Something about the American election from the day before . . .

From my personal Facebook page yesterday, something I wanted to share with my friends:

As I was born between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy assassination, back during the “Mississippi Burning” era, it’s a bit hard for me to go too far down the road about how exceptionally apocalyptic this particular election is. 

I will also note that if the wolf is really at the door this time, it is only to be expected that so many people can’t hear the warnings because so many people were screaming “wolf” about each of the the last two people who got elected.

Likewise, it seems pretty silly to me to think that we should look to anyone that fights to the top of the dogpile in our current politics for grand moral or spiritual leadership–just because we have generally run down or torn down other institutions does not mean that we can find a substitute in politics. Sure we have a pretty decadent culture in many ways–how have our serially reactive choices for president since the late 70s really made a big impact on this? We are also, of course, in some ways better than we we were 50 years ago.

None of us has a crystal ball and it is very much guesswork to know how the next presidential term will play out–we have to do our best but we ought to be humble enough not to claim certainty about future events. If Trump, who I could never vote for, wins, I’m not going to give up on my country, nor if Hillary wins am I going to suddenly decide that she doesn’t need to be “watched like a hawk” so to speak. Personally, I have a good record of being as gullible as the next person in voting.

As it was in 2007, is it now in 2016? “Too much corruption” in Kenya to risk a change in power at elections?

imageI wrote about my most important conversation from the 2007 campaign in Kenya here in installment 13 of my “War for History” series:

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. . .  .

With the latest news of scandal from the Ministry of Health, following the National Youth Service and Devolution Ministry scandals, it would seem that we are on familiar ground. The Minister from my 2007 breakfast remains an interlocutor and leader of the formation of the “Jubilee Party” now as he was of the “Party of National Unity” as Kibaki’s 2007 re-election vehicle.  (Same person who explained later which bills he would use to bribe which voters based on poverty and gender.)

In the 2007 campaign, the local World Bank representative and US Ambassador Ranneberger provided significant public support for the Kibaki Administration on the corruption problem faced by the re-election campaign in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal and the revelations by John Githongo and others. See Part Five of my Freedom of Information Act Series.

(I understand that Ranneberger was outspoken against corruption later, after the disaster of the stolen 2007 election and the PEV; also that he was publicly against corruption in the very early part of his tenure in 2006, before the Kibaki re-election geared up and, perhaps coincidentally, before the the Ethiopians entered Somalia to restore the TFG and displace the ICU. I stand by my characterization of his public voice to Kenyans during the campaign.)

My government has been awfully quiet
about the burgeoning scandals in the Uhuruto administration. It’s interesting to remember that then-Senator Obama was noted for his “tough love” and blunt words on corruption during his 2006 visit to Kenya (again in the very early days of Ranneberger’s tenure). Part of this season’s “public diplomacy” has been a “partnership” agreement to fight corruption between the Obama and Kenyatta administrations from the President’s Nairobi visit last year, but we don’t seem to talk about it much publicly in terms of implementation.

It is none of my business who Kenyans vote for next year.  It may be that most Kenyans, like the majority of Americans, are likely to end up voting in ways that are fairly predictable “culturally” for the time being and will filter their perceptions of government performance accordingly.

But it does not have to be the case that my government tacitly enables corruption in Kenya’s government.

I don’t like to pay to replace Kenyan public services in vital areas like health that Kenya’s government could well afford but for greed and corruption. I don’t like to see sophisticated Kenyan elites take Westerners for useful idiots to enrich themselves and their personal networks while stealing from the poor and sick.  And even if we are not willing to seriously undertake the hard and potentially risky challenges to meaningfully and consistently support democratic reforms–because it seems dangerous while Kenya is again a “Front Line State” in a neighborhood where other places where we have looked away from corruption, like South Sudan and DRC, are worse off, or because its a nice place to live and have meetings and do small things to help poor people and animals at (American) taxpayer expense or for whatever reason–I want my government to find and uphold its own democratic integrity to rise above playing footsie with fakers in Kenya.

In the meantime, it has been more than a year now with no documents from my 2015 Freedom of Information Act request about our assistance through USAID for the corrupted IEBC procurement process for the 2013 election, but IFES is soliciting proposals from Kenyans for innovation grants for 2017 under the big new USAID program “KEAP” for 2017.  If we are not transparent, at a minimum, we cannot assist democracy or good governance.

We have all sorts of great, worthwhile assistance programs in Kenya, but in the big picture we work against ourselves and limit meaningful progress by supporting or coddling crooks and their offspring.

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Stronger together?  Scott Gration, Hillary Clinton and the road ahead

I was reading Ambassador Scott Gration’s autobiography, Flight Path: Son of Africa to Warrior-General, and had his experience in mind in some respects in my last post which went a bit further than I have previously in its breadth of frustration with how American policy gets made from Washington for Kenya.

General Gration’s memoir is worth reading and I’m glad I was able to take time for it while waiting for the election here in the U.S. to be over.

If you have read about Ambassador Gration’s alleged email hygene at the time he was forced aside as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya in the summer of 2012, and have read the news dribbling out over the last 22 months over the Secretary of State’s email hygene and the related practices of her key staff in Washington, it becomes unavoidable to recognize that the purge of the Ambassador didn’t really have to do with the email or personal computer use issue asserted prominently in the publication of the report of Acting Inspector General’s review of the Embassy that was the “public”–meaning talked about anonymously to reporters then released afterwards–reason he was forced out.

It may well be that within the State Department bureacracy that General Gration stepped on toes of people who didn’t even know that the Secretary of State herself was operating from her private family server in Chappaqua, New York instead of the State Department’s U.S. Government system.  

Reading the media from the time, it seems, perhaps, that there was concern that he could be promoted (which could make people who didn’t like his management style unhappy).  Who knows?  And who has time for that sort of office politics speculation?  Regardless, when Secretary Clinton’s Cheryl Mills called Ambassador Gration to tell him it looked like he needed to fall on his sword, she obviously knew all about the private email server–just not that it would end up revealed on the front page of the New York Times two-and-a-half years later.
The bottom line for me is General Gration is an American who had a great career in the military, serving in a number of important foreign affairs related roles, who grew up in Africa, including significant time in Kenya, and is fluent in Swahili and other local languages.  He bonded personally with Senator Obama during their professional interactions, agreed that we needed to do some things differently in our interactions in the world, and did a lot to help President Obama get elected.  As an Obama ex-Republican, and recently retired General,  in a Clinton State Department he may have been a bit of a “fish out of water”, especially in a job that is most frequently a top plum for the career Foreign Service.

Secretary Clinton will be President-elect shortly.  This has been a foregone conclusion for quite a long time as the Republicans essentially defaulted on an election that would have been very winnable by almost any conventionally qualified or even broadly likeable candidate.  Secretary Clinton will come into office facing a range of difficult security and international affairs challenges, but with a lot of accumulated experience.  It seems to me she would be a smart leader not to leave someone like General Gration with a figurative knife sticking out of his back but rather find a way to use his accumulated talents and experience to serve the country.

Reading Graton’s book, I have an appreciation for his perspective, his courage, his work ethic, his faith–even if I have not personally warmed to some of the diplomatic language regarding “partnership” between our government and Kenya’s that he, like other officials, frequently used.  We are at war and have been for a long time, and it is not going as well as we need it to.  We have to find solutions beyond war to bring security for our interests and freedoms for others.  

“Stronger together” is a great slogan against Trump in this campaign, but it also reflects were we need to go as a country after the election to become the kind of global leaders we want to be.  Gration may be the kind of person that could help us avoid mistakes and build relationships (whether he was the best person to run a particular embassy at a particular time).  [I update to correct the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan from “Better Together” to “Stronger Together”]

Listening . . .

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Waterbuck

Please excuse my lack of posting. I am taking extra time to read and listen.

In case you missed it, here is Joel Barkan’s list from Foreign Affairs, “What to Read on Kenyan Politics”.

And from AfriCOG: “Why Westgate Is About Governance But Not Security Or The ICC”.

[Updated] New Book Recommendation: Monitoring Democracy

UPDATE:  See “Election Monitoring:  Power, Limits and Risks” an “Expert Markets and Democracy Brief” at the Council on Foreign Relations website, including discussion of the 1992 and 2007 IRI observations in Kenya.

Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works and Why It Often Fails, newly released this month by Dr. Judith Kelley at Duke, from Princeton University Press is a major contribution to the academic study and assessment of election observation. This isn’t East Africa specific, but with all major elections in the region now drawing a variety of international observation mission on a regular basis, it is time to apply the kind of social science analysis that is used to look at the effectiveness of other types of aid/assistance or foreign policy interventions.

I’m still reading so I’ll wait for a full review, but I can definitely encourage anyone devoting significant time and effort to elections on an international basis to add this to the core library.