Another year goes by: Eight years after Oscar Foundation murders, Kenya is a “place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity”

The fifth sixth eighth anniversary of the “gangland style” execution of Oscar Foundation head Oscar Kingara and his associate John Paul Oulu in their car near State House in Nairobi was this past Thursday Sunday.  From the New York Times report the next day:

“The United States is gravely concerned and urges the Kenyan government to launch an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation into this crime,” the American ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Ranneberger, said in a statement on Friday. It urged the authorities to “prevent Kenya from becoming a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.” (emphasis added)

The slain men, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, had been driving to a meeting of human rights activists when unidentified assailants opened fire. No arrests have been reported.

Last month, the two activists met with Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and provided him with “testimony on the issue of police killings in Nairobi and Central Province,” Mr. Alston said in a statement issued in New York on Thursday.

“It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” Mr. Alston said.

Mr. Alston visited Kenya last month and said in a previous statement that killings by the police were “systematic, widespread and carefully planned.”

.  .  .  .

Unfortunately, in these five years nothing has been done about the murders, and no action was taken on the underlying issue of widespread extrajudicial killings by the police.  Kenya in fact proved itself to be a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.  The government spokesman who made inflammatory (and baseless according to the embassy) attacks on the victims just before the killings is now a governor, and the Attorney General who stood out as an impediment to prosecuting extrajudicial killing (and was banned from travel to the U.S.) is a Senator. (See also the State Department’s Kenya Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2013)

Below is the March 19, 2009 statement to the Congressional Record by Senator Russ Feingold who is now the President’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC, courtesy of the Mars Group:

Mr. President, two human rights defenders, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, were murdered in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya two weeks ago. I was deeply saddened to learn of these murders and join the call of U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger for an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation of this crime. At the same time, we cannot view these murders simply in isolation; these murders are part of a continuing pattern of extrajudicial killings with impunity in Kenya. The slain activists were outspoken on the participation of Kenya’s police in such killings and the continuing problem of corruption throughout Kenya’s security sector. If these and other underlying rule of law problems are not addressed, there is a very real potential for political instability and armed conflict to return to Kenya.

In December 2007, Kenya made international news headlines as violence erupted after its general elections. Over 1,000 people were killed, and the international community, under the leadership of Kofi Annan, rallied to broker a power-sharing agreement and stabilize the government. In the immediate term, this initiative stopped the violence from worsening and has since been hailed as an example of successful conflict resolution. But as too often happens, once the agreement was signed and the immediate threats receded, diplomatic engagement was scaled down. Now over a year later, while the power-sharing agreement remains intact, the fundamental problems that led to the violence in December 2007 remain unchanged. In some cases, they have even become worse.

Mr. President, last October, the independent Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence, known as the Waki Commission, issued its final report. The Commission called for the Kenyan government to establish a Special Tribunal to seek accountability for persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the violence after the elections. It also recommended immediate and comprehensive reform of Kenya’s police service. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, echoed that recommendation in his report, which was released last month. Alston found the police had been widely involved in the post-election violence and continue to carry out carefully planned extrajudicial killings. The Special Rapporteur also identified systematic shortcomings and the need for reform in the judiciary and Office of the Attorney General.

Continue reading

Are there some limits to impunity for killings in Kenya?

No doubt anyone reading this blog will have read of the abduction and execution-style murders of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri.

If you haven’t read it, here is Jeffrey Gettleman’s account in the New York Times, Three Kenyans last seen at police station found dead“.

As expendible as the lives of ordinary Kenyan citizens have always proven to be when they inconvenience or otherwise run afoul of the various state security forces, there are categories of people that are presumably understood to be off limits.

Thus the heightened shock and outrage when Kimani as a veteran young rights and justice lawyer with the respected American-based International Justice Mission is found murdered with his client and their taxi driver after being waylaid in returning from a court hearing.

Murder cases in which powerful people associated with state forces are obvious suspects are ordinarily “unsolved” and forgotten in various lengths of time depending on the prominence of the victim.  There is such a long list . . . Sometimes an unconvincing resolution is put forward processed through the system to buy time while we forget.

In this case, Kimani may have turned the tables by getting a handwritten note out of an “informal” Administrative Police holding cell to be found by a passerby–without this it seems doubtful that we would ever know that they were in AP custody between their abduction and their killing.  But we do know and are now responsible for that knowledge.

Will Kimani, Mwenda and Muiruri be forgetten after due processing of outrage, or will Kimani’s handwritten “brief” be a turning point for justice in Kenya?  Maybe this will be a time when there is no hiding and no excuses are accepted; I think IJM is serious and committed and this case has resonance across the broad community of those who dream of a more just Kenya.  No time like the present.

Latest “gangland style hit” of opposing voice in Kenya reminds of neglected seventh anniversary of the murder of Oscar Foundation leaders

Here is my remembrance post from last year for the sixth anniversary of the murders of Oscar Kingara and John Paul Oulu.  

The hit last week of Jacob Juma–a combative and controversial businessman who had taken on a public profile as a vocal critic of corruption in the Kenyatta government, and political proponent of the opposition–was clearly intended to send a chilling message.  Care was taken to make sure the killing was unambiguously seen to be an assassination even though it happened overnight without known third party witnesses.  It would have been simple to raise doubts about common robbery as a motive if the killers were worried about being caught as opposed to frightening other potential victims.

Juma had been “vocal” on  most of the hotest contemporary corruption topics, including the multi-faceted looting at the National Youth Service and the “Eurobond” debt.  The day of the hit, May 5, he was focused on the IEBC and “tweeted” a picture of former U.S. Ambassador Smith Hempstone from time of the end of the Cold War and the “second liberation” to the current ambassador.  

Kingara and Oulu will continue to be missed as Kenya is faced with yet another extrajudicial killing–the kind of thing that the Oscar Foundation investigated when its leaders where denounced by the Kenyan Government, then assassinated.

American diplomatic perspective on Obama’s Kenya visit, and a few personal thoughts (updated)

Johnnie Carson and Mark Bellamy have a very well done op-ed up in the New York Times on “Obama’s chance to revisit Kenya“.  In case you missed it, I would recommend it as the most worthwhile commentary I have seen in the U.S.-based news media on the presidential trip this week.

I hope the visit goes well and accomplishes something worthwhile for both countries.  The topic of entrepreneurship is certainly an important one for Kenya, where most people do not have employment. [The director for human development of the African Development Bank cites a 80% unemplyment rate for Kenyans under age 35 in support of a loan of $62M to the Government of Kenya to support training for 3000 youth in “technical vocational education” that will “play an important role in supporting the emerging oil, gas and mining industry.” ]

The first U.S. presidential visit to Kenya will unavoidably be a major boost politically for Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration by its nature and will be a boon for the Kenyan president’s elite friends and cronies in other political/business roles in Nairobi.  I am not sure how important a “global summit” of this type is for entrepreneurship as such, but I will try to accentuate the positive in this regard by looking at the trip as a diplomatic endeavor with potential side benefits.

One small thing that I do think should be said:  I hope that before getting to Kenya President Obama will have apologized to former Ambassador Gration for letting him get “run up the flagpole” over doing State Department business on a private email account in light of subsequent news on this topic within the State Department. General Gration did important service to Senator Obama as his military escort on his last trip to Kenya in 2006 and in speaking out about the “birther” and related personal smears as I have previously written (“Gration spoke out on Obama/Odinga “smears” in 2008 campaign” August 16, 2010).  The Ambassador serves at the pleasure of the president and I don’t question the President’s prerogative to change his mind about a political appointment, but in hindsight this should have been handled differently.

On the security front, please read “Ahead of Obama Visit, Kenya Seeks to Show Security Threats Are Under Control” in the Wall Street Journal:

The government’s push to move beyond its security challenges is one of the problems, said Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine who runs a security consultancy .  .  . “Nobody is interested in getting to grips with the situation,” Mr. Franklin said.  “What the government of Kenya is refusing to accept is that we have a genuine insurgency going on.”
He argued that an attack in April at a university in the eastern town of Garissa showed just how little the Kenyan security forces had learned.  Al-Shabaab killed 147 people in an assault that wasn’t put down until late in the day because of delays flying an elite unit out to fight the militants.
“They had all day to kill students,” Mr. Franklin said.
But Mr. Kenyatta’s message that it was time to move on appeared to be gaining the upper hand with Nairobi residents pouring into the Westgate mall over the weekend. . . .

For a great panel discussion of the trip to Kenya and Ethiopia from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, see the audio or visual from last week’s program at CSIS, “Policy Issues in Kenya and Ethiopia Ahead of President Obama’s Trip.”  The panel included Ambassador Mark Bellamy, Terrence Lyons of George Mason University, Sarah Prey of the Open Society Foundations and EJ Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.

Update: Make sure to also see the letter to President Obama from 14 U.S. experts on East Africa released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday.  Signers include Ambassador Bellamy, senior scholars John Harbeson and David Throup and many of the younger generation of policy and civil society leaders in Washington who will be familiar to Americans engaged on American policy in and on Kenya.

The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading

Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we? – “The War for History” part thirteen

[The previous posts from this series are here.]

In June 2007, newly “on the ground” in Nairobi as the resident Director for East Africa for the International Republican Institute, I was told that one of the President’s senior ministers wanted to meet me for breakfast at the Norfolk Hotel.

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.

When it was all said and done, after the vote tallies were changed to give President Kibaki a second term through corruption of the  ECK, and almost 1500 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and I finished my leave to work for IRI and was back at home in the United States, at my job as a lawyer in the defense industry, I eventually submitted “hotline” complaints to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID about what I considered improper interference by the American Ambassador with my work as an NGO employee administering the USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission as well as the Exit Poll.

As an exhibit to these complaints, in addition to the statement that I had written for The New York Times after they had called to interview me in July 2008, I prepared a Supplemental Statement to the State Department’s Inspector General.  Seven years after the ill-fated election, having eventually gotten what I could from a round of FOIA requests to State and two rounds to USAID, I am still left with unanswered but concerning questions about what the “agenda” was and was not on the part of the Ambassador, whether it was successful or not, and how it infected my work and the election.  I have no doubt that if we “hadn’t even been there,” to paraphrase the Ambassador, the election would have been stolen anyway, but we were there.  In memory of Peter Oriare and Joel Barkan to whom I dedicated this series for their efforts for a free and fair election and transparent process in 2007, and in respect to my newer Kenyan friends who have been left to continue the work in the aftermath, with courage and determination in the face of increasing repression and threat, here it is:

Supplemental Statement for State Department OIG 2-09

[I have redacted a few names and inserted some sections from my prior New York Times statement for context.]

Election Observers

 

Six years after Oscar Foundation murders, Kenya is a “place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity”

The fifth six anniversary of the “gangland style” execution of Oscar Foundation head Oscar Kingara and his associate John Paul Oulu in their car near State House in Nairobi passed largely unremarked last week, but deserves to be remembered.  From the New York Times report the next day:

“The United States is gravely concerned and urges the Kenyan government to launch an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation into this crime,” the American ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Ranneberger, said in a statement on Friday. It urged the authorities to “prevent Kenya from becoming a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.” (emphasis added)

The slain men, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, had been driving to a meeting of human rights activists when unidentified assailants opened fire. No arrests have been reported.

Last month, the two activists met with Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and provided him with “testimony on the issue of police killings in Nairobi and Central Province,” Mr. Alston said in a statement issued in New York on Thursday.

“It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” Mr. Alston said.

Mr. Alston visited Kenya last month and said in a previous statement that killings by the police were “systematic, widespread and carefully planned.”

. . . .

Unfortunately, in these five six years nothing has been done about the murders, and no action was taken on the underlying issue of widespread extrajudicial killings by the police. Kenya in fact proved itself to be a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity. The government spokesman who made inflammatory (and baseless according to the embassy) attacks on the victims just before the killings is now a governor, and the Attorney General who stood out as an impediment to prosecuting extrajudicial killing (and was banned from travel to the U.S.) is a Senator. (See also the State Department’s Kenya Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2013)

Below is the March 19, 2009 statement to the Congressional Record by Senator Russ Feingold who is now the President’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC, courtesy of the Mars Group:

Mr. President, two human rights defenders, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, were murdered in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya two weeks ago. I was deeply saddened to learn of these murders and join the call of U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger for an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation of this crime. At the same time, we cannot view these murders simply in isolation; these murders are part of a continuing pattern of extrajudicial killings with impunity in Kenya. The slain activists were outspoken on the participation of Kenya’s police in such killings and the continuing problem of corruption throughout Kenya’s security sector. If these and other underlying rule of law problems are not addressed, there is a very real potential for political instability and armed conflict to return to Kenya.

In December 2007, Kenya made international news headlines as violence erupted after its general elections. Over 1,000 people were killed, and the international community, under the leadership of Kofi Annan, rallied to broker a power-sharing agreement and stabilize the government. In the immediate term, this initiative stopped the violence from worsening and has since been hailed as an example of successful conflict resolution. But as too often happens, once the agreement was signed and the immediate threats receded, diplomatic engagement was scaled down. Now over a year later, while the power-sharing agreement remains intact, the fundamental problems that led to the violence in December 2007 remain unchanged. In some cases, they have even become worse.

Mr. President, last October, the independent Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence, known as the Waki Commission, issued its final report. The Commission called for the Kenyan government to establish a Special Tribunal to seek accountability for persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the violence after the elections. It also recommended immediate and comprehensive reform of Kenya’s police service. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, echoed that recommendation in his report, which was released last month. Alston found the police had been widely involved in the post-election violence and continue to carry out carefully planned extrajudicial killings. The Special Rapporteur also identified systematic shortcomings and the need for reform in the judiciary and Office of the Attorney General.

Continue reading

Happy Saba Saba Day–and how is Kenya?

Happy Saba Saba Day–and how is Kenya?. (from July 7, 2012–would appreciate your comments here or by e-mail about what has and has not changed)

Another year goes by: Eight years after Oscar Foundation murders, Kenya is a “place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity”

The fifth sixth eighth anniversary of the “gangland style” execution of Oscar Foundation head Oscar Kingara and his associate John Paul Oulu in their car near State House in Nairobi was this past Thursday Sunday.  From the New York Times report the next day:

“The United States is gravely concerned and urges the Kenyan government to launch an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation into this crime,” the American ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Ranneberger, said in a statement on Friday. It urged the authorities to “prevent Kenya from becoming a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.” (emphasis added)

The slain men, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, had been driving to a meeting of human rights activists when unidentified assailants opened fire. No arrests have been reported.

Last month, the two activists met with Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and provided him with “testimony on the issue of police killings in Nairobi and Central Province,” Mr. Alston said in a statement issued in New York on Thursday.

“It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” Mr. Alston said.

Mr. Alston visited Kenya last month and said in a previous statement that killings by the police were “systematic, widespread and carefully planned.”

.  .  .  .

Unfortunately, in these five years nothing has been done about the murders, and no action was taken on the underlying issue of widespread extrajudicial killings by the police.  Kenya in fact proved itself to be a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.  The government spokesman who made inflammatory (and baseless according to the embassy) attacks on the victims just before the killings is now a governor, and the Attorney General who stood out as an impediment to prosecuting extrajudicial killing (and was banned from travel to the U.S.) is a Senator. (See also the State Department’s Kenya Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2013)

Below is the March 19, 2009 statement to the Congressional Record by Senator Russ Feingold who is now the President’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC, courtesy of the Mars Group:

Mr. President, two human rights defenders, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, were murdered in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya two weeks ago. I was deeply saddened to learn of these murders and join the call of U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger for an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation of this crime. At the same time, we cannot view these murders simply in isolation; these murders are part of a continuing pattern of extrajudicial killings with impunity in Kenya. The slain activists were outspoken on the participation of Kenya’s police in such killings and the continuing problem of corruption throughout Kenya’s security sector. If these and other underlying rule of law problems are not addressed, there is a very real potential for political instability and armed conflict to return to Kenya.

In December 2007, Kenya made international news headlines as violence erupted after its general elections. Over 1,000 people were killed, and the international community, under the leadership of Kofi Annan, rallied to broker a power-sharing agreement and stabilize the government. In the immediate term, this initiative stopped the violence from worsening and has since been hailed as an example of successful conflict resolution. But as too often happens, once the agreement was signed and the immediate threats receded, diplomatic engagement was scaled down. Now over a year later, while the power-sharing agreement remains intact, the fundamental problems that led to the violence in December 2007 remain unchanged. In some cases, they have even become worse.

Mr. President, last October, the independent Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence, known as the Waki Commission, issued its final report. The Commission called for the Kenyan government to establish a Special Tribunal to seek accountability for persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the violence after the elections. It also recommended immediate and comprehensive reform of Kenya’s police service. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, echoed that recommendation in his report, which was released last month. Alston found the police had been widely involved in the post-election violence and continue to carry out carefully planned extrajudicial killings. The Special Rapporteur also identified systematic shortcomings and the need for reform in the judiciary and Office of the Attorney General.

Continue reading

Updated: Burgeoning South Sudan crisis will increase Kenya’s leverage over donors, NGOs, international media

The news from South Sudan seems quite serious and disturbing. This is an area of special responsibility for the United States, and needless to say, I hope we are able to help.

Nairobi’s role for many years as the “back office” for international assistance to South Sudan has always given the Government of Kenya extra leverage through control of visas and work permits. My twitter feed indicates that the U.S. is recommending that Americans evacuate South Sudan as the current crisis swells with reports indicating 400-500 people may have been killed.

This brings to bear what I have called “the Nairobi curse” for Kenyans seeking political space, democracy and civil liberties of their own and hope for support from the international community. The thing you always hear, but never read, from internationals working in Kenya is “what if I can’t renew my work permit” because of some offense taken by someone in the Kenyan government.

Back in 2007-08 when I was East Africa director for IRI in Nairobi, we shared space with our separate Sudan program, which was much, much bigger than our Kenya program (and was IRI’s second largest program worldwide I was told, after Iraq). Under my East Africa office, our Somaliland program also got more funding than Kenya. Obviously there would have been repercussions from soured relations with the Kenyan administration. The same situation would pertain for NDI or other international organizations with large permanent regional operations based in Nairobi.

In my case, I arrived in Nairobi on the job in June 2007 expecting my work permit to come through within perhaps a few weeks of ordinary bureaucracy. With no explanation, it was not forthcoming until February 2008 during the late stages of the post election violence period. Thus, I did not have my permit issued yet when I was dealing with our controversial election observation and the issues about whether or not to release the exit poll that showed the opposition ODM winning the presidential race rather than the ECK’s official choice of Kibaki.
At some point that month I was summoned to an Immigration office at Nyayo House (where political prisoners where tortured in the basement during the Moi era) for no readily apparent reason and received the permit shortly thereafter. Of course Nairobi was a much more easy going place before the 2007 election than it is now. Nothing was ever said to connect any of this delay to anything to do with politics or the election and it may have been strictly a coincidence.

Fortunately for me, I was on leave from my job as a lawyer back in the United States, so being denied a permit and thus losing my job in Kenya and having to move my family back precipitously would not have been consequential for me in the way that it would have been for the typical young NGO worker. Everyone has their own story I am sure.

Earlier this year the Kenyan government announced, for instance, that it would start enforcing work permit rules for academic researchers on short assignments. Lots of room to maneuver for creatively repressive politicians.

By the way, Uhuru did end up signing that Media Bill.

Update: See the editorial in today’s Star: Work Permit Crackdown Is Counter-Productive. And the news story, “Rules on Work Permits Tighten“.