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.

Malawi Election follow-up

See Opposition Protests in Malawi Threaten Mutharika’s Already Fragile Mandate, by Elliot Waldman, in World Politics Review, June 13, 2019.

My previous posts of May 25-27: #MalawiDecides2019: My inquiry to the Malawi Electoral Support Network, MESN, on PVT

(Noting “a hole in media reporting and public affairs announcements”:

Dear MESN,

Does your PVT receive funding from USAID (as per usual practice for these GNDEM PVT’s in Africa)? If so, what is the contractual arrangement for this funding? If not, how is the PVT funded? Thank you for a quick response given approaching deadlines!)

With Parliamanentary results released by Malawi Election Commission but final Presidential results announcement stayed, IFES works on Security and Conflict Prevention

Malawi Election Commission announces incumbent win in a ‘squeaker’–waiting on PVT

Malawi PVT released by MESN: Presidential results consistent with MEC official results, but top two candidates’ ranges overlap

I did receive a response from MESN on June 6 to my inquiry:

Thank you for your media inquiry about MESN and our observation of the
2019 Tripartite Elections. MESN receives funding from an array of
development funders. MESN’s funding for both long-term observation and
the parallel vote tabulation (PVT) comes from the United States Agency
for International Development (USAID) through the Malawi Electoral
Integrity Program (MEIP) managed by the Consortium for Elections and
Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) . All questions about the
terms and conditions of funding agreement should be addressed to
USAID. I have attached for your information copies of our preliminary
and verification statements.

From our Embassy before the vote:

It might have been worthwhile for the Embassy to note in its May 23 Tweet that when “Both men were learning more about the system to validate the election results” the USAID Mission Director was visiting a USAID-funded program.

[You will notice if you read my previous posts I do not have any substantive criticism of how the PVT results were reported, rather I was inquiring about the funding prior to the reporting. I also noted in Zimbabwe that the reporting seemed to be carefully worded to avoid being misconstrued in the way that I have been concerned about in Kenya in 2013.]

A U.S. war with Iran would be a big set back for longterm American interests and values in Africa as well as elsewhere

1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.

2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.

3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.

4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.

5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.

6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.

7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.

8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.

As Kenya turns: watch as the Chris Murungaru Anglo Leasing suit against John Githongo heads toward Supreme Court—“feeding the pig of corruption”

Kenya has had that one widely accepted successful presidential election out of six in the multiparty era following the end of the Cold War. The 2002 “Kibaki Tosha” “National Alliance Rainbow Coalition” election has remained the taproot of mythology about Kenyan democracy in the United States to this day, nearly seventeen years later.

The 2002 succession of Moi, with the young Uhuru Kenyatta left to wait his turn, serving as Leader of the Opposition, then Deputy Prime Minister during Kibaki’s two administrations, was supposed to have ushered in an actual spirit of multiparty competition and higher-minded, cleaner governance that was missing as long as Moi was still in State House himself even though he had grudgingly agreed to change the law for the 1992 election to allow non-KANU parties.

The pick up and continuation of the Anglo Leasing national security looting scheme in spite of the turnover from Moi to Kibaki contradicted the myth and was egregious enough to risk the support of State Department diplomats for Kibaki’s re-election. When I arrived in Kenya in mid-2007 I inherited democracy assistance programs that reflected U.S. disappointment in the Kibaki Administration’s corruption as reflected in the Anglo Leasing scandal, which had been sharply and publicly criticized by the previous U.S. Ambassador and British High Commissioner. But the programs had been established back under the previous Ambassador more than a year-and-a-half earlier.

By the eve of the 2007 election the worm had turned:

This is from my Freedom of Information Act Series on on the 2007 election:

Getting back to the narrative, I also remember Tuesday, December 18, 2007, the date that Ranneberger wrote the second of the cables that I received recently through a 2009 FOIA request.

That morning’s Standard featured a big, full page exclusive interview with Ambassador Ranneberger, nine days before the election.  For me this article was something of a benchmark in terms of my instructions to take “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.  There are several reasons I found the article troubling, part related directly to the independence of  our IRI election observation mission, and part related to the Kenyan campaign itself,  in particular the corruption issue.  On corruption:

[From“Envoy Predicts Free and Fair Election”, The Standard,December 18, 2007–an interview with U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger nine days before the Kenyan election]

Q: What are your views on corruption?

A:Lots of people look at Kenya and say lots of big cases have not been resolved because of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg. I always point out that we have lots of corruption even in the US. These cases take a lot of time to bring to justice. We had the famous Enron case. It took over four years to resolve in a system that works efficiently, yet only a couple of people were convicted. These things take a long time.

There has been substantial effort to fight corruption in Kenya and the award the country won for Civil Service reform [from the World Bank] is a pointer to that effect. The fact that the Civil Service is more professional than ever before is progress as are the new procurement laws recently put in place and the freedom of the Press to investigate and expose corruption. More, of course, needs to be done.

The economy has grown by 7 per cent. How much of that has actually trickled down to the people will again be determined by time.

A career diplomat, Ranneberger has been in Kenya for close to one-and-a-half years, and has served in Europe, Latin America and Africa.

During previous days The Standard had been running new revelations about corruption in the Kibaki administration from documents from exiled former Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance  John Githongo. Rumor had it that Githongo wanted to be able to return to Kenya and might want to be able to return to government after the election, although I had no knowledge one way or the other about whether that was true. Githongo’s personal adventure trying to address corruption in the Kibaki administration is the subject of Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat. Wrong rightly noted in her book that stealing the election was the ultimate corruption.

Githongo had previously alleged that the Anglo Leasing scandal that Ranneberger referred to was intended to fund the campaign to re-elect Kibaki. See this from BBC News, January 26, 2006, “Kenya ‘safe’ for anti-graft czar”:

On Wednesday, the World Bank urged Kenya’s president to take tough action against any cabinet ministers found to be corrupt.

The warning came as the World Bank approved a new $25m loan to help fight corruption – a decision slammed by former UK Kenya envoy Sir Edward Clay.

Sir Edward, who has condemned Kenya for not tackling graft, said the new loan would feed the “pig of corruption”.

‘Insensitive’

”The Anglo-Leasing cases represent an excellent opportunity for the authorities to invoke the disciplinary provisions of the code of conduct signed by the new cabinet weeks ago,” said World Bank Kenya director Colin Bruce.

“I believe that this is an historic moment for the government to signal where it stands on the issue of political accountability,” he said.

President Kibaki is under increasing pressure over corruptionPresident Kibaki was elected in 2002 on a pledge to fight corruption.

Some donors, including the UK, have suspended some aid to Kenya over concerns about corruption and Sir Edward, who retired last year, thought the World Bank should have sent out a tough message.“How can the World Bank be so insensitive and hapless to announce new loans to Kenya?” reports the Guardian newspaper.

“They have added insult to injury by feeding the pig of corruption in Kenya when many Kenyans were beginning to hope they might smell the bacon beginning to fry.”

Over the weekend, Mr Githongo’s leaked report said his attempts to investigate the Anglo-Leasing scandal were blocked by four top ministers – Vice-President Moody Awori, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi, Finance Minister David Mwiraria and sacked Transport Minister Chris Murungaru.

Mr Murungi and Mr Awori have publicly denied the claims.

Mr Murungi said the report was “untrue” and an attempt to bring down the government.

Mr Githongo resigned last year amid reports that his life had been threatened.

The money raised by the alleged scam was to be used to fund the ruling Narc coalition’s campaign in elections due next year, Mr Githongo said.

Following the leaking of the 31-page report, the opposition has urged President Kibaki to dissolve cabinet.

Opposition Orange Democratic Movement leader Uhuru Kenyatta said: “This is clear evidence that the government can no longer be trusted to conduct detailed and honest investigations into this saga.”

Other diplomats were maintaining effective “radio silence” in the sensitive closing days of the 2007 campaign, while Ranneberger was speaking out to defend the Kibaki administration’s corruption record. In the meantime, after my December 15 experience at the Embassy residence I was quietly preparing the new last-minute pre-election Langata survey, along with all the other work for the exit poll and Election Observation Mission.

After reading the Standard article, I e-mailed my local USAID officer on the Election Observation and Exit Poll to complain, noting my opinion about the article and where things seemed to be going in regard to my obligation to supervise an objective and independent Observation Mission and the Ambassador’s alternative approach.

Part One;   Part Two;    Part Three;    Part Four;    Part Six;    Part Seven;   Part Eight Part Nine Part Ten

So by December 2007, we had the U.S. Ambassador having pivoted to the role of offering apologetics for Anglo Leasing in the context of Kibaki’s re-election.

At some point after the election debacle I was asked to submit to my Washington office names for IRI to send to an international women’s leadership event and we passed along a current MP and Njoki N’dungu who had an NGO and who had been a member of the Ninth Parliament from 2002-2007. Shortly afterward I was informed by a diplomatic source that N’dungu was “closely connected” to Chris Murungaru of the Anglo Leasing matter. Reporting to Washington it was agreed that the invitation would not have been made had we realized this problem in time.

Today, Uhuru Kenyatta is in his sixth year as president and has in effect adopted Anglo Leasing by paying out more millions on the bogus procurements over the years while notional prosecutions languish. Githongo continues to be subject to nasty tribalist attacks from jingoists for revealing admitted truths that were embarrassing to purported tribal leaders, including from one pundit who may have received some Western support in 2013 while pushing his tribal election theories to demonstrate that the opposition could not compete with UhuRuto.

Today, corruption is worse–no surprise there– but the World Bank is stepping in again, with $75M. The local World Bank Director Colin Bruce was right back when the Anglo Leasing scandal broke that it was “an historic moment for the government to signal where it stands on the issue of political accountability”. The Government of Kenya was quite clear and remains so–it is Kenya’s donors that have twisted and contorted to avoid hearing.

Today, Githongo has a new personal judgment against him for defamation for the leaked publication of his work as Permanent Secretary in trying to “stop these thieves” and protect the Kenyan government and public from looting and insecurity. He is appealing and Kenyans are raising funds to support the appeal.

Today, N’dungu is Justice on the Supreme Court. (She will need to recuse herself from any involvement in the Murungaru versus Githongo matter.)

I have to shake my head in remembering the window back about a decade ago when the U.S. and other Western donors were vocally backing what we called “the reform agenda” and USAID even got involved in supporting the National Council of Churches of Kenya in using the Michela Wrong book, It’s Our Turn to Eat, to teach against corruption.

Now we have a new Ambassador, the fourth since Anglo Leasing broke to the public. As I have written I have a sense that he wants to help change the dynamic on corruption in Kenya. He can make progress if he makes the sacrifices necessary but he does have to realize it will be much harder than it would have been back in 2007 or at so many other turning points in the past and that pushback will come from places other than Kenya.

Update: be sure to read Rasna Warah’s “In Whose Interest? Reflecting on the High Court Ruling Against John Githongo” in The Elephant’s East African Review.

It’s my blog and I’ll be naive if I want to . . .

An advantage of being an American “Kenya junky” as an amateur, rather than a careerist is that I am free in a way that I could not afford to be if I was on someone’s payroll or looking for something next as opposed paying my own minimal expenses of making my thoughts and occasional research available for anyone interested.

So, to my last post teasing a suggestion that Amb. Kyle McCarter could offer some sort of “maverick” departure as an individual “breath of fresh air” to the United States Government’s role in Kenya away from pretenses of recent years — the attempts to clothe whoever ends up in power in whatever Kenyan institution with democratic and even “developmental” legitimacy irrespective of how nakedly imperious their actual behavior.

Do I seriously believe that McCarter, appointed by Donald Trump of all people, could play that role? I do. Do I believe it is likely? Of course not, I am just finding a survivor’s hope, as well as offering a “thought experiment” about what could be and suggesting that it makes sense to keep the door open while paying attention and working with earned wariness but not cynicism.

Is Washington finally losing patience with governance by UhuRuto? If so, what is seen as “the way forward”?

I touched a few bases while briefly in Washington recently. I was left with the impression of general “benign neglect” on Kenya, which would be expected given the overwhelming number of more immediate crisis situations around East Africa, such as the South Sudan “civil war/state failure” situation, escalating tensions between the Kagame and Museveni regimes, the uncontained Ebola crisis, etc. And always the war in Somalia.

Nonetheless, there are those who work or engage with Kenya more specifically on a less seasonal basis who will unavoidably have noticed how badly the Government of Kenya has been underperforming just as a factual matter regardless of the diplomatic angles of the day.

All this is to lay the groundwork for my great interest in a couple of news items today:

1). First was the report that Ambassador McCarter had said in Kisimu that the U.S. was putting on hold financing for the Bechtel Mombasa-Nairobi expressway due to concerns about corruption risk and debt levels escalating costs such that the intended value to the Kenyan people was not delivered. Here is the version from “Kenyans.co.ke” which has been running a bunch of pieces bringing up events from political inflection points from years past with no specific explanation of the timing, such as the piece I posted about last week taken off from my June 2017 piece in The Elephant on “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics was Frozen and a Election Stolen with U.S. Connivance“.

As a private American “friend of Kenya” and taxpayer I am quite gratified by this willingness to change policy to address current “facts on the ground” and to actually “walk the talk” on “anti-corruption” even if it involves possibly giving up a big subsidized project for a very big well-connected private business owned by a group of Americans.

I have been concerned about this project for the reasons identified by the Ambassador but have not wanted to say much without being close enough to have details and not wanting to be seen as an inveterate naysayer or unduly skeptical about things where I am not that well informed.

Maybe Ambassador McCarter can end up being a “breath of fresh air” and is actually serious in his talk of zero tolerance for corruption in a way that would be different from the ordinary diplomacy where we run hot-and-cold at best. If no one explained to him as a political appointee from outside Washington that “zero” among diplomats ends up as shorthand for a wide range of dollar values in varying circumstances explained in the addendums and codicils, as opposed to just “zero” as it might mean to a businessman in downstate Illinois, then maybe Kenyan cartel leaders need to be worried a bit after all?

And if people in Washington have their hands full or are not focused on the immediate situation in Kenya, and with what we read about how national security policy management is working in Washington these days, it may well be that McCarter has that much greater practical latitude “on the ground”? Likewise, usually an Ambassador in Kenya will have the potential distraction of career considerations not dissimilar to people working in the government in Washington; this would not seem to be a challenge for McCarter. (And maybe he isn’t looking to be a lobbyist for a neighboring warlord in a black hat, and an oil and gas consultant and an investor-broker in USAID-funded health business, for instance.)

There are obvious sociocultural and political barriers to how McCarter will be perceived in Washington and among Americans who typically engage with foreign policy on Kenya or are “Kenyanists” or “Africanists” with focus on Kenya, but open minds are warranted. And maybe that works both directions.

Part of what is so striking here is how much Uhuru Kenyatta has in the past seemed to be arguably “Donald Trump’s signature African leader”–not so much that they are seen to really know each other or have some personal rapport, but rather that in the face of general lack of signs of personal interest in Africa from Trump we still have Uhuru at least included in meetings and doing photo ops with Trump in Europe, Canada and Washington, if not yet Mar-a-Lago, during the first two years of the Administration. Even though he was such a favorite of some in the Bush-Obama years.

So surely putting the Bechtel deal on hold suggests that there is finally heightened willingness to openly acknowledge that governance is simply not now what it was cracked up to be from our previous public diplomacy in recent years.

2) Next is Macharia Gaitho in the Daily Nation publishing today’s column: “Either rebels in Jubilee ranks join opposition, or Uhuru steps down” calling out Jubilee’s divide:

The politicians who contrive to insert his name [Deputy President Ruto’s] into every issue do the DP no favours at all. It does not help his image or his 2022 presidential election prospects when his name is used to fly cover for disreputable leaders caught on the wrong side of the law.

. . . .

As an elected member in his own right, a Majority Leader [Sen. Kipchumba Murkomen] does owe a duty to his constituents. Where conflicted, however, he could consult internally within the government and party organs.If his concerns are not adequately addressed, then the honourable thing would be to relinquish the Majority Leader role so that he can, in good conscience, speak out for his people both inside and outside Parliament.

As it is, what we are seeing from Mr Murkomen’s now frequent outbursts are the hallmark of rebellion. This is rebellion not from one disaffected individual, but a powerful Ruto faction in Jubilee that is unhappy with the path pursued by President Kenyatta.

Jubilee cannot govern effectively when it has such a powerful opposition within; hence the rudderless, dysfunctional government seemingly sabotaging its own efforts.

This is not a healthy situation. Maybe, it would be best for Mr Ruto and his cohorts to resign and go officially into opposition or for President Kenyatta to throw up his hands in surrender and leave the burden of leadership to those more able.

Now I don’t know and haven’t asked, but there have been recent times when Gaitho has seemed to be carrying a message, such as the time when he explained that Raila’s fellowship at Yale was intended to be a perk to ease into a honorable retirement, not a springboard to run yet again in 2017. Different Kenyan columnists are in this role at different times it has seemed over the years. See “Six years an Ambassador: Godec’s Kenya valedictory with Macharia Gaitho”.

This background made me figuratively “perk up my ears” when I read the Gaitho blast after the news on the Bechtel expressway deal.

As a practical matter, there are certain ironies any time it is suggested that “regular order” of some type is suddenly warranted in Kenyan politics. Uhuru Kenyatta himself as KANU leader and Leader of the Opposition in 2007, crossed the aisle to support “Kibaki Tena” without resigning, when party godfather, retired President Moi who picked Uhuru from relative obscurity to nominate as his successor in 2002, realigned his fortunes, so to speak, to be with Kibaki while being appointed as Kibaki’s diplomatic representative for Southern Sudan. So I think Ruto might scoff at Gaithos’s advice now, and I doubt Uhuru’s mother would be good with him resigning at this point with all the family has going on at stake. Too much water under the bridge for too many years to expect anyone “in government” to go formally into “opposition” voluntarily–reform can happen but not nearly so easily or cheaply.

A necessary and complimentary read is the latest from Rasna Warah in the East African Review with what needed to be said on the most egregious act of contempt toward what we used to call “the reform agenda”: “In whose interest? Reflecting on the High Court judgment against John Githongo?”

Kenya 2007 election Kibaki Tena Kazi iendelee re-election

Malawi PVT released by MESN – presidential results consistent with MEC official results, but top two candidates’ ranges overlap

Malawi PVT results from the Malawi Electoral Support Network  shows:

• Dr. Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) between 32.8% and 37.4%;

• Dr. Saulous Klaus Chilima (UTM) between 18.8% and 21.4%;

• Professor John Eugene Chisi (UP) between 0.3% and 0.5%;

• Mr. Reverend Hadwick Kaliya (Independent) between 0.2% and 0.4%;

• Mr. Peter Dominic Sinosi Driver Kuwani (MMD) between 0.3% and 0.5%;

• Mr. Atepele Austin Muluzi (UDF) between 4.3% and 5.7%; and

• Mutharika between 36.4% and 40.8%.

The PVT estimates, listed above, are consistent with the MEC’s official presidential results and therefore, the PVT can independently verify that the official results for the presidential election as announced by MEC reflect ballots cast and counted at polling streams. While PVT does not provide evidence that the presidential results have been manipulated, the PVT results data cannot definitively determine the order for the two leading candidates because of the overlap in the estimated ranges.

Read the whole release here.