Book Bitings: read Jerry Mitchell’s “Race Against Time” about investigating and prosecuting 1960s Civil Rights era Klan murders in 1990s Mississippi

If you are interested in “transitional justice” in Kenya, or South Sudan or Sudan, here are recent stories about that some of that process in Mississippi and in nearby Alabama.

Start with a review here from Emory University historian Joseph Crespino in The Wall Street Journal, “Race Against Time review: a reporter for justice.” And from Dean Jobb at the Southern Review of Books: “The journalist who helped solve Mississippi Burning murders”:

Think Spotlight meets All the President’s Men. Mitchell, a born storyteller with a remarkable story to tell, recreates his investigation with the absorbing detail and in-the-moment feel of a police procedural. Readers are along for the ride as he tracks down leads, forges ahead after demoralizing setbacks, and extracts nuggets of information from reluctant sources. They share the sense of victory as key pieces of information come to light and when he finally gets his hands on documents long hidden or long forgotten.

Thanks to his revelations and the public pressure his stories created, prosecutors reopened these cases and secured long-overdue convictions of the surviving killers. Sam Bowers, a former Klan leader, was finally convicted imprisoned in 1998 for ordering the attack that killed Vernon Dahmer. In 2005, eighty-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his role in the murder of the three civil rights workers in the Mississippi Burning case.

Mitchell discovered that his own paper had promoted segregation in the 1960s and had helped the Klan to discredit supporters of the civil rights movement. The Clarion-Ledger had cleaned up its act by the 1990s – collecting a Pulitzer Prize for its advocacy of educational reforms – and to its credit, published Mitchell’s exposés of its own odious past.

Race Against Time underscores the importance of solid, fearless, public-spirited journalism – something more vital than ever in our time of social media distraction and self-serving dismissals of uncomfortable truths as “fake news.” It’s a call to arms against the resurgence of white supremacy and hate crimes. Most of all, Mitchell’s inspiring story of how he told truth to power is a reminder that it’s never too late to do the right thing.

And here is the link to buy a signed first edition from an acclaimed Jackson, Mississippi bookstore where author Jerry Mitchell will do an event on March 18.

I moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1991 from Nashville, Tennessee after law school (with a letter of introduction from the Republican Party in Tennessee to the Republican Party in Mississippi). I joined the Bar after taking the exam in Jackson where Jerry Mitchell was based and in the early years of the pioneering work at the Clarion Ledger newspaper that he recounts in Race Against Time. My only previous trip to the capital city had been to advance a presidential campaign event back during my first year of law school. I spent the rest of the decade having some grand adventures in the private practice of law in the places where “Race Against Time” is set, along with marrying, starting a family, and serving on the local GOP County Committee and a term as President of the local Republican Club. And learning about the history of Mississippi and civil rights from lots of great writing of that era covering especially events of the 1960s, and from the investigative journalism of Jerry Mitchell and the proceedings in the prosecutions of the “cold cases” that he helped to prod to life.

Unfortunately I have yet to meet Jerry Mitchell, but I know the towns and courthouses that he writes about (and I will certainly hope to meet him someday–he is on a very active national book tour now). He posts on Facebook daily moments of history from the Civil Rights Era, which I recommend. I often share them, with the thought that by remembering that necessary changes like voting rights for African Americans that we want to take for granted (or chisel at for reasons of partisanship) do not happen by themselves and that even people who are too “conservative” to like “the liberals” end up incorporating part of the fruits of their labor, because there are always things that need to “change” or be “reformed” just as there are things to be “conserved”, preserved (or pickled and fried as the case may be).

Let me give a shout here to my lovely wife who bought me the book for Valentines Day (and who brought me to Mississippi and into her family and all the great adventures of the American South). I avoid mentioning my family here for the most part just for privacy sake but just have to indulge here. Don’t blame her or our children for how I am.

And here is the link to Jerry Mitchell’s Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

Mississippi Race Cross Country runners time

Mississippi race against time

Mississippi State Fair Jackson Sheriff’s Office integration

Policing the Fair – Mississippi State Fair, 21st Century

Grand railroad corruption: Kenya’s Daily Nation drops expose of grossly inflated pricing and alarming details from “secret” SGR contracts

A vital “must read” from the Daily Nation confirms that in spite of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s promise to release the contracts for the truncated Standard Gauge Railroad project, the Government of Kenya has been withholding the documents concerned about meeting public records obligations. It is said that Kenya signed the undertakings with Chinese state-owned corporations rather than the Chinese State as such, and that the documents include secrecy provisions that the lawyers are interpreting to conflict with Kenyan law as to the Governments obligations to its own citizens for public contracting.

The story details item after item of hugely inflated prices for components such as generators, supplies, machinery and equipment:

This explains how Kenya ended up paying two times more for a diesel train than what Tanzania negotiated for an electric train. A comparison of the costs shows that Tanzania is building an electric rail at half the price of Kenya’s diesel SGR line.

TANZANIA’S FASTER

At $1.92 billion, which translates to about Sh192 billion at current exchange rates, for the 422 kilometres, Tanzania’s line is not just cheaper; being electric, it’s designed to support a maximum speed of 160km/hour for passenger trains and 120km/hour for freight.

This pales in comparison to Kenya’s line, whose passenger trains have a maximum speed of 120km/hour with freight hauliers doing 80km/hour at best.

Kenya opted for diesel-powered engine that can be upgraded into electric in future.

It is the results of this greed and negligence that taxpayers are now paying for.

OPERATION COSTS

Currently, the revenues generated from the passenger and cargo services on the track cannot meet the operation costs, estimated at Sh1.5 billion a month against average sales of only Sh841 million.

Meanwhile, Kenyans transporters who have allegedly been hurt by Kenyan restrictions intended to forcibly subsidize the non-competitive costs of the Chinese-operated SGR, are seeking the contracts in court. Likewise, the civil society coalition Okoa Mombasa has filed a formal records request as a precursor to a suit if the documents continue to be withheld.

Readers may remember previous reporting of a leaked Auditor General documents indicating that Chinese firms may have been given a security interest in Kenya Port Authority assets and property to secure the loans for these inflated costs. From Maritime Executive in December 2018:

Kenya runs the risk of losing control of the Port of Mombasa if it should default on loans from state financial institution China Exim Bank, according to a new report from Kenya’s auditor general. The terms of a $2.3 billion loan for Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) specify that the port’s assets are collateral, and they are not protected by Kenya’s sovereign immunity due to a waiver in the contract. 

KRC accepted the multi-billion-dollar loan in order to build the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway (SGR), with construction services provided by China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC), a division of state-owned conglomerate China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).

“The payment arrangement agreement substantively means that the Authority’s revenue would be used to pay the Government of Kenya’s debt to China Exim bank if the minimum volumes required for [rail] consignment are not met,” auditor F.T. Kimani wrote. “The China Exim bank would become a principle over KPA if KRC defaults in its obligations.”

In addition, any dispute with China Exim Bank would be handled through an arbitration process in China, not in Kenyan courts. The auditor general expressed concern that the port authority had not disclosed these arrangements in its financial statements. 

The Auditor General’s term expired before publication of a final report and has been left vacant, conveniently for freedom of action and ability to avoid disclosure by Kenya’s political officials.

The more information that comes to light the more it would appear that the uneconomical nature of the “white elephant” megaproject was baked in from early stages and does not look to be readily resolvable without exterior finance, renegotiation, write down or other intervention.

Meanwhile, The Star covers a report by the Tax Justice Network that Kenya’s financial sector is well designed to hide corruption as the second most secretive in Africa:

Kenya’s financial sector is the among most secretive globally, according to a new report  by Tax Justice Network.

The sector has been ranked the second most rigid in Africa after Algeria and among the top 30 in the world in the latest Financial Secrecy Index of 2020.

The annual index by Tax Justice Network (TJN) has scored Kenya’s secrecy rate at 76 per cent, meaning the country is a fertile market to stash ill-gotten private financial wealth and other illicit financial flows (IFFs).

On #AntiCorruptionDay do not forget how then-fugitive Gideon Mbuvi (“Sonko”) came to Parliament in 2010

With the arrest of Nairobi Governor Gideon Mbuvi (“Sonko”) in Voi on charges of corruption and of fleeing charges and a jail sentence in Mombasa dating back to 1998, it is important to remember how Sonko came into national politics in Nairobi in the first place.

My only personal encounter with Sonko was when he showed up as MP and potential Senator-elect at the Milimani Law Courts in March 2013 when civil society leaders I was working with sought an injunction to stop the IEBC under Isaack Hassan from announcing Presidential election results after shutting down the Results Transmission System, which had allegedly unexpectedly failed (it has turned out the procurement was botched in the first place so the Results Transmission was not ever going to work).

Sonko entered politics and was elected as Member of Parliament from Nairobi’s Makadara Constituency in the by-election of September 20, 2010, as the nominee of the NARC-Kenya party led by Martha Karua, then MP for Gichuga.

Karua was appointed by President Kibaki as Minister of Justice in 2005 following the defeat of the “Wako Draft” constitution at referendum by the nascent Orange Democratic Movement, and reappointed by Kibaki in his original “half-Cabinet” of January 8, 2008 during the Post Election Violence period. Karua resigned as Justice Minister in April 2009 (being replaced by Mitula Kilonzo, father of current ODM Senator and Sonko defense attorney Mitula Kilonzo, Jr.) but one would think she and NARC-Kenya would have had resources to vet Sonko’s background if they were not familiar.

The by-election for Makadara was one of several occasioned by the courts upholding election fraud challenges against the Samuel Kivuitu led and internationally supported Election Commission of Kenya that also failed so obviously in the Presidential race.

As the Daily Nation explained in an article headlined “Makadara rivals bet on the slums” at the time Sonko originally had support of a faction within the ODM party before intervention of party leader Raila Odinga, then Prime Minister in Kibaki’s second administration (sometimes referred to as the “Government of National Unity”):

In Makadara, the roles were reversed in 2007 as ODM’s Reuben Ndolo was ousted by Mr Dick Wathika of PNU. Mr Ndolo also successfully challenged the results in court.

. . . .
The two main parties are seeking to boost their numbers in Parliament ahead of 2012.

The fight is about numbers, especially given that ODM will be seeking to turn the tables on PNU after losing a number of by-elections in the recent past,” Nairobi lawyer and political analyst John Mureithi Waiganjo said.

The party lost in Matuga at the Coast and South Mugirango in Kisii, seats it was expected to win.
Mr Waiganjo says the by-elections also come at a time when ODM, whose party leader Raila Odinga, is at the forefront in pushing for reforms ahead of 2012 elections, requires numbers in Parliament to effect the changes.
The lawyer named Mr Ndolo and Mr Wathika who were on the same side of the referendum campaigns, as the front runners for the seat. But Narc Kenya’s Gedion Mbuvi, popularly known as Mike Sonko, could spring a surprise. 
Mr Mbuvi, who intially sought the ODM ticket, has run a well-oiled, high-profile campaign that has excited many, especially youthful voters.
However, it is his alliance with Nairobi deputy mayor George Aladwa, the Kaloleni ODM councillor, that has been causing Mr Ndolo and the party sleepless nights. Although even PNU’s Wathika received a direct ticket, it is in ODM that the consequences of the nomination fallout are likely to be most felt. 
Mr Aladwa, who was said to have supported the deep-pocketed Mbuvi for the ODM ticket, has been leading a rebel faction which may seriously dent the party’s chances of victory.
Last week, party leader Odinga was forced to intervene in the matter.
At a meeting called by the Prime Minister, Mr Ndolo and Mr Aladwa pledged to bury the hatchet and work together to win the seat for the party. But there has been little evidence on the ground to show the two are back together. Even the joint rally they agreed to hold is yet to happen.
Mr Aladwa is popular among the Luhya, a significant section of voters in the constituency, and the tension between him and Mr Ndolo can only hurt the ODM candidate.
But Mr Ndolo believes that he has an upper hand after reconciling with Mr Dan Shikanda, a former soccer star, who contested the seat in 2007 on a Narc ticket and who could also influence the Luhya vote. Pundits believe that had Mr Shikanda not broken ranks with Mr Ndolo in 2007, ODM would easily have clinched the seat.

After winning the by-election by defeating both Ndolo of ODM and the PNU Party nominee Wathika on the ticket of PNU Coalition member NARC-Kenya, Sonko later left NARC-Kenya and joined PNU successor party Jubilee to successfully run for Senate in 2013 and then Governor in 2017. Karua ran separately for president as the NARC-Kenya nominee in 2013 and for Governor of Kirinyaga in 2017.

Hon. Karua has been a member of the International Advisory Council of the International Republican Institute (the organization I worked for in Kenya during the 2007 election) since 2015. The Council is a “select group of recognized leaders from around the world who share in our vision of democracy and freedom, and are willing to lend their names and counsel to this cause.”

US response to South Sudan corruption: a shoe drops

New action today on South Sudan corruption today, offering hope on the question from my last post “How quickly will the United States Government act in “analysis, evaluation and investigation” of The Sentry report on South Sudan?

Statement from The Sentry: “US Sanctions Al-Cardinal, Tycoon Named in Reports of The Sentry“:

October 11, 2019 (Washington D.C.) — Today, the United States placed sanctions on Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali, widely known as Al-Cardinal, a tycoon with ties to the U.S., UK, and UAE.

Today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) target Al-Cardinal and his network of businesses, and come in the wake of two recent investigative reports by The Sentry “The Taking of South Sudan” and “Al-Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch,” that detailed the business activities of Al-Cardinal, among others, and urged governments to sanction him and his networks.

. . . .

Joshua White, Director of Policy and Analysis at The Sentry, said: “The Sentry applauds today’s action by the Department of the Treasury, which should serve as a warning to the financial facilitators and commercial enablers of corrupt South Sudanese elites that they will lose access to the dollar unless they cease doing business that funds violence in the country. The United Kingdom and other European countries, as well as those in the region, should follow suit . . .

. . . .

The Sentry’s investigation found that Al-Cardinal has exploited opaque procurement processes, weak oversight institutions, and cozy relationships with South Sudan’s most powerful politicians to line his own pockets.

“A major enabler of corruption and violence for President Salva Kiir’s government,” according to the The Sentry’s reporting, Al-Cardinal has been embroiled in major procurement scandals, set up private businesses with ruthless military generals, imported military equipment during a bloody civil war and landed lucrative contracts linked to the implementation of the peace deal in South Sudan.

Read the full report “Al Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch”: https://eno.ug/al-
Read the full report “The Taking of South Sudan”: https://eno.ug/

Reuters: “US imposes sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen for fraud, bribery“:

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen, Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal and Kur Ajing Ater, for their involvement in bribery, kickbacks and procurement fraud with senior government officials, the Treasury Department said on Friday.

After the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Benjamin Bol Mel, a key adviser to the South Sudanese president, in 2017, Mel used an account in the name of the companies of Al-Cardinal to evade sanctions and store personal funds, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

In early 2019, the South Sudanese government paid millions of dollars to a company owned by Al-Cardinal ostensibly for food, but that in fact was routed to senior South Sudanese government officials, the Treasury Department said. . . .

How quickly will the United States Government act in “analysis, evaluation and investigation” of The Sentry report on South Sudan?

On October 2, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy, the top U.S. diplomat assigned to Africa, conducted a post-UN General Assembly telephonic press briefing and availability for journalists in various Embassies on the continent. Read the full transcript here.

There were a striking number of questions about Sudan and South Sudan, but I thought this was most pertinent:

QUESTION: Okay, I can talk? All right, my name is Emmanuel from Eye Radio in Juba. I believe Mr. Tibor, you have come across the recent report that was released recently by The Sentry about implicating some South Sudanese top government officials and actually come out with recommendations to the U.S. government, so what is your current recommendations?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Thanks very much for raising that. Because I know the people involved in The Sentry very well. As a matter of fact, one of the key people John Prendergast, I have known and respected for a very long time. Our Department of State, U.S. government, we welcome the Sentry’s efforts to bring light to corrupt practices in South Sudan. We know for a long time that there’s been quite a relationship between corruption and conflict, unfortunately. Innocent people have suffered. The United States will very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations in The Sentry report and as you all know, the United States of America maintains the right to use all of the tools available whether diplomatic or whether financial or anything else to respond.

Right now there are allegations, they’re very serious allegations but they do require some careful analysis, evaluation and investigation. Thank you very much, over and out.

Here is the link to The Sentry report, “The Taking of South Sudan“.

So before the “over and out” Asst. Sec. Nagy does commit the US to “very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations” but it is a bit ambiguous as to whether he is committing the US to the next step of “investigation” that he says is “required” since he characterizes the report’s findings as “allegations”.

My gut reaction is to think of Asst. Sec. Nagy as someone who would like us to conduct ourselves well when it comes to underwriting the type of conduct outlined in The Sentry report (although I don’t know him at all nor was I familiar before he was tapped for this job from retirement). At the same time, you don’t make a life as a diplomat without learning to carefully say very little and make it sound like it is more for those who want something enough to hear it. So, how quickly will we do our review/analysis/evaluation? What will we do next? How quickly will we investigate? Will we send the FBI? Career Justice Department prosectors? Alternatively, the Attorney General?

What did the 2004 “Kroll Report”, leaked and published in 2007, say about Kenya’s drug running Akasha Family?

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.”

“Africa is a Playground”—Former President Clinton flying around the continent with Jeffrey Epstein and Kevin Spacey for deep thinking on AIDS and “democratization” is not a great look (updated)

So the travels of Jeffrey Epstein in Africa with Bill Clinton have resurfaced as a passing reference in the news with Epstein’s new arrest on child sex trafficking charges dating to the early 2000s.

This is a nonpartisan blog; I was a Republican during Bill Clinton’s time in office and never voted for him, but I am not a member of either party now and I did vote for Hillary over Trump. I was not part of the “vast right wing conspiracy” going after the Clintons in the 1990s, although I knew people who were.

But here we are, confronted with the fact that shortly after leaving the presidency and a few years before my time working for IRI in East Africa, Bill Clinton as a recent ex-President is doing Clinton Foundation business as described in the title to this post.

At the time, Clinton explained:

Jeffrey Epstein: International Moneyman of Mystery,” New York, October 28, 2002:

“Jeffrey is both a highly successful financier and a committed philanthropist with a keen sense of global markets and an in-depth knowledge of twenty-first-century science,” Clinton says through a spokesman. “I especially appreciated his insights and generosity during the recent trip to Africa to work on democratization, empowering the poor, citizen service, and combating HIV/AIDS.”

I certainly recognize that the Clinton Foundation has been a “real” organization that raised a lot of money to fund bona fide charitable programs to help poor people in African countries and elsewhere (in a favorable comparison to Donald Trump’s foundation which seems to have been wholly insubstantial). Nonetheless, this type of judgment and conduct by the former President reeks of foolishly facilitating the exploitation of the real and perceived poverty of “Africa” as a prop to convey “virtue” in reference to the situation of the neediest and least empowered (assuming that Clinton knew nothing of the conduct of Epstein regarding child rape and sex trafficking of the young and economically vulnerable that was discovered in the FBI investigation in 2006 and leading to his original 2007 plea deal and the current New York trafficking prosecution, or Spacey’s conduct toward minors.)

Would Clinton have toured Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or Hope, Arkansas with Epstein and Spacey?

So what were Epstein’s great ideas for “democratization”? I have not found any explanation. From outside this looks like the very antithesis of democratization, at least as I had in mind in moving to Kenya to join others to do work in that field.

There are so many examples of half-baked, self-serving notions from presumably bored or restless rich people from elsewhere using Africa as a malleable stage. In many cases the intentions are “good” if non-serious or even frivolous, but certainly not always.

An interesting tidbit is the question of why Epstein’s alleged leaked address book (published by the Gawker website) from those early 2000s (as allegedly obtained by the FBI years after his 2008 plea bargain from a former Epstein employee who withheld the evidence during the prosecution and tried to sell it later) had a subheading for Kenya, listing the Muthaiga Club of Nairobi? Did he visit? (The Clinton Foundation does have substantial programming in Kenya which former President Clinton and his other family members have visited subsequently, so it is natural to wonder whether the address book entry could relate to one of the two trips which President Clinton has said Epstein flew him on to Africa. It may be completely unrelated.) I have not had the occasion to visit the Muthaiga Club myself in doing democracy work, and in this century I am well aware that it is not the Happy Valley jumping off spot it started out as in the “Roaring Twenties”. Nonetheless, the imagery is unfortunate.

UPDATE: For a reality check about how little Epstein really had to offer in terms of any genuine scientific or medical credentials and how little of his money he really delivered behind his self-aggrandizing and manipulated reputation as a “philanthropist”, read this investigative report from Jodi Kantor, Mike McIntire and Vanessa Friedman in The New York Times: “Jeffrey Epstein was a sex offender. The powerful welcomed him anyway.”

UPDATE 2: In terms of the general subject matter, here is a recent post from USAID’s Impact Blog: “How USAID is working to prevent sexual misconduct and exploitation“.

Fifty years ago, Richard Nixon’s Presidential Daily Brief had a full page on the assassination of Kenya’s Tom Mboya

Here is The President’s Daily Brief from the Central Intelligence Agency for Richard Nixon, July 7, 1969 as published in the CIA Freedom of Information Act on-line reading room.

See Tom Wolf’s essay from The Star remembering the time of the Mboya assassination as a Peace Corp volunteer teacher.

USAID Administrator Mark Green and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump Deliver Remarks on the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative | USAID Media Advisory

On Wednesday, July 10, Administrator Mark Green of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President, will participate in a discussion co-hosted by USAID and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC). Administrator Green and Advisor Trump will highlight new partnerships and activities of the Women’s Global Development and
— Read on www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/jul-8-2019-usaid-administrator-mark-green-and-advisor-president-ivanka-trump

See Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s announcement of the program here.

WASHINGTON, DC

“The Trump administration continues to empower women economically with the launch of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative.

“This initiative aims to benefit 50 million women from 2017 to 2025 through economic empowerment efforts and motivates private sector actors – both abroad and at home – to emphasize the critical role women play in creating prosperity. Economic empowerment of women has a significant effect on global growth as women invest in stable societies and promote a world free of child labor and forced labor.

“The U.S. Department of Labor supports the W-GDP initiative through its efforts to promote the development of in-demand skills among women in the workforce, the identification of entrepreneurship opportunities, and the creation of an empowering environment for working women to flourish in the global economy.

“The Department of Labor works every day to ensure a fair global playing field for workers in the U.S. and around the world by enforcing trade commitments and strengthening labor standards.

“As part of this work, the Department of Labor seeks to ensure that the workplace rights of women are enforced – through policy engagement in both bilateral and multilateral contexts, and through negotiations and enforcement of labor protections under U.S. trade agreements that promote women’s empowerment as workers and as entrepreneurs.”

Agency

Office of the Secretary

Date

February 7, 2019

Release Number

19-252-NAT

Contact: Megan Sweeney

Phone Number

So how is United States global leadership on child sex trafficking? Impartial administration of justice?