The rest of the inside story of how IRI’s 2007 Election Observation (and Exit Poll) was subverted-The War for History part 17

I never thought of myself becoming a “whistleblower” in relation to my “democracy support” work on the failed 2007 Kenyan election as resident director for the International Republican Institute.  I worked internally to press for the release of the USAID-funded exit poll contradicting the “results” of the election announced on Sunday December 30, 2007 by the Electoral Commission of Kenya and worked internally to try to uphold what I saw as required for the integrity of the IRI Election Observation Mission, also funded by USAID as a separate program.

From mid-December 2007 I was actively resisting what I understood to be, and described to my superiors in IRI as “some agenda” by the U.S. Ambassador in relation to the election itself, with the understanding that we were in complete agreement within IRI of the need for such resistance to attempted interference with our independence.

My Contracting Technical Officer at USAID was caught in the middle between me (and IRI) and the Ambassador.  While she was directly answerable to USAID in Washington as I was to IRI in Washington, and the funding agreements for the programs were issued in Washington, as a practical matter, the Ambassador controlled the process.  The Election Observation was initiated by the Ambassador specifically contrary to the prior planning of USAID (which was changed to accommodate him).  The exit poll was added on to our polling program–contractually and as confirmed in our explicit conversations, as a check on potential election fraud–but really as she told me by phone on the afternoon of election day, as “early intelligence” for the Ambassador as to who was winning.  I know she agreed with some of my concerns and it was certainly my impression from my interactions with her in the aftermath of the election that she felt as badly about what happened as she could allow herself to show in the context of doing her job.  On balance I see her primarily as more a victim of rather than a willing participant in whatever the shenanigans were.

I complained internally about interference from the Ambassador by writing a long e-mail missive to the USAID CTO on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 following a phone conference with the senior IRI leadership in Washington in the wee hours of the morning Nairobi time.  I do not have a copy of that e-mail and USAID did not produce it, or any of the other e-mail correspondence regarding the agreements in response to my FOIA request.

The IRI leadership had called me that Monday afternoon (their time) to follow up on my e-mail report on my private meeting with the Ambassador at his residence that Saturday, December 15.  This was the e-mail noting the “some agenda” of the Ambassador and reporting that he had said “people were saying” that opposition candidate Odinga might, implausibly to my assessment, lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency and thus be disqualified from taking the presidency regardless of the outcome of the national vote, and the Ambassador’s desire to take our lead Election Observation delegate Connie Newman to meet with Stanley Murage, “President Kibaki’s Karl Rove,” on the day before the election to be followed by observing the election with the Ambassador and his staff rather than with our IRI delegation.  I had gone to the Ambassador’s residence based on a phone call that Friday afternoon from an unidentified caller who “worked for the Ambassador” having been told by IRI’s president at the time, Lorne Craner, from Thailand, that the Ambassador wanted to talk to talk with me.  As I have written, Craner had called Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport, as he related it, to “get her Ambassador under control”, then followed up with a call to Ambassador Ranneberger upon arriving in Thailand, after the Ambassador had twisted my arm hard on Thursday to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed as an Election Observation delegate.  My instructions from Mr. Craner were explicit: accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.

I had been in a quiet “push-pull” on behalf of IRI with the Ambassador and his staff and USAID for some period of time over the independence of our Election Observation Mission before things came to a head with the issue of removing Bellamy, the proposed Murage meeting, etc., leading to my complaint to USAID.

As I have written, after Ranneberger’s meeting with myself and my boss and the late Amb. Rich Williamson in August in which Ranneberger again expressed his desire to have IRI observe the election, USAID told me they would “move heaven and earth” to make the observation happen and they came up with $235,000 of “Economic Support Funds” at the end of the fiscal year in September for the mission.

Ranneberger wanted, as I was told later by the CTO, to select all of IRI’s Observation delegates.  She said that she explained to the Ambassador that this was not doable, but promised him as a minimum the approval of the “lead delegate”.

When she wrote up the Request For Proposals (“RFP”) for a Cooperative Agreement to conduct the Election Observation it was de facto directed to IRI, in accordance with the Ambassador’s previously expressed desire.  The RFP was issued on a non-competitive basis to the CEPPS (“Coalition for Political Parties and Process Strengthening”) comprised of IRI, NDI and IFES, thus eliminating the Carter Center and Democracy International.  Based on language in the RFP, NDI was in effect eliminated by their work with the competing political parties and IFES was eliminated by their role as “embedded” with the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  (After my return to the States I found that USAID had paid a consulting firm, MSI, in the spring of 2006 to study and advise on USAID’s preparations for the 2007 election.  After extensive interviews in Nairobi, including staff of all three CEPPS entities working on the USAID programs at the time, they recommended that USAID plan for and fund an election observation and that the Carter Center was the most appropriate entity to conduct it.)  In the RFP the CTO included descriptions of the credentials matching without naming the specific people that Ranneberger wanted as “lead delegates”, former Assistant Secretaries for Africa for whom Ranneberger had worked, Connie Newman and Chester Crocker.  The “lead delegate” was to be formally approved as USAID’s “substantial involvement” in the program.   For the rest of the delegates that Ranneberger had specified to me that he wanted IRI to invite, the RFP listed matching credential descriptions, but as examples without a contractual right of approval.

As I have written, IRI went along with inviting Newman and Crocker (Crocker declined as unavailable) while refusing to submit Newman’s name for formal approval as being an impermissible intrusion on IRI’s independence in conducting an international Election Observation Mission.  Of the other potential delegates that Ranneberger wanted IRI to invite as per his after hours cell phone calls to me, Joel Barkan was the only one included in the EOM as he had already been identified separately by IRI.  None of the others, of which well known former diplomat Frank Wisner, then at insurer AIG, stands out in my recollection, were invited by IRI.

The Ambassador took a keen interest in the lodging arrangements, in particular wanting Ms. Newman to stay at the embassy residence, or alternatively at the Serena hotel (near State House as well as closer to his residence and others in exclusive Muthaiga) rather than at the Holiday Inn Mayfair which we had selected for the delegation. We internally insisted on planning for Connie to stay with the rest of the delegation, even before the alarm bells went off from the Ambassador’s December 15 expression of desire to take her to meet with Stanley Murage the day before the vote.  Likewise, I nixed having our delegation travel in State Department cars with State Department drivers (I did go along with having interpreters for many of our teams).  I also declined to merge our observation headquarters operation into the Ambassador’s diplomatic command post at the Embassy in Gigiri, keeping our operation separate at the Mayfair, with a staff liaison to the Embassy and to the EU observation headquarters.

During that wee hours December 18 phone call from Washington (I was awoken at home) following my report on meeting with the Ambassador, I was given the opportunity by IRI’s number two official (filing in since Mr. Craner was in Thailand) to cancel the election observation on my say so based on the Ambassador’s interference.  This is one of the crucial things that has always made me believe, in accordance with what I was told directly, that everyone on the IRI staff was in accord that we were committed to “playing it straight” on the election itself and that all the “agenda” issues came from or through the Ambassador and not from within IRI.

Unfortunately, having to make a judgment call on the spot, in the context of our detailed discussion of our plans and logistics, I made the decision that we could go forward.  Mea culpa.  If I had to do it over again, with more foresight into what would come, of course I would have said we have to cancel.

In fairness, I have to say that my decision was based on counting on the fact that it was agreed that Connie Newman would be accompanied by and briefed by the other senior IRI officer on the call (who would be the senior official on the ground for the election observation) as to the interference problems and the need for Connie to keep her distance from the Ambassador.  I was given explicit assurance that Connie could be expected to understand and cooperate.  I simply did not appreciate the possibility that this agreed approach would either be abandoned without notice or explanation to me or simply fail through refusal by Connie to cooperate.

A key factor in my decision was that it seemed clear that abruptly cancelling the election observation days before the vote–without explaining why (or most especially if we did explain, which of course was totally unrealistic)–would be a disruptive factor in the last days leading up to the election, and potentially something of an “international incident”.  We were the only international non-governmental organization scheduled to observe and the observation had already been announced and publicized in Washington and Nairobi.  No one was publicly predicting violence or major problems and there was no obvious reason why we would suddenly just cancel.

Again, in a key sign that people on staff at IRI in Washington were trying to do the right thing, I got permission to do a last minute poll of Raila’s Langata constituency in response to my meeting with the Ambassador.  It seemed to me a clear way to telegraph that we would be “observing” seriously and were not going to go along with an obviously bogus result from Lanagata when, as confirmed by the poll, the race there was in no way remotely in doubt.  I told the Ambassador’s top aide on Christmas Eve that we had done the poll and conveyed the results to the Ambassador in person that evening as requested.

As it turned out, Connie and the Ambassador were obviously close and quite well coordinated.  When she visited Nairobi in 2009 he introduced her at the residence as “his great friend and mentor” and during the pre-election in 2007, even though she formally remained lodged at the Mayfair, she stayed behind at the embassy residence after our pre-election gathering there with the Ambassador when the rest of us boarded the bus to leave.  She told me she would be driven back to the Mayfair later, but I was told that the other delegates took notice of the fact that she didn’t end up returning.  I have no idea whether she ended up meeting or talking to Stanley Murage with the Ambassdor or not, one way or the other.  The issue was never mentioned after our internal agreement that it “must not” happen and I hope it didn’t.

On the evening of the vote, I learned from our liaison to the EU observation mission security team that the Ambassador had called his State Department observers in to Nairobi from “the field” that night due to concerns of violence, but no one else told me, including our liaison at the U.S. Embassy observation headquarters.  Our IRI teams stayed out as did the EU’s.

On the morning after the election, when Connie and I and my two IRI superiors from Washington convened as planned ahead of the vote to draft an IRI Preliminary Observation Statement, Connie and I took opposite angles–she steered to make the statement as positive as possible, I steered to keep it as reserved and as cognizant of obvious issues as possible, given that we did not really know much yet.  Through the Freedom of Information Act I learned several years later that the Ambassador had reflected in his cable to Washington that day that IRI was expected to release a “largely positive” statement that same day.  In the afternoon Connie presented the final “Preliminary Statement” to the media in a solo press conference with IRI staff and such other of our observers as were back from the field by that afternoon in the audience.

When the three senior IRI staff (myself included) and Connie met with the leadership of the EU delegation the next day, December 29, at the Serena Hotel, I learned that we were significantly criticized for releasing our Preliminary Statement before any of the other observation missions and while the vote tally was ongoing.  During the formal discussion between the two delegations, Connie asserted as an example of the positives from the vote the notion that the election officials had done a good job of consistently handling assistance to voters who needed it.  I spoke up and said that I had observed otherwise since Connie was obviously pulling that notion out of thin air. In fact, our Preliminary Statement itself the day before had said “As happens in many elections around the world, the ECK must address the issue of polling stations opening late, voting materials being delivered in a timely manner, and appropriately providing assistance to voters”.  I was sitting right beside Connie chatting along the back wall of the polling station when I took the photograph below of a voter beseiged by would be “assistants”:

Voter Assistance Nairobi 2007

Subsequently, I made the mistake of pressing for release of the exit poll results indicating an opposition win over Kibaki to my bosses from Washington in front of Connie.  Connie immediately spoke up to object to any release of these results.  My regional director, my immediate superior from DC, pulled me aside and pointed out that I had made a mistake raising the topic in front of Connie as it was not her place to be involved.  I acknowledged my error, but the bell was rung at that point as Connie was an IRI board member and the rest of the senior staff as career employees were not going to openly resist once she preemptively staked out her ground to quash the poll.  (And to be clear, there was no discussion or any claim whatsoever on Connie’s part at that time–or ever in my presence–of any confusion about the “validity” of the poll based on a misunderstanding about the performance of the polling firm, or the “methodology” or any other grounds offered from Washington in later weeks as scrutiny came to bear.)

To be continued . . .

 

 

 

The missing USAID news: “Kenya’s President Lost Disputed Election, Poll Shows”–the War for History, part 16

IRI Poll Release Press ConferenceFor some reason the USAID Frontlines newsletter for August 2008 has gone missing from the USAID online archives, breaking my link from other posts and pages.  Fortunately, I downloaded a file years ago.  Here is the key news item:

Kenya’s President Lost Disputed Election,  Poll Show
NAIROBI, Kenya—An exit poll carried out with a grant from USAID in Kenya after elections six months ago that unleashed a wave of political and ethic killings, disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner.
President Mwai Kibaki, whom official results credited with a two-point margin of victory in the December vote, finished nearly 6 points behind in the exit poll, which was released in July by researchers from the University of California, San Diego.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga scored “a clear win outside the margin of error” according to surveys of voters as they left polling places
on Election Day, the poll’s author said.
The exit poll was first reported on by the McClatchy news agency. It was financed by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan democracy-building organization, with a grant from USAID.
Amid post-election violence, IRI decided not to release the poll. But the poll’s authors and the former head of the institute’s program in Kenya stand by the research, which the authors presented July 8 in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the exit poll, Odinga had 46.07 percent of the vote and Kibaki had 40.17 percent. (emphasis added)

Note that in this 2008 USAID publication  there was no assertion that the poll was withheld due to being “invalid” or questionable in some fashion, as sometimes asserted by IRI, nor that it was a “training exercise” and  “never intended to be released” as claimed by Ambassador Ranneberger in a webchat in March 2008 and in talking points prepared by the State Department’s Africa Bureau in response to inquiries from the McClatchy newspapers in early 2008 and used again after publication of the New York Times investigation in early 2009.  Rather simply that a decision was made not to release the poll “amid post-election violence”. [Ed. note: For details on the State Department Africa Bureau Talking Points for media communications regarding the exit poll, see Africa Bureau under Frazer coordinated “recharacterization” of 2007 Kenya Exit Poll showing Odinga win (New Documents-FOIA Series No. 12)]

Meanwhile, now in 2016, Kibaki’s successor is rolling out his re-election campaign in the form of a Jubilee Party to be assembled from the dissolution of Kenyatta’s TNA, Ruto’s URP and various other party vehicles. All this is being done through ceremonial meeting/events at State House, serving notice that the legal restrictions on the use of public resources for campaigns found in the Elections Act of 2011 are no impediment where His Excellency the President is concerned.

Even Kibaki used private venues, rather than State House, to form and announce his Party of National Unity for his 2007 re-election.

No public word that USAID or the State Department are reconsidering the underwriting of this latest presidential vote. USAID published an RFP for a $20M election assistance program last December although it was also removed from the government’s websites after it was due to be awarded.

Secretary Kerry will be coming to Nairobi later this month, perhaps reprising Secretary Clinton’s summer 2012 visit ahead of the 2013 election.

“[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.