A Kenyan friend recently checked in to ask what I had written about the Kenyan election. I had to say “very little”. I have been committed to my more unique role as a witness to what went wrong in 2007-08 and tried to avoid the risk of being just another opinionated outsider missing the real conduct and motivations of the opaque competition for power through the election.
Nonetheless, I did send a private email memo to a few friends in Kenya and Washington back on May 15, 2022 (shortly before Raila and Ruto chose running mates) titled “A Few Thoughts on the Kenyan Election”:
1. First big election in Africa after the end of the Post-Cold War peace in Europe.
2. In this environment, the democratic Western players are less able to credibly claim to speak for a notional international community.
3. So on balance, not much reason to indulge Kenyatta now the way we did Kibaki in 2007. Unless we can be sure that the Kenyattas have a deal with Ruto to assure no major violence, why would we signal that we would be willing to look the other way if they steal it for Raila? Major violence would be riskier and more unpredictable now than back in 2007. On the other hand, if they do steal it, the last thing we would want to do is risk instabilty on behalf of a few votes for Wm. Ruto.
4. Obviously Obama and Trump and their administrations overestimated Uhuru for 15 years, but if we really cared about the details of Kenyan politics we would have gotten serious about injecting some competence into Kenyatta’s BBI fiasco.
5. There are still a few weeks left in a 4 1/2 year campaign so Raila could get it together, but who really thinks that’s highly likely? Under the circumstances, it isn’t that hard to see why ordinary Kenyans would be attracted to a candidate who is even more corrupt and more ruthlessly ambitious, but presents as having some basic discipline and competence, among the actual choices. Especially if you have lived through recent American elections.
6. The American humorist Will Rogers (from the era of my grandparents on the small family farm in Kansas during the Great Depression) was famous for the phrase: “I never met a man I didn’t like”. We have never met a President of Kenya we didn’t like.
Just my honest, private thoughts at the time, for what it is worth.
“Operation Enduring Witness” is my new name for what I am going to do with this AFRICOMMONS Blog going forward–basically sustain and expand my own witness about what I saw and heard and what happened around me in the Kenyan election in 2007 and its aftermath. To hold my ground in “The War for History“.
During my time as Resident Director for East Africa at the International Republican Institute, from mid-2007 to mid-2008, I was on unpaid “public service leave” from my job as an attorney for one of the major defense contractors where I worked on U.S. Navy surface ship construction contracts, to which I returned during the early years of this blog.
In response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Operation Enduring Freedom officially began 7 October 2001 with American and British bombing strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Initially, the Taliban was removed from power and al-Qaeda was seriously crippled, but forces continually dealt with a stubborn Taliban insurgency, infrastructure rebuilding and corruption among the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police.
On 2 May 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS launched a raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11th terrorist’s attacks (O’Rourke). Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended 28 December 2014, although coalition forces remain on the ground to assist with training Afghan security forces (Torreon).
The U.S. Navy had three Medal of Honor recipients during Operation Enduring Freedom, all Navy SEALS, Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers Jr. and Master Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski.
O’Rourke, Ronald. 2015. “Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (November 6): 1.
Torreon, Barbara. 2016. “U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (September 29): 6–7.
Part of my inspiration to move my family overseas to work in peaceful (“non-kinetic”) democracy assistance was seeing the unfolding of the Iraq war (“Operation Iraqi Freedom”) from inside the defense community, followed by my experience as an Election Observer for IRI in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. Witnessing a stolen election unwind into violence “on my watch” in Kenya was, needless to say, a life changing experience.
From a 2017 release in response to my 2009 Freedom of Information Act request on the Exit Poll showing an Opposition win in Kenya’s 2007 Presidential election:
R 170924Z APR 07 FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI TO SECSTATE WASHDC 9024
FOR AF/E AND INR/AA
SUBJECT: ACHIEVING USG GOALS IN KENYA’S ELECTION
12. (U) Ongoing Assistance: USAID/Kenya has ongoing support in the areas of electoral administration, public opinion polling and political party strengthening. Program activities include the following:
. . .
–– Public Opinion Polling: The International Republican Institute began implementing a public opinion program in 2005. The program seeks to achieve two results: increasing the availability of objective and reliable polling data; and providing an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls. These results make an important contribution to elections and political processes. First, genuine free and fair elections require that citizens make informed choices. The polling data adds to the objective data available to citizens on key electoral issues. Second, the exit polls provide an independent assessment of the accuracy of the official electoral results, thereby supporting the assessment of the credibility of Kenyan electoral processes. This program also enhances democratic political parties by enhancing the likelihood that candidates base their platforms on the key issues and concerns of their constituents, evidenced in the polling data, rather than the traditional focus on ethnicity and personalized political wrangling.
Yet, after the election, the State Department developed “talking points to deal with press questions if they came” that told a contradictory story, that the exit poll was a “training exercise” rather than an “independent verification of outcomes” and “assessment of credibility of the Kenyan electoral process”:
Q — Why isn’t the Embassy pressuring to release its exit poll conducted in conjunction with the December general elections?
A — As explained on their website, IRI did not conduct the Opinion poll themselves and have real concerns over its validity. Moreover, the poll was conducted as a capacity building or training exercise. We should not Pressure’ firms to bring a product to market that they don’t believe in, whether it is a defective automobile, or a defective opinion poll.
Q — Strategic Public Relations ind Research Limited (SPRR), the firm IRI contracted to Conduct the poll, stands by their results and refutes IRI’s statement. They said they were “shocked and disappointed” at IRI’s decision. What is your reaction to that?
A—This isa highly technical dispute between private parties over raw data that no one else has even seen. We understand that IRI is examining the disputed data to see if any of it is usable, which sound’s reasonable under the circumstances.
Q — In his recent testimony before Congress and in an editorial that he co-wrote, Maina Kiai, Chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, urged Congress to pressure IRI to release the exit poll. In the op-ed, he said it was important to release the exit poll because there are “Suspicions that the institute has suppressed its results not because they were flawed but because they showed that Mr. Odinga won.” These suspicions, he said, have fueled mistrust. What is your position?
A — Again, we should not pressure IRI to release information gathered in a training exercise, especially when they lack confidence in its validity.
The US Government ultimately had rights to our data as a matter of government contracts law and USAID had arguably and ambiguously constrained our ability to release the Exit Poll results to the public in the Amendment to the Cooperative Agreement funding the Exit Poll by providing for “consultation” with the Embassy on “diplomatic or other” considerations. The Cooperative Agreement for the Program was neither classified nor available publicly until I had it released under the Freedom of Information Act years later. The Exit Poll from the 2005 Referendum had been released.
Fortunately we have not seen another disaster quite like Kenya 2007-08, but the questions about transparency and release and reporting of information from election verification and anti-fraud tools are still there. For instance in the most recent elections in the DRC and Malawi, as well as the controversy in Kenya in 2013. This could be addressed by pre-established standards or codes if donors, host governments and democracy assistance organizations or implementers are willing to give up some of their case-by-case flexibility and frankly some of the power of controlling information.
President Biden and President Kenyatta had an apparently cozy visit at the White House. Biden got to host an African head of state after neglecting to do so around the UN General Assembly. Kenyatta got to “bring home” news of a U.S. vaccine donation, personal praise from Biden and a mutual reiteration about how well the Governments of our two countries do on cooperating on terrorism, business and generally on being “partners”. See the account from Kenya’s state media, KBC.
I do not think it unfair to read the tea leaves from this action by the Biden Administration–on the heels of announcing the appointment of Judd Devermont, late of the Center for Strategic and Studies, to formulate a new Africa policy (as John Bolton in the Trump Administration)–toward deciphering how the U.S. executive branch can be expected to play Kenya’s current election.
Of course, the “heck of a job” line in the United States in recent years is usually intended to be sarcastic. The background is remembered with poignancy by those of us who had personal experience with Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As explained in Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary:
A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.
The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”
Brown resigned ten days after he was praised.
President George W. Bush tells FEMA Administrator Michael Brown he’s doing “a heck of a job.” (Photo: AP)
So at this point, Ambassador Godec is a seasoned veteran of Kenya’s post-2007 politics who knows the ground intimately from the last two election cycles. (His prospective “permanent” replacement, Mary Catherine Phee, was nominated in April and got a favorable vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, but a confirmation vote by the full Senate is blocked along with dozens of other nominees.)
I was asked a few months ago to write an article about U.S. support for the BBI process, but I have been unable to do so because it is not clear to me what our policy has been or is now, and I have not found people involved willing to talk to me. Given my role in telling the story of what went wrong in 2007 when I was involved myself it is no surprise that I might not be the one that people in Washington want to open up to now, but even people that I am used to talking to privately have not been as forthcoming as usual. Nonetheless, Kenyans inevitably have questions, and those Americans who care may in the future.
Members of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance-USA have announced that they have sent Freedom of Information Requests to USAID and some Kenyans on social media and in a few cases in print have asserted suspicions or accusations that the U.S. Government was intending to back “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” in the form of the BBI referendum for some negative purpose. Looking at the degree to which the Obama Administration backed the passage of the new 2010 Constitution as the terminal event of the post-2007 “Reform Agenda”–to the point of having millions of dollars bleed over from neutral democracy assistance programing into supporting the “Yes” campaign in the 2010 referendum during Ambassador Ranneberger’s tenure–I am having a bit of difficulty understanding why my representatives in Washington would be working in general terms to undermine the new Constitution we helped midwife in the first place. At the same time it has openly been our policy under Ambassador Godec originally and then his predecessor Ambassador McCarter to support the Building Bridges Initiative and we did provide some USAID funding for the conducting the consultative process itself. I think it would be in the interests of the United States and of Kenyans for the State Department to get out front of the questions now, with the BBI referendum effort rejected both at trial court level and on appeal, and with the Kenyan presidential race that has been going on since the Handshake entering into its later stages.
We remain Kenya’s largest donor, we have many relationships and support many assistance programs of all sorts in Kenya. Most Kenyans remain in need, and we continue to have the same issues regarding terrorism as during the past 25 years (most especially since the 1998 embassy bombing). In general the geographic neighborhood is experiencing more specific crises and some overall erosion of peace, prosperity and governance. While we may not be as influential in Kenya as we were prior to 2007, and anyone with money can play in Kenyan politics, we will be engaged and we will have influence in 2022. So there is no time like the present to articulate what our policy is for the coming year.
Mama @IdaOdinga and I this morning hosted a farewell breakfast for the outgoing US Ambassador to Kenya @BobGodec who is leaving the country at the end of the month after six years in Nairobi. He promised continued support for the Building Bridges Initiative and war on corruption. pic.twitter.com/PdhXBsMF6j
The latest breakthrough is from Stephen R. Weissman in Foreign Policy this week: “Why did Washington let a stolen election stand in the Congo?“. Weissman gets significantly more detail than the previous stories have accumulated on the Catholic church organized and U.S. subsidized “parallel vote tabulation”:
This account is based primarily on 20 interviews—including 10 with U.S. officials—that were conducted on background and without attribution to promote candor. Foreign Policy offered the U.S. State Department the opportunity to comment on passages stemming from interviews with U.S. officials, but it declined.
In a Jan. 3, 2019 press statement, the State Department urged CENI to transparently count votes and “ensure” its results “correspond to results announced at each of DRC’s 75,000 polling stations.” At the same time, the department ignored the one resource that could have held the Kabila-dominated, corruption-laden CENI to account: the church’s U.S.-funded election observation project.
Weissman has delivered the type of detailed story that I had always hoped to see some enterprising journalist write about the decision to “look away” from election fraud in Kenya in 2007–in particular what I hoped theNew York Times was in the process of reporting in 2008 when I was interviewed about the “spiked” exit poll indicating an opposition win. The DRC is not a close U.S. ally and regional center for the “international community” in the same way that Kenya is, so perhaps the DRC is a more realistic venue for a tougher examination of mixed messages and mixed motives. Also, because violence did not explode in DRC in 2019 it is easier for officials involved to talk to reporters (without personal attribution) about the decision making process.
The next step for reporters who are interested would obviously be to pursue the documentary record.
Regardless, the paradigm is the same in terms of the choices between “diplomacy” and transparency in election assistance and election observation.
Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.
You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.
This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.
The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.
Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.
At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.
Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.
In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist. In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).
I am not going to invest a great deal of time mapping this out because the substance is obvious but details are deliberately obscured. If you are at all serious as a “Kenya Watcher” and are familiar with the basic public news trail on the Trump Organization, it is quite apparent that the net business wealth of the Trumps and the Jared Kushners is simply not at the US dollar value level of the Kenyatta family business empire (assuming as I do that the Trumps are not holding hundreds of millions of dollars of hidden assets overseas).
If you doubt me, work it up and show me that there is real reason to doubt the disparity.
These facts are critical to understanding the realities of the value of the presidency in Kenya and the relatively modest value of the presidency in the United States, even for a politician with perhaps an unprecedented view of the acquisitive opportunities.
If Trump were to get re-elected and get favorable dispensations from the Internal Revenue Service and his private sector creditors, and daughter Ivanka or son Eric were to be elected President in the future, and the Kenyattas fall off the pace somewhat in the next generation, then we can talk about the two families as “dollar peers”. As it stands, Donald Trump is a “first gen president” who had a father and grandfather who made a collective fortune that Donald did not succeed in breaking even with.
As an American I like to hope that a billion dollars still cannot buy everything a billion dollars could buy in Kenya, and that this will still be true even if Donald Trump actually becomes a billionaire someday through his children.
The UPDF has raided the political headquarters of Ugandan opposition MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine, per Reuters and other news reports.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, told Reuters dozens of police and soldiers barged into the offices of his National Unity Platform (NUP) party in Kamwokya, a suburb of the Ugandan capital Kampala
The security personnel, he said, seized documents containing signatures from supporters that his party had collected to back his nomination, as well as 23 million shillings ($6,207.83).
We have Americans working to support Bobi Wine, and presumably Museveni as well, in the campaigns, and Americans working through USAID to support the democratic process. Uganda has always been a challenging environment on democratization–one in which our diplomats face an extra helping of competing priorities.
Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power but remains more stable under Museveni’s rule than at most times prior to his military ascension in 1986. Museveni is a critic of the West who generally does business with the United States and generally facilitates our humanitarian and development aid programs, while doing business as well with China, North Korea, the former Gaddafi regime in Libya and other non-democratic actors.
The use of the Ugandan military in the domestic election process against democratic norms, however, presents a particular problem because of the strong military-military relationship.
Today we celebrate #Uganda's #IndependenceDay! —– Uganda, a top African contributor to peacekeeping efforts in Somalia, is a key partner and model for sustainability in both training and operations to realize a shared desire for regional peace and stability in #EastAfrica. 🇺🇬 pic.twitter.com/SKz9RDpTx9
I also had a senior military officer, a general, say to me, “It really doesn’t help us when you all don’t come out and criticize sort of half-hearted democratic elections. You tell us ‘Democracy, Democracy’; then you accept when we don’t have fully up to a minimal level of standard, because you’ve got presumably some other competing objective there that mitigates against that, because otherwise we don’t understand the point of continuing to strive for that standard. We need you to back us up and to back up our societies.”
This was Kate Almquist, now Senior Fellow for Security and Development at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, at a Military Strategy Forum on AFRICOM at CSIS in July (2010). Ms. Almquist was Assistant Director for Africa at USAID from May 2007 to 2009. She is speaking on a panel, relating her recent discussions with senior African military leaders at the Africa Center in response to a question about “competing objectives” regarding U.S. “strategic partners” including Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, and “how do we know U.S. military support is not increasing autocratic tendencies and not decreasing democratic space?”
Since this event we’ve had a substandard election season in Rwanda–as well as the leak of a draft UN report using the term genocide in reference to Rwandan activity in the DRC. In Uganda, Museveni has announced formally that he is running for re-election, while continuing to refuse action to relinquish the unilateral appointment of the Electoral Commission. At the same time, Rwanda is threatening to pull its “peacekeeping” soldiers out of Darfur, and Uganda is offering an additional 10,000 soldiers to be “peacekeepers” in Somalia. The conundrums continue.
Sunday saw two deaths associated with clashes allegedly between factions within the ruling Jubilee Party.
The Presidential campaign of Deputy President William Ruto did a Sunday morning church and politics foray in Murang’a in what would be seen as President Kenyatta’s backyard. See the story from The Daily Nation on arrest orders from the IG of Police and a very strong warning from the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
Circumstances are disputed between the supporters of the two politicians (Incumbent President Kenyatta and Incumbent Deputy President Ruto). It appears that government security forces were active and may have helped prevent worse violence—which could be encouraging—but that is just a superficial impression on my part from early reporting.
We are only 22 months away from a constitutionally mandated August 2022 General Election and violence in the campaign has been below what one would expect as the norm in the MultiParty Era. But the air seems pregnant with possibilities for both violence instigated by campaigns and for violent state repression. A constitutional crisis is afoot from the failure of the ruling party to effectuate the constitutional mandated gender balance in Parliament.
We are almost a year past the original release of a Building Bridges Initiative report. There is no clarity on exactly how long is to be allowed on what is now “overtime” on negotiating and agreeing on concrete steps to effectuate the changes to the basic bargain of governance in Kenya. The idea is to avoid the kind of competition we are seeing in the 2022 race as it stands now.
Germany is on social media as a lead on some of the civil society and domestic observation group preparation of the type that has been a staple but the U.S. and U.K. are unusually quiet in public about election specific issues now. There has been no public break at all in the partnership between Jubilee and the increasingly repressive Chinese Communist Party. Kenyatta has just signed a big debt and infrastructure deal with France as it becomes more apparent that the Jubilee Government grossly overpaid and thus over-borrowed on the Chinese Standard Gauge Railroad deal—which remains substantially secret.
The U.S. sent diplomats to facilitate post-election negotiations in late 2017 that culminated in the March 2018 “handshake” and we gave diplomatic support and National Democratic Institute facilitation to the BBI process.
As recently as April 2019 Ambassador McCarter tweeted with a picture of a visit from IEBC Chairman Chebukati that he hoped to see a 2022 election that did not involve a dispute or litigation. Without a investment in reform, which we have not seen, that would require either (1) a landslide of the sort that we saw with NARC in 2002 that gave rise to the 2003-05 democratic interregnum or (2) a recognition and consolidation of Jubilee as KANU successor.
Great discussion w/ IEBC Chairman @WChebukati We must work together today to ensure the wananchi have the ability to elect their leaders peacefully, without intimidation & the confidence their vote was counted. No court battles, no re-dos! pic.twitter.com/nt4N5Eb7jQ
In Washington the overwhelming public messaging is complacency. Kenya is very important to us because we are there in some real magnitude compared to the rest of the region and we are there because Kenya is important to us. But it is too early to talk about governance and elections and political violence, if for no other reason than the war against al-Shabaab is still going on as it was in the run up to the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections.