Part Three of “The War for History”: Continuing my email reports to Joel Barkan

Continuing with my Jan. 2-3, 2008 e-mails reporting back to Joel Barkan in Washington from Nairobi:

When I reported the call [to me from Ranneberger] to Washington, Lorne eventually and reluctantly made the decision to scratch Bellamy (he was not told the truth to my chagrin).  Lorne then called Asst. Sec. Frazer on his way to the airport to tell her to get her Ambassador in line, then when he landed in Thailand he called the Ambassador to tell him to stop interfering in our EO.

After the Ambassador first raised his objection to Bellamy a few days earlier we had research Bellamy’s record and found no problems and checked out the political perception in Kenya and also found no problems.  Likewise, we had confirmed with the State Dept in Washington and confirmed that they had no issues with Bellamy being a delegate.  Likewise, we had confirmed that USAID was not objecting (and that they acknowledged they had no right to).

In the meantime, I had gotten a call from the Embassy that next Friday afternoon to come to Ambassador’s residence to see him on Saturday afternoon.  When I visit him, he in a fashion apologized for getting spun up with me, but reiterated that it was vital to the credibility of our whole delegation that Bellamy be struck because he was absolutely “perceived as anti-govenment”.  Whether he intended to or not, he left me with the distinct impression that the “perception” had been conveyed straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak (one of the provisions in our international agreement covering EOM standards prohibits allowing a government or other party any ability to veto members of our delegations).

Further, the Ambassador told me that “people” were saying that Raila might lose Langata.  He said that he would be personally observing the voting in Langata and wanted to take Connie with him for part of the day.  He also said that he wanted to take Connie privately to meet with Stanley Murage before the election.

When I reported this to DC, needless to say alarm bells went off.  We nixed letting Connie go off observing separately with the Ambassador and insisted that Connie would not be available for any off-schedule private meetings.  Serious consideration was given to cancelling the EO and I think it would have been cancelled if I didn’t say that I thought that I could manage the situation here.

When I told Sheryl about the Murage gambit she audibly gasped on the other end of the phone but didn’t comment.  She

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Part Two of “The War for History”: My emails to Joel Barkan on January 2, 2008

In the immediate aftermath of the 2007 Kenya election I exchanged emails with Joel Barkan who had just returned to Washington from the IRI/USAID Election Observation Mission. On January 2, 2008 Joel was trying to understand why the exit poll had not been released “to calm Raila’s people and perhaps prevent tomorrow’s march.” He wrote:You know, if this is not released before six months out, both IRI and probably the embassy will be accused of a cover up.  I would reflect again on how this should be played . . .“.  This is my response:

Joel,

My e-mail shows that I responded to this message, but the “sent” box does not reflect this.  There was a connection problem and my copy of the text will not come up.  What I drafted was long and I will attempt to reconstruct in some fashion:

I completely agree with your thoughts.  At the urging of our polling firm and UCSD I argued this as vigorously as I knew how within IRI to no avail.  I see a major embarrassment in the works as time passes.

This was a much better poll than our previous exit polls in 2002 and 2005 in which we had expressed pride thanks to the tireless work of James Long/UCSD.  The previous sampling was 3,000 in 55 constituencies. {Ed. note: 2007 sample size was 5500 in 179 constituencies in 71 districts out of a total of 212 constituencies in 72 districts}

My original agreement with IRI DC was that we should not release data to anyone while the polls were still open even though USAID had said that they would like preliminary data that Strategic said would be available around 3pm.  This was consistent with agreed US practice to avoid influence on voting.  In spite of this, Sheryl pressed me while I was still at polling place on the afternoon/evening of the election saying that the primary reason for funding the poll was for “early intelligence”.  She got the data by calling Strategic directly.

I sent Sheryl an e-mail confirming that she had gotten the data from Strategic and that I understood that the data was for “internal use of USAID only” and not to go to anyone else.

Frankly, I was concerned that the data would get to the Kibaki camp and that they would make tactical use of it.

Background:  On Thursday, two week before the election, I got a message from Sheryl that the Ambassador needed a copy of our last delegate list asap and she sent me a fax for him.  I sent the list, noting that it was to be released to media the next day.  On my way to lunch I got a call on my cell from the Ambassador raising hell about Mark Bellamy being on the list, saying that he was “laying down a marker” and that he would hold me “personally responsible” as IRI’s “person on the ground” even though I had in previous conversations explained that I had little or no influence over the delegate selection in DC.

More to follow:  Just got an e-mail from our press office with a mention of our failure to release the poll in Slate.

Ken

Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 Elections from the Truth Trickling Out About 2007–New Cables From FOIA (Part One)

The time for Kenya elections under the new constitution should be August, although there remains some uncertainty on the date of the first election for “the second republic.”  See “The Election Date not Clearly Spelt Out” by Yash Ghai and Jill Ghai in The Star.  Regardless, the point is that elections are in a general sense “next year”, and that since I started this blog in December 2009 we have gone from roughly “40% done” with the allotted time for reforms under the “Government of National Unity” to “80% done”.

One of the points of the mediated settlement agreement between PNU and ODM negotiators that provided for the formation of the “power sharing” coalition government was the investigation of the facts of the disputed 2007 elections. Toward this end, and as part of my own desire to learn what I could about what had been going on around me in the context of my work managing the IRI poll program and election observation program in Nairobi, I submitted three Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department back in September and October of 2009. One of the requests was denied back at the first of this year on the basis that the records were classified, but this weekend I finally received the first partial release of unclassified documents under one of the other two requests.

Regular readers will know that for the last several months my professional circumstances have just not allowed much time for original writing here–that hasn’t changed, but I think this is an important area where I can add value to the learning process and preparations toward more successful elections in 2012, so I will be working my way through what these newly public documents tell us, and don’t tell us, about the last Kenya elections over the next few posts.

This FOIA request covered State Department communications about the 2007 exit poll that was conducted by Strategic Public Relations and Research under contract with IRI, funded under an agreement with USAID and by the University of California, San Diego. This initial partial release covered the “central records” of the State Department in Washington and identified six “cables”, of which four were released in full, one was released with some redaction, and one was held for review with another agency of the government prior to a decision on release.  To date, the Africa Bureau has provided no response to State’s FOIA office regarding the Embassy records.

We’ll start for today with basic points from the first cable, a December 14, 2007 report from Ambassador Ranneberger to Washington on the preparations for the December 27 elections. I remember that day well–it was a Friday.

The day before I had gotten a call from the USAID Democracy and Governance head to fax to the Ambassador our delegate list for the election observation mission. After I had done so I was driving to lunch with my wife and an American friend who had recently been an election observer in another African country for another U.S.-based NGO and wanted to assist the Kenya observation as a volunteer. The Ambassador called and I had to pull over to the side of the road and step out of the car as I was getting loudly “chewed out” about the inclusion of former Ambassador Bellamy on the delegate list. Ambassador Ranneberger elaborated that he did not want to hear that it was not my decision as he was holding me “personally responsible” as the person in charge “on the ground”. He went on to say that he would pull the funding and cancel the election observation if I didn’t get Bellamy off the list, and not to think that he couldn’t do it.

After my calls to USAID and my immediate superior in Washington, IRI’s president called Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport for a trip to Thailand, as he related to me, to tell her to “get her Ambassador under control”, then called Ranneberger from Thailand.  As a result, IRI capitulated and removed Bellamy as a delegate, but I was instructed to accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.  Bellamy was told (not by me) that there was a problem funding his plane ticket.

The next day, on Friday, Ranneberger sent his cable to the Secretary of State touting his election preparations.  Some points of interest:

*Ranneberger notes regarding the UNDP’s $11.3 million comprehensive election assistance program, that the U.S. is the largest donor, providing nearly $3 million.  “As USAID/Kenya’s Democracy & Governance officer is the lead coordinator for all/all donor related election activity, USAID represents the donors on the joint ECK/Donor Steering Committee managing this program.”

*Ranneberger writes regarding Election Observers:  “The Mission is funding an international election observer team headed by the International Republican Institute (IRI).  The team will have about 20 members, and will be headed by former Assistant Secretary Constance Newman.  This team will be strategically deployed to high-profile locations and will coordinate with other international observer missions being fielded by the EU and the Commonwealth.  In addition to the international team, we will field over 50 three-member teams of Mission observers (American and Kenyan staff).  Locations for deployment focus on election “hot spots” where we anticipate the greatest potential for violence or other irregularities as well as constituencies with viable women candidates.  As circumstances on the ground evolve, we can continue to adjust our deployment strategy.”

* Regarding the ECK:  “Developing the capacity of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) lies at the  heart of our strategy.  The USG funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) has been providing support to the ECK since late 2001.  Activities focus on providing appropriate technology for more efficient and transparent elections administration while improving the skills of the ECK technical staff.  This support additionally includes capacity building and technical assistance to support election administration.  Technical assistance includes computerization of the Procurement and Supplies Department, which is responsible for printing and distributing election materials.  Assistance will also support implementation of the ECK’s restructuring plan, strengthening logistics capacity, and accelerating the transmission and display of results.”

*On “Public Opinion Polling”:  “The Mission is funding national public opinion polling to increase the availability of objective and reliable data and to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls (emphasis added).  The implementing partner is IRI.  In addition, we were concerned that other widely published public opinion polls, which showed ODM’s Raila Odinga well ahead of President Kibaki, did not accurately reflect the true status of the contest.  Given the rising political temperature, partially due to the use of blatant ethnic appeals by both sides, we were concerned about the reaction of ODM supporters should their candidate lose in a close outcome when they were led by public opinion polls to expect a landslide victory.  The solution involved quietly reaching out to polling firms and their clients to suggest that poll sampling distribution should be based on the regional distribution of registered voters, not on raw population.  Today, the major polling firms have all adjusted their sampling and limited their responses to those who at least claim to be registered voters.”

That afternoon, Friday, December 14, I got a call as I left the offices of Strategic, the polling firm, where I had been working on exit poll preparations.  A caller who identified himself only as working with the Ambassador said that the Ambassador would like me to see him at the residence the next afternoon and I agreed to come.  In the next post, I’ll pick up the story with that meeting and two more pre-election cables.

Part Two;    Part Three;    Part Four;    Part Five;    Part Six;    Part Seven.

Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

At the suggestion of a Kenyan blogger active in democracy issues whom I have long followed and admired, I am going to raise some discussion here about the funding of election observations, who “pays the piper” and how that may matter in practice from my experience.

This will be an ongoing process and I will appreciate any feedback and discussion. One of the things that makes this difficult for me is that I submitted complaints about how the U.S. Ambassador interacted with the 2007 Kenyan Election Observation and Exit Poll programs that I was managing for IRI with USAID funding to the “hotlines” for the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID, but no substantive action resulted and much of what I have been concerned about has not seen print anywhere. And the same Ambassador is still running my country’s governmental presence in Kenya. So, given that my reason and intention for going to Kenya and getting involved in these things was to be helpful (to Kenyans) what is helpful to say now, recognizing that the past cannot be undone?

Let me start by fleshing out a distinction between types of observations: “diplomatic” observations and “assistance” observations. The goal of a diplomat of course is to represent his country and advance its interests as determined by policy makers. On the other hand, the immediate goal of “foreign assistance”, including “democracy promotion” or “democracy support” is presumably to help others, even though this may be done for any number of reasons involving self-interest. The fundamental problem we had with the IRI observation for Kenya in 2007 was that the Ambassador viewed the observation as a direct part of his endeavors as the controlling diplomat for the U.S. in Kenya in the lead up to the election, whereas IRI, prior to the election, viewed the effort as within an established practice for observations conducted by non-governmental organizations, with funding provided as a matter of foreign assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI, like NDI and the Carter Center, is party to a formal international agreement and accompanying code of conduct governing international election observation missions which is intended to provide for independence and objectivity.

It is important not to underestimate the significance of the reorganization of U.S. foreign assistance during the Clinton and Bush Administration, and now continued under the Obama Administration, which places USAID directly inside the State Department [for budget and planning purposes rather than as a matter of formal structure]. As a matter of bureaucratic and political reality, this may make any clear distinction between diplomacy and assistance impossible, especially in the field where an ambassador has largely unchecked powers. When you are dealing with feeding people, or providing health care or regular security training, for example, there may not be immediate tension once you set priorities in allocating resources, but in the case of an election observation mission, you are either committed to the election process in a neutral and objective way or you are not. So if people in the State Department at the level of Ambassador or higher, have the view that diplomatic interests are served by things other than strict neutrality and objectivity in an election campaign, and the State Department controls foreign assistance programs through USAID that provide election support, then as a practical matter there will be tension unless the Ambassador is truly committed to “playing by the rules”.

In Kenya in 2007 the Ambassador was directly sending out large numbers of U.S. government employees as “observers” of the election. I had been warned by USAID staff that the Ambassador considered the IRI international observation mission to be essentially part of his program, to my surprise. Subsequently he told me this was his view himself on one of his after hours cell calls to me to try to micromanage the selection of election observation delegates. Further to my surprise, I was told that higher levels of management at USAID were not in agreement with IRI on our need for independence.

This leads into discussion of another distinction: “national” versus “international”. IRI is a U.S. organization which gets almost all its funding from a combination of the State Department (including USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and works internationally. Notionally, IRI is a “core institution” established under NED, along with its sister organizations NDI, CIPE (the Center for International Private Enterprise, affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and the Solidarity Center (affiliated with the AFL-CIO union organization), but the lion’s share of the overall dollars now come from the State Department rather than from NED. For election observations, IRI will normally include non-U.S. delegates. In the case of Kenya in 2007 there were no other NGOs working internationally that had formal election observation missions to my knowledge, but there were a variety of African organizations, and there was an international observation mission from the Commonwealth. The EU is something of a special case. The EU of course is regional and inter-governmental, but operates an election observation program with professional staffing and that is intended to operate independently.

Backing up a bit to give more context, when I arrived in Kenya at the beginning of June 2007, USAID had no plans for an election observation mission for Kenya–likewise, IRI’s Washington office did not have any desire to seek one. The Ambassador told me early on that he wanted one, and had a list of people he had in mind as delegates, but there was still no plan from USAID to fund it until later when USAID said they would “move heaven and earth” to try to meet the Ambassador’s wishes. On the last day of the fiscal year (September 30) a request for proposals was released by USAID to CEPPS, a consortium of IRI, NDI and IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Both NDI and IFES were also already doing USAID work in Kenya for the elections, but the RFP was clearly written in such a way that it was intended for IRI rather than NDI or IFES. A small amount of money had apparently been found for the effort ($270,000) as opposed to several million that the EU spent for their observation. The RFP proposed an international election observation mission with USAID’s involvement to be the approval of the observing organization’s “key personnel”, specified as the chief delegate. Examples of other suggested delegates were given to correspond to the Ambassador’s list, but there was no contractual assertion of a right of government approval except as to the one position.

The Ambassador wanted the lead delegate to be either Connie Newman or Chester Crocker, both former Assistant Secretaries of State for African Affairs with whom he had worked closely. IRI invited both–Crocker declined due to a conflict and Newman, also an IRI board member, accepted. Nonetheless, it was IRI’s position that it was not appropriate for USAID to claim a contractual approval right over the selection of the head of the observation delegation, as opposed to IRI’s own staff. IRI submitted me and the IRI Vice President from Washington that would be the senior IRI staff person coming for the election instead, but USAID refused to accept this. As of the time of the election this was a standoff that had never been formally resolved.

The more substantive dispute was over former Ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy. When I mentioned Bellamy in one of the Ambassador’s calls to me regarding the delegates, he said Bellamy would be a bad choice because he was perceived as “anti-government” (i.e., critical of the Kibaki administration). Ultimately when Ranneberger got what was intended to be our final delegate list (I faxed it to him at USAID’s request two weeks before the election) he called me and gave me the full “treatment” to get Bellamy dropped, including saying that he would cancel the funding for the observation otherwise. When I passed this along to my office in Washington, IRI’s president called Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport for a trip to Thailand over Christmas and then called the Ambassador when he got there. I got the message back that it was agreed that we would nix Bellamy but that I was to accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.

In a nutshell, it was my understanding that there was complete agreement between myself and the senior IRI leadership in Washington going into the election that it was essential that we actively resist further intrusion by the Ambassador on our independence–with a common recognition that the Ambassador was attempting to involve us in things that we could not agree to. Unfortunately, once Ms. Newman arrived in Nairobi the weekend before the election she was the ranking person as an IRI board member as well as retired senior diplomat and the plans to make sure she kept her distance from the Ambassador were not effectuated and it was obvious that she was closely collaborating with him.

There was clear recognition within IRI of the need to maintain independence of the election observation function from the Ambassador’s other agenda, and a clearly expressed intention to do what needed to be done–but we failed. On balance, I don’t think we made the situation worse than it would have been if we had not done an observation at all, but we failed to help and thus wasted some money and a lot of hard work, and as Alex Halperin wrote in Slate in the first story published on our exit poll results, missed an opportunity to advance the interests of democracy.

So the lesson learned from the U.S. perspective should be, in my opinion, that U.S. policy makers need to make clear choices about whether to have “assistance” observations or “diplomatic” observations and recognize that allowing an Ambassador to call the shots makes an observation a diplomatic exercise rather than a bona-fide assistance program. There are in fact rules and regulations that are intended not to allow the Ambassador to override the process, but we have the same Ambassador getting into controversy about election assistance two years later in a new administration, so obviously the problem has not been given a high priority.

[Regarding the Slate article, I had been instructed by our press secretary in Washington not to return Mr. Halperin’s call on the exit poll, but he caught me on the cell on January 2 during the post-election violence and I said that I couldn’t confirm or deny the two reports he had regarding the results of the exit poll. He asked why we would do an exit poll and not release it and I explained that the poll included a great deal of information besides the presidential election results that was part of research that would be published so he should not assume we were trying to hide anything. (My superior in Washington later e-mailed that UCSD would not be able to publish the results under the circumstances, but they did go ahead anyway after the expiration of IRI’s six month exclusive right of publicity, as discussed in the NYTimes coverage.) I e-mailed Washington to report the conversation and noted the irony that when the story hit I was the one who was identified in the international media in defense of a decision that I disagreed with in not releasing the preliminary presidential results, or even making any statement at all about what our plans and intentions were in regard to the exit poll. A Kenyan blogger wrote that I should be subpoenaed to force IRI to disclose the results. ]

Kenyan Constitution controversy among Americans reaches a whole new audience–Fox News (Update with more from Kenya)

FoxNews::“White House Spent $23Million of Taxpayer Money to Back Kenyan Constitution that Legalizes Abortion, GOP Reps Say”

I personally don’t use much Murdoch-controlled media, in particular the Fox entities (another topic for another day), nor get much news from television anyway, but this story is of some interest in asserting some further background on the alleged influence of outside groups in the preparation of the draft constitution. Something I don’t know anything about. I have said before that the process was not ideal and it should have been more transparent and participatory if it wasn’t going to use the prior “Bomas Draft” that Kenyans never voted on previously. Nonetheless, it went to Parliament which could have amended it. I continue to be unconvinced that in Kenya the totality of the language that relates to abortion will have the impact that some in U.S. “pro-life” politics are claiming, but Kenyans will have to decide. And there are certainly some details and perspectives on the involvement of U.S. interest groups and activists that Fox has ignored here.

I will say this: if we tried today, in the United States to pass a new Constitution from scratch what is the likelihood that we could do this well? Would we be able to have any type of deliberative and reasoned discussion? This is one of the reasons the U.S. government should exhibit a little more humility in addressing democratization elsewhere in the world. We have inherited a system with solid fundamentals, but its not like the way we behave much of the time is what everyone should aspire to.

Update: A Nairobi Star story features a statement from Ambassador Ranneberger reiterating that his approach is sanctioned by the President and that he is not worried about a few critics attacking him.

Ranneberger spoke at a ceremony for American Peace Corp volunteers:

‘You should know that the stakes are extremely high whichever way the outcome of the referendum will be,” Ranneberger told the Peace Corps He asked them to participate in the current debate in Kenya.

President JF Kennedy launched the Peace Corps in 1961 and to date it has trained 6,000 Kenyans in small business management, maths, science, health and ICT.

Peace Corps Volunteers country director, Steven Wisecarver, said he wants the volunteers for Kenya increased to 150 per intake.

Researcher Tom Wolfe, a doyen Peace Corps Volunteer, asked the 36 to be humble as they learned about Kenyan society is.

“While the role of Ranneberger has been questioned in politics, nobody has criticised the American Peace Corps role in Kenya,” Wolfe said.

In an editorial, the Daily Nation fires back at Congressman Chris Smith: “U.S. Congressman Peddling Blatant Lies”:

However, the congressman does not bother to make the distinction between the ‘Yes’ campaign and other activities related to the referendum, and different aspects of the reform agenda.

Supporting the Committee of Experts that produced the document does not amount to funding one side in the campaign.

Nor can helping the Interim Independent Electoral Commission that will manage the poll in any way be deemed partisan.

Some of the groups mentioned by Mr Smith deny receiving referendum campaign funds from the US Government or any of its agencies,

In a nutshell, Congressmen Smith’s claims do not add up. More seriously, they are based on one monstrous political lie — that President Obama is breaking American law by funding a constitution that promotes abortion.

The Proposed Constitution of Kenya will not allow abortion on demand. It is apparent that his concern is not protection of the Kenyan woman from unrestricted abortion; it is the pursuit of a rabidly fundamentalist right-wing agenda that has never reconciled itself to the Obama presidency, and will employ all means, fair or foul, to bring down the first black president of the United States.

The biggest lie does not stand up to scrutiny. For the first time in Kenya, the constitution will specifically outlaw abortion, save for the common sense exception where the life of the mother is in danger.

Mr Smith might also appreciate that the new constitutional prohibition will make it much more difficult to procure an abortion in Kenya than in his New Jersey.