubilee and CORD is more likely to be about the interests of the politicians than the integrity of the process and voters conceptually; CORD as well as Jubilee made mistakes on the IEBC in 2013).

What my government failed to do was actually speak up about the corruption in the Kenyan electoral management body, each iteration of which “we” have helped pay for since 2002.  Likewise, my government wasn’t willing to speak up for “dialogue” until opposition supporters were willing to get shot down and beaten up by the police to make the point.  Arguably the associated publicity in the international media is bad for “confidence” even though the police brutality was wholy and completely predictable (and as I keep noting, “we” have been spending money on “training” the Kenyan police since 1977!).

Now that Kenyatta and Ruto have called our bluff on “dialogue” and the protests against the IEBC corruption and the responsive police shootings have resumed, this simple question of where my government under President Obama stands, in favor or opposed to corruption at the IEBC, begs for a clear answer.

Maybe we already have it–but I hope not.  I am patriotic enough as an American to be disturbed and disappointed when”we” act in ways that contradict our common values–and to be optimistic, with Churchill, of our proclivity to come around to the right thing after stumbling through alternatives.

The situation is not likely to get better by itself.  I see it as a personal test of character for President Obama.  

On the 2007 Kenyan election disaster, where I found myself accidently embroiled in the policy fiasco, I have been able to allow myself to hope that the key U.S. decisions may not have risen to the attention of President Bush himself (however much he liked to call himself “the decider”) until it was too late in the sense that the election was already both corrupted and observed by Kenyans themselves to be corrupted (in spite of the best effort of some American officials to sweep the corruption under the rug) and people being killed accordingly.  President  Obama, on the other hand, even though I’ve never seen him as so much “into” Kenya per se, has more personal background with these specific problems than the key policy people under him.  The buck unavoidably stops with the President this time.

Trying to duck the basic question to leave the challenge to a new President is a singularly bad idea, and in fact is an indirect but clear answer that we favor rather than oppose the existing corruption levels as election preparation and protest and violent suppression proceed.  

Who would expect the team of Trump, Manafort and Stone–led by the Birther-in-Chief, with the direct personal lineage to Moi and KANU’92, and thus UhuRuto–to stand up for IEBC reform?  Likewise, who would expect Mrs. Clinton to stand up to Tony Podesta as Uhuru’s latest lobbyist in Washington?  If President Obama doesn’t act soon he will have spoken conclusively to say that yes, on balance, his Administration is more supportive of than opposed to the corruption at the IEBC.

I think there is a true humanitarian as well as moral purpose to be served by going ahead and speaking clearly rather than answering by silence.  Silence can leave false hope.  Kenyans are certainly not counting on us.  They aren’t fools and they know how and why we supported the first Kenyatta and Moi.  But we are their favorite foreign power just as they are our favorite African country for a variety of purposes.  We do a lot of things for Kenyans with our tax dollars, like pay for AIDS medicines, since their own government prefers other priorities.  Kenyans voted overwhelmingly for the new constitution that we supported back during the second Kibaki term and the first Obama term, so our interests can align and we can be reformist when we are willing.  Being clear about our intentions is the least we should do.  

No incumbent Kenyan president has ever left office through an election or failed to be re-elected when he ran.  Kenyans know that Kenyatta has the power to stay in office irrespective of any vote if he chooses to; they also know his potential willingness to be the first might depend on whether the IEBC is by next year at least potentially open to a vote tally that goes against the President and how the U.S. and its allies might react to varying further levels of use of force on his behalf.  If we are at peace with continuing to underwrite an IEBC that has been caught being corrupt, aside from failing at its most basic task of delivering an open vote tally in 2013, then we should simply tell Kenyans now so they can know that they are on their own and weigh the risks accordingly.

An appreciation for church leaders and diplomats pushing dialogue in Kenya; next steps?

Someday, my hope remains, administration of elections in Kenya can be a straightforward and transparent affair that is not the stuff of secrets, drama and death.  However, that is not an option on today’s menu.  Church leaders by first speaking out earlier on the need for reform of the IEBC, followed by a call for dialogue now with escalating tensions and killings by police, have served the needs of the mwananchi; the foreign envoys who have spoken collectively both publicly and presumably privately during the recent opposition demonstrations and crackdown have added muscle toward an a needed de-escalation.

Next steps: let’s lance the boil of secrecy in the administration of elections; I firmly believe that Kenyans can be trusted to know how they voted and that counting votes in Kenya does not really have to be harder than in other countries.  

Without the secrecy, the opportunity opens for the more patriotic and more humane voices within the policitical process, both within parties and in civil society, to come to the fore.

Kenya: Police brutality, like other election violence, is used to rally political support as well as to suppress opposition

It is pollyannish not to appreciate that in a society as violent as Kenya’s, where violent crime and violent vigilanteism, along with police brutality, are features of everday life to be navigated by most Kenyans, the public reaction against or in favor of extra-legal violence by the police very much divides along political lines in accordance with who is delivering and who is receiving the violence.

It is the sort of thing that can be seen in the context of the height of the “civil rights movement” in the early 1960s in the American Deep South where I live.  Photographic and videographic images that shocked the rest of the United States and some of the rest of the world reflected police brutality under the command and for the purposes of political leaders who in some substantial part were playing for popular support among their own constituencies.  Not to argue that most white voters were necessarily in favor of particularly bad behavior by the police, but to note that popular support feeding political opportunism was part of the dynamic of repressive violence.

In this respect it has particularly saddened me to see Kenya led now by politicians who elevated themselves in the political ranks on the basis of their perceived reputations as champions of tribally organized violent politics after the failure of the 2007 vote count.

Kenya: Joint Statement from several Western diplomats

From: Nairobi, US Embassy Press Office
Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 4:59 PM

JOINT STATEMENT

Heads of Mission on Recent Violent Demonstrations in Kenya

May 24, 2016

We are deeply concerned by the escalation of violence during the demonstrations in Kenyan cities on 23 May around the future of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The deaths and injuries of Kenyan citizens were tragic and unnecessary. We urge the Government of Kenya to investigate the actions of the security services and to hold accountable anyone responsible for the use of excessive force. We call on all demonstrators to act peacefully.

Violence will not resolve the issues regarding the future of the IEBC or ensure the 2017 elections are free and credible. We strongly urge all Kenyans to come together to de-escalate the situation and to resolve their differences, taking every opportunity for inclusive dialogue. Kenyans should talk, and any compromise must be implemented in accord with Kenya’s Constitution and the rule of law. As partners, we stand ready to support such a dialogue in any way that is useful.

# # #

This statement has been issued by the following Heads of Mission in Kenya:

Robert F. Godec
Ambassador of the United States

Nic Hailey
High Commissioner for the United Kingdom

Jutta Frasch
Ambassador of Germany

David Angell
High Commissioner for Canada

Johan Borgstam
Ambassador of Sweden

Mette Knudsen
Ambassador of Denmark

Victor C. Rønneberg
Ambassador of Norway

John Feakes
High Commissioner for Australia

Frans Makken
Ambassador of the Netherlands

Rémi Marechaux
Ambassador of France

Roxane de Bilderling
Ambassador of Belgium

Stefano A. Dejak
Ambassador of the European Union

Pre-election violence in Kenya: here we go again?

The pre-election killings in Kenya in 2013 were “only” 500 or so as reported at the time.  The various branches of the Kenya Police Service were more restrained than they seem to be this cycle.  In the pre-election period the IEBC was well respected and trusted, having not experienced overlapping scandals and problems that materialized later and remain outstanding.

I think it is well worth remembering that in the especially violent and destabilizing election campaign of 2007, it was the deployment of the Administrative Police (the “AP”) to the western provinces on behalf of the Kibaki re-election effort just before the vote that first openly “militarized” the campaign.  I should have been more alarmed by the “physical” rather than simply electoral implications of that move at the time.

It seems to me that the open use of armed force for political advantage by an incumbent puts the opposition in an unavoidable “fight or flight” bind to the great risk of public safety and stability, affecting the majority who are ardently supportive of neither “side” in the actual campaign.

As Americans we naturally prefer to see Africans choose the “flight” option rather than the “fight” option in most cases.  There are a variety of reasons for this, some that are morally well grounded and some that are morally questionable.  Some of it is compassion; some of it is geopolitical self interest; part of it may be unique to more individualized interests and relationships.  In European countries especially, for instance Ukraine, and in other parts of the world, we often weigh these choices differently.  

In Kenya, it would be most convenient for us, of course, if the opposition stood down, kept quiet, and trusted their government and the donors to handle election administration like in 2007 and 2013.  We know that we cannot ask that explicitly and we see that the IEBC has lost wide confidence from the public but we seem to be unwilling to directly engage in support of reform now.

I would not want to see any of my Kenyan friends or acquaintences sacrifice bodily harm for any of the Kenyan politicians I knew personally from the 2007 campaign.  In 2007 I thought that Kalonzo, Kibaki and Odinga were all three reasonably plausible and well experienced, well known choices; the election itself ought not to have been seen as particularly high risk or high reward, one way or the other, for the vast majority of Kenyans.

However, as I am deeply grateful that my ancestors made the sacrifices required for me to inherit the benefits of a democratic system here in the United States, I would be embarrased to suggest–and am always disappointed to see my government imply–that Kenyans should simply knuckle under and accept that they do not have the freedom-in-fact that their constitution says on paper, under the law, that they have achieved. 

The opposition has generated an opening for reform through the aggressive and disturbing police brutality meted out against them by the government.  There needs to be a pivot, however, to a more nuanced approach if meaningful reform is to be achieved that advances the causes of both non-violent politics and freedom.

The opposition pols seem to focus on the personalities and roles of the IEBC commissioners.  Obviously someone like Hassan who has relished an extraneous public profile as the nemesis of one potential candidate has gone beyond the point of being a trusted neutral in the future, but the delay in the election date that seems to be in the offing from yet another round of procurement “issues” can cycle tainted individuals out of office.  Reform and systemic trust is a much deeper problem than that however–and it is too important to all Kenyans and the country as a whole to be left to the competing camps of pols.

Kenyan democrats should call out the donors.  If we say we are serious about supporting dialogue why not ask us to show a bit of leadership to go with our cash underwriting?

As for me, I am waiting on the first documents from months ago from a FOIA to USAID to understand more about our spending on the IEBC procurements last time.  No sign yet that our advocacy of “open government” is penetrating our approach to democracy assistance in Kenya, but I certainly think transparency would be hugely helpful in supporting real problem solving and rebuilding trust.

Periodically, Westerners are reminded of the brutality and politicization of Kenya’s paramilitary police [updated 18 May]

But there is not much new under the gun in Kenyatta’s Kenya.  

Three years ago, Kenya’s Supreme Court noted the appearance of corruption in Kenya’s election commission and directed investigation and possible prosecution.  No action eventually led to protests which are being brutally suppressed as we speak because the incumbent regime is apparently very afraid of reform, and is reacting just as it has in the past, and each of its predecessors has.

We have no right whatsoever to claim to be surprised.

Update 17 May: Bernard Ngatia, who was shown on video being mercilessly beaten by police, died from the injuries.  Update 18 May: Unsurprisingly there is a lot of murk now about the details of the beating victim from the video and whether he did or didn’t die. We can hope the media will clarify; the same issue of a pattern and practice of police brutality to squelch political dissent confronts us as we hope that thisvictim survived.

From today’s statement from free expression supporters Article 19:

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns yesterday’s killing of a protestor by police, and injury of others who had joined the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) politicians calling for the removal of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

ARTICLE 19 urges the police to respect Article 37 of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate, picket, and present petitions to public authorities, as well as its obligations under international human rights law.

Latest “gangland style hit” of opposing voice in Kenya reminds of neglected seventh anniversary of the murder of Oscar Foundation leaders

Here is my remembrance post from last year for the sixth anniversary of the murders of Oscar Kingara and John Paul Oulu.  

The hit last week of Jacob Juma–a combative and controversial businessman who had taken on a public profile as a vocal critic of corruption in the Kenyatta government, and political proponent of the opposition–was clearly intended to send a chilling message.  Care was taken to make sure the killing was unambiguously seen to be an assassination even though it happened overnight without known third party witnesses.  It would have been simple to raise doubts about common robbery as a motive if the killers were worried about being caught as opposed to frightening other potential victims.

Juma had been “vocal” on  most of the hotest contemporary corruption topics, including the multi-faceted looting at the National Youth Service and the “Eurobond” debt.  The day of the hit, May 5, he was focused on the IEBC and “tweeted” a picture of former U.S. Ambassador Smith Hempstone from time of the end of the Cold War and the “second liberation” to the current ambassador.  

Kingara and Oulu will continue to be missed as Kenya is faced with yet another extrajudicial killing–the kind of thing that the Oscar Foundation investigated when its leaders where denounced by the Kenyan Government, then assassinated.

Assessing Kenya’s election campaign

Best new current periodical article:

“Kenya’s elections: turbulence ahead” in New African.

This piece notes the dynamics from the recent by-elections in Malindi and Kericho in the context of the refusal to address the outstanding corruption matters with the IEBC from the most recent general elections, most notoriously the Smith & Ouzman convictions.

It can be no surprise in context to Kenya watchers to see the Uhuruto administration teargassing opposition protests of Hassan and company at the IEBC this week.

It would seem that we can safely say that the demise of any remedial action associated with the Post Election Violence has now brought to an unsuccessful close the notion of a post-2008 “reform agenda” with the exception of the fact of devolution.  De facto implementation of most of the promise of distributed and restrained powers of His Excellency Hon. C.g.h., President and Commander in Chief of the Defense Forces of the Republic of Kenya will await another political epoch.  Certainly the IEBC now lacks the credibility the ECK had in 2006-07.

The American Deputy Secretary of State will arrive soon for a “bonfire of the ivories” and regional confab about how to save what’s left of the African elephants from poaching, giving important visibility and associational credibility again to the messaging of the Kenyatta administration.  I assume that “we” think this will help the elephants in some fashion even if Kenyatta’s family doesn’t have to explain itself on the issue and corruption in other areas continues to burgeon.  Apparently diplomatic manners allow us to memorialize elephants cut down by violence if not so much the PEV victims and witnesses at this juncture.

Mudavadi offers wise response to Uhuruto victory rally on Post Election Violence

“Greatness is not attained by glorifying yourself in times of victory. It comes only when you handle victory in great humility,” he said.

The former Vice President said the Afraha rally was in bad faith particularly for the 2007-08 post-election violence victims who are still in tears and despair nine years later.

“Kenya’s healing lies not in holding a roadshow prayer rally. It lies in the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report which Jubilee, with her numbers, has deliberately failed to push for adoption in Parliament. The report offers better options for healing, compensation of PEV victims, cohesion and measures of dealing with ethnicity that has crippled our state,” he said.

Mudavadi dismisses Afraha rally as “roadshow”.

Mudavadi was Raila’s running mate in 2007 and presumably would have been in place to become Prime Minister under a new constitution if the Kibaki vote totals had not been marked up at the ECK to keep Kibaki in office and unleashing carnage.  In 2012, Mudavadi was the original choice of some more responsible, less jingoistic elements of the Kikuyu establishment over Uhuru, and had a signed deal for Uhuru’s support, for which Uhuru reneged.  Ultimately, Mudavadi seems to have proved to be too temperate, too sober for the times.

From this blog four years ago:

The political establishment in Kenya will not be easily moved in the 2012 elections, now most likely ending up to be in 2013 through a complicated series of legal wickets for which no one has claimed responsibility and for which there is no obvious popular support. I hope it is finally dawning of any doubters that the Government of Kenya as an institution is quite mobilized on balance to try to stop the ICC, as it has been–and not in favor of any substitute local justice mechanism.