“[T]he non-problematic side of Republican neo-conservativism”?; Trump’s convention and IRI

Back in 2012, I drafted but didn’t publish a post with a couple of long quotes about the International Republican Institute programming at the Republican convention.  I’m  posting it below following a brief introduction.

2012 was back in the “good old days” when the Republican Party could still nominate a candidate for president who could be elected and had served as a state governor ahead of running for president.  Way back in 2007-08 during my brief time working for IRI the GOP chose the Chairman of IRI, Senator John McCain, as its nominee for president; clearly a different era.

And thus now we see especially starkly one of the risks of using the two current political party institutes as primary vehicles for official U.S. democracy assistance:  does Donald Trump represent democratic ideals and values outside the U.S?  does Trump himself believe in democracy as an ideal as opposed to a personal opportunity (see V. Putin)?  will people who actually work for IRI democracy programs vote for Trump with a secret ballot?  do we want potential democrats from developing nations to come to witness Trump’s convention? how can IRI be partners with “center right” parties in Western democracies if Republican primary voters have repudiated the “center right”?  (some less polite questions come to mind, but I’ll stop there–the basic point is that IRI and NDI should be merged to be truly non-partisan to do taxpayer funded democracy assistance overseas without the baggage of Trump, Clinton and whomever else as partisan figures in U.S politics).

Without further ado:

From Hannah Harrison, a graduate student at the University of Alaska attending both the Republican and Democratic Conventions as part of an academic seminar, in the Homer (AK) Tribune:

Conventions, however, serve another equally as important but perhaps under-appreciated purpose. These four days in Tampa will be an opportunity for Republicans to unify under a common goal (the nomination), to reinvigorate party members tired from a long campaign, and to get ready for that final push toward November.
The RNC hosts a multitude of important and fascinating guests. One such group is the International Republican Institute (IRI), which hosts foreign diplomats from conservative parties from across the globe. Some 150 international leaders have convened in Tampa to observe the RNC, meet with political advisors and American politicians, and have the opportunity to discuss what American foreign policy might look like under the next administration.
These high powered men and women shape the conservative movements in their own nations and will take away from the RNC a deeper understanding of the atmosphere of American politics. They will come to understand that we are a divided nation, but the division is narrow, nuanced, and difficult to govern by.

John Judis at The New Republic’s “The Plank” blog:

But at the convention, the campaign was careful not to draw any controversial conclusions from these philosophical musings about American greatness. The main session on foreign policy was hosted by the International Republican Institute, which Congress established in 1983 along with its partisan twin, the National Democratic Institute. Run by a former John McCain aide Lorne Craner, it exemplifies the non-problematic side of Republican neo-conservatism—the emphasis on encouraging democratic movements in authoritarian or formerly authoritarian countries through education and training. It held a meeting at an auditorium in Tampa on “The Future of U.S. National Security Policy.” The speakers consisted of four Romney foreign policy advisors, led by Richard Williamson, a former Reagan administration official who was also one of McCain’s principal surrogates in the 2008 campaign. The graying heavy-set Williamson, who looks like former Secretary of State Richard Eagleburger, would probably not fill a high post in a Romney administration, but he is perfect for this campaign, because he can, if necessary, take the edge off Romney’s more bald assertions.

The panelists sat on stage before a table, with several hundred campaign delegates, press, present and former Republican officials, and foreign diplomats in attendance. Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, who chaired the meeting, asked the panelists at one point about Romney’s statement that Russia is America’s “chief geopolitical foe.” Williamson explained that Romney was not trying to revive the Cold War. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “He talked about a geopolitical not a military foe.” (In fact, Romney has warned of Russia as a military threat.)

Another panelist former Minnesota Senator Norman Coleman jumped in to offer a further clarification, or dilution of Romney’s statement. “He talked about a ‘foe’ and not an ‘enemy,’” Coleman explained, although Coleman did not explain what the difference was, and I don’t think a dictionary would be much help. The panelists praised the bill coming up in Congress that would penalize any foreign official involved in human rights violations—a bill that is aimed partly at the Russians—but conspicuously steered clear of redline proposals, such as re-committing the United States to building anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe.

Romney’s representatives took a similar stand on other specifics. They said we should sell weapons to Taiwan, but adhere strictly to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. We should arm Syrian rebels (which it turns out the Obama administration has been doing covertly), but—in answer to a question from Foreign Policy blogger Josh Rogin—not establish a “no-fly zone.” We should declare that an Iranian nuclear weapon was “totally unacceptable,” but merely keep armed force an option. We should support human rights, but need not do so, Williamson assured the audience, by putting “boots on the ground.”

The speakers kept calling for a “robust” foreign policy and insisting that America should lead, and they denounced the Obama administration for failing to lead, but they offered very little indication that Romney would act any differently from Obama. That’s clearly what they intended to do. They wanted to get the rhetorical message across without committing Romney to any specific policies. Interestingly, Williamson and another Romney advisor, former George W. Bush State Department official Pierre Prosper, took a harder rhetorical line toward Russia at a posh smaller gathering at the Tampa City Club hosted by the neo-conservative Foreign Policy Initiative, which has key Romney advisors among its founders, and the institute of Modern Russia, headed by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of the jailed tycoon. That was probably because of the audience. But they still steered clear of proposing any provocative actions that could invite a serious examination of Romney’s foreign policy.

[2016 Note: For a view of how this year’s Republican operation in Cleveland looks from the perspective of a close American “developed world” ally and overseas development partner, see “Jumping the shark at the RNC” from Australia’s Lowy Institute.

Are there some limits to impunity for killings in Kenya?

No doubt anyone reading this blog will have read of the abduction and execution-style murders of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri.

If you haven’t read it, here is Jeffrey Gettleman’s account in the New York Times, Three Kenyans last seen at police station found dead“.

As expendible as the lives of ordinary Kenyan citizens have always proven to be when they inconvenience or otherwise run afoul of the various state security forces, there are categories of people that are presumably understood to be off limits.

Thus the heightened shock and outrage when Kimani as a veteran young rights and justice lawyer with the respected American-based International Justice Mission is found murdered with his client and their taxi driver after being waylaid in returning from a court hearing.

Murder cases in which powerful people associated with state forces are obvious suspects are ordinarily “unsolved” and forgotten in various lengths of time depending on the prominence of the victim.  There is such a long list . . . Sometimes an unconvincing resolution is put forward processed through the system to buy time while we forget.

In this case, Kimani may have turned the tables by getting a handwritten note out of an “informal” Administrative Police holding cell to be found by a passerby–without this it seems doubtful that we would ever know that they were in AP custody between their abduction and their killing.  But we do know and are now responsible for that knowledge.

Will Kimani, Mwenda and Muiruri be forgetten after due processing of outrage, or will Kimani’s handwritten “brief” be a turning point for justice in Kenya?  Maybe this will be a time when there is no hiding and no excuses are accepted; I think IJM is serious and committed and this case has resonance across the broad community of those who dream of a more just Kenya.  No time like the present.

The War for History, part fourteen: dare we learn from 2007-08 in Kenya or is it still too soon to reckon with the whole story?

Kenya’s security situation continues to deteriorate as Kenya’s political leaders move on to focus to the next elections.  Challenges abound on succession and election issues in Burundi, Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda, along with the crises in governance in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia.  Surely this would be a good time to peel back the onion on how the U.S. handled the Kibaki succession/re-election crisis in 2007-08 to learn what we can rather than letting more murky water flow under the bridge?

Knowns and Unknowns, Plausible and Otherwise

Further to the question I raised in Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we – “The War for History” part thirteen, I have certainly confirmed my awareness that, as I have put it, we “actively looked the other way” as the Kenyan election was stolen and thereafter.  I am also am forced to acknowledge that we (meaning my country, the United States, through our empowered government officials, who took the opportunities presented to assert what became our de facto policy, whether or not it was formally planned, vetted, approved, etc.) not only “looked” the other way, but also “pointed” the other way, too.  In other words, the initial approach from the State Department was to divert attention from the known and witnessed election fraud to induce acceptance of the fraudulent “result”.

How much more is there to the story in terms of our intentions before the election?  Did “we” affirmatively wish Kibaki to win, or Odinga to lose, or some combination of the two–and if so, why?  Everyone is, of course, entitled to his or her own opinions and/or preferences regarding a democratic election (although for me as an American I considered it to be none of my business who Kenyans ultimately voted for, both in concept and in any event regarding the specific choice among Raila, Kibaki and Kalonzo, each of whom had long, high profile track records in Kenyan politics and government, and with American diplomats).  The real question becomes, in light of what happened in the election and how we handled it, whether we were in some way culpable beyond the “looking and pointing the other way”?  How much did we know beforehand about the intentions of the Kibaki administration to retain power regardless of the actual vote?  In private, if we knew something, did we secretly object, stay silent, quietly nod, affirmatively recognize, or something else?

It seems important to account for the fact that, as best I knew, Kibaki never said publicly during the campaign that he would countenance the potential to lose the election and turn over power. And further, that to the best of my knowledge and attentive observation at the time, neither the Ambassador nor anyone else in the State Department publicly called Kibaki on this. (Eventually, Moses Wetangula, the Foreign Minister at the time, made a statement regarding Kibaki’s willingneess to “lose,” presumably directed more to his diplomatic counterparts than to Kenyans.)  Compare and contrast Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for re-election in Nigeria this year, wherein American officials up to and including the Secretary of State himself flew to Nigeria ahead of the election to openly warn Jonathan to accept an adverse vote even though he was already stating his willingness to do so.

As an American, especially one who was working at taxpayer expense to support the democratic process, I certainly want to believe the best about all of our conduct in regard to the election.  Unfortunately there are some other facts and questions that remain undigestable for me so far and leave the quesy feeling that there may be more to the story.  For example:

* When the Ambassador told me at the residence on December 15 that “people were saying” that Odinga might lose his Langata constituency and thus be disqualified from taking office even if he won the presidential vote, and that this could be “explosive”, why did his cables to Washington not report this matter until nine days later, just three days before the election (and, perhaps incidentally, after I had written to USAID to complain about the Ambassador’s conduct regarding the IRI election observation, and also let the Ambassador know that I had commissioned a Langata poll in response)?

* Why did the Ambassador want to take Connie Newman–whom he had effectively chosen to be IRI’s lead Election Observation delegate–to meet privately with Stanley Murage the day before the election (I described Murage as by reputation “Kibaki’s Karl Rove” in my reporting to IRI Washington that day, and I have since heard him described by a diplomatic source as “Kibaki’s bag man”)?  Why had the Ambassador ahead of time wanted Connie to stay at his residence or at the Serena Hotel separate from the rest of the Observation Mission at the Mayfair? Why did Connie mislead me about her separate time at the embassy residence when it had been understood among myself and IRI’s top executives that Connie was to be fully briefed to avoid this type of situation with the Ambassador (and my notes from the time show that I was told she was in fact briefed and “on board” before her arrival in Nairobi)? Did the private Murage meeting end up taking place?

* How did Connie know by Saturday evening December 29th, at the Mayfair, that Kibaki would be the announced winner when the ECK’s process at the KICC was still very much ongoing as represented publicly?  She was in regular contact with the Ambassador by cellphone throughout–was he her source?  Is there any other plausible explanation?

* Was then the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington describing what he witnessed and his own actions at the ECK’s headquarters at the KICC fully ingenuous in describing the Ambassador unsuccessfully offering ECK Chairman Kivuitu encouragement not to give in to pressure to announce a manipulated result? Note that this cable was written on the sixth day after the election and the third day after Kivuitu preemptively declared the vote for Kibaki and delivered the certificate of election to him at State House for his Sunday afternoon swearing in, and during the worst of the post-election violence and the time of maximum uncertainty for Kenya’s newish democracy and its longstanding stability. How does the Ambassador’s after-the-fact write up square with Kivuitu unsuccessfully seeking Ambassador’s Ranneberger’s help before the election?

* Why did Connie assert herself so strongly to object to making any public statement about the USAID IRI exit poll when she had no involvement whatsoever in that polling program and had no prior discussion with any of us who were involved?  (Note the Ambassador’s admission in his interview by Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times that he had discussed the exit poll with Connie or “another Institute official”.) My immediate superior, the regional director for Africa, told me contemporaneously that I had made a mistake in bringing up the exit poll in front of Connie as she should not be involved, which I had recognized immediately when Connie jumped in to object.

* Given that the State Department released to me under FOIA redacted versions of a variety of classified cables, why did they withhold in full the documentation about Secretary of State Rice’s January 3, 2008 discussion with EU Foreign Minsiter Javier Solana about the election on the basis of its classification?  What was so sensitive?

* Did Ambassador Ranneberger intervene with Johann Kreigler to steer the Commission of Inquiry into the 2007 Elections–the “Kreigler Commission”–away from an examination of the ECK’s presidential vote tally?  A reliable source reported to me on this, but on second hand information as best I could tell so I don’t know.

*  Why did the Ambassador get involved in brokering the rapprochement between Kibaki and Moi in the summer of 2007?  Why was I told nothing about this by State or USAID, or anyone from IRI?  Did anyone from IRI know before I reported this to Washington in the fall of 2007?  Did this rapprochement lead to Uhuru Kenyatta as KANU Chairman and Leader of the Official Opposition crossing the aisle with KANU to pull out of ODM and support Kibaki?  Did this lead Kibaki and his circle to overestimate his electoral position in the Rift Valley?  Similarly, did this underlie the Ambassador’s overestimation of Kibaki’s strength as a candidate–or otherwise support the assessment that Kibaki would not be seriously challenged for reelection as of that summer? Did our support for a Moi-Kibaki rapprochement lead to our backing down on anticorruption issues in 2007, in spite of John Githongo’s brave revelations about Anglo Leasing? Did all of this lock in Kibaki’s support for Uhuru as his successor, ultimately fulfilling Moi’s original intentions from 2002?

*  Did dealings with Kibaki (and Uhuru) in the 2007 election that the State Department was not willing to disclose tie the hands of the United States in the 2013 election, supporting the policy choice to promote the credibility of the IEBC irrespective of the procurement fraud, failure to deploy and implement essential technology and failure to tally the votes fully?  Or, alternatively, was our policy driven strictly by immediate concerns about stability and the threat of violence, regardless of any such potential overhang from 2007?  Any relation to our striking silence now about the proven corruption at the IEBC in the wake of the British convictions for Smith & Ouzman bribes in Kenya?

* Why would USAID withhold in 2014, under an April 2013 FOIA request, their copies of (unclassified) documents already produced to me in March 2013 by the State Department under a 2009 FOIA request, showing State and USAID  personnel coordinating on the misrepresentation of the USAID IRI  exit poll as an IRI “training exercise” in talking points for the media in 2008 and 2009?  (And given that I requested the documents from the State Department in 2009, and they were cleared for release in October 2012, why were they not mailed to me until March 12, 2013, just after the next Kenyan election?)   People are still being squirrelly after all these years.

Hats off to Connie

Like others who have had an occasion to work with her over recent years I am sure, I found Connie Newman to be a charming and very effective lobbyist (and I am sure she was a charming and effective diplomat during her eleven months at the State Department even though my eleven months at IRI did not overlap with her in that role).  I can appreciate why Ambassador Ranneberger would identify her as his “great friend and mentor” to the media in Nairobi on a visit to Nairobi in 2009.

IRI identified Connie to the Weekly Standard in 2009 as the primary decisionmaker on spiking the exit poll while serving as lead Election Observation delegate, as I did in my 2008 interviews with the New York Times, as well as in my contemporaneous emails to Joel Barkan which I included in this “War for History” series.  So we agreed on that part anyway.

It is easy to see why Nigeria’s Bayelsa State would have Connie and her firm lobby Sidney Blumenthal (“former Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton”), the State Department’s Regional Security Office and Senator Inhofe on their behalf immediately following Obama’s inauguration in 2009, between her unpaid service observing the Kenyan and Nigerian elections for IRI. It is also easy to see, after what happened in Kenya in 2007, why IRI would have a senior staff member placed as co-lead delegate with Connie for Nigeria’s 2015 State Department funded IRI Election Observation Mission. Connie got most of what she wanted in Kenya in 2007, but I never detected that she had any deep personal background in Kenya’s politics (and she has not been registered as a lobbyist in Washington for any of the Kenyan governmental entities) and it was never my sense that she had any separate irons in the fire other than reflecting the Ambassador’s wishes.  So for me the question is what the Ambassador was trying to accomplish and why.  And then, was it successful or not and what have been the costs to whom?

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polls

Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we? – “The War for History” part thirteen

[The previous posts from this series are here.]

In June 2007, newly “on the ground” in Nairobi as the resident Director for East Africa for the International Republican Institute, I was told that one of the President’s senior ministers wanted to meet me for breakfast at the Norfolk Hotel.

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process.  I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.  He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”

The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide.

When it was all said and done, after the vote tallies were changed to give President Kibaki a second term through corruption of the  ECK, and almost 1500 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and I finished my leave to work for IRI and was back at home in the United States, at my job as a lawyer in the defense industry, I eventually submitted “hotline” complaints to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID about what I considered improper interference by the American Ambassador with my work as an NGO employee administering the USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission as well as the Exit Poll.

As an exhibit to these complaints, in addition to the statement that I had written for The New York Times after they had called to interview me in July 2008, I prepared a Supplemental Statement to the State Department’s Inspector General.  Seven years after the ill-fated election, having eventually gotten what I could from a round of FOIA requests to State and two rounds to USAID, I am still left with unanswered but concerning questions about what the “agenda” was and was not on the part of the Ambassador, whether it was successful or not, and how it infected my work and the election.  I have no doubt that if we “hadn’t even been there,” to paraphrase the Ambassador, the election would have been stolen anyway, but we were there.  In memory of Peter Oriare and Joel Barkan to whom I dedicated this series for their efforts for a free and fair election and transparent process in 2007, and in respect to my newer Kenyan friends who have been left to continue the work in the aftermath, with courage and determination in the face of increasing repression and threat, here it is:

Supplemental Statement for State Department OIG 2-09

[I have redacted a few names and inserted some sections from my prior New York Times statement for context.]

Election Observers

 

Why does the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee keep leaving the Carter Center off their election hearings?

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations is holding a hearing Wednesday morning, March 18, on U.S. Election Support in Africa.

Good.  Unfortunately, as was that much more conspicuous with the hearing about the 2013 Kenyan election, the subcommittee has scheduled testimony from the IFES/NDI/IRI troika, but without the Carter Center scheduled.  The Carter Center conducted the USAID-funded Election Observation Mission itself for Kenya in 2013, so the omission was hard to understand on a hearing on that very election; it is still hard to understand for an Africa-wide hearing.  (I have no idea why things have turned out this way, I am simply making the point that Congress would have an opportunity to be better informed if this wasn’t just an “all in the Beltway” experience.)

For Kenya’s last vote, see Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

For further discussion of the Subcommittee’s April 2013 Kenya hearing, see AfriCOG’s Seema Shah asks in Foreign Policy: “Are U.S. Election Watchdogs Enabling Bad Behavior in Kenya?”

In new developments, now with the British #Chickengate prosecutions for bribing Kenyan election officials: USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers.

The Carter Center also observed the 2002 and 1997 elections in Kenya, along with many others, including the most recent election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011 which provides perhaps another set of lessons as the Kabila government arrests democracy supporters and even a U.S. diplomat.

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC–offer technical assistance.

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

IRI Poll Releae Press Conference

“The War for History” part twelve: Why did Rannenberger and Lambsdorf react so differently to the election fraud they witnessed together?

Election Observation as “Diplomacy or Assistance” in practice

We learned four years after the 2007 Kenyan election from my 2009 Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department that U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger had witnessed in person the inflation of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya leading to the announcement of Kibaki as the winner of the election by 230,000 votes on December 30, 2007. This is described in my post Part Ten—FOIA Documents from the Kenya 2007 election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots, and it did”.

We also learned that Ranneberger was with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorf, at the ECK while witnessing what happened.

Ranneberger’s cable back to Washington explaining what he saw and his version of its significance is notably backward looking, as it is dated January 2, 2008, the Wednesday after Kibaki was sworn in at twilight Sunday.  He explains that most of his contemporaneous reporting to Washington had been oral due to the exigencies of events. By the time of this cable quite a number of people were dead and injured by the police in suppressing protest and by other violence such as the infamous church burning in the Rift Valley.

On January 1, 2008, the day before the cable, the EU Election Observation Mission released its Preliminary Statement on the election, with Lambsdorf presenting and answering questions from the press and public at the Intercontinental Hotel.  The EU Observers strongly criticized the fraud.  The EU at that time was pressing for remedial action on the election fraud while the US was pushing for a “power sharing” settlement after Ranneberger initially promoted acceptance of the results speaking to the media from Nairobi.  Back in Washington the State Department’s Africa Bureau had election day media guidance stressing that the opposition might claim fraud regardless if they lost and when the results were announced the State Department spokesman issued congratulations to Kibaki that evening which were “walked back” the next day.

On December 28, the day after the election, Ranneberger sent the last of the cables I have been provided before the January 2 cable explaining the fraudulent tallying, titled “Kenya’s Elections–A Positive Process Thus Far” as discussed in “Part Six–What did the U.S. Ambassador report to Washington the day after the Kenyan election?”. In this cable he reiterated his assertion that it was in the diplomatic interest of the United States for the election to be a “positive example” and a “watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy”.

“Advancing U.S. Interests”

We will keep the Department closely informed as results become clearer. At this point, there are sound reasons to believe that this election process will be a very positive example for the continent and for the developing world, that it will represent a watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy, and that it will, therefore, significantly advance U.S. interests. The Kenyan people will view the U.S. as having played an important and neutral role in encouraging a positive election process” [End]

In a December 24 cable titled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections” Ranneberger had been explicit that it was in the U.S. diplomatic interest to be able to treat the announced outcome by the ECK as credible.

Thus we have a clear example of an election observer and a diplomat witnessing election fraud together and reacting in contradictory ways, and an explanation from the diplomat from the produced cables of his a priori position as to the interests of his client in how the election would come to be seen.

We don’t know from any of this what anyone in Washington thought about the interests of the United States as opposed to Ranneberger’s assertions to them.  Nor where Kivuitu’s expression of concern to Ranneberger prior to the election (which is not reflected in these cables) fits in; nor a possible election eve meeting among the Ambassador, Kibaki advisor Stanley Murage and Connie Newman, the designated lead delegate for the International  Republican Institute election observation mission (it was agreed in advance among the IRI staff that such a meeting “must not happen” but in spite of my precautions there were a couple of logistical windows of opportunity when such a meeting may have been possible; again nothing in the cables I have received to explain the purpose of a meeting or whether or not it actually took place).

What we do know is that an independent election observation mission is in a position to be objective about the facts of the conduct of an election in way that a diplomatic mission is unlikely to be. In terms of the “war for history”–whether Kibaki’s second term was in fact the result of a stolen election–the independent observers rather than the diplomats should be the point of reference for the facts.

“The War for History” part eleven–what did I mean in Part Ten in referring to Ranneberger “trying to quash” poll results showing Odinga taking the lead in the presidential race in September 2007?

In response to a reader inquiry, I want to make a clarification of an incident in September 2007 I referred to as background in Part Ten of this War for History series and addressed in more detail in an e-mail that I quoted at length in Part Three. The issue for me was that the Ambassador was expressing an active rather than merely passive favoritism in the Kenyan presidential race for the first time and trying to get me involved in it.

Here is what The New York Times reported in their January 30, 2009 investigative report:

. . . .

Mr. Flottman said he was surprised when, before the election, Mr. Ranneberger made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing Kenyan corruption.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Flottman recalled, the ambassador was even more direct. A few months before the election, Mr. Ranneberger proposed releasing a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga, according to Mr. Flottman, who said he witnessed the episode during a meeting at the ambassador’s office. The suggestion was dropped, he said, after the embassy learned that the pro-Odinga results were already out.

In a meeting in the Ambassador’s office after I was called in to discuss the International Republican Institute’s September 2007 public opinion survey results, which were not yet released, the Ambassador expressed pleasure that our question on preference in the presidential race (which we had an established procedure of not releasing) continued to show a lead for Kibaki as we had in the last survey in March, whereas results from other firms published in the Nairobi papers were showing Odinga as having taken a lead after securing the ODM party nomination. He pressed me to depart from our practice and release our presidential numbers and instructed a member of his staff in attendance to get another firm to not to release their forthcoming presidential numbers. During the meeting the staff member got a message that the other firm had already published their report showing Odinga leading.

So as far as the other polling firm (Steadman, now Synovate) it was “a dog that didn’t bark”; the Ambassador was too late to try to quash their release, no call was made, and I had no reason to think that anyone at the Steadman firm ever knew about the incident and the Ambassador’s instruction to his assistant.

Here is what I quoted in Part Three of this series from a January 2008 e-mail:

In Sept. we did our last general public opinion survey in a series dating back to 2005 (and really a continuation of polling that we had done with Strategic with AID funding since 1999 or earlier).  We had always made a limited public release of general data, privately shown the parties and candidates their own standing and released “horserace” numbers to no one.  By this time all the other polls were being published showing Railia having overtaken Kibaki and building a lead.  Our poll had basically the same results for Kibaki that our March poll had had and showed him ahead.

When the Ambassador got this from AID I was called in and he was all excited about how we had to release our figures and stop Steadman from making a contradictory release the same day.  While we were meeting, [redacted] got an e-mail that Steadman had come out.  [Redacted] agreed with me that changing our policy on this last poll before the election would be transparently and blatantly seen as political, and she told me [redacted] agreed and would work it.  I laid low and never heard back. . .

Telling thing Ambassador said was to the effect that our poll would vindicate what he had been telling Washington, and that if he had misread presidential race “we might as well not even be here”.

And my narrative from Part Ten:

Part of what has troubled me is my conversation with the USAID CTO on the phone from a polling place on the afternoon of the vote on December 27.  It had been agreed internally within IRI that we should not allow any report of our preliminary presidential numbers to leave IRI until after the polls closed at 5:00pm.  We knew that USAID wanted to get the preliminary results that afternoon, and Peter Oriare had estimated that they could be available at 3:00pm.  Within IRI we did not want to be responsible for any situation where the numbers leaked to either the Kibaki or Odinga campaigns before the poll closing, or got out in the media while people were still voting.  This was clearly “best practice”.

More specifically to our particular situation in Nairobi, we were very concerned since we had already been pressured by the Ambassador to depart from precedent to release the numbers he liked from our September poll while he sought to quash the Steadman numbers he didn’t like.  Further, when Ranneberger expressed to me in our meeting at his residence on December 15, 2007 that he wanted to take our lead delegate Connie Newman to meet privately with Kibaki aide Stanley Murage the day before the election major alarm bells had gone off in the IRI front office and it was stressed that such an improper meeting “must not happen”.  We did not know what the Ambassador was up to but knew we needed not to be involved in it.  In this context the desire not to let exit poll numbers get out while voting was still open very much included having them go to the Ambassador in particular.  We had no contractual obligation at all to get USAID an early disclosure on election day.

So observing at a polling place where we were going to close the voting day late that afternoon I got a call from the CTO looking for the preliminary numbers and I put her off.  I had numbers by text message from Peter Oriare but had not been able to study them in detail and go through them carefully with Peter and I tried to put her off.  She got frustrated and said that she would never have had us do the election observation if she thought we could not handle getting her the preliminary exit poll numbers at the same time we were observing and that “the whole reason” they did the exit poll was for “early intelligence of the Ambassador”.  I’m not against intelligence in concept, and I was working for IRI on leave from my job with a defense contractor that does intelligence work, but my purpose and job in Kenya was to support democracy and I did not appreciate being told at that late hour that there was an underlying unexpressed ulterior motive to the polling agreement all along–and such a thing was explicitly contrary to formal IRI policy as well as our USAID agreement. Why was it so important that the Ambassador have the numbers right then–“early”–instead of an hour and a half or so later when the polls closed?  No explanation of that was given.  The USAID officer ended up calling Peter Oriare, our subcontractor, and extracted the numbers directly from him.  Who did the Ambassador share them with and when?  I have no way to know.

I also want to stress that I had confidence in both Strategic Public Relations and Research which did our public opinion surveys and our exit polls for the 2002 and 2007 general elections and 2005 constitutional referendum, and in Steadman, which I hired in December 2007 to do a last minute pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency after the Ambassador had surprisingly suggested that “people were saying” that Raila Odinga might lose his parliamentary seat there to Stanley Livando and thus loses his eligibility to be elected president. The Ambassador’s expressed but unfulfilled desire to try to quash Steadman’s previous report caused me concern about the Ambassador, not about the polling firm.

“The War for History” part ten: What was going on in the State Department on Kenya’s failed election, recognizing change at IRI–and how the 2007 exit poll controversy turned into a boon for IRI in Kenya

The International Republican Institute’s New Leader and Kenya

The new president of the International Republican Institute (“IRI”) since January 2014, Mark Green, visited Kenya this past summer with a personal background in East Africa.  He and his wife taught for a year in western Kenya in the 1980s and he came back to observe the election in 2002 as a Member of Congress from Wisconsin (he was elected in 1998).  After unsuccessfully running for governor in 2006 he led the Washington office of Malaria No More and was appointed Ambassador to Tanzania by President Bush in August 2007.

Ironically, Green was appointed Ambassador in the wake of a controversy in which his predecessor, a political appointee who had been Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, was accused of interference with the intended independence of the Peace Corp operation in Tanzania.  The Peace Corp headquarters defended their Country Director who was expelled from Tanzania by Green’s predecessor.  The expulsion was enough of an issue that first Senator Dodd and then Senator Kerry put a “hold” on Green’s confirmation as replacement until the State Department issued an apology and Green gave assurances that his approach would be substantially different.  Ambassador Green had significant support in moving through the controversy from Senator Feingold, the Democratic Chairman of the Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee–also from Wisconsin–who emphasized Green’s background with the region.

It was just a few months later that Senator Feingold, on February 7, 2008 grilled Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer and Assistant USAID Administrator Kathleen Almquist on why the USAID-funded exit poll conducted through IRI on the Kenyan election on December 27 had not been released.  It was that evening that IRI released their statement that the poll was “invalid” which they did not reverse until six months later, the day before testimony about the exit poll in Nairobi before the Kreigler Commission.  [To be precise, IRI did not retract their statement that the poll was “invalid”; they rather issued a new statement releasing the poll and thus in fact superseding their previous characterization.]

Diplomats on the ground: East Africa during the Kenyan crisis 2007-08

As Ambassador in Tanzania from 2007-09, Green hosted President Bush on the President’s February 2008 Africa visit.  Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rice flew to Nairobi to meet with the ODM and PNU leaders on February 18 and push for a power sharing deal that made space for the opposition in the second Kibaki Administration that had been inaugurated by Kibaki’s twilight swearing in on December 30.

Before Rice visited, the State Department had issued congratulations to Kibaki, then backed off, while Ambassador Ranneberger was initially encouraging Kenyans to accept the election results as announced by the ECK. Kibaki had appointed his core team of fifteen top ministers, including the new Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Uhuru Kenyatta in the Local Government portfolio with jurisdiction over Nairobi, on January 8, four days after Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer arrived to lead the State Department team in person in Nairobi.  Frazer joined other Western diplomats in objecting to the new appointments but, as with Kibaki’s swearing in, the new appointments became fait accompli.  See “Fury as Kenyan leader names ministers”.  By his arrival in Africa on February 17, President Bush himself, however, was warning of consequences to a continuing failure to negotiate power sharing:

“We’ve been plenty active on these issues, and we’ll continue to be active on these issues because they’re important issues for the U.S. security and for our interests,” Bush said after landing in the tiny coastal country of Benin. He noted he will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya on Monday. “The key is that the leaders hear from her firsthand the U.S. desires to see that there be no violence and that there be a power-sharing agreement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties.”

A senior administration official later told reporters that the administration wants to use the Rice visit to pressure Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to compromise with his opposition. The official expressed frustration that Kibaki seems to assume unqualified U.S. support and said that Rice will tell him, “If you can’t make a deal, you’re not going to have good relations with and support of the United States.” The official added, “We’re not going to support a Kenya government that’s going on as business as usual.”  [emphasis added]

“Bush, in Africa, issues warning to Kenya”, Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2008.

As Ambassador in Tanzania, Green received the cables from Ambassador Ranneberger in Kenya that I have discussed in my FOIA Series on this blog, including Ranneberger’s pre-election description of the planned exit poll: “The Mission is funding national public opinion polling to increase the availability of objective and reliable data and to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls.  The implementing partner is IRI.” [emphasis added].  Likewise Ambassador Ranneberger’s January 2 cable describing personally witnessing the altered vote tallies received at the ECK headquarters prior to the announcement of Kibaki as winner on December 30.  See Part Ten–FOIA Documents From Kenya’s 2007 Election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and the tabulation of ballots, and it did”.

I was in Somaliland for IRI the day Secretary Rice spent in Nairobi.  She also met that day with some other Kenyans at the embassy residence and a cable over her name regarding “Secretary Rice’s February 18, 2008 visit with Kenyan business and civil society leaders” was sent on February 21 from “USDEL SECRETARY KENYA” to Washington “IMMEDIATE” and to “AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM PRIORITY” along with other interested posts.  Under a section of the cable labeled “Worries about Hardliners, Militias, and Accountability”  are three paragraphs: Continue reading

Why “the war for history” matters now: “authoritarian momentum in East Africa” (Part Six)

Efforts to retroactively legitimize the 2007 Kenyan election and turn away from the questions of why election fraud was allowed to stand also help divert attention from the current questions of what the United States and Kenya’s other diplomatic “partners” will do or not do now in the face of the current retrenchment of hard won freedoms and democratic openness. Kenya is less free and less secure now than it was in 2007. When a few more years have gone by will 2002 still be a remembered as a turning point for democracy in Kenya or just a false “spring” producing only a temporary thaw in authoritarian governance?

Here is some good context from Freedom House from April of this year.

“Authoritarian Contagion in Africa” by Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs, on the Freedom at Issue blog:

The broader phenomenon illustrated by Kenyatta’s actions [seeking restrictions on civil society and the press] is not just a matter of coincidence or independent imitation. Whether they are selling sophisticated technology to track down dissidents online or sharing legislative approaches that provide a patina of legitimacy for their crackdowns on political opponents, repressive governments are actively working together to push back against nonviolent movements for democratic change. Indeed, such authoritarian solidarity has arguably outpaced collaboration among the world’s democratic states, which are often feckless in mobilizing to defend their own values and assist likeminded activists under duress.

In East Africa, evidence of authoritarian contagion is growing. The governments of Uganda, once seen as a great hope for democracy, and South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance, are contemplating restrictive legislation targeting NGOs.

However, the true regional pioneer of this approach has been Ethiopia. Under longtime prime minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, the Ethiopian government issued laws on NGOs, the media, and terrorism that have collectively devastated the country’s political opposition and civil society. The most prominent democracy and human rights groups have been forced to abandon or radically scale back their work, and many of the leading activists have fled into exile.

Other leaders in East Africa and beyond no doubt observed with interest as the international community failed to mount any serious challenge to the Ethiopian government’s repressive actions. Donor countries declined to use their extensive development aid as leverage. Instead they meekly promised to monitor how the new laws were implemented. Whether out of consideration for Ethiopia’s role in combating terrorism in Somalia or fear that the country would turn to China as an alternative patron, the world’s wealthy democracies declined to challenge the Meles regime even after its legislation’s ruinous effects became apparent.

The citizens of Kenya, particularly those who opposed Kenyatta’s presidential candidacy or documented his role in fueling past ethnic violence, may now be paying the price for the international community’s hesitation to act on Ethiopia. It is certainly possible that Kenyatta—facing an international indictment—would have taken the same steps in the absence of a successful model for repression in the region. But his political allies might well have deserted him if they had reason to believe that Kenya would pay some meaningful price for antidemocratic initiatives.

One hopes that the United States and other democratic donor governments will draw their own lessons from these experiences, finally recognizing that the prioritization of security and macroeconomic concerns over democratic performance is a self-defeating strategy. In the long run, repressive states are less stable, less prosperous, and less friendly to democratic partners than open societies, and the spread of authoritarian practices can only damage the interests of Washington and its allies.

Last month Freedom House awarded it annual Freedom Award to Maina Kiai “in recognition of his fearless leadership in advocating for constitutional reform, fighting political corruption, and educating Kenyans of their basic civil and human rights.” The same Maina Kiai who pushed for release of the 2007 IRI/USAID exit poll and challenged the U.S. to live up to its principles: “A Deal We Can Live With” by Maina Kiai and L. Muthoni Wanyeki, New York Times, Feb. 12, 2008.

 

Part Three of “The War for History”: Continuing my email reports to Joel Barkan

Continuing with my Jan. 2-3, 2008 e-mails reporting back to Joel Barkan in Washington from Nairobi:

When I reported the call [to me from Ranneberger] to Washington, Lorne eventually and reluctantly made the decision to scratch Bellamy (he was not told the truth to my chagrin).  Lorne then called Asst. Sec. Frazer on his way to the airport to tell her to get her Ambassador in line, then when he landed in Thailand he called the Ambassador to tell him to stop interfering in our EO.

After the Ambassador first raised his objection to Bellamy a few days earlier we had research Bellamy’s record and found no problems and checked out the political perception in Kenya and also found no problems.  Likewise, we had confirmed with the State Dept in Washington and confirmed that they had no issues with Bellamy being a delegate.  Likewise, we had confirmed that USAID was not objecting (and that they acknowledged they had no right to).

In the meantime, I had gotten a call from the Embassy that next Friday afternoon to come to Ambassador’s residence to see him on Saturday afternoon.  When I visit him, he in a fashion apologized for getting spun up with me, but reiterated that it was vital to the credibility of our whole delegation that Bellamy be struck because he was absolutely “perceived as anti-govenment”.  Whether he intended to or not, he left me with the distinct impression that the “perception” had been conveyed straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak (one of the provisions in our international agreement covering EOM standards prohibits allowing a government or other party any ability to veto members of our delegations).

Further, the Ambassador told me that “people” were saying that Raila might lose Langata.  He said that he would be personally observing the voting in Langata and wanted to take Connie with him for part of the day.  He also said that he wanted to take Connie privately to meet with Stanley Murage before the election.

When I reported this to DC, needless to say alarm bells went off.  We nixed letting Connie go off observing separately with the Ambassador and insisted that Connie would not be available for any off-schedule private meetings.  Serious consideration was given to cancelling the EO and I think it would have been cancelled if I didn’t say that I thought that I could manage the situation here.

When I told Sheryl about the Murage gambit she audibly gasped on the other end of the phone but didn’t comment.  She

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