“You are doing a heck of a job”; Biden and Kenyatta get cozy at White House

Remarks by President Biden and President Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya Before Bilateral Meeting

President Biden and President Kenyatta had an apparently cozy visit at the White House. Biden got to host an African head of state after neglecting to do so around the UN General Assembly. Kenyatta got to “bring home” news of a U.S. vaccine donation, personal praise from Biden and a mutual reiteration about how well the Governments of our two countries do on cooperating on terrorism, business and generally on being “partners”. See the account from Kenya’s state media, KBC.

A good way to end the week for Client 13173 of Geneva’s Union Bancaire Privée (see “Secret Assets Exposed by Pandora Papers Expose Uhuru Kenyatta’s Family“, by Will Fitzgibbon in The Elephant, Oct 8).

I do not think it unfair to read the tea leaves from this action by the Biden Administration–on the heels of announcing the appointment of Judd Devermont, late of the Center for Strategic and Studies, to formulate a new Africa policy (as John Bolton in the Trump Administration)–toward deciphering how the U.S. executive branch can be expected to play Kenya’s current election.

Of course, the “heck of a job” line is usually intended to be sarcastic in the United States, as remembered with poignancy by those of us who had personal experience with Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As explained in Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary:

A “heck of a job” is a complete and total screw-up. It’s used, ironically, to show when one’s view of a situation is in contradiction to easily-observed facts.
The phrase comes from President George W. Bush who visited Louisiana in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and told FEMA chief Michael D. Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
Brown later admitted he winced when Bush told him that: “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”
Brown resigned ten days after he was praised.

George W Bush praises FEMA head Michael Brown in Louisiana after Hurricane KatrinaPresident George W. Bush tells FEMA Administrator Michael Brown he’s doing “a heck of a job.” (Photo: AP)

Biding time on democracy in Kenya and Uganda

 

Kenya election 2007 banner for Kibaki Nakuru
Ugandan MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine will speak at the McCain Institute’s virtual 2021 Sedona Forum. The State Department has issued a statement criticizing the January Ugandan election and announcing that it is issuing visa restrictions on unnamed Ugandan officials responsible for undermining the democratic process

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Three years after the resignations of a majority of Kenya’s election commissioners, President Uhuru Kenyatta has formally taken notice of the four vacancies and gazetted the process through which he will appoint replacements.

Why now? While the President has not explained specifically to my knowledge, his ruling Jubilee Party is seeking to have the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission conduct a constitutional referendum within weeks to approve amendments derived from the “Building Bridges Initiative”. (A version of a proposal to amend the constitution was passed by most of Kenya’s county assemblies positioned as a citizen initiative. It is now before Parliament where there is internal debate among proponents as to whether to approve it for referendum as is, or to allow amendments to what has already been passed by the counties, which would raise additional legal questions. Challenges to the legality of the process to date are pending in the courts already.)

Although Kenya’s courts have allowed the IEBC to continue to conduct by-elections and all its other business with only three of seven commission seats filled since the most recent resignations in April 2018 there seems to be an expectation that appointing new commissioners is desirable ahead of the referendum and the general election approaching in August 2022. Legislation signed into law last year changes the appointment powers for choosing the committee that will interview applicants for the IEBC slots and winnow choices for the President. Four of the seven screening committee members will now named by the Parliamentary Service Commission, tipping the balance in favor of the current office holders.

Remember that U.S. president Joe Biden has “been around”, with far more diplomatic experience than any of his four most recent predecessors in the White House. In 2010 as Vice President he met with Kenyan Speaker Kenneth Marende, along with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, ahead of that year’s constitutional referendum during the period in which Kenya was deciding between justice-oriented remedies and impunity for the 2007-08 Post-Election Violence.

This is what I wrote at the time, “Marende praised by U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights, meeting with Biden; South Mugirango by-election this week”:

Kenyan Speaker of Parliament Kenneth Marende seems to be getting an increased international profile. Navanethem Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Marende on Monday, expressing concern regarding progress on prosecution of suspects for post election violence. According to the Standard she singled out Marende for praise, “saying he had made immense contribution in stabilising the country through some historic rulings and the manner he handled issues in Parliament”.

U.S. Vice President Biden will call on Marende Tuesday as well, along with his meeting with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

Interestingly, Marende says that Parliament “would easily pass” legislation to provide for a “local tribunal” to try election violence cases under Kenyan criminal law “if the ICC acted swiftly by taking away key perpetrators of the violence”.

Biden will leave Thursday morning, the day of the South Mugirango by-election to fill the seat vacated by a successful election petition against Omingo Magara, originally of ODM. As it stands the race is hot, with Raila Odinga campaigning for the substitute ODM nominee, Ibrahim Ochoi, William Ruto campaigning for Magara running as a PDP nominee and heavyweights in PNU affiliates split among Magara and other candidates.

 

Stand by . . .

After eleven years I am taking a real hiatus from writing here for early 2021.

Several reasons:

First, there is so much going on in Kenyan politics relative to my time to really delve in, uncover and keep current—it is all very much familiar and still “frozen” from 2007-08 in many ways, but I risk being simply wrong if I write without adequate depth this many years since I have actually lived in Kenya.

Second, I am tired of having and expressing opinions after the all the overwrought drama of the Trump years and watching all of the continuing open and notorious corruption in Kenya and East Africa more generally.

Third, I have made a career change. I have left the corporate world and am back in private law/consulting practice and have some potential intersection between development issues I might write about here and things that I am not able to about as a matter of professional obligation.

Maybe I’ll send some new FOIA requests in the meantime…

New report that Trump Administration learned of staggering procurement corruption at top of DRC’s Election Commission “a few weeks before” 2018 election, stayed mum

In a must read story of “Africa in DC”, Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha peels back several layers of the story of how DRC strongman Joseph Kabila managed his 2016-19 election problem with the new Trump Administration: “A Secretive Company Needed to Convince Washington That Congo’s Election Would Be “Free and Fair.” It Found A Friendly Ear Among Trump Allies.

Previous reporting disclosed internal dissent within the State Department, including an early 2019 story from Robbie Graemer and Jeffcoate O’Donnell I noted here: “Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump Administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote.”

Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.

Update: Here is a link to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act filing of Mer Security and Communications, Ltd of Halon, Israel for the Government of the DRC for the 2018 election. And the filing of Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group for their subcontracted portion, including lobbying the National Security Council, and hosting “the Cobalt Reception”. (Further on Sonoran Group, see “Trump-linked lobbyist turns from Gulf Arabs to more toxic clients,” al-Monitor, Feb. 19, 2020.)

You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.

This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.

The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.

Update: Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy appears to have effectively announced the “climb down” by the State Department on supporting Tshisekedi as the de facto president at a CSIS dinner in Washington on January 30, 2019, while still asserting “In addition, we will continue to voice our disapproval of the poor implementation of a flawed electoral process, which was far below the standards of a fully democratic process. We will hold accountable those most responsible for undermining D.R.C.’s democratic processes and institutions.” Nagy celebrated a peaceful transition of power “that few thought possible”. “Ultimately, the Congolese people have the final word. After President Kabila left office, there have been no meaningful protests to the election outcome. Felix Tshisekedi has vowed to unite the country, reform the security forces and justice sector, fight corruption, and spur greater U.S. investment and it is in our interest to help him succeed.”

On March 21, 2019 the Treasury Department announced personal sanctions against the two top officials of CENI:

Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.

Consider in light of the ultimately similar context from Kabila’s alleged 2011 “re-election” during Secretary Clinton’s State Department tenure as I warned about in a post here on August 8, 2018: “With DRC’s Kabila Backing a Substitute Candidate This Year, Time to Review the International Observation Experience from 2011 Vote”:

At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.

Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.

In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist.  In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).

On the last election:

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

Should there be an international Code of Conduct for Exit Polls and Parallel Vote Tabulations?

[As the year winds down and things crank up in Kenya’s 2022 presidential campaign and BBI referendum I am going through some of my old unpublished drafts – this is an idea that could matter that the parties involved do not have an incentive to bring forward.]

To me, the answer to the headline question is clearly “yes”.

Very specifically to my experience as in Kenya in 2007 as International Republican Institute Resident East Africa Director, I was able to explain to the USAID Kenya Mission that we at IRI were bound as a party to a published International Code of Conduct in conducting an International Election Observation that required us to maintain independence from the Ambassador.

(Readers may recall that then-Ambassador Ranneberger had pushed for a USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission for Kenya’s 2007 election which USAID had decided not to conduct in their ordinary planning process for the election and that IRI did not seek to undertake.)

We on the IRI staff were able to push back on Ambassador Ranneberger’s desire to select Election Observation Mission delegates, although we ended up informally going along with Ranneberger’s choice of Connie Newman and Chester Crocker as lead delegates (Crocker was not available to travel on the dates required).

The rest of the delegates were our choices rather than the Ambassador’s and we resisted Ranneberger’s expressed desire to remove his predecessor Amb. Mark Bellamy from the Observation until Ranneberger “laid down a marker” as he put it.

Likewise, we invited against Ranneberger’s wishes Bellamy’s predecessor as Ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, who was then the Africa lead at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and later Assistant Secretary of State under Obama (Carson was not cleared to participate–I was privately relieved for two reasons: it got me off the hook on a potential conflict with Ranneberger and while Carson seemed like a real asset for the Observation I thought the optics of having a high ranking Executive Branch employee and particularly one directly in an Intelligence Community job would not be great from an independence standpoint. In hindsight it might have done some real good to have him there.).

Unfortunately, on the now perhaps infamous Exit Poll, I was more or less naked in dealing with USAID and the Ambassador. The polling program was under a separate Cooperative Agreement between the CEPPS (IRI, NDI and IFES) and USAID which had started with the Exit Poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum. (The defeat of the proposed “Wako Draft” Constitution gave rise to the Orange Democratic Party which led Kenya’s opposition in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections, culminating in the March 2018 “handshake” and the present “Building Bridges Initiative” referendum campaign).

The 2005-07 polling program was scheduled to end with a public opinion survey in September 2007, well ahead of the general election, the date of which was not set until weeks later. USAID amended the Agreement to add the general election Exit Poll at the end. It was only after I initially reported a few days before the election that we were going to have to cancel the Exit Poll due to the objection of Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu that I was told by USAID that the Exit Poll as a higher priority for the Ambassador than the Election Observation itself. Kivuitu’s acquiescence was achieved.

On the late afternoon of Election Day as I was dragging my feet on releasing preliminary numbers before the polls closed I was told that “the whole reason” for doing the Exit Poll was for “early intelligence” for the Ambassador and USAID went to our subcontracted polling firm to get the figures. [Remember that I covered all this in complaints to the Inspectors General at USAID and State.]

IRI had no established backstop to protect itself from interference on the Exit Poll because unlike on the Election Observation Mission there was no published Code or Agreement that I could use to push back to preserve our independence.

We had agreed internally at IRI that we should not report any Exit Poll numbers externally including to USAID or the Embassy until the polls closed, and it was quite clear that we had no contractual obligation to make a report during the vote. But given that USAID was willing to go underneath us to the pollster it was out of our hands literally and there were no clear standards beyond that.

The US Government ultimately had rights to our data as a matter of government contracts law and USAID had arguably and ambiguously constrained our ability to release the Exit Poll results to the public in the Amendment to the Cooperative Agreement funding the Exit Poll by providing for “consultation” with the Embassy on “diplomatic or other” considerations. The Cooperative Agreement for the Program was neither classified nor available publicly until I had it released under the Freedom of Information Act years later. The Exit Poll from the 2005 Referendum had been released.

Fortunately we have not seen another disaster quite like Kenya 2007-08, but the questions about transparency and release and reporting of information from election verification and anti-fraud tools are still there. For instance in the most recent elections in the DRC and Malawi, as well as the controversy in Kenya in 2013. This could be addressed by pre-established standards or codes if donors, host governments and democracy assistance organizations or implementers are willing to give up some of their case-by-case flexibility and frankly some of the power of controlling information.

Kenya USAID IRI poll release press conference
Kenya USAID IRI poll release press conference

Ugandan People’s Defense Forces raid on opposition candidate Bobi Wine’s Headquarters puts US in awkward position

The UPDF has raided the political headquarters of Ugandan opposition MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine, per Reuters and other news reports.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, told Reuters dozens of police and soldiers barged into the offices of his National Unity Platform (NUP) party in Kamwokya, a suburb of the Ugandan capital Kampala

The security personnel, he said, seized documents containing signatures from supporters that his party had collected to back his nomination, as well as 23 million shillings ($6,207.83).

We have Americans working to support Bobi Wine, and presumably Museveni as well, in the campaigns, and Americans working through USAID to support the democratic process. Uganda has always been a challenging environment on democratization–one in which our diplomats face an extra helping of competing priorities.

Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power but remains more stable under Museveni’s rule than at most times prior to his military ascension in 1986. Museveni is a critic of the West who generally does business with the United States and generally facilitates our humanitarian and development aid programs, while doing business as well with China, North Korea, the former Gaddafi regime in Libya and other non-democratic actors.

Over the years that I have been informally watching (since 2008 really) we have offered occasional but muted criticism of Museveni’s disappointing performance on “deepening democracy”. See, i.e., Uganda: Retiring US Ambassador “stings Museveni for overstaying in power” but emphasizes support for Uganda’s role in regional stability”.

Uganda billboard Museveni and Gaddafi

The use of the Ugandan military in the domestic election process against democratic norms, however, presents a particular problem because of the strong military-military relationship.

Ten years ago, ahead of Uganda’s 2011 election, I wrote a blog post entitled “Democracy and Competing Objectives: We need you to back us up”:

I also had a senior military officer, a general, say to me, “It really doesn’t help us when you all don’t come out and criticize sort of half-hearted democratic elections. You tell us ‘Democracy, Democracy’; then you accept when we don’t have fully up to a minimal level of standard, because you’ve got presumably some other competing objective there that mitigates against that, because otherwise we don’t understand the point of continuing to strive for that standard. We need you to back us up and to back up our societies.”

This was Kate Almquist, now Senior Fellow for Security and Development at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, at a Military Strategy Forum on AFRICOM at CSIS in July (2010). Ms. Almquist was Assistant Director for Africa at USAID from May 2007 to 2009. She is speaking on a panel, relating her recent discussions with senior African military leaders at the Africa Center in response to a question about “competing objectives” regarding U.S. “strategic partners” including Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, and “how do we know U.S. military support is not increasing autocratic tendencies and not decreasing democratic space?”

Since this event we’ve had a substandard election season in Rwanda–as well as the leak of a draft UN report using the term genocide in reference to Rwandan activity in the DRC. In Uganda, Museveni has announced formally that he is running for re-election, while continuing to refuse action to relinquish the unilateral appointment of the Electoral Commission. At the same time, Rwanda is threatening to pull its “peacekeeping” soldiers out of Darfur, and Uganda is offering an additional 10,000 soldiers to be “peacekeepers” in Somalia. The conundrums continue.

Here is a link to the audio and video from CSIS (also available on podcast). This discussion starts at 32:50 in the panel following General Ward’s speech.

Meanwhile in the USA, former Trump Director of National Intelligence raises threat to survival of the American democratic experiment in the conduct of this election

Trump’s ex-spy chief warns American democracy may not survive November electionIntelnews September 18, 2020.

Dan Coats, former U.S. Senator from Indiana, served as Trumps Director of National Security from the beginning of the Administration until resigning last year. His warning came in a New York Times op ed Thursday:

We hear often that the November election is the most consequential in our lifetime. But the importance of the election is not just which candidate or which party wins. Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.

Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.

If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.

The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.

The most important part of an effective response is to finally, at long last, forge a genuinely bipartisan effort to save our democracy, rejecting the vicious partisanship that has disabled and destabilized government for too long. If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will.

Our key goal should be reassurance. We must firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people’s will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted. . . .

Kenya’s IEBC announced 18 months ago that it would finally open its vote tally servers to public, but has failed to do so

IEBC unreformed less than two years prior to 2022 General Election“, The Star, Aug. 7, 2020.

2017 election: IEBC shopping for expert to audit its systems“, Daily Nation, Feb. 12, 2019:

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati says the commission is shopping for an external consultant to audit its data systems to finally reveal what might have happened during the transmission of results in the August 2017 Presidential Election that was nullified by the Supreme Court.

Broaching the topic for the first time nearly one-and-half years later, Mr Chebukati said results of the audit will be made public.

CONSULTANT

“It is not true that we refused to open the servers,” he said, in reference to a Supreme Court order the commission violated. “What we need is an external consultant to carry out a systems audit and then open the servers to the public.”

. . . .

Accessing the commission’s servers has been a sensitive issue since the Supreme Court allowed Mr Raila Odinga to access the system during the presidential petition he filed after IEBC declared Mr Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of the August 8, 2017 election.

In a unanimous decision, the seven judges told the commission to open the servers because understanding how the system works would help the court come to a fair decision.

. . . .

However, the IEBC refused to open the servers, with its lawyer Paul Muite telling the court that the delay in opening the system was attributable to the time difference between Europe and Kenya.

“The IEBC servers are hosted in France, and the staff who are supposed to give the access window with safeguards are just waking up and will prepare the system in about an hour for the Nasa team to access,” Mr Muite told the court.

But the servers were never opened. 

US Senate: more on collaboration by Moi’s former consultants Manafort and Stone with Wikileaks and Russian spy Kilimnik on behalf of Trump

For context see “Kenya’s Moi hired Paul Manafort and Roger Stone to lobby National Democratic Institute and others in 1992 election“.

Here is how The Los Angeles Times morning newsletter describes yesterday’s US Senate release:

‘A Grave Counterintelligence Threat’

President Trump‘s 2016 campaign eagerly capitalized on Russia’s efforts to meddle in the U.S. election four years ago, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report from Republicans and Democrats that raises new concerns about connections between Trump’s top aides and Moscow.

As Russian military intelligence officers were releasing hacked Democratic Party emails through WikiLeaks, the report said, the Trump campaign “sought to maximize the impact of those leaks” and “created messaging strategies” around them. The report found that the Trump campaign “publicly undermined” the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was behind the email hack and “was indifferent to whether it and Wikileaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort.”

The 966-page document describes Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman who is serving prison time for financial crimes, as “a grave counterintelligence threat” because of his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business partner in Ukraine who is conclusively described as a “Russian intelligence officer.” Manafort and Kilimnik used encrypted messaging applications and codes to communicate, sometimes telling each other to look at the “tea bag” or the “updated travel schedule” when it was time to check the email account they shared, according to the report, which represents a rare bipartisan consensus on a hotly contested topic.

The report includes new details about Roger Stone communicating with Trump about Wikileaks and concerns about whether anyone encouraged Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, to lie about Trump’s pursuit of a luxury skyscraper in Moscow during the campaign.

This fifth and final volume from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian election meddling in 2016 arrives soon after Trump’s own intelligence officials have warned that Moscow is revisiting its playbookahead of the 2020 election by trying to undermine Joe Biden.

More at “Senate’s Russia Report Implicates More Than Trump’s Campaign“, Bloomberg Quint, Eli Lake, Aug. 19, 2019.

Old Party Office in Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Election Observation and Democracy Assistance: what is CEPPS?

CEPPS stands for the the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening; the members are the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES).

Although CEPPS has been functioning as a USAID master funding mechanism for Cooperative Agreements for Democracy Assistance since the early post-Cold War era in 1995, it is only more recently that it has started to take on a more public face as an entity as opposed to the three constituent organizations. (See the explanation from their branding strategists here [with the colorful image of a Masaii woman voting])

While I have no idea why this has evolved in recent times, I will note that building up CEPPS as an “entity” with its own brand could be seen from outside as a way to establish an alternative structure directly tied to USAID in competition with funding for democracy assistance through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

IRI and NDI are two of four core NED institutions. IRI and NDI were incorporated by the leaders of the Republican and Democratic National Committees respectively, pursuant to the legislation establishing the National Endowment for Democracy as private organization, with a bipartisan board and Congressionally-appropriated funding and subject to the Freedom of Information Act. (The other two NED core institutions are the Center for International Private Enterprise [CIPE] affiliated with the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Solidarity Center affiliated with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations or AFL-CIO.)

IFES, on the other hand, which the branding material describes as a “core institution” of CEPPS, borrowing the NED terminology for the consortium members, is a more explicitly “private” entity created in 1987, four years later in than NED, during the second Reagan Administration, at the instance of then-USAID Director Peter McPherson as he describes in a 2017 interview on the IFES website. McPherson went to a American political campaign manager with a “bipartisan tone,” Cliff White (known publicly primarily for his role as Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign manager) to found the nonprofit because among the contractors USAID used there was a lack of technical expertise on the mechanics of organizing and holding elections. USAID provided an initial grant but IFES is not part of the Congressional mandate and annual budget appropriation process of NED and its four “core institutions” including IRI and NDI.

Readers will remember that IFES is a nonprofit corporation (like IRI and NDI) and was registered as such with the Kenyan government when President Kenyatta and his party leaders and government officials attacked IFES for not being registered as an “NGO” in late 2016 and early 2017 and allegedly being too cooperative with the opposition while managing the USAID election assistance and supporting the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Of course since IFES had been working on the same basis in essentially the same role with ECK since 2001 under Samuel Kivuitu’s Chairmanship and the IIEC and then IEBC under Issack Hassan, I saw this as pre-election “muscle flexing” by the incumbent President Kenyatta and his coalition directed at both the new Chebukati-led Independent Commission taking office in January to replace Hassan’s group after opposition protests and at IFES. The democracy donor diplomatic group led by US Ambassador Godec pushed back but Kenyatta’s Administration used its control of Immigration to force out the IFES Country Director and another key IFES employee. An outside replacement Country Director was “parachuted in” mid-March for the August 8 election.

See also “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“.

Here is a discussion of USAID use of CEPPs from a review conducted by the Office of Inspector General for USAID focused on Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East released November 26, 2019, titled “Additional Actions Are Needed to Improve USAID’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Programs”:

CEPPS was founded in 1995 by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and holds a global Leader with Associate assistance award with the DRG Center to implement a variety of DRG activities, including political party assistance programs.

According to USAID officials, CEPPS received a series of global assistance awards from USAID for 1995 through 2020, which helped CEPPS partners develop a capacity to deliver political party assistance programming and establish a global footprint with a presence in every region in which USAID operates. The current global assistance mechanism was awarded in 2015 (a cooperative agreement) and provides missions the option to offer funding opportunities directly to CEPPS rather than develop a notice of funding opportunity locally.

Agency mission and headquarters personnel reported that, overall, CEPPS partners have excellent technical leadership and organizational experience to work collaboratively with host-country political leaders. CEPPS partners have developed strong work relationships with local stakeholders in many countries and are acknowledged as global leaders in the DRG sector. For example, in Ukraine, mission officials praised the NDI, IRI, and IFES Chiefs of Party as outstanding leaders who are highly accomplished and respected in their areas of expertise. They noted that the technical skills and positive reputations of these individuals are an asset for the mission and its DRG portfolio.

However, Agency officials also noted that missions often default to working with CEPPS partners through USAID’s global assistance award with the DRG Center—instead of pursuing opportunities to partner with other organizations that can provide similar services. Relying on CEPPS gives significant influence to a small group of partners to implement political party assistance programs and increases USAID’s reputational risk. Specific concerns reported to us by USAID officials include:

• NDI, IRI, and IFES have significant political connections and powerful benefactors on their boards of directors, including sitting Members of the U.S. Congress, former Ambassadors, and other political appointees. NDI and IRI in particular could be perceived as extensions of the U.S. Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively, by host-country stakeholders. For example, NDI’s website acknowledges that it has a “loose affiliation” with the U.S. Democratic Party and IRI’s current Chairman is a U.S. Senator in the Republican Party.

• In Georgia, CEPPS attempted to exclude a host-country democratic political party. In a 2017 letter to USAID/Georgia written on behalf of NDI and IRI, CEPPS stated that it would temporarily suspend assistance to a Georgian political party because of media reports of derogatory remarks made by party leaders about CEPPS partner staff, along with CEPPS’s disagreement with the party’s political platform and rhetoric. The mission responded to CEPPS’s letter by directing NDI and IRI to continue delivering assistance to the Georgian political party in compliance with USAID’s Political Party Assistance Policy.