120522-F-GA223-001 DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia (May 22, 2012) Rear Admiral Michael Franken, left, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, Kumsa Baysa, principal of Gende Gerada Primary School, Molly Phee, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, Egei Wabere, an Gende Gerada Kebele education coordinator, and Stephen Fitzpatrick, program coordinator for U.S. Agency for International Development gather for a school building dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for a new school house and two latrines at the Gende Gerada Primary School. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens/Released)
This week the Senate worked through a few confirmations for State Department positions, including Amb. Molly Phee as Amb. Godec’s “permanent” successor as acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. She was sworn in last evening.
In the meantime, preparations for Kenya’s polls, just more than ten months away, continue to lag.
Assistant Secretary Phee, although most of her foreign service career has been spent in other contexts, has recent regional experience as Ambassador to South Sudan 2015-17 and Deputy Chief of Mission to Ethiopia in 2011-14. She was serving as Chief of Staff to the Special Envoy for South Sudan when nominated to replace Susan Page to become the second Ambassador to South Sudan.
So at this point, Ambassador Godec is a seasoned veteran of Kenya’s post-2007 politics who knows the ground intimately from the last two election cycles. (His prospective “permanent” replacement, Mary Catherine Phee, was nominated in April and got a favorable vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, but a confirmation vote by the full Senate is blocked along with dozens of other nominees.)
I was asked a few months ago to write an article about U.S. support for the BBI process, but I have been unable to do so because it is not clear to me what our policy has been or is now, and I have not found people involved willing to talk to me. Given my role in telling the story of what went wrong in 2007 when I was involved myself it is no surprise that I might not be the one that people in Washington want to open up to now, but even people that I am used to talking to privately have not been as forthcoming as usual. Nonetheless, Kenyans inevitably have questions, and those Americans who care may in the future.
Members of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance-USA have announced that they have sent Freedom of Information Requests to USAID and some Kenyans on social media and in a few cases in print have asserted suspicions or accusations that the U.S. Government was intending to back “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” in the form of the BBI referendum for some negative purpose. Looking at the degree to which the Obama Administration backed the passage of the new 2010 Constitution as the terminal event of the post-2007 “Reform Agenda”–to the point of having millions of dollars bleed over from neutral democracy assistance programing into supporting the “Yes” campaign in the 2010 referendum during Ambassador Ranneberger’s tenure–I am having a bit of difficulty understanding why my representatives in Washington would be working in general terms to undermine the new Constitution we helped midwife in the first place. At the same time it has openly been our policy under Ambassador Godec originally and then his predecessor Ambassador McCarter to support the Building Bridges Initiative and we did provide some USAID funding for the conducting the consultative process itself. I think it would be in the interests of the United States and of Kenyans for the State Department to get out front of the questions now, with the BBI referendum effort rejected both at trial court level and on appeal, and with the Kenyan presidential race that has been going on since the Handshake entering into its later stages.
We remain Kenya’s largest donor, we have many relationships and support many assistance programs of all sorts in Kenya. Most Kenyans remain in need, and we continue to have the same issues regarding terrorism as during the past 25 years (most especially since the 1998 embassy bombing). In general the geographic neighborhood is experiencing more specific crises and some overall erosion of peace, prosperity and governance. While we may not be as influential in Kenya as we were prior to 2007, and anyone with money can play in Kenyan politics, we will be engaged and we will have influence in 2022. So there is no time like the present to articulate what our policy is for the coming year.
Mama @IdaOdinga and I this morning hosted a farewell breakfast for the outgoing US Ambassador to Kenya @BobGodec who is leaving the country at the end of the month after six years in Nairobi. He promised continued support for the Building Bridges Initiative and war on corruption. pic.twitter.com/PdhXBsMF6j
“BBI Ruling Leaves Kenya at a Crossroads” blog post by Michelle Gavin at Council on Foreign Relations “Africa in Transition“. [Ed. note: Michelle Gavin was also handling the Africa program at CFR during the fraudulent 2007 election and ensuing crisis. Non-resident fellow Jendayi Frazer, of course, was Asst. Secretary of State during the election and crisis. Between the two there is unusually intimate institutional memory for the Council on Foreign Relations, along with the related competing interests associated with the connections.]
Same issues as 2013 and 2017, same alleged frantic time-crunch.
For instance, the 2010 “New Katiba” granted the right to vote to Kenyans in the diaspora, starting with the 2012 general election. Even though the election was postponed to 2013, the IEBC under then-Chairman Issack Hassan elected to disenfranchise diaspora voters in spite of the coming into force of the new Constitution.
The current IEBC Chairman, Wafula Chebukati, was then appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta from the nominees of a controversial selection process and took office in January 2017 in time for the general election and annulled presidential vote that August, marked by the unsolved abduction, torture and murder of the ICT Director and the subsequent resignation of a majority of the Commissioners.
Although civil society groups had obtained a 2015 court ruling to enforce the diaspora voting requirement of the Constitution, the IEBC still failed in 2017 to implement more than a very limited, truncated, diaspora vote process.
See “Diaspora Voting in Kenya: a Promise Denied“, Elizabeth Iams Wellman and Beth Elise Whitaker, African Affairs, Vol. 120, Issue 479, April 2021, Pages 199-217. (In 2010, Kenya extended voting rights to its estimated 3,000,000 citizens living abroad . . . Yet . . . fewer than 3,000 Kenyans were permitted to vote from abroad in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. What explains the failure of the Kenyan government to implement diaspora voting on a broader scale? . . . We argue that uncertainty about the number of Kenyan emigrants and their political preferences, paired with a highly competitive electoral climate, meant there was little political will to push for more widespread implementation of diaspora voting.)
As noted in my last post, Kenya’s outgoing President, Uhuru Kenyatta, has initiated his process of of appointing new Commissioners to fill longstanding vacancies in most of the seats on Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission. How independent will the Commission be in conducting the expected Building Bridges Initiative constitutional referendum and the 2022 general election?
While I have my own expectations based on my experience from 2007 and 2013 and my investigation and research regarding those two elections, along with watching events of 2016 and 2017 and since, the purpose of this post is to highlight an academic paper on this very subject published in London by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy with funding from Her Majesty’s Government. Nic Cheeseman, renowned Professor of Democracy and “friend of the blog” and Jorgen Elklit, Professor Emeritus at Aarhus University are the authors: “Understanding and Assessing Electoral Commission Independence: a New Framework“.
Take time to read the whole thing, which proposes a systematic way to study and grapple with the question in any country–“eleven criteria through which to evaluate electoral commission independence, grouped into three main categories of autonomy: a) institutional and leadership; b) functional and decision-making; and c) financial and budgetary. For each criteria, a battery of questions is provided to enable readers to qualitatively evaluate whether the degree of independence in each case is: ‘highly satisfactory’, ‘fairly satisfactory’ or ‘not satisfactory’.” But in particular, the authors have chosen Kenya 2017 as one of the three case studies to cover in depth:
Case 1: Separating fact from fiction in Kenya 2017
The Kenyan general election of 2017 provides a compelling example of the difficulty of proving the independence (or otherwise) of electoral commissions. The Kenyan electoral commission is formally independent as indicated by its name, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). It was created by a provision of the 2010 constitution, following the dissolution of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), which had been heavily criticised for mishandling the 2007 general elections. The Commission is made up of seven commissioners, one of who is designated to be the Chair. Although the Commission is appointed by the President, there are a number of positive indicators of formal independence. Most notably, the Commission was created by a provision in the 2010 constitution and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act; the list of commissioners selected by the president must be confirmed by parliament; and, none of the commissioners may be a current member of a political party, implying a degree of insulation from partisan ties. . . .
. . . .
By the end of 2017, it was therefore clear that the electoral commission was not fully independent, that partisan pressure was undermining reform efforts, and that the murder of Mr Msando has generated a great deal of fear and concern for electoral officials at multiple levels. However, it was not clear exactly how far the IEBC’s independence had been compromised, or exactly what the consequences of this had been. The Supreme Court’s nullification of the first election suggests that the problems within the IEBC were substantial, and encouraged the widespread perception that the Commission had been biased in favour of the ruling party. Given a history of controversial elections and of alleged partisan bias it is natural to assume that the independence of the Commission had been fundamentally violated. But it remains possible that these errors resulted from weak governance and capacity rather than a deliberate attempt to rig the election in favour of one side or another because a parallel vote tabulation by domestic observers was in line with the official outcome. The Kenyan case therefore demonstrates how difficult it can be to prove a lack of independence beyond reasonable doubt, even when major questions are raised about the quality of an election.
While Kenya’s IEBC is clearly not a ‘highly independent’ electoral commission, it is harder to say exactly where it belongs. The reports of electoral observers would suggest ‘moderately independent’ but the evidence from dissident commissioners and some civil society groups would say ‘not independent’ at all. A fair evaluation would place it somewhere in between, probably falling on the ‘not independent’ side.
Three years after the resignations of a majority of Kenya’s election commissioners, President Uhuru Kenyatta has formally taken notice of the four vacancies and gazetted the process through which he will appoint replacements.
Why now? While the President has not explained specifically to my knowledge, his ruling Jubilee Party is seeking to have the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission conduct a constitutional referendum within weeks to approve amendments derived from the “Building Bridges Initiative”. (A version of a proposal to amend the constitution was passed by most of Kenya’s county assemblies positioned as a citizen initiative. It is now before Parliament where there is internal debate among proponents as to whether to approve it for referendum as is, or to allow amendments to what has already been passed by the counties, which would raise additional legal questions. Challenges to the legality of the process to date are pending in the courts already.)
Remember that U.S. president Joe Biden has “been around”, with far more diplomatic experience than any of his four most recent predecessors in the White House. In 2010 as Vice President he met with Kenyan Speaker Kenneth Marende, along with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, ahead of that year’s constitutional referendum during the period in which Kenya was deciding between justice-oriented remedies and impunity for the 2007-08 Post-Election Violence.
Kenyan Speaker of Parliament Kenneth Marende seems to be getting an increased international profile. Navanethem Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Marende on Monday, expressing concern regarding progress on prosecution of suspects for post election violence. According to the Standard she singled out Marende for praise, “saying he had made immense contribution in stabilising the country through some historic rulings and the manner he handled issues in Parliament”.
U.S. Vice President Biden will call on Marende Tuesday as well, along with his meeting with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.
Interestingly, Marende says that Parliament “would easily pass” legislation to provide for a “local tribunal” to try election violence cases under Kenyan criminal law “if the ICC acted swiftly by taking away key perpetrators of the violence”.
Biden will leave Thursday morning, the day of the South Mugirango by-election to fill the seat vacated by a successful election petition against Omingo Magara, originally of ODM. As it stands the race is hot, with Raila Odinga campaigning for the substitute ODM nominee, Ibrahim Ochoi, William Ruto campaigning for Magara running as a PDP nominee and heavyweights in PNU affiliates split among Magara and other candidates.
After eleven years I am taking a real hiatus from writing here for early 2021.
First, there is so much going on in Kenyan politics relative to my time to really delve in, uncover and keep current—it is all very much familiar and still “frozen” from 2007-08 in many ways, but I risk being simply wrong if I write without adequate depth this many years since I have actually lived in Kenya.
Second, I am tired of having and expressing opinions after the all the overwrought drama of the Trump years and watching all of the continuing open and notorious corruption in Kenya and East Africa more generally.
Third, I have made a career change. I have left the corporate world and am back in private law/consulting practice and have some potential intersection between development issues I might write about here and things that I am not able to about as a matter of professional obligation.
Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.
You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.
This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.
The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.
Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.
At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.
Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.
In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist. In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).