Peaceful marchers against alleged corruption at “partly private” power monopoly (#SwitchOffKPLC) are teargassed by Kenya Police Service . . .

The #SwitchOffKPLC march in Nairobi against alleged abusive and corrupt practices toward consumers by KPLC, Kenya Power and Light Company, a partly privatized monopoly, was hit by tear gas from police.

Who has the teargas tender for the Kenya Police Service? In times of violence and times of peace, the Kenyan police are always there to teargas someone on behalf of some interest or another with access to the Kenyan State House.

Tear gas is not just for use against peaceful and lawful protests, like the #SwitchOffKPLC march today, but also celebrations that run afoul of State House sensibilities for some reason or another, as I so indelibly remember from February 28, 2008 when Kibaki and Raila signed the “peace deal” to end the challenges to Kibaki’s second term (in return for various commitments that were partially implemented over the years) and citizens celebrating the end of the Post Election Violence were gassed in what seems now like the a profoundly symbolic act. But today was more typical: citizens organize to call attention to public corruption issues, announce a march and notice the authorities as required, asking for security, Instead of being provided security by the Kenya Police Service, they get tear gassed.

I wrote about a parliamentary discussion touching on the question of whether the private shareholders of the partially privatized monopoly KPLC were helping themselves to free services from the taxpayers back in 2010. The latest scandals seem to go most especially to more direct forms of consumer ripoffs, but you can see the environment from the discussion:

Before new World Bank Loan announcement Kenyan Parliament Grills Asst Minister over issue of whether the gov’t is paying costs to the benefit of private shareholders of Kenya Power & Light

Eng. M.M. Mahamud: Mr. Speaker, Sir, the largest seven shareholders of KPLC are the
Kenya Government, which is represented by the Treasury; Barclays Bank of Kenya through various nominees accounts, the NSSF Board of Trustees, Stanbic nominees, the Kenya Commercial Bank, Jubilee Insurance and the NIC Services. As regards Transcentury, according to the books of accounts this year, the annual report of the financial statement for the year ended 30th June, 2009; it is listed as number 16 shareholder with 4.69 per cent. The highest share percentage is Kenya Government by 40.421 followed by Barclays Bank by 12.81 per cent and 23 per cent for other shareholders not listed in the accounts. But according to the report that I have
here, Transcentury only owns 4.69 per cent. I do not know about the other questions that Dr. Khalwale is talking about.

I will endeavor to learn more about the current KPLC shareholding structure, but last year it was reported that “Mama Ngina” Kenyatta had come into a few million shares (just over 1/1000 of the total).

According to the KPLC website, the Government of Kenya now owns 50.1, up from the 40.421 as of June 2009 testified to in Parliament in 2010.

“Cobra Squad” – a better way to fight crime?

Uganda: As Museveni expands role of military in civilian sectors ahead of vote, Bobi Wine invokes Ukraine and Trump Administration is quiet, setting up risks for democracy assistance

Uganda billboard Museveni and Gaddafi

The East African had an important item looking ahead to Museveni’s next re-election campaign: “More military men don police uniform as Ugandan polls loom“:

Two weeks ago, Ugandans on social and mainstream media went into a frenzy after president Yoweri Museveni made a major shake-up of the police hierarchy, appointing four senior army officers to key positions, in a move interpreted as a preparation for the conduct of the 2021 elections.

The president named army men to the positions of Chief of Joint Staff, Crime Intelligence, Human Resource Development and Training, and Human Resource and Administration.

Civil society, the Uganda Law Society and opposition figures said that the appointment of the army officers to top positions in the police amounted to militarising the force, which could lead to impunity and brutality towards citizens.

The Uganda Law Society noted that the army did not have a good history working together with police.

Meanwhile, in the Financial Times, we have David Piling’s interview with Bobi Wine: “I will walk you around my ghetto.”

Recent opinion polls show Wine mounting a serious challenge, especially in Kampala. He is encouraged by events in places such as Ukraine, where Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political pedigree, recently won the presidency. “We have a funny saying: ‘If they did it, then we can did it’,” he says, grinning. “So if those people in Ukraine did it, then we also can did it.”

According to Ambassador Ranneberger’s cables to Washington from my FOIA research, in the run up to the 2007 Kenyan electoral debacle the Embassy reported to Washington that there was a desire on the part of the Kenya’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to emulate Ukraine’s opposition to Soviet then Russian backed government culminating in what became known as “the Orange Revolution”.

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Exit Polls and Orange Revolutions, Ukraine and Kenya“:

From Ben Barber, senior writer at USAID during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, as quoted from a McClatchy piece on Egypt in a previous post:

The Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 might never have taken place if not for U.S. aid. First, the former communists in control of the Kiev government declared their candidate won an election. Then, a U.S.-funded think tank tallied up exit polls that showed the government had lied and it really lost the election.

Next, a Ukranian TV newsman trained by a U.S. aid program broadcast the exit polls and set up its cameras on the main square for an all night vigil. Up to one million people came to join the vigil. Then the Supreme Court — which had been brought to visit U.S. courts in action — ruled the election was invalid and the government had to step down.

Furthermore, U.S. legal, legislative, journalism and other trainers taught judges, prosecutors, legislators and journalists how to do their jobs in a democratic system.

From U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington after witnessing fraud at the ECK  in the tally of presidential votes along with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission: “We have been reliably told that Odinga is basing his strategy on a mass action approach similar to that carried out in the Ukraine.”

In Kenya, however, unlike in Ukraine, the U.S.-funded exit poll was suppressed rather than broadcast.  The New York Times reported that USAID’s agreement with the International Republican Institute to fund the poll stipulated that IRI should consult with USAID and the Embassy before releasing the poll, taking into account technical quality and “other diplomatic considerations”.  (The USAID agreement was subquently, eventually, released to Clark Gibson of the UCSD, the primary author of the poll and consultant to IRI, under a FOIA request. I had the contract all along, of course, since I supervised the poll as IRI’s East Africa director but waited for the FOIA to write about this provision in the contact providing for Embassy diplomacy input with IRI on the release decision.)

Here is an account of the opposition approach in Ukraine from Wikipedia on the Orange Revolution:

Yanukovych was officially certified as the victor by the Central Election Commission, which itself was allegedly involved in falsification of electoral results by withholding the information it was receiving from local districts and running a parallel illegal computer server to manipulate the results. The next morning after the certification took place, Yushchenko spoke to supporters in Kiev, urging them to begin a series of mass protests, general strikes and sit-ins with the intent of crippling the government and forcing it to concede defeat.

In view of the threat of illegitimate government acceding to power, Yushchenko’s camp announced the creation of the Committee of National Salvation which declared a nationwide political strike.

Ranneberger noted in his cable that the situations in Ukraine and Kenya differed, but did not elaborate.  In Ukraine there was ultimately a re-vote and in Kenya the altered election results showing a Kibaki win stood, with a partially implemented power sharing agreement eventually leading to a new constitution. How was Kenya in 2007 different from Ukraine in 2004?  How would the U.S. react to a potentially disputed election in Uganda where Museveni has arguably even more control over the election management body than Kibaki did?

“Africa is a Playground”—Former President Clinton flying around the continent with Jeffrey Epstein and Kevin Spacey for deep thinking on AIDS and “democratization” is not a great look (updated)

So the travels of Jeffrey Epstein in Africa with Bill Clinton have resurfaced as a passing reference in the news with Epstein’s new arrest on child sex trafficking charges dating to the early 2000s.

This is a nonpartisan blog; I was a Republican during Bill Clinton’s time in office and never voted for him, but I am not a member of either party now and I did vote for Hillary over Trump. I was not part of the “vast right wing conspiracy” going after the Clintons in the 1990s, although I knew people who were.

But here we are, confronted with the fact that shortly after leaving the presidency and a few years before my time working for IRI in East Africa, Bill Clinton as a recent ex-President is doing Clinton Foundation business as described in the title to this post.

At the time, Clinton explained:

Jeffrey Epstein: International Moneyman of Mystery,” New York, October 28, 2002:

“Jeffrey is both a highly successful financier and a committed philanthropist with a keen sense of global markets and an in-depth knowledge of twenty-first-century science,” Clinton says through a spokesman. “I especially appreciated his insights and generosity during the recent trip to Africa to work on democratization, empowering the poor, citizen service, and combating HIV/AIDS.”

I certainly recognize that the Clinton Foundation has been a “real” organization that raised a lot of money to fund bona fide charitable programs to help poor people in African countries and elsewhere (in a favorable comparison to Donald Trump’s foundation which seems to have been wholly insubstantial). Nonetheless, this type of judgment and conduct by the former President reeks of foolishly facilitating the exploitation of the real and perceived poverty of “Africa” as a prop to convey “virtue” in reference to the situation of the neediest and least empowered (assuming that Clinton knew nothing of the conduct of Epstein regarding child rape and sex trafficking of the young and economically vulnerable that was discovered in the FBI investigation in 2006 and leading to his original 2007 plea deal and the current New York trafficking prosecution, or Spacey’s conduct toward minors.)

Would Clinton have toured Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or Hope, Arkansas with Epstein and Spacey?

So what were Epstein’s great ideas for “democratization”? I have not found any explanation. From outside this looks like the very antithesis of democratization, at least as I had in mind in moving to Kenya to join others to do work in that field.

There are so many examples of half-baked, self-serving notions from presumably bored or restless rich people from elsewhere using Africa as a malleable stage. In many cases the intentions are “good” if non-serious or even frivolous, but certainly not always.

An interesting tidbit is the question of why Epstein’s alleged leaked address book (published by the Gawker website) from those early 2000s (as allegedly obtained by the FBI years after his 2008 plea bargain from a former Epstein employee who withheld the evidence during the prosecution and tried to sell it later) had a subheading for Kenya, listing the Muthaiga Club of Nairobi? Did he visit? (The Clinton Foundation does have substantial programming in Kenya which former President Clinton and his other family members have visited subsequently, so it is natural to wonder whether the address book entry could relate to one of the two trips which President Clinton has said Epstein flew him on to Africa. It may be completely unrelated.) I have not had the occasion to visit the Muthaiga Club myself in doing democracy work, and in this century I am well aware that it is not the Happy Valley jumping off spot it started out as in the “Roaring Twenties”. Nonetheless, the imagery is unfortunate.

UPDATE: For a reality check about how little Epstein really had to offer in terms of any genuine scientific or medical credentials and how little of his money he really delivered behind his self-aggrandizing and manipulated reputation as a “philanthropist”, read this investigative report from Jodi Kantor, Mike McIntire and Vanessa Friedman in The New York Times: “Jeffrey Epstein was a sex offender. The powerful welcomed him anyway.”

UPDATE 2: In terms of the general subject matter, here is a recent post from USAID’s Impact Blog: “How USAID is working to prevent sexual misconduct and exploitation“.

UNDP releases 2019 “Multidimensional Poverty Index” (updated)

Updated: For Multidimensional Poverty Index rollout from 2010, see “‘300 million people are suddenly poor”; the Multidimensional Poverty Index and Rwanda“.

For the 2019, read the release and related documents and see the data set at Table 1 here.

The report covers 101 developing countries. As a percentage of population living in “multidimensional poverty” Sub-Saharan African countries fare worse than other regions on average but there are wide variations between countries as well as within countries.

The countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with less than 50% of the population living in multidimensional poverty:

South Africa 6.3

Gabon 14.8

Eswatini 19.2

Sao Tome & Principe 22.1

Congo (Brazzaville) 24.3

Ghana 30.1

Zimbabwe 31.8

Lesotho 33.6

Namibia 38.0

Kenya 38.7

Cameroon 45.3

Cote d’Ivoire 46.1

Togo 48.2

Others in East Africa:

Sudan 52.3

Rwanda 54.4

Uganda 55.4

Tanzania 55.4

Burundi 74.3

Ethiopia 83.5

South Sudan (pre-civil war survey) 91.9 (worst of the 101 listed)

Observation: Some global comparisons for reference might include India 27.9, Myanmar 38.3, Cambodia 37.2, Haiti 41.3, Guatemala 28.9; Honduras 19.3, Mexico 6.3.

As far as other places with terrorist conflict: Nigeria 51.4; Chad 85.7; Burkina Faso 83.8; CAR 79.2; Mali 78.1; DRC 74.0; Mozambique 72.5. Libya was listed as 2.0, Egypt 5.3, Tunisia 1.3 and Algeria 2.1.

Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia/Somaliland were not included.

Fifty years ago, Richard Nixon’s Presidential Daily Brief had a full page on the assassination of Kenya’s Tom Mboya

Here is The President’s Daily Brief from the Central Intelligence Agency for Richard Nixon, July 7, 1969 as published in the CIA Freedom of Information Act on-line reading room.

See Tom Wolf’s essay from The Star remembering the time of the Mboya assassination as a Peace Corp volunteer teacher.

Since the 2007 election debacle, pervasive hunger has continued to grow in Kenya, while China and the United States promote and backstop the power of leaders who do not care enough

The population of Kenya has grown roughly 25% since my year “promoting democracy” in 2007-08, from around 40 million to around 50 million. These are loose numbers because they do not reflect anything that is of the highest priority for Kenya’s leaders (and thus those outsiders who promote and underwrite Kenya’s leaders).

Kenya is to conduct a census this year, but the process is politically contentious and corruption makes it hard to carry off undertakings of this nature (another area where the United States seems to be moving toward convergence with Kenya recently). And there is always a new gambit, like “Huduma Namba” that comes along, with the help of Kenya’s politically-connected corporates and foreign corporate foundations, to get in the way of the core functions of the Government of Kenya, like conducting the census.

Unfortunately, although the size of the economy has continued to grow hunger has increased and Kenya remains a “middle income” country where the majority of citizens are inadequately fed. Agricultural performance has actually declined rather than merely grown at an insufficient pace as experienced in many other sectors.

Please take time to read this report from the Daily Nation’ Newsplex: Poor planning and inaction to blame for food insecurity” There are a lot of important facts and figures, but here is a key summary of where things stand:

But despite the decline in the undernourishment rate, which is, however, higher than Africa’s 20 percent, the prevalence of severely food-insecure Kenyans jumped four percentage-points from 32 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2017, resulting in Kenya’s ranking as the eighth-worst on the indicator globally.

Yes, Kenya continues to have a problem with employment as a whole and the failure of the various power generation schemes over the years has been one factor for Kenya’s reliance on imports rather than it’s own manufacturing. But the decline of agriculture is the more immediate and inexcusable problem–and would be much easier to address if it were prioritized–as opposed to yet another questionable power generation scheme.

Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]

Follow-up: in which Amb. McCarter and I experience some downsides of “Twitter diplomacy”

In my last post, I explored the fact that Amb. Kyle McCarter is the United States’ first Ambassador to Kenya to come from a background in elective politics. Because he had just done what seemed to be a well-received television interview I added in introductory material to the original draft to reflect that.

In the aftermath of following the interview with an invitation for questions on Twitter, the Ambassador got drawn into the Kenyan controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power coal plant proposed for the Lamu area on the Coast. My sense is that he seemed to respond to a Kenyan political and legal controversy as a politician would in asserting his own opinion and judgment based on his own experience and positions–an easy thing to do on Twitter–in a quite different way than a diplomat would normally react.

In the context of following this discussion, I did a bit of quick updating on the internet of the status of the coal mining industry in Sen. McCarter’s former State Senate district in Illinois. By coincidence I spent some time visiting in the area as a young lawyer back in the 1990s and knew that at that time there was a perception of economic strain associated with a decline in local mining employment. I after going through some history of mining, I found a recent article in a local newspaper about a young mayor of a town in the area responding to the economic circumstances by promoting solar energy in his immediate community. I shared the article with the Ambassador and a Kenyan leader on the citizen fight against corruption in the power generation and resale businesses in Kenya (as opposed to an anti-coal activist or someone otherwise involved in the Lamu case).

The Ambassador responded tartly that coal provided 95% of the power in his region in Illinois, he knew the mines and plants, and that coal was the cleanest and cheapest approach to needed power in the context of the highest environmental standards in the world. Further, he was not inclined to be persuaded by “well paid activists” and that “facts are stubborn things.”

This furthered an impression–hopefully not intended–that the Ambassador was weighing in on the Kenyan legal and policy controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power deal.

The next day, the Kenyan court finally issued its ruling that the Amu permit for the Lamu plant had been improperly granted without a meaningful, legally adequate environmental review. From the outside, as a casual observer with a background in Kenyan policy making and the history of these large projects, along with awareness of the established record of corruption in the Kenyan power sector, this looked to me like a straightforward victory for the rule of law in Kenya. The sort of thing we say we want and that USAID and the State and Justice Departments and others have been spending our money on.

Likewise, this generated pushback form “Kenyans on Twitter” who felt patronized or insulted, as well as those who have a different view on “macro” issues relating to power generation and environmental issues than they interpreted the Ambassador to have Tweeted. As for me, I had just intended to share an interesting recent news article, without comment, and not to get under anyone’s skin, or debate the philosophy of coal economics in the global context.

Kenya Lama donkey and cannon on waterfront seawall on harbor

One thing is certain with active Twitter use: all of us who Tweet actively will “step in it” sometimes. The Ambassador well knows this because his ultimate voice vote confirmation in the Senate was held up for some months in apparent reaction to a few previous Tweets that generated push back and follow-up. The Ambassador is also representing the United States and has a professional communications staff of public servants to help him.

The Kyle McCarter experiment continues: America’s first politician Ambassador to Kenya

[Update: next post will address fact that Amb. Kyle McCarter managed to step in several controversies in follow up on Twitter following the television interview I mention in the first paragraph.]

Ambassador McCarter seems to be striking a popular cord by pivoting to an outspoken role on corruption and talking development at a time when Kenya’s office holders seem to have moved on to the 2020 campaign. He is especially forward leaning and directly interactive on Twitter and just did a live one-on-one interview session on Citizen Television’s NewsNight stressing law enforcement against “thievery” and reporting that the US is working on visa bans and is committed to open contracting (including on the Mombasa-Nairobi Bechtel road contract that the Ambassador had reportedly indicated might be on hold).

As Ambassadors to Kenya we have had a journalist/newspaper editor (Smith Hempstone) and an Air Force General (Scott Gration, 2011-12). Former Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter is the first with a background in elective politics. The rest have all been professional diplomats.

At the same time, there has been a big shift at the top of the State Department from 2009 with Hillary Clinton and John Kerry coming from the United States Senate to serve as President Obama’s Secretaries of State, and now Mike Pompeo serving Trump after six years in the House of Representative during the Obama Administration, then briefly (just over a year) as CIA Director. Prior to 2009, none of the American Secretaries of State had a background as elective politicians during the era of Kenyan independence since 1963 (with the exception of Edmund Muskie who served under Jimmy Carter from May 1980 to January 1981 following the resignation of Cyrus Vance in protest of the failed attempt to rescue hostages from the American Embassy in Iran).

All of the Secretaries of State from 1963 to date have been recognized partisans of either the Republican or Democratic Party, and served a President of the same party (noting that Henry Kissinger switched parties before the Nixon campaign and becoming National Security Advisor) but came from backgrounds in various other parts of the national security establishment (such as Alexander Haig, Colin Powell and Condelleeza Rice) law practice, academia, and other parts of the federal government and public service, in various combinations, along with typically some role in presidential campaigns.

So perhaps there is some trend toward greater use of politicians in diplomatic roles that may filter down to high profile Ambassadorships like the Kenya posting beyond McCarter’s tenure? It’s hard to know, and may be influenced by how well McCarter is perceived to do during his service.

The Star had an interesting piece last week entitled “Can U.S. Embassy help stem rising corruption tide under Ambassador McCarter” by Kazungu Katana, a former public affairs employee at the Embassy, running through a history of bilateral relations in the context of the tenures of McCarter’s 16 predecessors.

Since my work in Kenya was all about politics and political parties and most of my time spent with politicians and candidates in and out of office, or party workers, and because my background for the job was politics (and government contracting to a lesser extent) rather than the national security aspects of my career back home in the U.S. or any background specific to Kenya or East Africa, it is natural for me to have some appreciation for McCarter’s unusual background in practical politics that might not be shared by all of the people involved in the State Department or the Washington policy community generally. Of course, he shares a background in the Illinois State Senate and a prior connection to Kenya with former President Obama.

It is worth noting that McCarter is much more of an outsider vis-a-vis Washington than Smith Hempstone or Scott Gration were. As far as I know, McCarter has never even lived in Washington, whereas Hempstone had a family pedigree and was the editor of a Washington newspaper which had prior family roots. Gration as an Air Force General was of course posted far and wide, but rooted in the Pentagon. Hempstone was around politics in the region as a foreign correspondent and writer, and Gration was around Kenyan affairs from time growing up in a missionary family and in various capacities through his career in the Air Force and then as President Obama’s Envoy for Sudan from 2009-2011.

Important reporting from Der Spiegel on “China’s expanding media dominance in Africa”

China’s expanding media dominance in Africa, Spiegel Online, June 14:

Chinese state television is gaining influence in Africa. But while the media outlets involved officially claim their journalism is independent, those who work for the companies tell a different story.

An interview? Or perhaps just a discussion on background? “We have no interest in speaking with you,” Liao Liang writes in an email. And, thank you for understanding, but a visit to his television broadcaster in Nairobi isn’t possible either, he writes. Indeed, the rejection is so complete, it’s as though he is protecting a state secret.

Yet Liao Liang’s mission in the Kenyan capital is hardly confidential: As a senior editor of the China Global Television Network (CGTN), a subsidiary of Chinese state television, his task is that of shining a positive light on his country’s ambitious activities — particularly those in Africa, where China’s reputation has suffered as its footprint has grown.

The broadcaster occupies three floors in the K-Rep Centre, a mirrored-glass high-rise in the upscale neighborhood of Kilimani. The first security check comes right at the building entrance, including a pat-down and questions from the suspicious receptionist. After that, though, there’s no getting by the next receptionist on the third floor. “To be honest,” she says with fake regret, “there is no chance you’ll be allowed to see Mr. Liao.”

Liao Liang is top dog at the broadcaster. He was allegedly an army officer in a previous life, but little else is known about him. CGTN employs around 150 people, including journalists from China, South Africa, Britain, Nigeria and Kenya, yet even when promised anonymity, nobody initially agreed to speak with DER SPIEGEL. “They’re afraid of Liao,” an employee would later say.