We wish you a Merry Christmas from Coastal Mississippi. Here, all is calm and bright, but our Ethiopian creche keeps us mindful of and in prayer for our neighbors.
Category Archives: Ethiopia
Michael Horton of the Jamestown Foundation joins the advocacy for international recognition of Somaliland
Micheal Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, who publishes occasionally at the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft, has written a piece entitled “How Somaliland is playing its geostrategic cards better than most” including advocacy for international recognition:
. . . .
The pressures that Somaliland faces will only increase in the months and years ahead. The ramifications of the possible dissolution of Ethiopia as a cohesive state will reverberate across the Horn of Africa. Somaliland, like other Horn of Africa nations, will be hard pressed to insulate itself from the fallout from the fragmentation of Africa’s second most populous country. Ethiopia’s civil war is also occurring at a time when developing and developed nations alike face rising energy costs and food inflation, as well as ongoing economic disruptions resulting from responses to COVID-19. Such challenges will test every country in the Horn of Africa and beyond.
More than ever, Somaliland deserves and needs international recognition for the great strides it has made to establish a democratic and durable government. The United States has an opportunity to solidify its relationship with a nation that has a proven record of adhering to the values and forms of governance that it supports. However, the window on this opportunity is likely to close. At some point in the near future, circumstances and necessity will force Somalilanders to choose a side. Aid from China may prove more convincing than empty rhetoric from Washington.
Following the paper “The U.S. Should Recognize Somaliland” by Joshua Meservey, the Heritage Foundation’s lead Africa analyst published in October, it is clear that there is real movement on the conservative side of the Washington foreign policy establishment for some U.S. initiative on the recognition issue, in spite of the reduced public engagement with Somaliland during the Trump Administration when the D.C. right had some real direct power in the various bureaucracies as well as the White House and top levels at State and Defense.
Personally, I do not disagree with Meservey’s or Horton’s basic arguments (not to say I agree with every detail of what they write or that they address all issues where I see challenges and risks) now that Somaliland has delivered on the long delayed parliamentary election. I thought the previous “dual track” approach from the early Obama years made sense then and I was surprised not to see more progress since. (See “U.S.-Somaliland relationship continues to mature as U.S. leads donor delegation on preparation for municipal elections” from 2012.) Given that I poked a bit at now-Secretary Buttigieg’s 2008 advocacy (“Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” and “Please note that in mid-2008 Hargeisa, Somaliland was safer and less repressive than Addis or Khartoum” ) I want to take note of both the progress in Somaliland and the risks of letting more years drift by on recognition as other changes take place in the region.
April 1960 brief by CIA expected British Colonial Office not to oppose a post-independence unification agreement by Somaliland Protectorate with southern Italian Somali Trust Territory but to hope to delay it.
Here is a declassified CIA April 1960 briefing for the United States National Security Council covering “the Somali area” along with pre-independence Congo. It discussed the “confused and explosive” situation involving impending Somaliland independence from Britain:
The issue of Somaliland independence or union with the “to be” Republic of Somalia was on the table for Somalis, their neighbors and the international powers when Somaliland was still a British Protectorate and Somalia was a former Italian Colony being administered by Italy as a UN Trust Territory. We are approaching the point at which Somaliland has functioned almost an equal amount of years as independently self-governed as it was a part of the Somali Republic (July 1, 1960) and its successors.
Please note that Hargeisa, Somaliland in mid-2008 was safer and less repressive than Addis or Khartoum (re that Pete Buttigieg vacation trip)
Apparently my post from December 7 “Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” has gotten shared on Facebook and otherwise linked by people with both an aggressive left and aggressive right position as to the U.S. presidential election to the point that I thought it was worth coming back to note that my intention is for this blog to be nonpartisan. I am not a member of a political party at present and am not intending to give any advice here about who anyone should vote for in any of the primaries.
One specific thing that people seem to miss is that in 2007-2008 there was regular direct commercial air service between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Hargeisa, Somaliland. So visiting Hargeisa was not some daunting overland journey or even some exotic series of “puddle jumps”. Again, there was an issue involving permission by the United States Government for United States Government employees and contractors to travel to the country which did not have formal government recognition, even though the United States was funding some aid programs, such as the one I and other International Republican Institute staff managed from our East Africa office in Nairobi and then with a satellite office in Hargeisa opening in the spring of 2008.
Buttigieg’s co-author in the New York Times op-ed from their brief visit to Somaliland was working for the World Bank in Addis and thus conveniently located for a quick trip.
Traveling to and from Hargeisa from Nairobi did require us to overnight in Addis where the Meles Zenawi government had staged a major crackdown on political opposition in the context of the contentious 2005 election and kicked out U.S. democracy assistance organizations including IRI and arrested lots of political dissenters. Thus, walking around the streets in Addis was for me, at least, a tenser environment than what I experienced in Hargeisa, although not quite to the level of Khartoum at that general time. (I never visited Somalia as NDI had the programs there and as best I recollect no commercial air flights were then scheduled into Mogadishu which was still impacted by the early years of the present war with al-Shabaab.)
In fact, see this 2010 Foreign Policy piece from Nathaniel Myers, Buttigieg’s co-author on Somaliland: “Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham“.
East Africa is the pits for press freedom, but congratulations to Namibia, Ghana and South Africa for outranking France, the U.K. and the U.S. in the World Press Freedom index
Here is the new 2019 World Press Freedom index from RSF, with the United States down to No. 48 (!) and France and the U.K. at 32 and 33 respectively. Namibia at 23, Ghana at 27 and South Africa at 31 lead SubSaharan Africa. Burkina Faso at 36 and Botswana at 44 also outrank the United States.
Thus, five African nations are ranked above the United States for press freedom this year according to Reporters Without Borders. The United States continues to rank above all of the East African nations.
Here are the East African Community member rankings:
South Sudan 139
Elsewhere in the East and Horn Region: Ethiopia 110; Somalia 164; Djibouti 173; Sudan 175.
And other “development partners”: Norway 1; Germany 13; Japan 67; UAE 133; Russia 149; Egypt 163; Iran 170; Saudi Arabia 172; North Korea 179
Ramping up air strikes after 12 years, does the Trump Administration have a new strategy for the war in Somalia or is this escalation “mission creep”?
The Trump Administration’s escalation of the air power part of the war in Somalia in recent months has caught the attention of American journalists. See recent reporting in The New York Times and Amanda Sperber’s investigative reporting in The Nation. A recent Amnesty International report that U.S. air strikes have caused 14 civilian casualties since 2017 had enough salience now to draw a formal AFRICOM denial in response. Al-Shabaab has maintained a recent high rate of suicide bombings causing mass civilian casualties as well as targeting government officials.
[Update 2: On April 5, AFRICOM released this statement regarding civilian air strike casualties, indicating that records had been discovered showing two civilians killed in April 2018 with further review to be conducted.]
[Update: See April 3 from the Council on Foreign Relations, “Controversy over U.S. Strikes in Somalia“,]
Meanwhile, Kenyan forces under AMISOM are reportedly continuing to pull back into more defensive position and thus leaving previously secured villages.
In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.
See “David Axe on ‘America’s Somalia Experiment’ provides a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08“.
Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).
There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.
Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.
In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.
Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers. In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.
Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing. Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.
For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate. This strikes me as quite irresponsible. Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.
Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same. Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?
Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria. Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.
Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits.
The Trump Administration has announced that it is re-orienting American National Defense Strategy toward defending against major power competitors (i.e. Russia and China) rather than the “violent extremists”. The timing may seem worrying to African defense leaders since the “violent extremist” problem is significantly worse in many areas now than when AFRICOM started in 2008, just as a recent CSIS report has documented what we all know casually: the situation has worsened globally (“Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.“)
In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”. (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.) Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.
Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts? Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise? Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable? These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.
Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been. The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it. We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.
I have always wondered to what extent the war effort on Somalia, and the decision not to talk about it, hamstrung Ambassador Ranneberger and others who were supervising our democracy assistance and election preparation in Kenya. And once I eventually saw recently through FOIA that by April 2017 the Ambassador was describing a new approach of “building capital” with Kibaki rather than pushing reforms as per the older USAID program I would inherit within a few weeks, I am left with the heightened collaboration with Kenya during those initial months after the Ethiopian invasion as the most obvious change in facts that could explain the Kenya policy change. Was our failure in election assistance in Kenya with its devastating consequences facilitated by an unwillingness to discuss and account for Ethiopia and Somalia policy overlaps? If so, are we facing this kind of risk again as we escalate an air campaign without discussing why?
I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:
The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.
See “At War: This New Generation of Weapons Could Mean More Covert Airstikes Around the World”, March 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine.
See “Somalia and the Limits of U.S. Bombing“, a prescient warning from Jon Temin, now of Freedom House, early in the Trump administration.
For the KDF role, see “Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive“, Andrew J. Franklin, Business Daily Africa, Dec. 7, 2011.
For background please start with Kenyan writer Rasna Warah’s “War Crimes: How Warlords, Politicians, Foreign Governments and Aid Agencies Conspired to Create a Failed State in Somalia” and the recent “Inside al-Shabaab; The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” by Haron Maruf and Dan Joseph, reviewed here in Hiiran Online.
AFRICOM: U.S. Navy reports on “Djibouti First Initiative”
Djibouti First Initiative Scores Another Victory With Tom Pouce Bakery
Small things from the Long War. It’s well and good for the Navy to buy local to feed our sailors to support the Djibouti economy. And not sending an observation mission to Djibouti’s most recent election was also progress. (Of course you will remember IGAD sent its delegation headed by Issac Hassan, who is now in the process of being bought out of his position as chair of Kenya’s IIEC/IEBC which we have supported, but we had the integrity to stay off this one. See my post here.)
The bakery in this picture is actually from Addis Ababa under the “developmental state” regime in 2007. We would overnight in Addis on our way from Nairobi to Hargeisa. With no democracy to be promoted I could just visit and take pictures, although shortly before I visited this bakery I was stopped by a concerned stranger with the warning that “they will kill you” for taking pictures. Fortunately they didn’t.
Just waiting on a FOIA–could legal action be pursued in the U.S. for Kenya IEBC procurement corruption?
More than ten months after requesting documents from USAID on one part of our Kenya IEBC support program for the 2013 election I have been unable to get anything more than an assurance that my request “is being handled” for interim releases as soon as “possible” although USAID’s FOIA office got a CD of materials from the Nairobi mission at least six months ago.
Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry in Nairobi reiterated that my government intends to spend a new $25M on efforts for the election scheduled for a year from now, but supports the agreement between CORD and Jubilee to “buy out” the existing IEBC Commissioners (with at least informal immunity). I noted earlier this month that the Request For Proposals for a $20M election support effort released last December had been pulled off the internet without explanation.
Here is my FOIA request to USAID from last fall:
This FOIA request relates to Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening Cooperative Agreement Number 623LA1100007, under Leader Cooperative Agreement No. DFDA00080035000, with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
I am requesting the following:
1) All reports filed by IFES with USAID regarding the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.
2) All correspondence between the IFES and USAID relating to the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.
3) The complete contract or cooperative agreement administration files of USAID relating to the above referenced cooperative agreement.
4) All other documents or records, including emails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID relating to procurements under the above referenced cooperative agreement, from the date of the agreement to the present.
5) All other documents or records, including emails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID reflecting, referring to or constituting communications between USAID and Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, including its members, officers, employees or agents, from January 1, 2011 to the present.
6) All documents related to Smith & Ouzman, Ltd. relating to business of that firm in Africa from 2010 to present.
U.S. fights in Somalia; Old lions–Kissinger, Moi, Scowcroft, Brezenski–outlast the post-Cold War democratization era in East Africa
Things had gone so far awry on the democratization front by last year to trigger a Washington Post editorial noting the authoritarian trend in East Africa.
Recently we have news of a major U.S. airstrike (manned and drone) on an al-Shabaab training camp, followed by a raid involving U.S. and Somali special forces.
We are now also faced with a major ISIS presence in continental Africa in the wake of the proverbial “ungoverned space” in Libya and are in discussions considering a new military coalition to organize resistance. Prior to the 2011 uprising AFRICOM was joining our European allies in coordinating military relationships with Gaddafi but the revolution, in which we intervened, has not resulted in a stable or unified replacement government.
Let’s face it; 14 years after 9-11, 15 years after the USS Cole bombing, 17 years after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the window of opportunity for a U.S.-led focus on the building of shared democratic values in the region may have largely slipped shut.
Years ago I got some attention for a post noting that “the aid bubble has burst” and Western attention had moved past the Gleneagles era toward a more normalized mode of profit-seeking investment. While private actors will remain more alert for opportunities in Africa and “public-private” endeavors including the current Power Africa program can still have legs, it seems to me that “conflict management” and irregular warfare have come to the fore to the point that we seem to be back in an era more akin to the Cold War in which perceived immediate “security” interests are predominant.
Museveni in particular “surfed the wave” of democratization after the fall of the Soviet Union and came out onshore as a primary U.S. military ally in the region anyway. We are willing to chastise him to a point, but there is no indication from Washington that the fundamental facts of our relationship are at issue over another awful election.
While much has been accomplished with AMISOM in Somalia, we are still a long way from seeing a stable, sustainable government there that would create an opportunity to de-militarize our relationships with Uganda, or Kenya or Ethiopia. The increasingly direct U.S. role in fighting al-Shabaab reflects the limitations of Ugandan and Burundian proxies, as well as the reality of limited capacity and contradictory objectives from the Kenyan and Ethiopian contingents in AMISOM.
This also leaves Somaliand in suspended animation. Sudan remains an awful paradox for our policy goals and our values, and South Sudan is simply a fiasco.
It seemed to me in Nairobi during the post-election violence in 2008 that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006 to displace the ICU and save in some fashion the remains of the TFG was a turning point for U.S. policy. After that, we seemed to have effectively dropped our criticism of the corruption failures of the Kibaki administration and its failure to reform the constitution and then helped get Moi and Kibaki back together. We upped our security cooperation and looked the other way as Kibaki stole re-election.
The USAID democracy programming I inherited in mid-2007 as regional director at the International Republican Institute included the pre-war era 2005 criticisms of Kenyan government backsliding and I failed fully appreciate how much had changed until the midst of that year’s disaster.
Back in the U.S., Kissinger is now personally embraced by key elements of the leadership of both our parties. In early 2009 after the New York Times published its investigation on the Kenya exit poll, IRI, to my amazement, gave Kissinger its “Freedom Award” even though it has long worked to promote democracy in Cambodia, in particular, as well as places like Bangladesh and East Timor where I was invited a few years before I worked for IRI in Kenya. Now, the likely Democratic nominee apparently holidays with Kissinger in the Dominican Republic. A new, old, era, apparently.
–A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki–getting the F-5s, safaris and slums
–More Kenyan-U.S. diplomatic history: Kenyatta’s health and succession; status of whites; military assistance
–“Linkage”-remembering how we got here, from “rules of the game” with the Russians and the “Carter Doctrine” to Al-Queda in East Africa and the Embassy Bombings
–Why the U.S. got started training the Kenya Police Service; 1977 Embassy cable
“Look, no hands” — Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Uganda declines to offer support for electoral reforms (updated)
In an interview in today’s edition of Uganda’s state owned New Vision, retiring U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi addressed the current Ugandan campaign for the 2016 elections. In response to a question about civil society concerns about narrowing of the democratic space in Uganda, DeLisi declined to weigh in and went so far as to volunteer a position on behalf of the United States that he would leave the issue of electoral reforms for Ugandans to “discuss among themselves”. Translated from diplospeak, discussion among Ugandans here means that prospective voters can mutter, murmur or swear and Museveni can decide as he will without consequence.
In his most recent re-election in 2011, Museveni stiffed the United States by keeping control of the appointment of Uganda’s electoral commission. See “High level U.S. delegation carries requests to Museveni on fair elections and Iran sanctions” and “Plenty of reason to be concerned about Uganda election” along with linked related posts. This time, the Obama Administration, fresh off dancing with Kenyatta literally and with Hailemariam figuratively, seems to have given up on any aspiration for pro-reform influence well in advance.
From the interview:
You have always asserted that the US mission will not get entangled in local politics. But as an ambassador, what advice would you give to players in the impending elections?
We never said we will not get involved in politics. Just as citizens of this country, we have invested in this country. Do we want this country to be a success with a strong and vibrant democracy? Yes.
If caring about this means getting involved in politics, then we will do. As for which candidate or party to support, that is for people of Uganda to decide.
We talk to leaders of all political parties – NRM, FDC, DP, UPC. Name them, we talk to them. We tell them that there should be a constructive electoral process in which people’s views are respected, where people engage each other respectively, where there is no room for violence.
So that, at the end of the day, no matter who wins the election, it is a credible result that services Uganda well and gives the new leader legitimacy to lead the country effectively and deal with the challenges that will emerge.
Do you share concerns by civil society that political space in Uganda is narrowing?
I don’t know whether it is narrowing down but I perfectly appreciate the challenges of civil society. But this is a constant dialogue we are always having with the Government to ensure that there is room for meaningful dialogue and engagement.
There is the NGO Bill currently before Parliament and during consultations; we have seen the NGO community, civil society engage with MPs in a robust dialogue that has brought significant changes to this piece of legislation. I don’t know what the final law will look like.
I know civil society would have liked to see the issue of electoral reforms addressed fully, but I leave that to Ugandans to debate among themselves about the need to strengthen the democratic process. We have seen in US that even after 250 years, we are still working to improve our democracy.
Update: To understand the context and significance of the Museveni government’s continued stonewalling, see today’s Daily Monitor: The Unresolved Question of Electoral Reforms, What it Means for 2016.