Nairobi’s Star publishes extraordinary story using SECRET 2009 Cable about Amos Wako corruption issues published by Wikileaks in 2010 to explain U.S. visa ban and designation

Read here from The Star: “What Ranneberger told Washington about Wako on corruption”.

Update Nov. 19, see the follow-up: “10 big names join Wako on US travel ban“.

When Wikileaks first published the mass of stolen State Department cables in late 2010 while Michael Ranneberger was Ambassador to Kenya The Star to my recollection did not write any stories from them–including about this 2009 cable, classified SECRET, on the Amos Wako issues. Of course it was more timely then and Wako was still serving as Attorney General.

The Star and The Standard both stayed away from direct coverage of material from the leaked cables, while The Nation did a small number of Kenya stories–not including this Wako subject matter–before quickly backing off.

The most topical of those for me back in 2011 was a Nation story revealing that in early 2008 the US had issued undisclosed (and unknown to me) visa bans against three members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on substantial evidence of bribery. The State Department has never to this day acknowledged knowing about the bribery at the ECK in the 2007 election and the publication of such stories in the Nation quickly dried up. (I was told of ECK bribery by another diplomatic source in January 2008.)

Back in the States in my job in the defense industry (with my security clearance) I was told by a friend in the Kenyan media that I had been “sweetly vindicated” on my public contradictions with the Ambassador in the New York Times and otherwise about the 2007 election but the “Wikileaked” cables were not available to me due to the obligations of my security clearance. Readers of this blog will know that I started the process of requesting related information through the Freedom of Information Act in 2009, more than a year before Wikileaks hit, and that I have received released versions of some of the same Cables that Wikileaks published unredacted.

I learned in real time that Ranneberger expressed active displeasure with The Star for publishing a story in February 2008 on the leaked USAID/International Republican Institute exit poll showing an opposition (Odinga) win in the December 2007 election, so I always assumed that it was likely that the Kenyan newspapers received diplomatic encouragement not to publish independently from the stolen cables.

Clearly the Trump Administration has had quite a very different approach with Wikileaks than the Obama Administration did back in 2010 and Ranneberger is now retired from Government himself and working as a consultant and lobbyist looking, among other things, to influence the Trump Administration. So lots of things have changed aside from Wako moving to the Senate from the Attorney General’s office and having a leading role in the current Building Bridges Initiative.

[I will add links to my previous posts, but wanted to go ahead and get this up.]

See “Part Seven — one last FOIA Cable on the 2007 exit poll“:

. . . .

The quest for accountability to Kenyan voters has remained unanswered sadly.  A news story in the Daily Nation in 2011, in the final item on my chronology of links to coverage of the Kenyan election, reports from an alleged leaked cable that ten days before this February 18, 2008 meeting at the Ambassador’s residence, the State Department issued “visa bans” against ECK members based on evidence regarding bribery–but did not disclose this circumstance, or the evidence, at this [Feb 18] meeting (I checked with a participant).  We, the United States, made clear that we were willing to step up financial and rhetorical support for reforms in Kenya–such as the new constitution–under a deal in which the new Kibaki administration shared power with the opposition under an Kofi Annan-brokered bargain–but we brushed aside the issue of the fraud in the election.

Kenya election vote counting Westlands Nairobi

As Kenya Turns: Kalenjin radio features return of former ICC-indictee Sang at Kenyatta and Ruto-owned station

Ruto Hires Former ICC Co-Suspect Sang For His Kalenjin Radio Station, Kenyan Report, June 5, 2019

“Former Kass FM presenter Joshua Sang is set to make a comeback to the airwaves after landing a job at Emoo FM, a station owned by Mediamax Network Ltd.

Even though both the Kenyatta family and Ruto hold substantial stakes in the DMS Place-headquartered Mediamax Network – sources claim Ruto is the hitherto biggest shareholder even as he aims to consolidate media support around his 2022 ambitions.”

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.

East Africa is the pits for press freedom, but congratulations to Namibia, Ghana and South Africa for outranking France, the U.K. and the U.S. in the World Press Freedom index

Here is the new 2019 World Press Freedom index from RSF, with the United States down to No. 48 (!) and France and the U.K. at 32 and 33 respectively. Namibia at 23, Ghana at 27 and South Africa at 31 lead SubSaharan Africa. Burkina Faso at 36 and Botswana at 44 also outrank the United States.

Thus, five African nations are ranked above the United States for press freedom this year according to Reporters Without Borders. The United States continues to rank above all of the East African nations.

Here are the East African Community member rankings:

Kenya 100

Tanzania 118

Uganda 125

South Sudan 139

Rwanda 155

Burundi 159

Elsewhere in the East and Horn Region: Ethiopia 110; Somalia 164; Djibouti 173; Sudan 175.

And other “development partners”: Norway 1; Germany 13; Japan 67; UAE 133; Russia 149; Egypt 163; Iran 170; Saudi Arabia 172; North Korea 179

Corruption in Kenya: Joe Khamisi has given us the history; Father Dolan reports brilliantly from the latest passing winds of faux “war”

I do not have the stomach to blog about official high level anti-corruption conferences in Kenya any more–the whole pageant is just too twisted for a relatively simple person such as myself.

If you have not yet read Joe Khamisi’s Kenya: Looters and Grabbers; 54 Years of Corruption and Plunder by the Elite, 1963-2017 (Jodey Pres 2018) you must. It sets the stage in the colonial era and proceeds from independence like a jackhammer through scandal, after scandal after scandal upon scandal.

Read a great review by Tom Odhiambo of the University of Nairobi in the Daily Nation here:

. . . The Kroll Report, for instance is available online for those curious about the rip-offs of the 1980s into the early 2000s. The Goldenberg scam report is in the public domain. Anglo-leasing scam is still fresh in the minds of many. 

There are numerous other reports on misappropriation of public resources in parastatals, annexation of public land, seizure and transfer into private ownership of public motor vehicles, for instance.

However, for the first time a Kenyan chronicles the looting of national resources in a book, in a language, style and tone that is easily accessible to the public. This is not some report by an NGO or government watchdog, full of figures, graphs and illustrations to show the enormity of the theft. 

No, this is a collection of narratives of daring, outrageous and unbelievable self-service by the Kenyan elite at the buffet of state and non-state resources.

These are tales that highlight how the Kenyan elite – political, economic, bureaucratic or even clerical – evacuated the moral high ground long time ago and thus don’t really care about the moralising about corruption; how they have behaved as a ‘members’ only club, irrespective of tribe or religion or political leaning; how they have gradually morphed into a powerful class that will use any means at their disposal to maintain their privilege; and how they have consequently impoverished the country.

Looters and Grabbers should scare any Kenyan who reads it. For it begins at the beginning: with the land grabbing frenzy of the years after the end of colonialism. . . .

Fortunately, on latest elite public posturing and strutting we have Fr. Gabriel Dolan. His latest Sunday Standard column lays it out: “Media houses failing the graft war more than judiciary”:

The annual war on corruption has been launched with fireworks but may prove once more to be nothing more than a damp squib. For all the threats and promises, what we are witnessing appears more like passing wind in a crowded room with everyone blaming someone else for the foul smell. Those with powers and microphones are demanding accountability and justice. Every arm of government wants justice to flow down like a river, but each of them wants to decide who is going to get wet. So the battle will most likely conclude with a cease fire as the windows are opened, the stench is released and normal services resume.  

It is good to stand back and take the long view of proceedings. Most of the mega corruption scandals for the last 55 years are the handiwork of the political class and their cronies. Yet, these same individuals, families and gangs are now shouting loudest about ending corruption and bringing culprits to book. Isn’t that strange, almost funny if there were not so much at stake! But this should make you suspicious about what is really going on. 

Failure to replace petty thieves with mega looters in our institutions of correction is entirely the fault of the Judiciary according to vox populi and the ranting classes. . . . Instead of baying for the blood of the mega thieves, the anger is projected onto the Judiciary and they are the new scapegoats to blame for the looting of the nation. Therein is another reason to be extremely sceptical about pronouncements on corruption.  

What makes this all the more shameful and ridiculous is that the media have become enthusiastic collaborators in lynching the Judiciary. . . .

Yet painful as it is to admit, media houses have let the public down more than any other institution in their failure to pursue and investigate mega corruption. Investigative journalism is fast disappearing and most publications are more likely to give attention to love triangles than to the maize scandal. Entertainment is valued more than education. . . . .

Reporting truth to the masses empowers them and does more than anything else to democratise societies. However, in recent years we have witnessed editors, cartoonists and popular columnists axed from our dailies because they dared to challenge, expose and ridicule the government of the day. . . . .

If owners and editors permitted their best journalists to do proper, consistent, thorough and impartial investigations of the scandals we would rise early to buy our copies and the three arms of government would be worried. 

The New York Times on Kenya: working through my reaction to the mess they have made on the photograph of terror victims at a time of grief

1. I cannot and have not defended New York Times’ use of the particular photograph of victims that has angered Kenyans.

Using that photo, especially while the attack was ongoing, was bad judgment in a number of respects that have been well explained by others.

2. My personal inclination from my own circumstances is usually to be somewhat defensive of the Times when they get attacked . . .

. . . as they frequently do, not because they are not regularly frustrating and imperfect but because they have been and continue to be a critical part of the wider media firmament in the United States. And newspaper journalism in the United States is suffering to our detriment and all professional news reporting is contested in our Trump era. (More about this later).

3. But, apologies are easy.

I understand that if the Times turned over editorial judgment to social media responders they would quickly be lost in the internet sea and cease to exist or be snatched up by a hedge fund and/or an ideologically motivated billionaire and/or have to publish listicles and soft porn to survive. Likewise they can never willingly let themselves be bullied by authoritarian governments so the grandstanding demands and threats from the Media Council of Kenya make the situation harder to address constructively and are not in well considered good faith in my opinion.  But apologies are still easy. (And surely taking down or swapping out the one photograph would be a “correction” not some actual editorial diversion.)

4. Thus, I come around to seeing and feeling a humility and empathy problem.

Especially as time has gone by. The Times is not the Daily Mail nor The Sun and does not deserve to be the poster child for historical imperialism/colonialism devaluing black and brown bodies even if it has its own limitations and faults. But the Times made a mistake here and it was unforced and not anyone else’s fault. The tone deaf lack of responsiveness makes me more appreciative of the perspectives that I have picked up from friends in academia and journalism and other fields over the years that are more critical of the Times.

5. The individual reporter did nothing substantively professionally wrong.

The complaint is with the photo placed by the editors in New York not with the reporter’s story. The photo was by a Kenyan photographer through the Associated Press. So it is simply not her fault. In the moment of anguish with the attack it seems that she received a lot of the grief associated with this situation which was not her doing or in control. Having arrived at an understanding of the facts, there is apparently still a broad sentiment among many Kenyans, including many that I admire and respect, to deport her for being insensitive and seemingly a bit flip in responding. In other words, to me more of a moral question as to whether we think from Twitter that she has the personal traits we approve of as opposed to her actual writing.

Keep in mind that she is a corporate employee presumably. Without knowing the details of her individual situation with the Times, in general terms most American employees are subject to being fired at will, for any reason or no reason, without any legal right to severance as in Kenya, much less “due process”. I am a corporate lawyer [my experience in the world of Kenyan media and politics (and especially the New York Times) that has been the basis for this blog was “on leave” from that corporate career] so I know something about how things work. For a remote employee to say unilaterally to the public on social media that her bosses back in New York screwed up something that is in their job description and discretion and not hers is problematic.

The reporter/correspondent is supposed to say “I am sorry but I personally think my bosses have made a terrible mistake with the company product back in New York”? I do not know what I would have done in her shoes, and I can sit back at home and imagine doing better but realistically she was in a losing position.

I had a slightly analogous situation as an NGO employee in Kenya when my bosses back in Washington put out a press statement that the exit poll I supervised in the 2007 election showing an opposition win was “invalid”. I was in a lose/lose situation on my own in Nairobi. My threading of the needle in dealing with that situation has never been fully satisfactory to anyone so far as I know but not fully “toeing the line” has been life changing in some respects. I objected strenuously in private. In public when I was pressed by a reporter for Nairobi’s Star on whether the statement from Washington “reflected my personal opinion” I explained that “it was’t intended to reflect my personal opinion”–no surprise that the reporting when it hit the paper was that I had said that it “did not reflect” my own opinion. When it was faxed to Washington the president of my organization “hit the roof” per a phone call from my boss who had heard it from him. After I explained the exact choice of words, she ran interference for me and got him “calmed down” on the basis that I had been “misquoted”. Of course I knew when the reporter called me that I was likely to get get fired for diverging from my superiors and I did not have an opportunity to go ask my wife and kids.

I did some things privately during the interval to keep the exit poll from “going away” before it was ultimately released publicly in July but that was closely held and I have never written about that part of the story yet.

It was only post-employment that I felt that I could publicly express my own opinions related to my work.  Ultimately I was quoted from published interviews in The Nation magazine and The New York Times itself (and written about by Kenyan media and and The Weekly Standard and RedState.com without being contaced or interviewed).

Fortunately, my temporary duty in NGO-world was ending in a few weeks anyway. My law job was waiting for me at home. I decided not to resign to keep the office together and I did not get fired. But I was on a short leash until my return to the States and I avoided being out and about or meeting politicians so I would not have to be chose between being openly insubordinate or dishonest. I am grateful that I had some room to maneuver in that pre-social media era.

7. Where do my Kenyan friends want this to end up?

Is “the Kenya we want” one in which foreign reporters for foreign newspapers get deported because they are perceived to be insensitive on social media? What are the ramifications of that? Just reporters? Etc.

Remember that the Times of London correspondent was detained at the airport and expelled by all appearances because he was investigating the Eurobond mysteries. No one filled those shoes. You are still on the hook for the debt and it turns out there seems to have been a secret problem with the SGR financing from 2014 that you are just reading about now.

This deserves to be reflected on and discussed–perhaps mediated–offline and in person, with a little space from the anguish of this attack, and this photo.

6. The peak of this for me is someone on Twitter who wanted to deport the photographer.

Fortunately the Courts in Kenya have now clearly and explicitly ruled against the Executive Branch’s power to deport a Kenyan in the Miguna Miguna cases. We all know the application of the law to the actions of Executive Branch is difficult and often contested as a matter of power rather than right–here in the United States also–so I think Kenyans would be wise to think carefully on this.

A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret US Exit Poll in New York Times

Kenya’s Debt-laden Railroad Blues falls off the playlist as brutal suicide attack hits Nairobi and AP photo on NYTimes online hits raw nerves

Nairobi Kenya Microsoft billboard

Twenty-and-a-half years after the al-Queda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, a small team of gunmen and a bomber hit a hotel and office complex in Westlands, reminiscent of the 2013 Westgate Mall attack. With the “known missing” fully accounted for now, the death toll stands at 21. Many more were injured and the trauma is compounded by the uncertainty of many who were trapped and/or missing.

There is so much news coverage now from Nairobi that I really have nothing to add, other than condolences. Here is a good straight news story from NPR’s Eyder Peralta on the photography/reporting imbroglio.

On Sunday and Monday a governance and economy controversy was escalating in Kenya after the Sunday Nation published an expose on “Hidden traps in SGR deal with China“. Sadly, unlike a terrorist attack, this is new bad news. If true it poses serious challenges to the credibility of those who have known the actual terms of the as yet undisclosed deal between the Kenyatta and Xi governments dating back to 2014, as well as to the viability of “Big Four Agenda”, “Vision 2030” and the overall public version of Kenya’s economic development aspirations.

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta meets with Chinese Communist Party leaders to on behalf of his Jubilee Party at Kenya’s State House

Update: I am not much of a consumer of television news, but I thought this online “print” story from CNN’s Sam Kiley was a good quick overview of the Westlands attack for general international audiences (as opposed to readers of this blog): “Nairobi attack shows attempts to neutralize Africa’s terror threat have failed“.

Updated Feb 7: Autocratic fangs bared in Kenya as unlawful television shutdown finishes first week; police fail to produce unlawfully detained activist

For a good overview:

Kenya’s About-Face: Fear for Democracy as Dissent is Muzzled” by Jina Moore, New York Times, Feb. 4.

Today the police failed to honor an order to produce detained opposition activist/lawyer Miguna Miguna, who has been arrested by police and held in defiance of a previous order granting bail. No charges have been initiated against him by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.

The Court ordered the Inspector General of the Police to appear tomorrow morning with Miguna. Raila and other NASA leaders came to Court for Miguna this afternoon.

Miguna is a firebrand “character” on the local scene in recent years who was not in NASA, running for Governor as an independent against ODM/NASA incumbent Evans Kidero and the new Jubilee Governor Sonko, gaining little support as a candidate. Post election he has associated himself with an activist wing of political opposition calling itself the “National Resistance Movement” and pressured for, publicized and participated in Raila’s (peaceful) “people’s president” swearing in ceremony. It would seem that the regime saw him as someone they could visibly and conspicuously “shut up” who did not have a political constituency or independent mass following.

Personally, I have not considered Miguna’s role one that I thought seemed constructive over the years, but he does not deserve to die for that and I am worried for him.

What does it take for people to see that Kenyatta and Ruto just are not the men whom their Western friends and publicists would try to make us believe?

Looking at Kenya over the years it is so easy to become inured to State violence used not in the interest of the nation or the citizens but of political power and self interest of those controlling the ruling party.

537th they came for Miguna Miguna, and I said nothing because I was not Miguna Miguna?

UPDATE: Later Monday, KTN broadcasting was restored and while NTV remained off the public airwaves its signal was restored to cable and DSTV for those subscribers. Citizen and Kikuyu language sister station Inooro were still blocked from broadcasting. The partial restoration came just ahead on a contempt petition following the original order that broadcasts be restored secured by a public interest litigant. Citizen, unlike its rivals, went to Court itself to challenge the ban.

UPDATE:  Miguna, a Kenyan born citizen who fled to Canada as a refugee during the political persecution of the Moi days, was finally taken late at night to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and bundled onto a plane for Amsterdam and on back to Toronto.  The police having run out of time finally after serial Court orders to produce him took him to the airport instead of the courtroom.  The authorities will have to file affidavits explaining their actions in preparation for contempt hearings.  Miguna asserts that he was physically mistreated aside from the extralegal aspects of his detention and his alleged deportation or expulsion.

Ken Opalo points out in The Standard that Interior Minister Matiangi shouldn’t have overreacted to Raila’s oath of office in first place, since “the people’s president” is not a real office and the ceremony was a political statement not a treasonable offense.  To this I would add that the State Department’s pronouncement from Washington helped fuel rather than diffuse the confrontation, in particular by decrying the ceremony as a “self-inauguration” without noting that the opposition had stepped back from a claim to an actual office (the stated goal of the opposition is take office through new elections later this year).

Who has done the best writing so far about the fake NGOs and “bots” in the Kenyan election campaign?

Asking for a friend.

Don’t Mess from Texas: disturbing Privacy International report indicates Uhuruto re-election campaign bought Texas-based negative propaganda campaign (updated)

Read the important report here: “Texas media company hired by Trump created Kenyan president’s viral ‘anonymous’ attack campaign against rival, new investigation reveals“.

I am a native Texan myself, so I do not think that Texans are less likely to understand the moral, spiritual or foreign relations repercussions of aggressive tribalist propaganda on behalf of William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta than Americans in Idaho or Arkansas, say.  The problem is that the operation seems to have been conducted by a United States-based firm, staffed by Americans, orchestrating a digitized propaganda campaign directed against both Kenyan voters and those Americans such as myself and other amateur or professional “Kenya watchers” or U.S. government personnel who would conduct internet activity touching on Kenya politics and government.

The firm in question, Harris Media, based on this report but also their associated social media, seems to have affinity for what I think of as the “White Right”–the National Front, AfD, UKIP, Roy Moore, etc., aside from Trump.  I have noted the Uhuruto government courting these folks in the United States over the years — I won’t elaborate here but it has always troubled me as an American Southerner.  Some of these people also use Christian symbolism as part of their personal branding which is that much more troubling for me.

Unfortunately the Americans involved as of this writing have not filed a Foreign Agent Registration Act registration and made the associated disclosures to the Justice Department and the American public.

The Privacy International report appears to to reveal that the American firm was an “agent for a foreign principle” in conducting a propaganda campaign for Kenyatta and Ruto’s re-election, in substantial part through generating fear and loathing of the opposition. I do know that some of my friends in Washington wrongly predicted violent behavior on the part of the opposition in the context of the botched August 8 election. Could they have been influenced by this propaganda campaign, and/or by others that have not yet been uncovered by outside investigation?