Should there be an international Code of Conduct for Exit Polls and Parallel Vote Tabulations?

[As the year winds down and things crank up in Kenya’s 2022 presidential campaign and BBI referendum I am going through some of my old unpublished drafts – this is an idea that could matter that the parties involved do not have an incentive to bring forward.]

To me, the answer to the headline question is clearly “yes”.

Very specifically to my experience as in Kenya in 2007 as International Republican Institute Resident East Africa Director, I was able to explain to the USAID Kenya Mission that we at IRI were bound as a party to a published International Code of Conduct in conducting an International Election Observation that required us to maintain independence from the Ambassador.

(Readers may recall that then-Ambassador Ranneberger had pushed for a USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission for Kenya’s 2007 election which USAID had decided not to conduct in their ordinary planning process for the election and that IRI did not seek to undertake.)

We on the IRI staff were able to push back on Ambassador Ranneberger’s desire to select Election Observation Mission delegates, although we ended up informally going along with Ranneberger’s choice of Connie Newman and Chester Crocker as lead delegates (Crocker was not available to travel on the dates required).

The rest of the delegates were our choices rather than the Ambassador’s and we resisted Ranneberger’s expressed desire to remove his predecessor Amb. Mark Bellamy from the Observation until Ranneberger “went to the mat” as he put it.

Likewise, we invited against Ranneberger’s wishes Bellamy’s predecessor as Ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, who was then the Africa lead at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and later Assistant Secretary of State under Obama (Carson was not cleared to participate–I was privately relieved for two reasons: it got me off the hook on a potential conflict with Ranneberger and while Carson seemed like a real asset for the Observation I thought the optics of having a high ranking Executive Branch employee and particularly one directly in an Intelligence Community job would not be great from an independence standpoint. In hindsight it might have done some real good to have him there.).

Unfortunately, on the now perhaps infamous Exit Poll, I was more or less naked in dealing with USAID and the Ambassador. The polling program was under a separate Cooperative Agreement between the CEPPS (IRI, NDI and IFES) and USAID which had started with the Exit Poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum. (The defeat of the proposed “Wako Draft” Constitution gave rise to the Orange Democratic Party which led Kenya’s opposition in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections, culminating in the March 2018 “handshake” and the present “Building Bridges Initiative” referendum campaign).

The 2005-07 polling program was scheduled to end with a public opinion survey in September 2007, well ahead of the general election, the date of which was not set until weeks later. USAID amended the Agreement to add the general election Exit Poll at the end. It was only after I initially reported a few days before the election that we were going to have to cancel the Exit Poll due to the objection of Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu that I was told by USAID that the Exit Poll as a higher priority for the Ambassador than the Election Observation itself. Kivuitu’s acquiescence was achieved.

On the late afternoon of Election Day as I was dragging my feet on releasing preliminary numbers before the polls closed I was told that “the whole reason” for doing the Exit Poll was for “early intelligence” for the Ambassador and USAID went to our subcontracted polling firm to get the figures. [Remember that I covered all this in complaints to the Inspectors General at USAID and State.]

The reason IRI was essentially naked in protecting itself from interference on the Exit Poll was because unlike on the Election Observation Mission there was no published Code or Agreement that I could use to push back to preserve our independence.

We had agreed internally at IRI that we should not report any Exit Poll numbers externally including to USAID or the Embassy until the polls closed, and it was quite clear that we had no contractual obligation to make a pre-closing report. But given that USAID was willing to go underneath us to the pollster it was out of our hands literally and there were no clear standards beyond that.

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.

Kenya’s revised “Building Bridges Initiative” report published—clock ticking on Referendum preparation

Read the Report of the Steering Committee on the Implementation of the Building Bridges to a United Kenya Taskforce Report. (Forewarning: it is over 200 pages).

Kenya’s long awaited “Building Bridges Initiative” report published on-line

Following the post-election negotiations between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during December 2017 – March 2018, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 “handshake” between the two, Kenyans have witnessed a prolonged period of political stasis in which Kenyatta has run the Government as he sees fit without opposition and former Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President Ruto and their factions have carried on their 2022 campaigns.

We now have a 150+ page published report from the Government of Kenya representing the work product of a dual team of insiders for the two “sides” (Raila/ODM and Uhuru) making various recommendations for political governance issues as are always “on the table” in “post-Colonial” Kenya.

Formally, this has been called the “Building Bridges Initiative” implemented by the “Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce” and has incorporated the usual process of donor supported public “input” sessions around the country to “popularize” the process, the teams of insiders and what they will agree on and eventually announce.

The adjustments proposed from the public comments and news so far appear to be relatively nondramatic and reflect what one would expect for an elite consensus process where the primary issue is the adjustment of interests among those at the table.

Here is the official website for the Building Bridges Initiative.

For background, here is my post from December 7, 2017, “Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi, public statements adjusted to call for ‘national conversation’ as substitute for ‘national dialogue’“:

I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.

In the latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.

Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

Updated Feb 7: Autocratic fangs bared in Kenya as unlawful television shutdown finishes first week; police fail to produce unlawfully detained activist

For a good overview:

Kenya’s About-Face: Fear for Democracy as Dissent is Muzzled” by Jina Moore, New York Times, Feb. 4.

Today the police failed to honor an order to produce detained opposition activist/lawyer Miguna Miguna, who has been arrested by police and held in defiance of a previous order granting bail. No charges have been initiated against him by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.

The Court ordered the Inspector General of the Police to appear tomorrow morning with Miguna. Raila and other NASA leaders came to Court for Miguna this afternoon.

Miguna is a firebrand “character” on the local scene in recent years who was not in NASA, running for Governor as an independent against ODM/NASA incumbent Evans Kidero and the new Jubilee Governor Sonko, gaining little support as a candidate. Post election he has associated himself with an activist wing of political opposition calling itself the “National Resistance Movement” and pressured for, publicized and participated in Raila’s (peaceful) “people’s president” swearing in ceremony. It would seem that the regime saw him as someone they could visibly and conspicuously “shut up” who did not have a political constituency or independent mass following.

Personally, I have not considered Miguna’s role one that I thought seemed constructive over the years, but he does not deserve to die for that and I am worried for him.

What does it take for people to see that Kenyatta and Ruto just are not the men whom their Western friends and publicists would try to make us believe?

Looking at Kenya over the years it is so easy to become inured to State violence used not in the interest of the nation or the citizens but of political power and self interest of those controlling the ruling party.

537th they came for Miguna Miguna, and I said nothing because I was not Miguna Miguna?

UPDATE: Later Monday, KTN broadcasting was restored and while NTV remained off the public airwaves its signal was restored to cable and DSTV for those subscribers. Citizen and Kikuyu language sister station Inooro were still blocked from broadcasting. The partial restoration came just ahead on a contempt petition following the original order that broadcasts be restored secured by a public interest litigant. Citizen, unlike its rivals, went to Court itself to challenge the ban.

UPDATE:  Miguna, a Kenyan born citizen who fled to Canada as a refugee during the political persecution of the Moi days, was finally taken late at night to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and bundled onto a plane for Amsterdam and on back to Toronto.  The police having run out of time finally after serial Court orders to produce him took him to the airport instead of the courtroom.  The authorities will have to file affidavits explaining their actions in preparation for contempt hearings.  Miguna asserts that he was physically mistreated aside from the extralegal aspects of his detention and his alleged deportation or expulsion.

Ken Opalo points out in The Standard that Interior Minister Matiangi shouldn’t have overreacted to Raila’s oath of office in first place, since “the people’s president” is not a real office and the ceremony was a political statement not a treasonable offense.  To this I would add that the State Department’s pronouncement from Washington helped fuel rather than diffuse the confrontation, in particular by decrying the ceremony as a “self-inauguration” without noting that the opposition had stepped back from a claim to an actual office (the stated goal of the opposition is take office through new elections later this year).

Western envoys in Kenya decry difficult pre-election environment, but say too late for substantial reforms, leaving no obvious way forward

[Update: Here is an Oct. 3 Daily Nation story on the status of negotiations and demands among Kenyan politicians and Western diplomats: “Envoys threaten travel bans to politicians derailing poll plans“.  The International Crisis Group meanwhile offers a good brief: “How to have a credible, peaceful presidential election in Kenya“.

The independent European Union Election Observation Mission issued a new 3 October statement saying “decisive improvements are still achievable if Kenyans come together in a constructive manner” while decrying excessive demands and proposed law changes and with confrontation from both sides.

And to refresh the memories of the envoys and candidates here are the September 14 recommendations of the European Union Election Observation Mission for reforms ahead of the election re-run.]

It is in fact very unfortunate that time has been running hard against the 60 day deadline for the “fresh election” necessitated by the failure of Kenya’s IEBC (significantly supported by the United States and, at least indirectly through the UNDP so-called “basket funding”, other donors) to conduct a lawful presidential election on August 8 as determined by the Supreme Court of Kenya.

With the passage of time things like the then-shocking torture/murder of acting IEBC ICT head on the eve of the election are no longer mentioned in such statements as today’s from the envoy group.  Too long ago that murder (passing 60 days) and with no sign of progress or serious effort to solve the case we should of course “accept and move on” that it was simply an unfortunate coincidence (or at most one of those political murders that happen periodically in Kenya that are agreed to be ignored so that we don’t have to face the darker realitity of how “democracy” really works in such a pretty country).  Of no relevance to the August 8 election or its rerun in the hands of the his suspened predecessor who got his job back when Msando was killed even though he had been earlier suspended as ICT director for refusing to cooperate in an audit.

Rather it is noted today that it is “too late” to replace staff hired under the removed Issack Hassan Chickengate regime or otherwise substantially reform the IEBC.

Longstanding CEO Ezra Chiloba doubled-down last week and signed (reportedly) a new (amendment??) with the controversially sole-sourced ICT vendor OT Morpho now owned by a US-based fund and a fund of the Government of France.  Pretty much an “in your face” gesture toward reformers if true. [Update 4/17: The IEBC twitter feed has reported that the OT Morpho contract will be released – I gather this is confirmation of the reported new agreement but we shall see.]

Either the donors have lost all significant influence, if they had any, toward transparency and trust building at the IEBC or they are really gambling hard on selling whatever the IEBC in existing form–without meaningful reform–will offer up on October 26 and the seven days thereafter.

As for me, I think this is a bad gamble, both in terms of odds and because the known character of the other players at the table.

As an American who was involved in the 2007 fiasco from part-way inside and witnessed 2013, I would like to see my Government cease to help underwrite this IEBC as a matter of our own integrity and of our long term ability to provide some future positive influence to the future development of independent democratic institutions in Kenya.

The American dollars supporting through USAID this IEBC would be much better spent on urgent humanitarian needs (see the UNDP’s call for additional funds of more than $100M for Kenya famine relief).

It may be that NASA will throw in the towel and agree to go along to run in a “not so fresh” election without IEBC reforms.  That is for NASA to decide.  I just do not want my Government to interfere in that decisionmaking process unless we are willing to provide some independent assurance of transparency and support for fairness to all Kenyans (not just NASA) that the Government of Kenya cannot be expected to agree to unless we are willing to stand up to them in a way that I have not seen from us in 2007 or 2013.

Before Kenya’s vote, read Daniel Branch’s The Fire Next Time

If you missed it, amid all the international media scene setters, and very last minute diplomatic appeals, take 9 minutes for “The Fire Next Time: Why memories of the 2007-08 post election violence remain alive.” from Daniel Branch in The Elephant.

Much wisdom on why Kenya has remained stuck following “the debacle of 2007”.

Upcoming Washington Event: CSIS and NDI Conference–“Moving Forward on Constitutional Reform in Kenya”

Monday, September 20 at CSIS. Here is the link for details.

And here is a link to Kenya’s NTV on PM Odinga’s praise for US Gov’t support for Kenya’s reform process, in conjunction with NDI board meeting and events in Nairobi.

Historic Day as New Constitution Ushers in Kenya’s “Second Republic”

Dropping in
The Standard: Kenyan’s Hopes Highest Since NARC Victory

By ALEX NDEGWA

As Kenyans celebrate a new Constitution that radically improves governance, hope is growing with a survey suggesting the high level of optimism is highest in seven years.

An overwhelming majority (77 per cent) is optimistic about the economic prospects in the next 12 months following the promulgation of the new Constitution by President Kibaki, this Friday.

Such high level of optimism was last recorded in April 2003, four months after the National Rainbow Coalition Government rode to power on a euphoric wave that ended Kanu’s repressive reign.

Kenyans were then rated the most optimistic people in the world, yearning for better governance and service delivery, but the hope dissipated as the new regime that had campaigned on a reform platform got mired in grand corruption and power feuds.

The country’s leadership, which ironically brings together the President and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who had fired up the optimism before their falling out, has the opportunity to make up to Kenyans.

Remembering Why Kenya Needed a New Constitution–the fundamentals

From a speech by James Orengo in 2000 at Concordia University in Minnesota:

The constitution of Kenya was deliberately designed to fail. We borrowed the worst features of other people’s constitutions. The result is a machine without rhythm or reason. We have borrowed the American presidential system but ignored the checks and balances that make the president accountable to the Americans. We have borrowed the parliamentary system from Britain but none of the parliamentary practices that makes the British parliament effective. We borrowed the Bill of Rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but added in all the exceptions to rights that were common in Stalinist countries. In short, we now have a presidency without checks, a parliament without teeth, and a Bill of Rights that reads more like a Bill of Exceptions rather than Rights.

And M. Munene, 2001,in The Politics of Transition in Kenya 1995-1998 Nairobi, Friends of the Book Foundation:

the republican constitution that Kenyatta talked about rolled the powers of the governor-general and those of the prime minister into one in the name of the president and enabled him to enjoy those powers unfettered by the British government, any party opposition, or constitutional position that he did not like . . . the governor-general and the prime minister became, in 1965, the absolute president.

As quoted in Nasong’o, S.W. and T.O. Ayot (2007) “Women in Kenya’s Politics of Transition and Democratization”, in G.R. Murunga and S.W. Nasong’o, (eds), Kenya: The Struggle for Democracy London: Zed Books

Kenyan voters have again spoken peacefully in large turnout, and are being heard this time

Again, to me the most important thing about the constitutional referendum has been to let Kenyans make up their minds, decide, vote and most importantly see the process honored in a transparent manner that builds trust and confidence. This appears to be in the process of happening with official results due tomorrow. Ruto, a most visible champion of dissent from the circus at the Electoral Commission of Kenya in the December 2007 general election, a suspect in the investigations of post-election violence, and a mobilizing leader of the “No” campaign, has accepted the outcome based on a transparent process.

While the promise and challenge of democratic reform through a better legal framework remains very much a work in process, the right to vote and have those votes counted in a transparent manner appears to have been restored. This is a very important good thing and worth a moment to cherish.