Kenya Election: Overall Observation on Observations [Updated]

This is a quote from an e-mail I sent to an expert back in the U.S. on my way home from Kenya, where I am now. As far as a candid summary of what I think happened in the Kenya elections:

Overall situation with observers was that they were extremely reticent to say anything of substance because of the fear of violence and the fact that IEBC process was ongoing. Further, because of Jubilee attacks on the British High Commission and the West more generally (in my opinion at least) there was an extra level of reticence to say anything that would confront the Government of Kenya election process. We ended up with little impact, if not window dressing, as far as I can see. Someday they will write final reports that might, I hope, involve a deeper look into the original vote count and subsequent events, as well as the prior problems that led to a small voter registration pool, etc.

See Robyn Dixon’s piece in the Los Angeles Times , “Kenya election over, dispute over outcome heads to Supreme Court”::

The narrow margin and repeated failures of the election commission raise the possibility that the Supreme Court could call for an audit of the election result, analysts said.

Kenyatta got 50.07% of the vote, crossing the line with a margin of some 8,000 votes out of more than 12 million cast.

Despite the failures, Kenya’s news media were muted in their reportage of the commission problems. Even international observers have tip-toed around the subject.
However, respected Kenyan anti-corruption crusader John Githongo called the election a failure Sunday. Githongo, an election monitor, said for months a group of community organizations had tried in vain to warn the election commission of problems in its systems and approach.

“In my personal opinion, it’s a failed election,” Githongo said in an interview with The Times. “I think the IEBC performance was catastrophic. I was part of a group of organizations that repeatedly warned them that these problems were there and on the way.”

Commission Chairman Issack Hassan denied the problems and failed to turn up for meetings with the organizations, according to Githongo.

Githongo said Kenyans were so keen to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the disputed 2007 poll that many, especially in the Kenyan media, kept silent about the obvious problems in the election commission.

. . . .

Githongo’s criticisms come after reports that Safaricom, the mobile phone provider involved in the electronic system that was supposed to transmit results to the central tallying point, also warned the commission of looming failures in the weeks before the election, and was also ignored.

Patrick Smith, editor of the journal Africa Confidential, said Western officials privately condemned the commission’s appalling performance but said nothing publicly “for fear of being seen as interfering in the election”.

. . . .

New Development in Reading the Pre-Election Kibaki Tea Leaves: GOK repays DfID for “education scandal”

I don’t want to make everything that happens in Kenyan government and politics in early 2013 “about” the Kibaki succession, because, of course, there are the “down ticket” races that matter, too.  Nonetheless, I was fascinated to see the news in the Standard this afternoon that the Kenyan government had repaid the British official aid agency DFID for losses on the “education scandal” that was current news at the time I started this blog just more than three years ago: “Kenya repays stolen fee education cash”.

The “education scandal” and the “maize scandal” were the two big breaking new corruption eruptions under the Government of National Unity that served to remind everyone that simply adding part of ODM to the second Kibaki Adminstration in April 2008 did not in itself solve anything regarding corruption.  The “maize scandal” was a new and insidious plot for the corpulent corrupt to “eat” off of hunger in the food crisis in 2009; the “education scandal” was the revelation of an older and ongoing insidious plot for the elite to steal from school children, dating to the inception of “free primary education” early in the first Kibaki Adminstration.

Why repay the money now?  One suggestion might be that this is an indication that Kibaki does have concern about his post-presidential reputation, his “legacy”.  Perhaps there is something to this.

Of course, Kibaki is a master of not communicating his intentions, conducting affairs behind closed doors and letting Western (and Kenyan) observers who feel compelled to do so offer speculative analysis and opinion to substitute for actual knowledge about what he is up to.  So who knows?

Amazingly, to me anyway, I have read otherwise trenchant reports and analysis of various aspects of the Kenyan situation that include unembellished lines to the effect that Kibaki will not be a major factor in the upcoming election as he is concluding his second and final term.  To me, it is quite obvious that H.E. Mwai Kibaki will remain the most important individual in the 2013 Kenyan presidential election until he passes the mace to his successor.  With the new constitution, partially implemented, he has less direct and formal power in the 2013 election than he had in the 2007 election.  He remains, nonetheless, far more powerful than any other single individual, even Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga certainly, and more by far than any one member of his inner circle.  How he will use that power, and how much we will even ever know about how he uses that power, are in question.

Would it be hard for Kibaki to hand off the presidency to Raila Odinga this time?  The polls show Odinga leading but Uhuru in range with just a few weeks to go, so in some ways the race is similar to 2007.  Not to suggest that Kibaki would prefer Uhuru in the way that he preferred himself in 2007, just taking note of the parallels.  Some people have suggested that he might prefer Saitoti or later Mudavadi to either Raila or Uhuru, but did they really know something or were they going on guesses, rumours or even misinformation? Certainly the dynamic of having a possible runoff and the need to win in the counties makes things different and more complicated this time.  It will be interesting to watch.

In the meantime, congratulations to DfID and I will hope that President Kibaki does in fact want to leave office with the best possible reputation on governance and corruption issues in these closing weeks.  UPDATE: (I do think that it must be noted that there is no indication here of an intent to actually recover “stolen” funds, rather that the Kenyan taxpayers are taking up the burden from the British taxpayers.)

Here is news from Saturday, Jan. 12 that President Kibaki has refused to assent to the hugely controversial Retirement Benefits bill passed by the 10th Parliament on their way out of office, awarding themselves a big gratuity of 9.6M KSh on leaving office, along with post-parliamentary benefits such as state burial and security, diplomatic passports and airport VIP lounge access.

Exit Polls and Orange Revolutions; Ukraine and Kenya

From Ben Barber, senior writer at USAID during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, as quoted from a McClatchy piece on Egypt in a previous post:

The Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 might never have taken place if not for U.S. aid. First, the former communists in control of the Kiev government declared their candidate won an election. Then, a U.S.-funded think tank tallied up exit polls that showed the government had lied and it really lost the election.

Next, a Ukranian TV newsman trained by a U.S. aid program broadcast the exit polls and set up its cameras on the main square for an all night vigil. Up to one million people came to join the vigil. Then the Supreme Court — which had been brought to visit U.S. courts in action — ruled the election was invalid and the government had to step down.

Furthermore, U.S. legal, legislative, journalism and other trainers taught judges, prosecutors, legislators and journalists how to do their jobs in a democratic system.

From U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington after witnessing fraud at the ECK  in the tally of presidential votes along with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission: “We have been reliably told that Odinga is basing his strategy on a mass action approach similar to that carried out in the Ukraine.”

In Kenya, however, unlike in Ukraine, the U.S.-funded exit poll was suppressed rather than broadcast.  The New York Times reported that USAID’s agreement with the International Republican Institute to fund the poll stipulated that IRI should consult with USAID and the Embassy before releasing the poll, taking into account technical quality and “other diplomatic considerations”.  (The USAID agreement was subquently, eventually, released to Clark Gibson of the UCSD, the primary author of the poll and consultant to IRI, under a FOIA request.)

Here is an account of the opposition approach in Ukraine from Wikipedia on the Orange Revolution:

Yanukovych was officially certified as the victor by the Central Election Commission, which itself was allegedly involved in falsification of electoral results by withholding the information it was receiving from local districts and running a parallel illegal computer server to manipulate the results. The next morning after the certification took place, Yushchenko spoke to supporters in Kiev, urging them to begin a series of mass protests, general strikes and sit-ins with the intent of crippling the government and forcing it to concede defeat.

In view of the threat of illegitimate government acceding to power, Yushchenko’s camp announced the creation of the Committee of National Salvation which declared a nationwide political strike.

Ranneberger noted that the situations in Ukraine and Kenya differed, but did not elaborate.    In Ukraine there was ultimately a re-vote and in Kenya the election results stood. How was Kenya in 2007 different from Ukraine in 2004?  Comments?

Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 Elections–Ranneberger at the ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and final tabulation of ballots and it did”

Westlands Primary-Line to Vote X

Another document released to me from my FOIA request to the State Department for documentation of the State Department observation of the Kenya elections is a cable from Ambassador Ranneberger from January 2, 2008 reflecting what he witnessed at the ECK. This was primarily declassified, with a few redactions.

Here are key excerpts, which deserve to be read carefully by those preparing to try for better elections this time.  It pretty well clarifies what Ranneberger saw as a credentialed observer at the ECK, and what he wanted to do, or not do, about it.

2. As previewed in ref B, much can happen between the
casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots and it did.
This message recaps developments reported in refs, provides current
state of play, and discusses next steps. Much of our reporting
during the past three days has been done by phone given our
intensive focus on operational issues, particularly efforts to
promote a positive outcome to the election imbroglio.

3. Elaborate procedures were in place (much of it with U.S.
support) to ensure transparency and accountability of the ballot
tabulation process. . . .

5. ECK officials and observers pursued these
allegations to some extent, but the ability to do so was
constrained by lack of time, original data from polling
stations, and by the behavior of a number of ECK officials
who delayed returning results and submitted incomplete or
clearly altered documentation. Moreover, the ECK has no
authority to open ballot boxes; only the courts do. During
the night of Dec. 29, ECK officials together with
representatives of the PNU and ODM, reviewed the tabulations,
but neither side was satisfied that the review had fully
addressed their concerns. The ECK partial review of the
irregularities was also of questionable credibility, given
that all of the commission members were appointed by the
Kibaki government, and a number of them were suspected of
being clearly biased and/or involved in doctoring at ECK
headquarters. The Chairman of the ECK, Samuel Kivuitu, who
was widely respected, was surrounded by staff of uncertain
reliability and competence. It is worth noting that
parliamentary results were not disputed because they were
tabulated and announced at constituency tabulation centers,
thus allowing no interference at ECK headquarters.

6. Kivuitu has only limited authority as head of the
ECK. The ECK works on a majority vote system. It is also
important to note that the ECK is required by law to announce
the results as received at the ECK from the tabulation
centers. Some obvious irregularities like reporting
unrealistically high turnout or clearly altered results can
be rejected. There was, however, only a rejection of the
results in one constituency in which violence resulted in
destroyed ballots. Other alleged irregularities, such as
announcing results that ECK personnel personally inflated
should have been, could have been, but were not corrected. At
one point Kivuitu told me that his concerns about the
tabulation process were serious enough that “if it were up
to me, I would not announce the results.” In the end, he
participated with other commissioners in an announcement late
on the 30th, which turned rowdy when Odinga walked with armed
bodyguards into a room packed with observers, including me,
party agents, and media Kivuitu and the other commissioners
retreated to their upstairs offices, where the results were
announced. Kibaki was quickly sworn in (this was Continue reading

“Competition for Military Superiority” between Uganda and Kenya not a sign of political maturity

British Helicopter

British Helicopter at base near Nanyuki

 

The Daily Nation reports on new data on Ugandan and Kenyan defense spending from SIPRI, “Arms race hots up in East Africa”:

Competition for military superiority in the East African Community has seen Uganda’s arms expenditure surpass Kenya’s for the first time this year, a new global arms report shows.

Kampala spent US$1.02 billion (Sh83 billion) — much more than Kenya’s US$735 million (Sh61 billion), the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) says. The institute does research into conflict and arms control.

The most advanced

In particular, Uganda’s acquisition of six SU-30MK Russian jets is said to have elevated its air force to one of the most advanced in East and Central Africa.

The reasons for the increased budget, according to the report, include competition for regional military superiority, especially with Kenya, and the threat of a spillover from potential conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.

Others included the operation in Somalia against Al-Shabaab where the region’s armies, including Kenya’s, are fighting under the African Mission in Somalia (Amisom), and against Joseph Kony’s rebels in the DR Congo are quoted as reasons for Uganda’s ballooning military expenditure.

The friction with Kenya over Migingo Island almost sparked a confrontation and this is also cited as justification for more military spending by Kampala.

Kenya’s military expenditure has also been going up in the last decade. The country spent only Sh14 billion on the military in 2000 compared to more than Sh60 billion today.  .  .  .

There are plenty of positive opportunities for competition and national pride within the East African Community, but acquisition of military hardware in support of governing egos is not something that is affordable for either country in the context of need, and supports the temptations of saber rattling for political gamesmanship.  Any type of military confrontation within the EAC would be an absurd tragedy.  Since the U.S. and our European allies are heavily engaged in interacting with the Ugandan and Kenyan militaries, perhaps we can be positively influential in dissuading this type of behavior in conjunction with our support for less tangible types of political reform.

A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki; getting the F-5s, safaris and slums

History–Kenyatta, the Kenyan military and GSU; origins of U.S. military assistance

More Kenyan-American diplomatic history: Kenyatta’s health and succession; status of whites; military assistance

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

“Congo Opposition Rejects Early Poll Results,” Financial Times [It is a bad sign that “the money quote” is anonymous]:

.  .  .  .

According to the latest partial results, Mr Kabila is winning most support from the mining-rich Katanga province, his stronghold. Some observers have questioned the use of an unaudited voter registration system, which allotted Katanga 4.6m voters, 50 per cent more than the capital Kinshasa, home to 10m people.

A UN Security Council meeting last week noted some electoral irregularities but pressed for a peaceful conclusion to the polls.

“There is no [international] appetite to press for transparency, but just pushing to accept whatever result [the poll commission] comes up with is not going to bring peace,” one Congo expert told the FT. “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

Joshua Marks, of the National Endowment for Democracy, a US-funded foundation, said: “The Security Council wants to avoid violence at all costs. He added: “It’s patronising to the Congolese people. . . You’re still going to have these unresolved grievances in the country and an ever larger number of people against the Kabila regime.”

Despite mineral wealth in copper, gold and diamonds, Congo has slipped to the bottom of global development rankings under Mr Kabila’s latest term, as the country recovers from the 1998-2003 war in which an estimated 5m people died. A clutch of rebel militias still hold sway in the east.

A real election requires credible preparation by a credible election commission and credible dispute resolution mechanisms.  The DRC election has already gone this far (past the actual voting) without the “international community” blowing the whistle.  The Carter Center and the EU observation missions have made clear that there are serious issues with the preparation and execution of the election by the government.   The actors who have supported the process to date need to stay engaged and stay committed as the process continues.

Congolese voters need hope that it makes some difference who they voted for, just like voters anywhere are entitled to expect.  A pretense that the voters cannot believe in can be expected to drive violence.

Here is the Nov. 28 preliminary post-election statement from the Carter Center election observation mission.

Uganda International Election Observation Roundup

“African Union observers fault Uganda election”, AP story at RealClearPolitics.

The leader of the AU observer mission, Gitobu Imanyara, said that many voters couldn’t vote due to the poor management of polling centers.

“Many voters with voter cards were turned away from polling stations because names could not be found on the voter registrar,” Imanyara said. “A good number of polling officials did not seem to have adequate training or confidence to perform their responsibilities and as a result procedures were not properly followed.”

Imanyara also said the large deployment of security forces on voting day could have intimidated some voters, and that allegations of vote buying by Museveni’s side undermined the integrity of the process.

Despite those shortcomings, Imanyara said the AU mission believed the 2011 election was better than the 2006 vote.

EU Uganda Election Observation Mission–Preliminary Statement:  “Improvements Marred by Avoidable Failures”

Chief Observer of the EU EOM, Mr Edward Scicluna, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), said the elections showed some improvement on those held in 2006. However, he said the electoral process was marred by avoidable administrative and logistical failures which led to an unacceptable number of Ugandan citizens being disenfranchised.

“In addition to this, we have found that the power of incumbency was exercised to such an extent as to compromise severely the level playing field between the competing candidates and political parties.” Mr Scicluna said the campaign was conducted in a “fairly open and free environment, in which freedoms of expression, assembly and association were generally respected”. At the same time, he noted a significant increase in campaign spending on 2006 and raised concern at what he described as the “monetisation” of the election.

“The distribution of money and gifts by candidates, a practice inconsistent with democratic principles, was widely observed by EU EOM observers.”

Mr Scicluna noted the lack of trust shown by stakeholders in the electoral process towards the Electoral Commission and the National Voter Register, the compilation of which it oversaw. At the same time, he welcomed the Commission’s adherence to best international practice by publishing the results as they became known polling station by polling station.

Joint EAC-COMESA-IGAD Uganda Observation:

In most polling stations visited, some teams observed general low voter turnout in the first six hours of voting; less than 50% of the voters had cast their votes. In some places such as Mbale, the team observed a few incidences of violence.

There was high presence of military personnel in fatigue uniforms which may have intimidated and frightened some voters. The capacity of the Election polling personnel to manage the voting process was inadequate. In some cases they did not have sufficient knowledge and skills on voting operations.

This was exemplified by slow voting process, unsealed ballot boxes and abdicating the role of guiding assisted voters to unauthorised personnel including the police and members of the public; Even though the open air voting lends itself a transparent voting process, it however compromises the secrecy of the ballot as witnessed in some areas. In certain cases, rain interfered with the voting process;

Uganda Commonwealth Observer Group:

 

Key Findings

  • The 18 February Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Uganda were the country’s 2nd multi-party elections. It is clear that in some respects the country is still in the process of consolidating its multi-party political system. There was a largely peaceful campaign and a reasonably calm Election Day in most areas but regrettably marred by localised incidents of violence.
  • However, some serious concerns remain which mirror findings highlighted after the 2006 elections. Of particular note is the lack of a level playing field and the “commercialisation of politics”, both of which will need to be addressed.
  • It is encouraging that during the election campaign basic freedoms, including freedom of association, freedom of movement and assembly, were generally provided for. Parties conducted extremely active national campaigns which attracted large crowds. The campaign was generally peaceful, though some localised incidents were reported. The Electoral Commission (EC) coordinated the campaign schedules and thereby contributed to the generally peaceful conduct of the campaign by ensuring party rallies did not overlap.
  • The 2011 elections were contested by more candidates compared to previous polls. But the lack of a level playing field and strong advantage of incumbency compromised the competitive nature of the polls. The ruling party in Uganda is by far the largest and best-resourced party and following many years in power, elements of the state structure are synonymous with the party. Further, reports regarding the “commercialisation of politics” by the distribution of vast amounts of money and gifts are most disturbing.
  • The EC undertook to improve the voter register with an extensive update and cleaning exercise aided by the use of Information Technology. Overall the register shows some improvement, but it is clear that it remains a work-in-progress with some names still missing and some voters lacking awareness of their place of poll. It is regrettable that the National Identification Card was not made ready for use during these elections.
  • On the day of the elections, our teams reported a reasonably calm process in the majority of areas, but with some localised incidents. We also noted reports of some other serious incidents of violence, which is deplorable. Our teams reported that in most areas the voting process proceeded reasonably well. The main problems encountered related to the widespread late delivery of materials and late opening of many polling stations; inconsistent application of procedures by polling officials and instances of voters not finding their names on the list, the scale of which varied. In some areas the nature of the presence of security forces, particularly the military, was a concern.
  • Our teams followed the count at polling stations and tabulation in a number of Districts. Overall, the polling station count was transparent, but again inconsistencies were observed, notably in the completion of documentation. At the District level, the process was again transparent and proceeded smoothly, but the poor completion of paperwork at polling stations became evident.
  • The new results aggregation system is welcomed as it helps increase transparency and the National Tally Centre provided access to timely and transparent information. During the tabulation, Observers did report tensions in Mbale outside the District office, reflecting tensions encountered in the area during voting, but elsewhere the process was calm.
  • We continue to follow the process and our Final Report containing our conclusions and recommendations will be made public in a few weeks.

Election Campaign

The election campaign was generally calm, with Presidential and Parliamentary candidates holding meetings across the country. The Electoral Commission’s coordination of campaign schedules to help to avoid direct clashes between party supporters was a great help in this regard. While a number of isolated incidents were reported these were the exception and not the norm, which is heartening. However, media monitoring reports indicate that the ruling party enjoyed a large advantage in coverage by state-owned radio and TV.

The main concern regarding the campaign, and indeed regarding the overall character of the election, was the lack of a level playing field, the use of money and abuse of incumbency in the process. The magnitude of resources that was deployed by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), its huge level of funding and overwhelming advantage of incumbency, once again, challenged the notion of a level playing field in the entire process. Indeed, the ‘money factor’ and widespread allegations of bribery, and other more subtle forms of buying allegiance were key features of the political campaign by some, if not all, the parties. By all accounts, the 2011 elections were Uganda’s most expensive ever. It is therefore important that for the future serious thought be given to election campaign financing and political party fundraising.

This is more so given that there are virtually no checks on the levels of campaign financing and expenditure due to the cash-based nature of the campaign and the lack of stringent campaign financing regulations, both of which facilitate the use of illicit payments to voters as inducements and has the potential to undermine their free will.

Electoral Framework and Management of the Electoral Process

The legal framework provides the basic conditions for a competitive election. However, in some ways it still reflects the pre-multi-party era. For instance, EC and senior District officials are directly appointed by the President. This has raised questions about their ability to be independent.

The late changes to the legal framework for the elections impacted on some of the Election Commission’s preparations. But overall it stuck to its published road map. The Election Commission held numerous meetings with stakeholders from political parties and civil society, but there were still complaints of lack of information on all issues. Further, the poor voting and counting procedures showed that the Election Commission had not adequately trained its staff.

The voter register remains a work-in-progress. While some improvements have been made following cleaning of the list and public verification exercises, many anomalies remained. The extent of this varies from area to area but the phenomena are consistent. The absence of voter cards or some other regulated form of ID together with the inaccuracies in the voters register opened the process up to abuse and disenfranchisement.

Uganda will next go to the polls for President in 2016.

Is There Any Cost to Museveni for Refusing to Reconstitute the Electoral Commission?

Certainly the United States, as a major donor, and others, seem to have tried hard to persuade Ugandan President Museveni to relinquish his unilaterally appointed electoral commission.  An independent electoral commission is to me clearly a necessary pre-condition for a fair electoral process–and we know now that allowing the incumbent president running for re-election to control the electoral commission was the fundamental thing that went wrong in Kenya’s election in late 2007.

Today’s Daily Monitor reports on the latest dust up about the suspect voter registration rolls:

A fresh disagreement is creeping between the Electoral Commission and the civil society after the latter said there could be about half a million or more duplicated voters particulars in the national register to be used on Friday. EC officials reportedly first unearthed the ‘ghost’ voters and the Democracy Monitoring Group (Dem-Group) yesterday said the official figure of 13.9 million registered voters is exaggerated.  Dem-Group officials, presenting to the EC team their findings following analysis of the national voter’s register, reported wide disparity between the official voter figures and probable adult population based on the 2002 population census.

Nonetheless, the EU, Commonwealth and COMESA observers are proceeding to observe the final stages leading to voting on Friday.  If Museveni wins without major violence, then it would seem that he will have successfully bested the “international community” which has made possible much of what he gets credit for in his tenure as president through assistance to his government.  One more bad example unless the donors find a will and a way to exact some cost.

See “Uganda goes to the polls in 5 days” at Chris Blattman’s blog, along with “The Africanist” for perspectives on the campaign itself.

The Cigarette Trade: Kenya moves toward switch from tobacco to food; U.S. should “get right” on this issue

A few months before I moved to Kenya I helped teach a church seminar on globalization.  Mississippi was a pioneer in the state lawsuits against tobacco companies for smoking-related costs and had education programs funded from the proceeds, so it was especially striking to me in preparing to teach to read materials about U.S. advocacy for tobacco exports in negotiating a number of trade agreements.  I had also  just returned from a trip to Japan where I couldn’t help but notice how ubiquitous “the Marlboro Man” still was.  Back in 1999 when I was preparing to teach a program for IRI in Mongolia I saw statistics about the huge increase in smoking during that first post-communist decade and saw very small children peddling cigarettes on the street.

It was in this context that I was especially interested to see a recent post by Thomas Bollyky on the Center for Global Development’s Global Health Policy blog, “Ten Years On, America has Dropped the Ball on the Global Tobacco Epidemic”:

We want to stop American kids from smoking; why don’t we have the same concern for Asian or African kids? Senator John McCain asked that question on the floor of the U.S. Senate fifteen years ago. And, this week, on the ten-year anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s executive order instructing U.S. agencies to take “strong action to address the potential global epidemic of diseases caused by tobacco use,” that same question is still being asked about U.S. policy.

“Smoke and Mirrors:  It’s time for Washington to stop giving cigarette makers an open door to developing countries” by Thomas J. Bollyky  in Foreign Policy:

Smoking-control efforts in developing countries are stalling in the face of fierce industry opposition. Tobacco industry promotional investments dwarf expenditures on tobacco control in these countries. In 2009, the WHO reported that less than 10 percent of the world’s population is covered by any of the WHO-recommended measures to reduce demand for tobacco and regulate tobacco-industry marketing.

Some policymakers in Washington make the argument that American jobs depend on tobacco companies’ free access to developing countries. But that’s a false choice: Doing more for international tobacco control would not put U.S. jobs at risk. The United States currently exports significant volumes of high-quality tobacco leaf and premium cigarettes to Japan, Europe, and affluent Middle Eastern countries, but hardly anything at all to cost-sensitive developing-country markets. Moreover, cigarette production has largely shifted to overseas factories. With domestic consumption declining, the tobacco industry now provides less than 2 percent of the jobs in the six southeastern U.S. states most associated with tobacco growing and product manufacturing.

In fact, taking the lead on international tobacco control would clearly be in the national interest of the United States. . . .

“Kenya:  Tobacco farmers at the crossroads” from AfricaFiles

The battle between pro- and anti-tobacco groups in Kenya ratchets up as market indicators and a ‘fact-finding mission’ has led to a call for the abandonment of the historical cash crop in the Kuria District and beyond. Diminishing tobacco prices, environmental damage and questionable corporate contracts with local farmers have been used as fuel for a quickly expanding political and economic fire. Vested interests on either side have launched campaigns in support of their respective causes while concerns continue over the eventual consequence for Kenya’s fertile ground; particularly given the land’s potential capacity for food production.

“Farmers replacing tobacco with food crops in Kenya”  in the New Agriculturalist

Due to the high number of deaths and costs associated with tobacco consumption, the Kenyan government has initiated a programme to alternate tobacco with other crops. “Since the alternation process began more than a year ago, we have managed to introduce several food cash crops to farmers and they are making more money than they would from tobacco,” explains Dr William Maina, who heads the communicable diseases department in the Ministry of Health. Farmers have been provided with loans to help them grow alternative crops, including sugarcane, cotton, oranges, pineapples, bananas, cassava and maize.

The crop alternation process has been influenced by the Tobacco Control Bill, signed by Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, in 2007. While the Bill does not outlaw the cultivation of tobacco, the regulation does call for the promotion of economically viable alternative crops. “The US$300 million we generate in revenue from tobacco is very little considering that we are spending well over US$1 billion treating tobacco related diseases each year,” Dr Maina adds. Government representatives have said that tobacco also threatens food security and has resulted in higher food import costs.

Alternative crops are now being grown on about 40 per cent of the land that was previously under tobacco cultivation. .  .  .

“Kenya: Delegation takes a hard stance against tobacco”

Kenya on Thursday took a hard stance against tobacco, according to officials attending the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) Conference of Parties in Uruguay.

The delegation supported the proposed guidelines in articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC calling for a ban of tobacco ingredients in blended cigarettes. Basically, the proposals prohibit use of ingredients to enhance or sweeten cigarette taste.

This stance is at variance with the positions taken by Comesa and African Union countries. The delegation said countries growing the crop were “suffering under tobacco slavery and needing help from Western countries”.

Countries whose economies are heavily dependent on the crop and fearing damages to their economies are said to be heavily aggrieved by the position.

Following the Comesa Heads of states conference, members were urged to oppose the recommended ban on ingredients in tobacco products to preserve the trading bloc’s economies.

Kenyan farmers grow the crop in Western and Eastern parts of the country and cigarettes have become a major trade commodity for British American Tobacco, which exports 60 per cent of its production, and Mastermind Tobacco. . . .

Sea-based Piracy Responses and Proportionality

This weekend has seen successful special forces raids to re-take seized ships and rescue crews conducted by both South Korea and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that Samsung Heavy Industries, South Korea’s third largest shipbuilder, has rolled out a new anti-piracy system that

. . .  detects smaller boats in the vicinity often undetected under existing marine radar systems and issues an automatic alert when approached.

“The alert is issued when an approaching vessel does not respond to usual ship-to-ship radio communications or shows unusual navigating patterns and speed,” the company spokesman told AFP.

The system allows sailors in a navigation room to remotely control water cannons on the ship’s deck that can up to 70 metres (230 feet) when pirates attempt to climb aboard.

“That way, crew will be safe from potential shooting attacks from pirates when firing the water cannons,” said the spokesman, adding the system is applicable to most existing ships.

“We believe more of our clients want ships armed with such a system, considering what has been happening near Somalia recent years,” he said.

H/T Watershed Legal Somali News Magazine on Twitter.

In an AP story today from the Los Angeles Times:

The European Union‘s naval force refuses to raid hijacked ships out of concern for the safety of hostages, but frustration is rising. Despite patrols by an international flotilla of modern warships, drones patrolling the Indian Ocean off the east African coast and Arabian Gulf and diverse strategies employed including the sinking of pirate boats, Somali pirates have been relentless.

They captured a record 1,016 hostages in 2010 and currently hold 32 vessels and 746 crew members of various nationalities after hijacking another six ships so far this year, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau.

Eight crew members died and 13 were wounded in Somali pirate incidents in 2010, up from four dead and 10 wounded in 2009. There were no pirate killings elsewhere in the world in 2010.

Alan Cole, the head of the U.N.’s anti-piracy program at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said the South Korean and Malaysian navies may have resorted to using the commando raids out of frustration that other strategies employed to tackle piracy were not working.

“There is a good chance that navies will increase the numbers of patrols and step up military activity to try and deal with this problem,” he said.

.  .  .  .

The maritime bureau says there was drop in the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden, leading to the Suez Canal, because of patrols by the international flotilla warships. Attacks in that area fell more than 50 percent, from 117 in 2009 to 53 in 2010.

At some point it seems clear to me that piracy continues to grow because it is so lucrative to the pirates and their sponsors while the costs are born disproportionately by national taxpayers as well as by crew members who are generally not paid much anyway.  The cheapest way to deal with piracy for vessel owners appears to be to risk an occasional ransom as a cost of doing business.  It might be cheaper, if a bit humiliating, for the taxpayers to buy systems like those developed by Samsung to defend vessels and give them to the vessel owners?

I am a long way from convinced that fighting a ground war in Somalia, whether using military or mercenary forces, is a rational way to address piracy–to the point of being highly skeptical of the actual motives of anyone claiming to undertake such a thing.