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.

Kenya Election “must read” from Maina Kiai: Of suspect opinion polls and a false image of an efficient IEBC (Daily Nation)

“Of suspect opinion polls and a false image of an efficient IEBC”

Kiai has taken note of a transparently fake “NGO” that has been playing in this years’ campaign space to sell in advance whatever results are going to be announced.  As you would expect in Kenya this “group” does not even seriously try to be subtle enough to be plausible to sophisticated observers, but gets picked up in the Kenyan media in pari passu with bona five organizations without scrutiny (at least until Kiai’s column).

Let’s hope international reporters who “fly in” for Kenya’s election do their homework this time.

Here is Kiai on where things stand as time winds down for election preparation:

. . . .
IEBC’S CREDIBILITY

Something smells really fishy here, verging on being “fake news” meant to influence us with false information.

We clearly have not seen the end of that and we should all try to verify whatever is presented in the media.

And we have been here before. In the lead-up to the 2013 elections, the IEBC was polling as one of the top two institutions that Kenyans had confidence in, together with the Supreme Court, at the time led by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga.

But with all the shenanigans around procurement, gadget malfunctions, “server crashes” and a return to the discredited manual system for voter identification, tallying and transmission of results, the IEBC quickly lost its credibility.

The “chicken-gate” scandals involving the then chairman of the IEBC and the CEO further damaged the IEBC, even if the politicised Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission eventually “cleared” the chairman.

ELECTORAL MALPRACTICE

I am not holding my breath that this IEBC will deliver credible, free and fair elections with the way it is operating.

It blames the courts for its unpreparedness, but this is more than about competence.

Like 2013, there is an emerging sense of willfulness in the way it is making decisions, short-cutting steps that could mitigate some of the emerging worries.

Incredibly, many of the key staff members who were involved in the previous mangled elections are still in place!

I am baffled that despite the court ruling that declares results final in the polling stations, the IEBC has not yet announced plans to ensure that returning and presiding officers are not only recruited transparently, but are based outside their home areas, to reduce ballot stuffing, especially given that we will probably use the easy-to-manipulate manual identification.

Now more than ever, these officials on the ground will determine the veracity of the election.

RIGGING

Rigging of elections has three basic strands.

The first is ballot stuffing, which is done at the polling stations by all sides (which then effectively balances out); the second is the changes by returning officers of results from polling stations under the guise of tallying, verifying and confirming the votes; and the third and most significant, is the massaging of figures done at the National Tallying Centre in Nairobi.

Note that the Krieglar report refused to go into the rigging at the National Tallying Centre, claiming that the evidence of ballot stuffing from both sides was enough to conclude that the 2007 election was irretrievably flawed.

Privately, Judge Krieglar was afraid that investigating the tallying at the KICC would present a different result from that announced and he did not want to be held responsible for more tensions when different results emerged.

OFFICIALS WITH INTEGRITY

Second, the argument that the National Tallying Centre should be retained to “correct” anomalies from the ground is facile and disingenuous.

It falsely assumes that the commissioners and senior staff are the only ones competent and with integrity, and should be trusted with “rectifying” obvious mistakes like more votes than voters registered.

It is the responsibility of the IEBC to recruit competent persons of integrity at all levels, rather than hire people whose work would need “rectification”.

Every time there is “rectification”, we simply get more rigging.

It is not harder to count the votes in Kenya than in other countries . . . it is just that so much goes in to obscuring those counts, done only at each polling station, so that freedom of action remains at “the center” in Nairobi.

A timely new read: “Selling Apartheid – South Africa’s Global Propaganda War”

 

I ordered this book through the University of Chicago at the African Studies Association meeting in Washington last month– newly published in the U.K. and released in 2015 in South Africa:

For fifty years the South African government spent an estimated $100 million annually on a campaign of disinformation, much of it in the US and UK.

New York Times journalist Ron Nixon provides a lively and shocking account of how power and influence were used to buy media coverage and create extensive support networks.  These included an unlikely coalition of anti-communist black conservatives, religious organizations and global corporations.

With all the current buzz about Russian involvement in U.S. and European elections and political controversies, and since I knew some of the people who played a role in this story through my work in the Republican Party during the later years of Apartheid, I was naturally glad to see this and anxious to read through and see what new I learn about this fairly recent era in US and African politics and relations.

See my post  Abramoff’s Africa and Obama’s America from 2012.

Update:  I’ve finished it and highly recommend.  Here is a review from The Daily Maverick.  Of personal interest, some events took place in familiar locales in Mississippi, and Jack Abramoff gave an interview with the author in 2014 in which he claims, amazingly, that he didn’t know that the  International Freedom Foundation which he helped found with South Africans in 1986 was a front for South African intelligence.  (Jack was in relevant news this week sharply criticizing Senator Marco Rubio for his questioning of Trump Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson during confirmation hearings.)

Great Kenya reading while we are waiting for politicians to do the right thing

The tribalization of Kenyan politics has been unusually opened up for all to hear and see of late, as here in the US and in the UK we experience new traumas inflicted by individuals seemingly acting out of some overtorqued ideological angst.

At least there are no excuses for any further hate speech by anyone as we are all confronted with the stakes.

So, in the spirit of keeping calm and carrying on with learning, sharing and discussing, I commend to you Oowah’s new work-in-progress curation of “Roughly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Kenyan Journalism.”

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.

Podesta Group lobbies Washington Post, New York Times, Politico, Roll Call, Foreign Policy, Guardian, Financial Times, Reuters, Washington Diplomat for Kenyatta Gov’t

Kenyan taxpayers paid The Podesta Group of Washington, DC for public relations/lobbying contacts with these media outlets on behalf of their Government in the first half of 2015.  The Podesta Group provided similar or related lobbying services at the same time for the governments of Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Iraq, India, and Vietnam, among various others, aside from their nongovernmental clients.

I’m certainly not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the Government of Kenya spending tax dollars on working media contacts when it isn’t paying teacher’s salaries or meeting basic human needs in health care, for instance.  After all, the United States and various multinational and other foreign donors can be counted on to spend their taxpayer dollars to help ameliorate the consequences of this choice by the Government of Kenya.

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Having apologized for having gotten our shoes in the way of the vomit, donors to Kenya’s government are now finally alarmed again about the (ongoing) corruption

Here is the latest from Kenya’s Journalists for Justice on the corrupt involvement of personnel in the Kenya Defense Forces in the charcoal and sugar smuggling trade.

It’s not so much that I’m jaded, it’s just that I have watched this movie before–and even been an “extra” of sorts in one of the previous remakes.

Yes, corruption is obviously getting even worse within this Kenyan administration than within the last.  But that was also true when I lived in Kenya during the end of the first Kibaki administration and into the beginning of the second.

There are several readily apparent reasons.  For instance, when I lived in Kenya I made the acquaintance of a Western expat whose spouse was in the tourism business. Prior to the 2007 vote count corruption and violence, the tourism business was booming.  But corruption was up as a cost of doing business as it was explained to me because to operate you had to pay off a second generation, too–the kids of the senior politicians.  Presumably this generational expansion has continued.  Why wouldn’t it?

The year before I moved to Kenya the UK and US envoys had been outspokenly opposed to the corruption, in the context of the Anglo Leasing revelations by John Githongo of massive corruption involving national security procurements, touching our own security interests aside from our sensibilities about criminal behavior, along with the outrageous shenanigans involving the Artur Brothers, and the Standard media raid, among others.  The British envoy even offered the memorably colorful “vomit on our (the donors’) shoes” metaphor about the extent of the gluttonous “eating”.

But by the time I arrived in mid-2007 things were different.  New personnel led the diplomatic missions.  On the US side we apparently helped Moi and Kibaki get back together, and hosted Interior Minister John Michuki, of “rattling the snake” fame, who had taken credit for the Standard raid, on a security tour of the U.S.  Michuki represented Kibaki at our Embassy’s Fourth of July party, where Moi unofficially planted himself to catch the receiving line.

And then we looked the other way at the corruption of the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  Ambassador Ranneberger made sure to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed from our IRI Election Observation Mission on the basis that he was “perceived as anti-government”.  Bellamy had spoken out on the corruption, in particular the Standard raid.  The week before the vote, Ranneberger noted for the Kenyan public that Kenya was “on track” in fighting the vice of corruption, that  we had had Enron in the U.S., that prosecutions for Anglo Leasing and Goldenburg could take time, and that the World Bank had given the Kibaki administration an award for procurement reform (of all things) and that he expected a “free and fair” election.  And then we tried at first to sell the ECK’s election “count” even though we knew full well that it was bogus.  When that didn’t fly, we supported “power sharing” so long as there was no new election before Kibaki’s full second term was up.  According to a news report from Nairobi years later from stolen cables from “Wikileaks” we issued a couple of “travel bans” based on alleged evidence of bribery against two of the ECK commissioners, but we never disclosed this action or the evidence, why we singled out these two or anything else about the matter.

During the post election violence a diplomat explained to me that the reason many of the younger pols in Kibaki’s PNU coalition were against a power sharing settlement was that they didn’t want to share the secondary ministry appointments.  Ultimately by adding opposition politicians into the second Kibaki administration through “power sharing” with extra ministries you further expanded the multigenerational set of stomachs to let eat.  One way to look at the settlement naturally has been that Kibaki and Raila were willing to stop the fighting (so long as Kibaki retained with further ambiguity the full second term Presidency which the ECK had delivered to him) and the rest were bribed to acquiesce.

So you cannot tell me with a straight face that the diplomatic position of the United States in 2007-08 was to “oppose” corruption as a high rather than a subordinated priority.

After being stung by criticism from the election debacle, Ranneberger was reborn as an outspoken “reform agenda” campaigner for his extended tour on through the passage of a new constitution.  He compiled dossiers on money laundering and drug smuggling through politico/business interests and encouraged action, albeit to no avail. His successors quietly moved on, however, and we helped sell a new badly handled election in 2013 by a new, but probably more pervasively corrupted electoral authority.  We helped pay for expensive technology that was doomed by procurement fraud but kept quiet.  The British Serious Fraud Office successfully prosecuted one of their companies and its owners for bribes on other election procurements, but the Kenyan administration has taken no action to follow up and we have kept our silence.

With time, we have come again to affectionately embrace our usual suspect “partners”, with new programs headquartered in our favorite African city of Nairobi.  A photo op in the Oval Office with POTUS and FLOTUS for the Kenyan President and First Lady last year, followed this summer by a glowing official Presidential visit to Nairobi with a telegenic dance party at State House.   Never mind what we said before; please can we give you more?  Some eloquent speech about the cost of corruption, safely abstract from the burgeoning accumulation of years of specific cases on the impunity docket.  Yes we can dance with this new set of shoes without even looking down at the vomit.

Surely then it can be no surprise that things have gotten that much worse.  With a new report by Kenyan journalists on the longstanding implication of Kenyan Defense Forces which we help underwrite in Jubaland in the sugar and charcoal smuggling rackets, and fresh levels of embarrassment from the international press from the National Youth Service, irregular handling of bond proceeds amid rising debt levels, more land grabbing and another looted bank, all with a new election cycle approaching, the season has turned again and it is the time for furrowed brows.  Time for the U.S. to lead a donor group to call on the current version of the anti-corruption authority.  To talk again of “visa bans” and offers again to assist in “asset recovery”.

Instead of another remake, could this be a sequel offering a surprise ending, with say, even a few villains in jail, or at least less rich, as a cautionary tale for some and a bit of hope and inspiration for others? Or is this just another iteration of “the formula” in which the sheriff rides into town, frowns at the drunken brawl, then passes along to enjoy the cinematic scenery on the way home?

Only time will tell.  I do think we genuinely would prefer to be against the corruption rather than aligned with it.  We just lose our nerve and get distracted by other priorities that seem more immediate.  Making a dent in Kenya’s entrenched culture of impunity would take a long hard slog, in the face of bitter opposition formal and informal.  It would be messy and likely involve putting up with a bit of embarrassment–it could involve some risk and actual cost.  In any event  it would take a good while for us to convince the players that we had become serious.

U.S. press coverage of Garissa University massacre

The Big Picture: Attack in Kenya” photographs in The Boston Globe.

Kenya attack targets Christians, putting new pressure on religious leaders” Ariel Zirulnick in the Christian Science Monitor.

Kenya faces grim aftermath of school massacre” Abagail Higgins and Jessica Hatcher in the Washington Post.

Kenyan religious leaders urge unity after Shabab Muslim extremists slaughter Christian students  Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles Times.

Christians warned, then killed in Kenyan university massacre” Margot Kiser in The Daily Beast.

“University attacks marks Al Shabaab’s pivot to ISIS” Ashish Kumar Sen interview with Bronwyn Bruton in New Atlanticist.

Kenya mourns 148 dead in university attack by militants”  Christopher Torchia and Tom Odula for Associated Press.

3850455481_f0db94e43c_bKenyans agonize over student massacre” Martina Stevis in The Wall Street Journal.

Why “the war for history” matters now: “authoritarian momentum in East Africa” (Part Six)

Efforts to retroactively legitimize the 2007 Kenyan election and turn away from the questions of why election fraud was allowed to stand also help divert attention from the current questions of what the United States and Kenya’s other diplomatic “partners” will do or not do now in the face of the current retrenchment of hard won freedoms and democratic openness. Kenya is less free and less secure now than it was in 2007. When a few more years have gone by will 2002 still be a remembered as a turning point for democracy in Kenya or just a false “spring” producing only a temporary thaw in authoritarian governance?

Here is some good context from Freedom House from April of this year.

“Authoritarian Contagion in Africa” by Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs, on the Freedom at Issue blog:

The broader phenomenon illustrated by Kenyatta’s actions [seeking restrictions on civil society and the press] is not just a matter of coincidence or independent imitation. Whether they are selling sophisticated technology to track down dissidents online or sharing legislative approaches that provide a patina of legitimacy for their crackdowns on political opponents, repressive governments are actively working together to push back against nonviolent movements for democratic change. Indeed, such authoritarian solidarity has arguably outpaced collaboration among the world’s democratic states, which are often feckless in mobilizing to defend their own values and assist likeminded activists under duress.

In East Africa, evidence of authoritarian contagion is growing. The governments of Uganda, once seen as a great hope for democracy, and South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance, are contemplating restrictive legislation targeting NGOs.

However, the true regional pioneer of this approach has been Ethiopia. Under longtime prime minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, the Ethiopian government issued laws on NGOs, the media, and terrorism that have collectively devastated the country’s political opposition and civil society. The most prominent democracy and human rights groups have been forced to abandon or radically scale back their work, and many of the leading activists have fled into exile.

Other leaders in East Africa and beyond no doubt observed with interest as the international community failed to mount any serious challenge to the Ethiopian government’s repressive actions. Donor countries declined to use their extensive development aid as leverage. Instead they meekly promised to monitor how the new laws were implemented. Whether out of consideration for Ethiopia’s role in combating terrorism in Somalia or fear that the country would turn to China as an alternative patron, the world’s wealthy democracies declined to challenge the Meles regime even after its legislation’s ruinous effects became apparent.

The citizens of Kenya, particularly those who opposed Kenyatta’s presidential candidacy or documented his role in fueling past ethnic violence, may now be paying the price for the international community’s hesitation to act on Ethiopia. It is certainly possible that Kenyatta—facing an international indictment—would have taken the same steps in the absence of a successful model for repression in the region. But his political allies might well have deserted him if they had reason to believe that Kenya would pay some meaningful price for antidemocratic initiatives.

One hopes that the United States and other democratic donor governments will draw their own lessons from these experiences, finally recognizing that the prioritization of security and macroeconomic concerns over democratic performance is a self-defeating strategy. In the long run, repressive states are less stable, less prosperous, and less friendly to democratic partners than open societies, and the spread of authoritarian practices can only damage the interests of Washington and its allies.

Last month Freedom House awarded it annual Freedom Award to Maina Kiai “in recognition of his fearless leadership in advocating for constitutional reform, fighting political corruption, and educating Kenyans of their basic civil and human rights.” The same Maina Kiai who pushed for release of the 2007 IRI/USAID exit poll and challenged the U.S. to live up to its principles: “A Deal We Can Live With” by Maina Kiai and L. Muthoni Wanyeki, New York Times, Feb. 12, 2008.

 

Kenya: 2007 and 2013 media bills bookend the demise of the “reform agenda” as Jubilee Government gets bad marks from public

I hope everyone has had a good Christmas. I am grateful for a comfortable time with family, while saddened by news that a friend in Kenya lost a family member to a shooting by the Police. All of us interested in East Africa are watching South Sudan with great concern.

On Kenya, beyond the steady heartache of one more in the steady stream of police killings, as another year ends, I am struck by one point of clear change from my initial arrival in Nairobi in 2007 to now. The passage of the draconian 2013 Media Bill was a major setback for democracy. The bill seemed clearly unconstitutional when it originally passed parliament. After both Kenyatta and Ruto assured that they would respect the Constitution and the spirit of a free press, Kenyatta sent the bill back with proposed changes making it on balance worse, after which it was passed and signed into law.

Back in 2007 a far less noxious media regulation bill passed parliament just after I moved to Nairobi in June. U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger along with most of the rest of the diplomatic community representing leading democracies spoke out strongly against the threatened intrusion on press freedom. Kibaki declined to sign the bill and it was much watered down. While there was a certain amount of self-censorship the press remained relatively vibrant during the 2007 election campaign. Now that a more troubling law has actually been enacted the diplomatic community including the United States has been largely silent. While there have been protests by journalists and civil society, the Government has predictably brushed these aside, but has not faced open diplomatic pressure from donors.

For some years after the 2007 election debacle the United States was consistently promoting what we called “the reform agenda”. While all the parameters of “reform” were not specified, I think it is fair to say that at its core it was about the continued shifting of power away from a traditionally dictatorial presidency to develop democratic institutions. The original post-Cold War reforms were Moi’s acceptance of changing the law to allow non-KANU parties and the imposition of term limits which led to Kibaki facing Uhuru instead of Moi in 2002. The NARC coalition from that 2002 election finally came completely apart over the executive power issue in the 2005 constitutional referendum on the “Wako Draft” in which the “no” campaign gave rise to the Orange Democratic Movement. “The next big thing” was another effort at constitutional change to disburse and devolve power after the 2007 fiasco at the ECK, where the tallies were changed to keep power with the incumbent president and the country erupted in what seemed to many to be a potential civil war before a deal supposed to deliver a “sharing” of executive power. After a reform constitution was finally passed in the 2010 referendum, the “reform agenda” emphasis has been, in theory, on “implementation”.

The new Media Bill not only repudiates basic constitutionally enshrined values of a free press, but the changes from first passage to final enactment shift power from Parliament to State House. This is only one of the most conspicuous of many areas where the Jubilee Government is moving to re-centralize power with the Executive. May the “Reform Agenda” rest in peace.

In the meantime, the latest Ipsos Synovate poll released this week finds absolute majorities of Kenyans nationwide and in each “province” but Central concluding that the country is moving “in the wrong direction” with a higher percentage of Kenyans trusting the media than any other institution.