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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Best overall international piece so far on Kenya Supreme Court decision

Lots of good journalism out today, but this story from Peter Fabricus in my evening Daily Maverick Weekend Thing strikes me as hitting many of the right notes: “Kenya’s courts step up to electoral plate.”

One of the most important lessons from today is how cowed Kenya’s media really is by the Government.  This decision did not have to come as quite such a suprise if Kenya’s media had felt free–or been brave enough–to just cover the polling stations and constituency tally centres.  But we went through this in 2007 (when results were broadcast then taken down), and 2013 when self-censorship was the order of the day.

Today, Kenya took a big step forward on the rule of law — a sign that perhaps the press can become in the future in fact as free as the Constitution provides and the West pretends.

For Kenyan must reads, start with Nanjala Nyabola, “Why I’m proud to be an African today,” at IRINnews.com.

“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).

Kenya: Police brutality, like other election violence, is used to rally political support as well as to suppress opposition

It is pollyannish not to appreciate that in a society as violent as Kenya’s, where violent crime and violent vigilanteism, along with police brutality, are features of everday life to be navigated by most Kenyans, the public reaction against or in favor of extra-legal violence by the police very much divides along political lines in accordance with who is delivering and who is receiving the violence.

It is the sort of thing that can be seen in the context of the height of the “civil rights movement” in the early 1960s in the American Deep South where I live.  Photographic and videographic images that shocked the rest of the United States and some of the rest of the world reflected police brutality under the command and for the purposes of political leaders who in some substantial part were playing for popular support among their own constituencies.  Not to argue that most white voters were necessarily in favor of particularly bad behavior by the police, but to note that popular support feeding political opportunism was part of the dynamic of repressive violence.

In this respect it has particularly saddened me to see Kenya led now by politicians who elevated themselves in the political ranks on the basis of their perceived reputations as champions of tribally organized violent politics after the failure of the 2007 vote count.

Pre-election violence in Kenya: here we go again?

The pre-election killings in Kenya in 2013 were “only” 500 or so as reported at the time.  The various branches of the Kenya Police Service were more restrained than they seem to be this cycle.  In the pre-election period the IEBC was well respected and trusted, having not experienced overlapping scandals and problems that materialized later and remain outstanding.

I think it is well worth remembering that in the especially violent and destabilizing election campaign of 2007, it was the deployment of the Administrative Police (the “AP”) to the western provinces on behalf of the Kibaki re-election effort just before the vote that first openly “militarized” the campaign.  I should have been more alarmed by the “physical” rather than simply electoral implications of that move at the time.

It seems to me that the open use of armed force for political advantage by an incumbent puts the opposition in an unavoidable “fight or flight” bind to the great risk of public safety and stability, affecting the majority who are ardently supportive of neither “side” in the actual campaign.

As Americans we naturally prefer to see Africans choose the “flight” option rather than the “fight” option in most cases.  There are a variety of reasons for this, some that are morally well grounded and some that are morally questionable.  Some of it is compassion; some of it is geopolitical self interest; part of it may be unique to more individualized interests and relationships.  In European countries especially, for instance Ukraine, and in other parts of the world, we often weigh these choices differently.  

In Kenya, it would be most convenient for us, of course, if the opposition stood down, kept quiet, and trusted their government and the donors to handle election administration like in 2007 and 2013.  We know that we cannot ask that explicitly and we see that the IEBC has lost wide confidence from the public but we seem to be unwilling to directly engage in support of reform now.

I would not want to see any of my Kenyan friends or acquaintences sacrifice bodily harm for any of the Kenyan politicians I knew personally from the 2007 campaign.  In 2007 I thought that Kalonzo, Kibaki and Odinga were all three reasonably plausible and well experienced, well known choices; the election itself ought not to have been seen as particularly high risk or high reward, one way or the other, for the vast majority of Kenyans.

However, as I am deeply grateful that my ancestors made the sacrifices required for me to inherit the benefits of a democratic system here in the United States, I would be embarrased to suggest–and am always disappointed to see my government imply–that Kenyans should simply knuckle under and accept that they do not have the freedom-in-fact that their constitution says on paper, under the law, that they have achieved. 

The opposition has generated an opening for reform through the aggressive and disturbing police brutality meted out against them by the government.  There needs to be a pivot, however, to a more nuanced approach if meaningful reform is to be achieved that advances the causes of both non-violent politics and freedom.

The opposition pols seem to focus on the personalities and roles of the IEBC commissioners.  Obviously someone like Hassan who has relished an extraneous public profile as the nemesis of one potential candidate has gone beyond the point of being a trusted neutral in the future, but the delay in the election date that seems to be in the offing from yet another round of procurement “issues” can cycle tainted individuals out of office.  Reform and systemic trust is a much deeper problem than that however–and it is too important to all Kenyans and the country as a whole to be left to the competing camps of pols.

Kenyan democrats should call out the donors.  If we say we are serious about supporting dialogue why not ask us to show a bit of leadership to go with our cash underwriting?

As for me, I am waiting on the first documents from months ago from a FOIA to USAID to understand more about our spending on the IEBC procurements last time.  No sign yet that our advocacy of “open government” is penetrating our approach to democracy assistance in Kenya, but I certainly think transparency would be hugely helpful in supporting real problem solving and rebuilding trust.

Assessing Kenya’s election campaign

Best new current periodical article:

“Kenya’s elections: turbulence ahead” in New African.

This piece notes the dynamics from the recent by-elections in Malindi and Kericho in the context of the refusal to address the outstanding corruption matters with the IEBC from the most recent general elections, most notoriously the Smith & Ouzman convictions.

It can be no surprise in context to Kenya watchers to see the Uhuruto administration teargassing opposition protests of Hassan and company at the IEBC this week.

It would seem that we can safely say that the demise of any remedial action associated with the Post Election Violence has now brought to an unsuccessful close the notion of a post-2008 “reform agenda” with the exception of the fact of devolution.  De facto implementation of most of the promise of distributed and restrained powers of His Excellency Hon. C.g.h., President and Commander in Chief of the Defense Forces of the Republic of Kenya will await another political epoch.  Certainly the IEBC now lacks the credibility the ECK had in 2006-07.

The American Deputy Secretary of State will arrive soon for a “bonfire of the ivories” and regional confab about how to save what’s left of the African elephants from poaching, giving important visibility and associational credibility again to the messaging of the Kenyatta administration.  I assume that “we” think this will help the elephants in some fashion even if Kenyatta’s family doesn’t have to explain itself on the issue and corruption in other areas continues to burgeon.  Apparently diplomatic manners allow us to memorialize elephants cut down by violence if not so much the PEV victims and witnesses at this juncture.

An insider’s explanation of the difference between a “free and fair” election and a “will of the people” election–Kriegler deputy’s memoir

Air Show

 

In his book Birth: the Conspiracy to Stop the ’94 Election, Peter Harris, a South African lawyer who was in charge of the “election-monitoring division” of that country’s Independent Electoral Commission in 1994 (under Johann Kriegler, later appointed by President Kibaki to head Kenya’s 2008 IREC or “Kriegler Commission”, charged under Kenya’s 2008 post-election settlement with, inter alia, investigating the failed presidential vote) elaborates:

“Why would anyone want to run a free and fair election that will remove them from power? . . . Enter the election-monitoring division, whose primary job is to ensure that the election is free and fair. . . .
What constitutes a free and fair is a major issue for us.  The high level of violence can have a major effect.  In short, the tense situation in Bophuthatswana can jeopardize everything.
Declaring an election free and fair depends on a number of considerations, but chief among them is the ‘freedom of voters to vote in secret, free from violence and coercion’, and ‘access to secure voting stations’.
Since his appointment, Steven Friedman and his information and analysis department have been monitoring the situation closely.  Their final talks will be to produce a report that will help the commissioners make a finding on whether the election was free and fair and a reflection of the will of the people.
I rather like the ‘will of the people’ bit; it reminds me of one of those classic legal catch-all clauses that provide an escape route if all else fails.  It is a bit like ‘sufficient consensus,’ that famous methodology for reaching agreement at constitutional negotiations.  In real terms this means if the ANC and the National Party agree there was ‘sufficient consensus’, then bugger the rest.  The real reason I like ‘the will of the people’ is because, as we hurtle closer to this election, it is clear to me that there is a lot that can, and probably will, go wrong.

Under Kenyan law under the 2010 Constitution, as in effect for the last election in 2013, this issue of potential circumlocution about election shortcomings is solved: the Constitution mandates a “free and fair” minimum standard.  I have written previously that I had picked up on discussion in Washington ahead of the 2013 Kenyan election harking back to the “will of the people” hedging language used by Westerners in reference to Moi’s re-elections in the 1990’s.

I ended up in an indirect disagreement through the pages of Africa in Fact magazine with the spokesmen for the Western government-funded election observation missions (the Carter Center from the US and the EU mission) about the significance of the conspicuous absence of reference to the higher (and legally mandated) standard in their Preliminary Statements following the voting.

The titular conspiracy that the Harris memoir discloses, but does not explain in detail, is that hackers penetrated the electoral commission ICT systems and changed vote tallies in progress.  And that the fraud was discovered by the embedded IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems) team funded by the U.S., addressed internally within the Electoral Commission and not disclosed at the time.

The hackers were adding votes for third parties apparently not to disrupt the ANC’s win, but rather to manipulate the overall percentage seemingly to avoid letting the ANC have the parliamentary margin to change the new constitution.

The South African Electoral Commission suspended the vote tally without explaining about the infiltration of the system.  A technology work around was created but the overall control system for handling the count broke down.  Through heroic logistical efforts, intricate private political negotiations and with the grace of fortunate “communications” efforts, the election process was “saved” to the extent of being accepted as a rough approximation of the “will of the people” in the context of moving from majority rule in an electorate of 22 million from the existing system of rule determined by competition among no more than a 3 million voter privileged minority.  Close enough for “horseshoes or hand grenades” as we say.  Close enough to an actual count of each individual’s vote for a “free and fair” election? Not so much.

In South Africa in 1994 there was an understood consensus that the purpose of the first broadly democratic election was to transfer power from the minority National Party the majority ANC while containing conflict from other factions “white” and “black”.  The time allocated and resources available made a free and fair election as such wholly beyond the potential of the endeavor.

Thus the situation in South Africa in 1994 was radically different than the electoral management task presented to the Kenya’s ECK and IEBC (and IFES) in 2007 and 2013.

In 2013 Judge Kriegler was back in Kenya some and was a frequent public commentor on contentious matters involving politics and the electoral commission.  It would seem easy to argue that his approach and expectations in Kenya leaned too heavily on the very dissimilar task he faced in his electoral commission experience in South Africa.

How will the U.S. handle its involvement with a possible Kenyan referendum?

We have the examples of Kenya’s constitutional referenda of 2005 and 2010 for some lessons.

In the fall of 2005, the Government of Kenya, on behalf of the “Wako Draft” constitution being brought to a referendum vote–the “Banana campaign”– loudly claimed that the U.S. was interfering in the referendum in opposition to President Kibaki’s position.  In 2010, Americans campaigning against the “Committee of Experts as Amended” Draft complained that the U.S. was interfering in the referendum by supporting the “Yes” campaign.

I am not aware that there was any substance to the allegations in 2005.  For one thing, it was not clear to me by the time I was on the scene in Kenya in mid-2007 that people at the State Department were necessarily glad that the referendum had failed.  One American official suggested to me that the Wako Draft had not been that bad and certainly better than the old constitution that everyone was left to deal with.  My inclination is that the campaign rhetoric from some of Kibaki’s ministers was just that–campaign rhetoric using the American “bogeyman” as a foil to rally solidarity from Kibaki’s political base (in other words, a somewhat milder version of what the Uhruruto campaign did with more success in 2013, less the ICC “bogeyman”).  Admittedly, I was not involved in 2005 and have made no independent investigation of the matter so I am not purporting to offer any definitive opinion. The International Republican Institute exit poll funded by USAID was consistent with the big victory for the “Orange” side officially reported by the Electoral Commission of Kenya following the vote in November 2005.

In 2010, things were different.  Congressman Christopher Smith of New Jersey, Chairman of the relevant subcommittee covering Africa of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs pressed the issue and it was eventually reported in the Daily Nation that Smith had received a report from the USAID Inspector General that “found that US funding did go specifically to encourage “Yes” vote on referendum.”  In that situation, however, the Government of Kenya was not complaining because Kibaki himself, along with former “Orange” leader Raila Odinga as Prime Minister, was supporting the Amended Draft.  The Amended Draft was jiggered to accommodate the negotiated interests of most political leaders in the “government of national unity” around both Kibaki and ODM.  There was some organized opposition led by William Ruto which outpolled the Draft in the Rift Valley, but only there.  At the time, Ruto was on the outs with both the President’s faction and with ODM, among other things from pressure tied to allegations about participation in post election violence and certain pending corruption allegations, so no one outside his immediate base was too concerned about his position.

Process purists like myself thought it was wrong for the U.S. to let our funding cross into the campaign itself, beyond simply assisting the process–and to deny it if we did do it.  Americans who opposed the Kenyan Draft because of their concerns about the impact of language on the two “contentious issues”–the Khadi’s Courts and abortion–did not like to have their tax dollars used against them in the campaign.  Kenyans who opposed the Draft may have had comparable feelings in regard to U.S. “democracy assistance” spending, but I didn’t pick up on much complaint–given that their own government was campaigning against them, the U.S. funding as a distinct issue would not be the first and most obvious issue about neutrality, even though the sums of money involved were quite huge for Kenya.

The other key aspect to the context of 2010 is that there was great pent up public demand for a reformed constitution that had been promised for years. The ” yes” side won in a landslide and surveys afterward showed that Kenyans were approaching unanimity in being glad that the constitution had passed. In this environment, the process details about funding do not seem to have so much actual or perceived political significance.

As far as a 2015 referendum triggered by the current petition drive, I have no idea what approach people in our various foreign policy organizations would take on substance.  In general, I doubt people in the U.S. government would care very much directly one way or the other regarding constitutional amendments now unless something unexpected showed up in a draft late in the game.

I haven’t heard or read anything about “the reform agenda” from Washington in a long time even though it was for some years a constant refrain from the State Department.  “Reform” seems to have happened in 2010 and have borne fruit with the IEBC’s decision on the 2013 election being accepted by the opposition,  challenged only in court.  The lion’s share of “reform agenda” that was envisioned in the 2008 post election settlement has not come to pass–for instance the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission seems to have become just one more Kenyan Commission  producing a report to be somewhat censored then shelved for the edification of future scholars who might want to know more about what has gone wrong over the years.  Likewise, there is nearly universal impunity now settled for all the acts of post election violence, subject only to the three last cases lingering at the ICC–so one way or the other, most people involved will have gone scot free. The biggest substantive recommendation of the Kreigler Commission, which found the whole election in 2007 to have been a bust, was to deploy electronic reporting of the vote tallies from the polling station to Nairobi as opposed to depending on physical carriage of the paper forms.  That single most crucial upgrade was a complete failure in the 2013 election–in circumstances that were left murky–and the IEBC turned out not even to even have a working process to handle the reporting on paper.  Nonetheless, if “we” the United States were going to get too exercised about any of this, surely we would have done so in 2013 when we were faced with the embarrassment of having a relationship with an elected government led by ICC suspects.  Instead we bent over backwards to find ways to praise another poor election process because it wasn’t openly stolen at the the presidential level this time and murder and mayhem didn’t follow.  Now everyone seems to have pretty much gotten used to that formerly unprecedented situation of close diplomatic interaction with ICC suspects.  Bottom line is that I doubt that my government will want to play heavily pro or con in a Kenya referendum in the near future.

Nonetheless, I think we can count on the U.S. being very much involved even assuming we are not much concerned about the outcome.  A State Department report has estimated that international support for the 2013 election was approximately $60M, with more than $37M in “medium term” USAID funding.  We have had IFES embedded with the ECK/IEBC for every vote starting with 2001 for the 2002 election; we have funded polling and election observation each time, along with a gamut of other activities.  One way or the other, I am sure we will be “all up in it”.  On balance, the Government of Kenya has liked it that way–for whatever reason–because that has been the choice that they have made, year in and year out, in accepting our money.  Even if they point and holler during the campaign.

Ahead of Washington Summit, Setback for Kenya’s Attorney General in pre-trial defense of President Kenyatta at ICC

 

Counting-the original tally

Counting-the original tally; December 27, 2007

“ICC acts tough on Uhuru’s assets, phone records” Daily Nation, July 30.

The International Criminal Court has directed that the Kenyan government be compelled to provide the property and financial records associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta if the government was not ready to fully cooperate.

In a ruling on Tuesday, the judges further unanimously endorsed the prosecution’s revised request that Attorney-General Githu Muigai had contested during the status conference on July 9.

The AG seems to have lost his argument, as the Trial Chamber V (B) ruled that the prosecution’s request was right within the provisions of the Rome Statute of cooperation.

.  .  .  .

The judges further directed the prosecution to “pursue all possible means to get Mr Kenyatta’s telephone records.

. . . .

Of the items that Ms Bensouda had requested she was only able to obtain the details of four the vehicles Mr Kenyatta owned or regularly used between November 1, 2007 and April 1, 2008. These were obtained with the consent of the accused.

In fact, Lands secretary Charity Ngilu, in a letter that was read to the court, said that “doing the best with the resources and time available to us, we have not located any land, title or property registered under the name of Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta.”

. . . .

. . . .

The Chamber also trashed arguments by the AG that the “work of prosecution investigators was being outsourced to the Kenyan government”. The judges, Kuniko Ozaki, Geoffrey Henderson and Robert Fremr, also validated the extensive requests by ICC prosecutors.

“It is a reasonable investigative premise that an accused with access to substantial resources may choose to act through various intermediary entities, as this would in particular, reduce the traceability of transactions intended to further a criminal purpose,” they said.

Githu had dismissed the request by Prosecution Chief Fatou Bensouda as irrelevant to the charges and too broad. The wide-ranging requests, which were made public for the first time late Tuesday seeks disclosure of the President’s records for about three years beginning June 1, 2007 to December 15, 2010.

“Investigations inquiries may not be confined merely to the immediate period of the violence,” the judges ruled. “In the context of certain records, a longer time period may also be justified for comparison purposes where pattern of activity may be significant in revealing unusual communication or transactions.”

This is the second time the ICC Judges are asking the Kenyan authorities to use compulsion to comply with its cooperation obligations to the court. The judges have threatened to refer Kenya to the Assembly of State Parties if it declines to disclose the records.

Already, a separate chamber has issued orders to the govern- ment to compel nine witnesses to testify against Deputy President William Ruto and his co-accused, journalist Joshua Sang. Uhuru’s trial is set to begin on October 7.

. . . .

If you are in Washington for the Africa Summit or otherwise on August 7 you can have dinner with H.E. Kenyatta at the Grand Hyatt from 7-9pm, sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa, for $200 if you are not a member of the Council, or $100 if your are.  Members (only) may wish to join H.E. Teodoro Obiang of Equitorial Guinea, starting at 6pm that night at the St. Regis.  Perhaps with a good driver you can catch both.  To register follow the links here; the Council is also hosting several less controversial events surrounding the Summit.

 

To eliminate redundancy with constrained budgets and growing demand: Is it time to merge IRI and NDI?

Donkey

Mara Herd

This is a post I started a few years ago and let sit.  I usually avoid writing about things that directly mention the International Republican Institute other than as specifically necessary in regard to the 2007 election in Kenya and some advocacy for people arrested in Egypt.   It’s awkward for a lot of reasons to write about IRI,  the most personally important of which is my deep affection for people that work there.  And to the extent I have criticisms it would be my desire that they become better rather than that they be harmed.

Nonetheless, I think the structure of democracy assistance is something we need to think about and almost everyone who is in a position to be engaged is also in a position to feel constrained from speaking freely or has an unavoidable conflict of interest.  And its is an especially challenging time for the effort to share or support democracy so I am going to suck it up and proceed:

—————–

In an era of hyperpartisanship in the U.S. we are also faced with a divided government and a real question about our collective ability to do the basic business of governance in terms of passing budgets, for instance.

More specific to democracy support, the old notion that “politics stops at the water’s edge” is long dead. Every issue anywhere is contested space between Democrats and Republicans in grappling for power. [The attack on the U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 being perhaps the most conspicuous example.] There are profound divisions in a few areas of policy and culture between the Republican and Democratic base voters.  Nonetheless, it is also clear, ironically perhaps, that in the present moment there is not any clearly identified and coherent policy difference between the parties on foreign affairs as such. Now in the early stages of the 2013-16 presidential campaign, Republican Senator Rand Paul appears to be his party’s front runner for the nomination. The traditional Republican foreign policy establishment has less disagreement on specific points of foreign policy with the Obama Administration than with Senator Paul. And much of its membership would presumably in private vote for a Democrat seen as somewhat more hawkish and interventionist than Obama, such as for instance Hillary Clinton, than for Paul. Some piece of the base of the Democratic Party might well feel obligated to vote for Paul over Clinton in a general election if it came to it.

Referencing the policies of the most recent Republican Administration, which was in office when I worked for IRI in East Africa, there is no reason to think that Jeb Bush, for instance, believes in the “Bush Doctrine” and certainly Ron Paul doesn’t.  Foreign policy was important in the 2008 Democratic primaries and in the 2008 general election and there was at that time a sharp perceived difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin over the aspects of foreign policy that were important to most voters and that difference was essential to Obama’s election.  Not so much in 2012 in either the Republican primaries or in the general election.  All presidential elections matter with great intensity for Washington foreign policy people because they decide who gets what jobs (like do you go to the State Department or stay at IRI or NDI or some think tank) and in general everyone is either Democrat or Republican and either wins completely or loses completely, heads or tails, each time.  For most American voters the relationship of parties and elections to foreign affairs is completely different.

The traditions of the Democratic and Republican foreign policy establishment in Washington are based on the Cold War, like the structure of the National Endowment of Democracy itself, with IRI and NDI along with the overseas arms of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO as its “core” “private” institutes. Relatedly this tradition and structure is also critically Eurocentric. Going on a quarter century after the fall of the Soviet Union the terms of the contest between a democratic Washington and an authoritarian Moscow are very different in Europe itself today–and much less of immediate relevance in, say, Africa. The old days of the American Democrats supporting the democratic left in Europe and the American Republicans supporting the right–both as a pro-American alternative to Soviet-aligned Communists–are interesting history that we should learn more from, but they are history.  And we are not nearly so Eurocentric now in our policies and relationships in Africa, Asia and Latin America, so we have different types of opportunities to support democracy and its related values in those regions rather than dividing everyone up as pro-Western Bloc versus pro-Eastern Bloc.

In practice today, I don’t see the Democratic Party in power in Washington really aligned with the “democratic left” in other countries, given the lack of need to shore up against Marxist/Communist forces (among other reasons) nor much particular interest in the Republican Party in supporting more rightist or conservative parties abroad per se.  Generally Republican and Democrat campaign and media consultants, like lobbyists, seem to work for whoever they come to terms with commercially in any given emerging or frontier market rather than on the basis of some coherent party related framework.

Formally, IRI and NDI are completely overlapping as they are both non-partisan.  Occasionally they are said to be “affiliated” with their respective parties, but more frequently they are said to have “no connection” to parties.  Ultimately this is simply confusing and unclear–and not really consistent with the principles that the organizations are trying to teach to others.  In Germany where the government funds overseas institutes of the parties, the law is different and the government provides funding for the parties themselves in a way that would presumably be unconstitutional in the United States.  So you don’t have a counterpart to this strange melange of “nonpartisan Republican” or “nonpartisan Democratic” even though the German organizations are said to be a model for setting up IRI and NDI back in the early 1980s.

In my personal experience, I had the clear impression that IRI was quite serious about being legally compliant in terms of the 501(c)(3) nonpartisan formalities [and this was noteworthy in an  a organization that did not have an overall compliance component at that time–I am not going to be a whistleblower or even a public critic on this but have noted that they have gotten in at least a little difficulty with the government for ignoring cost accounting regulations that I told them they shouldn’t ignore when I worked for them].  I have no reason to assume that NDI is not equally serious.  In the case of IRI, with the chairman running for president two different times during his tenure, they know that the Democrats have had incentive to catch them if they were to get tangled with a Republican campaign; and of course everything is potentially tit-for-tat in that regard for the other side.

At the same time, both parties have an incentive to make as much use of “their” respective unaffiliates as permissible on a mutally backscratching basis.  While there are certain cultural and stylistic differences in how this plays out–as any observer of the current American political scene can well imagine–I don’t think this warrants the whole separate infrastructure of two duplicate organizations.  For instance, unaffliliated Republicans could still do programming at the Republican National Convention and unaffiliated Democrats could still do programming at the Democratic National Convention even if it was under the umbrella of one unaffiliated nonpartisan organization instead of two separate unaffiliated nonpartisan organizations. And the unaffiliated Republicans could apply a conservative orientation to have programming that is solid, on-message stuff supporting the party line; and the unaffiliated Democrats could be liberal-minded and have a “soft power” approach that involves people on both sides at the convention of their side.

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