Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s “People’s President” swearing in?

[Update Feb. 2: Here is a good overview from Martina Stevis-Gridnef in the Wall Street Journal, Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens“; Fr. Gabriel Dolan explains how the Kenyatta government has popularized the “National Resistance Movement by banning it, with good historical context.]

Since I elected to stay away from the 2017 election in Kenya myself, I have tried to avoid offering a lot of derivative commentary from afar, but have continued to be interested and concerned with how my American government representatives approach this on behalf of the American people.

Privately, I shared the worry that perhaps Raila was not being a good steward of the lives of his supporters given the risk of threatened action by the Kenyan governments’ security forces (and my inability to decipher what he was really aiming to accomplish).

Nonetheless, I also decided that it was not my place to lecture for several reasons. First, any Kenyan who would be deciding to attend or not attend the rally knew full well and far better than I the risks of running afoul of the GSU (General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, known for use for high profile political missions, such as sealing off Uhuru Park in the weeks after the 2007 election to prevent opposition rallies) as or other force at the disposal of the “Commander in Chief President”.

Second, we ourselves have passed on doing our part to forthrightly deal with the detritus of the stolen 2007 election and the substandard and opaque election process that put the current Uhuruto regime in power in 2013.

Third, in this election cycle we did not give visible public support to reasonable reforms of the IEBC process. I am not willing to be too critical from afar without knowing more (although I don’t know more because our approach is intentionally more opaque than I think is appropriate or prudent) but in watching as an American back home we certainly gave the impression over the last couple of years that while we wanted things to go smoothly and would support negotiation of the disputes surrounding the IEBC in areas where they were pushed to the forefront by the opposition, we remained in the mode of supporting the old “Chickengate” IEBC team and staff, even while the investigation of procurement fraud directed by the April 2013 Supreme Court ruling never happened. Even when the British secured criminal convictions for the Chickengate bribes and paid money over to the Government of Kenya, we were mute as Kenyans enjoyed the customary impunity for corruption–and when Uhuru used the funds to do a “photo op” for the purchase of ambulances as if it was a charitable donation.

We allowed the incumbent administration to attack and potentially interfere with our assistance to the IEBC through IFES in the critical months before the election (see “The hardest job in Kenya . . .”) without obvious penalty, and stayed silent on reforms called for by the EU Election Observation Mission and others–aside from the opposition–in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling striking the presidential election of August 8 because of the IEBC deficiencies.

As it turned out the incumbent administration acted extra-legally to shut down private broadcasters (except the President’s own) but had the security forces pull back and did not initiate the feared violence. If we had any influence on that decision then I am pleased that our long years of support to Kenya’s various police and security services and governments of the day may have borne some positive fruit in that instance.

As far as the notion that Raila would be likely to unilaterally instigate violence in this situation, people in the State Department would do well to remember the analysis of Ranneberger’s own staff pre-election in 2007 that while there was hate speech on both sides the largest share was directed against Raila rather than on behalf of his candidacy or the opposition.

Invoking the so-called “ooga booga factor” to scare Westerners about Raila has been more than a cottage industry in Kenya (and in London and Washington PR shops) along side the ethnic hate speech to rally other ethnic groups against him in Kenya. And Raila is unavoidably controversial in some respects and gives his critics ammunition. But at present Raila is in a relatively physically powerless position in opposition; the Government of Kenya security forces are in the hands of “Uhuruto”, controversially elected in the first place as a “coalition of the killing” from the violence that was taking place exactly ten years ago.

In this context the “black propaganda” operation on behalf of the Uhuruto re-election campaign through Harris Media of Texas, United States, was particularly pernicious and even worse than 2007.

Let’s remember that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer herself insisted that what was being done through the Kalenjin militias in the Rift Valley in early 2008 was “ethnic cleansing” and we all know the “revenge” attacks through the Mungiki against especially Luo and Luhya who had the misfortune of living and working in Naivasha and Nakuru were horrific. And that the largest share of the killing was done by the police and largest number of killed identified by ethnicity Luo per the Waki Commission. The ICC Prosecutor’s Office may have run a sloppy legal operation, but did they really get “the wrong guys” factually in the six indictments? Will O.J. someday find the real killers? (Do Raila and Kibaki–Commander in Chief then–and many other politicians also bear some real moral responsibility, too–surely so; does Kalonzo Musyoka? I personally would not vote for either ticket if they were running in my country, but they weren’t, and left us with our own problems.)

Fair minded representatives of the United States in current circumstances have to recognize that the threat of violence on behalf of an incumbent “Uhuruto” regime in full control of all military, paramilitary and other police forces is much greater than that presented by an opposition rally or ceremony.

Old Party Office in Kibera

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

Asking for a friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi; public statements adjusted to advocate for “national conversation” as substitute for “national dialogue”

I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.

In the latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said, “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.

Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

Raila on the Kenyan elections at CSIS

Catch the webcast, live Thursday morning 9:30-11:00 EST:

“Raila Odinga on the Kenyan Elections” with Amb. Mark Bellamy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The link will also take you to the video for CSIS Africa programs addressing the Kenyan election in June, July, August and September.

Meanwhile, the AP has a story out this afternoon widely re-published in American newspapers: “After Kenyan vote drama, successionist talk hits the mainstream“.

The succession concern may likely have resonance in Washington given U.S. interests, although my sense is that the economic boycotts are the most salient message in Nairobi.  During the PEV period following the corrupted 2007 election, ODM backed off on threats of such economic boycotts which seemed risky as unprecedented and perhaps perceived to be “over the top”.

Vogue gives us “Three Nairobi Fitness Excursions Prove There’s Plenty of Life Beyond the Safari” for Americans who want to play around the city after their “humanitarian” trip to Kakamega from the U.S.

And the Carter Center has released a statement on the October 26 re-vote mirroring the State Department’s call for “national dialogue”: “Repeat poll polarized Kenya: Carter Center” headlined the Daily Nation.

Update: A Thursday story in The Star reports that  “British Army may pull out of Kenya, decision by end of month“.  The issue is KDF approval for leases of private land in Laikipia, the established practice, as opposed to a restriction to using only Kenyan government property.

For a good overview, see “The Kenya Election Crisis, Explained” at UNDispatch         by Kimberly Curtis.

Kenya cannot have a free and fair presidential election without consent of the President

This is the underlying reality that I have routinely pointed out privately as well as mentioned here.  No president in Kenya has ever lost a re-election.  Uhuru Kenyatta had a decision to make as to whether he was willing take a risk of losing at the polls or not. (In 2007 it was clear, as seen with hindsight, that Mwai Kibaki was not willing to take that risk.  He controlled the ECK accordingly.)

Peace Wall Kibera Nairobi Kenya 2008

Under the new Constitution adopted by virtue of the 2008 Post Election Violence settlement and with effectuation of some reform, the new Supreme Court to almost everyone’s surprise held its independence and applied the law to find that the IEBC did not meet the minimum requirements of the law in declaring the President re-elected without full and reliable results under required procedures.  Even in this context the Court was careful not to blame the President or the Executive branch for the use of state resources and the underlying irregularities and illegalities that were seemingly born as orphans within the IEBC.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling the Court and the Judiciary have been under attack from the Executive just as the IEBC has been under attack by the opposition.  On balance, the international diplomatic community re-iterated its ongoing multi-year endorsement of the IEBC, consistent with the “Preliminary Statements” of the major international election observation missions in 2013 and on August 10, 2017.  On balance, the international diplomatic community has said little about protecting and preserving the hard won independence of the Judiciary.

Today, the Supreme Court fell.  The Interior Minister signaled an intent to order that today be a public holiday (“election day eve”?) and the driver of the Deputy Chief Justice was shot while running an errand in the Justice’s car.  When the Court convened to hear and decide the urgent matter of whether the presidential election nullified from August 8 could be conducted by the IEBC tomorrow in light of the Court’s previous ruling, only the Chief Justice and one associate showed up.

With a majority of the Supreme Court “missing in action” the Chief Justice determined that no quorum existed, the hearing could not be held so that so that there is no authority to determine the law separate from the President who has declared throughout that his one “irreducible minimum” requirement is that the presidential vote be held on October 26.

Then the High Court ruled on a separate challenge—reminiscent of Judge Leonola’s ruling in 2013 on AfriCOG’s petition to enjoin the vote tally by the IEBC after the “failure” of the results transmission system—that jurisdiction to challenge actions involving the presidential election rests only at the quorumless Supreme Court.

It is clear to all that the IEBC is not ready, and belated calls have been coming to postpone the vote but the bet on the IEBC was already placed and when the diplomatic community chose to leave it down in the face of the dramatic defection of Roselyne Akombe, whose name is now usually “one commissioner”,  the game may be over on that front.

I do not assume that writ large this outcome in Kenya constitutes the fruition of or is consistently underwritten by some coherent foreign policy agenda of the United States and/or the UK or other Western countries that have supported the ECK/IIEC/IEBC over the past 15 years.  This is the third U.S. administration to be involved in this scenario and going back even through the entirety of Kenya’s history the persistent thread is that we support the President (whether we like or respect him).

Uhuru Kenyatta has specific relationships of various sorts among certain American elites, but that is a very different—and perhaps contradictory—thing from the idea that Kenyatta’s behavior supports specific foreign policy objectives of the United States.  The great strength of the United States as a relatively open, chaotic society with turnover and diffusion of power is that much of what is often seen as “policy” from more repressive vantage points is more like “stuff that happens” seen from within our system.

[Nonetheless, I will have more detailed and informed opinions about the August elections when I finally get from USAID documents I requested in 2015 about our support for the IEBC in 2013.]

 

What to do now in Kenya?

Old Party Office in Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Kenya’s election rerun could be a major setback for African democracy” a new Washington Post editorial was published Monday evening in the United States.  I suspect The Post here has fairly well reflected the general view of the Kenyan situation in Washington.

What to do?  I think the International Crisis Group has a long track record of assessing conflict in Kenya and offering helpful suggestions.  They did good work that I relied on in the 2008 crisis.  The Daily Nation picked up their latest recommendation here:

 

At the same time, a conflict prevention organisation, International Crisis Group, asked the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to go back to the Supreme Court and seek a limited extension of timeline by 30-45 days to allow all parties to take part in the election and avert a crisis.

The group said Kenya’s political leaders should support such an extension and commit to participate.

SUPREME COURT

According to ICG, the precedent for such a delay exists.

“The High Court in 2012 delayed elections by six months, which helped ensure a credible and peaceful vote,” the group said in a statement.

“The Supreme Court should favourably consider such an extension, given the IEBC chairman’s own acknowledgement that the commission cannot guarantee a credible vote within the allotted timeline.”

The ICG said that should it grant a delay, the court ought to state clearly that President Kenyatta would remain in office pending the fresh vote and that Nasa leader Raila Odinga should take part in a delayed poll without additional conditions.

“He should renew the welcome public pledge against violence that he made on October 20.

“He also should rein in and hold accountable supporters who have attacked election officials, made inflammatory threats to disrupt election or otherwise broken the Kenyan law,” the group said.

See my post discussing the International Crisis Group’s March report on “Avoiding another electoral crisis in Kenya”.

And see “World papers and magazines to postpone repeat poll” in the Daily Nation.

Don’t be confused: preparations for Kenya’s failed August election election were controlled by Kenya’s ousted “Chickengate” IEBC and its CEO and staff with support of international “partners”

From this blog late last year:

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.)

Update: see Roselyne Akombe’s interview in the Saturday Nation, Credible Oct. 26 election not possible: Akombe” 

A must read and some thoughts on context as Kenyan presidential politics continues


  1. As a necessary corrective to fatalism, start with an important piece from Patrick Gathara in today’s Washington Post:

Raila Odinga and the surprising bright side to Kenya’s never ending election.

Events of the last few days are more twists, turns and wrenching associated with Kenya’s status as being stuck or frozen by the stolen election of 2007 and its aftermath, pending forward movement to truly realize a new system under the new constitution approved overwhelmingly in 2010, or back into a now-digitized/globalized version of a single party power structure based on elite-level tribal bargains.

Based on the 2013 election and Kenyan history, in the immediate run the continued retrenchment of democracy is surely likely, but we can hope otherwise.  And most importantly, Kenyans can keep their eyes on the horizon and recognize that much of the work of getting Kenya (back?) to the state of democratic openness that was preceived to have existed in the early times after the defeat of KANU at the polls in 2002 will remain regardless of who is president.

And the vital task of acheiving a transparent and trustwothy, bona fide independent electoral commission must not stop with the immediate “fresh election” regardless of when it is or whatever limited progress is obtained through current NASA demands for “irreducible minimums”.

ODM and Wiper and other parties made a mistake by waiting until early 2016 to focus on forcing reforms of the Issaak Hassan “Chickengate” IEBC of the badly administered 2013 election.  Even though agreement was obtained to replace the Commission with loss of life of protestors killed by police by mid-2016, the old Hassan Commission stayed in control until early this year, after budgets and plans (and some contracts apparently) were in place, assistance programs by the United States and others contracted–and apparently adjusted by demand of the incumbent ruling party.

The new Commission inherited Hassan’s staff and remains quite murky as to the extent that they are de facto independent enough to effectively manage and discipline that staff.  The selection process was messy and murky and the Vice Chair of the Commission turns out not to have resigned her job with the UNDP but rather taken “leave” of undisclosed terms while serving.  Are other Commissioners of uncertain independence from other players in administration of the elections? (I am not concluding that Dr. Akombe is not independent of the UNDP–just that there are unavoidable questions which neither the UNDP nor Dr. Akombe seem willing to address–nor Kenya’s media to take up.)

No incumbent president in Kenyan history has been found by Kenya’s election management body to have lost an election–certainly the opposition has always known it had an uphill battle to have real hope of winning, aside from the fact that the incumbents have strong support in their bases and were ahead by a few points in most polls as of late July.  In this environment, the failure to achieve deeper reform of the old IEBC by early 2017 was probably fatal to a real chance to win all other things being equal.

The surprising and gutsy decision of the Supreme Court of Kenya to rule that the IEBC’s conduct was just too far beyond the pale to pass legal muster gave everyone another chance, but of course it did not change any hearts and minds of people who were never willing to risk of losing office at the polls in a free and fair vote.

The United States and other donors attracted a lot of published advice from its own employees and through indirectly supported sources like the International Crisis Group stressing the importance of transparency for trust building but elected instead to continue to stay the course of underwriting the ECK-IIEC-IEBC and publicly promoting its output to Kenyans without re-consideration of the risks and costs of non-transparency and undisclosed failures with the electoral management process, such as the alleged bribery in 2007 that warranted undisclosed US “visa bans” and the subsequent “Chickengate” bribes and the bogus procurements of technology that left Kenyans exposed again in 2013.

This is not rocket science.  Kenyans who are increasingly divided by tribalism as their politicians offer and deliver less democracy and less other models of leadership, are more likely to accept and trust what they are openly shown and explained.

Trust and Accountability”-  Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peaceful  election.

I will be prepared to more substantively address the 2017 vote/s once I get the documents I am due and expecting from my 2015 FOIA request about the 2013 election.  Until then, we can still decide to do what we know can be most helpful to build trust if we want to.

Update: do not miss this – “Against second rate democracy in Kenya” from Aziz Rana in the Boston Review.

Western envoys in Kenya decry difficult pre-election environment, but say too late for substantial reforms, leaving no obvious way forward

[Update: Here is an Oct. 3 Daily Nation story on the status of negotiations and demands among Kenyan politicians and Western diplomats: “Envoys threaten travel bans to politicians derailing poll plans“.  The International Crisis Group meanwhile offers a good brief: “How to have a credible, peaceful presidential election in Kenya“.

The independent European Union Election Observation Mission issued a new 3 October statement saying “decisive improvements are still achievable if Kenyans come together in a constructive manner” while decrying excessive demands and proposed law changes and with confrontation from both sides.

And to refresh the memories of the envoys and candidates here are the September 14 recommendations of the European Union Election Observation Mission for reforms ahead of the election re-run.]

It is in fact very unfortunate that time has been running hard against the 60 day deadline for the “fresh election” necessitated by the failure of Kenya’s IEBC (significantly supported by the United States and, at least indirectly through the UNDP so-called “basket funding”, other donors) to conduct a lawful presidential election on August 8 as determined by the Supreme Court of Kenya.

With the passage of time things like the then-shocking torture/murder of acting IEBC ICT head on the eve of the election are no longer mentioned in such statements as today’s from the envoy group.  Too long ago that murder (passing 60 days) and with no sign of progress or serious effort to solve the case we should of course “accept and move on” that it was simply an unfortunate coincidence (or at most one of those political murders that happen periodically in Kenya that are agreed to be ignored so that we don’t have to face the darker realitity of how “democracy” really works in such a pretty country).  Of no relevance to the August 8 election or its rerun in the hands of the his suspened predecessor who got his job back when Msando was killed even though he had been earlier suspended as ICT director for refusing to cooperate in an audit.

Rather it is noted today that it is “too late” to replace staff hired under the removed Issack Hassan Chickengate regime or otherwise substantially reform the IEBC.

Longstanding CEO Ezra Chiloba doubled-down last week and signed (reportedly) a new (amendment??) with the controversially sole-sourced ICT vendor OT Morpho now owned by a US-based fund and a fund of the Government of France.  Pretty much an “in your face” gesture toward reformers if true. [Update 4/17: The IEBC twitter feed has reported that the OT Morpho contract will be released – I gather this is confirmation of the reported new agreement but we shall see.]

Either the donors have lost all significant influence, if they had any, toward transparency and trust building at the IEBC or they are really gambling hard on selling whatever the IEBC in existing form–without meaningful reform–will offer up on October 26 and the seven days thereafter.

As for me, I think this is a bad gamble, both in terms of odds and because the known character of the other players at the table.

As an American who was involved in the 2007 fiasco from part-way inside and witnessed 2013, I would like to see my Government cease to help underwrite this IEBC as a matter of our own integrity and of our long term ability to provide some future positive influence to the future development of independent democratic institutions in Kenya.

The American dollars supporting through USAID this IEBC would be much better spent on urgent humanitarian needs (see the UNDP’s call for additional funds of more than $100M for Kenya famine relief).

It may be that NASA will throw in the towel and agree to go along to run in a “not so fresh” election without IEBC reforms.  That is for NASA to decide.  I just do not want my Government to interfere in that decisionmaking process unless we are willing to provide some independent assurance of transparency and support for fairness to all Kenyans (not just NASA) that the Government of Kenya cannot be expected to agree to unless we are willing to stand up to them in a way that I have not seen from us in 2007 or 2013.