In March 2017, before USAID started releases on my FOIA request on 2013 Kenya election, I called job of new IFES Country Director “the hardest in Kenya” and “probably impossible”

Read the whole post here:  The hardest job in Kenya . . .

. . . .

Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role.  Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to manage the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation.  Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.

Kenya 2013: Redacted reports to USAID suggest the problems with the IEBC acquisition of the Biometric Voter Registration system and the electronic Poll Books fed into the ultimate failure of the USAID-funded IFES Results Transmission System

Excerpts from the unredacted portions of the Quarterly Reports submitted by CEPPS, the Coalition for Political Party and Process Strengthening, to USAID, released to me last month per my 2015 FOIA request:

The overall goal of this program [USAID Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening or “KEPPS”] is to improve Kenya’s ability to hold free, fair and peaceful elections through support of the new electoral commission, political parties, civil society and media.

The reports show that key Objectives included to “Strengthen Election Management Body Capacity,” “Enhance Functionality of the Electronic Results Transmission System,” “Further the Transparency and Effectiveness of the Voter Registration Process,” and “Support Credible and Sustainable Monitoring and Observation Efforts”. Vast amounts of the material is redacted on the assertion of alleged FOIA exemption for confidential commercial information submitted by a private person. Redaction is so aggressive as to include in some instances blocking the entire list of Objectives, although the specific items listed above show up elsewhere.

The USAID program was originally funded for $18.5M from the Second Quarter of 2011 through the Second Quarter of 2014 (with another year and roughly $5M added through amendments). The original funding was split among the Consortium for Election and Political Process Strengthening parties: IFES $6M; IRI $1.5M; NDI $11M.

Future Activities:

[Redacted section]

*Assisting the IEBC in procurement of the Electronic Poll Books, specifically technical evaluation of the offers (This was planned for the current quarter but was delayed by IEBC).

*Guiding IEBC in development of procedures and training programs for voter registration workers (Also delayed by IEBC due to delays in procurement of BVR equipment).

*Providing a consultant to serve as assistant to the Chairman of IEBC during the absence of his Personal Assistant who has accepted a fellowship to continue his studies.

The tension among the Objectives involving imbedded support to the IEBC and support for credible monitoring and observation was apparent very early on in the Quarterly Reports.

Planning for the results transmission was derailed to a great extent by the repeated cycles of crisis with regard to the BVR procurement. Meetings scheduled with the IEBC to plan for a system were repeatedly cancelled as a fresh new crisis seemed to occur weekly and even daily.

The risk of failure of the electronic poll books procurement jeopardized the planned use of the poll books to enter results from each polling station, and may necessitate a return to mobile phones. In spite of the increased complexity of conducting elections with six [REDACTED Section].

Objective 5 [of USAID program]: Enhance the functionality of the electronic Results Transmission System.
* Specifications have been developed for using mobile phone handsets as a contingency in case the procurement for electronic poll books fails.

——-

Voter registration timelines announced by the IEBC lapsed repeatedly as a result of delays in the acquisition of BVR kits. Unable to settle on a vendor and a system at the end of August, the IEBC announced that it would instead revert to the manual register for the elections. However, the Cabinet exerted great pressure on the IEBC to retain the use of a BVR system and subsequently took over the tender process, negotiating directly with the Canadian Government for delivery of a BVR system …

The decision of the government to pressure IEBC to proceed with BVR, without regard for delays caused by this decision, and IEBC’s inability to resist that pressure has created a high-risk schedule with no room for slippage in planning for March 4, 2013 elections.

At the same time, IFES was working on “Restoring the eroding levels of public confidence in the integrity and competence of the IEBC” and “Ensuring an efficient and transparent vote count and results transmission system”.

But was not the public ultimately correct to have declining confidence in the integrity and competence of the IEBC, both in the lead up to the vote, and in light of the ultimate failures with both the questionably acquired Poll Books and the Results Transmission System?

———–

Fourth Quarter of 2012:

The Results Transmission System (RTS) solution procurement process was commenced during this Quarter and an in-house RTS was developed and presented to the IEBC as a backup system [REDACTED Section].

Results Transmission: IFES has continued to collaborate closely with the IEBC in the creation of a fully working prototype of the overall Results Transmission System. IFES has also, with approval of the IEBC, agreed to procure a Results Transmission System (RTS) solution and procurement is underway.

———-

For an idea of what was being discussed publicly in the fall of 2012 (when election was originally scheduled) see, i.e.:

August 1, 2012: “Kenyan IEBC drops biometric voter registration after tender controversy“.

October 10, 2012: “Recent Kenya polling points to concern on voter registration, other issues“.

November 27, 2012: “Kenyan diaspora disenfranchised?; Kwamchetsi Makokha raises concern about voter education; IFES seeks consultant“.

The Page of all my posts from the Kenya 2013 election is here.

———-

Ultimately, the Results Transmission System failed in practice. While it was allegedly acquired and deployed with an expectation of reliable performance, it initially displayed unverified and uncertain information that shaped global media reporting of the expected outcome of the eventual vote totals, but was then shut down completely by IEBC Chairman Hassan on the alleged basis of failure due to system overload.

The IEBC went on to announce a final first-round win for the Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto ticket with 50.07 percent of the vote in spite of the lack of the electronic system specified in the Constitution and the lack of a demonstrable manual contingent system and the expelling of party agents and election observers from the national tally process, among other irregularities.

Although polling consistently predicted a runoff in the presidential race, the early broadcast showing numbers from the failed RTS with a large and steady margin with well over 50% for the UhuRuto ticket gave Kenyatta and Ruto and the IEBC substantial practical leverage in opposing civil society litigation (which I supported) seeking an injunction to stop Hassan and the IEBC from announcing results without addressing the RTS failure and shutdown.

This leverage carried over into the Supreme Court as Kenyatta and Ruto and the IEBC defended the alleged 50.07% margin. IFES, according to correspondence and reporting provided at least some support services to the IEBC in litigating alongside Kenyatta and Ruto against Odinga and Musyoka as the opposition candidates and a separate election challenge from civil society. So far as I know the role of IFES in acquiring the RTS with US funds did not come up in the litigation, or in the reports of Election Observers, either those supported by CEPPS under this USAID KEPPS program or otherwise.

Kenya High Court Nairobi AFRICOG lawyer Harun Ndubi press conference 2013 election

”USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers” – from 2015 ahead of my FOIA request

Kenya election 2007 ECK Presiding Officer holding ballot with disputed marking

The successful prosecution of Smith & Ouzman, Ltd. and two of its officers by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office for paying bribes to Kenyan election officials to obtain contracts with Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) should be a wake-up call in Washington.  Smith & Ouzman Chairman Christopher John Smith and Sales and Marketing Director Nicholas Charles Smith were sentenced last week and sentencing of the corporation is upcoming.

Ironically, perhaps, “capacity building” and procurement systems, along with the subsequently abandoned electronic results transmission system, were touted by U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger as features of the U.S. pre-election support in Kenya in 2007:

* “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.”

From “Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 elections from the truth trickling out about 2007-New Cables From FOIA (Part One)” quoting a December 14, 2007 Ranneberger cable describing U.S. preparations for the Kenyan election.

For the 2013 election, I have a copy of one last minute USAID procurement through IFES for the Kenyan IEBC related to the failed electronic results transmission system; I would assume there were other USAID procurements involved for the IEBC.  Notably, the Supreme Court of Kenya found that the main cause of the failure of the electronic results transmission system and the electronic voter identification system appeared to be procurement “squabbles” among IEBC members. “It is, indeed, likely, that the acquisition process was marked by competing interests involving impropriety, or even criminality: and we recommend that this matter be entrusted to the relevant State agency, for further investigation and possible prosecution.”   “Thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court opinion” April 13, 2013.  See also, “Why would we trust the IEBC vote tally when they engaged on fraudulent procurement processes for key technology?”, March 24, 2013.

For a detailed narrative and links on the U.K. Serious Fraud Office case, see Corruption Watch-UK/Trial Monitoring: “Chickens come home to roost: the Smith and Ouzman African bribery case”:

The most serious allegations relate to 7 contracts with the IIEC in Kenya between 2009-2010, worth £1.37 million, where S&O made unusually high commission payments of between 27% and 37% of the contract price. Part of prosecution’s case was that the commission of £380,859 over 18 months paid to the agent, Trevy James Oyombra, was exorbitant, and clearly designed to include payments for officials.

The contracts in Kenya included ballot papers and voter ID cards for By-Elections, 18 million voter registration cards, Referendum ballot papers, and other products relating to elections, such as card pouches, OMR forms, ultraviolet lights. It was a feature of several of these contracts that the S&O subcontracted out the printing work to other companies, in one case to a Chinese company that delivered the goods for less than half the cost of the contract price.

This raises questions about whether S&O were compliant with procurement rules and whether it compromised the security and integrity of the electoral process by subcontracting.

Additionally, on several contracts, S&O delivered significantly less papers than they were contracted to do raising the question of whether the integrity of the electoral process was compromised. It was also a feature of some of these contracts that prices were inflated significantly after award of contract. In all the contracts, the alleged bribes were paid for by the Kenyan tax payers, as the cost of commission was reflected in the contract price.

The specific contracts were as follows:

  • June 2009 – Shinyalu and Bomachoge By-Election. S&O were to provide voter ID cards, and ballot papers – although in the end they provided only 142,000 papers against the 200,000 ordered.
  • January 2010 – 18 million voter registration cards. Once S&O had been awarded the contract they subcontracted the production of half the forms to another company.
  • March 2010 – contract for electors’ card pouches which S&O subcontracted to a Chinese company who delivered them for less than half of the contract price.
  • May-July 2010 – three different By-Election ballot paper contracts (South Mugirango, Matuga and Civil By-Elections) – where the contract price in each case was increased substantially (sometimes by 50%) after award of contract to permit bribes to be paid. The agent advised S&O against providing “chicken” to visitors to their factory in 2010 as there were other officials not from the IIEC who he said they shouldn’t give “the wrong picture” – undermining the defence’s argument that the company was just doing things the “African way”.  Significantly the company again delivered less quantities of ballot papers than were required in each of these three contracts – in the case of the Civic By-Elections some 40,000 less than ordered.
  • July 2010 – a contract to provide 14.6 million Referendum Ballot Papers in which S&O worked out an uplift per ballot paper to factor in the bribery.
  • July 2010 – 1.5 million OMR correction forms and 1000 nomination forms in May.
  • July-December 2010 – ultra violet lights and other Parliamentary and Civil Ballot Papers.

Electoral officials at the IIEC were on several occasions described by the agent, Trevy, as trying to make money before they left the IIEC and went back into government. The agent described the officials at on stage as anxious and “broke”, and “they are desperate for the chicken”. The agent also said that officials told him that S&O needed to “be discrete since all peoples eyes and the government intelligence are watching their every move even on the phone to ensure transparency”.

The Kenyan officials named in court as recipients of payments were as follows: IIEC: Kenneth Karani (chief procurement officer); David Chirchir (IIEC Commissioner); James Oswago (IIEC Chief Electoral Officer); Dena; Kennedy Nyaundi (Commissioner); Gladys Boss Shollei (Deputy CEO); Issack Hassan; Hamida, Tororey and Sang.

Several of these officials are still in government: David Chirchir is current Energy Minister in government, and Issack Hassan is the current Chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) which took over from the IIEC.

The scope of the successfully prosecuted bribes to Kenyan officials, in particular the Kenyan Interim Independent Electoral Commission, now Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, was such as to suggest the corruption was not unique by time or geography.

Although USAID, as referenced in the State Department cable quoted above, has provided millions for the operations of the Electoral Commission of Kenya and its successors on a regularized basis since embedding IFES in the Electoral Commission of Kenya, ECK,  in 2001, I do not know whether there was any direct U.S. funding, or U.S. funding through a “basket” administered through UNDP or otherwise, implicated in the specific acquisitions involved in the prosecution.  At the least, given the level of U.S. funding for the Kenyan elections through this time period, the U.S. indirectly underwrote the ability of the Kenyan election officials to corruptly overpay for those things the U.S. was not helping to pay for.

The time period during which the offenses at issue in this U.K. prosecution occurred was 1 November 2006 through 31 December 2010.  Also during this time, for instance, IFES awarded  a more than $3.4M competitive procurement for USAID to Smith & Ouzman for polling booths for Sudan’s National Election Commission for 2010 elections.  Although there may be nothing at all irregular, it is worth noting that Smith & Ouzman has generally been identified as a “printing company” and its election related products and services marketed on that basis.

From a 2008 IFES election materials “buyer’s guide”:

Smith & Ouzman, Limited

Brampton Road
Eastbourne, Sussex BN22 9AH
UNITED KINGDOM
 
Contact: Christopher Smith, Managing Director
 
Tel: +44 1323-52-4000
Toll Free: 0800-298-2911 (UK only)
Fax: +44 1323-52-4024
elections@smith-ouzman.com

Providing the Ballot — Supporting Democracy Worldwide Smith & Ouzman, Limited, has been established for more than 60 years and is the globally trusted name in security printing, providing tailored secure ballot solutions to electoral commissions and authorities from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and many places in between. Our team of professional staff has considerable experience in election projects and ensures that ballot papers incorporate devices to protect against electoral fraud and are packed for distribution directly to polling stations. Smith & Ouzman, Limited is the company that provides you with security, integrity and reliability. ● Election Experience Afghanistan, ballot papers; Benin, indelible ink; Botswana, ballot papers; European Union, ballot papers, postal ballots; Ghana, equipment; Kenya, ballot papers, registration forms, voters cards; Kosovo, ballot papers, registration forms, postal ballots; Malawi, ballot papers, UV lamps; Mauritania, ballot papers; Namibia, ballot papers; Nigeria, ballot papers; Somaliland, ballot papers, indelible ink; Tanzania, indelible ink, security envelopes; Uganda, ballot papers, indelible ink; United Kingdom, ballot papers, poll cards, registration forms, postal ballots; Zambia, ballot papers, indelible ink; Zimbabwe, ballot papers.

According to the  IFES 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports, Smith & Ouzman was a corporate donor to IFES.

USAID is using a model for Kenya election assistance contracting that creates unnecessary conflicts of interest between organizations supporting election observation, voter education and embedded support to the Election Commission

Kenya challenged vote Kenya election 2007 ECK Presiding Officer holding ballot with disputed marking

USAID has used the multiyear year cooperative agreements with CEPPS, the “consortium” of IRI, NDI and IFES, since the 1990s as a vehicle to award democracy assistance work. There are a variety of internal practical advantages to this in terms of bureaucratic speed and convenience.

In 2007 when I was East Africa Director at IRI in Nairobi, IRI’s public opinion polling program was conducted as a separate 2005 “follow” agreement under a overall master CEPPS “leader” agreement. All the work was done separately by IRI. When Ambassador Ranneberger wanted an exit poll for election day, USAID just issued a modification to our agreement to add on the additional work.

When the Ambassador wanted IRI to conduct an International Election Observation things were more involved because USAID had already decided not to do an Observation and IRI was not anxious to do one either. And there was no agreement in place as the only work we were doing for USAID was the polling program. Nonetheless, USAID was ultimately prepared to “move heaven and earth” to meet the Ambassador’s wish as they told me, and allocated a small amount of Economic Support Funds to support a new “follow” agreement for an Election Observation Mission. A Request For Proposals was issued to CEPPS, but it was written on a basis that excluded NDI as conflicted out due to its work with the political parties and IFES was conflicted out based on its work with the Electoral Commission of Kenya, so that IRI was the only available CEPPS entity to conduct the Observation Mission.

We conducted the Election Observation Mission and the Exit Poll, and reported on them to USAID, without being entangled with the separate work that IFES was doing with the Election Commission (ECK). I did not know any inside details of the ECK’s decision not to use the laptop computers purchased for them by USAID through IFES to do Results Transmission; likewise, no one at IFES (or NDI) had input or involvement in the Exit Poll or International Election Observation.

For the 2013 election, however, USAID’s FOIA response discussed in my previous post shows that the package of election assistance from early 2011 was bundled together in one “follow” agreement with CEPPS including the embedded technical support from IFES, including advice on the BVR and Poll Book acquisitions and the acquisition and development of the Results Transmission System handled by IFES, party and domestic observation support handled by NDI (too much is redacted to be specific on this part of the work) and voter education handled by IRI.

Appropriately, the International Election Observation Mission was funded separately through the Carter Center (and there is nothing about that in my FOIA request).

In 2017, the consolidated approach was ramped up a notch. USAID issued a published invitation for proposals (a good step for transparency and development of fresh thinking) but they wanted one entity to be in overall management of the work. Thus when they selected a team of IFES, NDI and IRI along the lines of 2013, IFES was in a supervisory position for the work, which this time included an International Observation Mission by NDI along with NDI’s domestic observation support and other normal work.

As it turns out, NDI’s International Observation took place and did preliminary reporting (as well as a pre-election assessment) but never issued a final report. At some point before the election USAID accepted an unsolicited proposal from the Carter Center to do an International Observation Mission separate from NDI’s work under the overall IFES-led Kenya Election Assistance Program. This was the delegation led by former Secretary of State John Kerry who had been in office during the 2013 election.

This is all more confusing and opaque than it needs to be! Aside from the inevitable conflicts associated with “observing” your own work and with maintaining trust where you know of critical risks and problems that your recipient government partners” are choosing not to disclose to their own public.

Kenya-Somalia border conflict at Mandera

[Update 3/5: “Kenya and Somalia form teams to ease tensions” Daily Nation]

[Update 3/4: Democracy Assistance news– Longtime International Republican Institute board member, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, quietly leaves Republican Party, registers as Independent.]

Temperatures have risen between the Federal Government of Somalia and Kenya as they have risen with Somaliland:

Kenya accuses Somalia of ‘unwarranted’ attack on border town–Tensions between Nairobi and Mogadishu soar as they accuse each other of encroaching on border territory.Al Jazeera, March 3:

Temperatures rose further after heavy fighting erupted on Monday in the Somali border town of Bulohawo between Somali government troops and forces from the semi-autonomous region of Jubaland.

Legislators from the nearby Kenyan town of Mandera said the fighting was so intense it caused residents there to flee and take shelter.

A Kenyan government statement condemning “violations of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” appeared to indicate that Somali forces had crossed into Mandera during the battle.

“Foreign soldiers – in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions – engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera,” it said. 

. . . .

The fighting in Somalia is the latest instance of tensions between Mogadishu and its regional governments.

Jubaland authorities in August accused Mogadishu of interfering in its election and seeking to remove President Ahmed Madobe and get a loyalist in power to increase its control.

Madobe is a key ally of Kenya, which sees Jubaland as a buffer against al-Shabab fighters who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.

Kenya has been further drawn in, as it is accused of harbouring a fugitive Jubaland minister who was arrested by Mogadishu for “serious crimes” but fled from prison in January.

Tensions between the neighbouring countries are also high because of a spat over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.

. . . .

Kenya urged Somalia’s federal and regional governments to focus on defeating the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.

Observers say the myriad feuds between the fragile government in Mogadishu and its federal states is a major obstacle to fighting the armed group.

On Somaliland and Somalia tensions, I will quote the conclusion of an editorial from Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute titled “Farmajo fights separatism the wrong way” from back in January:

Somalia’s dream of unity is understandable and it can be compelling, just as those supporting Somaliland separatism can find their case persuasive. But, what Farmajo forgets or does not understand is that if Somalia is going to reunite with Somaliland, it must perform better than Somaliland. It must be more stable, more secure, more democratic, and less corrupt. It must have a better economy that will be a regional envy. Somalia cannot force Somaliland into its fold militarily; it is not strong enough and occupying Somaliland will never bring peace. Militaristic rhetoric from Farmajo will only exacerbate mistrust born from his relative Siad Barre’s rule and the human rights abuses he perpetrated in Somaliland. What neither Farmajo nor Yamamoto understand is that economic strangulation also will not compel Somaliland to rejoin Somalia. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hargeisa under Mogadishu’s control when even Mogadishu is not under Mogadishu’s control.

Somali nationalists can cast aspersions toward Somaliland nationalists, and they can troll on social media. Farmajo’s advisors and his press spokesmen can insult from an official podium before they retreat into armored cars and locked-down compounds, or take official planes to Doha and Istanbul. But none of their tactics will achieve their goals; indeed, they only make them harder to attain. If Somali nationalists want to restore Somali greatness, there is no substitute for reform. Simply put, for there to be unity, Somalia must be better than Somaliland rather than try to suffocate Somaliland.

Kenya: How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

Since I asked this same question in January 2019 we have seen finally publication of the initial Building Bridges Initiative report delivered to President Kenyatta and released to the public, as I have discussed in a few posts, but the overall question on how things play out in 2020 remain essentially the same. Ambassador McCarter has made clear that the United States remains committed to the Building Bridges Initiative even if he did not personally agree with a few things in the report.

Here it is:

Kenya: How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2019? – AFRICOMMONS:

What will 2019 hold for the relations between the United States and Kenya, particularly the Trump-Pence and Kenyatta-Ruto Administrations?

Kyle McCarter, just confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Trump’s man in Kenya, after a delay since last spring, will shortly replace Robert Godec who shepherded U.S. interests as defined by the Obama and Trump Administrations, respectively, during the UhuRuto election in 2013 and re-election in 2017. The 2020 American presidential race is kicking off now a year ahead of the party primaries so it does not seem likely that McCarter’s efforts in Kenya will command a high place in the U.S. President’s personal attention soon. (If Trump is re-elected it would seem a fairly safe bet that McCarter would stay on for Kenya’s 2022 election, but as a political appointee he would likely be replaced in 2021 if the White House changes hands.)

It has been interesting to see a higher public profile recently from the U.S. administration on efforts to combat narcotics trafficking networks operating in and through Kenya, along with anti-addiction programs. McCarter has a voluntary service background in this challenge at home in Illinois in addition to his family missionary work in Kenya, so this might be a place where his talents would especially dovetail with diplomatic priorities. Here is a summary of the work of the State Departments’s Bureau of Narcotics and International Law Enforcement in Kenya.

We have also seen an encouraging new development with the recent and current prosecutions by the U.S. of cases involving bribery of high government officials in Uganda and Mozambique (going along with the U.S. extradition and prosecution of members of the Kenya-based Akasha narcotics trafficking syndicate). See the Amabhungane story on the Mozambique cases here.

The U.S. has been quietly supporting capacity building for Kenyan prosecutors; some people, including some Kenyans, think that the Director of Public Prosecution is now closer to “the real deal” than his predecessors and that President Kenyatta is actually now waging a form of a genuine if limited “war on corruption”. (We shall see.)

On the Kenyan side, with the end of 2018 we reached the end of the first year of the Second UhuRuto Administration and the first year of “Uhuru’s Big Four Agenda”.

In late 2017 we witnessed the opposition-boycotted “fresh” presidential election conducted by the highly controversial (and at least to some extent corrupt we now know) IEBC, followed by an international diplomatic circling of the wagons to close out Kenya’s political season on that basis.

Uhuru’s Jamhuri Day speech in December 2017, a month after his second inauguration, announced the UNDP (United Nations Development Program)-supported “Big Four Agenda”.

“On reflection, I came up with four responses to your concerns. I call them the Big Four: food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare for all. During the next 5 years, I will dedicate the energy, time and resources of my Administration to the Big Four.”

Fulfilling these development targets would be the prospective reward to ordinary Kenyan citizens for their role, such as it was, in the re-election drama, and serve as Uhuru Kenyatta’s “legacy”, to cement his place within Kenya’s First Family and presumably secure the status of yet another generation of Kenya’s post-colonial pre-democratic elite.

I was struck by the fact that the Jubilee/UhuRuto election campaign did not offer the “Big Four” as its electoral platform. Needless to say, it is a bit incongruous to see the Jubilee Government and its international supporters (the same ones funding Kenya’s serially corrupt electoral management bodies) not offer a serious nod toward seeking a direct democratic mandate for such an ambitious and aggressive program to define a Kenyan president’s term in office.

I am fully in support of the concepts of “the Big Four” in having the Government of Kenya actually prioritize the common welfare of Kenya’s citizens. It is just that this type of service provision is frankly head-spinningly counterintuitive coming from Kenya’s existing political class. Anyone who has been blessed to live in Kenya and follows its politics must have asked at the inception a year ago if this “Big Four” was not just the another expression of foreign ambitions projected on Kenya and indulged by Kenya’s elite for their paramount purpose: looking out for themselves.

Now that a year has gone by, the attention of Kenya’s governmental leaders draws more and more tightly around their next election in three-and-a-half years while the reality of the debt load from the most recent pre-election period bears down. It would seem that skepticism was well warranted.

The United States reportedly took a key “leading from behind” role in late 2017 and early 2018 in bringing Raila into some form of post-election accommodation with the Kenyatta’s while taking both a publicly and privately assertive position against the “People’s Presidency” inauguration gambit last January. Since that time we have a new Secretary of State, a permanent Assistant Secretary for the Africa Bureau, and now a new Ambassador, but no open discontinuities in Trump Administration policy on Kenya. Dr. Jendayi Frazer who was the Assistant Secretary in 2007-08 is still around in the same various private capacities as she was in during 2013 and 17 (as far as I know). She was most recently in the Kenyan media visiting with Mombasa County Governor Joho, reportedly discussing “violent extremism” before a Mastercard Foundation event. Most of the other people who were involved in Kenya diplomacy and policy at a senior level in the Obama years are in quasi-official related positions and/or the Albright Stonebridge Group, awaiting a change in administration if not retired.

With the “handshake” between Uhuru and Raila it seems that Kenya’s opposition has been left with less power in parliament than at any time within the past twenty years.

Certainly Daniel arap Moi must rest easy knowing that the rumors of his political demise were greatly exaggerated. His succession project from 2002 has more-or-less succeeded. Kenyans are freer as a matter of civil liberties now than they were during the days of his rule as recorded in history and as described to me by politicians who were in opposition back in 2007 but have circled back in the years since. At the same time, extra-judicial killing remains a constant threat to the poor and to anyone whose exercise of those liberties might seem to present a real challenge to the political status quo. The killings by State security forces in support of the 2017 elections were significantly escalated from 2013 and after ten years it is now safe and necessary to say that the post-election violence of 2007-08 has been effectively ratified by the State as the violence of 1992 and 1997 under Moi was. And Kenya may be even more pervasively corrupt than ever. Elections arguably peaked in the 2002 landslide.

The “international community” as it identifies itself has accepted and moved on from its abject defeat by Kenya’s political elite (and by its own vanity and lack of substantive commitment) on the issue of “justice” for the politically instrumental murder and mayhem of 2007-08.

Trump’s “New Africa Policy” as per National Security Advisor John Bolton suggests that we should not expect any separate new “flagship” initiatives for development or assistance from the U.S., nor other major changes emanating from the White House. The “New Africa Policy” could be seen as raising questions of how far the U.S. will be willing to financially underwrite the “Big Four” approach on development assistance. Bolton himself was both the intellectual and political leader of the campaign to keep the ICC as far from any interaction with U.S. policy as possible and is a career U.N. skeptic. There are elements of the approach talked about for “the Big Four” that fit up with what we hear from USAID in the Trump era, in particular a heavier focus on creating opportunities for private foreign investment coupled with reduced direct assistance spending. At the same time, the sexiest sector for investment under the Big Four, under Universal Health Coverage, is predicated on the rejection of the Republican approaches to healthcare in the United States, so the rationale for U.S. Government support under a Trump Administration is fuzzy at best.

Just as most of Kenya’s major politicians have history as cooperators in some fashion with Kenya’s single party KANU regimes, some of those around Trump worked for Moi directly (Paul Manafort and Roger Stone most conspicuously) and Americans of longevity in the Foreign Service have background with the USG-GOK alliance under Moi. It will be interesting to see where Ambassador McCarter fits into this history.

On one hand, McCarter is a Trump political appointee from Republican politics; on the other his background with Kenya as a missionary makes him a somewhat anomalous figure in the world of Black, Manafort and Stone, Cambridge Analytica and other Trump-connected international operatives and lobbyists, and with Donald Trump and his Organization, the global hotel/gambling developer and brand broker.

McCarter has been around Kenya independently and will have is own pre-existing relationships and his own impressions on Kenya’s politics not tied to the Trump family.

McCarter’s religious background as an Oral Roberts University graduate and missionary in itself, and political background as an elected official from a less urbanized portion of the American Midwest may give the new Ambassador some head start in relating to ordinary Kenyans over someone from a more typical background for a professional diplomat.

Will McCarter tuck comfortably into the pre-existing Bush/Obama/Trump policy for Kenya of accentuating the positives about those in power and how we can keep things quietly spinning without risk of disruption? Or might he be more plainspoken? How will he see his role in the “handshake” and “Building Bridges” endeavor as Kenya’s pols move more quickly on to jockeying for advantage for the next dispensation from 2022? Can McCarter find a way to contribute something lasting on corruption and law enforcement even if the “Big Four” is “overcome by events” as politics moves on?

Kenya visit by IFES President Bill Sweeney March 2017 An earlier Handshake: IFES president Bill Sweeney calls on Jubilee Speaker of National Assembly Justin Muturi on visit coinciding with IEBC’s announcement of sole source deal with Safran Morpho to acquire Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) in March 2017. Sweeney also brought the new IFES country director for its USAID election support program who was hired to replace the director who had been purged following criticism from the Jubilee Party and the Kenyatta Administration.

Good news and bad news on the effectiveness of American “democracy assistance”: we spent most of the money where war precluded meaningful opportunity

The conjunction of war and democracy assistance has been brought back to the fore for me the publication by The Washington Post of its “Afghanistan Papers” series.

The bottom line on the Afghanistan war for me is that those who warned that we were risking losing Afghanistan to invade Iraq (who seemed persuasive to me at the time) turned out to be right:

Drawing partly on the interviews but largely on other government documents, SIGAR [the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction] published two Lessons Learned reports in 2017 and 2019 that highlighted an array of problems with the Afghan security forces. The reports followed several SIGAR audits and investigations that had pinpointed similar troubles with the Afghan army and police. 

But the Lessons Learned reports omitted the names of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project, as well as their most biting critiques. The Post obtained notes and transcripts of the interviews under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after a three-year legal battle. 

“We got the [Afghan forces] we deserve,” Douglas Lute, an Army lieutenant general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. 

If the U.S. government had ramped up training between 2002 and 2006, “when the Taliban was weak and disorganized, things may have been different,” Lute added. “Instead, we went to Iraq. If we committed money deliberately and sooner, we could have a different outcome.”

It may be that we never really had a chance to achieve a desirable outcome but we made an alternative choice that appears to have precluded what chance there was.

Of course I cannot truly be surprised by pervasive “spin” about Afghanistan because of my experience in Kenya in 2007-2008 and the lack of response from the government and the official democracy assistance fraternity to the my disclosure of dishonesty in how we (the U.S. Government) addressed election fraud in Kenya and how we handled the inconvenient exit poll showing an opposition win and some of the inconvenient things we witnessed as election observers at the polls. [Not to mention what we all knew about Iraq by 2007.]

Even though most “name brand” experts and U.S. Government funded institutions seem to agree that globally democracy is in some form of recession, it is hard to know whether serious and purposeful United States-funded democracy assistance programming might have potential benefits because most of the money and effort has gone to war adjunct “nation building” as in Afghanistan where it turns out that nearly everyone has “privately” been admitting that we do not know what we are doing or should be doing and thus have no real chance of genuine success.

During my time with the International Republican Institute in the late Bush Administration the dominant “democracy promotion” or “democracy assistance” programs were Iraq followed by Sudan. Shortly after I finished my time in the barrel in Kenya in mid-2008 the venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies convened a blue ribbon panel to look at the reputation problem of the term “democracy promotion” due to the association with experimental “expeditionary warfare” in Iraq. Thus the pivot from “democracy promotion” to “democracy assistance”.

By the later Obama years Afghanistan, followed by Iraq and newly severed but but failing South Sudan were getting most of the democracy assistance dollars.

A Government Accountability Office report on Democracy Assistance, GAO-18-136, notes “Total USAID democracy assistance funding for projects in Afghanistan was greater than for any other country, amounting to almost 39 percent of USAID’s total democracy assistance obligations during fiscal years 2012 through 2015.” Here are the totals for the top fourteen USAID democracy assistance FY 2012-16 “places of performance”:

Afghanistan 1,650M

Iraq 238M

Regional/Global 201M

South Sudan 159M

Mexico 102M

Columbia 86M

Honduras 81M

Pakistan 79M

Bangladesh 76M

Haiti 73M

Liberia 68M

Egypt 65M

Kenya 60M

Indonesia 60M

*Note this is just USAID and does not encompass the separate Department of Defense and State programs, and much smaller amounts from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Back in 2007 in Kenya, a country on the brink of crisis, but supposedly of vital interest to the United States, most of the democracy assistance money being spent in the country was the “back office” operations for the vast (as measured in dollars anyway) pre-independence Southern Sudan operation.

People in Washington paid so little attention to democratization in Kenya in 2007 as to fail to realize or at least act on the risks of having the Ambassador “looking and pointing the other way” as Kibaki rather openly stole re-election (even though the opposition was also pro-Western and friendly to the United States so there was no bona fide nation interest served by those Americans who subverted our own meagre democracy assistance program).

In 2013, even after the disaster of 2007, we deliberately chose the path of non-transparency when our funded purchasing of the Results Transmission System for the election was botched and the system failed to work. Kenya’s Supreme Court shut down a partial recount that showed serious problems and affirmed the questionable tally of the Electoral Commission (litigating with undisclosed American-funded assistance) to avoiding by a whisker the runoff that the pre-election polls predicted. The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the procurement fraud cases, but the Kenyan executive authorities simply ignored the order. My FOIA research so far documents discussion among the donors involved in the UNDP “basket fund” including the United States, whether to cooperate with a subsequent investigation by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, but I do not know the outcome as I continue awaiting processing of remaining documents from my 2015 request to USAID.

In hindsight, I should have read more into the decision of my late friend Joel Barkan to stay home and “watch” that election from Washington. By 2017, the incumbent Kenyan government was clearly not committed to providing a level playing field and I stayed home myself. No incumbent Kenyan president has been found by a Kenyan election commission to have failed to “win” his re-election. The misfeasance on the technology for 2017 was blatant enough in that instance for the Supreme Court to annul the presidential vote, in spite of diplomatic and observer support for the announced outcome. The environment was too fraught with mistrust at that point to provide a mutually acceptable platform for a re-vote and Kenyatta was re-inaugurated after an opposition boycott.

Kenya’s political class is now focussed primarily on the 2022 campaign. The joint “Building Bridges Initiative” report released this month proposes that the remants of the Electoral Commission of Kenya from the 2017 vote be “bought out” and a new commission constituted, as was done following the problems in 2007 and 2013, but no action to implement this is yet pending.

In the meantime, much our policy in Somalia has been a variable secretive melange of counterterrorism, war and nation building with a sprinkling of democracy assistance. There is no Special Inspector General for the war in Somalia so we will not have created the kind of record that the Washington Post has been able to obtain on Afghanistan, but perhaps someday we will all know more. By May 2006 the Post did report: “U.S. Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia” and by that December we secretly supported the Ethiopian military invasion to re-instate the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

Battle over Kenyan election corruption has commenced with vote in Parliament to ban the French vendor OT-Morpho/IDEMIA

IDEMIA f/k/a OT-Morpho before a name change (and previously Safran Morpho before the French defense conglomerate sold this division to the French technology group Oburthur Technologies in a transaction closed shortly before August 2017 Kenyan election) has been a fixture of the past two Kenyan elections.

I have written about issues involving these procurements numerous times over the years and am continuing my engagement with the USAID Freedom Of Information office in their review and processing of public information from USAID support to the Kenyan IEBC in the 2013 election, from my request in 2015. (So far they have processed and released or withheld about half of the records sent from Nairobi to Washington by early 2016. They continue to assure me that they are working away at this.)

See: Kenya Election FOIA news: [heavily redacted] Election Assistance agreement shows U.S. paid for failed Results Transmission system.

Election Assistance FOIA update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting Kenya IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition.

Nigeria example shows why U.S. and other donors should act now on election technology procurement fraud.

USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers

Last July IDEMIA dismissed without explanation a defamation suit it had filed against Raila Odinga and other NASA coalition leaders in April 2018 shortly after Raila’s “handshake” with Uhuru ended high level political contention over problematic KIEMS system IDEMIA had sold the IEBC in March 2017. The court records I reviewed indicted a unilateral dismissal rather than a settlement.

The judgment of the Supreme Court in the 2013 election petitions of AfriCOG and the opposition found that there was evidence of procurement fraud with the failed technology acquisitions, and ordered an investigation, but the IEBC, Kenyan prosecutors and donors all failed on that account. OT-Morpho, n/k/a IDEMIA once again was chosen in an opaque and controversial procurement process for the bigger 2017 “integrated” system. (I was told by the USAID press office that USAID did not finance the KIEMS purchase for the IEBC for 2017.)

But finally today, reports the Daily Nation, “For credible elections, MPs vote to block Huduma Namba firm“:

Members of the National Assembly voted on Wednesday to block technology firm IDEMIA Securities from doing business in Kenya for at least 10 years, citing violation of the Companies Act.

The move complicates the ongoing Huduma Namba registration, as the contract was awarded to the French firm at Sh6 billion.

. . . .

The MPs amended the report of the House Committee on Public Accounts on the audited accounts of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), to have the technology firm held accountable for irregular payments it received during the 2017 general elections.

So who “went native”? The Ex-Ambassadors’ greatest hit: “Sweet Home Kenya” [updated]

Could one make a case that perhaps it was not me after all, but more the Ambassador and/or others at the State Department who “went native” in Kenya over the 2007 election controversy (and in other situations)?

Interesting to think about as things have played out.

My memory was most recently jogged in seeing that James Swan, a distinguished diplomat who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and signed off on some of the materials related to the 2007-08 Kenyan election controversy that I have obtained through FOIA and written about here over the years, has retired to a Nairobi post with the Albright Stonebridge Group business/investment advisory. (Albright Stonebright Group offers “commercial diplomacy” and advisory services and owns a substantial part of the equity of Albright Capital Management which in turn runs private equity funds out of the Cayman Islands which have investments in other funds and businesses with interests in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries in the region. The Albright is former Secretary of State Madeleine, the NDI chair.)

Also one of those strange articles in The Daily Nation this past week, drawing on a particular bit of older Kenyan political history: the article notes that Ambassador Kyle McCarter will soon take up his post in Kenya for the United States, and that the first American Ambassador to Kenya, William Attwood, had acquired property in Kenya and wanted to retire there, but was banned from staying or returning to the country by Jomo Kenyatta who was angered by his act of publishing his memoir, The Reds and the Blacks. Without explaining specifically what Kenyatta was offended by, the article cites some of Attwood’s material about his perception of Cold War tied machinations involving the competition between Oginga Odinga and Kenyatta and allegations of Odinga’s separate East-bloc arms imports. It then notes Ambassador Ranneberger’s re-marriage to a Kenyan and his vacation home on the Coast at Malindi. (Interesting is the omission of any reference to Ambassador Smith Hempstone and his memoir, Rogue Ambassador, which details his interaction with “the second liberation” and his impressions of Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.)

Maybe Ambassador McCarter is being reminded not to step too hard on certain toes so that the Government of Kenya remains cooperative with his family’s longstanding mission work in Tharaka Nithi?

The topic of “going native” came up for me in early 2010 when my security clearance was up for renewal for my job as a lawyer for Navy shipbuilding contracts where I had returned after my leave of absence to work in Kenya for the International Republican Institute in 2007-08. I filled out the detailed paperwork listing my foreign contacts over the previous years, including my work for IRI in Kenya, Somaliland and Sudan (later to be apparently stolen by Chinese hacking from the Office of Personnel Management) and had my interview with a retired military officer who had served in Somalia in the early 1990’s and thus knew the region.

I did not know how to initiate an explanation in my interview that I had gotten into a “he said/he said” with Ambassador Ranneberger about the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times but I expected it to come up in some form. After the interview, I got a follow up: was I sure that I had been loyal to the United States as opposed to acting on conflicting loyalties to Kenya–had I had gone native? I answered clearly and unequivocally. Essentially I asserted the lawyerly equivalent of the courtroom objection: “asked and answered”. “I already told you I was a loyal American before someone fussed — I have nothing to change.” Apparently this was satisfactory as I did not lose my clearance (and thus my job).

Jendayi Frazer, Asst. Sec. of State for African Affairs during the second G. W. Bush Administration and Swan’s superior during the 2007-08 Kenyan election imbroglio, maintains a home in Nairobi as I understand, and was the primary international spokesman, informally, for the “Uhuruto” campaign in 2013, accusing then Asst. Sec. State Johnnie Carson of “interfering” in the campaign by suggesting that the election of crimes against humanity suspects could have “consequences” in trying to tamp down the use by the Uhuruto campaign of a statement by President Obama that was asserted to bolster a claim that the U.S. had no concerns about the issue. Frazer has business interests in Kenya and with the Kenyan government, through the the Kigali domiciled but Kenya based East Africa Exchange commodity platform arising out of a partnership between Swiss trader Nicholas Berggruen’s Berggruen Holdings and the East African Community. See my previous post here. Frazer and a Berggruen representative are also on the board of the Mastercard Foundation based in Toronto which has extensive programs in the region. Frazier is an Advisor for Rice Hadley Gates, the international consulting firm of of her colleagues from the Bush Administration (Robert Gates also stayed on as Obama’s Secretary of Defense; Hadley was Rice’s Deputy National Security Advisor during the inception of the Iraq War and took over after she went to State where she brought over Frazer; Hadley also turned his experience to the chairmanship of the United States Institute of Peace. Carson has since retired from the State Department and is also affiliated with the Albright Stonebridge Group as well as the United States Institute of Peace and NDI.)

The cases of Attwood, Frazer, Swan and Ranneberger, if nothing else, are examples of the “Nairobi Curse”, demonstrating the advantages that accrue to Uhuruto in controlling access to permission to live and work in Nairobi.

Another famous case showing the “flipside” is British High Commissioner Edward Clay who complained of the milder-than-now corruption in 2004 that senior officials of Kibaki’s first Administration were eating as “gluttons” and “vomiting on [the] shoes” of donors who had stepped up to attempt to alleviate poverty and sickness among Kenyans. After his term ended in 2005 he continued to speak of corruption and was informed by then Kibaki Justice Minister Martha Karua during a BBC appearance during the early 2008 Post Election Violence in the wake of the stolen election that he had been declared persona non grata and banned from returning by the Government of Kenya in retaliation.

And of course there is the purge of the IFES Country Director during the 2017 Uhuruto re-election campaign.

[Update: to be clear, my point here is about the relationships and dependencies of individual Americans to the Government of the day in Kenya and Kenyan politicians in power, not to get into the merits or demerits of specific investment activity. I think it is good for Americans to be in Kenya and Kenyans to be in America. In concept, Frazer’s East African Exchange, for example, seems to offer potential benefit to small farmers, although the authorities in Rwanda and Kenya have a track record of contradictory priorities, so it is hard to know what to expect. As far as ASG and the associated private equity funds, I would think Nairobi is heavily served on the consultancy side but there is always a need for private direct investment in the region in the abstract, through the Caribbean or elsewhere, with the devil in the details of particular investments.]

Democracy Assistance needs an external non-governmental watchdog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is clear to me that the values behind “open government” would be most compelling in the area of democracy assistance itself. Donor taxpayers and intended beneficiaries of democracy assistance ought to see what they are paying for, and intended to receive respectively. The practice of informal secrecy creates opportunities for incumbent host governments to manipulate and divert programming. Informal secrecy also creates opportunities to avoid scrutiny of irregular interference in democracy programming by donor diplomats or others who may have competing objectives. [The essence of my experience as I summarized in “The Debacle of 2007″ for The Elephant.]

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

Meanwhile donor funds are available to tell positive, promotional stories as part of the donors’ general public diplomacy efforts even if the stories may gloss over the grittier realities that would need to be dealt with to actually improve an aspiring democracy– whether just to burnish images or to serve “stability” by avoiding angering voters who might be upset to know more about how their leaders are conducting themselves.

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

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

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

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

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