George H.W. Bush was of a generation of America’s traditional elite who not only fought World War II, but also collectively oversaw the transition from Jim Crow racial segregation and discrimination through the Civil Rights era while managing the American response to decolonization in Africa and forming relations with the newly independent African states during the Cold War.
Most notably it was during the G.H.W. Bush presidency that Secretary of State James Baker gave permission to Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen to begin supporting democratization in Africa as a distinct element of U.S. policy. (See Cohen’s Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent, a memoir published in 2000). Part of the initial impetus was to help Soviet leader Gorbachev buy latitude by de-escalating tensions at a time of transition for the Russians.
Although U.S. democratization policy did not fare so well in Russia itself, I do think that we were helpful during the Bush Administration and beyond in bringing some African conflicts to a close and in Kenya, an established U.S. regional security partner, in pushing for a political liberalization through legalization of non-KANU parties and forcing President Moi to actually run for re-election in 1992.
President Bush’s politically-appointed Ambassador Smith Hempstone was fondly remembered during my time in Kenya with the International Republican Institute (2007-08) for having challenged Moi and his circle on political liberty issues. He was seen as having provided aid and comfort to actors in “the Second Liberation” within the context of the basic Kenyan-American security relationship. Hempstone was a journalist and newspaperman, not a diplomat, so needless to say he was not quite a cultural/professional favorite in the State Department itself but he knew his way around both East Africa and Washington with enough background and pedigree in both places to successfully test what he could get away with.
It is worth remembering today that Bush appointed Hempstone (who died in 2006) and stuck with him when it might have been easier to assuage Moi by replacing him with someone who would not “rock the boat” or speak too plainly. My late friend Joel Barkan and others I got to know in the democracy community were admirers of Hempstone’s fortitude at a crucial moment of inflection for Kenya. See “My Joel Barkan Tribute“.
Caring about democracy in Kenya can be discouraging, but there is no doubt that most Kenyans are in fact freer now than they were prior to the Bush/Baker/Hempstone period. While Kenyans fought their own fight, I think that we made the correct choice to be supportive under Bush’s presidency.
Kenya, after three problematic general elections (2007, 2013, 2017), might finally be showing some initial stirrings of organic action to start to address fraud within the Election Commission. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has announced today the termination of Ezra Chiloba, Chief Election Officer, after a long suspension.
The last two elections were plagued by technology problems, with the 2017 vote annulled by the Supreme Court. The donors, including USAID which directly funded failed purchases in 2013, and funded a major embedded role with the IEBC for IFES throughout these years, have remained conspicuously mute on reforms and corruption issues involving the Electoral Commissions.
In the past, after opposition protests, the Commissioners from the 2007 and 2013 elections were given lucrative buyouts to pave the way for a new slate, and impunity for bribery and procurement fraud issues was the informal consensus policy among the Kenyan politicians and the Western donors supporting the election process.
After the buyout of the Commission led by Issack Hassan which had failings in the 2013 vote, Chief Election Officer Chiloba was carried over under the new Commission on through the 2017 vote. Since 2017 we have now seen three Commissioners resign in addition to Commissioner Akombe who fled country during the tensions following the Supreme Court’s annulment of the August presidential vote. The remaining Commissioners have now acted to fire Chiloba after internal audits and a report by Kenya’s Auditor General raised “charges . . . on major procurements.”
See today’s announcement:
The next step is to release to the public the audit reports indicating “charges” and refer the matters for legal proceedings.
In the meantime, several more months have gone by without any further release from the USAID FOIA office on my 2015 request for the documents from their support of the IEBC through IFES for the 2013 vote.
This year in Northeast Florida were have missed Florence but are watching our neighbors in the Carolinas with concern. Meanwhile our neighbors in Uganda are suddenly on the radar screen in a heightened way. Museveni’s political repression has struck an international nerve through the popular musician turned Member of Parliament and opposition by-election campaigner Bobi Wine.
Epstein’s book from the Columbia Global Reports series is a quick read (and inexpensive) so there is really no excuse to duck it if you are an American concerned about Uganda. Helen Epstein is an American with “skin in the game” in Uganda. She has lived there and worked with the failing health systems — her “active voice” as a critic comes not from the abstract but the specific. You do not have to agree with her about everything, or think she has figured out all our governmental secrets or inside-the-beltway motivations, but you would be foolish not to take her seriously and account for what she has to say.
Update: let me add here a couple of key blurbs for Epstein’s book from other writers who I have relied on and who will be well familiar to readers here:
William Easterly: “As her new book reveals, Helen Epstein is an eloquent advocate of human rights and democracy for Africans, as well as a courageous critic of how U.S. aid supports oppressive dictators like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.”
Michela Wrong: “For decades, Western policy-makers have hailed Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni as a benign autocrat, a charming African Bismarck and trusted partner in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Another Fine Mess reveals a far darker side to this key African ally, while exposing the cynicism at the heart of American policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. This gripping, iconoclastic, angry book raises a host of uncomfortable questions.”
[Note: Some of my Washington friends took a bit of umbrage about some of Helen’s real time reportage on Kenya’s last election–fine. If we were more transparent we would not risk being misunderstood; I was not in Kenya for the 2017 vote and at the end of the day we will have to see what the record shows. In that regard I am still working on 2007 and 2013. Uganda is Epstein’s lived experience in a different way.]
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.]
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.
I am still reviewing the full report, but in summary:
Kenya’s 2017 general electoral process was marred by incidents of unrest and violence throughout the extended electoral period and by harsh attacks by top political leaders on electoral and judicial authorities that seriously undermined the independence of the country’s democratic institutions and the rule of law. The confrontational tactics and actions of Kenya’s political leaders polarized the country and exposed the deep tribal and ethnic rifts that have long characterized its politics. Regrettably, the elections represent a major setback in Kenya’s democratic development.
As far as pre-election deficiencies the report notes the late appointment of the IEBC Commissioners leaving inadequate preparation time overall, as well as highlighting a voter register that was improved but still had major inadequacies.
The report, while noting the ELOG parallel sample results as consistent with the IEBC’s announced results, emphasizes the problems with post- voting results transmission and announcement (in the context of that confrontational rhetoric and polarized environment):
Unfortunately, for unexplained reasons, the IEBC did not utilize the full seven-day period provided by the law to consolidate and post all the official polling station results forms. Instead, the IEBC hastily declared the final presidential election results on Aug. 11, just three days after election day, based on the constituencylevel results forms, and prior to the receipt of all polling-station level results forms. Worse still, election authorities failed to ensure that parties had timely access to official polling-station level results in the days following the announcement of official results, which made it impossible for parties and observers to fully verify and cross-check the results against their internal data and reports in time to include any key evidence in court petitions.
Recent political posturing over the 2022 presidential election and the upcoming national census and boundary delimitation process raises concerns that an electoral reform process could be delayed.
To move electoral reform forward, parliament should move swiftly to ensure that the requisite number of IEBC commissioners are in place. Meaningful reform cannot be implemented without a fully functioning commission.
Back in 2015 I submitted a Freedom of Information request for USAID records relating to the election assistance through IFES for Kenya’s IEBC (the election commission).
Several hundred pages were sent from the Mission in Kenya to the USAID FOIA office more than 30 months ago. A year ago I finally got the first release, simply a heavily redacted copy of the Cooperative Agreement itself funding the program.
I have just recently gotten the second release, the first substantive tranche of redacted copies of the underlying documents. From this I am starting to learn some information about the procurement of the failed Results Transmission System, but that matter remains somewhat sketchy so far.
Sadly I did see that IFES staff reported to USAID in the aftermath of the vote that they were busy working on the defense of the Supreme Court petition which impacted their availability to address questions about the systems issues.
I also learned that the election assistance donors were discussing amongst themselves the extent to which the UNDP, which administered “basket funding” for the election should cooperate with an investigative inquiry regarding procurements from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).
I did learn that one prospective bidder for one Results Transmission System procurement reported to the USAID Mission December 2012 that the allowed time for proposals was insufficient, to no avail as USAID said the impending election date did not allow delay.
When I consulted with AfriCOG, the Kenyan civil society organization, on election observation, and court petitions were filed seeking first to enjoin the IEBC from proceeding with an informal/irregular alleged vote tally when the Results Transmission System failed, and then after the IEBC went ahead, to challenge the alleged results, I did not know the Results Transmission System was a U.S. Government procurement under the Agreement, nor of direct involvement of IFES in supporting the other side in the litigation.
At this point, I am fairly well done with this blog as a format after all these years, but will continue to report on these matters of unfinished business as I learn more.
In my last post I discussed the late FOIA release of an April 2007 cable setting out U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s explanation of a policy of hands-off neutrality on election reform proposals, and a “plague on both their houses” view of corruption. Ranneberger’s approach was to “build capital” with incumbent Mwai Kibaki’s Kenyan government heading into his re-election campaign, while distancing the U.S. from dissenting opposition and civil society voices.
A very different take was set forth only a few months before in documents released to me by USAID in 2014 under a FOIA request relating to the exit and public opinion polling program I managed in that 2007 election cycle as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute. In memoranda from November 2006 to release a second round of $250,000 in funds for the polling program which had started with an exit poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum, USAID noted “a policy shift toward NGO and civil society partners in light of the weakening of Kenya’s Executive Branch as a reliable and willing partner in areas such as Democracy and Governance”.
Here are excerpts from the documents linked above:
Embassy Nairobi has requested that the funds be used to support activities to strengthen democracy and governance, environmental sustainability and economic development and trade. All the programs will be managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In FY 2006, the funds will be used as follows:
*Democracy and Governance ($2,570,000):
$2.25 million will be used to support domestic and international observations, including training for political party agents and independent observers, allowing them to assess whether the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 are non-violent, transparent, and competitive.
*The U.S. Government seeks to build a democratic and economically prosperous Kenya. This is addressed through five strategic objectives focusing on: reducing fertility and the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission; improving natural resource management; improving the balance of power among the institutions of governance; increasing rural household incomes; and supporting education for children of marginalized populations.
The Recipient [IRI] shall institute a program to improve and increase access to objective, reliable information on citizen views and reform priorities through public opinion polling. The Recipient’s activities aim to provide this information to the Kenyan public, Kenyan policymakers, and the diplomatic community and to improve the science and popular perception of opinion survey research in the country.
The degradation of political discourse and consensus-building in Kenya since the country’s landmark 2002 election has culminated in the stalemate over the constitutional reform process. Having ridden a wave of public optimism into power, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) followed through on several of its most important promises during its first year in power. Shortly after taking office, President Mwai Kibaki’s government instituted free primary education nationwide. It also made a strong start in attacking the problem of corruption, beginning with a purge of corrupt members of the judiciary. However, in many areas of concern the performance of the government has been disappointing. Despite its promise of a new constitution within 100 days of taking office, deep disagreements within the NARC government about the content of various drafts have kept this new constitution from Kenyans for nearly three years. Furthermore, NARC’s promises of 500,000 new jobs per year and a vastly reduced crime rate have not materialized. Most unfortunate has been the government’s lack of seriousness in dealing with the resurgence of corruption at high levels of the Kenyan government, resulting in severe criticism by donor countries and civil society groups. Poverty and unemployment remain high; electricity, water, and other services are provided on an irregular basis; and violent crime is prevalent and uncontrolled. Expectations among Kenyans were high that the new leadership would bring rapid relief, but most of the problems have worsened, remained unchanged, or been only marginally improved during NARC’s first three years in office.
. . . .
A chief obstacle for the political parties and other major stakeholders in Kenya has been the lack of reliable information on the concerns and opinions of ordinary Kenyans. Policy priorities are set by political elites who have almost no access to data regarding trends in public opinion and no means by which to gauge how popular or unpopular specific policies are with different segments of the population. In he first few years of this decade, a number of influential opinion polls were conducted that showed the deep satisfaction of the Kenyan public with the Moi government and their desire for a viable alternative to come out of the scattered opposition. These surveys, including one poll conducted by the Recipient [IRI] in 2002 that showed for the first time that a united opposition could beat the Kenya African National Union (KANU), gave strong impetus to the formation of the NARC coalition.
However, after 2002, opinion polling did not become a regular feature of the Kenyan political scene . . . Some major media houses . . . most of these polls have focused exclusively on the “horse race” issues most likely to sell newspapers . . . Moreover, the methods used in some of the most widely-reported polls have been fiercely criticized . . .
. . . .
The future of democracy in Kenya is now much more uncertain than it seemed amid the euphoria of the 2002 election . . . .
It needs to be noted as well that in seeking release of additional funding for the IRI polling in 2006 USAID noted the IRI’s successful performance to date, including the “accurate” 2005 exit poll with the completion of all items on the program work plan, which included the public release of the exit poll results.
(Thus I was taken aback by the objection to public release of the 2007 exit poll results under an extension of the same program, not having incorporated a new direction of “building capital” into the program.)
A breakthrough on unraveling the story of Kenya’s stolen 2007 election:
This is from my original 2009 Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department for documents related to the 2007 Kenya exit poll I managed as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute’s USAID funded polling program.
At that time State withheld one document in full on the basis of “predecisional privilege”; I eventually got that document released on appeal, and heard no more.
Yesterday, I checked in with the State Department FOIA web library to see if there was anything new on Kenya from other requesters and my search showed that an additional document had been published online in 2017, unbeknownst to me, in response to my 2009 request. It is an April 24, 2007 cable titled “Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” over the signature of Ambassador Ranneberger to the Secretary of State for the Africa Bureau and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in Washington. “Sensitive But Unclassified” and released with no redaction. No explanation as to why this document, which pre-dates all of the others released or identified to me in 2013, was published online on April 18, 2017; if it was mailed to me at some point I did not receive it. Nonetheless, I am glad to finally have it (although I wish I had known about it when I published my June 2017 summary story on “The Debacle of 2007“ for The Elephant).
The big significance of the cable for me is that it documents that the State Department had in fact changed its approach toward Kibaki and toward the opposition between 2005 and April 2007. This was my perception “on the ground” during the campaign, but I had no explicit documentation until now. It also confirms that as of April, the plan was for a diplomatic observation of the election by State Department personnel only and not an International Observation Mission by the Carter Center as recommended by a 2006 USAID evaluation (referenced in the cable) or by IRI as initiated at the behest of the Ambassador that summer.
Likewise, the cable includes one more recitation that the purpose of the exit poll, formally, was to deter and oppose election fraud through an “independent verification of election results”, not to be “a training exercise never intended to be released” as asserted by Ambassador Ranneberger on a State Department webchat in March 2008 after the quashed but leaked poll had become a “hot potato”, and supported in State Department talking points prepared and circulated in response to media reporting in 2008 and 2009.
Unfortunately for me, when I took over the USAID polling program for IRI in June 2007, the program was operating under a Cooperative Agreement from 2005 that expressed the old policy of being disappointed in the corruption and underperformance within the Kenyan government as reflected in the Anglo Leasing security procurement frauds, the Standard Raid and Artur Brothers, etc. No one at USAID or IRI intimated that the State Department had changed policy and I had to figure it out for myself on the fly.
Here are key excerpts from the cable as published:
3. (SBU) Positioning: Some civil society leaders and opposition members of Parliament have complained recently that the U.S. mission is not close enough to the opposition. In fact, we have close contacts with the opposition from the top levels through the Ambassador to to all levels. However, the opposition longs for the days in 2005 when Foreign Minister Tuju publicly condemned the U.S. mission for supposedly desiring “regime change” in Kenya. They also cite the period in the 1990s when the U.S. mission openly sided against the Moi administration in favor of the multiparty democracy movement. However, the present government, for all its flaws, was elected under conditions widely considered free and fair. As for its indulgence of corrupt members of the political class, we note that the opposition has taken no disciplinary action against notoriously corrupt members within its own ranks. Corruption plagues the entire political class. We will continue to publicly condemn it as a major impediment to Kenya’s progress. We will continue to work closely with the Kibaki administration to achieve USG goals, but we will continue to assert ourselves as completely neutral concerning the election itself. Our strategy is to build capital with the government to be spent as needed over the course of the campaign to address critical electoral issues. We started that process through emphasis on the U.S.-Kenya partnership (reftel B). While we will be strictly neutral among the contending political parties, we will be fiercely partisan in support of the democratic process.
. . . .
8. (SBU) Electoral Reform: As reported in reftel B, electoral reform continues to be a hotly debated topic in Kenya. There is a consensus among all political parties and civil society that reform is required. There are no prominent defenders of the status quo. However, there is no consensus on the scope of reforms and the particulars of those reforms. Since the 2002 general election and the 2005 referendum on the draft constitution were both held under the present electoral system and were deemed free and fair, and since Kenyan society is adequately debating electoral reform, we see no reason for the USG to enter the fray. However, we have urged on all parties a spirit of compromise and an emphasis on the longterm best interests of the nation rather than short term electoral advantage. An opposition leader recently threatened a boycott of elections if his party’s electoral reform demands are not met. We made it clear to him that such intemperate language is not constructive and that boycotts are not acceptable. He stopped issuing boycott threats.
. . . .
– Public Opinion Polling: The International Republican Institute began implementing a public opinion program in 2005. The program seeks to achieve two results: increasing the availability of objective and reliable polling data; and providing an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls. These results make an important contribution to elections and political processes. First, genuine free and fair elections require that citizens make informed choices. The polling data adds to the objective data available to citizens on key electoral issues. Second, the exit polls provide an independent assessment of the accuracy of the official electoral results, thereby supporting the assessment of the credibility of Kenyan electoral processes.
This program also enhances democratic political parties by enhancing the likelihood that candidates base their platforms on the key issues and concerns of their constituents, evidenced in the polling data, rather than the traditional focus on ethnicity and personalized political wrangling.
I will discuss the context and layers of meaning in this “new old” cable more in the near future.
Macharia Gaitho seems to have been of late the designated Kenyan columnist to convey certain background perspectives from the American Embassy. His April 8 Sunday Nation column provides in interview form a review by outgoing Ambassador Godec of his tenure and the position of the State Department at present.
For me the primary “takeaway” is, as the Nation headlined, the continued/renewed statement of the need for “national dialogue”. The issues were apparent from the 2017 election going back to the 2007-08 election. The “handshake” of a month ago is said to open an opportunity for that dialogue. Likewise the U.S. position is reiterated on the status of the October 26 election and Kenyatta as legitimate per the IEBC and Supreme Court as the U.S. sees it.
I have not met Godec and I really do not have an opinion about him personally. I am not able to say, with the late American humorist Will Rogers, that “I never met a man I didn’t like” but I try to be able to say “I never dislike a man that I’ve never met.”
What makes me sad is that Godec as the Ambassador has been controversial and drawn more anger as well as more disappointment from many Kenyans than I have seen in the past.
Some of the heat would fall on the shoulders of anyone who was the voice of the controversial policies from Washington. Some of it reflects more specifically the reasons that “national dialogue” is needed: the 2008 “peace deal” got only perhaps half-executed and a lot of Kenyans are unenthused as they should be about getting the short end of the stick over the past ten years from their own government. As a “friend” of the Government of Kenya we naturally find ourselves with some “guilt by association” from the Kenyan public. And of course some of it is the behind the scenes stuff that we Americans back home have to hope to evaluate, someday, from the media or private conversations with insiders or the Freedom of Information Act, if ever.
Godec was candid enough to acknowledge that “peace” was prioritized first as a “must” in United States foreign policy in regard to Kenyan elections as but noted that we continued to also support other equities of justice and fairness. For instance, we support allowing civil society freedom to operate. Nothing was said however to indicate we ourselves need to take a fresh look at our own role in supporting the election mechanisms or our role in supporting reform and transparency out of our own experience in these last three Kenyan election cycles.
It perhaps goes without saying that we no longer mention any notion or prospect of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post election violence. (Or pre-election 2013 for that matter.) That was something we always used to talk about.
Ambassador Godec noted that his biggest regret was the ongoing security situation as reflected in the Westgate and Garissa University attacks. I assume we are not waiting for those reports from the Government of Kenya on those attacks that Kenyans have been waiting on. (Of course both Kenya and the United States remain at war in Somalia as we were when the Ambassador arrived as Charge in 2012.)
The biggest thing that really struck me from Ambassador Godec’s interview was that there are now 28,000 Americans living in Kenya. More people have been realizing what a great place to live Kenya can be if you are an American, as I can attest. I hope that’s a good thing.
I also hope the Ambassador will sit down with The Elephant as a newer Kenyan publication that is able to generate more depth on current controversies than the big media groups usually feel able.
With a new political appointment announced for the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, Raila Odinga’s criticism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on his last U.S. visit of the role of the U.S. and U.K. envoys in supporting Kenyan elections for favoring immediate stability over democracy raises the underlying question of how much of the issue has to do with specific envoys and how much is pre-determined policy handed down from Washington or London.
Thus some overdue consideration of my interactions with Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in 2007-08 in that context:
Obviously I got along fine with Ranneberger for a period of months before we “crossed up” over specifics of my job with the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the month of the election; where I did not agree with his approach, it not lead me to personally dislike him, nor did I feel I was informed adequately or was otherwise in a position to challenge how he was doing his job as Ambassador. Rather my obligation as I saw it was to stand my ground to be able to do my own job. At some level the problem was simply institutional in that Ranneberger felt that his job encompassed managing my work in managing the IRI Election Observation Mission and I did not (nor did IRI as I was told without exception).
When Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other about issues from our interactions during the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times in a story published in January 2009, soon after the Obama inauguration, Ranneberger was quoted as reacting by claiming that he was being falsely accused by people who were out to get him.
By the time the Times story ran I had been back at my job in the States as a lawyer for defense contractor Northrop Grumman for a year-and-a-half. It was potentially consequential to be called a liar in the New York Times by the serving American Ambassador to a country in which my company at the time had business for the U.S. as a national security contractor.
Fortunately I was treated very well by my client/employer (as when they held my job open for me to take “public service leave” to support democracy in Kenya in the first place). When my security clearance came up for renewal a year later I seemed to draw some flack from somewhere leading to a follow up along the lines of whether I had in some sense let my loyalties “go native” to which I re-iterated my loyally clean conscience. Since my clearance was renewed I did not lose my job. (Likewise, I assumed that it was understood that I had not been lying in my interviews with The Times.)
It was well after the Times story ran that it was mentioned to me in passing that there were efforts from Kenyans to persuade Washington to replace Ranneberger. I was never involved in such efforts and did not know anything about the topic when I was interviewed by the Times July 2008 or in a follow up after the U.S. election that November. The decision to accept the interview request from the Times was strictly mine and I did not consult with anyone about whether to agree or what to say. As I have written here, I requested a meeting with IRI with no reply that October (2008) and had a discussion with the IRI Press Secretary that November but again IRI never followed up with me.
I can say this: I was surprised that the Obama Administration continued to be represented by Ranneberger for more than half of Obama’s first term after the election debacle. I would have assumed that Obama’s message from the campaign of a changed foreign policy approach along with the personal factors of being identified with Kenya through his father and having visited Kenya I believe three times by then, would have given extra assurance that Obama would want to get a fresh start after the previous mess sooner rather than later. But just for these “macro” reasons, not because of any details of the election saga I filled in for investigating reporters.
At some point subsequently I made an extracurricular call on a staffer to Sen. Feingold to inquire as to what response the Asst. Secretary of State and the Asst. Administrator for USAID had provided to the Senator’s demand for answers as to why the USAID/IRI exit poll was being embargoed at his hearing on February 8, 2008 Subcommittee Hearing on the Kenyan elections. I got nothing in the way of cooperation on my inquiry, but did get out of the blue and to my surprise what may have been a less than ingenuous question that “since it seems like we are going to need a new Ambassador” if I had any recommendations. Perhaps this reflected in some fashion Ranneberger’s conspiratorial notion of my motives? [no way to know, it just seems strange; I had no relationship with that office or stature that would warrant the question, especially in the context of being stonewalled on the small actual request for information that prompted the visit]
Here is how I viewed things at the time of Ranneberger’s departure from the Embassy in September 2011 (from a draft I did not post then):
Ambassador Ranneberger has been giving “exit interviews” and traveling to say his goodbyes to return to Washington. He has indicated that he loves Kenya in particular of his postings and would like to settle in Kenya (although he says he has not acquired property) and he has introduced the woman that he has described as the “Queen” to his “King”, with hints of a future wedding.
The British Royal wedding was a big hit in Kenya, and now we have the “changing of the guard” at the U.S. embassy as well. Swapping U.S. ambassadors is an unusually high profile public event in Kenya right now because, aside from the U.S. being “the sole superpower” and Kenya being a tourist destination and Nairobi being a big regional haven for “the international community” and being important in the regional economy, Ranneberger himself plays so large in Kenyan media and politics. Ironically, he is just a bit like Prime Minister Raila Odinga in this way.
Ranneberger has somewhat reinvented his public persona in Kenya the last couple of years, in that he now openly criticizes and challenges Kenyan politicians and is outspoken against corruption. Readers of this blog will know that I agree with him on corruption and that corruption is nothing new.
His style of saying a great deal in public and taking a high profile was there before, and is largely a matter of taste. Some people like it, some people dislike it. I am in between personally. My ultimate disagreement with him while I was IRI East Africa Director in Kenya was over content and underlying substance during the election, not over style and I have never borne him any personal ill will.
A key difference between Raila and Ranneberger is that Raila is in reality “the second man” in the Kenyan government and power structure behind the President who is extraordinarily quiet in the way that he conducts business and exercises that power while Raila takes a more public role both in Kenya and internationally. Ranneberger, on the other hand, is in most cases the only American present with a significant public profile.
The recent position as anti-corruption critic is clearly a departure from Ranneberger’s stance during my time with IRI in Kenya during the 2007 election campaign and the aftermath of the vote.
A: Lots of people look at Kenya and say lots of big cases have not been resolved because of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg. I always point out that we have lots of corruption even in the US. These cases take a lot of time to bring to justice. We had the famous Enron case. It took over four years to resolve in a system that works efficiently, yet only a couple of people were convicted. These things take a long time.
There has been substantial effort to fight corruption in Kenya and the award the country won for Civil Service reform [from the World Bank] is a pointer to that effect. The fact that the Civil Service is more professional than ever before is progress as are the new procurement laws recently put in place and the freedom of the Press to investigate and expose corruption. More, of course, needs to be done.
The economy has grown by 7 per cent. How much of that has actually trickled down to the people will again be determined by time.
A career diplomat, Ranneberger has been in Kenya for close to one-and-a-half years, and has served in Europe, Latin America and Africa.”
During previous days The Standard had been running new revelations about corruption in the Kibaki administration from documents from exiled former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission chairman John Githongo. Githongo’s personal adventure trying to address corruption in the Kibaki administration is the subject of Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat.
It may be that Kenyans benefited from a re-born zeal for the post-debacle “Reform Agenda” from Ranneberger, given a second chance of sorts under a new U.S. administration. Likewise, Ranneberger’s aggressive behind the scenes style may have been valuable in helping “deliver” finally a reformed Kenyan constitution through the 2010 referendum. At the same time, the bleed over of millions of dollars from officially neutral process support for the referendum into the “Yes” campaign suggests that the “new” Ranneberger was not quite so different–just as the new administration was not quite as different as many expected either.