–Why “AFRICOMMONS”? When I started this blog in late 2009 AFRICOM had just been “stood up” in Germany and taken over the American military operations in East Africa from CENTCOM.
–The notion of AFRICOM as “a new kind of Combatant Command” still seemed meaningful in 2009. The Obama Administration was still new and had not yet lost control of the Senate, passed the Affordable Care Act, gone along with calling it “Obamacare”, and in the wake lost both the House and Senate to the Tea Party. There was still, dare I say it, some hint of “hope and change” in the air. AFRICOM had taken over the war against al-Shabaab in Somalia but had not yet been tasked with its first major new “kinetic” effort against Gaddafi in Libya (in 2009 we were still getting closer to and cooperating more with the Libyan dictator).
–Even though Kenya had experienced the democracy meltdown and “near civil war” during my time with the International Republican Institute in East Africa with the stolen 2007 election and ensuing violence, as of late 2009 three of the four main pillars of the February 2008 “peace deal” between Kibaki and Odinga as manifested in the National Accord and Reconciliation Act still looked viable.
–The area of the National Accord that had already failed to fully materialize–the investigation into the December 27, 2007 Presidential Election–was a key part of what I wanted to write about from my own experience and to research through the Freedom of Information Act and people who were involved and willing to talk. The report of President Kibaki’s Commission (colloquially “The Kreigler Commission”) provided quite a bit of overall background on the larger deficiencies of the work of the Electoral Commission of Kenya and I knew a lot of people involved so I had a lot to work with.
–Not many of us would have anticipated then the ability of nearly everyone involved in the Post Election Violence (whether we label it “ethnic cleansing” or not) to completely escape any form of justice, while a number of witnesses ended up dead. Likewise, I was not nearly so cynical as to have guessed that the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission would end up getting excised by a new President who was elected in part on the basis of his perceived role as an ethnic champion on one side of the PEV and as the scion of the family of the hugely acquisitive first President of Kenya and protege of the hugely acquisitive second President.
–So when I started out, the idea of rebuilding some real commonality between American democracy assistance and the rest of the American “3Ds” defense, diplomacy and development engagement and Kenyan voters–based on a fair minded and truthful assessment of what had gone wrong in 2007-08–did not seem daunting.
–For the first several years of the blog, I continued to work in my professional career as a lawyer for one of America’s largest (and world’s largest for that matter) defense contractors. While I was not personally involved in my company’s business with the State Department in Kenya (and whatever other business they had there that I might not have known about) I wanted the blog to have identity as a hobby or avocation discrete from my professional work. During the years I continued with my company, working primarily in Navy shipbuilding, I wrote sparingly about defense and military related matters. I have now been working in contracting relating to healthcare programs for some years, so I am feeling a little freer as an amateur now on “all three Ds” to range a bit wider. Having learned a great deal about healthcare programs, I may do more with that area as it has come to the forefront of US-Kenya relations while my work and clients’ business is domestic.
–In such a niche area (for Americans) as democratization and politics in East Africa, almost everyone seriously engaged is doing it for a living, or for part of a living, or at least has some real career stake or aspiration involved. Most who are not in academia or the military live in metro Washington, DC. For people in this situation, the cost of independence and especially the cost of candor can be high so there is not much appetite for examination of the “Success Stories” that constitute most communication to the public from the government agencies, NGOs and for-profit or not-for-profit businesses involved.
—I have written that democracy assistance writ large is seriously in need of a “friendly watchdog” that is not representative of an attempt to discredit or harm democratization but is truly independent rather than “captive” of potentially competing interests.
It is clear to me that the values behind “open government” would be most compelling in the area of democracy assistance itself. Donor taxpayers and intended beneficiaries of democracy assistance ought to see what they are paying for, and intended to receive respectively. The practice of informal secrecy creates opportunities for incumbent host governments to manipulate and divert programming. Informal secrecy also creates opportunities to avoid scrutiny of irregular interference in democracy programming by donor diplomats or others who may have competing objectives. [The essence of my experience as I summarized in “The Debacle of 2007″ for The Elephant.]
Meanwhile donor funds are available to tell positive, promotional stories as part of the donors’ general public diplomacy efforts even if the stories may gloss over the grittier realities that would need to be dealt with to actually improve an aspiring democracy– whether just to burnish images or to serve “stability” by avoiding angering voters who might be upset to know more about how their leaders are conducting themselves.
There is some good work done by the Inspectors General at State and USAID as well as by the GAO, but part of the impetuous for me to do this blog was an unwillingness by the Inspectors General to publicly release anything in response to my submitted complaints about interference in my IRI program work for USAID in Kenya and related matters. IRI since my time there has added an internal compliance function and has built its own Monitoring & Evaluation group and a separate polling center so they should be at least better equipped to avoid the kind of situation that led them to throw me under the bus on the Kenya USAID part of my work with them (things were fine on the NED program for Kenya and the USAID program for Somaliland, both of which were much larger than the Kenya polling and Election Observation Mission programs).
–Going beyond this blog, and my published pieces so far in The Star in 2013 and The Elephant in recent years, I do aspire to write a book about the Kenyan 2007 election and the demise of the reform agenda into the disputed Uhuruto election of 2013, but this will probably be for retirement given the magnitude of FOIA work involved. Of course the stability/vitality of FOIA in the United States will be determined in our political process in the meantime, as well as any move by the Government of Kenya toward complying with their own public records laws. (If someone else writes a more complete account of that election first I will be pleasantly relieved. I remain available to anyone with a serious interest, as always.)