Kenyan election – amid uncertainty, unfortunate there was no Kalonzo v. Ruto debate [updated 7 Aug]

Today [Sunday 6 Aug.] the IEBC announced for the first time that over 25% of its more than 40,000 polling stations do not have network coverage.  Satellite phones have only been provided, apparently, to the 290 constituency tally centres.

So with a very messy voter register again–see AfriCOG report here–the election is entirely dependent on the KIEMS system.   The procurement of the system remains deliberately shrouded, the techical director murdered–with offers of assistance from the FBI and Scotland Yard spurned.  And now the connectivity bombshell.

Along with the deployment by the Kenyatta administration of twice the security personnell as Kibaki deployed in 2013 in the wake of 2007.

So no need to pretend that this is a normal election in which voters could have standard expectations.  Still, the contrast between the coalitions and the generational consequences at issue might have been best captured by a debate between Kalonzo and Ruto.

Update Monday 7 Aug: seemingly keen to signal that there has been no end to the use of the assets of the Government of Kenya for the Uhuruto re-election campaign, the official website of the Office of the Presidency today features this piece dated Saturday to  correspond with the end of the campaign:  “President Kenyatta: I served Kenya diligently–vote for me again“.  Last year Kenyatta and Ruto launched the Jubilee Party as their re-election vehicle at State House in a telling contrast from Kibaki’s 2007 launch of his PNU re-election vehicle at his private Silver Spring Hotel in Nairobi.

The unwillingness or inability of Kenya’s other institutions, including the media, to stand up to the “re-KANUization” of the State by the Executive’s Party is one of the most troubling indicators of the deteriorization of democratic health from the seeming breakthough of the 2003-05 with the NARC coalition defeat of KANU.

Update: here is a VOA overview.

Very bad news regarding Kenya’s election preparation on multiple fronts (updated)

Kenya’s IEBC Chairman announced over the weekend that one member of the IEBC technical staff had “gone missing”.  Reports indicated last contacts of 10pm Friday or 3:00am Saturday.  Today we learn that his dismembered body is in the morgue–I have not seen information yet on when he was murdered, when or by whom he was brought to morgue, etc.  (So far these details appear standard for a Nairobi politically related murder.  Normally the cases are unsolved and are subject to features years down the road in the major Kenyan dailies with important details after key suspects have died.)

The extrodinarily last minute testing of the KIEMS (“Kenya Integrated Election Management System”)  — crucial for a credible election because we know that the register has lots of dead voters and other problems –set for 3pm today has been cancelled/postponed due to the fact that the murdered staffer was leading this part of the election.

Meanwhile, the IEBC has announced that more than 20 million paper ballots from its highly controversial sole source contract are arriving.  This allows enough for each of the perhaps 5% dead voters on the register to vote, plus more than an additional 1 million extra ballots.  

Leaked documents publicized by the opposition confirm what seems to be otherwise clear from other official sources — that the KDF is being deployed by the Goverment (the same Secretaries and Ministries involved in the re-election campaign of their Commander-in-Chief per their public communications) for purposes of election security along with the civilian paramilitaries of the Kenya Police Service that were exposed to have been implicated in partisan election activity and in the Post Election Violence in 2007-08.

Parliament has not approved the integration of the KDF into domestic election security.  

We know from the Jubilee (ruling) Party vote to force the IEBC to accept a “manual backup” (substitute) in the event of a failure of the KIEMS that the government would have the votes to have authorized the KDF role had it elected to.  And speaking of that insistence on manual back up . . .

Frankly this stinks.

(UPDATE: Additional details reported by the Standard midday indicate body of Chris Msando in forest by local citizens Sunday evening; they called police Kenya Police Service whose officers took the body to morgue. This is contradictory to some other reports, as usual in cases of murder involving high politics in Kenya. US and UK have offered assistance to investigate what is apparently a clear case of torture and murder.)

(2nd Update: Chris Msando has been variously referred to as “Manager” and as “Acting Director” for the IEBC ICT. The previous ICT director was fired some weeks ago under a cloud. So the person being called a “staff member” in early reports is as a practical matter the most important member of the Commission’s staff other than the chief, Chiloba, who is a holdover from the old Issak Hassan commission.)

(3rd Update: “Uproar over Moses Kuria’s post on slain IEBC officer” has more details and part of the state of play in the campaign pending further information.  

The “simulation” of the KIEMS is re-scheduled now for Wednesday afternoon.)

Must read on election tensions in Kenya: “A Silent Panic”

ELECTION 2017: A Silent Panic in Kenya by Dauti Kahura in The Elephant.

A series of backstories of building tensions with the latest election approaching on the layers of accumulated grief and injustice.  This is the stuff you don’t hear if you don’t have a practiced ear to the ground in Kenya and may be glossed over in the usual discussion in foreign capitals and international press.  And material that is too topical for the traditional Kenyan media with political power at stake. 

Congratulations to The Elephant for “speaking truth to power”.

Happy National Day and Thanks for the Troops (Burundi)

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AMISOM flickr photo- Burundian troops rotate home
The State Department issued this statement today, as Burundi’s long crisis drags:

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, congratulations to the people of Burundi on the 55th anniversary of your independence.

We applaud Burundi’s ongoing commitment to international peacekeeping operations and recognize the positive impact its troops have had in Somalia.

The United States stands with all Burundians committed to peace and prosperity. As you reflect on your history and address the challenges of today, we send best wishes for a bright future.

In the meantime, the Burundian government has accused the West and “international organizations” of conspiring with the Rwandan government to seek regime change and to steal Burundi’s resources.

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

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

Trump did not expect to win U.S. election, did not understand risk and continues to avoid costs by renegotiating terms of service; but his approach should be comforting to Kenyan pols

The fundamental premise of the Trump campaign was that if Americans would elect Trump he would switch sides and become a patriot, serving the nation to make it “great again” and serving some, albeit conspicuously not all, segments of Americans.  He would, he claimed, do unto others on behalf of “us” what he had spent the first roughly seventy years of his life doing to more or less everyone he encountered regardless of creed.

Trump believed the polls well enough to recognize it was always a long shot, as ultimately reflected in his losing popular vote totals (the biggest total vote loss ever for an Electoral College winner, on low turnout).  Not expecting to win, Trump did not take serious steps to prepare to actually enter public service or to game out his alternatives.

Having caught some breaks, he ended up getting the Electoral College and is now having to spend some substantial part of his time, and some attention on becoming a president. (Although not to the point so far of taking the situation seriously enough to moderate his behavior on Twitter or otherwise seek self discipline or gravitas in most situations day to day.)

How did Trump end up winning?  While Trump’s style of bluster and aggressive and open dishonesty on the stump was not widely endearing, most Republicans were going to vote for anyone their party nominated period, at least so long as they campaigned as at least somewhat illiberal, assuring that Trump would be in a close general election almost no matter what.  So in that way, the key threshold actors were the “leaders” of the Republican Party (full disclosure: I identified as a Republican from childhood, served in the Party for years and did not affirmatively quit until 2013.)  In other words, Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan were the two Americans who had the most formal responsibility and actual power to determine the legitimacy and acceptability of Donald Trump as a prospective President of the United States (and the new ruling and defining authority in the Republican Party).

In the campaign, Trump’s staff and the Republican Party that he affiliated with to run for the presidency put together a tactical effort to target likely Clinton voters and dissuade them from voting that proved brilliantly effective for the America of now.  America and Americans have been profoundly changed by Rupert Murdoch with Roger Ailes and Osama Bin Laden since the Clintons’ last successful campaign outside of New York.  The Republican side understood that Facebook and email was far more important to the emotions that would drive the behavior of plausibly likely voters than a “ground game” of a generation ago when Bill Clinton got re-elected in 2006.

Ultimately Hillary Clinton was the Bob Dole of 1996–the candidate who would have won the general election eight years earlier had she been nominated then, but was no longer after waiting eight years in step with the times.

Some state governments managed to reduce voting by what they might call “undesirables” who were likely to vote for Clinton, while the Trump and Clinton campaigns combined to fire up “the deplorables”.  Beyond that Trump got consequential help from Putin and at the last minute from the FBI Director, but there is no way to prove what would have happened without their actions nor are we likely to have much clarity about Comey’s intentions.  (It is believable to me that Comey acted for reasons related to internal matters within the FBI, the Justice Department and the Government more broadly while expecting that Clinton would win anyway–presumably someday he will present an explanation in a book, by which time the consequences of Trump’s rise to power will be clearer.)

So now, like the proverbial dog who finds that the car he was chasing has stopped, Trump is confronted with what to do with his prize from winning the chase.  The biggest hassle seems to be that taking the job threatens to cost Trump a lot of money as well as well as quite a bit of time spent in Washington away from his homes in New York, New Jersey and South Florida and some living in public housing.  He has declared that any limitations on his business activities, and his residence, are to be negotiated or announced over time rather than governed by existing law and past practice.

Having no foreign policy experience and having been condemned publicly and privately by much of the cohort from previous Republican administrations, he seemed caught off guard by having to pick a nominee for Secretary of State.

Having Mitt Romney come to dinner at Trump Tower and contradict all of his previous expositions about Trump’s unfitness was a tour de force reminder of Trump’s tactical brilliance in accumulating personal power for himself and humiliating rivals and was important to firmly seizing control of the GOP from what we might call “the 20th Century Republicans.”  It was not useful to finding someone that would be useful to Trump as Secretary.  As the story has been told to us by the president’s people through the news media, man for all of Washington’s seasons Robert Gates was able to suggest to Trump his client Rex Tillerson who quickly became the natural choice for Trump.  This might even be true even if it hardly seems likely to be fully explanatory.

Tillerson is surely better suited to be Secretary of State than Trump is to be President. (For that matter, better suited to be President.)  The questions about Tillerson relate to problems about his relationship with a nefarious foreign autocrat with control of the worlds largest nuclear arsenal–as with Trump.  Beyond business relationships,  which include some other nefarious but less dangerous (to Americans and others if not to their own subjects) autocrats he seems to be a person of more conventional decency than Trump.  (Full disclosure, I’m an Eagle Scout, too.)

Tillerson is a surely a loyal company man, having spent his entire career with Exxon Mobile, and it seems plausible to me that he could effectuate a switch of “companies” to work for the United States Government to run the State Department rather than running Exxon Mobile, in a way that for Trump, who so far as I know has never worked for anyone other than his father and himself, was never plausible to me.  The problem with Trump’s Putin tilt and undisclosed interests and finances, and with Trump’s character, and with Trump’s willingness to actually change careers and orientation to serve as President of the United States will continue to be there whether or not Tillerson steps further forward out of the shadows to represent us as our chief diplomat.

Confronted with the idea of a less than ideal market to divest his business interests Trump has made it clear that he puts his own pocketbook first and Anerica second (at the very best) by refusing to divest.  So now we know that Trump simply refuses to be an actual patriot after all.  Contra our founding fathers who staked their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” on the idea of America, Trump, who has, to be direct, no obvious prior personal experience with honor, has said that a small reduction in his alleged $10B net worth is too high a price to pay to be a full-time President.

I do think that Trump will be well received by Kenya’s politicians, as well as those in many other countries on the continent, and I’m assuming his call with Uluru Kenyatta today went fine.  Trump’s personal approach to public office will be more familiar and comfortable to Kenya’s leaders than that of Bush or Obama and his socioeconomic background more reassuring than someone as relatively exotic and self-made as Obama.

AFRICOM: U.S. Navy reports on “Djibouti First Initiative” 

Djibouti First Initiative Scores Another Victory With Tom Pouce Bakery

Small things from the Long War.  It’s well and good for the Navy to buy local to feed our sailors to support the Djibouti economy.  And not sending an observation mission to Djibouti’s most recent election was also progress.  (Of course you will remember IGAD sent its delegation headed by Issac Hassan, who is now in the process of being bought out of his position as chair of Kenya’s IIEC/IEBC which we have supported, but we had the integrity to stay off this one.  See my post here.)

Addis bakery I

The bakery in this picture is actually from Addis Ababa under the “developmental state” regime in 2007.  We would overnight in Addis on our way from Nairobi to Hargeisa.  With no democracy to be promoted I could just visit and take pictures, although shortly before I visited this bakery I was stopped by a concerned stranger with the warning that “they will kill you” for taking pictures.  Fortunately they didn’t.

How did Donald Trump get this far?; our actions in Kenya since 2007 are an example of why Americans are frustrated [updated 10/10/16]

[I updated to correct an error — the USAID Inspector General, rather than the U.S. Government Accountability Office, conducted the referenced investigation that found USAID funds went into supporting the “yes” campaign in the 2010 Kenya referendum, rather than providing only neutral process support for Kenyan voters.]

Longtime readers of this blog will well recognize Kenya as a glaring example of the refusal of our government and the surrounding networks of foreign policy elites in the larger Washington Beltway community to seriously self-assess and try to level with the American people in such a way as to build trust and confidence (even  in the face of our serious and determined foes).

The stolen election in Kenya and its aftermath in 2007-08 was clearly a catastrophe for both the Kenyan people–whom we are continually trying to assist to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year–and for security interests of the United States (whatever real or rationalized internal claims might or might not exist to justify our policy of “looking, and pointing, the other way” as we saw the election being stolen).  So far as I can assume, the Kibaki team would surely have done whatever was necessary to obtain the ECK certificate as “winner” of the election irrespective of the actual voting even if “we hadn’t even been here” (see here) but the very least we have to conclude is that our elaborate and expensive electoral assistance effort was in crucial respects a failure.  And we certainly do have to consider the possibility that the other donors could have done better to accomplish what were identified as the common objectives without us and our leading role.

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A key reason I have dedicated my “War for History” series to my late friend Joel Barkan–along with my late friend Peter Oriare–was that Joel was one of the rare people in Washington willing to speak out when he saw our country making what he saw as a foreign policy mistake.  He wisely warned IRI that we were risking embarrassment along with the State Department.  Was he thanked when it became obvious that he had been right?–no, he was attacked instead, in the finest Washington tradition of “CYA by pointing your finger at the person who suggested you ought not to show it in the first place”.

Having found myself playing a bit part due to working for a “charity” that got tagged, along with USAID, by our Ambassador to play a role neither my organization nor USAID sought as of the time I moved my family to Kenya to help out, I find myself being the only one seemingly willing to offer any type of public mea culpa for those decisions that I would make differently in hindsight.  And I know that I absolutely did my best even though I was not successful overall.  I cannot help but wonder if that is really the case for everyone, given all the various potential interests to be served.

In spite of how badly things went we have just given ourselves credit–and let the individuals who were in key roles publicly pat themselves on the back–for helping to keep the aftermath of the stolen election from being worse than it was.  I did not have any personal animus against Ambassador Ranneberger and did not want him to be precipitously “recalled” as a result of my complaint about his interference with the election observation, but I would never have imagined that with a big political turnover in the U.S.–based to a great extent on a public loss of confidence in foreign policy decision making–Ranneberger would still end up being one of the most prominent public actors in Kenyan politics–on behalf of my country–for several more years afterward and be our second-longest serving Ambassador to Kenya ever.

Through the persistence of the subsequent Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Rep. Christopher Smith, we eventually learned through a Kevin Kelly story in Kenya’s Daily Nation that the USAID Inspector General had determined that an “eight figure” sum of money had bled over from lawfully neutral process support for constitutional reform into the 2010 “Yes” referendum campaign. Personally believing that on balance Kenyans would be better off to pass rather than defeat the referendum, I was embarrassingly gullible myself in being hesitant to credit Congressman Smith’s concerns in this regard until I saw the reporting on the USAID Inspector General’s findings.  Shocking that the Ambassador who was not neutral in the 2007 vote was not neutral again in 2010!

In the 2013 general election, the administration of the process was in substantial ways even worse than in 2007 as capably pointed out by John Githongo and many others of earned expertise. Our assistance was much more expensive, and while not so controversial, was again not very transparent  at all.  (Still nothing on my public records request to USAID regarding our spending through IFES on Kenya’s IEBC and its corrupt technology procurements.)

And now, here we go again.  The Uhuruto re-election gears up against the ODM-led opposition with the Government of Kenya facing its inevitable referral to the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court since it–inevitably and predictably–refused to meet its legal obligations to cooperate with the Court.

The individual who served as Assistant Secretary of State during the 2007-08 catastrophe, as a private citizen but identified primarily in her role as a former high ranking diplomat, was a key figure again in the 2013 campaign–this time speaking out (informally I assume) to accuse the United States Government of interfering in the election in the opposite direction, in favor of the opposition and against her preferred candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta.  While she was within her rights, her argument seems counterfactual when you look at how U.S. assistance to the Government of Kenya and NDI/ELOG and IFES for the election was actually used in totality: to sell whatever the IEBC decided, even without a transparent tally and even though we had some real knowledge of the corruption issues that have eventually come out to the point of forcing their buyout after the Opposition was willing to protest on the streets this year.

If you will read the ELOG final report from several months after the election, you will see that it appears that the NDI/ELOG Parallel Vote Count had more problems with falloff of planned data collection than the 2007 IRI exit poll–but since it involved a much smaller universe of locations than an exit poll I’m not sure that this could be adjusted for (if attempted).  So the idea that the 49.7% PVT result “VERIFIED” that Uhuruto received more than 50% looks that much more like advocacy for the IEBC rather than facts for the voters.

I would never vote in a scenario that I can readily imagine for Donald Trump or someone much like Donald Trump as best I understand him.  I agree that his positions–none of which I assume reflect any sincere value judgments–are dangerous to our country now and for my children’s future.  But if you don’t understand why many Americans might have some temptation to go for “the candidate of the middle finger” out of frustration with a sense that “Washington” isn’t actually working on their behalf as they send their taxes, you cannot be getting out enough.

Just waiting on a FOIA–could legal action be pursued in the U.S. for Kenya IEBC procurement corruption?

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More than ten months after requesting documents from USAID on one part of our Kenya IEBC support program for the 2013 election I have been unable to get anything more than an assurance that my request “is being handled” for interim releases as soon as “possible” although USAID’s FOIA office got a CD of materials from the Nairobi mission at least six months ago.

Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry in Nairobi reiterated that my government intends to spend a new $25M on efforts for the election scheduled for a year from now, but supports the agreement between CORD and Jubilee to “buy out” the existing IEBC Commissioners (with at least informal immunity). I noted earlier this month that the Request For Proposals for a $20M election support effort released last December had been pulled off the internet without explanation.

Here is my FOIA request to USAID from last fall:

This FOIA request relates to Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening Cooperative Agreement Number 623­LA­11­00007, under Leader Cooperative Agreement No. DFD­A­00­08­00350­00, with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

I am requesting the following:

1) All reports filed by IFES with USAID regarding the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.

2) All correspondence between the IFES and USAID relating to the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.

3) The complete contract or cooperative agreement administration files of USAID relating to the above referenced cooperative agreement.

4) All other documents or records, including e­mails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID relating to procurements under the above referenced cooperative agreement, from the date of the agreement to the present.

5) All other documents or records, including e­mails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID reflecting, referring to or constituting communications between USAID and Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, including its members, officers, employees or agents, from January 1, 2011 to the present.

6) All documents related to Smith & Ouzman, Ltd. relating to business of that firm in Africa from 2010 to present.

The rest of the inside story of how IRI’s 2007 Election Observation (and Exit Poll) was subverted-The War for History part 17

I never thought of myself becoming a “whistleblower” in relation to my “democracy support” work on the failed 2007 Kenyan election as resident director for the International Republican Institute.  I worked internally to press for the release of the USAID-funded exit poll contradicting the “results” of the election announced on Sunday December 30, 2007 by the Electoral Commission of Kenya and worked internally to try to uphold what I saw as required for the integrity of the IRI Election Observation Mission, also funded by USAID as a separate program.

From mid-December 2007 I was actively resisting what I understood to be, and described to my superiors in IRI as “some agenda” by the U.S. Ambassador in relation to the election itself, with the understanding that we were in complete agreement within IRI of the need for such resistance to attempted interference with our independence.

My Contracting Technical Officer at USAID was caught in the middle between me (and IRI) and the Ambassador.  While she was directly answerable to USAID in Washington as I was to IRI in Washington, and the funding agreements for the programs were issued in Washington, as a practical matter, the Ambassador controlled the process.  The Election Observation was initiated by the Ambassador specifically contrary to the prior planning of USAID (which was changed to accommodate him).  The exit poll was added on to our polling program–contractually and as confirmed in our explicit conversations, as a check on potential election fraud–but really as she told me by phone on the afternoon of election day, as “early intelligence” for the Ambassador as to who was winning.  I know she agreed with some of my concerns and it was certainly my impression from my interactions with her in the aftermath of the election that she felt as badly about what happened as she could allow herself to show in the context of doing her job.  On balance I see her primarily as more a victim of rather than a willing participant in whatever the shenanigans were.

I complained internally about interference from the Ambassador by writing a long e-mail missive to the USAID CTO on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 following a phone conference with the senior IRI leadership in Washington in the wee hours of the morning Nairobi time.  I do not have a copy of that e-mail and USAID did not produce it, or any of the other e-mail correspondence regarding the agreements in response to my FOIA request.

The IRI leadership had called me that Monday afternoon (their time) to follow up on my e-mail report on my private meeting with the Ambassador at his residence that Saturday, December 15.  This was the e-mail noting the “some agenda” of the Ambassador and reporting that he had said “people were saying” that opposition candidate Odinga might, implausibly to my assessment, lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency and thus be disqualified from taking the presidency regardless of the outcome of the national vote, and the Ambassador’s desire to take our lead Election Observation delegate Connie Newman to meet with Stanley Murage, “President Kibaki’s Karl Rove,” on the day before the election to be followed by observing the election with the Ambassador and his staff rather than with our IRI delegation.  I had gone to the Ambassador’s residence based on a phone call that Friday afternoon from an unidentified caller who “worked for the Ambassador” having been told by IRI’s president at the time, Lorne Craner, from Thailand, that the Ambassador wanted to talk to talk with me.  As I have written, Craner had called Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport, as he related it, to “get her Ambassador under control”, then followed up with a call to Ambassador Ranneberger upon arriving in Thailand, after the Ambassador had twisted my arm hard on Thursday to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed as an Election Observation delegate.  My instructions from Mr. Craner were explicit: accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.

I had been in a quiet “push-pull” on behalf of IRI with the Ambassador and his staff and USAID for some period of time over the independence of our Election Observation Mission before things came to a head with the issue of removing Bellamy, the proposed Murage meeting, etc., leading to my complaint to USAID.

As I have written, after Ranneberger’s meeting with myself and my boss and the late Amb. Rich Williamson in August in which Ranneberger again expressed his desire to have IRI observe the election, USAID told me they would “move heaven and earth” to make the observation happen and they came up with $235,000 of “Economic Support Funds” at the end of the fiscal year in September for the mission.

Ranneberger wanted, as I was told later by the CTO, to select all of IRI’s Observation delegates.  She said that she explained to the Ambassador that this was not doable, but promised him as a minimum the approval of the “lead delegate”.

When she wrote up the Request For Proposals (“RFP”) for a Cooperative Agreement to conduct the Election Observation it was de facto directed to IRI, in accordance with the Ambassador’s previously expressed desire.  The RFP was issued on a non-competitive basis to the CEPPS (“Coalition for Political Parties and Process Strengthening”) comprised of IRI, NDI and IFES, thus eliminating the Carter Center and Democracy International.  Based on language in the RFP, NDI was in effect eliminated by their work with the competing political parties and IFES was eliminated by their role as “embedded” with the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  (After my return to the States I found that USAID had paid a consulting firm, MSI, in the spring of 2006 to study and advise on USAID’s preparations for the 2007 election.  After extensive interviews in Nairobi, including staff of all three CEPPS entities working on the USAID programs at the time, they recommended that USAID plan for and fund an election observation and that the Carter Center was the most appropriate entity to conduct it.)  In the RFP the CTO included descriptions of the credentials matching without naming the specific people that Ranneberger wanted as “lead delegates”, former Assistant Secretaries for Africa for whom Ranneberger had worked, Connie Newman and Chester Crocker.  The “lead delegate” was to be formally approved as USAID’s “substantial involvement” in the program.   For the rest of the delegates that Ranneberger had specified to me that he wanted IRI to invite, the RFP listed matching credential descriptions, but as examples without a contractual right of approval.

As I have written, IRI went along with inviting Newman and Crocker (Crocker declined as unavailable) while refusing to submit Newman’s name for formal approval as being an impermissible intrusion on IRI’s independence in conducting an international Election Observation Mission.  Of the other potential delegates that Ranneberger wanted IRI to invite as per his after hours cell phone calls to me, Joel Barkan was the only one included in the EOM as he had already been identified separately by IRI.  None of the others, of which well known former diplomat Frank Wisner, then at insurer AIG, stands out in my recollection, were invited by IRI.

The Ambassador took a keen interest in the lodging arrangements, in particular wanting Ms. Newman to stay at the embassy residence, or alternatively at the Serena hotel (near State House as well as closer to his residence and others in exclusive Muthaiga) rather than at the Holiday Inn Mayfair which we had selected for the delegation. We internally insisted on planning for Connie to stay with the rest of the delegation, even before the alarm bells went off from the Ambassador’s December 15 expression of desire to take her to meet with Stanley Murage the day before the vote.  Likewise, I nixed having our delegation travel in State Department cars with State Department drivers (I did go along with having interpreters for many of our teams).  I also declined to merge our observation headquarters operation into the Ambassador’s diplomatic command post at the Embassy in Gigiri, keeping our operation separate at the Mayfair, with a staff liaison to the Embassy and to the EU observation headquarters.

During that wee hours December 18 phone call from Washington (I was awoken at home) following my report on meeting with the Ambassador, I was given the opportunity by IRI’s number two official (filing in since Mr. Craner was in Thailand) to cancel the election observation on my say so based on the Ambassador’s interference.  This is one of the crucial things that has always made me believe, in accordance with what I was told directly, that everyone on the IRI staff was in accord that we were committed to “playing it straight” on the election itself and that all the “agenda” issues came from or through the Ambassador and not from within IRI.

Unfortunately, having to make a judgment call on the spot, in the context of our detailed discussion of our plans and logistics, I made the decision that we could go forward.  Mea culpa.  If I had to do it over again, with more foresight into what would come, of course I would have said we have to cancel.

In fairness, I have to say that my decision was based on counting on the fact that it was agreed that Connie Newman would be accompanied by and briefed by the other senior IRI officer on the call (who would be the senior official on the ground for the election observation) as to the interference problems and the need for Connie to keep her distance from the Ambassador.  I was given explicit assurance that Connie could be expected to understand and cooperate.  I simply did not appreciate the possibility that this agreed approach would either be abandoned without notice or explanation to me or simply fail through refusal by Connie to cooperate.

A key factor in my decision was that it seemed clear that abruptly cancelling the election observation days before the vote–without explaining why (or most especially if we did explain, which of course was totally unrealistic)–would be a disruptive factor in the last days leading up to the election, and potentially something of an “international incident”.  We were the only international non-governmental organization scheduled to observe and the observation had already been announced and publicized in Washington and Nairobi.  No one was publicly predicting violence or major problems and there was no obvious reason why we would suddenly just cancel.

Again, in a key sign that people on staff at IRI in Washington were trying to do the right thing, I got permission to do a last minute poll of Raila’s Langata constituency in response to my meeting with the Ambassador.  It seemed to me a clear way to telegraph that we would be “observing” seriously and were not going to go along with an obviously bogus result from Lanagata when, as confirmed by the poll, the race there was in no way remotely in doubt.  I told the Ambassador’s top aide on Christmas Eve that we had done the poll and conveyed the results to the Ambassador in person that evening as requested.

As it turned out, Connie and the Ambassador were obviously close and quite well coordinated.  When she visited Nairobi in 2009 he introduced her at the residence as “his great friend and mentor” and during the pre-election in 2007, even though she formally remained lodged at the Mayfair, she stayed behind at the embassy residence after our pre-election gathering there with the Ambassador when the rest of us boarded the bus to leave.  She told me she would be driven back to the Mayfair later, but I was told that the other delegates took notice of the fact that she didn’t end up returning.  I have no idea whether she ended up meeting or talking to Stanley Murage with the Ambassdor or not, one way or the other.  The issue was never mentioned after our internal agreement that it “must not” happen and I hope it didn’t.

On the evening of the vote, I learned from our liaison to the EU observation mission security team that the Ambassador had called his State Department observers in to Nairobi from “the field” that night due to concerns of violence, but no one else told me, including our liaison at the U.S. Embassy observation headquarters.  Our IRI teams stayed out as did the EU’s.

On the morning after the election, when Connie and I and my two IRI superiors from Washington convened as planned ahead of the vote to draft an IRI Preliminary Observation Statement, Connie and I took opposite angles–she steered to make the statement as positive as possible, I steered to keep it as reserved and as cognizant of obvious issues as possible, given that we did not really know much yet.  Through the Freedom of Information Act I learned several years later that the Ambassador had reflected in his cable to Washington that day that IRI was expected to release a “largely positive” statement that same day.  In the afternoon Connie presented the final “Preliminary Statement” to the media in a solo press conference with IRI staff and such other of our observers as were back from the field by that afternoon in the audience.

When the three senior IRI staff (myself included) and Connie met with the leadership of the EU delegation the next day, December 29, at the Serena Hotel, I learned that we were significantly criticized for releasing our Preliminary Statement before any of the other observation missions and while the vote tally was ongoing.  During the formal discussion between the two delegations, Connie asserted as an example of the positives from the vote the notion that the election officials had done a good job of consistently handling assistance to voters who needed it.  I spoke up and said that I had observed otherwise since Connie was obviously pulling that notion out of thin air. In fact, our Preliminary Statement itself the day before had said “As happens in many elections around the world, the ECK must address the issue of polling stations opening late, voting materials being delivered in a timely manner, and appropriately providing assistance to voters”.  I was sitting right beside Connie chatting along the back wall of the polling station when I took the photograph below of a voter beseiged by would be “assistants”:

Voter Assistance Nairobi 2007

Subsequently, I made the mistake of pressing for release of the exit poll results indicating an opposition win over Kibaki to my bosses from Washington in front of Connie.  Connie immediately spoke up to object to any release of these results.  My regional director, my immediate superior from DC, pulled me aside and pointed out that I had made a mistake raising the topic in front of Connie as it was not her place to be involved.  I acknowledged my error, but the bell was rung at that point as Connie was an IRI board member and the rest of the senior staff as career employees were not going to openly resist once she preemptively staked out her ground to quash the poll.  (And to be clear, there was no discussion or any claim whatsoever on Connie’s part at that time–or ever in my presence–of any confusion about the “validity” of the poll based on a misunderstanding about the performance of the polling firm, or the “methodology” or any other grounds offered from Washington in later weeks as scrutiny came to bear.)

To be continued . . .