International Crisis Group report on “Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis” calls on donors to show “complete transparency”; USAID is apparently not convinced yet

Counting-the original tally

Counting-the original tally

“Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis”  March 2017 International Crisis Group paper by Murithi Mutiga

Political tensions are rising in Kenya ahead of elections in August for the presidency and other senior posts. Measures taken now can avert the risk of a repeat of electoral violence that killed hundreds of people in 2007-2008.

.  .  .  .

The equipment for transmitting results from polling places to the tallying centre is as important as the voter kits. Past elections were compromised by lack of transparency in tallying and transmitting. The installation of a transparent, efficient electoral management system would go a long way to assuaging public concerns. Unfortunately, rushed procurement, with little lead-time for testing, may set the IEBC up for failure. That would also deepen suspicions in a situation already marked by significant tension between parties. Government steps to limit the role of external partners, such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, that can offer valuable technical assistance, have not helped.

.  .  .  .

International partners should extend technical and financial help to the IEBC to help it better tackle the challenges. This should, however, be done with nuance, flexibility and complete transparency, in light of unfounded claims by the ruling party that external parties are seeking to influence the electoral outcome. International observers should be deployed in time to monitor crucial stages of the electoral process, such as verification of the vote register and procurement of electoral materials.

. . . .

Unfortunately, USAID is still stuck on maintaining minimal, at most, public disclosure, rather than adapt to the recommendations of the Crisis Group and the obvious lessons to be learned from the failure of 2007, especially, and 2013.

While USAID Kenya has confirmed for me that their original December 2015 Request for Agreement (“RFA”) for the $20M “Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017” remains a public document at http://www.grants.gov, the subsequent Agreement between USAID and IFES is not being treated as public.  Americans who want to understand our government’s approach to subsidizing the Government of Kenya’s election would be well advised to study the Request for Agreement (rfa-615-16-000001-keap-2017) closely to understand the basic structure, but will need to “ask around” informally to get any actual detail as the election now rapidly approaches.  Likewise, Kenyans who want to have input in the administration of their own election.

Meanwhile, still no documents whatsoever, from my October 2015 request for USAID documents relating to our support for the 2013 Kenya election (!).

See “IEBC must look us in the eye and say, ‘We aren’t ready for August'” by Tee Ngugi in The East African.

Solo 7 — Toi Market

When does the transparency start in Kenya’s election preparations?

With Kenya’s constitutionally set election only just more than six months away, Germany’s Deutsche Welle reports “Kenya’s voter registration rocked by fraud claims“. Even the Daily Nation has published an editorial noting serious questions about the integrity of the current voter registration process.

Gabrielle Lynch notes in her column in The East African, “Unrealistic timelines to blame for Kenya’s election shortcomings,” that the time to implement the gender balance rules of the Constitution under the previous Supreme Court opinion has been blown, and other deadlines are upon us.  Dr. Lynch goes through the various pre-election deadlines which were set in legislation and are now in some flux.  She raises the prospect of jetisoning some of the technology because what she refers to as compressed timelines.

To me, the issue is a lack of political will, which is independent of the time involved.  Legislation to implement the mandatory requirements of the Constitution on gender balance was not passed because the legislators in power, along with the President, didn’t feel like it.  They like the old way better than what is required by the “new” (seven year old) Constitution.  There has been plenty of time since 2013 to pass gender balance legislation, just as there was plenty of time to replace the fraudulently procured technology systems purchased with the assistance of the United States and other donors for the 2013 election.

Likewise there was plenty of time to legally address the procurement fraud issues as directed by Supreme Court’s decision of April 2013 on the election petitions.

This time the incumbent administration has attacked the donors who are providing an additional $85 million to defray the cost of the election in spite of all the obvious questions.  The donor group through its diplomats has pledged transparency this time, but very little specific information has been published on the details of the programming so far.

Unfortunately my October 2015 Freedom of Information Act request to USAID for contract documents from our support for the IEBC in 2013 has still resulted in zero

Kenya challenged vote

Kenya presidential ballot

 released documents (even though materials were sent from the Mission in Kenya to Washington more than a year ago.)

Why has Uhuru Kenyatta’s government acted against USAID and IFES?

[Update: here is a Joint Statement by the heads of various donor country missions on international assistance for the Kenyan election.  And here is the text of the statement from U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec:

Nairobi, Kenya – The United States firmly rejects the recent unfounded allegations against the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program (KEAP) and its implementing partners.  The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is a well-respected organization with deep expertise and experience in supporting democratic elections around the world.  IFES is registered in Kenya under the Companies Act and has legal standing to conduct programs here.  USAID provides elections assistance under our Development Assistance Grant Agreement with the Government of Kenya, which allows for the issuance of work permits for implementing partner staff, including IFES.

We are disappointed by the attempt to discredit the United States’ efforts to assist Kenyans in the conduct of free, fair, peaceful, and credible elections in 2017.  Our assistance was requested by the Government of Kenya and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), adheres strictly to Kenyan law and regulations, and is provided under careful oversight by the Government of Kenya, IEBC, and USAID.   We do this important work transparently without favoring any party or candidate.

We call on everyone to focus on the issue at hand — ensuring that the voice of the Kenyan people is heard and respected in the upcoming elections.]

The Government of Kenya has announced action to terminate cooperation with the USAID Kenya Electoral Assistance Program being administered by the American INGO IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, claiming that the U.S. government is secretly seeking “regime change” and asserting as a weapon the notion that IFES, which has been working in Kenya since 2002, is “unregistered”.

Any reader of this blog will understand that my concerns about the role of IFES in Kenya’s 2007 and 2013 elections in supporting the ECK, IIEC and then IEBC are the opposite of those in Kenyatta’s attack.

While Kenyatta claims that assistance money is being used to support “regime change”, the reality has been entirely different:  the problem from 2007 and 2013 was that US tax dollars were spent in a way that ended up subsidizing corrupt electoral bodies who did not deliver sound elections–to the benefit of Kibaki (and Kenyatta) in 2007 and Kenyatta in 2013.   The problems were not disclosed publicly, putting us in the undesirable position of being “accessories” to the incumbent regime’s use of its existing power to shield itself from the risk of a fair vote.

Most recently I have been waiting for processing of documents for release under the Freedom of Information Act from USAID regarding our support of the IEBC’s technology systems in 2013.

I was in Washington this month at the African Studies Association and got a chance to catch up with people in and out of government who keep track of things in East Africa for a living.  I picked up on no indication that next year’s election in Kenya was yet high on anyone’s priority list for the U.S. government with all the immediate as opposed to future potential crises.  I also failed to detect a major policy shift for the U.S. to go from prioritizing first “stability” in Kenya as we have since 2007 (if not always since independence) as opposed to prioritizing “freedom” and/or “fairness” in the next election–much less a subversive agenda to oust Kenyatta through “regime change”.

The money we Americans spend on civic education in Kenya to bolster democracy is not inconsequential–you could do good things in civic education in one of our own states for $20M–but is only a small fraction of what we spend to assist Kenyans in the areas of health and food.  Security is our primary foreign policy priority in Kenya, and poverty-driven needs in health especially, and in food and agriculture, more traditional education and such are our main priority in assistance.

I am not sure how my government will react to being falsely accused in this situation.  Uhuru Kenyatta is personally ungrateful for our help in regard to civic education and otherwise for election assistance.  I suspect that he prefers to run his own re-election with as little attention paid to the process as possible.

Certainly the Government of Kenya, officially a middle income country, could do for its poor much of what we do if its politicians were willing.  We seem to have sentimental attachments to these programs in Kenya but I’m not sure that we ought not to focus more on places that are poorer and where governments are at least reasonably cooperative.

I will regret the loss of opportunity for Kenyans if the Government of Kenya does not change course.  Here is a statement from six Kenya civil society groups:

As it was in 2007, is it now in 2016? “Too much corruption” in Kenya to risk a change in power at elections?

imageI wrote about my most important conversation from the 2007 campaign in Kenya here in installment 13 of my “War for History” series:

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the Minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process. I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.

He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”  The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide. . .  .

With the latest news of scandal from the Ministry of Health, following the National Youth Service and Devolution Ministry scandals, it would seem that we are on familiar ground. The Minister from my 2007 breakfast remains an interlocutor and leader of the formation of the “Jubilee Party” now as he was of the “Party of National Unity” as Kibaki’s 2007 re-election vehicle.  (Same person who explained later which bills he would use to bribe which voters based on poverty and gender.)

In the 2007 campaign, the local World Bank representative and US Ambassador Ranneberger provided significant public support for the Kibaki Administration on the corruption problem faced by the re-election campaign in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal and the revelations by John Githongo and others. See Part Five of my Freedom of Information Act Series.

(I understand that Ranneberger was outspoken against corruption later, after the disaster of the stolen 2007 election and the PEV; also that he was publicly against corruption in the very early part of his tenure in 2006, before the Kibaki re-election geared up and, perhaps coincidentally, before the the Ethiopians entered Somalia to restore the TFG and displace the ICU. I stand by my characterization of his public voice to Kenyans during the campaign.)

My government has been awfully quiet
about the burgeoning scandals in the Uhuruto administration. It’s interesting to remember that then-Senator Obama was noted for his “tough love” and blunt words on corruption during his 2006 visit to Kenya (again in the very early days of Ranneberger’s tenure). Part of this season’s “public diplomacy” has been a “partnership” agreement to fight corruption between the Obama and Kenyatta administrations from the President’s Nairobi visit last year, but we don’t seem to talk about it much publicly in terms of implementation.

It is none of my business who Kenyans vote for next year.  It may be that most Kenyans, like the majority of Americans, are likely to end up voting in ways that are fairly predictable “culturally” for the time being and will filter their perceptions of government performance accordingly.

But it does not have to be the case that my government tacitly enables corruption in Kenya’s government.

I don’t like to pay to replace Kenyan public services in vital areas like health that Kenya’s government could well afford but for greed and corruption. I don’t like to see sophisticated Kenyan elites take Westerners for useful idiots to enrich themselves and their personal networks while stealing from the poor and sick.  And even if we are not willing to seriously undertake the hard and potentially risky challenges to meaningfully and consistently support democratic reforms–because it seems dangerous while Kenya is again a “Front Line State” in a neighborhood where other places where we have looked away from corruption, like South Sudan and DRC, are worse off, or because its a nice place to live and have meetings and do small things to help poor people and animals at (American) taxpayer expense or for whatever reason–I want my government to find and uphold its own democratic integrity to rise above playing footsie with fakers in Kenya.

In the meantime, it has been more than a year now with no documents from my 2015 Freedom of Information Act request about our assistance through USAID for the corrupted IEBC procurement process for the 2013 election, but IFES is soliciting proposals from Kenyans for innovation grants for 2017 under the big new USAID program “KEAP” for 2017.  If we are not transparent, at a minimum, we cannot assist democracy or good governance.

We have all sorts of great, worthwhile assistance programs in Kenya, but in the big picture we work against ourselves and limit meaningful progress by supporting or coddling crooks and their offspring.

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Just waiting on a FOIA–could legal action be pursued in the U.S. for Kenya IEBC procurement corruption?

IMG_7601

More than ten months after requesting documents from USAID on one part of our Kenya IEBC support program for the 2013 election I have been unable to get anything more than an assurance that my request “is being handled” for interim releases as soon as “possible” although USAID’s FOIA office got a CD of materials from the Nairobi mission at least six months ago.

Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry in Nairobi reiterated that my government intends to spend a new $25M on efforts for the election scheduled for a year from now, but supports the agreement between CORD and Jubilee to “buy out” the existing IEBC Commissioners (with at least informal immunity). I noted earlier this month that the Request For Proposals for a $20M election support effort released last December had been pulled off the internet without explanation.

Here is my FOIA request to USAID from last fall:

This FOIA request relates to Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening Cooperative Agreement Number 623­LA­11­00007, under Leader Cooperative Agreement No. DFD­A­00­08­00350­00, with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

I am requesting the following:

1) All reports filed by IFES with USAID regarding the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.

2) All correspondence between the IFES and USAID relating to the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.

3) The complete contract or cooperative agreement administration files of USAID relating to the above referenced cooperative agreement.

4) All other documents or records, including e­mails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID relating to procurements under the above referenced cooperative agreement, from the date of the agreement to the present.

5) All other documents or records, including e­mails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID reflecting, referring to or constituting communications between USAID and Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, including its members, officers, employees or agents, from January 1, 2011 to the present.

6) All documents related to Smith & Ouzman, Ltd. relating to business of that firm in Africa from 2010 to present.