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) as 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?

The United States and other donors to the IEBC must not let (again) the power of incumbency in Kenya obscure the dangers of “fear and loathing” on the campaign trail

This is a straightforward lesson.  We have acted in this movie in Kenya before.
(To refresh, here is my piece “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan politics was frozen and an election was stolen with U.S. connivance” in The Elephant.)

Mistakes will be made when we are out and about involved in our way in the world. (Most conspicuously, per Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  This recognition of error obtained consensus among at least the top dozen Republican candidates and the top four Democrats so it seems to be a rare “given” that we should not have to argue about now.)

We cannot undo the past but at the very least we have a moral responsibility to take cognizance of (very) recent history in Kenya involving many of the very same Kenyan ethnic/commercial/political leaders and a continuity of institutional and individual players and assumed interests of the United States as well.  Our choices have consequences, too.

We are in denial if we pretend that we did not fail abjectly (to the extent we even tried really) to effectively foster any type of justice in Kenya for the 2008 Post Election Violence.  If we can excuse our asserted complacency in 2007 on the argument that the full magnitude of the violence was unprecedented (in spite of the 1992 and 1997 “campaigns”) we certainly do not have that excuse this time.

You cannot but hear bitter strident speech about Kenya’s presidential election from Kenya’s politicians, and from Kenya’s journalists, lawyers, pundits, publishers, moguls, ranchers and hustlers (of whatever ethnic or national origin or income).   Compared to 2007 it is more aggressive and open and it is coming in some key part directly from the President and even more so from those very close to him and from the Deputy President.

In 2007 Mwai Kibaki and Moody Awori were not using the “bully pupit” of the Presidency and Vice Presidency to openly disparage and ridicule those with less power (even though Kibaki was obviously not in hindsight of any mind to actually risk being found to have lost the election by the ECK).

Likewise, during that campaign Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, on opposite sides of the presidential campaign once “retired President” Moi realigned to support Kibaki mid-year, were far more restrained in their widely public statements as candidates
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“Preliminary Findings” released by Kenyan civil society coalition on election

Update 23 Aug – Here is the latest from the  Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu monitoring:    KYSYElectionDataUpdate-WhyDisputed-22Aug2017

Following the unlawful raid on AfriCOG in Nairobi yesterday, today the Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu election monitoring program which has been engaged since long before any of the International Election Observation Missions were constituted, released its Preliminary Findings.

Please read for yourself (especially if you have commented publicly so far on Kenya’s election).

A thought about the International Crisis Group statement headined “Kenyans should come together” . . .

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Kenya election banner Kibaki Nakuru 2007

Yes, of course, they “should”.  As we Americans should also, for instance.  How is another question entirely.  Anyone who wants to “help” Kenyans should engage with them and see what they want and need toward that far off goal.

Needless to say, politics and these elections have not historically been involved in bringing Kenyans “together”.  Quite the opposite in fact.

“Shocking” news again from Kenya:  the more things don’t change the more they stay the same.  This election time is quite different than 2007 or 2013 in many ways and not in others.

In regard to post election mechanics (analog and digital), these change a lot each election.  Not as much as the law requires perhaps, but significantly.The process of voting by paper ballot, counting the paper ballots by hand and recording the vote by hand on paper on Form 34A and posting it on the door (or in some cases deciding not to) is fixed and well established, 2007, 2013, 2017.  Kenyans have and do “come together” over this process.  They always do it peacefully.

Not sure why people are seeming to find that to be a novelty.  A great and important thing yes–and it should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be misrepresented as “progress” or any form of “change” each time it is repeated.

So no, this peaceful turnout in long lines to vote by this same process in 2007, 2013 and again in 2017 is not, in fact, an act of faith at all as described by ICG.  It is an act of hope each time.  Arguably for many an act of love for country or subgroup.  Kenyans are broadly faithful, but not in the election process as a whole.

Here is the ICG statement.

[Updated 11 Aug] Kenya election updates 

My update is to just say Kenyan IEBC is not done with their job, but I’m done saying anything at all about this election process so far.  Since I’m not involved it doesn’t help to offer public commentary.

Before Kenya’s vote, read Daniel Branch’s The Fire Next Time

If you missed it, amid all the international media scene setters, and very last minute diplomatic appeals, take 9 minutes for “The Fire Next Time: Why memories of the 2007-08 post election violence remain alive.” from Daniel Branch in The Elephant.

Much wisdom on why Kenya has remained stuck following “the debacle of 2007”.

“Kenya: The Economic Stake of the Kenyatta Family; The Royal Family Jewels” – that CIA report after Jomo’s passing

Below I have embedded for downloading the 1 September 1978 CIA Africa Review which covers at pages 12-18 “The Economic Stake of the Kenyatta Family”.  This is related to the story in The Standard noted in my post Standard covers newly declassified CIA report on Kenyatta family wealth acquisition during Jomo’s rule.  I thought you should read it in full for yourself:

1 Sept 78 Kenyatta wealth – The Royal Family Jewels

 

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”.

Mocking democracy: Government of Kenya announces “Kenyan Asian community backs President Kenyatta’s re-election”

Democracy Assistance

“URAIA Because Kenyans Have Rights”  — Democracy Assistance facade?


[Update: The Daily Nation, State Officials on the campaign trail“:  “The Jubilee administration has deployed civil servants and key government officials on vote hunting missions across the country in contravention of the law.”]

Let it not be said that there is any serious pretense that the Government of Kenya is neutral in the contest for political allegiance of potential “swing” ethnic groupings, rich in votes or money, in the current election, a contest for power between the Uhuruto ticket representing the current generation of the original KANU establishment led by the Kenyatta family and an opposition coalition led by Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka.

Here is the “latest news” from the Government of Kenya, Office of the President (www.president.go.ke): “Kenyan Asian community backs President Kenyatta’s re-election”.

This years’ “Jubilee Party” was literally formed at State House as the Uhuruto re-election vehicle, formally merging Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA and Ruto’s URP, just as this meeting of State Officials and “Asian” Kenyan businesspeople and politicians for the re-election campaign was convened at State House.

Conduct of this sort, aside from being a clear form of corruption per se as a misappropriation of public resources for private gain, is explicitly against the mandatory Code of Conduct for the Kenyan political parties.  (On paper the campaign, in full swing for months, is not even to start until May 28.)

Will the Registrar of Political Parties and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission take action?  The IFES led consortium of US based organizations both facilitating and underwriting the cost of the election, while also coordinating its “observation” at the expense of American (and in parts Canadian) taxpayers?  What about ELOG, the donor supported Kenyan observation group?

IFES has already beeen attacked by the Kenyan Government and ELOG is charged with continuing to do business in Nairobi on a permanent basis, so it would be a huge act of institutional courage for it to seriously challenge the conduct of the Office of the Presidency.  We have been in the mode of continuous institutionalized democracy promotion in Kenya for 15 years (!) now.  No matter how many  capacity building seminars we hold for the little people in the cities or the politicians in the resorts in the Rift Valley or at the beaches, if we let ourselves simply be mocked and pretend that this is working we will surely risk moral injury to our own democracy.

Read the whole campaign piece here:

The Asian community in Kenya has endorsed the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Leaders of the community said they have taken the decision to rally behind the President because of his commitment to creating an enabling environment of business and development.

The leaders, who visited President Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, said policies implemented by the Jubilee Government have enabled more business to thrive and made Kenya a preferred destination for investors.

At the meeting which was also attended by Deputy President William Ruto, representatives of the community assured the President that they would rally behind him to ensure the country’s development tempo is sustained.

“What we have seen in the last four years needs no magnification and my words can be supported by facts that can be seen and quantified, “said businessman Iqbal Rashid.

The businessman cited the upgrading of the old railway system with the Standard Gauge Railway, the upgrading of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and continuous improvement of the infrastructure connecting cities and towns.

He said the continued flow of investments into Kenya from all corners of the globe was as a result of the confidence in the leadership of President Kenyatta.

Women leaders Parveen Adam, Shamsha Fadhil and Farah Mannzoor thanked the President for championing an agenda that fosters inclusiveness as well as the prosperity and unity of all Kenyans.

They said women appreciate his efforts to spearhead the campaign to have the two third gender rule passed by the National Assembly.

Businessman Bismiahirahman Nirrahim said the Asian community has witnessed the transformative leadership of President Kenyatta which has helped in creating conducive environment for investments.

He cited the increased ease of doing business resulting from President Kenyatta’s policies including the policy to reduce the time it takes to register a new business.

Nirrahim said the youth and women empowerment program implemented by President Kenyatta’s Administration has also been a transformational policy that deserves praise.

President Kenyatta thanked the leaders for their support and assured them that he would continue working tirelessly to make Kenya a more prosperous country with shared prosperity.

He said the Asian community has been keen in developing Kenya saying the community has always been in the forefront championing the interests of the nation since the days of independence struggle.

“Like all of us you were part and parcel of the Kenyan struggle for Independence, the role you played cannot be ignored,” said President Kenyatta.

The President said he is a believer in an inclusive society adding that he would want to see the Asian community participate more in both social and economic development of the country.

“This is the government that believes in encouraging partnership and working together. Your success is our success,” said President Kenyatta.

Also present were the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua among other senior government officials.

Author

Gok

Update May 26:  See “Asian Kenyans seek to be declared a ‘tribe’ of their own” in today’s New York Times.