East Africa is the pits for press freedom, but congratulations to Namibia, Ghana and South Africa for outranking France, the U.K. and the U.S. in the World Press Freedom index

Here is the new 2019 World Press Freedom index from RSF, with the United States down to No. 48 (!) and France and the U.K. at 32 and 33 respectively. Namibia at 23, Ghana at 27 and South Africa at 31 lead SubSaharan Africa. Burkina Faso at 36 and Botswana at 44 also outrank the United States.

Thus, five African nations are ranked above the United States for press freedom this year according to Reporters Without Borders. The United States continues to rank above all of the East African nations.

Here are the East African Community member rankings:

Kenya 100

Tanzania 118

Uganda 125

South Sudan 139

Rwanda 155

Burundi 159

Elsewhere in the East and Horn Region: Ethiopia 110; Somalia 164; Djibouti 173; Sudan 175.

And other “development partners”: Norway 1; Germany 13; Japan 67; UAE 133; Russia 149; Egypt 163; Iran 170; Saudi Arabia 172; North Korea 179

Should the United States support “political confederation” of the East African Community? Can we do so while also supporting democracy?

What are the basics of our current foreign policy in East Africa? According to the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs there are now “four pillars” to our policy towards Africa:

1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions;

2) Supporting African economic growth and development;

3) Advancing Peace and Security;

4) Promoting Opportunity and Development.

Pillar number one seems quite clear, even if I have to admit that I cannot articulate what difference is intended between numbers two and four. See “The Competitive Advantages of Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in Africa,” by Mark Dieker on the State Department DipNote Blog this month. Dieker is the Director of the Office of African Affairs at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The East African Community as currently constituted with the addition of newly independent but unstable South Sudan has six member states. Arguably Kenya under its corrupt but seemingly stable one party dominant “handshake” government over the past year following annulled then boycotted 2017 elections is about as far along the democracy continuum as any of the six–on balance, the region seems to be experiencing authoritarian consolidation.

EAC Chairman Paul Kagame, who initially took power in the first instance through leading the 1990-1994 invasion from Uganda, engineered a referendum to lift term limits last year and was then re-elected with nearly 99% of the vote over his two closest opponents with less than 1% each, after jailing a more conspicuous challenger and expropriating her family’s resources. Suffice it say that Paul Kagame is one of the world’s more controversial leaders–both loved and hated, praised and feared among Rwandans and among politicians and journalists from other countries. The slogan of the EAC is “one people, one destiny”; the website invites users to memorialize the anniversary of “the genocide against the Tutsi”.

I think we could all agree that Kagame operates Rwanda as a heavily aid-dependent developmental authoritarian one party state “model”. Western diplomats and politicians, aid organizations, educational institutions and companies and foundations are free to participate so long as offer support rather than any form of dissent. Likewise journalists and scholars are welcome to spread the good news. Some see deep real progress from a genocidal baseline and a “cleaner”, “safer” more “orderly” less “corrupt” and more business-friendly “Africa”; some see a cruel dictatorship killing its opponents and silencing critics to hide its own dark past while supporting catastrophic regional wars and looting outside its borders while offering international busybodies and ambitious global operators gratification or absolution from past sins for cash and protection. Whatever one thinks of the relative merits of democracy and developmental authoritarianism, in Rwanda specifically or in East Africa or the world-at-large, I think we can agree that Rwanda is not a model of democracy.

Tanzania has regular elections which are always won by the party that always wins. In the world of East African democracy, it ranks above Kenya in some respects in recent years for avoiding the tribal mobilization and conspicuous corruption-fed election failures that have plagued its neighbor to the north. But again, no actual turnover of power from the ruling party and lately, civil liberties have been taking a conspicuous public beating. In the last election, the opposition took the seemingly desperate or cynical step of backing a candidate who was compromised by his recent expulsion from Government and the ruling CCM–and who having lost has now abandoned his new friends to return to CCM.

In Uganda, Museveni like Moi before him in Kenya, eventually allowed opposition parties to run, but unlike Moi, as not given up unilateral appointment of the election management body and has gone back to the “constitutional” well to lift first term limits, then the presidential age limit. While extrajudicial killings are not as prominent a feature of Ugandan politics as they are in Kenya, that might only be because Museveni counts on beatings and jail terms to send clear messages.

Burundi is under what would be an active ongoing crisis situation if not for the fact that things have gotten too much worse in too many other places for us to keep up. Whatever you think of Nkurunziza and the state of alternatives for Burundi, I do not think we need to argue about whether it is near to consolidated, stable, democracy.

South Sudan has not gotten far enough off the ground to present a serious question.

So under the circumstances it would seem quite counterintuitive to think that a political confederation beyond commercial of the existing six states would enhance rather than forestall hopes for a more a democratic intermediate future in Kenya or Tanzania. Likewise it does not seem to make sense to expect some serious mechanism for real democratic governance on a confederated six-partner basis anytime in the near or intermediate future unless quick breakthroughs are seem in multiple states.

Someday, after democratic transitions in Rwanda and Uganda and an experience of a change of power in Tanzania, after Kiir and Machar are safely under lock and key or have run off with Bashir to Paraguay, this can be revisited in a new light.

1999 Treaty Language TZ, UG, KE:

DETERMINED to strengthen their economic, social, cultural, political, technological and other ties for their fast balanced and sustainable development by the establishment of an East African Community, with an East African Customs Union and a Common Market as transitional stages to and integral parts thereof, subsequently a Monetary Union and ultimately a Political Federation;

In Chapter 23, Article 123

6. The Summit shall initiate the process towards the establishment of a Political Federation of the Partner States by directing the Council to undertake the process.

7. For purposes of paragraph 6 of this Article, the Summit may order a study to be first undertaken by the Council.

In 2011

In the consultations, it became clear that the East African citizens want to be adequately engaged and to have a say in the decisions and policies pursued by the East African Community.

On 20th May, 2017, the EAC Heads of State adopted the Political Confederation as a transitional model of the East African Political Federation.

State Department announces sanctions on head of DRC election commission and constitutional court for “significant corruption”

Good. Let me appreciate this action by the State Department to address a corrupt voting process and pull back from previous language that skipped over what seems to be the reality of what happened.

Here is the statement.

It would seem that collectively we (the U.S.) want to recognize Tshisekedi as fait accompli and “not Kabila”, and make the most of the opportunity for a better relationship and progress while still holding a small flame against election fraud for the future and not be “complicit” in covering it up. I very much approve of not being complicit in a cover up even if we are just trying to make the best of the situation with good intentions.

In Kenya in 2008 we issued private travel sanctions against two members of the election commission, the then ECK, for suspected bribery, but said nothing publicly. In that case there was violence from the election fraud and we had withdrawn our initial congratulations. We never disclosed the sanctions or the issue or evidence regarding the bribery but I learned of the matter from a Daily Nation story from a stolen cable from Wikileaks:

The Daily Nation– “What the cables say” (Feb ’08 US visa warning letters sent to ECK commissioners suspected of accepting bribes to fix vote tally) Mar 2 ’11 The link is apparently dead now; for discussion of the story please see Part Seven of my series on the page “The Story of the ’07 Election Through FOIA” under “The War for History Series: was Kenya’s election stolen?.

The public sanctions now, to me, are a step forward in responding to election corruption and I appreciate that we are taking this step. I also appreciate the many people influential in Washington who have spoken out publicly on the problem and laid the groundwork for this, noting Amb. Michelle Gavin at CFR and Joshua Meservey at Heritage. And of course Nic Cheeseman of Democracy in Africa and the University of Birmingham has been a ubiquitous friendly voice for the democratic process throughout.

As discussed in my previous post “Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote” we learned a good bit about the intergovernmental back and forth on the U.S. side on these issues from the work of Robbie Gramer and Jeffcoate O’Donnell. (As I wrote I know there was some of this in Kenya 2007 but no one seems to have been willing to write about it yet and I only have pieces.)

So, what’s next?

As U.S. Mission in Kenya passes from Godec to McCarter, Africa Confidential explains how Kenyan politics is still “frozen” in 2005-07 “time warp”

Africa Confidential ‘s free January Kenya article is a must read for anyone in Washington charged with engagement on Kenya over the next three years.

“Three’s a crowd”

Kenya’s political landscape in 2019 will be dominated by two-way competition between Deputy President William Ruto of the ruling Jubilee Party and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), as each man positions himself for the presidential election of 2022. Each will be trying to cobble together a winning coalition by buttressing his ethnic stronghold and winning over the ‘swing’ votes in regions such as Maasailand, Kisii, Luhyaland and the Coast.

President Uhuru Kenyatta‘s mantra is that the time for party politics is over and that all leaders should concentrate on economic development, based on his signature ‘Big Four Agenda’ (food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare), and reconciliation, based on the ‘Building Bridges Initiative’ agreed between him and Odinga last March. He will continue to state this line, arguing that he wants a legacy of an ethnically united Kenya, and will continue to reach out to former opposition leader Odinga and his Luo people.

Both Odinga and Ruto will on the surface claim they support the Big Four and Building Bridges even as they continue their individual campaigns and trade acerbic barbs. Many Kenyan pundits say the only person who has not grasped the new reality is Kenyatta, as he continues to insist on a politics-free country until 2022. . . .

Relatedly a friend got me a copy from Kenya of John Onyando’s recently published “Kenya: The Failed Quest for Electoral Justice” which I am reading with great interest. (Hoping this will be published internationally soon.) Most significantly so far I finally have an insider’s account of one of the key mysteries from the current, post-2002 era in Kenyan politics: what happened to cause the dropping of the Prime Ministry in the final maneuvering for the 2010 Constitutional referendum? Preserving an exceptionally powerful unitary executive Presidency was the key issue in Kibaki’s dumping of his MOU with Raila, et al, and the defeat of the “Wako Draft” constitution at the 2005 Referendum by what became the “Orange Democratic Movement”. Thus it was a bit of a shock to see Raila and ODM leading the “Yes” campaign along with Kibaki in 2010 for a new draft constitution where even the weak Prime Minister position that Odinga then held was completely excised.

[Here is my blog post from March 13, 2010 showing what I knew about the jockeying at the time: the ODM side wanted to go forward with Parliamentary approval of the draft as it was, while PNU (and Ruto) wanted to retreat to Naivasha to consider “amendments” with “retired President” Moi saying he would oppose the referendum without amendment. Ultimately the Naivasha retreat happened and the private vote Onyando’s book describes was facilitated.]

Any explanation of why the Prime Ministry “went away,” as it was put, was one of the more conspicuous gaps in Raila’s autobiography “The Flame of Freedom“.

On paper the 2010 Constitution as passed at the referendum in July of that year does have a variety of intricate mechanisms of reductions of individual power for His Excellency the President at the national government level, but since they are not self-executing and there is no Prime Minister or other potentially independent power center, once the 2013 election was decided for the Uhuruto ticket, Kenyatta has as one would expect largely worked around them, if not explicitly eviserated them legislatively using his control of Parliament.

According to Onyando, by the time of the final politicians’ cut on the 2010 draft constitution arising from the February 2008 National Accord to settle the Post Election Violence, the Opposition/ODM/Raila side had already lost Ruto to Kibaki/Kenyatta to the point that the President’s side gained three votes aligned with Ruto among those allocated to the Opposition among the group. Thus the Kibaki/Kenyatta side was able to write out any direct sharing of executive power under the new dispensation to follow the Government of National Unity. Raila went along on the basis that there was enough reform with partial devolution to 47 new counties and other provisions to warrant a “yes” versus a “no”.

It is noteworthy that even Africa Confidential is offering their current 2019 assessment without reference to specific terms of the Uhuru-Raila “handshake” of March 2018. I am not comfortable doing any real handicapping of the 2022 race myself or saying too much about current Kenya politics without being privy to the actual details of the deal.

Along these lines, this week saw on Wednesday both the first anniversary of Raila’s mock swearing in at Uhuru Park and the tenth anniversary of publication of the New York Times piece, “A Chaotic Kenyan Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll“.

Looking back on my personal experience it is notable to me that Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other on at least three separate points of fact in our respective interviews with The Times on the 2007 Kenyan election controversy (mine with Mike McIntire in the U.S. and his with Jeffrey Gettleman in Kenya) but I did not lose my security clearance, and had it renewed the next year when it came up so I was able to continue my career as an attorney working on U.S. Navy shipbuilding programs. I suspect I might have had some difficulty if it were not recognized that I had in fact been honest. Had I been a Kenyan (or Chinese for example) citizen it would have been unthinkable to hope to “get away” with being truthful in contradiction to a senior public official in this way without expecting to loose my job and likely go to jail or be killed.

All this is to say that my experience with Kenyan politics over these last many years has richened my gratitude for the freedom and security my family and I have experienced as Americans and my wish for the same someday for Kenyans. (In case you are new to the blog, here is my piece from The Elephant that they headlined “The Debacle of 2007: How an Election Was Stolen, and Kenyan Politics Frozen, With U.S. Connivance“).

(Updated) Tea Leaves and Poker Hands: Bolton at Heritage on Africa

In a relatively short speech Thursday morning at Washington’s Heritage Foundation, President Trump’s current National Security Advisor John Bolton was said to announce the administration’s “new Africa policy”. Amb. Bolton stuck out during the George W. Bush Administration as both an aggressive hardliner by reputation on policy and as willing to fight hard within the bureaucracy. So no surprise that Bolton says we are not going to let the spigot run on aid projects or peacekeeping missions that are not “winning”, and will target programs more strategically to better match quids and pros, and such.

Overall, Bolton calls the policy “Prosper Africa”. He emphasizes concerns about the perceived unhealthy influence of China and Russia in Africa and frames U.S. interests as focused on competition among external powers. We want Africa to “prosper” through a growing middle class and business deals creating jobs and other benefits in both the U.S. and partner countries and in so doing to strengthen our influence and reduce that of our competitors. We intend to (continue to) play favorites, but in a more explicit and direct way, emphasizing “anchor” governments like Kenya (still our sentimental favorite African country) rather than focusing directly on poverty alleviation or “Sustainable Development Goals” as a global construct.

It seems to have raised eyebrows that Bolton did not mention PEPFAR and democracy and elections among other categories of assistance that we have emphasized both with rhetoric and dollars under Trump’s most recent predecessors. Contra some initial reactions, I anticipate that any major expenditure of political capital by the Administration with Congress to engineer large cuts to popular existing programs is not in the offing.

In fact, when the White House issued a press release “fact sheet” later in the afternoon reporting that it “was issuing” President Trump’s “new Africa policy” it explicitly mentioned “democracy” twice and otherwise sanded down Bolton’s sharper edges. Democracy, especially, as well as our health programs, are a comparative advantage for the United States vis-a-vis the PRC if we want to re-frame our rationale more explicitly in terms of traditional geopolitical competition.

The origins of U.S. development assistance philosophy come from offering a competing model to communism, especially following World War II and to some extent even earlier. Likewise U.S. overt explicit democracy assistance programs were established during the Reagan Administration. So talking more openly and frankly about our concerns about China’s role in Africa in the context of a recalibrated overall relationship that accounts for the Chinese Communist Party’s changes under Xi does not at all have to lead to a retreat from development or democracy assistance.

What plays out over the next two years from any of this remains to be seen.

Instructive are today’s two votes in the Republican led Senate approving resolutions calling for an end to support for Saudi Arabian war efforts in Yemen and condemning the role of the Crown Prince in the murder of American resident Jamal Khashoggi. The peak of unilateral latitude for the Trump Administration has already passed, even before the new Democratic controlled House is seated in the new Congress in January.

Testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, by Judd Devermont, now Africa Diector at venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies, and recently national intelligence officer for Africa, gives a fuller and more nuanced picture of the range of Chinese involvement in Africa. Not all of it is necessarily contradictory to our immediate interests or longer term hopes, even though there are important concerns.

From my personal standpoint, I am still struck by the fact that according to what I read in the newspapers, combined with a letter from Washington, the Chinese hacked my security clearance file–and that of nearly every other clearance holder–from the Office of Personnel Management in Washington during the last Administration. (I also read they “wired” the African Union headquarters, among many other examples.) As for the Russians, they were screwing around in our own Republican Party and to some extent with our general election campaign.

Thus, we most need to be competent, purposeful and mature in conducting our own business in an environment which can be expected to punish complacency. Get through this temporary period of governance by Tweet and tabloid huckster hush money and get our own democracy back on a more even keel. Then we can more effectively deepen our relationships among African countries and with African citizens for the long run. In the meantime, I hope and expect that we will continue most of the incrementally helpful things we have been doing in Africa and not rock the boat too dramatically.

In the meantime, worth noting, for instance, is the presence of Somaliland’s Foreign Minister at Bolton’s speech.

What to make of the policy being announced by Bolton at Heritage instead of by the Secretary of State in an official or semi-official venue? Probably the same reason there are not details and documents: a point of the event is to stamp Bolton’s ideological role within the Administration, the Republican Party, and “The Movement” (big “C” Conservatism with American characteristics is how I might describe it). This is “framing” and “vision” with various audiences rather than actual “policy” as such.

It takes cognizance especially of the geopolitical struggle most compelling on a day-to-day basis in the White House: “red” versus “blue” in the rest of the United States. Thus the focus on competition with “Obama” as a symbol of “blue” who did not announce his “new Africa policy” until nearly the end of his first term. Bolton is a guy with seven pictures of himself on his Twitter profile who tried to mount his own run for President: he obviously enjoys the spotlight and enjoys being a lightening rod for the arena. More substantively, it announces the drawing of a line of demarcation against the perceived “feckless liberalism” of Obama and the perceived namby-pamby do-gooder “compassionate conservatism” that sometimes fuzzed the focus of G.W. Bush in Africa. “Africa” is to be normalized as a geographic space.

Realism of course tells us that the Americans who will make the day to day decisions that actually determine our role in the various African countries do not report to Bolton and that any deep reorientation of policy will require more time and attention than Trump and his cabinet as a whole likely have left in this term. This could tell us much more about what to expect if Trump were re-elected or if the next Administration involved a similar role for Bolton and like-minded officials.

Realism also notes the Administration lost votes on two foreign policy resolutions in the Senate between Bolton’s speech and the White House press release.

George H.W. Bush’s legacy in Kenya

George H.W. Bush was of a generation of America’s traditional elite who not only fought World War II, but also collectively oversaw the transition from Jim Crow racial segregation and discrimination through the Civil Rights era while managing the American response to decolonization in Africa and forming relations with the newly independent African states during the Cold War.

Most notably it was during the G.H.W. Bush presidency that Secretary of State James Baker gave permission to Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen to begin supporting democratization in Africa as a distinct element of U.S. policy. (See Cohen’s Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent, a memoir published in 2000). Part of the initial impetus was to help Soviet leader Gorbachev buy latitude by de-escalating tensions at a time of transition for the Russians.

Although U.S. democratization policy did not fare so well in Russia itself, I do think that we were helpful during the Bush Administration and beyond in bringing some African conflicts to a close and in Kenya, an established U.S. regional security partner, in pushing for a political liberalization through legalization of non-KANU parties and forcing President Moi to actually run for re-election in 1992.

President Bush’s politically-appointed Ambassador Smith Hempstone was fondly remembered during my time in Kenya with the International Republican Institute (2007-08) for having challenged Moi and his circle on political liberty issues. He was seen as having provided aid and comfort to actors in “the Second Liberation” within the context of the basic Kenyan-American security relationship. Hempstone was a journalist and newspaperman, not a diplomat, so needless to say he was not quite a cultural/professional favorite in the State Department itself but he knew his way around both East Africa and Washington with enough background and pedigree in both places to successfully test what he could get away with.

It is worth remembering today that Bush appointed Hempstone (who died in 2006) and stuck with him when it might have been easier to assuage Moi by replacing him with someone who would not “rock the boat” or speak too plainly. My late friend Joel Barkan and others I got to know in the democracy community were admirers of Hempstone’s fortitude at a crucial moment of inflection for Kenya. See “My Joel Barkan Tribute“.

Also see the Foreign Affairs review of Hempstone’s memoir “Rogue Ambassador.”

Caring about democracy in Kenya can be discouraging, but there is no doubt that most Kenyans are in fact freer now than they were prior to the Bush/Baker/Hempstone period. While Kenyans fought their own fight, I think that we made the correct choice to be supportive under Bush’s presidency.

Kenya IEBC terminates Chief Election Officer over procurement irregularities

Kenya 2013 election IRI Electoral Commission voter education posterKenya, after three problematic general elections (2007, 2013, 2017), might finally be showing some initial stirrings of organic action to start to address fraud within the Election Commission. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has announced today the termination of Ezra Chiloba, Chief Election Officer, after a long suspension.

The last two elections were plagued by technology problems, with the 2017 vote annulled by the Supreme Court. The donors, including USAID which directly funded failed purchases in 2013, and funded a major embedded role with the IEBC for IFES throughout these years, have remained conspicuously mute on reforms and corruption issues involving the Electoral Commissions.

In the past, after opposition protests, the Commissioners from the 2007 and 2013 elections were given lucrative buyouts to pave the way for a new slate, and impunity for bribery and procurement fraud issues was the informal consensus policy among the Kenyan politicians and the Western donors supporting the election process.

After the buyout of the Commission led by Issack Hassan which had failings in the 2013 vote, Chief Election Officer Chiloba was carried over under the new Commission on through the 2017 vote. Since 2017 we have now seen three Commissioners resign in addition to Commissioner Akombe who fled country during the tensions following the Supreme Court’s annulment of the August presidential vote. The remaining Commissioners have now acted to fire Chiloba after internal audits and a report by Kenya’s Auditor General raised “charges . . . on major procurements.”

See today’s announcement:

The next step is to release to the public the audit reports indicating “charges” and refer the matters for legal proceedings.

In the meantime, several more months have gone by without any further release from the USAID FOIA office on my 2015 request for the documents from their support of the IEBC through IFES for the 2013 vote.

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

Should the United States offer to replace Ugandan and Burundian troops in AMISOM?

Hargeysa Somaliland Gate

This is in the nature of a “thought experiment” rather than an actual suggestion at this point, but here goes rough sketch of the basic points:

1) We all recognize–whether we are willing to publicly admit it–that Somalia is in a “permanent” war state although progress has been made from the lowest ebbs over the years. Somalia is like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen in the sense that it is a place in which perpetual fighting appears indefinitely sustainable pending some major change.

2) The current phase of the civil war in Somalia started in December 2006 with a full scale invasion by Ethiopia, with US support, at the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), to displace the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with a re-instated TFG. In early 2007 this gave way to the multilateral AMISOM “peace-keeping” military force of surplus Subsaharan African national troops seconded by their governments. Funding came from the EU and UN, passed through the African Union.

3) As we approach the 12th anniversary of the Ethiopian invasion with the Somali Federal Government (SFG) having significant influence but not consolidated military or civilian control of the country, we all know that there is no immediate prospect of a complete military defeat of Al Shabaab, the al Queda affiliate that coalesced in the breakdown of the ICU in the fighting in 2006-07. Al Shabaab at present no longer controls any major cities, following the Kenyan-led assault on Kismayo in 2012, but has sustaining financial support and territory, and seems to have wider influence in Kenyan territory in particular than in the past. Likewise the latest International Crisis Group report indicates increased influence in Tanzania.

4) Somalia has not had a clearly established national government since 1991– presumably before most of the foot soldiers on any of the sides were born.

5) Ugandan and Burundian troops have been provided to AMISOM by Museveni and Nkrurunziza, the “elected dictators” of Uganda and Burundi, respectively. Under this arrangement the United States provides training and support, and a patina of international legitimacy, to forces under the command of Musveni and Nkurunziza and they in turn loan out on a fully reimbursed basis some of those forces to the EU and UN through the AU.

6) Conceptually, the advantage to the United States from this arrangement, as I once heard it put a few years ago from a military perspective, is “better them than us.” The advantage to Museveni and Nkurunziza is leverage vis-a-vis the United States, the EU, the UK, the UN and the AU. For the AU the arrangement provides at no cost superficial prestige and legitimacy.

7) The disadvantage for the United States is that it also gives Museveni and Nkurunziza superficial prestige and legitimacy in spite of their repudiation of democratic values. It also gives a hint of reverse leverage in the relationship. Rwandan strongman Kagame has explicitly tried to exploit his dispensation of surplus troops to the UN mission in Darfur to ulterior advantage, for an example of the implications. This creates complications and risks in our relationships in East and Central Africa, whatever the perceived savings in regard to the Horn and Somalia.

8) Museveni and Nkurunziza do not have the mitigating factors on their side that buy indulgence for Kagame, whether legitimately or not. Kagame assuages our feelings of guilt or exposure to embarrassment for not taking action to try to stop the genocide in 1994 during the Rwandan civil war, by operating a micro-model of repressive developmentalism in tiny Rwanda. Those equities are simply not in play for Museveni or Nkurunziza who have chosen to become aggressively repressive anyway. Thus U.S. military partnership and EU funding Uganda and Burundi arguably become nakedly hypocritical and opportunistic.

9) Over the years of the fighting in Somalia the United States has significantly drawn down its forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have now significantly increased our overall defense budget. It would seem that direct deployment of United States military personnel for the type of “peacekeeping” fighting engaged in by Ugandan and Burundian forces would be relatively easier now than in the earlier years if this iteration of the war in Somalia.

10) Meanwhile, questions have continued to grow about the sustainability of Museveni’s repressive government as he has continued to accelerate past the off ramps for peaceful transition. Thus, the quandary for the United States in using his forces in support of notionally democratic nation building outside the country while the idea of democratic nation building recedes within Uganda itself.

Barack Obama, son of American anthropologist, retired President USA, stops in Kenya on way to South Africa after safari

Ten years after 2008 campaign, the “Birthers” have won for now in the U.S., but Obama remains a positive symbol with time for another act:

Former President Obama stopped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, his third visit to Kenya since arriving on the national political scene in the United States in 2004 as an Illinois state legislator through a speech at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry to challenge the re-election of George W. Bush.

It is now ten years since I returned to the United States with my family from our year-long East Africa democracy assistance sojourn in Nairobi in the wake of the failed 2007 election, the post-election violence, and February 28 “peace deal”. The day we flew out of JKIA for Amsterdam en route to Atlanta on the way home to Mississippi I was first exposed to the “birther” conspiracy theory through a front page story in the Daily Nation.

Many may not remember fully now, but recognize that in its inception the “birther” conspiracy theory was not just the idea that then-Senator Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and secretly smuggled into the United States as an infant, and thus not technically eligible to be elected President. It also fit into the context of the claims that Obama was involved as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2007 in a conspiracy with Raila Odinga to steal Kenya’s election on behalf of Muslims, with killing of Christians and embellished from there into a narrative that rather than a loyal American Obama was essentially on the side of al-Queda and the global jihad to establish a sharia-enforcing caliphate. That Obama was in essence on the other side of the war being fought by Americans in the “surge” led by Bush and General Petraeus in Iraq as well as the fundamental underlying values of our democratic republic and Western democracy in general.

The conspiracy theories about the 2007 Kenyan election faded somewhat over time–partly because of the peace deal that put Odinga in Kibaki’s government as Prime Minister where he continued to be friendly to the West and partly because it became clearer that the election was stolen by Kibaki’s side which controlled the ECK (and not by the opposition which didn’t). Reports at the time from the American right at the Heritage Foundation think tank and National Review magazine (“Inside Kenya’s clumsily rigged election” Jan 4, 2008 National Review Online) noting the theft of the election helped American conservatives who cared about facts avoid getting sucked into nonsense about a Luo jihad involving “tribesman” Obama and “cousin” Raila.

While there remain a few holdouts who claim that “we can’t know” who won in Kenya’s 2007 election, they seem to be pretty well limited to personally interested parties at this point with the release of the State Department cables showing that our Ambassador Ranneberger himself saw tallies being changed at the ECK and claimed to have encouraged the late ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu to withstand the pressure to declare Kibaki the winner anyway, even though Ranneberger knew that the Chairman had no way to control the Committee which was thoroughly stacked by Kibaki in the weeks and months before the election.

Once it is recognized that the vote tallies were actually changed at the ECK, Americans–most especially rock-ribbed traditional stalwarts attracted to “the Tea Party” and/or Donald Trump’s “neopatriotism”–will understand that Kenyans had a duty not just a right to protest the 2007 election. Americans would not trust biometric voter registration (or tolerate secret voter lists) but most certainly the traditional American narrative would demand that we march on our county courthouses if our votes were simply changed by our election officials. Ranneberger’s pre-election cables to Washington made clear that as of that time, the Kenyan courts were not independent and would provide no recourse so that voters would be forced to go to the streets if there was fraud that became known.

Once you legitimize protesting the actions of the ECK, and recognize that the largest category of deaths in the Post Election Violence, per the Waki Commission, were those shot by Kibaki’s security forces, and the largest number that were identifiable by tribe were Luo, then the whole notion of some extraneous evil conspiracy somehow involving Obama and the global jihad as the reason for the post election violence becomes that much more irrational. The portion of violence in the Rift Valley that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer insisted on calling “ethnic cleansing” in a January 2008 visit (a label not adopted in Washington) was conducted by Kalenjin militia in the pattern employed by KANU in 1992 and 1997. KANU was a religiously diverse secular party that sought to maintain single-party hegemony through compliant cadres among all major tribes and religious groupings in accordance with its political needs. No suggestion that Moi, who personally identified as a Protestant Christian, was a secret Muslim jihadi even though the victims may have been mostly Christians.

The International Republican Institute/University of California, San Diego exit poll funded by USAID (the one showing an Odinga presidential win by roughly six points that was embargoed for six months) gave more evidence in the details that the 2007 election contest was driven, as normal in Kenyan, by tribal rather than religious alignment with Odinga shown as winning a majority of self-identified Christians and of Muslims (although the margin was greater among Muslims). On the other hand, there was a “gender gap” with women favoring Kibaki and men Odinga.

It may also seem hard to remember now but by January 2009 Obama was sworn in to a wave of good feeling with high approval numbers. He had campaigned as a pragmatic moderate Democrat who was against dumb wars and only for smart ones, a Christian who grew up with limited religion who was popular with the irreligious left, the Christian left and made some real inroads courting what we call “Evangelicals” who were not part of the more politicized harder “Religious Right”. The inaugural celebrations seemed to suggest some real healing from the cultural rifts from “the Sixties” and “Vietnam” that featured so prominently in presidential campaigns throughout my lifetime, as well as a milestone to show that we had come so far in overcoming racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era that black/white racial issues were no longer much a part of those cultural rifts. Maybe we had more in common than our political leaders had been telling us since the rise of Fox News and the Bill Clinton impeachment saga; maybe this president could be a “uniter not a divider” where his predecessor had failed. In part this failure was because the Bush political operation ended up pulling a “bait-and-switch” by mobilizing gullible church networks to support the invasion of Iraq for regime change using a claimed causus belli of active chemical/biological and nuclear weapons programs then firing up the culture wars further to drive turnout to get re-elected over John Kerry. This was a bad error of moral judgment that has continued to reverberate through American politics.

Kerry was certainly a Yankee patrician from “central casting” — as Kenyans well know from the 2017 election — but was unquestionably accurate in pointing out in debate with Bush that we had gotten “stuck in Iraq”. Of course Kerry was too polite, patrician and/or patriotic to go for the jugular and trash Bush for Iraq the the way Donald Trump did in his 2016 campaign.

For saying that we were “stuck in Iraq” Kerry got pilloried as “unpatriotic” aside from the “Swift Boat” sliming he got over his military service in Vietnam–conveniently not a problem for Clinton, Bush, Cheney or Trump who all managed in various ways not to get sent, and unlike Kerry, did not volunteer to actually go to Vietnam. Nonetheless, the unhealed cultural wounds were still such almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon that Vietnam was a winner for Bush over Kerry in spite of Iraq.

Part of the reason that Obama took office with a waive of good feeling and better numbers than he had during the election was that McCain declined to play along with trashing Obama in the darker ways and treated him as a legitimate political adversary. It was good for the country and gave Obama a fair start in office.

“Birtherism,” though, in spite of McCain’s choice, became an enduring American movement which has had a profound effect on our politics and transformed the Republican Party with which I had been involved for much of my life.

Ultimately, the Birther Movement became a tool for Donald Trump as an outsider to gain “free media” and attention and admiration with those who were otherwise profoundly afraid of or opposed to the Obama presidency.

People like John McCain and George W. Bush or his family members in politics, whatever their faults and mistakes on policy choices (even the really big one, invading Iraq, which McCain acknowledges in his latest book, The Restless Wave) were too experienced, too educated, and too well advised to believe craziness about Obama being secretly smuggled into the U.S. as a Kenyan child (although the McCain campaign did check it out to make sure as did the McClatchy newspaper chain) and were morally constrained, in my judgment at least, from deliberately lying about it to hurt Obama. If you cannot buy that it was morals, at least we can agree that they were restrained by a judgment that it was better politics to stay out of that gutter. Hillary Clinton also stayed away (even if one credits the report that her adviser Sidney Blumenthal triggered the McClatchy review to make sure their was nothing to it).

Donald Trump was not similarly constrained and his hectoring of Obama put him in the front row of politics in America. He shared headlines with Obama even as Osama bin-Laden was being killed by the Navy under Obama’s command. Not one to accept defeat in an argument by being proven factually wrong, in this case by the release of Obama’s long form Hawaii birth certificate, Trump bided his time and cranked the Movement back up for his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, discarding it once he had seized the agenda and the Republican Party and the specific “birther” claim was no longer useful to him.

It has been a bit surreal for me to see this happen. Educated middle class Americans of my generation (Obama’s essentially) have a lot to answer for in our complacency I am afraid. Our democratic republic requires more attention and effort than we have delivered in recent years whatever our party or policy preferences.

Fortunately, just as Obama himself has, we hope, time for other acts in his public life as an American after elective politics, the Trump presidency too shall pass and the Birther Movement will be a strange chapter in political history books. It will leave scars and I expect that Trump will be willing to use other lies for domestic advantage that will manipulate gullible people and torque emotions on difficult and divisive social matters. But in the longer term I think we will rise to the occasion and get to a better range of equilibrium. We have significant long term challenges on poverty, education, healthcare and economic mobility and government debt that have been building up during our protracted wartime, but I think Americans getting more engaged and rolling up our sleeves to work on solutions.

Trump as an individual is something of a fluke. Most of the people who voted for him have little in common with him really. I know this because they are my peers, my extended family and friends to a great extent. He lost the national popular vote in a low turnout election. Trump won in large part because neither Obama nor the Clintons succeeded in building a Democratic Party that was seriously competitive in much of the country.

The big difference as of now is that Trump as president in our system still has far less power than the president in any of the East African countries. He will leave office at by the end of his lawful first term or his second if re-elected.

On balance, I think that we will see American policy in its relations with Kenya in the Trump years to continue to be largely a continuation of that under Obama, as reflected in the American approach to supporting both the 2013 election with John Kerry as Secretary of State and 2017 with Kerry as chief election observer and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with Bob Godec as “our man in Kenya” throughout. Just as Obama’s relationship with Kenya in its policy aspects was primarily a continuation of the approach under George W. Bush.

There have been a few major inflection points in the American/Kenyan relationship in the last twenty years, but most have not been specific to whoever was president in either Washington or Nairobi.

The first,of course, was the al-Queda Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, kicking off the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Kenya against various Islamist “violent extremists”. As reflected in the Mombasa rocket attack, the USS Cole bombing, the bombing in Kampala, the various attacks in Kenya, most notoriously the Westgate Mall and Garissa University killings, a persistent understood risk of terrorist incidents have been a regional “fact of life” since. For most Kenyans who are not well secured in their daily bread, and face many bigger daily risks of violent death, terrorism is not quite so central as is to Americans, but has still inevitably shaped both sides of the relationship over the last two decades. And in this context, after 9/11 and our ensuing land wars in South Asia, with the establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti Kenya resumed its regional security role along the lines established in the 1970s and 80s when the United States was fighting the Cold War and Kenyatta and Moi wanted protection from Idi Amin and Siad Barre and the kind of relationship that would be useful to them in avoiding disruption to their domestic rule.

The next inflection point, albeit of lesser magnitude from an American standpoint, was the retirement of Moi and the transition to NARC and Kibaki.

Next was the demise of NARC and the failure of constitutional reform with the 2005 referendum. Relatedly the Anglo Leasing scandal showed security and counter-terrorism were for sale at high levels along with the baseline of corruption in the police and security services that let terrorists move about and in and out of the country. The Artur Brothers and the Standard flamboyantly highlighted the rot.

Next and finally was the start of the war in Somalia to save and reinstate the Transitional Federal Government and oust the ICU in December 2006.

Since that time the United States Government has continued to have and support all our other existing priorities in Kenya such as lifesaving humanitarian health support through PEPFAR and other lower profile programs, food assistance and small farm agricultural support, along with supporting all sorts of philanthropic type programs and the somewhat more controversial “big development” initiatives like Power Africa, frequently in cooperation with other donors.

In recent years we also started devoted more governmental focus to promoting international private financial investment, such as the 2015 U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation investment in the Dubai-based Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, L.P., that has been active in the Nairobi private healthcare market prior to recently entering liquidation under circumstances being investigated.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have been at war in a country with a huge border with Kenya. A country during during much of these last 11 1/2 years which has been too dangerous to support a full diplomatic and aid presence and has thus had those parts of the effort supported from Kenya, as well as a smaller role for Kenya as a host for some U.S. defense forces in addition to those at our base in Djibouti. And from reading the newspapers back in the day and a few books it is apparent that Kenya provided some military support for the invasion by the Ethiopian military at the time to contain potential spread of terrorism.

And in 2011, during Kibaki’s second term, with the support of Prime Minister Odinga, Kenya entered the war directly and formally in its own right.

Roughly nine months later the Kenya Defense Forces were admitted into the AU’s AMISOM peacekeeping collaboration, allowing for financial reimbursement through the Western donors, and eventually drove al-Shabaab, now formally asserting affiliation with al Queda, out of their previous position of direct control of the port at Kismayo (not to say that al Shabaab did not continue to apparently benefit from the illicit charcoal and sugar trade through the port).

A few months before the Ethiopians were invited to restore the TFG in Mogadishu, our Ambassador Bellamy finished his service and Ambassador Ranneberger was similarly appointed by President Bush from the Foreign Service. Within a few months after the start of the war Ranneberger sent a cable to Washington explaining that his approach for “achieving U.S. objectives in Kenya’s elections” was to stay quiet on the debates on constitutional reform and election reform and “build capital” with the incumbent. With the perturbation of the 2008 crisis and the intervention for constitutional reform up through 2010, this has remained the baseline beat of our relationship over the years.

Will the recent moves by Kenya’s dominant new Jubilee Party to align with Communist Party of China structures and philosophy to accompany its huge borrowings from the Chinese State cause any serious rethink in Washington? I have no idea, but it certainly does not seem to have captured any particular place in the priorities of either the retired President Obama or current President Trump.

On Cambridge Analytica for Kenyatta, The Star reported arrival of a campaign team back in May – why no follow-up?

Below is a draft post I wrote but did not publish back on May 10, 2017:

Uhuruto re-election and Cambridge Analytica coverage in The Star: why now?

Today, the Star, Nairobi’s previously opposition-leaning third daily newspaper (a must read together with The Daily Nation and The Standard) ran a story announcing the arrival of a team from Cambridge Analytica for the Uhuruto/Jubilee re-election campaign.

Note the attribution to “well placed sources in the Office of the President.”

Generally speaking the Kenyan media declines to cover the foreign firms working the Kenyan election campaigns, especially for an incumbent president.  That type of thing is in the category of “we are a ‘free press’ but not free like that”.  For the “foreign correspondents” the Western campaign operatives are fellow habitues of the expat “circle of trust” or omertà or whatever you want to call it: sources not subjects of reporting.

So why this story today?  If I can put myself in the loafers of an Uhuruto campaign operative rather than just a bystanding fan of “truth, justice and the American way of life” I might want this for a couple of ressons that I can think of: 1) this could be what has been famously termed a “limited modified hang out” – if information is starting to leak you might want to seize control to misdirect attention by putting out a shaped half-truth version; 2) this could be a way for the Uhuruto campaign to “signal” the idea that it has powerful support in Washington and London in response to the black eye received in the form of the USAID suspension of Ministry of Health funding due to corruption which went public Monday.  Of course, this is all just hypothetical/conjectural “thinking out load” from someone who is not involved.

One of many fruitful questions for further review now is the extent to which these operations were run by Government of Kenya officials out of Government offices.

Was Cambridge Analytica given access to Government of Kenya data? On the pattern of use of State resources for the Jubilee campaign, beyond running the campaign through office holders and out of the Office of The President and State House, note this from The Star story;

Aspirants who won nominations in the just-concluded Jubilee primaries will be expected to campaign for Uhuru in their home areas.

A deal has been offered to nomination losers to stick with Jubilee and be rewarded with state jobs after the election.

Here is yesterday’s Reuters report with the first “on record” confirmation from Jubilee after the now-infamous Channel 4 undercover expose and leaks regarding Facebook that it used SCL/Cambridge Analytica in the campaign.

And please remember as well the role of the American firm Harris Media: “Don’t Mess From Texas: disturbing Privacy International report indicates Uhuruto re-election campaign bought Texas-based negative propaganda campaign.”