“Look, no hands” — Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Uganda declines to offer support for electoral reforms (updated)

In an interview in today's edition of Uganda's state owned New Vision, retiring U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi addressed the current Ugandan campaign for the 2016 elections. In response to a question about civil society concerns about narrowing of the democratic space…

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The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera
Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. (more…)

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Keeping the bar low for Election Observation Missions? ICYMI, IGAD congratulated Sudan’s Bashir on “peaceable and largely credible” election

From AllAfrica.com: Ambassador Mahboub Maalim, Executive Secretary of IGAD, extended his warmest congratulations to President Omar Al-Bashir for his re-election to the presidency of the Sudan. Ambassador Mahboub Maalim, noting the role of IGAD in observing the elections in Sudan,…

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“[T]o dance on the graves . . .”–KPTJ letter to UK Serious Fraud Office on #Chickengate convictions

By NJONJO MUE, as printed at Business Daily, “Smith & Ouzman director’s crime goes beyond ‘chicken’ offer to IEBC officials”:

Mr Mue is programme adviser at Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice.

Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ), a coalition of more than 30 legal, human rights and governance civil society groups would like to commend UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for the successful prosecution of Smith & Ouzman, and two of its directors for overseas corruption, including the bribery of Kenyan election officials to obtain contracts for printing of poll materials.

We write this letter to give our perspective on the impact of corruption on elections. We do this in the hope that you will bring these matters to the attention of the court so that they may inform its deliberations on the sentencing of the directors and the company and the subsequent confiscation hearing.

We would also like to strongly suggest that the SFO call expert witness on this point so that the court can be fully informed about it. We would be happy to provide relevant names of experts in this area should the SFO need such assistance.

KPTJ was formed in the wake of the widespread violence that engulfed Kenya following the disputed 2007 presidential elections.

More than 1,100 people were killed, over half a million displaced from their homes, hundreds of women and men sexually assaulted as well as property worth billions of shillings destroyed in the chaos.

Kenya was saved from a full-scale civil war only by international mediation efforts led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The mediation agreed on a raft of measures to address both the immediate crisis and the long-term underlying issues to bring permanent stability to the country, including constitutional and institutional reforms.

A commission of inquiry appointed to review the elections recommended a complete overhaul of the electoral process, including the disbandment of the then Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and a fresh registration of voters.

The ECK was replaced by the Interim Independent Election Commission, the body whose officials Smith & Ouzman subsequently bribed to obtain business from.

The above background is important in order to demonstrate a number of key points.

First, both Kenyans and the international community invested a lot of time, money and hard work to ensure that the devastating political violence of 2008 would never occur again.

This was done through reforming the election management body and the appointment of new commissioners, among other measures.

For Smith & Ouzman to casually bribe  the new poll officials and justify it by claiming that they were just doing  business the “African way” is not just an insult to Kenyans and Africans, it is to dance on the graves of those who paid the ultimate price due to the failed elections.

Second, Kenya has frequently paid a high price in terms of lives lost and property destroyed as a result of disputed elections, the post-election violence being only the most extreme example.

Political violence in turn is often the direct consequence of having elections managed by officials of questionable integrity who cannot be trusted to deliver a free and fair election.

When Smith & Ouzman bribes poll officials to obtain contracts for printing election materials, the country not only incurs financial loss due to the inflated price, but also it ultimately pays a much higher price in terms of the loss of integrity of the electoral body and the subsequent instability and political uncertainty that the loss brings.

As far as financial consequences are concerned, it is notable that Kenya’s elections have been said to be among the world’s most expensive per capita, in spite of their generally poor quality.

Third, an election body, like a bank, survives on public trust and derives legitimacy and credibility not from the technical sophistication of their poll materials, tools and procedures, but from public faith in its impartiality, competence and integrity.

The bribery claims against Kenyan poll officials has resulted in loss of public faith in the agency and may lead to disputed elections and violence in future.
(more…)

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