The AFRICOMMONS niche: leveraging the freedom of amateurism to “monitor” democracy assistance and American defense, diplomacy and development in East Africa

Raila Odinga Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya International Republican Institute

From campaign brochure of Raila Odinga seeking nomination of Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya for President, received June 2007

–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.]

See also: “President Trump’s new Assistant Secretary of State for Africa candidly explained why election observation and technical assistance have to be firewalled from diplomacy to have integrity“.

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.)

Retired Admiral Stavridis publishes op-ed demonstrating American “National Security Establishment” view of “Africa’s Security and the Power Struggle”

I highly commend to my friends who are Africanists or African, or Americans who have not been directly involved in the “national security” professions, a short op-ed piece today from Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.):

Africa’s Security and the Power Struggle“:

Karen Blixen’s evocative 1937 memoir “Out of Africa” was about the British Empire’s experience in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century, when European powers were scrambling to consolidate colonies across the massive landmass of Africa. Over the ensuing century, Africa has gone through massive decolonization, a population expansion, and enormous turmoil. Recently, US involvement, while episodic at best, has at least helped contain the rise of violent extremism. But the US is now considering withdrawing much of its military and intelligence capabilities in a shift designed to free up resources for a renewal of “great power competition.” This potential move out of Africa is a mistake, and we should examine the reasons for a sensible level of US security involvement on the continent.

The size and scale of Africa are important to understand, as are its economic and demographic growth. The continent is huge — you could fit China, India, the US (minus Alaska) and western Europe into it comfortably. It is a continent rich in diamonds, gold, rare earths, excellent farmland, and other natural resources including oil and vast, flowing rivers. Economically, the continent is the second-fastest-growing in the world and may hit 4% annual growth (despite many challenges, especially in the larger economies). Sudan, Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya are all pushing 8% growth. And from a population perspective, it already represents 16% of the world at 1.3 billion people, projected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2050 and perhaps 4.5 billion by the century’s end. Demographically, it is exploding. Nigeria, with a massive population spurt and a youthful populace, has been called the “Black China.”

But Africa’s future — despite its manifest advantages — is dependent on creating stable systems of governance and overcoming pockets of violent extremism that are dangerous and spreading. In west Africa, the ultraviolent group Boko Haram maintains a stronghold on much of northeast Nigeria; in east Africa, the al-Shabab group conducts constant terror attacks up and down the coast of the continent; piracy is still at work both in the Gulf of Guinea and the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean; and the entire Sahel — the region separating the northern Arab states from sub-Saharan Africa — has a strong and violent strain of al-Qaeda at work. And of course in the northern tier, ISIS is still attempting to recruit and conduct operations along the Mediterranean Sea.

With the creation of US Africa Command in 2007, the US military began to focus with great seriousness on working toward a more secure environment throughout the continent. At the time, I was a four-star combatant command in Miami at US Southern Command; I had my hands full in Latin America and the Caribbean with a virulent insurgency in Colombia, massive narcotics smuggling throughout the region, Cuban influence rising, Hezbollah in many spots, and an increasing level of Chinese political, intelligence, and military activity. In some ways, the challenges were similar in Africa, and I reached out to my new counterpart, General Kip Ward. He wisely decided to use a blend of hard and soft power to counter the security challenges, much as we were doing in Latin America. He had both a military deputy (a three-star officer) and a civilian deputy (an ambassador), the latter in charge of merging diplomacy, development, and defense, as well as coordinating efforts across agencies (State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, National Security Agency, etc.). I saw the command stand up and create a wave of momentum, eventually deploying around combat 7,000 troops but also working medical diplomacy, humanitarian operations, counternarcotics, disaster relief, rule of law, and other soft-power initiatives.

All of that has had a real effect in combating terrorism — both indigenous and the even more concerning export variety — against the groups noted above. One notable effort has been against the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, which operates on the borders of Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. . . .

. . . .

Stavridis thus provides an extremely “high altitude” look at the Continent and its past and future in support of his argument that keeping AFRICOM at its present relatively very small size is both inexpensive and strategically smart in the global sense, and also just in reference to China specifically. (Let me be clear that part of my point here is to flag but let readers draw their own conclusion about Stavridis leading with Karen Blixen and “Out of Africa” and the other stereotypical elements of his presentation.)

Adm. Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 after an extremely accomplished career. He served as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, then served as Commander of the European Command and Supreme Allied Commander. The perspective of a recent former SOUTHCOM and EUCOM Commander on AFRICOM is clearly invaluable to understanding that way of seeing the world.

Stavridis graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and climbed the ladder as a distinguished Surface Warfare Officer, along with UN/NATO deployments to Bosnia and Haiti in the 1990s. He ultimately commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group “conducting combat operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom”.

Along the way, he did his PhD in International Relations at Tufts, along with other graduate degrees from Tufts, and the National and Naval War College. After retirement he served as the Dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. So he is simply put a superstar by background and experience.

Today he is the Operating Executive for The Carlyle Group, the famous global defense-focused equity fund [NASDAQ: CG] and the Chair of the “Board of Counselors” of McClarty Associates, the famous Washington-based global consulting firm [“We know diplomacy; We provide diplomatic solutions”].

By way of disclosure, I retired from 12+ years as a defense industry lawyer working primarily in Navy shipbuilding around the time Stavridis retired from the Navy. I was on unpaid “public service leave” from this position for my East Africa democracy assistance work at the International Republican Institute. So Stavridis’ “high altitude” and military-centric perspective is very much something I was used to being around but will not be intuitive to those from other places (such those living in the various countries in Africa) or backgrounds.

I had already been a democracy assistance volunteer trainer for IRI before I started my career in the defense contracting world. So the notion of working at a “micro level” to assist the development of “democracy in one country” at a time–as opposed to focusing on the “ionospheric” overview of global strategy subdivided on the military side among the regional combatant commands (which did not yet include Africa as a separate region until the fall of 2008) was much of the reason I decided to take my temporary duty assistance job with IRI in 2007.

By law, promoting democracy is one of our defined American foreign policy priorities as established by Congress so there is no reason that funds should not be appropriated to USAID to then fund bona fide independent “International Election Observation Missions” and even independent polling programs that are not subject to interference from diplomats acting on normal short term preferences (such as “building capital” with an incumbent president who has previously disappointed us for indulging corruption).

From a macro geopolitical level our success in building our system around free and fair elections is an area of comparative advantage relative to the PRC. Thus spending a small amount of money in a way that it is not subject to “reach back” or diplomatic meddling to help citizens of African countries secure their votes and build durable democratic systems makes good strategic sense in a “great power competition” with China as well as more globally.

As for McClarty Associates, longtime readers or those who otherwise follow Kenyan elections closely might remember that McClarty Associates Vice Chairman John Negroponte was Deputy Secretary of State during the 2007-08 election crisis in Kenya. Negroponte met with representatives of the ODM opposition seeking release of the embargoed USAID-funded International Republican Institute exit poll done with the University of California, San Diego, showing an Odinga win. I learned through FOIA that Kalonzoo Musyoka met with Negroponte the same day:

The War for History” part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte:

The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)

From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:

Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.

Kenya Public/Private Equity Healthcare Market faces another setback with management displaced at Nairobi Women’s Hospital Group in wake of Owaahh reporting

[Update: Feb 25: A review by Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Council, the doctors’ union, found that rates themselves charged for services were permissible but verified that a What’s App group was being used to allow managers to have direct input into medical decisions such as discharges warranting better procedures. The Star has taken down a story –which I linked–that seems to have a reflected a PR spin on the report which was itself then leaked on Twitter. So the saga continues.]

Update: Feb. 12, Jaindi Kisero column in Daily Nation recommends, “To ward off greedy investors, fund locals to put up private hospitals“.

Back in 2019 a private equity group from Ft. Worth, Texas and San Francisco, TPG, took over the Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund from its interim manager Alix Partners, the U.S.- based restructuring/insolvency advisors. The Abraaj funds, run out of Dubai by original Pakistani investors, had been apparently fraudulently tapped by management, thus the restructuring under the auspices of a Limited Partner Advisory Committee, which hired Alix.

The Limited Partners included global healthcare giants Phillips and Medtronic, multilateral development lenders including the IFC as well as bilateral development finance agencies such as the US Government’s OPIC, the CDC and Proparco. Likewise the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested.

TPG renamed the Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund as the Evercare Health Fund, to be managed by TPG Growth. At the time of the TPG announcement, Evercare was identified as having a “portfolio which includes 26 hospitals, 18 clinics, 40 diagnostics centres and 2 brownfield and greenfield assets” in Africa and Asia. One of the asset groups in the newly renamed Health Fund was a Kenya for profit group of small hospitals called Nairobi Women’s.

See “US fund cleared to take over Avenue Park and Metropolitan” in The Business Daily.

Triggered by an explosive series by prominent Nairobi blogger Owaahh, “Have you ever been to a private hospital“, scrutiny has come down on the group for profiteering behavior toward patients without medical basis. Insurers pulled back and now the Fund has announced an interim management change with the entrepreneur/doctor who built and ran group stepping aside in favor of a three member team of Evercare representatives pending professional reviews.

USAID Administrator Mark Green and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump Deliver Remarks on the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative | USAID Media Advisory

On Wednesday, July 10, Administrator Mark Green of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President, will participate in a discussion co-hosted by USAID and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC). Administrator Green and Advisor Trump will highlight new partnerships and activities of the Women’s Global Development and
— Read on www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/jul-8-2019-usaid-administrator-mark-green-and-advisor-president-ivanka-trump

See Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s announcement of the program here.

WASHINGTON, DC

“The Trump administration continues to empower women economically with the launch of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative.

“This initiative aims to benefit 50 million women from 2017 to 2025 through economic empowerment efforts and motivates private sector actors – both abroad and at home – to emphasize the critical role women play in creating prosperity. Economic empowerment of women has a significant effect on global growth as women invest in stable societies and promote a world free of child labor and forced labor.

“The U.S. Department of Labor supports the W-GDP initiative through its efforts to promote the development of in-demand skills among women in the workforce, the identification of entrepreneurship opportunities, and the creation of an empowering environment for working women to flourish in the global economy.

“The Department of Labor works every day to ensure a fair global playing field for workers in the U.S. and around the world by enforcing trade commitments and strengthening labor standards.

“As part of this work, the Department of Labor seeks to ensure that the workplace rights of women are enforced – through policy engagement in both bilateral and multilateral contexts, and through negotiations and enforcement of labor protections under U.S. trade agreements that promote women’s empowerment as workers and as entrepreneurs.”

Agency

Office of the Secretary

Date

February 7, 2019

Release Number

19-252-NAT

Contact: Megan Sweeney

Phone Number

So how is United States global leadership on child sex trafficking? Impartial administration of justice?

East Africa is the pits for press freedom, but congratulations to Namibia, Ghana and South Africa for outranking France, the U.K. and the U.S. in the World Press Freedom index

Here is the new 2019 World Press Freedom index from RSF, with the United States down to No. 48 (!) and France and the U.K. at 32 and 33 respectively. Namibia at 23, Ghana at 27 and South Africa at 31 lead SubSaharan Africa. Burkina Faso at 36 and Botswana at 44 also outrank the United States.

Thus, five African nations are ranked above the United States for press freedom this year according to Reporters Without Borders. The United States continues to rank above all of the East African nations.

Here are the East African Community member rankings:

Kenya 100

Tanzania 118

Uganda 125

South Sudan 139

Rwanda 155

Burundi 159

Elsewhere in the East and Horn Region: Ethiopia 110; Somalia 164; Djibouti 173; Sudan 175.

And other “development partners”: Norway 1; Germany 13; Japan 67; UAE 133; Russia 149; Egypt 163; Iran 170; Saudi Arabia 172; North Korea 179

Podcast recommendation: over the past six months Travis Adkins’ “On Africa” from Washington has been a great resource

Djibouti IGAD Election Observation Mission press conference led by Kenya’s Issack Hassan of IEBC

There has been an explosion of great work in English relating to Africa in the podcast genre recently, and as an amateur I am way behind in sampling the free learning available just from time constraints. Today I want to flag the relatively new “On Africa” podcast hosted by Travis Adkins which has been a great teacher for me.

Start with Episode One, on October 4 of last year with Amb. Johnnie Carson, who has lived the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, on “Zimbabwe after Mugabe.” November 6 on Cameroon as an “Electoral Dictatorship in Crisis” with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh of NDI was especially helpful for me since I focus on East Africa and do not have much background on the unique challenges there. Dr. Fomunyoh is a native of Anglophone Cameroon but attended university in Francophone Cameroon and has been a high level fixture for many years at NDI where he is Director for West and Central Africa.

Episodes of December 19, 26 and 31 on Sudan and South Sudan with Amb. Susan Page were especially good. Amb. Page has a personal background with the negotiations leading to the 2005 provisional government, served as NDI Regional Director and was appointed by President Obama as the first U.S. Ambassador following South Sudanese independence–so again, a sweep of recent history on into current events from an “insider” perspective.

Most recently for me, the February 13 episode with Zach Vertin, former diplomat now at the Brookings Institution Doha gives a 39 minute dive into the current “Red Sea Rivalries” shaking up international relations in the Horn of Africa region. Partin has a new book out on the birth of South Sudan which sounds fascinating and I have on my list.

Most of the best Africa podcasts I have been able to take time for in recent years have been more of an academic nature–what Adkins is doing at “On Africa” with accessible overviews of high level politics and diplomacy with people directly involved is a welcome addition for someone like me who wants to deepen and broaden their knowledge as an interested citizen with limited time due to other responsibilities.

MILSPEAK will never die; and a COMBATANT COMMAND may never be great at Public Diplomacy – AFRICOM and a “Failed Communication”

When General Thomas Waldhauser, the outgoing AFRICOM Commander, went before the Senate Armed Services Committee (“SASC”) for public testimony on the AFRICOM Annual Posture Statement relating to the legislative budget process–a performative function for the Senators and the Senate and the Military–someone seems to have failed to scrub the presentation with an appreciation for how it would look to use an “infographic” to publicly describe to the world–especially to interested citizens in the 53 “partner” states of the AFRICOM Area of Operations (“AOR”)–one of the “U.S. strategic interests in Africa” as to “decrease potential for Africa to become a failed continent”.

Some of us who are “olds” (surely this term is a bit insensitive 🧐) and have spent at least some of our formative years before the pervasiveness of global public communications seem to forget that we Americans live in a global fishbowl of our own making.

General Waldhauser will have spent his career with military electronic communications but will have climbed some ranks before civilian application reached the point that “public” in Washington was automatically realtime “public” nearly everywhere.

Security issues, especially terrorism and civil unrest, have cross-border components that may be magnified by the large number of independent countries in the geographic areas involved, but this sort of loose, broad brush talk that might be useful for selling a budget in a competitive bureaucratic marketplace is embarrassing and counterproductive from the standpoint of official communications and “public diplomacy” because it makes AFRICOM look out of touch and patronizing.

In this way, AFRICOM seems to have accidentally put itself at cross purposes in communications with what is supposed to be the “New Africa Strategy” as announced by the National Security Advisor that is intended to reflect a shift of emphasis to American trade and investment with and in African countries. Since the end of the Cold War we have focused on securing the global “lanes of trade”, especially the world’s only “blue water Navy”, facilitating trade between China as well as India, Japan, the EU and others and African countries, without much real policy focus on our own economic participation beyond aid and philanthropy.

Now that China is so much richer, seems to be re-doubling domestic repression and investing heavily in quickly building out both traditional and “new technology” military tools, while leaning on our longstanding allies in Southeast Asia and showing other geopolitical ambitions, we wish to increase our own economic participation in Africa’s growth for the kind of normal geopolitical reasons that we had de-emphasized in recent years.

In competing against the United States, as well as against Japan, Europe and the UK and other more developed democratic powers in Africa, the PRC naturally wants to sell the idea that the Chinese Communist Party offers some sort of South-South mutual respect to African borrowers and customers in spite of its huge actual size and command structure and the way it treats its own ethnic minorities. Whereas the United States Government has the task not only of assuring African markets of our respect and compatibility, but also of encouraging and persuading, rather than directing, U.S. domiciled companies and investors to go take on risk and invest in African countries.

So clumsy negative hyperbole is not the thing we are looking for here. I have a distaste for some of the slick overproduced happy talk “success stories” that get funded within the rubric of “development assistance” and we need straight honesty from our military leaders about the status of wars we are fighting, but we should avoid being carelessly negative when expressing our aspirations.

I do think on this one that the buck really ought to stop with General Waldhauser — he himself in his many-hatted role should have personally known better and not stepped in that hole. Much of the articulated reason to have AFRICOM–as opposed to not having AFRICOM–was that it was to be a “different type of Command” which integrated personnel from the State Department and USAID directly into its structure to be better at things like diplomacy than the Commands dating to the Cold War, presumably based on lessons learned.

UPDATE: Sept. 8

Investigative reporting from Amanda Sperber in The Nation : “Inside the secretive US air campaign in Somalia“.

From the Longwar Journal (Foundation for Defense of Democracies): “US military intensifies airstrikes against al Shabaab in Somalia“.

Dr. Peter Pham gets new post-midterm Trump diplomatic appointment as Great Lakes Special Envoy [Updated]

Ahead of the long-overdue elections scheduled for next month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the State Department announced the nomination of Dr. Peter Pham, Africa Director at the Atlantic Council, to be Trump’s special envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.

U.S. names new envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes. (AFP)

Pham has a long background in academics and national security related policy/”think work” on Africa from the Right, which is a fairly limited universe. I became aware of Dr. Pham’s work initially as a “friend of IRI” in relation to my work on Somaliland as IRI country director in 2007-08. He was involved in publicly advising the Trump transition on Africa-related issues and was often identified as the frontrunner to be the nominee as Assistant Secretary of State. See “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017, by Helene Cooper.

Pham and his deputy at the Atlantic Council, Bronwyn Bruton, have been prominent critics/skeptics of the initial 2006 invasion of Somalia and aspects of the subsequent “nation building” process there, and Pham has been seen as an advocate for Somaliland. Beyond that, I’m not as familiar with his background on the numerous various immediate issues in the Great Lakes, or how the election results and retirements will re-shape Congressional interests.

I will endeavor to read up.

In the meantime, I have not heard any public comment about any likely impact on a vote on the stalled nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter to replace Ambassador Godec in Kenya.

Update: I had forgotten Pham’s controversial advocacy from November 2012 in the New York Times: To save Congo, let it fall apart“. A view that could be seen as very pro-Kagame/RPF and that is certainly at odds with many considered opinions and perhaps a tough starting point for a new diplomatic posting.

See also, from Foreign Policy: Pompeo to appoint new envoy for troubled central Africa region.”

Update II: Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society on Pham last year in African Arguments:

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasized security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

New Human Development Index ratings: most high and middle performers in SSA are underperforming relative to GNI

Nairobi Kenya Microsoft billboard

Here are the Sub-Saharan African countries with a Human Development Index in the “High” and “Medium” categories as listed by the recent release for 2017 from the UNDP.

Interestingly, Kenya along with Sao Tome and Principe stand out for having a Medium HDI level relative to a lower Gross National Income per capita. Equatorial Guinea was the most extreme under-performer relative to GNI rank.

HDIRank # GNI/capita HDIRank-GNIScore

HIGH

101 Botswana .717 15,534 (-26)

110 Gabon .702 16,431 (-40)

MEDIUM

113 South Africa .699 11,933 (-23)

129 Namibia .647 9,387 (-25)

137 Congo .606 5,694 (-5)

140 Ghana .592 4,096 (3)

141 Equatorial Guinea .591 19,513 (-80)

142 Kenya .590 2,961 (16)

143 Sao Tome and Principe .589 2,941 (16)

144 eSwatini .588 7,620 (-29)

144 Zambia .588 3,315 (2)

147 Angola .581 5,790 (-16)

151 Cameroon .556 3,315 (2)

Democracy Assistance needs an external non-governmental watchdog

Democracy assistance needed - Presidential campaign rally Trump Floida Democray assistance needed

This recommendation for the creation of a democracy assistance “watchdog” organization is where I have ended up from my own experience as an election observer and a volunteer trainer. And especially my role as a “sentimentalist whistleblower” from my time as “East Africa Resident Director” for the International Republican Institute with the failed 2007 Kenyan election.

I recently had the chance to visit with a wise American friend from my Kenya time who is of the persuasion that we, the United States, would be better advised on balance not to try “democracy promotion” and to step back from being entangled in foreign politics. My accumulated years of watching democracy assistance in addition to my own search to understand what has happened in Kenya in spite of my best efforts force me to take this view seriously in a way that I would not have some years ago. Nonetheless, I am still in a “different place”and have an alternative suggestion. (When my friend stated that she would rather we spent the money on educating children I had to concede that would be better, but we have been around long enough to know that would not happen.)

Admittedly I have not been objective. This goes to the “sentimentalist” aspect of my speaking out about what went wrong on my watch in Kenya in 2007-08 and what I saw going wrong in 2013. Even though losing or limiting valued personal friendships was inevitable as a result of being a dissenter and agreeing to speak on the record to The New York Times about what happened I did it because I felt obligated and I have continued to feel affection for my former colleagues. Nonetheless, having been briefly an insider and otherwise around the democracy assistance community does give me a basis to continue to believe that most of the people involved in democracy assistance are relatively sincere and would prefer to accomplish more for the intended beneficiaries of the assistance.

Beyond that, the reality is that we are going to continue to do democracy assistance anyway. The question is just whether we want to get better at it or not.

Democracy assistance has solid bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress whether or not the base voters of either party are persuaded conceptually. Yet we observe by consensus that we are in a period of global “democratic recession” suggesting that what we have been doing may be suboptimal. People outside Washington generally do not have time and other resources to be engaged unless they are either participants (and thus beneficiaries) of the system or ideologically engaged to a degree that inhibits having a place at the table in Washington.

One of the problems is the inability to develop the learning and community of practice that would be available if there was greater transparency. Transparency is not really in the immediate short term interests of implementing organizations like IRI, NDI and IFES which for perfectly natural reasons would rather stay out of the line of fire from beneficiary critics of donor policies and just find it easier, like any of us, not to have anyone looking over their shoulder.

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.]

See also: “President Trump’s new Assistant Secretary of State for Africa candidly explained why election observation and technical assistance have to be firewalled from diplomacy to have integrity“.

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.

Existing watchdog organizations do not seem well equipped to work on foreign democracy assistance–partly because they have so many seemingly bigger fish to fry. In an era of “permanent war”, massive defense budgets and big expenditures in health and other programs and huge, growing deficits, democracy promotion programs are going to continue to be below the radar and outside the ordinary bandwidth of most groups like the Project on Government Oversight that do much of the best oversight in other areas. Related limitations apply for public interest journalism.

The Inspector General function is available to deal with certain specific wrongdoing within USAID programs and can deal with things like theft of funds from implementing organizations but a watchdog outside government could help all of us learn whether we are really doing the right things with our resources to help democratic development. While the USAID investigation process of my complaints regarding my experience in Kenya at least generated the informal confirmation of my concerns there was no remedy offered nor public reporting. Realistically democracy assistance gets into messy political questions that can only be addressed candidly in the first instance from outside of government.

There is new attention in Washington to “competing” with China in East Africa. In the bigger picture we have entangled our own economy deeply with China’s for too many years to simply change our minds now so our relationship with China will be nuanced. We do see that China has moved in a more rather than less authoritarian direction in recent years and that the Communist Party of China is doing more to directly collaborate with like minded ruling parties as we see with Jubilee in Kenya.

If we care about democracy in the long term the size of China as a power committed enough to its own authoritarianism to work to suppress its own expatriates and manipulate news coverage in Africa is concerning even if it does not succeed in propagating the CPC model.

But we do not need to be reactive: let’s do what we do better instead of playing catch up on their terms if competition with China is a motivator. It is the ballot box, not Bechtel Corporation (as an example) that gives the United States a comparative advantage over China. To mutually share the opportunities of democracy effectively, we need to generate more transparency and better oversight for our democracy assistance.