A thought about the International Crisis Group statement headined “Kenyans should come together” . . .

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Kenya election banner Kibaki Nakuru 2007

Yes, of course, they “should”.  As we Americans should also, for instance.  How is another question entirely.  Anyone who wants to “help” Kenyans should engage with them and see what they want and need toward that far off goal.

Needless to say, politics and these elections have not historically been involved in bringing Kenyans “together”.  Quite the opposite in fact.

“Shocking” news again from Kenya:  the more things don’t change the more they stay the same.  This election time is quite different than 2007 or 2013 in many ways and not in others.

In regard to post election mechanics (analog and digital), these change a lot each election.  Not as much as the law requires perhaps, but significantly.The process of voting by paper ballot, counting the paper ballots by hand and recording the vote by hand on paper on Form 34A and posting it on the door (or in some cases deciding not to) is fixed and well established, 2007, 2013, 2017.  Kenyans have and do “come together” over this process.  They always do it peacefully.

Not sure why people are seeming to find that to be a novelty.  A great and important thing yes–and it should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be misrepresented as “progress” or any form of “change” each time it is repeated.

So no, this peaceful turnout in long lines to vote by this same process in 2007, 2013 and again in 2017 is not, in fact, an act of faith at all as described by ICG.  It is an act of hope each time.  Arguably for many an act of love for country or subgroup.  Kenyans are broadly faithful, but not in the election process as a whole.

Here is the ICG statement.

“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

The value of life; the price of office–genocide and elections in East Africa

Muthoni Wanyeki asks in The East African if anyone cares that genocide is looming in South Sudan.

Meanwhile, Kenya is paying an average of about $343,000.00 “severance” to each of the outgoing Independent Electoral and Boundary Commissioners for leaving earlier this fall rather than completing their terms through November 2017.  No signs of accountability for the #Chickengate bribes to the IEBC by Smith & Ouzman that were prosecuted by the UK and no sign of accountability for corruption in the subsequent 2013 election technology procurements.

While the “buyout” has been negotiated, the incumbent IEBC staff without the “servered” Commission has been proceeding to undertake election preparations that will be fait accompli for the new Commission when it is appointed next year.  Accordingly, the chief executive has proceeded to report plans to spend an astounding 30Billion KSh to conduct the 2017 general election, while setting a target of 22 million registered voters. In other words and figures, roughly $13.40US per registered voter if the target is met or $19.60US per currently registered voter. (For comparative data from places like Haiti and Bosnia,see The Ace Project data on cost of registration and elections.)

Old KANU Office

Solo 7–Kibera

Kenya: Police brutality, like other election violence, is used to rally political support as well as to suppress opposition

It is pollyannish not to appreciate that in a society as violent as Kenya’s, where violent crime and violent vigilanteism, along with police brutality, are features of everday life to be navigated by most Kenyans, the public reaction against or in favor of extra-legal violence by the police very much divides along political lines in accordance with who is delivering and who is receiving the violence.

It is the sort of thing that can be seen in the context of the height of the “civil rights movement” in the early 1960s in the American Deep South where I live.  Photographic and videographic images that shocked the rest of the United States and some of the rest of the world reflected police brutality under the command and for the purposes of political leaders who in some substantial part were playing for popular support among their own constituencies.  Not to argue that most white voters were necessarily in favor of particularly bad behavior by the police, but to note that popular support feeding political opportunism was part of the dynamic of repressive violence.

In this respect it has particularly saddened me to see Kenya led now by politicians who elevated themselves in the political ranks on the basis of their perceived reputations as champions of tribally organized violent politics after the failure of the 2007 vote count.

U.S. fights in Somalia; Old lions–Kissinger, Moi, Scowcroft, Brezenski–outlast the post-Cold War democratization era in East Africa 

Things had gone so far awry on the democratization front by last year  to trigger a Washington Post editorial noting the authoritarian trend in East Africa.

Recently we have news of a major U.S. airstrike (manned and drone) on an al-Shabaab training camp, followed by a raid involving U.S. and Somali special forces.

We are now also faced with a major ISIS presence in continental Africa in the wake of the proverbial “ungoverned space” in Libya and are in discussions considering a new military coalition to organize resistance.  Prior to the 2011 uprising AFRICOM was joining our European allies in coordinating military relationships with Gaddafi but the revolution, in which we intervened, has not resulted in a stable or unified replacement government.

Let’s face it; 14 years after 9-11, 15 years after the USS Cole bombing, 17 years after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the window of opportunity for a U.S.-led focus on the building of shared democratic values in the region may have largely slipped shut.

Years ago I got some attention for a post noting that “the aid bubble has burst” and Western attention had moved past the Gleneagles era toward a more normalized mode of profit-seeking investment.  While private actors will remain more alert for opportunities in Africa and “public-private” endeavors including the current Power Africa program can still have legs, it seems to me that “conflict management” and irregular warfare have come to the fore to the point that we seem to be back in an era more akin to the Cold War in which perceived immediate “security” interests are predominant.

Museveni in particular “surfed the wave” of democratization after the fall of the Soviet Union and came out onshore as a primary U.S. military ally in the region anyway.  We are willing to chastise him to a point, but there is no indication from Washington that the fundamental facts of our relationship are at issue over another awful election.

While much has been accomplished with AMISOM in Somalia, we are still a long way from seeing a stable, sustainable government there that would create an opportunity to de-militarize our relationships with Uganda, or Kenya or Ethiopia.  The increasingly direct U.S. role in fighting al-Shabaab reflects the limitations of Ugandan and Burundian proxies, as well as the reality of limited capacity and contradictory objectives from the Kenyan and Ethiopian contingents in AMISOM.

This also leaves Somaliand in suspended animation.  Sudan remains an awful paradox for our policy goals and our values, and South Sudan is simply a fiasco.

It seemed to me in Nairobi during the post-election violence in 2008 that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006 to displace the ICU and save in some fashion the remains of the TFG was a turning point for U.S. policy.  After that, we seemed to have effectively dropped our criticism of the corruption failures of the Kibaki administration and its failure to reform the constitution and then helped get Moi and Kibaki back together.  We upped our security cooperation and looked the other way as Kibaki stole re-election.

The USAID democracy programming I inherited in mid-2007 as regional director at the International Republican Institute included the pre-war era 2005 criticisms of Kenyan government backsliding and I failed fully appreciate how much had changed until the midst of that year’s disaster.

Back in the U.S., Kissinger is now personally embraced by key elements of the leadership of both our parties.  In early 2009 after the New York Times published its investigation on the Kenya exit poll,  IRI, to my amazement, gave Kissinger its “Freedom Award” even though it has long worked to promote democracy in Cambodia, in particular, as well as places like Bangladesh and East Timor where I was invited a few years before I worked for IRI in Kenya.  Now, the likely Democratic nominee apparently holidays with Kissinger in the Dominican Republic.  A new, old, era, apparently.

A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki–getting the F-5s, safaris and slums

More Kenyan-U.S. diplomatic history: Kenyatta’s health and succession; status of whites; military assistance

“Linkage”-remembering how we got here, from “rules of the game” with the Russians and the “Carter Doctrine” to Al-Queda in East Africa and the Embassy Bombings

Why the U.S. got started training the Kenya Police Service; 1977 Embassy cable

Impunity consolidates power with “mistrial” for Ruto and Sang; congratulations to American friends and factors of UhuRuto administration

As I noted in my post at the time of the dismissal of the Uhuru Kenyatta charges in December 20014, Ocampo, the Donors and “The Presumption of Arrogance,” a story of babes in the woods of Mt. Kenya?,  the United States’ support for “local tribunals” for the murder and mayhem in the 2007-08 political contest connected to the failed December 27, 2007 general election was akin to support for Santa Claus to bring a cure for Ebola.  Local tribunals were never going to happen under any scenario after we helped divert attention from the falsification of the vote tallies in the presidential race to give Kibaki an unwarranted second term and a continued monopoly over state violence.

It was always the ICC or nothing; we have now gone from six cases to none, without even getting any of the perps to trial.  Eight years after the PEV, we can say conclusively that the violence worked in spite of the (temporary) grousing of some in the “international community” and the steadfast courage of Kenyan human rights and democracy advocates.

Presumably we will never see the evidence regarding the post election murders in the possession of the Kenyan Government, but someday perhaps we will know what evidence the United States Government gathered.

I was sad to see Kikuyu wananchi celebrating the demise of the Kenyatta prosecution on the notion that Kenyatta had effected the violence to protect his “tribesmen”.  Certainly I have always felt that his motivations were, to the contrary, to protect and advance his own power and privilege, and I see Ruto in the same light.

UhuRuto Campaign Ad Kenya 2013

UhuRuto billboard March 2013

Is Libya to Burundi in 2016 as Somalia was to Rwanda in 1994?

US Army deployedI have no answer to this question, and I hope and pray it is just something to think about abstractly.

What I am getting at is that for purposes of public consumption at least the Western democracies were in denial in 1994 about the risk of mass slaughter and eventually genocide and failed to act to an extent that we all pretty well have acknowledged shame about.  (No one bothers to suggest that China, Russia or other non-Western powers would be expected to be similarly troubled.) It seems to be recognized that the U.S. was the “indispensable” party that would have had to push forward to make intervention happen, but elected instead to pull back.  There is regret that we did not take affirmative action.

It also seems to be accepted that the “Black Hawk Down” disaster and generally unsatisfying experience of “humanitarian” intervention in Somalia took strong measures involving Americans off the table for Rwanda.  The Genocide Documentation Project by the National Security Archive and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has helped us to see now how this actually played out back then.

Post-Rwanda 1994, of course, there has been over the years the notion that we learned a valuable lesson from that particular genocide and could now say “never again” with a newly “doctrinized” post-Cold War sense of purpose of a Responsibility to Protect.

Unfortunately the timing gets complicated by other events.  We are in a presidential election year.  Now the last major “humanitarian” intervention involving U.S. forces was Libya.  While initially celebrated, it has become a politically dicey sore spot.  The tragic loss of American lives later at Benghazi was fortunately not televised, but we now have a feature Hollywood movie coming anyway.  While Washington collectively is not yet ready to examine the decision making process on intervening or not, the specics of the Benghazi incident have attracted more investigation than I recall from “Black Hawk Down” as such.  The larger negative geopolitical fallout from the intervention in Libya has become much more apparent much sooner than in Somalia in the early ’90s and already appears to be a major concern of many facets and no easy solutions.

In that sense the factors supporting a cautionary holding back from acting are greater in 2016 than in 1994 (and of course I haven’t even mentioned Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan).

We have hoped that we would not be indispensable on Burundi, in particular that the (post-Gaddafi) African Union could find common purpose and means to act.  That hasn’t happened.  My perception is that there might be reason to hope for this sort of AU action many years in the future but that the capacity is really just not there now.

It has to be noted that governance in the region has continued to be dominated by what could be called a “league of extraordinary generals”–Kagame and Museveni as well as, in a sense, Nkurunziza.  Nearby Mugabe remains and Kabila the younger.  Who can really be an honest broker or claim with a straight face to be primarily acting on global “humanitarian” values without outside leadership?

Museveni and Nkurunziza are militarily allied with the West in the current AMISOM effort in Somalia which will need to continue for some long time yet.  Museveni is involved with the US in our Lord’s Resistance Army operation which presumably is indefinite at this point.  Kagame has apparently decided to postpone the transition to a postwar elected leadership by his constitutional referendum lifting term limits, like Museveni did long ago.  He probably expects a relationship at least as good with the next U. S. administration for his re-election in 2017. He appears to continue to be a darling of Davos and to be working with a variety of endeavors involving commodities trade and related regionalization that enjoy quasi-official support around Washington aside from the public foreign aid.

And now we see the leak through Reuters of the confidential report under UN auspices of Rwandan involvement in training and supporting rebels in Burundi already.

If, God forbid, things turn sharply for the worse in Burundi, and there “isn’t anyone else,” would the U.S. seriously consider an emergency humanitarian intervention or not?  If not, are we prepared to explain to our children why not, again, while living also with the consequences?  I am in no way qualified to advocate for or against a particular course of action, nor do I know the backstory of the latest facts on the ground, I am just asking the questions as to our policy parameters as a taxpayer/citizen/ voter and a person of humanitarian concern.

Merry Christmas

Merry Chrismas

My last post corresponded to the sixth anniversary of this blog, so this in the seventh time I’ve had the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful Festive Season.

I’ve been immersed in “real life” at home and catching up on my reading rather than writing; in the upcoming weeks I’ll be trying to follow the crises in Burundi and South Sudan and the election in Uganda in addition to the ongoing dramas in Kenya but will probably not offer much comment.

Let me reiterate what I said in this Christmas post last year:

This is going to be a challenging time for many Kenyans who will be legitimately concerned about being vulnerable to terrorists, and those who will be legitimately fearful of the forces of their own government. I trust that the spirit of the season will touch most Kenyans to continue to look out for each other regardless of the animus and contrary ambitions of a relative few.

The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.