“THE DEBACLE OF 2007” – my piece in The Elephant on how Kenya’s politics was frozen and an election stolen . . .

THE DEBACLE OF 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen with US Connivance | The Elephant

Mocking democracy: Government of Kenya announces “Kenyan Asian community backs President Kenyatta’s re-election”

Democracy Assistance

“URAIA Because Kenyans Have Rights”  — Democracy Assistance facade?


[Update: The Daily Nation, State Officials on the campaign trail“:  “The Jubilee administration has deployed civil servants and key government officials on vote hunting missions across the country in contravention of the law.”]

Let it not be said that there is any serious pretense that the Government of Kenya is neutral in the contest for political allegiance of potential “swing” ethnic groupings, rich in votes or money, in the current election, a contest for power between the Uhuruto ticket representing the current generation of the original KANU establishment led by the Kenyatta family and an opposition coalition led by Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka.

Here is the “latest news” from the Government of Kenya, Office of the President (www.president.go.ke): “Kenyan Asian community backs President Kenyatta’s re-election”.

This years’ “Jubilee Party” was literally formed at State House as the Uhuruto re-election vehicle, formally merging Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA and Ruto’s URP, just as this meeting of State Officials and “Asian” Kenyan businesspeople and politicians for the re-election campaign was convened at State House.

Conduct of this sort, aside from being a clear form of corruption per se as a misappropriation of public resources for private gain, is explicitly against the mandatory Code of Conduct for the Kenyan political parties.  (On paper the campaign, in full swing for months, is not even to start until May 28.)

Will the Registrar of Political Parties and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission take action?  The IFES led consortium of US based organizations both facilitating and underwriting the cost of the election, while also coordinating its “observation” at the expense of American (and in parts Canadian) taxpayers?  What about ELOG, the donor supported Kenyan observation group?

IFES has already beeen attacked by the Kenyan Government and ELOG is charged with continuing to do business in Nairobi on a permanent basis, so it would be a huge act of institutional courage for it to seriously challenge the conduct of the Office of the Presidency.  We have been in the mode of continuous institutionalized democracy promotion in Kenya for 15 years (!) now.  No matter how many  capacity building seminars we hold for the little people in the cities or the politicians in the resorts in the Rift Valley or at the beaches, if we let ourselves simply be mocked and pretend that this is working we will surely risk moral injury to our own democracy.

Read the whole campaign piece here:

The Asian community in Kenya has endorsed the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Leaders of the community said they have taken the decision to rally behind the President because of his commitment to creating an enabling environment of business and development.

The leaders, who visited President Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, said policies implemented by the Jubilee Government have enabled more business to thrive and made Kenya a preferred destination for investors.

At the meeting which was also attended by Deputy President William Ruto, representatives of the community assured the President that they would rally behind him to ensure the country’s development tempo is sustained.

“What we have seen in the last four years needs no magnification and my words can be supported by facts that can be seen and quantified, “said businessman Iqbal Rashid.

The businessman cited the upgrading of the old railway system with the Standard Gauge Railway, the upgrading of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and continuous improvement of the infrastructure connecting cities and towns.

He said the continued flow of investments into Kenya from all corners of the globe was as a result of the confidence in the leadership of President Kenyatta.

Women leaders Parveen Adam, Shamsha Fadhil and Farah Mannzoor thanked the President for championing an agenda that fosters inclusiveness as well as the prosperity and unity of all Kenyans.

They said women appreciate his efforts to spearhead the campaign to have the two third gender rule passed by the National Assembly.

Businessman Bismiahirahman Nirrahim said the Asian community has witnessed the transformative leadership of President Kenyatta which has helped in creating conducive environment for investments.

He cited the increased ease of doing business resulting from President Kenyatta’s policies including the policy to reduce the time it takes to register a new business.

Nirrahim said the youth and women empowerment program implemented by President Kenyatta’s Administration has also been a transformational policy that deserves praise.

President Kenyatta thanked the leaders for their support and assured them that he would continue working tirelessly to make Kenya a more prosperous country with shared prosperity.

He said the Asian community has been keen in developing Kenya saying the community has always been in the forefront championing the interests of the nation since the days of independence struggle.

“Like all of us you were part and parcel of the Kenyan struggle for Independence, the role you played cannot be ignored,” said President Kenyatta.

The President said he is a believer in an inclusive society adding that he would want to see the Asian community participate more in both social and economic development of the country.

“This is the government that believes in encouraging partnership and working together. Your success is our success,” said President Kenyatta.

Also present were the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua among other senior government officials.

Author

Gok

Update May 26:  See “Asian Kenyans seek to be declared a ‘tribe’ of their own” in today’s New York Times.

Why does the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee keep leaving the Carter Center off their election hearings?

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations is holding a hearing Wednesday morning, March 18, on U.S. Election Support in Africa.

Good.  Unfortunately, as was that much more conspicuous with the hearing about the 2013 Kenyan election, the subcommittee has scheduled testimony from the IFES/NDI/IRI troika, but without the Carter Center scheduled.  The Carter Center conducted the USAID-funded Election Observation Mission itself for Kenya in 2013, so the omission was hard to understand on a hearing on that very election; it is still hard to understand for an Africa-wide hearing.  (I have no idea why things have turned out this way, I am simply making the point that Congress would have an opportunity to be better informed if this wasn’t just an “all in the Beltway” experience.)

For Kenya’s last vote, see Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

For further discussion of the Subcommittee’s April 2013 Kenya hearing, see AfriCOG’s Seema Shah asks in Foreign Policy: “Are U.S. Election Watchdogs Enabling Bad Behavior in Kenya?”

In new developments, now with the British #Chickengate prosecutions for bribing Kenyan election officials: USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers.

The Carter Center also observed the 2002 and 1997 elections in Kenya, along with many others, including the most recent election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011 which provides perhaps another set of lessons as the Kabila government arrests democracy supporters and even a U.S. diplomat.

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC–offer technical assistance.

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

IRI Poll Releae Press Conference

The United States sure could use multiparty democracy, too

Big political news in the U.S. is the election loss of the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, in the Republican primary. Losing a primary is something that “just doesn’t happen” to Majority Leaders (never in the 20th century or the first five elections of the 21st).
While Cantor was substantively to the right of Ronald Reagan and any of the other broadly popular conservative figures of the modern Republican Party, and was known as a key figure in blocking compromise by House Republicans with House Democrats in recent years, there is a perception that his loss will make future legislative compromises even less likely.

John McCain, the International Republican Institute chairman, has previously noted publicly the potential demand for a “third” party that would compete for the plurality of American voters that the Republican and Democratic Parties in present form merely tolerate (naturally he didn’t put it quite that way–he had a Republican primary coming up).

We have a political system that seems to be pretty well ossified under the control of two parties that have both changed quite dramatically during the period of their mutual hegemony. Each party presently has a majority in one house of our bicameral legislature, yet disapproval of this Congress comes about as close to a consensus as you will find in the United States today. Most voters don’t vote in most elections, especially primaries which functionally decide the outcome of vast numbers of legislative seats in districts that are dominated by a single party, often for demographically derived reasons.

The present reality on the ground has departed rather dramatically from our own traditions in important respects, and is at odds with the conceptual rationale for a “two party system” in which each party competes to build a governing majority.

What should we do? My suggestion: let’s enlist our official nonpartisan democracy and party-building experts at the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute. Offer the help to ourselves that we offer others. Heal ourselves first. Certainly in present circumstances it would be unduly controversial to consult any of the foreign democracy groups like the Westminster Foundation or the German party foundations, but IRI and NDI have well established Congressional relations on both sides.

It would be sort of like the instructions we all get when flying. Even if you are accompanying a child or disabled person, if there is a problem, put the oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth first, so you can breath freely enough to help.

To eliminate redundancy with constrained budgets and growing demand: Is it time to merge IRI and NDI?

Donkey

Mara Herd

This is a post I started a few years ago and let sit.  I usually avoid writing about things that directly mention the International Republican Institute other than as specifically necessary in regard to the 2007 election in Kenya and some advocacy for people arrested in Egypt.   It’s awkward for a lot of reasons to write about IRI,  the most personally important of which is my deep affection for people that work there.  And to the extent I have criticisms it would be my desire that they become better rather than that they be harmed.

Nonetheless, I think the structure of democracy assistance is something we need to think about and almost everyone who is in a position to be engaged is also in a position to feel constrained from speaking freely or has an unavoidable conflict of interest.  And its is an especially challenging time for the effort to share or support democracy so I am going to suck it up and proceed:

—————–

In an era of hyperpartisanship in the U.S. we are also faced with a divided government and a real question about our collective ability to do the basic business of governance in terms of passing budgets, for instance.

More specific to democracy support, the old notion that “politics stops at the water’s edge” is long dead. Every issue anywhere is contested space between Democrats and Republicans in grappling for power. [The attack on the U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 being perhaps the most conspicuous example.] There are profound divisions in a few areas of policy and culture between the Republican and Democratic base voters.  Nonetheless, it is also clear, ironically perhaps, that in the present moment there is not any clearly identified and coherent policy difference between the parties on foreign affairs as such. Now in the early stages of the 2013-16 presidential campaign, Republican Senator Rand Paul appears to be his party’s front runner for the nomination. The traditional Republican foreign policy establishment has less disagreement on specific points of foreign policy with the Obama Administration than with Senator Paul. And much of its membership would presumably in private vote for a Democrat seen as somewhat more hawkish and interventionist than Obama, such as for instance Hillary Clinton, than for Paul. Some piece of the base of the Democratic Party might well feel obligated to vote for Paul over Clinton in a general election if it came to it.

Referencing the policies of the most recent Republican Administration, which was in office when I worked for IRI in East Africa, there is no reason to think that Jeb Bush, for instance, believes in the “Bush Doctrine” and certainly Ron Paul doesn’t.  Foreign policy was important in the 2008 Democratic primaries and in the 2008 general election and there was at that time a sharp perceived difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin over the aspects of foreign policy that were important to most voters and that difference was essential to Obama’s election.  Not so much in 2012 in either the Republican primaries or in the general election.  All presidential elections matter with great intensity for Washington foreign policy people because they decide who gets what jobs (like do you go to the State Department or stay at IRI or NDI or some think tank) and in general everyone is either Democrat or Republican and either wins completely or loses completely, heads or tails, each time.  For most American voters the relationship of parties and elections to foreign affairs is completely different.

The traditions of the Democratic and Republican foreign policy establishment in Washington are based on the Cold War, like the structure of the National Endowment of Democracy itself, with IRI and NDI along with the overseas arms of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO as its “core” “private” institutes. Relatedly this tradition and structure is also critically Eurocentric. Going on a quarter century after the fall of the Soviet Union the terms of the contest between a democratic Washington and an authoritarian Moscow are very different in Europe itself today–and much less of immediate relevance in, say, Africa. The old days of the American Democrats supporting the democratic left in Europe and the American Republicans supporting the right–both as a pro-American alternative to Soviet-aligned Communists–are interesting history that we should learn more from, but they are history.  And we are not nearly so Eurocentric now in our policies and relationships in Africa, Asia and Latin America, so we have different types of opportunities to support democracy and its related values in those regions rather than dividing everyone up as pro-Western Bloc versus pro-Eastern Bloc.

In practice today, I don’t see the Democratic Party in power in Washington really aligned with the “democratic left” in other countries, given the lack of need to shore up against Marxist/Communist forces (among other reasons) nor much particular interest in the Republican Party in supporting more rightist or conservative parties abroad per se.  Generally Republican and Democrat campaign and media consultants, like lobbyists, seem to work for whoever they come to terms with commercially in any given emerging or frontier market rather than on the basis of some coherent party related framework.

Formally, IRI and NDI are completely overlapping as they are both non-partisan.  Occasionally they are said to be “affiliated” with their respective parties, but more frequently they are said to have “no connection” to parties.  Ultimately this is simply confusing and unclear–and not really consistent with the principles that the organizations are trying to teach to others.  In Germany where the government funds overseas institutes of the parties, the law is different and the government provides funding for the parties themselves in a way that would presumably be unconstitutional in the United States.  So you don’t have a counterpart to this strange melange of “nonpartisan Republican” or “nonpartisan Democratic” even though the German organizations are said to be a model for setting up IRI and NDI back in the early 1980s.

In my personal experience, I had the clear impression that IRI was quite serious about being legally compliant in terms of the 501(c)(3) nonpartisan formalities [and this was noteworthy in an  a organization that did not have an overall compliance component at that time–I am not going to be a whistleblower or even a public critic on this but have noted that they have gotten in at least a little difficulty with the government for ignoring cost accounting regulations that I told them they shouldn’t ignore when I worked for them].  I have no reason to assume that NDI is not equally serious.  In the case of IRI, with the chairman running for president two different times during his tenure, they know that the Democrats have had incentive to catch them if they were to get tangled with a Republican campaign; and of course everything is potentially tit-for-tat in that regard for the other side.

At the same time, both parties have an incentive to make as much use of “their” respective unaffiliates as permissible on a mutally backscratching basis.  While there are certain cultural and stylistic differences in how this plays out–as any observer of the current American political scene can well imagine–I don’t think this warrants the whole separate infrastructure of two duplicate organizations.  For instance, unaffliliated Republicans could still do programming at the Republican National Convention and unaffiliated Democrats could still do programming at the Democratic National Convention even if it was under the umbrella of one unaffiliated nonpartisan organization instead of two separate unaffiliated nonpartisan organizations. And the unaffiliated Republicans could apply a conservative orientation to have programming that is solid, on-message stuff supporting the party line; and the unaffiliated Democrats could be liberal-minded and have a “soft power” approach that involves people on both sides at the convention of their side.

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In the looking glass: How USAID sees its democracy support in the 2013 Kenya Election

Thanks to a post this week from Government Executive magazine’s NextGov.com I saw that USAID has published on the web its December 2013 “Rapid Assessment Review” of USAID support for Kenya’s 2013 elections.

The post from NextGov’s Emerging Tech by Joseph Marks, “How Technology Failed to Fix Kenya’s Election”:

It’s perhaps the most common story in all of government technology: A challenge arises; new technology seems to offer the perfect solution; but something happens between concept and execution that makes that technology seem more like a culprit than a savior and that leads people to complain the old analog solution might have worked better.

That interference could come from a delayed procurement, miscommunication between different vendors, a lack of testing or training before launch or a host of other factors.

This December 2013 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development describes more than a dozen such interferences that foiled the international community’s attempts to use technology to improve outcomes in Kenya’s March 2013 elections.

.  .  .  .

Kudos to USAID for publishing this.  Although there is one major “glitch” that I will explain, the report is generally quite useful.  In particular for Kenyans who want to understand the process by which their leaders are chosen, there is much here that is not otherwise readily available to those outside the Government of Kenya itself.  Thus, Kenyans active in political parties and civil society, the media and others that are especially interested in elections will want to take time to read the whole report carefully.  Likewise for interested foreign “friends of Kenya” who hope for better elections in the future, especially those of us who are U.S. taxpayers.

The “glitch” is that the report was released with a December 31, 2013 date, which is several weeks after publication of the Carter Center’s final USAID funded Election Observation Report,  but references only a non-published June “draft final” report and the April 4 Carter Center preliminary statement.  So it appears that the report was written without reference to the actual Carter Center final report, likely inadvertently through the fact that the authors were doing this study simultaneously with the Carter Center’s work.  See my post Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical final report from Kenya Election Observation.

On one hand this is a fundamental problem leading to a quite critical misunderstanding. The assessment presents a quote from the Carter Center’s April 4 statement that the failure of the USAID supported Electronic Results Transmission system still left a paper tally system that was sufficiently handled to provide “enough guarantees to preserve the expression of the will of the Kenyan voters” which is contradicted by the Final Report.

Nonetheless, this is in prefatory material and the point of the assessment is not to make conclusions about the election process itself, but to self assess USAID’s programming, and a bit of a “rosy tint” that allows the whole thing to be packaged as “lessons learned” for other missions in the context of an overall “success” with various subsidiary failings may have made the difference in getting this ultimately published on the internet, with a lot of pertinent information and a fair bit of candor for a “self assessment” overall.  I am still deep in the bowels of the Freedom of Information Act legal process seeking more modest bits of information about the election support effort for 2007 as an example of what can happen within the bureaucracy when no one can claim “success”.

Please take time to read the whole thing and I will be grateful for anyone who wishes to e-mail thoughts or comments, and of course any public comments here.  I will discuss some details in various upcoming posts.

IRI Poll Releae Press Conference

 

Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation

Another reversal on a Kenya election observation? Without additional fanfare that I have picked up on, the Carter Center published on the web on October 16th their Final Report on the Election Observation Mission for Kenya’s March 4 elections.

I admit to being pleasantly surprised upon wading through the details to find much more direct acknowledgment of the shortcomings of the process, especially the tallying and reporting of results, than I would have expected from the previous media reporting on the various communications about this observation mission over the months since the vote, as well as a major change in conclusions.

Read it for yourself if you are interested in Kenyan elections and the extent to which the announced presidential result in this most recent election was or wasn’t reliable, but the bottom line here is that the Carter Center has commendably stepped back from their previous assurance from April 4, a month after the election, that “in spite of serious shortcomings” the IEBC’s improvised paper-based tally process “presented enough guarantees to preserve the expression of the will of the Kenyan voters”.  In the Final Report the tally/tabulation process is discussed in Pages 51-58, concluding in summary, “Overall, Kenya partially fulfilled its obligations to ensure that the will of the people, as expressed through the ballot box, is accurately recorded and communicated.” (p. 57).

The report itemizes and discusses five categories of “Challenges in Tabulation”:

I.  Failure of Electronic Transmission of Provisional Results

II. Inadequate Publication of Tabulation Procedures

. . . .

Therefore, the available instructions appeared to be insufficient to guarantee the integrity and accuracy of numerical tabulation. . . . (p. 54)

III. Inadequate Observer and Election Agent Access to National Tally Center

. . . .

However, the national tally center did not provide enough transparency for observers or party agents to assess the overall integrity of tally of presidential results.  Unfortunately, the Center regrets the IEBC decision to confine party agents and observers to the gallery of the national tally center, making effective and meaningful observation impossible.

The Center observed many of the same kind of discrepancies in the tally procedures that had generated so much criticism and speculation in 2007; results announced at the national tally center differed from those announced at constituency level, missing tally forms, inconsistencies between presidential and parliamentary tallies, instances of more votes than registered voters, discrepancies between turnouts of the presidential and parliamentary elections, and expulsion of party agents from the tally space at the national tally center.

. . . . (p. 54, footnotes omitted)

IV. Discrepancies Between the Published Voter Register and Announced Results

The Center’s examination of reported final results for the presidential election, recorded on form 36, showed noteworthy discrepancies. . . .  (p. 55)

V. Nonpublication of Detailed Election Results

One of Kenya’s core obligations concerns promoting transparency in elections and other public processes. . . . The Center remains concerned that the IEBC has not published detailed official results disaggregated at the polling station level. (p.55)

For more information on the Kenya election vote count, although not cited by the Carter Center, please see the audit performed by the Mars Group Kenya, noting the “missing” status of the Form 34s recording the tallies from each of 2,627 polling streams.

See Africa Confidential: “Carter’s quiet doubts“.

Previously:

*Are “free and fair” elections passé in Kenya?

*Carter Center calls it as they see it in the DRC

*Why would we trust the Kenyan IEBC vote tally when they engaged in fraudulent procurement practices for key technology?

Are “free and fair” elections passe in Kenya?

Uganda Debt NetworkHappy American Independence Day–it has now been a full four months since Kenya’s 2013 election, yet the results have still not been released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

The 2012 Kenyan Constitution mandates in Article 81: “The electoral system shall comply with the following principles––

(e) free and fair elections, which are—

(i) by secret ballot;
(ii) free from violence, intimidation, improper influence or
corruption;
(iii) conducted by an independent body;
(iv) transparent; and
(v) administered in an impartial, neutral, efficient, accurate
and accountable manner.

Thus “free and fair” is the legal standard in Kenya. So what standard did the international observer missions that issued their reports on Kenya’s elections without waiting for the official results apply?

Note this from Mienke Mari Stetytler’s “Observing the observers: how the Kenyan election was verified” republished in the Daily Maverick this week:

One month after the election, on April 4th, the Carter Center released its postelection statement. “In spite of serious shortcomings in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s management of technology and tabulation of final election results, the paper-based procedure for counting and tallying presented enough guarantees to preserve the expression of the will of Kenyan voters.”
Kenneth Flottman, an independent elections consultant, noted that not one of the observer missions referred to the elections as “free and fair” in their preliminary or post-election reports. “Holding back on calling the election ‘free and fair’ reflects the reality of the known problems with the election,” Flottman said. “At its most crass, this is a way to say that the government in power cheated some, but the opposition probably would have lost anyway.”

He conceded that “there is a tendency to apply lower standards to achieve a ‘free and fair’ election in Africa compared to other regions [of the world]. If anything, this makes the decision not to apply the label to this election in Kenya more noteworthy.”

David Pottie, associate director of the Carter Center’s democracy programme, contested this view. “It isn’t that African elections are held to a different (higher or lower) standard than countries elsewhere in the world,” Pottie said in an e-mail. “Rather, the Carter Center bases its assessment on a) Kenya’s international obligations and b) Kenya’s constitutional and legal framework.” He added that “free and fair” is no longer the “language of choice in international public law”.

Peter Visnovitz, EU election observation mission spokesperson, agreed: “The ‘free and fair’ phrase fell out of use because defining an election as ‘free and fair’ is very black and white—it requires a yes or no answer. Whereas, in fact, electoral processes are complex and it is very difficult to come up with a concept of ‘fair’ that would please everyone.”

Ilona Tip, operations director at EISA’s South African office in Johannesburg, explained that phrases like “transparent and credible” or “the expression of the will of voters” are now preferred.

.  .  .  .

Ironies in Open Government: Was the Kenya PVT a “Parallel Vote Tabulation” or “Private Vote Tabulation”?

Kenya Pre-election Poll

So now we have results of both a “Parallel Vote Tabulation” and an Exit Poll for the March 4, 2013 Kenyan election.

The irony here is that the Exit Poll was privately funded, yet we have, courtesy of the video of the initial university presentation by the researchers Dr. Clark Gibson, Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Dr. James Long, visiting scholar at Harvard and appointed as Asst. Professor at the University of Washington, quite a bit more detail about the Exit Poll data than we do about the PVT.  The PVT, however, was funded at least in substantial part, apparently, by yours truly and the rest of the American taxpayers through USAID through NDI. (This is the best information available to me–please correct me if I am wrong.)

I mean no disrespect to any of the people involved at NDI or ELOG–or at USAID for that matter.  I am sure everyone did their best on the PVT.  But when do we see the details instead of just a conclusion?  

After all the controversy about the delay in the release of the USAID-funded IRI Exit Poll in 2007-08, I am just very much surprised that everyone involved this time did not chose to try to get in front of any problems and controversies by being more transparent.

I do not want to weigh in to any of the back and forth as to “which is better” between an Exit Poll and a PVT–in fairness they have their relative strengths and weaknesses–it is best to have both.  So let’s get the data out on the table for study and see what we can learn.

Update on the Egypt NGO trials, and an appeciation of “the local staff” working for democracy

The Christian Science Monitor published an update today by Dan Murphy on the lingering situation of the trials of international NGO workers from the staffs of NDI, IRI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Egypt:

“Mostly forgotten, Egyptian trial of U.S. NGO workers drags on”

. . . .

The departure of most of the Americans took the air out of musings in Washington that Egypt’s US aid would be cut off in retaliation and in general press coverage of the case. Further easing concerns were the eventual charges, around the question of illegally receiving foreign funding for the NGOs, which carries jail time, but not a death sentence. Press coverage has dwindled to a trickle.

Civil society growth at stake

Yet the stakes of the ongoing trial, which is scheduled to resume on March 6, loom large for the future of the development of civil society in Egypt as much as they do for the 13 Egyptians, American, and German who have remained behind. “The government has successfully stigmatized the NGO world,” says Becker.” [The American NDI worker who stayed behind with the Egyptians.]

“It’s very lazy to to class this as an American-Egypt battle, or about the former regime versus the revolution,” says Halawa, who joined NDI in Cairo in July of 2011 and worked on training Egyptian political parties on grass-roots organization, poll-watching, and outreach. “It’s about civil society in this country and the ramifications are quite huge. You get the feeling that people are quite scared. We joined up with the revolution, to fight for free elections, most of us were election observer, and most of us weren’t planning to stay on much longer.”

Halawa and other defendants complain that Egypt’s NGO community has not rallied around them, frightened off by the early claims in the Egyptian press that they were spies or guilty of treason. That tactic was a staple of the Mubarak-era, and the meme was pushed hard by Mubarak holdover Fayza Aboul Naga, minister of international cooperation until earlier this year, who had long been at the sharp end of Mubarak-era efforts to prevent civil society from flourishing here.

[Update: see this excellent McClatchy story for Jan. 16, “Egyptians democracy workers still on trial for helping U.S. groups”]

I think this is the time for me to say something long overdue about the Kenyans (and one third-country national) who reported to me as “local staff” for the Kenya and Somaliland programs when I directed the East Africa office for IRI in Nairobi in 2007-08. The local staff made the programs run successfully and taught me most of what I learned about Kenya. I loved working with them. As the only American there, I got a disproportionate share of the recognition and appreciation, but we were all especially dependent on the local staff because IRI was short-handed for East Africa in Washington. When the New York Times called me in July 2008 after the embargoed IRI exit polI showing an Odinga win was released at by CSIS in Washington, I sent the Times a written statement following my interview. I included this, although it wasn’t “news” when the story finally ran the next January:

The local IRI staff in Kenya did an outstanding job with the hard work of the election observation and keeping the office and programming together under very trying circumstances. I am very proud of the job they did with all of our programming. The exit poll was primarily handled by Strategic and UCSD and myself—if it failed in its execution that would be my responsibility and not that of anyone else in the office. As far as the decisions regarding whether or not to disclose the results to the Kenyan public, those were made in Washington and were outside the control of the local staff.

I hope that IRI and NDI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation are able to be of substantial aid to those stuck facing trial in Egypt for simply working for democracy in their own county for these organizations. These people should not be forgotten.