Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 Elections from the Truth Trickling Out About 2007–New Cables From FOIA (Part One)

The time for Kenya elections under the new constitution should be August, although there remains some uncertainty on the date of the first election for “the second republic.”  See “The Election Date not Clearly Spelt Out” by Yash Ghai and Jill Ghai in The Star.  Regardless, the point is that elections are in a general sense “next year”, and that since I started this blog in December 2009 we have gone from roughly “40% done” with the allotted time for reforms under the “Government of National Unity” to “80% done”.

One of the points of the mediated settlement agreement between PNU and ODM negotiators that provided for the formation of the “power sharing” coalition government was the investigation of the facts of the disputed 2007 elections. Toward this end, and as part of my own desire to learn what I could about what had been going on around me in the context of my work managing the IRI poll program and election observation program in Nairobi, I submitted three Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department back in September and October of 2009. One of the requests was denied back at the first of this year on the basis that the records were classified, but this weekend I finally received the first partial release of unclassified documents under one of the other two requests.

Regular readers will know that for the last several months my professional circumstances have just not allowed much time for original writing here–that hasn’t changed, but I think this is an important area where I can add value to the learning process and preparations toward more successful elections in 2012, so I will be working my way through what these newly public documents tell us, and don’t tell us, about the last Kenya elections over the next few posts.

This FOIA request covered State Department communications about the 2007 exit poll that was conducted by Strategic Public Relations and Research under contract with IRI, funded under an agreement with USAID and by the University of California, San Diego. This initial partial release covered the “central records” of the State Department in Washington and identified six “cables”, of which four were released in full, one was released with some redaction, and one was held for review with another agency of the government prior to a decision on release.  To date, the Africa Bureau has provided no response to State’s FOIA office regarding the Embassy records.

We’ll start for today with basic points from the first cable, a December 14, 2007 report from Ambassador Ranneberger to Washington on the preparations for the December 27 elections. I remember that day well–it was a Friday.

The day before I had gotten a call from the USAID Democracy and Governance head to fax to the Ambassador our delegate list for the election observation mission. After I had done so I was driving to lunch with my wife and an American friend who had recently been an election observer in another African country for another U.S.-based NGO and wanted to assist the Kenya observation as a volunteer. The Ambassador called and I had to pull over to the side of the road and step out of the car as I was getting loudly “chewed out” about the inclusion of former Ambassador Bellamy on the delegate list. Ambassador Ranneberger elaborated that he did not want to hear that it was not my decision as he was holding me “personally responsible” as the person in charge “on the ground”. He went on to say that he would pull the funding and cancel the election observation if I didn’t get Bellamy off the list, and not to think that he couldn’t do it.

After my calls to USAID and my immediate superior in Washington, IRI’s president called Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport for a trip to Thailand, as he related to me, to tell her to “get her Ambassador under control”, then called Ranneberger from Thailand.  As a result, IRI capitulated and removed Bellamy as a delegate, but I was instructed to accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.  Bellamy was told (not by me) that there was a problem funding his plane ticket.

The next day, on Friday, Ranneberger sent his cable to the Secretary of State touting his election preparations.  Some points of interest:

*Ranneberger notes regarding the UNDP’s $11.3 million comprehensive election assistance program, that the U.S. is the largest donor, providing nearly $3 million.  “As USAID/Kenya’s Democracy & Governance officer is the lead coordinator for all/all donor related election activity, USAID represents the donors on the joint ECK/Donor Steering Committee managing this program.”

*Ranneberger writes regarding Election Observers:  “The Mission is funding an international election observer team headed by the International Republican Institute (IRI).  The team will have about 20 members, and will be headed by former Assistant Secretary Constance Newman.  This team will be strategically deployed to high-profile locations and will coordinate with other international observer missions being fielded by the EU and the Commonwealth.  In addition to the international team, we will field over 50 three-member teams of Mission observers (American and Kenyan staff).  Locations for deployment focus on election “hot spots” where we anticipate the greatest potential for violence or other irregularities as well as constituencies with viable women candidates.  As circumstances on the ground evolve, we can continue to adjust our deployment strategy.”

* Regarding the ECK:  “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.”

*On “Public Opinion Polling”:  “The Mission is funding national public opinion polling to increase the availability of objective and reliable data and to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls (emphasis added).  The implementing partner is IRI.  In addition, we were concerned that other widely published public opinion polls, which showed ODM’s Raila Odinga well ahead of President Kibaki, did not accurately reflect the true status of the contest.  Given the rising political temperature, partially due to the use of blatant ethnic appeals by both sides, we were concerned about the reaction of ODM supporters should their candidate lose in a close outcome when they were led by public opinion polls to expect a landslide victory.  The solution involved quietly reaching out to polling firms and their clients to suggest that poll sampling distribution should be based on the regional distribution of registered voters, not on raw population.  Today, the major polling firms have all adjusted their sampling and limited their responses to those who at least claim to be registered voters.”

That afternoon, Friday, December 14, I got a call as I left the offices of Strategic, the polling firm, where I had been working on exit poll preparations.  A caller who identified himself only as working with the Ambassador said that the Ambassador would like me to see him at the residence the next afternoon and I agreed to come.  In the next post, I’ll pick up the story with that meeting and two more pre-election cables.

Part Two;    Part Three;    Part Four;    Part Five;    Part Six;    Part Seven.

Next “Shoe to Drop”: Besigye to Return to Entebbe Wednesday Morning ahead of Museveni Swearing-in

Wednesday morning the Ugandan opposition/protest leader is due to land at Uganda’s international airport at Entebbe. The Museveni government is giving signs of that much less tolerance on the basis of Museveni’s swearing in as his rule extends for another term in its 25th year. Human Rights Watch has issued a report that is sharply critical of the government over violence against protestors, while the EU Election Observation Mission issued their Final Report on the February election on May 6 with a press release that seems more to address the current Walk to Work situation–and in a way that contrasts with the Human Rights Watch criticism–than the actual election. See quotes below.

Great report today from Will Ross in Kampala on BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent: “Would Uganda’s Museveni recognize his former self?”

One obvious question at this point is why the U.S. doesn’t seem to have more ability to influence the Ugandan military in a more professional direction.

“Human Rights Watch pins Government over Killings” in the Daily Monitor:

At least nine unarmed Ugandans were shot dead – many of them in the back – by government security agents in the recent walk-to-work protests despite not being involved in rioting, a new report says. In a report issued yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for a “prompt, independent, and thorough investigation” into the use of lethal force by security forces to counter the protests against the rising cost of living.

“Uganda’s security forces met the recent protests with live fire that killed peaceful demonstrators and even bystanders,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. Supporting the need for an investigation, she added: “For far too long Uganda’s government has allowed a climate of impunity for serious abuses by the police and military.” Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said the Professional Standards Unit and the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) were investigating all the shooting incidents. “Once there reports have been compiled, the police will be in position to avail details,” she told Daily Monitor last evening. She added that the Masaka shooting suspect was still in custody. “He will be arraigned in court any time from now,” she said, but declined to comment where the force would welcome an independent investigation team from the African Union and the United Nations.

The HRW report was released a few hours before women in civil society organisations marched peacefully and uneventfully through Kampala to protest against the security agencies’ brutal response to the protests that started last month. The women’s march followed a three-day strike by lawyers against the government’s response, which they said infringed on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

EU Election Observation Mission announces release of its final report:

The EU EOM drew up its Final Report independent of any European Union institution. However, it will now fall to the EU’s permanent representation in Uganda to follow up on the issues it raises.

Ambassador Ridolfi said: “The question of the legitimacy of the outcome of the election should not now be under question. Moving forward, what is important is that the government, political parties and civil society establish a peaceful and conducive dialogue inside and outside the parliament. “The European union is concerned about respect for the right to peaceful demonstration, as freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental pillars of any democracy. We call on the protesters to respect the law and conduct themselves in a peaceful manner. The police should act always in a proportionate and impartial fashion.”  Dr Ridolfi added: “On this, the EU is ready to engage positively with political dialogue and development actions.”

The EU EOM was invited by the Government of Uganda and the Uganda Electoral Commission to observe the entire electoral process. Around 120 observers were deployed to the country’s 112 electoral districts.

The EU EOM operates in accordance with the “Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation” adopted by a number of international bodies involved in election
observation at the United Nations in New York in 2005.

Obama and “the ideals that still light the world” and that “we will not give up for expedience’s sake”

In writing here about the situation in Eygpt and U.S. support for democracy, I referred to remembering what the President had said about his priorities as our leader and holding him accountable to that.  To that end I am quoting here the Inauguration Day post from two years ago that was part of wrapping up a personal web “travel log” that my wife and I did to keep in touch with friends and family while we were in Nairobi:

January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day from Mississippi!

Beautiful cool, clear winter day here. Big moment for Kenyans. The news from Kenya is especially troubling right now (but do not hesitate to travel there if you are able–I certainly want to get back for a visit at the first available opportunity).

The magnitude of the food crisis has reached the point that the Gov’t (even) has declared a “national emergency” reflecting perhaps 10M people short of food. Several big corruption situations involving maize, petrol and other vital needs have just now come to light, while a newspaper reports that witnesses who provided confidential evidence to a committee appointed to investigate the post-election violence have been identifiable through the reports produced, are now under death threat and in many cases in hiding, having been provided no protection by the government. Thus, they are unlikely to be available to testify in the event that the prosecution tribunal to be established actually comes to fruition. SO, not much new–just a lot MORE of the same type of news.

At the same time, these things are not inevitable and can be changed to some substantial degree.

For those of you who have contributed to help with the Upako Centre or other worthy projects in Kenya, this would be a great time to keep them in your prayers and offer any additional financial support you are able. Things have turned dramatically for most of us financially since the time we went to Kenya in the spring of 2007, but most of us still have much to be grateful for and lots more than what we really need when it comes down to it.
From the President’s Inaugural Address this morning:

. . . .

Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.
Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.
So to all peoples and governments watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of all nations and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
. . . .

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. The world has changed, and we must change with it.

New Developments on Iran’s Geopolitical Efforts in Africa–another challenge for democracy?

This Bloomberg/Business Week article, “Iran Arms Shipment May Deal Setback to Expansion of Africa Ties” , is worth a read.

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) — A political wrangle over an Iranian arms shipment seized in Nigeria has set back the Persian Gulf nation’s efforts to cultivate links in Africa as it seeks to forestall diplomatic isolation over its nuclear program.

A United Nations team arrived in Nigeria Jan. 16 to probe the consignment of rockets, grenades and mortar shells that may have been destined for Gambia or Senegal in West Africa. Gambia cut ties with Iran in November and ordered its diplomats out of the country over the shipment. A month later, Senegal recalled its ambassador, citing “grave concern” about the weapons.

.  .  .  .

Zimbabwe, Uganda

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Africa at least three times last year. In April, he visited Zimbabwe to attend a trade fair, and then Uganda, where Iran is building a tractor-assembly plant and may invest in a proposed $2 billion oil refinery, according to Uganda’s Foreign Ministry. Three months later, he traveled to Nigeria, where Saipa, Iran’s second-biggest car manufacturer, signed an accord in November to jointly produce and market budget vehicles in Africa’s most- populous nation.

The commercial diplomacy has some parallel in Iran’s expanding trade and investment in Latin America, where Ahmadinejad has found ideological partners in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil. Saipa and Iran Khodro, the country’s largest automaker, aim to quadruple production at a joint-venture car plant in Venezuela.

Economic Clout

In Africa, “their goal is to win votes in the UN and to increase the number of countries that support them there, to win economic points, to increase Iran’s economic clout in the region and in the world,” Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Middle East analyst at Meepas, said in an interview on Nov. 11. “The Iranian leadership sees Iran as a superpower, and superpowers build alliances.” Meepas is a risk-analysis group based in Tel Aviv.

.  .  .  .

Iran is still a modest player in Africa compared with Turkey, which sold $10.2 billion worth of goods in the continent in 2009, according to the State Statistics Agency in Ankara. Brazil shipped $9.26 billion last year, 6.1 percent higher than in 2009, according to Brazilian Trade Ministry figures.

U.S. Interests

Even so, Iran’s efforts on the continent are a “big test” of U.S. influence, said Alex Vines, Africa analyst at Chatham House, the London-based research group.

“For the U.S., other emerging powers in Africa wouldn’t be such a concern, but Iran is kind of hard-wired to give American diplomats concerns,” he said. “That makes Iran different from a Turkey or even China.”

Expanding ties with Iran may cost African nations some of the $6.7 billion in annual aid the continent receives from the U.S. The Republican-led Congress plans to reassess all foreign development aid in the coming year, said Ed Royce, the ranking Republican for the Congressional subcommittee on nuclear proliferation.

“African governments forging close relationships with Iran are not the types of governments we want to do business with,” Royce said in an e-mailed response to questions on Nov. 24.

With the Uganda elections upcoming, Museveni will presumably do his best to play this to maximum advantage.  He attracted high level U.S. courting for his sanctions vote back in May as I discussed here at the time, along with the unsuccessful appeal to open up his Electoral Commission. See also, Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

Yes, U.S. policy should consistently prioritize democracy, and the State Department’s diplomats should carry that priority forward.  But realistically diplomats will always have a full card, and frankly the norms of diplomacy are pre-democratic if not outright anti-democratic, as reflected in the degree to which the basic records of our policy are self-classified by the diplomats.  This is why U.S. democracy support or promotion as a development effort needs to be primarily centered elsewhere.

Timing is Everything: Are We Too Late in Promoting Democracy in Egypt? [Updated and Expanded]

We shall see.  I hope not, for the sake of Egyptians and for my country as well.

I know that some of my friends will say that “Bush was right” to emphasize democracy in the Middle East in his second inaugural address and otherwise.  I agree that much of what President Bush said was right.  Unfortunately he forfeited his credibility, and that of the United States to some substantial extent, by what he did.  He made the decision, at least in the some final sense, to invade Iraq, instead.   I do not doubt that many of the people involved in this subjectively wished for the best for democracy in Iraq, it’s just that they were way over their heads in terms of even understanding the implications of what they were doing, much less controlling them–both for the United States and for Iraq.

Seeing what has happened in Tunisia and what may be happening now in Egypt should remind us of what can happen to change regimes and systems of government without war.  Just as in Eastern Europe, South Africa and many other places.   Likewise, Bush turned his back on traditional American values by associating American exceptionalism with a purported privilege to get involved in torture if it seemed important enough to the United States  in the short run.

I firmly believe that the invasion of Iraq and “the torture problem” are both aberrational behavior for the United States and I am optimistic that we are in the process of recovering our standing in the world and our voice.  Barak Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize for being an American President who simply was not Bush.

Just like Bush, Obama has come into office with essentially no foreign affairs experience, although he is obviously a more worldly person in certain ways, at least in the sense of having spent some time living overseas as a child and having a “multicultural” background.  Has Obama been too reticent in speaking about democracy in his first two years?  I don’t know–everyone is entitled to an opinion about this, but there is no clear answer.  I will say that it is both entirely fair, and vitally important that he be judged as a leader  by what he has in fact said.  I voted for George Bush in 2000, even though like everyone else I knew deep down that he was not really qualified to be President, because I liked a lot of what he said, “compassionate conservatism” and all, that he either did not mean or changed his mind about.

I remember what Obama said in his inaugural address about democracy and our relations with the rest of the world.  I liked it and was inspired by it.  I certainly hope he meant it and will live up to it.

Update: The purpose of this is not to engage in gratuitous “Bush bashing”, but rather to speak against revisionism that makes Bush into something he wasn’t and fails to take into account the fact that Obama took the helm of a country that was weaker and less influential, and more uncertain of its future, because of the substantive mistakes of his predecessor.  It is not just the invasion of Iraq itself, it was the aggressive dismissal of the opinions of those who knew better; the failures represented by Abu Ghraib and the weak response and failure to take responsibility in its aftermath; the mistrust and fear generated by rendition and associated failures to live up to our human rights and rule of law standards–all weakened our standing and influence.  Relatedly, the choice to initiate and run up large deficits made the U.S. more vulnerable as the finance sector bubble led to a near-catastrophic crash.

It seems to me that the greatest state exponents of repression and Islamist extremism across the greater Middle East region have been Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Bush unwittingly, presumably, facilitated Iranian influence regionally, and if anything seemed to draw closer than ever to the Saudis even in the wake of 9-11, including through his energy policies.  While the secret arms-for-hostage deals in the “Iran-Contra” fiasco were the conspicuous low point vis-a-vis Iran, no American president seems to have found his footing on dealing with that regime.

I think Obama and his administration should speak with greater moral clarity on democracy in the Middle East, because it is the right thing to do and because the rhetoric of American Presidents can matter more than we often appreciate.  But in fairness, it should be recognized that he almost had to try to recalibrate our tone and go for a fresh start because what we had been doing in sum was not working.

This is how Michael Hirsh has put it in the National Journal:

The irony for U.S. officials is that while President Bush devoted vast amounts of the country’s blood and treasure to establishing democracy in the Arab world — and devoted many speeches to it, including his second inaugural address — he achieved very little progress toward that goal during his eight years in office. Indeed, the places where Bush openly supported democracy, such as Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, have grown only more troubled, their politics ever more intractable.

By contrast, President Obama has seemed to play down democratic themes in the Middle East, openly supporting the Arab autocrats and waxing lukewarm at best in supporting democracy in those countries and in Iran. Yet the Arab and Iranian democracy movements have taken off on his watch.

The developments of the past few weeks have thus done much to resurrect questions about the so-called neoconservative program. In the lead-in to the Iraq war, many critics questioned whether democracy could really be imposed by force or even outside pressure, or whether instead it had to flow organically from the people in order to stick.

Perhaps we will soon find out.

Congressman continues to probe USAID political spending on Kenyan referendum

A pro-life news service has comments from Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) indicating that he remains dissatisfied after the Inspector General’s review of spending by USAID on the Kenyan referendum.Apparently USAID did not include on a timely basis the contract clause barring use of US Government funds for lobbying or advocacy of abortion in its contracts with democracy support NGOs and others working in relation to the Referendum.

The Obama administration has repeatedly come under fire from pro-life Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who leads the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

Smith has been concerned about a USAID report indicating the Obama administration spent $61.2 million related to the vote on the August vote on the new Kenya constitution. The report shows 12.6 million going to efforts to directly promote the pro-abortion constitution.

The constitution Kenyans adopted contained a clause making it so abortions would be legalized in any case in which medical professionals say it is somehow necessary for women.

As a result, the funding of groups promoting it appears to violate the Siljander Amendment — a federal law Congress approved decades ago that prevents the federal government from spending taxpayer funds promoting abortions in other nations.

Before the mid-term elections, Congressman Smith told LifeNews.com one of the consequences of Republicans taking over the House is the ability of pro-life advocates leading committees and subcommittees to the their powers to hold the Obama administration accountable on subject like this. He said the “investigatory and subpoena powers” the committees have would be useful in following up on the question of whether the Obama administration broke the law in funding the pro-constitution and pro-abortion groups.

Last week, he said the elections resulted in the victory of many new pro-life lawmakers who can support a potential investigation.

I have written previously that it is hard for me to see illegal lobbying for abortion in supporting the Kenyan constitution, but I have also noted that the Inspector General’s report indicates non-neutral spending to advocate for a “Yes” vote on the referendum. Aside from the disputed abortion language, this means that we did arguably interfere in the campaign and that we were, at best, less than straightforward about it. Congress should exercise its oversight authority to make sure that the American people do know what our government did in both the referendum campaign and in the 2007 presidential campaign.

Transparency is much needed in Kenya, and we need to teach by example rather than contradicting ourselves through our own practices.

Daily Nation reports that USAID Inspector General has found that US funding did go specifically to encourage “Yes” vote on referendum

Wednesday, the inspector general said the funds were channelled through USaid to eight organisations either based in Washington, Rome or Nairobi which in turn contracted 86 local groups involved in the ‘Yes’ campaign led by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Responding to questions sent by the Nation, the USaid inspector general said: “We did find evidence that USaid specifically spent taxpayer funds to encourage a ‘Yes’ vote.”

The inspector general said Sh1.1 billion ($12.6 million) of the total amount was used to finance activities directly related to the referendum.

“USaid found no evidence that any of this money was spent specifically to lobby for or against abortion,” an agency official said in response to a list of questions.

The USaid’s review did not take a position on whether that law was violated. “We consider this to be an unresolved legal issue this office lacks the authority to decide,” it said.

Mr Smith dismissed the findings and said he has asked the Governmental Accountability Office, a watchdog agency, to investigate afresh.

The full Saturday Nation lead story on the Inspector General’s findings is here.

New Study on Democracy Assistance in Kenya

The Spanish think tank FRIDE (Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior) has published a series of 14 case studies of international and bilateral democracy assistance efforts under an initiative for “Revitalizing Democracy Assistance” from the World Movement for Democracy, aimed at providing advice to both donors and recipients.

The Kenya paper was prepared by Jeroen de Zeeuw of Cordaid and is quite useful–download it here.

The paper provides some detail on the amounts of Democracy and Governance support and the funding mechanisms used by the major bilateral and international donors and critical assessment of programming and methods over time.

The report makes three key points. First of all, it shows that strong fluctuations in the level of critical engagement and assistance from the international community have given a mixed message to consecutive Kenyan governments, each of which has failed to follow through initial democratic reforms due to an absence of political will. Secondly, it argues that the focus of international assistance programmes on Nairobi-based elites and specialized NGOs has come at the expense of more community-oriented, traditional civil society actors with large memberships. Finally, the report argues that the current design of aid modalities (such as basket funding) and organizational profiles of many aid agencies fall short of what is required in terms of the flexibility and political savvy needed to support democracy in Kenya today.

A few key takeaways from anonymous interviews:

We have seen that donors are paying more attention to aligning their aid with a recipient country’s ‘national agenda’. But in many countries, including Kenya, the agenda that is put forward is the government’s agenda, which is not necessarily the same as the people’s agenda. In Kenya this has resulted in the strange situation that donor money has helped the police to become more effecient and effective, not in normal policing, but in the putting down of protests, harassment of human rights defenders and extra-judicial killings of criminals and other supposed law breakers.

Regarding corruption and the lack of political will: “everybody has something on everybody. As people are afraid that if they touch one person, the situation will escalate, nothing is being done. The result is political deadlock.” As for donors, they also lack political will “because of the high level of regional instability and the ongoing war in Somalia, ‘keeping Kenya stable’ is seen as a main security priority by most international actors based in Nairobi. Donors therefore feel they cannot push the government too hard as this might alienate their Kenyan partners.”

Democracy Arsenal challenges U.S. approach to democracy assistance

From Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution at “The Problem(s) with U.S. Democracy Assistance” at Democracy Arsenal:

In any case, the whole idea of “democracy assistance” is a bit odd and more than a bit hypocritical. We fund autocracies with billions of dollars of aid, then we fund some small NGOs so that they can oppose autocracy. Talk about mixed messages. Often, “democracy assistance” does not in fact assist democracy, since much of it goes to authoritarian governments themselves to help them govern more effectively. And a good chunk of NGO assistance goes to NGOs that are effectively GONGOs – government organized non-governmental organizations. GONGOs, needless to say, have nothing to do with democracy promotion. Even the money that does go to well-meaning NGOs is focused less on specifically democratic concerns and, as the Arabist notes, more on things like women’s empowerment, minority rights, etc., which are all important, but are not necessarily clearly linked to democratization – the movement, among other things, toward a political structure in which “alternation of power” is possible.

Certainly the imperative for democracy promotion organizations like IRI is to “follow the money” — to support overhead and bureaucratic and political heft by morphing to try to undertake whatever tasks the US government has funding for–regardless of core competencies and mission. I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say that the US “GONGOs” have “nothing to do with democracy promotion”, but any honest assessment does have to recognize the inherent contradictions. “GONGOs” do face inevitable occasions when those contradictions between democratic ideals and policy choices by some in key positions in the US government are not successfully managed–as in my experience at IRI in dealing with the U.S. Ambassador in regard to the last Kenyan election.