“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 has 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“.

With Parliamentary results released by Malawi Election Commission, but final Presidential results announcement stayed, IFES works on security and conflict prevention

Update: It is worth looking carefully at the MESN Detailed Preliminary Statement from the PVT. In general it suggests the voting was well conducted. I would flag the seven percent of the sampled polling stations where the results were not posted. See the USAID-funded research paper from Posner and Osofu at UCLA I linked below for why they identify the lack of posting of results as one of their indicators of potential fraud. I have never any legitimate excuse for not posting the results at the polling station and it certainly seems fundamental to me. I would note that seven percent is, to my recollection, a much better performance than what the Carter Center observers were seeming in their Preliminary Statement in Kenya in 2013, although that was not structured as a “PVT” sample as such.

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Malawi’s election results being delayed after vote forgery claims” Quartz Africa

Under the USAID Malawi Electoral Integrity Program with CEPPS (the Consortium for Electoral Party and Process Strengthening)–the program under which NDI is providing “technical support” to the Parallel Vote Tabulation discussed in my last post–IFES is doing the work it has described in an April 2019 summary for the continent here:

Malawi Through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS), IFES is supporting the 2019 tripartite elections under the “Malawi Electoral Integrity Program.” Particularly, IFES’ activities are focused on addressing electoral security through violence monitoring and incident reporting for more effective conflict mitigation and resolution, and by strengthening cooperation and information exchange between civil society, multiparty liaison committees and governmental electoral security actors, including the Malawi Election Commission (MEC). IFES will strengthen existing conflict mitigation and mediation platforms, support targeted interventions in areas identified as lhotspots, and raise public awareness about electoral violence, conflict mitigation and mediation tools available to the public. IFES will coordinate with the United Nations Development Programme on its “Malawi Electoral Cycle Support” program to build stronger linkages among the MEC and local stakeholders involved in conflict prevention.

CEPPS is a consortium among IRI, NDI and IFES which provides for a master funding arrangement between USAID and the group under which USAID then enters specific subsidiary agreements for individual programs such as the polling program in Kenya that funded Exit Polls through IRI for the 2005 and 2007 elections, or the Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening Program for 2011-15 which was led by the coalition with separate workshares for IFES, NDI and IRI, with NDI supporting the PVT through the domestic observation group ELOG (set up as a permanent successor to 2007’s KEDOF domestic observation group at the recommendation of the 2008 Kreigler Commission report).

As an example of a different permutation, for the 2017 election, USAID solicited proposals for agreements involving one overall organization, with sub-agreements for other workshare. In that case the program was awarded to IFES, with the IRI and NDI work (including the PVT piece) under subagreements with IFES rather than directly with USAID as I understand it (this is based on the USAID solicitation and award announcements; the agreement is not published).

I have not watched Malawi closely and do not have any idea of the specific contractual arrangements of the MEIP program for this year.

With the presidential results finalization delayed, this will put everyone under significant pressure and may involve some hard judgment calls. We will all have to hope for the best as far as both the election and any negative situations regarding violence or insecurity.

Update: as a bonus, here is a 2015 paper from Daniel Posner and George Ofosu of UCLA, “Domestic Election Observers and Electoral Fraud in Malawi’s 2014 Election“.

Abstract

We present findings from a field experiment that estimates the causal effect of domestic election observers on election day malfeasance and downstream aggregation fraud in Malawi’s 2014 general elections. Our analyses leverage the random assignment of election observers to 1,049 polling stations located in a nationally representative sample of 90 constituencies. Since these polling stations already had observers assigned by other domestic monitoring organizations, our results speak to the marginal impact on electoral fraud of having an additional observer. We find that polling stations to which an additional observer was deployed had systematically lower rates of turnout and overvoting, and fewer votes for the presidential candidate who ultimately won the election—all results consistent with the deterrence of electoral fraud by the presence of the additional observer. We also find that the presence of the additional observer increases the likelihood that election results are not publicly posted, and that the non-posting of results is associated with an increased likelihood of aggregation fraud on behalf of the winning party, which we measure by comparing polling station-level election tallies with the official results reported by the Malawi Electoral Commission. We interpret this finding as suggesting that the presence of the additional observers may have displaced fraud from election day to the aggregation phase, and that the non-posting of the results may have been part of a conscious strategy to mask these efforts.

“Freedom Under Threat”: New report on the spread of laws restricting NGOs in Africa from Freedom House

The new report “Freedom Under Threat: the Spread of Anti-NGO Measures in Africa was released today. It provides a valuable review of recent developments in counter-democracy push back from governments in power in numerous countries.

In Kenya, here is a good, straightforward recitation of the approach taken after the “UhuRuto” election of 2013 with a Jubilee Party platform calling for a crackdown on independent NGOs said to be modeled after post 2005 repressive measures established by the Meles Zenawi government in Ethiopia (see “Attacks on Kenyan civil society prefigured in Jubilee ‘manifesto’“) and the legal “pitched battle” since:

In Kenya, meanwhile, the new government elected in 2013 made six successive attempts to modify the PBO Act—a progressive law passed by Parliament and signed by the outgoing president just months prior to the elections.49 All of the attempts were loudly opposed by NGOs and the political opposition, and the High Court ordered the government on October 31, 2016, to publish the original PBO Act in the official gazette to bring it into operation.50 The government refused to comply, prompting NGOs to request that two cabinet secretaries—overseeing the Ministry of Devolution and Planning and the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government—be held in contempt of court.51 The court ruled in the NGOs’ favor on May 12, 2017. Rather than implement the court order, however, the government continues to apply the outdated NGO Act of 1990, and it is unclear how the situation will be resolved. The broad-based Civil Society Reference Group, an alliance of over 1,500 leaders of national and international NGOs that ran a multiyear campaign for the adoption of the PBO Act,52 continues to insist on its implementation. Indeed, Kenya represents an interesting case study of the pitched battles that have characterized the struggle between governments on the continent that seek to narrow democratic space on the one hand and civil society sectors that seek to preserve democratic gains on the other.

The moves by African rulers appear related to or inspired by authoritarian trends elsewhere:

Although no attempt is made in this report to analyze laws outside Africa, there are parallels between anti-NGO measures adopted across the continent since 2006 and those adopted in Russia and China—two influential global actors that have forged close ties with African governments. Sudan’s anti-NGO law coincided with the first of several Russian laws,6 closely followed by Rwanda’s measure in 2008. Russia’s second wave of legal restrictions coincided with those of several African countries—notably Ethiopia, Zambia, and Mozambique—while China’s 2016 and 2018 regulations came alongside measures by several other African governments surveyed in this report. It is difficult to establish specific links between the African laws and those adopted by the two global powers, but the close relationships built in Africa since 2000—particularly by China—support a modeling hypothesis.

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

Democracy Assistance needs an external non-governmental watchdog

Democracy assistance needed - Presidential campaign rally Trump Floida Democray assistance needed

This recommendation for the creation of a democracy assistance “watchdog” organization is where I have ended up from my own experience as an election observer and a volunteer trainer. And especially my role as a “sentimentalist whistleblower” from my time as “East Africa Resident Director” for the International Republican Institute with the failed 2007 Kenyan election.

I recently had the chance to visit with a wise American friend from my Kenya time who is of the persuasion that we, the United States, would be better advised on balance not to try “democracy promotion” and to step back from being entangled in foreign politics. My accumulated years of watching democracy assistance in addition to my own search to understand what has happened in Kenya in spite of my best efforts force me to take this view seriously in a way that I would not have some years ago. Nonetheless, I am still in a “different place”and have an alternative suggestion. (When my friend stated that she would rather we spent the money on educating children I had to concede that would be better, but we have been around long enough to know that would not happen.)

Admittedly I have not been objective. This goes to the “sentimentalist” aspect of my speaking out about what went wrong on my watch in Kenya in 2007-08 and what I saw going wrong in 2013. Even though losing or limiting valued personal friendships was inevitable as a result of being a dissenter and agreeing to speak on the record to The New York Times about what happened I did it because I felt obligated and I have continued to feel affection for my former colleagues. Nonetheless, having been briefly an insider and otherwise around the democracy assistance community does give me a basis to continue to believe that most of the people involved in democracy assistance are relatively sincere and would prefer to accomplish more for the intended beneficiaries of the assistance.

Beyond that, the reality is that we are going to continue to do democracy assistance anyway. The question is just whether we want to get better at it or not.

Democracy assistance has solid bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress whether or not the base voters of either party are persuaded conceptually. Yet we observe by consensus that we are in a period of global “democratic recession” suggesting that what we have been doing may be suboptimal. People outside Washington generally do not have time and other resources to be engaged unless they are either participants (and thus beneficiaries) of the system or ideologically engaged to a degree that inhibits having a place at the table in Washington.

One of the problems is the inability to develop the learning and community of practice that would be available if there was greater transparency. Transparency is not really in the immediate short term interests of implementing organizations like IRI, NDI and IFES which for perfectly natural reasons would rather stay out of the line of fire from beneficiary critics of donor policies and just find it easier, like any of us, not to have anyone looking over their shoulder.

It is clear to me that the values behind “open government” would be most compelling in the area of democracy assistance itself. Donor taxpayers and intended beneficiaries of democracy assistance ought to see what they are paying for, and intended to receive respectively. The practice of informal secrecy creates opportunities for incumbent host governments to manipulate and divert programming. Informal secrecy also creates opportunities to avoid scrutiny of irregular interference in democracy programming by donor diplomats or others who may have competing objectives. [The essence of my experience as I summarized in “The Debacle of 2007″ for The Elephant.]

See also: “President Trump’s new Assistant Secretary of State for Africa candidly explained why election observation and technical assistance have to be firewalled from diplomacy to have integrity“.

Meanwhile donor funds are available to tell positive, promotional stories as part of the donors’ general public diplomacy efforts even if the stories may gloss over the grittier realities that would need to be dealt with to actually improve an aspiring democracy– whether just to burnish images or to serve “stability” by avoiding angering voters who might be upset to know more about how their leaders are conducting themselves.

Existing watchdog organizations do not seem well equipped to work on foreign democracy assistance–partly because they have so many seemingly bigger fish to fry. In an era of “permanent war”, massive defense budgets and big expenditures in health and other programs and huge, growing deficits, democracy promotion programs are going to continue to be below the radar and outside the ordinary bandwidth of most groups like the Project on Government Oversight that do much of the best oversight in other areas. Related limitations apply for public interest journalism.

The Inspector General function is available to deal with certain specific wrongdoing within USAID programs and can deal with things like theft of funds from implementing organizations but a watchdog outside government could help all of us learn whether we are really doing the right things with our resources to help democratic development. While the USAID investigation process of my complaints regarding my experience in Kenya at least generated the informal confirmation of my concerns there was no remedy offered nor public reporting. Realistically democracy assistance gets into messy political questions that can only be addressed candidly in the first instance from outside of government.

There is new attention in Washington to “competing” with China in East Africa. In the bigger picture we have entangled our own economy deeply with China’s for too many years to simply change our minds now so our relationship with China will be nuanced. We do see that China has moved in a more rather than less authoritarian direction in recent years and that the Communist Party of China is doing more to directly collaborate with like minded ruling parties as we see with Jubilee in Kenya.

If we care about democracy in the long term the size of China as a power committed enough to its own authoritarianism to work to suppress its own expatriates and manipulate news coverage in Africa is concerning even if it does not succeed in propagating the CPC model.

But we do not need to be reactive: let’s do what we do better instead of playing catch up on their terms if competition with China is a motivator. It is the ballot box, not Bechtel Corporation (as an example) that gives the United States a comparative advantage over China. To mutually share the opportunities of democracy effectively, we need to generate more transparency and better oversight for our democracy assistance.

Carter Center, NDI , EUEOM and other International Observers should follow up on Cambridge Analytica, other actors in Kenyan elections

To the best of my knowledge and recollection, none of the various Election Observation Mission reports from Kenya for the March 2013 election covered the role of SCL Group of Britain (subsequent parent of Cambridge Analytica) for Uhuru Kenyatta. Nor were other foreign contractors for either side addressed to a substantial degree. [I will check back on this and add reference to anything I find.]

Likewise, I do not believe that Cambridge Analytica, SCL or Harris Media were examined in the 2017 Election Observation reporting. [I covered the final reports from the EUEOM here (January) and the Carter Center here (March).]

With new revelations coming — in addition to The Star reporting from pre-election 2017 I mentioned in my last post — I think this warrants follow-up. NDI and ELOG still have 2017 final reports outstanding so they are presumably well situated to cover this important part of the factual background the election competition in Kenya.

Given the apparent “slow roll” on the duty to investigate the Msando murder from July 2017, together with new questions now coming up about the 2012 death of Romanian Dan Muresan while working in Kenya for Cambridge Analytica on Kenyatta’s original campaign for the 2013 presidency, Election Observation Missions, and the democracy assistance establishment in general, have a lot of unfinished business.

The concerns are not new. See this from June 2017 at Snopes.com: “Privacy advocates concerned about Kenyan Governments hiring of Cambridge Analytica“.

For one of the best pieces assessing the questions faced is Nanjala Nyanbola’s “Politics in the Digital Age: Cambridge Analytica in Kenya” at AlJazeera English.

Another must read is Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas’ cover feature “How to Rig an Election” in The Spectator.

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

Asking for a friend.

FREE, FAIR AND CREDIBLE? Turning The Spotlight On Election Observers in Kenya | The Elephant

Published today in The Elephant: FREE,FAIR AND CREDIBLE? Turning The Spotlight On Election Observers in Kenya | The Elephant by Ken Flottman.

What Carter Center actually said in Preliminary Statement: “Given that the tallying process is ongoing, the Center is currently unable to provide an overall assessment.”

From the Carter Center Preliminary Statement (August 10):  Carter Center Prelim Stmt of Vote Tally and Transmission of Results

For a Kenyan view, see “IEBC results: We’ve more questions than answers” writes Muthoni Wanyeki in The East African on August 22.

It would be easier for Mr. Chebukati and Mr. Kerry to make their case to Mr. Odinga’s supporters with much greater transparency

There is a lot that Kenyan voters could be told that they have not been told about how their votes were represented to them by the IEBC over the last several days since they voted and all the ballots were counted Tuesday evening.  As assurances given to the voters in 2007 and again in 2013 in the immediate aftermath of voting those years did not in some substantial respects turn out to be factually sustainable, it is no suprise many Kenyans would want to verify rather than just trust now.

One would expect everyone involved this year to anticipate questions.  There were lots of prominently published warnings of the need for transparency (from the International Crisis Group among others).

Mr. Kerry was Secretary of State in 2013 and presumably has current clearances that would allow him as an individual, now post-government service, to make doublely sure he is fully briefed about the failed Results Transmission System of 2013, as well as other past problems, if he wasn’t before coming to Nairobi last weekend for the Carter Center.  Presumably he could also ask the current US and Kenyan governments to go through the details relating to procurement and use of KIEMS this year.  Then he could answer questions and demonstrate the kind of transparency that would build trust.

Alternatively Mr. Chebukati and the current U.S. government could answer questions irrespective of the Carter Center or other independent Election Obsevation Missions.