Remembering Dr. Joyce Laboso and Jerry Okungu and Rift Valley Rural Women Empowermen

Kenya Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment NetworkRift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network – Jerry Okungu seated in front row, far right, Dr. Joyce Laboso standing in second row, in white ball cap, 2nd from right

Dr. Joyce Laboso, who died in July while serving as Governor of Kenya’s Bomet County, and Jerry Okungu, the late journalist, columnist, media consultant and publisher, were favorites from working with them through the International Republican Institute in 2007 before that years’ election. Sadly they have both been lost to cancer at much too early an age.

Jerry worked with us as a consultant doing media and communications training and I travelled with him to conduct multiday programs at Edgerton University in the Rift Valley and Garissa in then North Eastern Province. My next post will be a more involved tribute to Jerry who died in January 2014. In the meantime, see his obituary from Citizen TV. Jerry and I kept up in later years and I have always regretted that we missed getting together again in person as we had hoped.

During the months leading up to the 2007 election, we at the IRI East Africa office were on a relative shoestring. Our primary Kenya work was our National Endowment for Democracy country program which was focused on training women and minority members who aspired to run for parliament. So we latched onto the invitation to work with the UN-supported Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network to provide training and encouragement. We engaged Jerry to provide media and communications training.

At the time, Dr. Laboso’s sister Lorna was running for parliament in Sotik and was nominated by ODM and elected. I got to spend time with Joyce who was especially helpful to me as a newcomer in understanding the “bad old days” (my term not hers) when she spent years as a student and graduate student in England, but at home could not safely even mention in public the name of the then-President. She also helped me understand a bit about “intra-Kalenjin” politics (she was Kipsigis). An ODM wave was coming in the Rift Valley that year and a number of women candidates were part of the perceived post-Moi “change”.

Sadly, Joyce’s entry into elective politics herself later in 2008 came about from two untimely deaths.

The first was on the morning of January 31, 2008 (during the post election violence). David Too of Ainimoi Constituency became the second ODM Member of Parliament to be shot dead since the election. Too was shot by a policeman who also shot and killed a policewoman Too was with in a car. During that time the strategy of Kibaki’s PNU during the post election violence period was to consolidate power by drawing away (or down) the ODM margin in Parliament that allowed the narrow election of ODM’s Kenneth Marende as Speaker (and Marende’s elevation cost ODM one seat). Kibaki had appointed third-place candidate ODM-Kenya’s Kalonzo Musyoka as Vice President (according to Joe Khamisi part of a pre-election deal he negotiated with Stanley Murage representing Kibaki), and KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta as Minister of Local Affairs. Kenyatta and “Retired President” Moi had endorsed Kibaki by August and aligned KANU with Kibaki’s new PNU when it was formed in September, even though Uhuru remained “the leader of the Official Opposition”. (This sticks in my mind in part because I met with new Speaker Marende at his request that morning and the news of Too’s killing hit shortly before I arrived.)

(In October 2009, Judge David Maraga, elevated to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2016, found the killer guilty of reduced charges of manslaughter in the killings of both the policewoman and MP Too. Maraga found the downgrade from murder to manslaughter warranted by the lack of intent indicated by “provocations” of both jealousy and self-defense.)

Unfortunately, on February 1, the day after Too’s killing and my meeting with Speaker Marende, I was told that IRI back in Washington had made the decision not to release the exit poll contradicting the presidential totals announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya shortly before Kibaki’s swearing in on December 30 (per our agreement with USAID release of the results for this exit poll, the third in a series, was to involve consultations with the Nairobi mission that included diplomatic considerations, although there have been some claims that these did not occur for unexplained reasons.) Following that news I was constrained in my ability to interact freely with Kenyan politicians—and on Speaker Marende’s request that I meet with Kofi Annan to encourage the mediation process—since I was not willing to go along with telling anyone the exit poll was “invalid” per the “official line”.  I ended up going home in May when my temporary duty with IRI was up without initiating goodbyes to Joyce or most of the others that I might have.

Raila and Kibaki agreed to their “peace deal” for power sharing on February 28 and it held in spite of the lack of support from some leaders and on the back benches on Kibaki’s PNU side who still wanted to try to wrangle a working majority in parliament, engineer a vote of “no confidence” against the new Prime Minister and re-take full control of government.

Tragically, in June 2008, Joyce’s sister, the Hon. Lorna Laboso, along with her colleague Kipkalia Kones, in his fifth term from Bomet and serving as Roads Minister, were killed when their light plane from Nairobi crashed on a trip to campaign for the ODM candidate in the special election to replace David Too in Ainimoi Constituency. Lorna was remembered as a a pioneer of women in politics and for campaigning against the cultural practice of female genital mutilation among the Kipsigis . (Both she and Kones were mentioned for allegations of backing politically related violence in PEV period but of course there were never any legal proceedings; that part of the February 28 “peace deal” ultimately failed and we are left with the muddle of mass informal immunity among the living, and questions about others, for the mass violence.)

It was this sequence that led Joyce to step up as a candidate in the special election that September to fill Lorna’s Sotik seat. I sent condolences on her sister’s death and congratulations on her special election, and but we never interacted again so I am left with appreciating her as a pre-political leader and not knowing what she thought about the various twists and turns of her own career in politics, sadly cut short by cancer as too many others.

As Kenya Turns: Kalenjin radio features return of former ICC-indictee Sang at Kenyatta and Ruto-owned station

Ruto Hires Former ICC Co-Suspect Sang For His Kalenjin Radio Station, Kenyan Report, June 5, 2019

“Former Kass FM presenter Joshua Sang is set to make a comeback to the airwaves after landing a job at Emoo FM, a station owned by Mediamax Network Ltd.

Even though both the Kenyatta family and Ruto hold substantial stakes in the DMS Place-headquartered Mediamax Network – sources claim Ruto is the hitherto biggest shareholder even as he aims to consolidate media support around his 2022 ambitions.”

Could “corruption” play the role in Kenya’s 2022 election that “crimes against humanity” played in 2013?

Instead of “the coalition of the killing” a “coalition of the stealing”?

Let us review the 2013 campaign, the next presidential election campaign after Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga shook hands on February 28, 2008 to end the 2007 election crisis and the related violence.

In the later part of the lead up to that 2013 “open” presidential campaign, with Mwai Kibaki completing has second and final term, the political dynamics of how to treat the 2007-08 murder and mayhem of the Post Election Violence were dramatically turned.

The 2007-08 election fraud and Post Election Violence had triggered from the February 28 “peace agreement” the compilation of a coalition administration for Kibaki’s second term (the so-called “Government of National Unity”) with Raila Odinga getting a temporary Prime Minister post with a contested but limited role, and Musalia Mudavidi and Uhuru Kenyatta representing the ruling PNU and opposition ODM parties as Deputy PMs. William Ruto, the Kalenjin member of the ODM “Pentagon” got the Agriculture Ministry, an important post for his Rift Vally region.

The 2007-08 debacle also generated on the American side focus on a “reform agenda” that included a revival of U.S. attention to corruption issues (we had taken umbrage at the Anglo Leasing scandal starting in 2004, and the Arturo/Armenian Brothers, the Standard raid and such embarrassments back before the war kicked up in Somalia with the Ethiopians in December 2006) and culminated in support for a revival of the constitutional reform process including regional “devolution”, a persistent issue throughout Kenyan political history. A basic framework for the “reform agenda” efforts was the National Accord and Reconciliation Act that was passed by Kenya’s new ODM-majority parliament in early 2008 to effectuate the post-election settlement. Critical parts of the deal have ultimately been repudiated by Kenya’s current government, most conspicuously the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission process, and some parts were sadly constricted within the first months of implementation (In particular, investigation of the presidential election by the so-called “Kreigler Commission” was truncated in spite of intelligence revealing bribery at the ECK and secret “visa bans” by the U.S. against election commissioners revealed by published leaks in 2010).

Most importantly, no one of any stature or clout was ever prosecuted by Kenyan authorities for the 1000+ deaths and displacement of 600,000, and the the rape and arson and the rest. Put in proper perspective from where things stood on February 28, 2008, the end result has been a nightmare of impunity really.

In hindsight maybe the “real deal” on February 28 was always “everybody gets away with everything” but that was very much not what we were told and led to believe at that time and for some years after, by either side in Kenya or by the donor diplomats. When Parliament voted to duck its responsibilities to try suspects in the Kenyan court system and defer to the International Criminal Court, rallying with the slogan “don’t be vague, go to The Hague,” the presented spin was that the Government would actually substantively cooperate with ICC prosecutions. In hindsight that probably did not merit any credibility in the first place.

By the time all but two of the cases against the suspects identified by the Office of the Prosecutor as “most responsible” had fallen by the wayside, the two left were the longtime KANU mates, Kenyatta and Ruto. In the run up to the ill fated 2007 election, they were KANU leaders in opposition together. KANU had been part of the “No” or “Orange” campaign on Kibaki’s 2005 constitutional referendum and both were seen as potential opposition presidential candidates by 2007. When Uhuru as KANU Party leader and Leader of the Official Opposition took the unprecedented step of “crossing” to support Kibaki’s re-election (along with KANU’s Godfather, “retired” President Moi) and taking the party with him, Ruto broke to stay in opposition and join ODM to contest the nomination, ending up in “the Pentagon” with the others.

In the common unique predicament of facing ICC charges from the Post Election Violence, as longtime partners and as claimants to Kikuyu and Kalenjin leadership– and thus representing the most powerful voting groups who had always held the presidency and most recently clashed over it–Kenyatta and Ruto were an obvious pair for 2013. See “When did Uhuru and Ruto fight and why is their partnership allegedly so surprising?”.

With Ruto and Kenyatta as “victims” Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka as the opposition CORD campaign were back-footed and never found a consistent voice to address the challenge.

Kalonzo was arguably the major politician least tainted by suspicion of involvement with the underlying violence but was compromised by allowing himself to be used as its international diplomatic apologist starting even in Washington by early February 2008 as Kibaki’s new second term Vice President while the killing continued (see “‘The War for History’ part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte“) and continuing on with seeking support at the U.N. Security Council to stop the ICC process as well as in countries around the African Union. Raila himself never seemed to be able to settle on a clear or consistent position or message on prosecution of the violence either as a matter of law and policy, or morally.

Strictly from a stability standpoint the Western donors, especially those who helped support negotiation of an end to the violence in 2008, a Kikuyu/Kalenjin pairing was obviously the least risk option, which presumably would mean Ruto as URP leader and Kenyatta for TNA after the tragic helicopter crash that killed TNA Interior Minister George Saitoti.

Under the circumstances the flawed 2013 election itself was a happy success for the donors because “Kenya didn’t burn” and the opposition did not further resist after the controversial court decision. It does not seem credible to argue that the IEBC’s Count was anywhere near complete enough in the absence of the Results Transmission System which was said to have failed but was never going to work to warrant a 50.07% margin for the candidates favored by the incumbent president over the opposition, but it was quite plausible to argue that the Uhuruto ticket did have a plurality and it was safer not to have a runoff since having the election over was the most important thing. (See “Choosing Peace Over Democracy“) It might have been a bit awkward at first to have Kenya’s leaders charged with the political bloodletting but it did not seriously impede relationships and eventually, sure enough, the cases “went away” and the circle of impunity was unbroken.

Given this history, knowing how Kenyans and Westerners handled pending charges for the Post Election Violence the last time an incumbent Kenyan president was “retiring” due to term limits, what do you think the impact of corruption charges might be on the 2022 race? Another coalition of “targets”, more mass prayer rallies for the victim/candidates who might be guilty but should not be “singled out” when they are representatives and champions of their tribes? And again, from a risk mitigation standpoint, surely it would be safer for the donors to let the most dangerous people have their way?


In Sudan, is the International Criminal Court an impediment to progress toward democracy and/or human rights now?

I am no expert on Sudan and the International Criminal Court practice, such as it is, is not my field in law.

But I am an observer of various related neighborhoods and did a bit of work in Sudan back in 2007-08. Also, over the years I have never quite seen answers develop to some of the conceptual uncertainties I looked at about the idea of an international criminal court while in law school. And, of course, there is my experience with the multifaceted failure of the ICC’s attempt to prosecute a few symbolic “most responsible” members of Kenya’s political elite for the instrumental murder and mayhem that was part of the competition for power in Kenya in December 2007-February 2008.

Thus, some questions:

1) Does the ICC indictment against Bashir hinder the prospects for Sudanese to get Bashir out of power through popular protest?

2) Are we all agreed that the ICC is not ready to prosecute a case against Bashir even though the facts of the case are many years old and the charges themselves have been pending for almost ten years? If so, is this not hugely important to weighing the practical value of the Bashir case to the Sudanese people today?

You can watch the discussion from a March 2009 event from the Overseas Development Institute and the Royal African Society on the ICC’s decision here.

3) How many Member States have declined to act on the Bashir warrant when he was in their jurisdiction? How many have attempted to act? How many Member States have honored the spirit of the case against Bashir during its pendency?

4) What diplomatic efforts have the Prosecutors been making during the pendency of the Bashir case? Is diplomacy by a Prosecutor a form of informal pleas bargaining? Is it really the case that the ICC cannot plea bargain? Is it in the larger interests of justice for a jurisdiction to have a prosecuting authority that cannot plea bargain? What about pardon authority?

5) What are the lessons from the failed cases against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto? And more broadly from the overall success of the perpetrators of political violence in Kenya in avoiding prosecution, avoiding other penalties or sanctions, keeping the political gains achieved through violence and obtaining further support from Member State governments and other governments which notionally supported accountability?

I recognize that this is a very tough time for human rights and humanitarianism as reflected in this post on counter-humanitarianism, 2019’s biggest challenge: the humanitarian sell-out” from Christina Bennett at the Overseas Development Institute. All the more reason those of us who care about people in the hands of angry rulers need to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Update: The International Crisis Group has a new report out titled “Prospects for a peaceful transition in Sudan improving” (h/t The Official blog of David Shinn) which notes the ICC issue and discusses the idea of bargaining through the UN Security Council’s deferral process:

The UN Security Council might also offer to request the ICC defer investigation or prosecution of Bashir’s case for one year, pursuant to the Rome Statute’s Article 16, were he to resign or to leave office in 2020; the deferral could be extended provided Bashir stayed out of – and did not interfere in any way with – Sudanese politics. The downsides to deferring his case would be enormous, but without a pledge along these lines, Bashir is unlikely to step down.

One problem with this is that 3 of the Permanent Members of the Security Council are Non-Members of the ICC. China and Russia are hardly advocates of human rights, rule of law or democracy and the present United States administration expresses opposition to the existence of the ICC as such, escalating the complications associated with U.S. diplomacy involving ICC cases. What are the interests of the CCP here? Reports indicate that the Bashir regime has brought in Russian “Wagner Group” mercenaries.

Of course in the Kenyan cases, unsuccessfully pursuing a Security Council deferral was the major diplomatic priority for Kenya’s Government for a period of years, as well as attacks on the Court though the African Union, IGAD and whatever other fora could be found. The diplomacy failed, but the Prosecution failed anyway, with loss of life and other large costs left to the witnesses and victims.

Update Jan 16: World Politcs Review has a new piece from Richard Downey of CSIS.

(Updated) Tea Leaves and Poker Hands: Bolton at Heritage on Africa

In a relatively short speech Thursday morning at Washington’s Heritage Foundation, President Trump’s current National Security Advisor John Bolton was said to announce the administration’s “new Africa policy”. Amb. Bolton stuck out during the George W. Bush Administration as both an aggressive hardliner by reputation on policy and as willing to fight hard within the bureaucracy. So no surprise that Bolton says we are not going to let the spigot run on aid projects or peacekeeping missions that are not “winning”, and will target programs more strategically to better match quids and pros, and such.

Overall, Bolton calls the policy “Prosper Africa”. He emphasizes concerns about the perceived unhealthy influence of China and Russia in Africa and frames U.S. interests as focused on competition among external powers. We want Africa to “prosper” through a growing middle class and business deals creating jobs and other benefits in both the U.S. and partner countries and in so doing to strengthen our influence and reduce that of our competitors. We intend to (continue to) play favorites, but in a more explicit and direct way, emphasizing “anchor” governments like Kenya (still our sentimental favorite African country) rather than focusing directly on poverty alleviation or “Sustainable Development Goals” as a global construct.

It seems to have raised eyebrows that Bolton did not mention PEPFAR and democracy and elections among other categories of assistance that we have emphasized both with rhetoric and dollars under Trump’s most recent predecessors. Contra some initial reactions, I anticipate that any major expenditure of political capital by the Administration with Congress to engineer large cuts to popular existing programs is not in the offing.

In fact, when the White House issued a press release “fact sheet” later in the afternoon reporting that it “was issuing” President Trump’s “new Africa policy” it explicitly mentioned “democracy” twice and otherwise sanded down Bolton’s sharper edges. Democracy, especially, as well as our health programs, are a comparative advantage for the United States vis-a-vis the PRC if we want to re-frame our rationale more explicitly in terms of traditional geopolitical competition.

The origins of U.S. development assistance philosophy come from offering a competing model to communism, especially following World War II and to some extent even earlier. Likewise U.S. overt explicit democracy assistance programs were established during the Reagan Administration. So talking more openly and frankly about our concerns about China’s role in Africa in the context of a recalibrated overall relationship that accounts for the Chinese Communist Party’s changes under Xi does not at all have to lead to a retreat from development or democracy assistance.

What plays out over the next two years from any of this remains to be seen.

Instructive are today’s two votes in the Republican led Senate approving resolutions calling for an end to support for Saudi Arabian war efforts in Yemen and condemning the role of the Crown Prince in the murder of American resident Jamal Khashoggi. The peak of unilateral latitude for the Trump Administration has already passed, even before the new Democratic controlled House is seated in the new Congress in January.

Testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, by Judd Devermont, now Africa Diector at venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies, and recently national intelligence officer for Africa, gives a fuller and more nuanced picture of the range of Chinese involvement in Africa. Not all of it is necessarily contradictory to our immediate interests or longer term hopes, even though there are important concerns.

From my personal standpoint, I am still struck by the fact that according to what I read in the newspapers, combined with a letter from Washington, the Chinese hacked my security clearance file–and that of nearly every other clearance holder–from the Office of Personnel Management in Washington during the last Administration. (I also read they “wired” the African Union headquarters, among many other examples.) As for the Russians, they were screwing around in our own Republican Party and to some extent with our general election campaign.

Thus, we most need to be competent, purposeful and mature in conducting our own business in an environment which can be expected to punish complacency. Get through this temporary period of governance by Tweet and tabloid huckster hush money and get our own democracy back on a more even keel. Then we can more effectively deepen our relationships among African countries and with African citizens for the long run. In the meantime, I hope and expect that we will continue most of the incrementally helpful things we have been doing in Africa and not rock the boat too dramatically.

In the meantime, worth noting, for instance, is the presence of Somaliland’s Foreign Minister at Bolton’s speech.

What to make of the policy being announced by Bolton at Heritage instead of by the Secretary of State in an official or semi-official venue? Probably the same reason there are not details and documents: a point of the event is to stamp Bolton’s ideological role within the Administration, the Republican Party, and “The Movement” (big “C” Conservatism with American characteristics is how I might describe it). This is “framing” and “vision” with various audiences rather than actual “policy” as such.

It takes cognizance especially of the geopolitical struggle most compelling on a day-to-day basis in the White House: “red” versus “blue” in the rest of the United States. Thus the focus on competition with “Obama” as a symbol of “blue” who did not announce his “new Africa policy” until nearly the end of his first term. Bolton is a guy with seven pictures of himself on his Twitter profile who tried to mount his own run for President: he obviously enjoys the spotlight and enjoys being a lightening rod for the arena. More substantively, it announces the drawing of a line of demarcation against the perceived “feckless liberalism” of Obama and the perceived namby-pamby do-gooder “compassionate conservatism” that sometimes fuzzed the focus of G.W. Bush in Africa. “Africa” is to be normalized as a geographic space.

Realism of course tells us that the Americans who will make the day to day decisions that actually determine our role in the various African countries do not report to Bolton and that any deep reorientation of policy will require more time and attention than Trump and his cabinet as a whole likely have left in this term. This could tell us much more about what to expect if Trump were re-elected or if the next Administration involved a similar role for Bolton and like-minded officials.

Realism also notes the Administration lost votes on two foreign policy resolutions in the Senate between Bolton’s speech and the White House press release.

Election Assistance FOIA update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting Kenya IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition

Kenya EACC at Integrity Centre NairobiBack in 2015 I submitted a Freedom of Information request for USAID records relating to the election assistance through IFES for Kenya’s IEBC (the election commission).

Several hundred pages were sent from the Mission in Kenya to the USAID FOIA office more than 30 months ago. A year ago I finally got the first release, simply a heavily redacted copy of the Cooperative Agreement itself funding the program.

I have just recently gotten the second release, the first substantive tranche of redacted copies of the underlying documents. From this I am starting to learn some information about the procurement of the failed Results Transmission System, but that matter remains somewhat sketchy so far.

Sadly I did see that IFES staff reported to USAID in the aftermath of the vote that they were busy working on the defense of the Supreme Court petition which impacted their availability to address questions about the systems issues.

I also learned that the election assistance donors were discussing amongst themselves the extent to which the UNDP, which administered “basket funding” for the election should cooperate with an investigative inquiry regarding procurements from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

Kenya High Court Nairobi AFRICOG lawyer Harun Ndubi press conference 2013 election

I did learn that one prospective bidder for one Results Transmission System procurement reported to the USAID Mission December 2012 that the allowed time for proposals was insufficient, to no avail as USAID said the impending election date did not allow delay.

When I consulted with AfriCOG, the Kenyan civil society organization, on election observation, and court petitions were filed seeking first to enjoin the IEBC from proceeding with an informal/irregular alleged vote tally when the Results Transmission System failed, and then after the IEBC went ahead, to challenge the alleged results, I did not know the Results Transmission System was a U.S. Government procurement under the Agreement, nor of direct involvement of IFES in supporting the other side in the litigation.

At this point, I am fairly well done with this blog as a format after all these years, but will continue to report on these matters of unfinished business as I learn more.

Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s “People’s President” swearing in?

[Update Feb. 2: Here is a good overview from Martina Stevis-Gridnef in the Wall Street Journal, Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens“; Fr. Gabriel Dolan explains how the Kenyatta government has popularized the “National Resistance Movement by banning it, with good historical context.]

Since I elected to stay away from the 2017 election in Kenya myself, I have tried to avoid offering a lot of derivative commentary from afar, but have continued to be interested and concerned with how my American government representatives approach this on behalf of the American people.

Privately, I shared the worry that perhaps Raila was not being a good steward of the lives of his supporters given the risk of threatened action by the Kenyan governments’ security forces (and my inability to decipher what he was really aiming to accomplish).

Nonetheless, I also decided that it was not my place to lecture for several reasons. First, any Kenyan who would be deciding to attend or not attend the rally knew full well and far better than I the risks of running afoul of the GSU (General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, known for use for high profile political missions, such as sealing off Uhuru Park in the weeks after the 2007 election to prevent opposition rallies) or other force at the disposal of the “Commander in Chief President”.

Second, we ourselves have passed on doing our part to forthrightly deal with the detritus of the stolen 2007 election and the substandard and opaque election process that put the current Uhuruto regime in power in 2013.

Third, in this election cycle we did not give visible public support to reasonable reforms of the IEBC process. I am not willing to be too critical from afar without knowing more (although I don’t know more because our approach is intentionally more opaque than I think is appropriate or prudent) but in watching as an American back home we certainly gave the impression over the last couple of years that while we wanted things to go smoothly and would support negotiation of the disputes surrounding the IEBC in areas where they were pushed to the forefront by the opposition, we remained in the mode of supporting the old “Chickengate” IEBC team and staff, even while the investigation of procurement fraud directed by the April 2013 Supreme Court ruling never happened. Even when the British secured criminal convictions for the Chickengate bribes and paid money over to the Government of Kenya, we were mute as Kenyans enjoyed the customary impunity for corruption–and when Uhuru used the funds to do a “photo op” for the purchase of ambulances as if it was a charitable donation.

We allowed the incumbent administration to attack and potentially interfere with our assistance to the IEBC through IFES in the critical months before the election (see “The hardest job in Kenya . . .”) without obvious penalty, and stayed silent on reforms called for by the EU Election Observation Mission and others–aside from the opposition–in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling striking the presidential election of August 8 because of the IEBC deficiencies.

As it turned out the incumbent administration acted extra-legally to shut down private broadcasters (except the President’s own) but had the security forces pull back and did not initiate the feared violence. If we had any influence on that decision then I am pleased that our long years of support to Kenya’s various police and security services and governments of the day may have borne some positive fruit in that instance.

As far as the notion that Raila would be likely to unilaterally instigate violence in this situation, people in the State Department would do well to remember the analysis of Ranneberger’s own staff pre-election in 2007 that while there was hate speech on both sides the largest share was directed against Raila rather than on behalf of his candidacy or the opposition.

Invoking the so-called “ooga booga factor” to scare Westerners about Raila has been more than a cottage industry in Kenya (and in London and Washington PR shops) along side the ethnic hate speech to rally other ethnic groups against him in Kenya. And Raila is unavoidably controversial in some respects and gives his critics ammunition. But at present Raila is in a relatively physically powerless position in opposition; the Government of Kenya security forces are in the hands of “Uhuruto”, controversially elected in the first place as a “coalition of the killing” from the violence that was taking place exactly ten years ago.

In this context the “black propaganda” operation on behalf of the Uhuruto re-election campaign through Harris Media of Texas, United States, was particularly pernicious and even worse than 2007.

Let’s remember that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer herself insisted that what was being done through the Kalenjin militias in the Rift Valley in early 2008 was “ethnic cleansing” and we all know the “revenge” attacks through the Mungiki against especially Luo and Luhya who had the misfortune of living and working in Naivasha and Nakuru were horrific. And that the largest share of the killing was done by the police and largest number of killed identified by ethnicity Luo per the Waki Commission. The ICC Prosecutor’s Office may have run a sloppy legal operation, but did they really get “the wrong guys” factually in the six indictments? Will O.J. someday find the real killers? (Do Raila and Kibaki–Commander in Chief then–and many other politicians also bear some real moral responsibility, too–surely so; does Kalonzo Musyoka? I personally would not vote for either ticket if they were running in my country, but they weren’t, and left us with our own problems.)

Fair minded representatives of the United States in current circumstances have to recognize that the threat of violence on behalf of an incumbent “Uhuruto” regime in full control of all military, paramilitary and other police forces is much greater than that presented by an opposition rally or ceremony.

Old Party Office in Kibera

Don’t Mess from Texas: disturbing Privacy International report indicates Uhuruto re-election campaign bought Texas-based negative propaganda campaign (updated)

Read the important report here: “Texas media company hired by Trump created Kenyan president’s viral ‘anonymous’ attack campaign against rival, new investigation reveals“.

I am a native Texan myself, so I do not think that Texans are less likely to understand the moral, spiritual or foreign relations repercussions of aggressive tribalist propaganda on behalf of William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta than Americans in Idaho or Arkansas, say.  The problem is that the operation seems to have been conducted by a United States-based firm, staffed by Americans, orchestrating a digitized propaganda campaign directed against both Kenyan voters and those Americans such as myself and other amateur or professional “Kenya watchers” or U.S. government personnel who would conduct internet activity touching on Kenya politics and government.

The firm in question, Harris Media, based on this report but also their associated social media, seems to have affinity for what I think of as the “White Right”–the National Front, AfD, UKIP, Roy Moore, etc., aside from Trump.  I have noted the Uhuruto government courting these folks in the United States over the years — I won’t elaborate here but it has always troubled me as an American Southerner.  Some of these people also use Christian symbolism as part of their personal branding which is that much more troubling for me.

Unfortunately the Americans involved as of this writing have not filed a Foreign Agent Registration Act registration and made the associated disclosures to the Justice Department and the American public.

The Privacy International report appears to to reveal that the American firm was an “agent for a foreign principle” in conducting a propaganda campaign for Kenyatta and Ruto’s re-election, in substantial part through generating fear and loathing of the opposition. I do know that some of my friends in Washington wrongly predicted violent behavior on the part of the opposition in the context of the botched August 8 election. Could they have been influenced by this propaganda campaign, and/or by others that have not yet been uncovered by outside investigation?

Must read on election tensions in Kenya: “A Silent Panic”

ELECTION 2017: A Silent Panic in Kenya by Dauti Kahura in The Elephant.

A series of backstories of building tensions with the latest election approaching on the layers of accumulated grief and injustice.  This is the stuff you don’t hear if you don’t have a practiced ear to the ground in Kenya and may be glossed over in the usual discussion in foreign capitals and international press.  And material that is too topical for the traditional Kenyan media with political power at stake. 

Congratulations to The Elephant for “speaking truth to power”.

Election Violence threat in Kenya — my thoughts on NDI’s new warning 


1. NDI is right to warn of a risk of violence, highlighting the unprecedented level of division and tension in Kenya related to the competition for power in this election scheduled for August.

2.  Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.

3.  Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved.  Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust.  No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.

4.  The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over.  There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others.  I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).

5.  Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

6.  Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007.  Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab.  In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi —  is really failing.  Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood.  Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.

7.  It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year).  It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning.  Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.

8.  Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time.  Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.

9.  I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war.  In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction.  The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted.  On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.

Update: 13 April — See Muthoni Wanyeki’s latest column in The East African, Polls: the heat is rising, mayhem escalating,” for a look at the current temperature official behavior around the country.