Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

From the Small Wars Journal an article entitled “The Slow Motion Coup: Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience”.  The author, William J. Olsen, is a professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, a counterpart to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies:

Or another simple question: Why do we have Combatant Commanders?  This is a model drawn from WWII, made formal and deeply rooted as the result of the Cold War.  Both are over.  Why does the establishment linger?  And if we are to have a pro-consul per region, why a military officer?  Why not a senior civilian with a military adviser?

In this context, something else I have long recommended reading for getting a “feel” for AFRICOM is Chapter Seven of Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground.  The chapter is titled “CENTCOM, Horn of Africa, Winter 2004, with notes on East Africa”.  Although the period Kaplan covers is before the stand up of AFRICOM as a separate Combatant Command, he visits the Marines of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti and accompanies an Army Civil Affairs Team setting up in Lamu, Kenya:

     These teams had a twofold mission: make a sustained contribution to the island’s quality of life, so that the inhabitants would see a relationship with the U.S. as in their best interests; and more immediately, be the advance guard for U.S. Marines from the U.S.S. Germantown coming ashore to repair a school and conduct a MEDCAP.

Lamu was an example of the new paradigm for projecting American power: modernize host country bases for use as strategic outposts, maintain local relationships through humanitarian projects, then use such relationships to hunt down “bad guys.”  Whether it was upgrading a runway, digging a well, or whacking a terrorist, the emphasis was always on small teams.

More broadly:

    The new paradigm gave (Marine) Brig. Gen. Robeson a sort of power that no U.S. ambassador or assistant secretary of state quite had.  Not only wasn’t he burdened by the State Department’s antiquated bureaucratic divisions but his ability to deal with the regions’s leaders and strongmen may also have been helped by a cause-and-effect, working class mind, disciplined by the logic of Marine tactical operations manuals and the classical military education he had received at Fort Leavenworth.  Though democracy was gaining in the region, many of the elected leaders with whom Robeson had developed relationships were former guerrilla fighters and military men . . .

The fact that generals like Mastin Robeson were in the diplomatic forefront, somewhat at the expense of the State Department, troubled commentators who assumed the permanence of industrial-age categories of bureaucratic responsibility, categories helped into being by the nineteenth-century professionalization of European militaries, which consequently separated them from civilian command structures.  But the distinctions appeared to be weakening.

From a review at Foreign Affairs:

Kaplan’s book is wider ranging. His underlying thesis is that the places he visits represent the periphery of a new American empire, whose fate will be determined by how its foot soldiers — the grunts — engage with the local populations. The analogy is to the frontiersmen of the nineteenth century: everywhere he goes he is welcomed to “Injun Country.” It is probably best not to worry too much about the thesis, which is half-baked, and instead enjoy the insights and reportage from a master of this sort of extreme travel writing.

And a key scholarly book to study on the 2007 Kenyan elections . . .

Karuti Kanyinga and Duncan Okello, eds. Tensions and Reversals in Democratic Transitions:  The Kenya 2007 General Elections.

Nairobi:  Society for International Development, in conjunction with the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, 2010.  709 pp. Notes.  Paper.

Reviewed by Frank Holmquist of Hampshire College in the African Studies Review, Volume 54, No. 2:

This is a big book of more than seven hundred pages with eighteen lengthy, theoretically engaged, and well-referenced essays.  There are editorial mistakes, but they are not significant diversions.  The authors, who represent a variety of disciplines, are almost all Kenyan scholars.  The essays speak more to the nature of Kenyan politics that led up to the election with the near collapse of the state, and less to the violence itself.  As a result, they are an important contribution to understanding the election crises and its aftermath, and to the broad study of Kenyan politics and democratization.

I would also note that Holmquist identifies the piece by Karuti Kanyinga, James Long and David Ndii as “the best assessment to date” of how the voting actually went in the presidential election.

I will be at the African Studies Association annual meeting in Washington next week and didn’t want to neglect to include my friends from the academy in reminding readers of what is available now to better understand what might play out over the next year in Kenyan politics.

The book was “launched” in Nairobi just before the constitutional referendum, but the message was considered inconvenient by some of my esteemed friends in the media and it did not get as much coverage as it might have otherwise.  This is from The Standard on July 26, 2010:

Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) Chairman Isaack Hassan has assured Kenyans of a free and fair vote at the referendum.

This comes at a time when some ‘No’ leaders have accused ‘Yes’ of plotting to rig the August 4 plebiscite.

The IIEC boss said he was keen to prove to Kenyans and the world the country has moved on after the bungled 2007 General Election.

“Before the violence, Kenya was seen as a beacon of democracy in Africa. That is why we want to repair that shameful part of our history by having a clean and fair referendum,” he said.

Added Hassan: “Many of our leaders don’t seem to have learnt from the post-election violence. For them, campaigns are just a matter of hurling insults and making loose claims. This must change to save this country.

Dark chapter

He spoke during the launch of a book, Tensions and Reversals in Democratic Transitions: The Kenya 2007 General Elections at Serena Hotel, yesterday.

Swedish Ambassador to Kenya Ann Dismorr urged the IIEC to conduct an unimpeachable referendum.

University of Nairobi lecturer Karuti Kanyinga, a co-editor of the book, said election malpractices should be punishable by death since they are the main cause of election violence.

THE Book on Recent Kenyan Politics to Read in 2011

The Politics of Betrayal; Diary of a Kenyan Legislator by former journalist and MP Joe Khamisi was published early this year and made a big stir in Nairobi with portions being serialized in The Nation.  Khamisi is definitely not your average politician in that he got a journalism degree from the University of Maryland, worked for years as a journalist, and became managing director of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and worked in the foreign service before being elected to parliament from Bahari on the Coast in 2002.

Khamisi was part of the LDP, the Liberal Democratic Party, and in 2007 became an ODM-K insider with Kalonzo.  While there is inherent subjectivity in a political memoir from one particular actor, Khamisi’s background in journalism serves him well.  While I cannot vouch for his accounts of specific incidents that I do not have any direct knowledge of, and I do not necessarily agree with his perspective on some things and people, he seems to try to be fair and there is much that he writes that rings true to me from my own interactions and observations in the 2007 campaign.

From his chapter on “The Final Moments” of the 2007 race, at page 223:

It needs to be said at this point that Kalonzo’s appointment as Vice President was neither an afterthought by Kibaki, nor a patriotic move by Kalonzo to save the country from chaos.  It was not a miracle either.  It was a deliberate, calculated, and planned affair meant to stop the ODM from winning the presidency.  It was conceived, discussed and sealed more than two months before the elections.  It was purely a strategic political move; a sort of pre-election pact between two major political players.  It was s survival technique meant to save Kibaki and Kalonzo from possible humiliation.

In our secret discussions with Kibaki, we did not go beyond the issue of the Vice Presidency and the need for an alliance between ODM-Kenya and PNU.  We, for example, did not discuss the elections themselves; the mechanisms to be used to stop Raila; nor did we discuss whether part of that mechanism was to be the manipulation of the elections.  It appeared though that PNU insiders had a far wider plan, and the plan, whatever it was, was executed with the full connivance of the ECK .  What happened at the KICC tallying centre–even without thinking about who won or lost–lack transparency and appeared to be a serious case of collusion involving the ECK and officials at the highest levels of government.  It was not a coincidence that the lights went off at the very crucial moment when the results were about to be announced; nor was it necessary for the para-military units to intervene in what was purely an administrative matter.  The entire performance of ECK Chairman Kivuitu and some of the Commissioners was also suspect and without doubt contributed to the violence that followed.

“Book Bitings”–Some Thoughts on “Fighting For Darfur; Public Action and the Stuggle to Stop Genocide” by Rebecca Hamilton

June 9 update, h/t Africa Files:  Human Rights Watch Report–“As South Split Looms, Abuses Grow in Darfur”.

I will join with many others in recommending Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for Darfur as well worth buying and reading for anyone interested in American policy in Africa, citizen activism in the West as a foreign policy input, genocide as a moral and political challenge and Sudan specifically.  Don’t get lost in the debate without taking time to get the book and read it–it is relatively short and quite accessible for busy non-specialists.

African Arguments features noteworthy reviews by Laura Seay of Morehouse College and Texas in Africa and Alex Thurston of Sahel Blog.

Hamilton was personally involved as a student activist and also worked for a time at the ICC after graduating from Harvard Law School before taking up this book project and journalism full-time.  Combining the roles of insider and journalist lets Hamilton provide the reader with direct access to an unusual range of the players in the activist and political community and those in the U.S. government at the time.  She also has direct experience and follow-up reporting from the camps in Darfur and Chad and sources in Darfur and access to officials in Khartoum.  She was also able to get some of the basic U.S. government documents declassified quickly enough to be used in her reporting.

Hamilton is left asking more questions than she is able to answer in the wake of the failure of the activists to deliver any clear positive change in the situation in Darfur in spite of their success in moving the domestic American political process in such a way that the United States officially engaged in a variety of diplomatic efforts.   Nonetheless, there is significant learning on offer here–and perhaps that learning can save some lives in the future.

It seems that there is some realization that the activists did not know enough about the context and specific background of the complex situation in Darfur as opposed to some other situation of mass atrocities in some other place or time.  There may be ways to address this shortfall in preparation for future conflagrations.  At the same time, I don’t think that it necessarily follows that our government would have accomplished more without the youthful energy and passion of the activists, or that things would not have gotten even worse in Darfur if the United States had not engaged to the extent that it did.

Writ large, this is a reminder that we don’t get second bites at the apple.  Darfur is not Rwanda and cannot offer redemption for our failure to act there.  Likewise, 2003 did not offer a second chance at the situation that the United States faced at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991.  In fact, invading Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein ended up hamstringing the U.S. in responding to the newer crisis in Darfur.  Nonetheless, from our failures we can learn, and Hamilton’s is a real contribution.

__________________________________

On the “to read” list, here is a review from the Stanford Social Innovation Review of More Than Good Intentions:  How a New Economics is Helping to Solve Global Poverty” Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel.

“What are your views on corruption?”

[From “Envoy Predicts Free and Fair Election”, The Standard, December 18, 2007–an interview with U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger nine days before the Kenyan election]

Q: What are your views on corruption?

A: Lots of people look at Kenya and say lots of big cases have not been resolved because of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg. I always point out that we have lots of corruption even in the US. These cases take a lot of time to bring to justice. We had the famous Enron case. It took over four years to resolve in a system that works efficiently, yet only a couple of people were convicted. These things take a long time.

There has been substantial effort to fight corruption in Kenya and the award the country won for Civil Service reform [from the World Bank] is a pointer to that effect. The fact that the Civil Service is more professional than ever before is progress as are the new procurement laws recently put in place and the freedom of the Press to investigate and expose corruption. More, of course, needs to be done.

The economy has grown by 7 per cent. How much of that has actually trickled down to the people will again be determined by time.

A career diplomat, Ranneberger has been in Kenya for close to one-and-a-half years, and has served in Europe, Latin America and Africa.

This was a full page “exclusive” feature interview in The Standard nine days before the 2007 Kenyan election. “Envoy predicts free and fair election”, December 18, 2007.

During previous days The Standard had been running new revelations about corruption in the Kibaki administration from documents from exiled former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission chairman John Githongo. Rumor had it that Githongo wanted to be able to return to Kenya and might want to be able to return to government after the election, although I had no knowledge one way or the other about whether that was true. Githongo’s personal adventure trying to address corruption in the Kibaki administration is the subject of Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat. Wrong rightly noted in her book that stealing the election was the ultimate corruption.

Ranneberger has somewhat reinvented his public persona in Kenya the last couple of years, in that he now openly criticizes and challenges Kenyan politicians and is outspoken against corruption. Readers of this blog will know that I agree with him, now, on corruption and that corruption is nothing new. I wish him “happy trails” as he completes his tenure in Nairobi and moves on.

Slovenia versus Truth, Justice and the American Way

That official was obviously part of “the blame America first crowd”.

Have you noticed that in every World Cup game since we elected Obama president the U.S. has tied? It’s Socialism, I say, Socialism!

*For World Cup fans let me commend to you “Africa United–How Football Explains Africa” on the blogroll (tied to the recent book of the same title) by Steve Bloomfield.

Links from this week

Needed: “A stronger resolve on Kenya’s Internally Displaced Persons” from KenyaImagine.

From New York, Kevin Kelley reports in the Saturday Nation that accused Times Square bomber Faisal Shazhad, cooperating with authorities, has said that he was inspired by Sheik Abdullah al Faisal, the Jamaican deported from Kenya in January.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o interviewed by Reuters on release of the first volume of his memoir “Dreams in a Time of War”.

VOA Special Report: “Ethiopia Votes”. You may remember that Ethiopia started jamming the VOA Amharic service back in March in the lead up to the elections.

At the Economist: “Ethiopia’s elections: Five more years–the results are not in doubt, only the prospects of millions of impoverished and hungry Ethiopians”

“More Repression, Less Democracy, No Real Outcry” from Africa Works. “Rule of law is not enough in lands where repression is a cost of doing business.” Also, if you missed it a good piece titled “The Next Empire” by Howard W. French in the May Atlantic, traveling to observe the Chinese in Africa.

Tom Maliti of AP covers the chill on political books in Kenya

“Kenya bookshops refuse politically sensitive books”

This is a good piece that will help with an understanding of the actual limits on freedom of expression in Kenya as it relates to anything that might offend powerful members of the political class who use the courts and other tools to intimidate. Booksellers have titles on controversial topics–just not on key areas of Kenyan politics.

Tom covered the fall 2007 IRI Kenyan opinion poll and I got to know him then and through subsequent reporting and I was always impressed with his knowledge and professionalism.

“Book Bitings”–African book news, interviews, reviews and such

Bringing e-books to Africa

Summertime by J.M. Coetzee, reviewed at PRI’s The World

“Postcolonial Everyman”, Kaiama Glover reviews Chinua Achebe’s The Education of a British Protected Child in the New York Times.

Africa Rising–from Pambazuka

An Evening with Dambiso Moyo“–Guardian

Helene Cooper (The House on Sugar Beach) on the new Liberian surf scene.

Stray Questions for: Alexandra Fuller at Paper Cuts.

More Recognition for “It’s Our Turn to Eat”

Congratulations to Michela Wrong (and John Githongo) on the selection of “It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower” as a Book of the Year by the Economist!

Especially timely this week as news trickles out of intentions by the Government of Kenya to pay millions of additional dollars on the “Anglo Leasing” contracts from the first big scandal to hit the first Kibaki Administration.