Warnings to Take Seriously for Kenya’s March Election . . . and something to enjoy

The Council on Foreign Relations has just published a “Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 17” regarding “Electoral Violence in Kenya” by Joel Barkan, of CSIS and professor emeritus from the University of Iowa.

Well worth a careful review. Joel Barkan is a dean among the community of American scholars of Kenyan and East African politics who has also worked on the democracy and governance assistance side with USAID in Kenya during the birth pangs of 1992 and made the transition to the policy world in Washington through his post at the CSIS Africa Program and activities such as helping to spearhead the “Kenya Working Group” to put together a broad range of people in Washington working on Kenya issues to generate necessary focus within the U.S. government. Joel was our “resident expert” among the Election Observation delegates for the International Republican Institute observation for the 2007 Kenyan election and had the singular position of being independently identified as someone we wanted as a delegate by both IRI staff and as a “suggestion” to me from Ambassador Ranneberger.

Someday, when a careful history is written of the last Kenyan election and its aftermath, Joel will be noted as one of those who helped the United States get its diplomatic response turned around in part so that we were then able to assist in addressing the crisis presented by the failed election. He spoke out from Kenya and immediately afterwards back in Washington about the obvious failure of the ECK central tally in Nairobi–and raised in Washington the failure to release and use the IRI/USAID exit poll data as a clear indicator that the ECK’s announced numbers did not justify the intransigence being shown by Kibaki and his networks of “hardliners”. Thus, Joel is an obvious person to pay attention to in preparing for the 2013 election.

Let me also flag the comment to my last post entitled “Countdown to Chaos” from Andrew J. Franklin, an American former Marine who has lived in Kenya since the 1970s. I don’t know Mr. Franklin personally yet outside the blog, but this is a warning “straight from the ground” in Kenya, from someone with involvement in the security business. It is a lot easier for expats in Kenya to keep their heads down and say nothing, so I take his cautions with extra gravity.

In closing, let me refer you to a video from bloggingheadstv.com with Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch and Wycliffe Muga of Nairobi’s The Star. Regular readers will have noticed that I cite Wycliffe Muga’s Star columns frequently as having noteworthy insight. I didn’t get to meet nearly as many Kenyan journalists as I would have liked while working the last election, in part because I wasn’t wanting to be in the media myself and in part because I was just too busy with the immediate demands of the job with the programs I was responsible for. Nonetheless, I did get to meet Wycliffe in person early on and got tutored in some important intricacies of Kenyan politics, both historically and in terms of the current situation in Mombasa at that time where he was living then. I will call Wycliffe a friend, like Joel, in the interest of disclosure and because I like them both–but please don’t assume that either of them necessarily ever agree with me on anything I write here!

I think it might be fair to call Wycliffe something of an “Ameriphile”, which of course I appreciate as an American myself. In this bloggingheadstv discussion, Wycliffe perhaps provides a “shot in the arm” for those of us who might get discouraged by some of our more feckless foreign policy moments and expresses appreciation for what the United States did ultimately do in applying muscle to leverage a mediated settlement of the Kenyan 2007-08 election crisis, as well as, in particular, health assistance in the form of PEPFAR.

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[Updated] New Book Recommendation: Monitoring Democracy

UPDATE:  See “Election Monitoring:  Power, Limits and Risks” an “Expert Markets and Democracy Brief” at the Council on Foreign Relations website, including discussion of the 1992 and 2007 IRI observations in Kenya.

Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works and Why It Often Fails, newly released this month by Dr. Judith Kelley at Duke, from Princeton University Press is a major contribution to the academic study and assessment of election observation. This isn’t East Africa specific, but with all major elections in the region now drawing a variety of international observation mission on a regular basis, it is time to apply the kind of social science analysis that is used to look at the effectiveness of other types of aid/assistance or foreign policy interventions.

I’m still reading so I’ll wait for a full review, but I can definitely encourage anyone devoting significant time and effort to elections on an international basis to add this to the core library.

Nestle Chairman Says U.S. Biofuel Policy Causes Starvation at Time of Food Crisis

Interestingly, the head of Nestlé lashed out at U.S. ethanol policy yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations as reported in The Independent:

Today, 35 per cent of US corn goes into biofuel,” the Nestlé chairman told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York yesterday. “From an environmental point of view this is a nonsense, but more so when we are running out of food in the rest of the world.
“It is absolutely immoral to push hundreds of millions of people into hunger and into extreme poverty because of such a policy, so I think – I insist – no food for fuel.”

Corn prices almost doubled in the year to February, though they have fallen from their peak in the past few weeks. Anger at rising food prices contributed to protests across the Middle East, and rising commodities costs were among the factors pushing UK inflation to 4.4 per cent in February, according to figures out yesterday.

US exports account for about 60 per cent of the world’s corn supply. Demand has surged as more people join the middle classes in emerging economies such as China and India, not just because these new consumers demand more food made from corn, but also because demand for meat has increased and livestock farmers need to buy more feed.

Nestlé, the company behind Shredded Wheat, Nescafé and Aero chocolate bars, has been lobbying European regulators and governments around the world against setting high targets for biofuel use, even though many countries see the production of ethanol as a means of meeting obligations to cut carbon fuel emissions.

The lobbying has fallen on deaf ears in the US, however. Ethanol production from corn is heavily subsidised, with output running at more than 13.5 billion gallons annually. Policies to promote its production are “absurd”, Mr Brabeck-Letmathe claimed yesterday, and meeting a mooted global target of having 20 per cent of fuel demand with biofuels would involve increasing production by one third.

“What is the result? Prices are going up. It’s not very complicated,” he said. “This question is now the number one priority for the G20 meeting in Nice, and the main thing we are going to do is fight against speculation. We are concentrating on the irrelevant.”

Speaking to farmers earlier this month, the Obama administration’s agriculture secretary said he found arguments from the like of Nestlé “irritating”. Mr Vilsack said: “The folks advancing this argument either do not understand or do not accept the notion that our farmers are as productive and smart and innovative and creative enough to meet the needs of food and fuel and feed and export.” . . . .

There are a number of recent biofuel projects at various stages in Kenya. Obviously this is controversial, but without the subsidies so far as I know these projects involve non-food crops,  UPDATE:  Here is a story this week in AFP about opposition to plans to grow jatropha on 50,000 hectares near Malindi on the Kenyan coast for the European ethanol market.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Quicksands of Somalia | Foreign Affairs

In the Quicksands of Somalia | Foreign Affairs.

I highly recommend this article which I have referred to several friends.  The author was the program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy who worked with our Kenya program funding and I met her briefly on the way to Africa in June 2007.  From my perspective, she seems to have it right and I would simply add that the consequences of the US support for first the invasion by Ethiopia, and then the African Union force to try to uphold the Transitional Federal Government have included the US incurring debts to be paid to other governments in the region, including Kenya and Uganda.