As it was in 2007, is it now in 2016? “Too much corruption” in Kenya to risk a change in power at elections?

imageI wrote about my most important conversation from the 2007 campaign in Kenya here in installment 13 of my “War for History” series:

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the Minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process. I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.

He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”  The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide. . .  .

With the latest news of scandal from the Ministry of Health, following the National Youth Service and Devolution Ministry scandals, it would seem that we are on familiar ground. The Minister from my 2007 breakfast remains an interlocutor and leader of the formation of the “Jubilee Party” now as he was of the “Party of National Unity” as Kibaki’s 2007 re-election vehicle.  (Same person who explained later which bills he would use to bribe which voters based on poverty and gender.)

In the 2007 campaign, the local World Bank representative and US Ambassador Ranneberger provided significant public support for the Kibaki Administration on the corruption problem faced by the re-election campaign in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal and the revelations by John Githongo and others. See Part Five of my Freedom of Information Act Series.

(I understand that Ranneberger was outspoken against corruption later, after the disaster of the stolen 2007 election and the PEV; also that he was publicly against corruption in the very early part of his tenure in 2006, before the Kibaki re-election geared up and, perhaps coincidentally, before the the Ethiopians entered Somalia to restore the TFG and displace the ICU. I stand by my characterization of his public voice to Kenyans during the campaign.)

My government has been awfully quiet
about the burgeoning scandals in the Uhuruto administration. It’s interesting to remember that then-Senator Obama was noted for his “tough love” and blunt words on corruption during his 2006 visit to Kenya (again in the very early days of Ranneberger’s tenure). Part of this season’s “public diplomacy” has been a “partnership” agreement to fight corruption between the Obama and Kenyatta administrations from the President’s Nairobi visit last year, but we don’t seem to talk about it much publicly in terms of implementation.

It is none of my business who Kenyans vote for next year.  It may be that most Kenyans, like the majority of Americans, are likely to end up voting in ways that are fairly predictable “culturally” for the time being and will filter their perceptions of government performance accordingly.

But it does not have to be the case that my government tacitly enables corruption in Kenya’s government.

I don’t like to pay to replace Kenyan public services in vital areas like health that Kenya’s government could well afford but for greed and corruption. I don’t like to see sophisticated Kenyan elites take Westerners for useful idiots to enrich themselves and their personal networks while stealing from the poor and sick.  And even if we are not willing to seriously undertake the hard and potentially risky challenges to meaningfully and consistently support democratic reforms–because it seems dangerous while Kenya is again a “Front Line State” in a neighborhood where other places where we have looked away from corruption, like South Sudan and DRC, are worse off, or because its a nice place to live and have meetings and do small things to help poor people and animals at (American) taxpayer expense or for whatever reason–I want my government to find and uphold its own democratic integrity to rise above playing footsie with fakers in Kenya.

In the meantime, it has been more than a year now with no documents from my 2015 Freedom of Information Act request about our assistance through USAID for the corrupted IEBC procurement process for the 2013 election, but IFES is soliciting proposals from Kenyans for innovation grants for 2017 under the big new USAID program “KEAP” for 2017.  If we are not transparent, at a minimum, we cannot assist democracy or good governance.

We have all sorts of great, worthwhile assistance programs in Kenya, but in the big picture we work against ourselves and limit meaningful progress by supporting or coddling crooks and their offspring.


How did Donald Trump get this far?; our actions in Kenya since 2007 are an example of why Americans are frustrated [updated 10/10/16]

[I updated to correct an error — the USAID Inspector General, rather than the U.S. Government Accountability Office, conducted the referenced investigation that found USAID funds went into supporting the “yes” campaign in the 2010 Kenya referendum, rather than providing only neutral process support for Kenyan voters.]

Longtime readers of this blog will well recognize Kenya as a glaring example of the refusal of our government and the surrounding networks of foreign policy elites in the larger Washington Beltway community to seriously self-assess and try to level with the American people in such a way as to build trust and confidence (even  in the face of our serious and determined foes).

The stolen election in Kenya and its aftermath in 2007-08 was clearly a catastrophe for both the Kenyan people–whom we are continually trying to assist to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year–and for security interests of the United States (whatever real or rationalized internal claims might or might not exist to justify our policy of “looking, and pointing, the other way” as we saw the election being stolen).  So far as I can assume, the Kibaki team would surely have done whatever was necessary to obtain the ECK certificate as “winner” of the election irrespective of the actual voting even if “we hadn’t even been here” (see here) but the very least we have to conclude is that our elaborate and expensive electoral assistance effort was in crucial respects a failure.  And we certainly do have to consider the possibility that the other donors could have done better to accomplish what were identified as the common objectives without us and our leading role.


A key reason I have dedicated my “War for History” series to my late friend Joel Barkan–along with my late friend Peter Oriare–was that Joel was one of the rare people in Washington willing to speak out when he saw our country making what he saw as a foreign policy mistake.  He wisely warned IRI that we were risking embarrassment along with the State Department.  Was he thanked when it became obvious that he had been right?–no, he was attacked instead, in the finest Washington tradition of “CYA by pointing your finger at the person who suggested you ought not to show it in the first place”.

Having found myself playing a bit part due to working for a “charity” that got tagged, along with USAID, by our Ambassador to play a role neither my organization nor USAID sought as of the time I moved my family to Kenya to help out, I find myself being the only one seemingly willing to offer any type of public mea culpa for those decisions that I would make differently in hindsight.  And I know that I absolutely did my best even though I was not successful overall.  I cannot help but wonder if that is really the case for everyone, given all the various potential interests to be served.

In spite of how badly things went we have just given ourselves credit–and let the individuals who were in key roles publicly pat themselves on the back–for helping to keep the aftermath of the stolen election from being worse than it was.  I did not have any personal animus against Ambassador Ranneberger and did not want him to be precipitously “recalled” as a result of my complaint about his interference with the election observation, but I would never have imagined that with a big political turnover in the U.S.–based to a great extent on a public loss of confidence in foreign policy decision making–Ranneberger would still end up being one of the most prominent public actors in Kenyan politics–on behalf of my country–for several more years afterward and be our second-longest serving Ambassador to Kenya ever.

Through the persistence of the subsequent Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Rep. Christopher Smith, we eventually learned through a Kevin Kelly story in Kenya’s Daily Nation that the USAID Inspector General had determined that an “eight figure” sum of money had bled over from lawfully neutral process support for constitutional reform into the 2010 “Yes” referendum campaign. Personally believing that on balance Kenyans would be better off to pass rather than defeat the referendum, I was embarrassingly gullible myself in being hesitant to credit Congressman Smith’s concerns in this regard until I saw the reporting on the USAID Inspector General’s findings.  Shocking that the Ambassador who was not neutral in the 2007 vote was not neutral again in 2010!

In the 2013 general election, the administration of the process was in substantial ways even worse than in 2007 as capably pointed out by John Githongo and many others of earned expertise. Our assistance was much more expensive, and while not so controversial, was again not very transparent  at all.  (Still nothing on my public records request to USAID regarding our spending through IFES on Kenya’s IEBC and its corrupt technology procurements.)

And now, here we go again.  The Uhuruto re-election gears up against the ODM-led opposition with the Government of Kenya facing its inevitable referral to the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court since it–inevitably and predictably–refused to meet its legal obligations to cooperate with the Court.

The individual who served as Assistant Secretary of State during the 2007-08 catastrophe, as a private citizen but identified primarily in her role as a former high ranking diplomat, was a key figure again in the 2013 campaign–this time speaking out (informally I assume) to accuse the United States Government of interfering in the election in the opposite direction, in favor of the opposition and against her preferred candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta.  While she was within her rights, her argument seems counterfactual when you look at how U.S. assistance to the Government of Kenya and NDI/ELOG and IFES for the election was actually used in totality: to sell whatever the IEBC decided, even without a transparent tally and even though we had some real knowledge of the corruption issues that have eventually come out to the point of forcing their buyout after the Opposition was willing to protest on the streets this year.

If you will read the ELOG final report from several months after the election, you will see that it appears that the NDI/ELOG Parallel Vote Count had more problems with falloff of planned data collection than the 2007 IRI exit poll–but since it involved a much smaller universe of locations than an exit poll I’m not sure that this could be adjusted for (if attempted).  So the idea that the 49.7% PVT result “VERIFIED” that Uhuruto received more than 50% looks that much more like advocacy for the IEBC rather than facts for the voters.

I would never vote in a scenario that I can readily imagine for Donald Trump or someone much like Donald Trump as best I understand him.  I agree that his positions–none of which I assume reflect any sincere value judgments–are dangerous to our country now and for my children’s future.  But if you don’t understand why many Americans might have some temptation to go for “the candidate of the middle finger” out of frustration with a sense that “Washington” isn’t actually working on their behalf as they send their taxes, you cannot be getting out enough.

The simple truth of the allegedly “contested” Kenya 2007 exit poll–what IRI reported to USAID (FOIA series part 14, War for History series part 19)

Raila Odinga has a couple of times recently made conspicuous public mention of the Kenya 2007 IRI/USAID/UCSD exit poll results identifying him as the winning vote-getter, including in his speech at the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Orange Democratic Movement party a few days ago, as well as a significant discussion in his autobiography.

Even a year-and-a-half after the Kenyan election, in July 2009, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States Peter Ogego said at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington that it was important to get to the bottom of the situation with the U.S.-sponsored exit poll indicating an Odinga rather than a Kibaki win.  The late Congressman Donald Payne, then Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa said at the same event that the poll should have been published sooner and that not releasing it had been a mistake, although IRI, he thought, had a “good reason” for not releasing it initially.  This is the basic structure of what actually happened, contra what IRI claimed in a March 29, 2009 “rebuttal” to the New York Times investigation. (My point here is still not to berate IRI for continuing to publish this defamatory material worldwide, but I have sadly come to realize that many people seem to have been, surprisingly to me, actually misled by at least some of it.)

On Monday, January 14, 2008 the International Republican Institute’s Coalition for Electoral and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) manager submitted by email to USAID at 6:25pm our formal Quarterly Report on the Kenya polling program.  The program had begun with an exit poll for the 2005 constitutional referendum and was scheduled to end with our final pre-election public opinion survey in September 2007, but an amendment that September added the exit poll for the 2007 general election.

Here is this January 14, 2008 report as released under the Freedom of Information Act:

CEPPS IRI Kenya 8038_Oct-Dec 2007

In the report, we at IRI wrote:

Implementation of the December 2007 General Elections Exit Poll
IRI initiated discussions on the exit poll to be conducted during the December 2007 general elections. IRI reviewed the survey instruments, deployment plans, and schedules. Discussions between IRI, USAID, and the local polling firm, Strategic Public Relations and Implementation of the December 2007 General Elections Exit Poll
Research (“Strategic”), took place. Researchers from the University of California at San Diego also partnered with IRI to advise on the sample design, methodology, and data analysis, which they are using for independent studies on polling.

Training of Researchers
In consultation with IRI, Strategic conducted training sessions for the researchers collecting exit poll data. As with the previous polls, Strategic trained a number of researchers, who later deployed to the field as trainers of trainers (TOTs) to identify and train research assistants that would be used to collect data.

The training reviewed field resource management techniques, sampling, and interviewing techniques, as well as training to ensure that all staff had a good understanding of the questionnaire. The questionnaire was then pre-tested in various constituencies of Nairobi. The interviewers later met for a debrief and assessment of the pre-test before deploying nationally.

Data Collection

The poll was fielded on election day in Kenya, December 27, 2007.  A group of 2,887 researchers from Strategic deployed in teams to 175 of 210 constituencies, covering all eight provinces of Kenya.

The interviewers were expected to carry out interviews approximately 100 meters from polling stations.  The interviews were limited to people that had just voted, and the administration of the questionnaire varied from less than five to seven minutes.  To ensure the validity of the sample, between 15 to 25 interviews were conducted at selected polling stations, and only every fifth voter was asked to participate.  Strategic supervisors accompanied researchers to ensure the accuracy of reporting on a number of questionnaires.  Researchers relayed immediate results to their direct supervisors, who then called in to Strategic’s data processing center in Nairobi.


During the implementation of the poll, researchers encountered certain challenges, such as the inaccessibility of some areas due to poor roads; poor network coverage; and hostility from polling officials and respondents.  In one instance, a researcher’s questionnaires were confiscated by a polling official.  However, these issues did not significantly affect the data collection exercise.  (emphasis added).

Data Analysis

As data was collected, it was immediately relayed to Strategic headquarters for compilation.  However, data analysis for the exit poll was still ongoing through the end of this quarter. (through December 31)

Earlier that Monday the McClatchy newspapers ran Shashank Bengali’s story “Kenyan president lost election according to U.S. exit poll”. 

Continue reading

I was amazed by what Amb. Ranneberger admitted and what he denied to the New York Times-the “War for History” part 18

To pick up from Part 17, when the New York Times finally published their story on January 30, 2009, “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll”, after they had interviewed me in July 2008 and again that November, the most significant substantive new information for me was that Ambassador Ranneberger admitted to discussing the USAID/IRI exit poll with Connie Newman, whose choice he had engineered as lead delegate for our Election Observation Mission.  While I had assumed that word from the Ambassador was realistically the only plausible explanation for Connie asserting herself to object to any public mention of the exit poll or its preliminary numbers by December 29 when she had no involvement with the polling program, she had not said anything of such conversation to me, and I had no way to know for sure and certainly no way to prove it.

At the same time, I was amazed that Ranneberger flatly denied his action in twisting my arm to get his predecessor, Ambassador Mark Bellamy, removed from the Election Observation delegation.  Contrary to his discussion of the exit poll with Connie, that was something that I knew other people in the State Department and USAID, as well as at IRI, knew about.  Both Ambassador Bellamy and Connie Newman declined to comment–which I would have expected Ranneberger to do.

Ranneberger’s claim that he had no part in removing Bellamy obviously raised the stakes that much more for me personally in that I was back at my job as senior counsel for a major defense contractor and I was being accused by our Ambassador to Kenya on the front page of the New York Times of fabricating the whole incident.  At the same time, it had the advantage of making it clear to people at the State Department and USAID, and at IRI (including the local staff that I had worked with in Nairobi who had helped me check out Ranneberger’s claim that Bellamy was “perceived as anti-government” but who had no involvement in the polling controversy) that I was telling the truth and Ranneberger was not.

At the time, I really did not know how much weight to give to Ranneberger’s removal of Bellamy from the Observation, but I emphasized it in my original interview with the Times in part because I knew that a much wider circle of people knew about it than knew about what had happened with the machinations on the issues of the pre-election and exit polls.

In retrospect, I see the removal of Bellamy as crucial to allowing Ranneberger to substantively control the Observation when it mattered most.  Eventually in July the final IRI observation report was issued pointing out that the election had been corrupted and the exit poll was released by IRI then finally in August, but by that time it was too late to make any difference.  In spite of the terms of the February 28, 2008 “peace deal” the changing of the vote tallies at the ECK headquarters as witnessed by Ranneberger was never investigated (or publicly revealed by the State Department until my FOIA request turned up the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable years later) and Kibaki’s re-election stood irrespective of the fraud in declaring him winner.


Taking back up my burden as a witness to catastrophe in Kenya (and Mississippi)

I’ve promised myself to go ahead and hammer home more of the details about the election fraud and cover up in Kenya in 2007 in more installments of my “War for History” series before saying much more about the next election or the latest trend in development assistance fashion or other things that would be more fun to write about now.

Part of what has happened is that I made a conscious choice to “turn the other cheek” when I was attacked by and on behalf of the International Republican Institute back in 2009 for being a former employee “whistleblower” of sorts or violating the “omerta” of that branch of the government organized NGO world.  I did not want to attack IRI for reasons both substantial and sentimental.  Sentimentally, I had friends there and still do and aside from meaningful relationships I liked pretty much everyone I worked with and it makes me sad to address painful subjects in this context.  More substantively, I believed in and invested in American democracy assistance through IRI and I do think that such assistance can be effective and of value in the right circumstances (if we conduct ourselves in a principled and committed way and hold ourselves accountable as necessary in any serious endeavor).  Thus, I have been circumspect in fighting back to try to defend or recover my own reputation recognizing that at some level that is part of the collateral damage associated with coming into contact with the sort of political “perfect storm” that hit Kenya and Washington during my time in Nairobi.  With the far far greater harm that came to those millions of Kenyans who had their vote misappropriated and those killed, maimed and displaced by the violence, whether state-sponsored, privately instigated and funded or spontaneous, getting a black-eye from some operatives in Washington is not something of consequence one way or the other.

After returning home from Kenya at the end of May 2008 I did over the months and years ahead a variety of interviews with people undertaking writing projects relating to that Kenyan election of 2007 (none at my instigation, but I would invariably say yes when asked).  I always assumed that someone would eventually publish their book tackling the hard story of what really happened with the election and de-cyphering in some real fashion what U.S. policy at the time was intended to be.  Unfortunately, that has still never yet happened, and here we are, in 2016 with yet another election notionally (and by law) only a year away.

So I have concluded that at this point I really need to go ahead and hit the rest of the key high points of what I know first hand as well as what I have teased out from FOIA. In particular, anyone working for IRI/NDI/IFES and any of the other organizations running election support operations or any type of observation-related endeavor for the 2017 Kenyan election really needs to know the ins-and-outs of what happened in 2007-08, especially since almost all the key players in Kenyan politics are the same (although perhaps half or so have switched sides between Government and Opposition).

I do need to call attention to two rules that I have continued to abide by in my role as a “witness” here: 1) I uphold the Code of Conduct I agreed to in working for IRI by not disclosing my political conversations with Kenyan politicians during my IRI service in any way that is recognizable to the individuals involved 2) I have not published or quoted stolen classified documents or otherwise violated any U.S. national security rules (as I have mentioned, I had a security clearance from my job in the U.S. based defense industry contemporaneously with my time in Kenya, but my clearance was unrelated to my unpaid “public service” leave for the NGO job in East Africa and I did not work on any classified programs or endeavors of any sort as an IRI employee.  My security clearance was renewed back home several months after Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other in the New York Times about his interactions with me in regard to the Kenyan election–I have assumed that this was because I told the truth).  I have noticed that it seems more and more people who do a lot of sensitive work for the U.S. government at taxpayer expense do cite some material from the “cablegate” leaks, but I have not crossed that threshold myself.

The Mississippi angle comes in from the fact that the experience of Hurricane Katrina (which made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast eleven years ago today) had a great deal to do with me finding myself in the wake of the election disaster in Kenya in 2007.  The idea of taking leave from my job primarily supporting Navy shipbuilding to work in foreign assistance took shape from the Katrina experience.  I won’t try to explain in any depth now, but the point is that I took leave of my job as a middle-aged mid-career lawyer and moved my family to Kenya temporarily (at the expense of my wife’s job, by the way) with the serious expectation of doing work that was at least in some meaningful if incremental way beneficial to people who were less fortunate (as opposed to because it was the best job I could find in the Republican Party at the time, or because I needed to lay low and get out of the country for while, or some such).  Thus, I remain unrequited as I see democracy in Kenya continue to slog in the mud and the alleged benefits of the February 28, 2008 “peace deal” pissed away in favor of impunity for corruption as well as for killing.

Peace Wanted Alive

Solo 7 — Toi Market


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.