Freedom of Information Series (Part Eleven): Better to Learn More Lessons from Kenya’s Last Election After the Next One?

Back last May I had checked in with the State Department's Freedom of Information Office about the status of outstanding documents from my 2009 FOIA requests regarding the 2007 Kenya elections. At that time the FOIA Office wrote me that…

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When did Ruto and Uhuru fight? And why is the “Uhuruto” alliance allegedly so surprising?

Today is the third anniversary of the "AfriCommons Blog", so let me celebrate by being a bit direct. I lived in Nairobi with my family during the last Kenya elections campaign and the duration of the post-election violence. I certainly…

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“And the beat(ings) go on . . .”; as 2007 bleeds into 2013, what would it take for Human Rights Watch and others to make Kenyan politics less deadly?

The latest Kenya release from Human Rights Watch, dated yesterday, decries the terrible beating of Kenyan activist Okiya Omtatah Okoiti.

Omtatah, executive director of Kenyans for Justice and Development (KEJUDE) Trust, a local NGO that advocates for transparency and accountability, was attacked by two unidentified men in central Nairobi. He lost six teeth and suffered serious injuries to his face and the back of his head, which required surgery. Omtatah told Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 that the attackers demanded that he withdraw a lawsuit he filed to demand accountability in the procurement of biometric voter registration (BVR) kits because of corruption associated with the process.

“This vicious attack was clearly meant not just to intimidate Omtatah but to seriously injure him – and perhaps even to kill him,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The aim seems to be to stop his work on corruption in the procurement of biometric voter registration kits for the upcoming elections.”

Certainly this is a crucial and timely issue in working toward integrity in the upcoming Kenyan election and in protecting an activist who took a big risk in pursuing legal action against election-related corruption. So kudos to Human Rights Watch and Article 19 for calling attention to the attack. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine that anything will actually happen as a result of this statement that “[t]he Kenyan authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate a serious physical assault . . . and bring appropriate charges.” Of course, they should–that goes without saying; of course. they won’t.

Why won’t they? Are they confident they can wait it out and the outside actors and international players who care about Omtatah now will move on to the next outrage, the next victim, without really disrupting the vicious cycle?

Why would I suggest this? Not to be gratuitously critical of Human Rights Watch or any of the many organizations trying to support human rights defenders. Rather I say this on the basis of my own hard-earned experience with well-intentioned failure in dealing with election fraud and violence in Kenya in 2007/08. I moved my family to Kenya for a year to help support democracy in the last election cycle–we were able to take in a couple of displaced families for a few months after the election, and help a few others a bit, but nothing that I did in my NGO work really changed anything as far as upholding democracy. My organization, IRI, issued a report noting the election fraud, in July 2008, and in August 2008 released the exit poll showing that voters at the polls on election day reported favoring the opposition, before the mark-ups of the tallies for the incumbent at the Electoral Commission in Nairobi afterwards. But these reports were months too late to really matter. It is going to take more to make a difference in the brutal world of Kenyan politics.

So how does Human Rights Watch yesterday describe what happened with the 2007/08 election situation:
(more…)

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Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 Elections–Ranneberger at the ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and final tabulation of ballots and it did”

Westlands Primary-Line to Vote X

Another document released to me from my FOIA request to the State Department for documentation of the State Department observation of the Kenya elections is a cable from Ambassador Ranneberger from January 2, 2008 reflecting what he witnessed at the ECK. This was primarily declassified, with a few redactions.

Here are key excerpts, which deserve to be read carefully by those preparing to try for better elections this time.  It pretty well clarifies what Ranneberger saw as a credentialed observer at the ECK, and what he wanted to do, or not do, about it.

2. As previewed in ref B, much can happen between the
casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots and it did.
This message recaps developments reported in refs, provides current
state of play, and discusses next steps. Much of our reporting
during the past three days has been done by phone given our
intensive focus on operational issues, particularly efforts to
promote a positive outcome to the election imbroglio.

3. Elaborate procedures were in place (much of it with U.S.
support) to ensure transparency and accountability of the ballot
tabulation process. . . .

5. ECK officials and observers pursued these
allegations to some extent, but the ability to do so was
constrained by lack of time, original data from polling
stations, and by the behavior of a number of ECK officials
who delayed returning results and submitted incomplete or
clearly altered documentation. Moreover, the ECK has no
authority to open ballot boxes; only the courts do. During
the night of Dec. 29, ECK officials together with
representatives of the PNU and ODM, reviewed the tabulations,
but neither side was satisfied that the review had fully
addressed their concerns. The ECK partial review of the
irregularities was also of questionable credibility, given
that all of the commission members were appointed by the
Kibaki government, and a number of them were suspected of
being clearly biased and/or involved in doctoring at ECK
headquarters. The Chairman of the ECK, Samuel Kivuitu, who
was widely respected, was surrounded by staff of uncertain
reliability and competence. It is worth noting that
parliamentary results were not disputed because they were
tabulated and announced at constituency tabulation centers,
thus allowing no interference at ECK headquarters.

6. Kivuitu has only limited authority as head of the
ECK. The ECK works on a majority vote system. It is also
important to note that the ECK is required by law to announce
the results as received at the ECK from the tabulation
centers. Some obvious irregularities like reporting
unrealistically high turnout or clearly altered results can
be rejected. There was, however, only a rejection of the
results in one constituency in which violence resulted in
destroyed ballots. Other alleged irregularities, such as
announcing results that ECK personnel personally inflated
should have been, could have been, but were not corrected. At
one point Kivuitu told me that his concerns about the
tabulation process were serious enough that “if it were up
to me, I would not announce the results.” In the end, he
participated with other commissioners in an announcement late
on the 30th, which turned rowdy when Odinga walked with armed
bodyguards into a room packed with observers, including me,
party agents, and media Kivuitu and the other commissioners
retreated to their upstairs offices, where the results were
announced. Kibaki was quickly sworn in (this was (more…)

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Part Eight–new Kenya FOIA documents: Diplomacy vs. Assistance Revisited or “Why Observe Elections if We Don’t Tell People What We See?”

We are in full swing now in the 2012/13 presidential campaign in Kenya, but unfortunately there remains much confusion, misunderstanding and simple lack of awareness over what actually happened in the 2007 elections.  I have gotten a couple of additional…

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