“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

Election Violence threat in Kenya — my thoughts on NDI’s new warning 


1. NDI is right to warn of a risk of violence, highlighting the unprecedented level of division and tension in Kenya related to the competition for power in this election scheduled for August.

2.  Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.

3.  Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved.  Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust.  No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.

4.  The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over.  There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others.  I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).

5.  Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

6.  Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007.  Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab.  In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi —  is really failing.  Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood.  Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.

7.  It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year).  It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning.  Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.

8.  Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time.  Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.

9.  I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war.  In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction.  The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted.  On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.

Update: 13 April — See Muthoni Wanyeki’s latest column in The East African, Polls: the heat is rising, mayhem escalating,” for a look at the current temperature official behavior around the country.

 

An appreciation for church leaders and diplomats pushing dialogue in Kenya; next steps?

Someday, my hope remains, administration of elections in Kenya can be a straightforward and transparent affair that is not the stuff of secrets, drama and death.  However, that is not an option on today’s menu.  Church leaders by first speaking out earlier on the need for reform of the IEBC, followed by a call for dialogue now with escalating tensions and killings by police, have served the needs of the mwananchi; the foreign envoys who have spoken collectively both publicly and presumably privately during the recent opposition demonstrations and crackdown have added muscle toward an a needed de-escalation.

Next steps: let’s lance the boil of secrecy in the administration of elections; I firmly believe that Kenyans can be trusted to know how they voted and that counting votes in Kenya does not really have to be harder than in other countries.  

Without the secrecy, the opportunity opens for the more patriotic and more humane voices within the policitical process, both within parties and in civil society, to come to the fore.

Cancellation of election in Zanzibar should be wake up call on credibility of diplomatic “election observers” [updated]

Zanzibar HatariThe EAC, along with SADC as noted in my post yesterday, declared the Tanzanian election “free and fair” early in the vote count.

Of course, this should never have been taken with a straight face by the media as it is wholly implausible. You have to have a “free and fair” count and reporting of the count to have a free and fair election.

Tanzania is one of five EAC member states (and the one with the most stabile recent democratic progress, but a ruling party that has not turned over since independence).  Groups of diplomats from the EAC and SADC are not similarly situated to outside, at least notionally independent, observation organizations.

See:  How is IGAD’s “diplomatic observation” regarding Kenya’s election process helpful? from February 1, 2013.

Election Observation: Diplomacy or Assistance? from July 25, 2010.

Here is the link to the EU Election Observation Mission which issued a positive but temperate preliminary statement on the progress of the election yesterday.  There are always “real world” issues and limitations, but these EOM’s are institutionally established to have some level of bona fide independence, and the government facing this election is not a member of the EU which includes many members with a wide range of relevant interests.

Tanzania vote count continues; SADC observers find election was “free and fair” and represents “the will of the people” [updated]

[The point here is you cannot possibly reach a plausible conclusion that an election was “free and fair” or reflected “the will of the people” in the early stages of counting the vote! Would have thought that goes without saying . . .]

The Southern African Development Community election observation mission is led by Oldemiro Baloi, Foreign Minister of Mozambique. Tanzania is a member state of SADC.  Amid the “preliminary” statements from the various observation missions being reported by the international media, from Twitter:

@sarahkimani: Baloi: Tanzania’s elections were free, fair, transparent and credible and represent the will of the people of Tanzania. #SABCnews

“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 in Uganda, DeLisi declined to weigh in and went so far as to volunteer a position on behalf of the United States that he would leave the issue of electoral reforms for Ugandans to “discuss among themselves”.  Translated from diplospeak, discussion among Ugandans here means that prospective voters can mutter, murmur or swear and Museveni can decide as he will without consequence.

In his most recent re-election in 2011, Museveni stiffed the United States by keeping control of the appointment of Uganda’s electoral commission. See “High level U.S. delegation carries requests to Museveni on fair elections and Iran sanctions” and “Plenty of reason to be concerned about Uganda election” along with linked related posts. This time, the Obama Administration, fresh off dancing with Kenyatta literally and with Hailemariam figuratively, seems to have given up on any aspiration for pro-reform influence well in advance.

From the interview:

You have always asserted that the US mission will not get entangled in local politics. But as an ambassador, what advice would you give to players in the impending elections?

We never said we will not get involved in politics. Just as citizens of this country, we have invested in this country. Do we want this country to be a success with a strong and vibrant democracy? Yes.
If caring about this means getting involved in politics, then we will do. As for which candidate or party to support, that is for people of Uganda to decide.

We talk to leaders of all political parties – NRM, FDC, DP, UPC. Name them, we talk to them. We tell them that there should be a constructive electoral process in which people’s views are respected, where people engage each other respectively, where there is no room for violence.

So that, at the end of the day, no matter who wins the election, it is a credible result that services Uganda well and gives the new leader legitimacy to lead the country effectively and deal with the challenges that will emerge.

Do you share concerns by civil society that political space in Uganda is narrowing?

I don’t know whether it is narrowing down but I perfectly appreciate the challenges of civil society. But this is a constant dialogue we are always having with the Government to ensure that there is room for meaningful dialogue and engagement.

There is the NGO Bill currently before Parliament and during consultations; we have seen the NGO community, civil society engage with MPs in a robust dialogue that has brought significant changes to this piece of legislation. I don’t know what the final law will look like.

I know civil society would have liked to see the issue of electoral reforms addressed fully, but I leave that to Ugandans to debate among themselves about the need to strengthen the democratic process. We have seen in US that even after 250 years, we are still working to improve our democracy.

Update: To understand the context and significance of the Museveni government’s continued stonewalling, see today’s Daily Monitor: The Unresolved Question of  Electoral Reforms, What it Means for 2016.

American diplomatic perspective on Obama’s Kenya visit, and a few personal thoughts (updated)

Johnnie Carson and Mark Bellamy have a very well done op-ed up in the New York Times on “Obama’s chance to revisit Kenya“.  In case you missed it, I would recommend it as the most worthwhile commentary I have seen in the U.S.-based news media on the presidential trip this week.

I hope the visit goes well and accomplishes something worthwhile for both countries.  The topic of entrepreneurship is certainly an important one for Kenya, where most people do not have employment. [The director for human development of the African Development Bank cites a 80% unemplyment rate for Kenyans under age 35 in support of a loan of $62M to the Government of Kenya to support training for 3000 youth in “technical vocational education” that will “play an important role in supporting the emerging oil, gas and mining industry.” ]

The first U.S. presidential visit to Kenya will unavoidably be a major boost politically for Uhuru Kenyatta and his administration by its nature and will be a boon for the Kenyan president’s elite friends and cronies in other political/business roles in Nairobi.  I am not sure how important a “global summit” of this type is for entrepreneurship as such, but I will try to accentuate the positive in this regard by looking at the trip as a diplomatic endeavor with potential side benefits.

One small thing that I do think should be said:  I hope that before getting to Kenya President Obama will have apologized to former Ambassador Gration for letting him get “run up the flagpole” over doing State Department business on a private email account in light of subsequent news on this topic within the State Department. General Gration did important service to Senator Obama as his military escort on his last trip to Kenya in 2006 and in speaking out about the “birther” and related personal smears as I have previously written (“Gration spoke out on Obama/Odinga “smears” in 2008 campaign” August 16, 2010).  The Ambassador serves at the pleasure of the president and I don’t question the President’s prerogative to change his mind about a political appointment, but in hindsight this should have been handled differently.

On the security front, please read “Ahead of Obama Visit, Kenya Seeks to Show Security Threats Are Under Control” in the Wall Street Journal:

The government’s push to move beyond its security challenges is one of the problems, said Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine who runs a security consultancy .  .  . “Nobody is interested in getting to grips with the situation,” Mr. Franklin said.  “What the government of Kenya is refusing to accept is that we have a genuine insurgency going on.”
He argued that an attack in April at a university in the eastern town of Garissa showed just how little the Kenyan security forces had learned.  Al-Shabaab killed 147 people in an assault that wasn’t put down until late in the day because of delays flying an elite unit out to fight the militants.
“They had all day to kill students,” Mr. Franklin said.
But Mr. Kenyatta’s message that it was time to move on appeared to be gaining the upper hand with Nairobi residents pouring into the Westgate mall over the weekend. . . .

For a great panel discussion of the trip to Kenya and Ethiopia from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, see the audio or visual from last week’s program at CSIS, “Policy Issues in Kenya and Ethiopia Ahead of President Obama’s Trip.”  The panel included Ambassador Mark Bellamy, Terrence Lyons of George Mason University, Sarah Prey of the Open Society Foundations and EJ Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.

Update: Make sure to also see the letter to President Obama from 14 U.S. experts on East Africa released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday.  Signers include Ambassador Bellamy, senior scholars John Harbeson and David Throup and many of the younger generation of policy and civil society leaders in Washington who will be familiar to Americans engaged on American policy in and on Kenya.

“The War for History” part twelve: Why did Rannenberger and Lambsdorf react so differently to the election fraud they witnessed together?

Election Observation as “Diplomacy or Assistance” in practice

We learned four years after the 2007 Kenyan election from my 2009 Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department that U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger had witnessed in person the inflation of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya leading to the announcement of Kibaki as the winner of the election by 230,000 votes on December 30, 2007. This is described in my post Part Ten—FOIA Documents from the Kenya 2007 election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots, and it did”.

We also learned that Ranneberger was with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorf, at the ECK while witnessing what happened.

Ranneberger’s cable back to Washington explaining what he saw and his version of its significance is notably backward looking, as it is dated January 2, 2008, the Wednesday after Kibaki was sworn in at twilight Sunday.  He explains that most of his contemporaneous reporting to Washington had been oral due to the exigencies of events. By the time of this cable quite a number of people were dead and injured by the police in suppressing protest and by other violence such as the infamous church burning in the Rift Valley.

On January 1, 2008, the day before the cable, the EU Election Observation Mission released its Preliminary Statement on the election, with Lambsdorf presenting and answering questions from the press and public at the Intercontinental Hotel.  The EU Observers strongly criticized the fraud.  The EU at that time was pressing for remedial action on the election fraud while the US was pushing for a “power sharing” settlement after Ranneberger initially promoted acceptance of the results speaking to the media from Nairobi.  Back in Washington the State Department’s Africa Bureau had election day media guidance stressing that the opposition might claim fraud regardless if they lost and when the results were announced the State Department spokesman issued congratulations to Kibaki that evening which were “walked back” the next day.

On December 28, the day after the election, Ranneberger sent the last of the cables I have been provided before the January 2 cable explaining the fraudulent tallying, titled “Kenya’s Elections–A Positive Process Thus Far” as discussed in “Part Six–What did the U.S. Ambassador report to Washington the day after the Kenyan election?”. In this cable he reiterated his assertion that it was in the diplomatic interest of the United States for the election to be a “positive example” and a “watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy”.

“Advancing U.S. Interests”

We will keep the Department closely informed as results become clearer. At this point, there are sound reasons to believe that this election process will be a very positive example for the continent and for the developing world, that it will represent a watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy, and that it will, therefore, significantly advance U.S. interests. The Kenyan people will view the U.S. as having played an important and neutral role in encouraging a positive election process” [End]

In a December 24 cable titled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections” Ranneberger had been explicit that it was in the U.S. diplomatic interest to be able to treat the announced outcome by the ECK as credible.

Thus we have a clear example of an election observer and a diplomat witnessing election fraud together and reacting in contradictory ways, and an explanation from the diplomat from the produced cables of his a priori position as to the interests of his client in how the election would come to be seen.

We don’t know from any of this what anyone in Washington thought about the interests of the United States as opposed to Ranneberger’s assertions to them.  Nor where Kivuitu’s expression of concern to Ranneberger prior to the election (which is not reflected in these cables) fits in; nor a possible election eve meeting among the Ambassador, Kibaki advisor Stanley Murage and Connie Newman, the designated lead delegate for the International  Republican Institute election observation mission (it was agreed in advance among the IRI staff that such a meeting “must not happen” but in spite of my precautions there were a couple of logistical windows of opportunity when such a meeting may have been possible; again nothing in the cables I have received to explain the purpose of a meeting or whether or not it actually took place).

What we do know is that an independent election observation mission is in a position to be objective about the facts of the conduct of an election in way that a diplomatic mission is unlikely to be. In terms of the “war for history”–whether Kibaki’s second term was in fact the result of a stolen election–the independent observers rather than the diplomats should be the point of reference for the facts.

Canadian High Commissioner misses the point in warning Kenyan politicians about ICC pullout

A diplomat has warned that the move last week by law makers to have Kenya pull out of the Rome Statute could jeopardise future search for international justice for Kenyans.

Canadian High Commissioner in Nairobi David Angell said pulling out of the Rome Statute, that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), would deal a blow to any future victims of violence that Kenyan judicial system would not handle.

“Canadian envoy warns in Kenyan ICC pull-out” Daily Nation

What search for international justice? Kenya’s last Parliament did not follow suspect William Ruto’s “Don’t be vague, go to The Hague” lead out of a preference for “international” justice over trying the suspects locally–rather it was an excuse for not prosecuting anyone themselves. Likewise the last Parliament did not then turn around and vote in December 2010 to withdraw from the ICC as soon as the charges came down against Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Sang and the three others in consideration of the interests of “justice”. If the members of Kenyatta and Ruto’s Jubilee coalition who voted again to withdraw from the ICC on the eve of Ruto’s trial were in the least concerned about a “search for international justice” for victims of election violence–past or present–they would not have done so.

Kenyatta and Ruto as KANU leaders were on the side of election violence in Kenya in 1992 and 1997 and they certainly have not done anything to express remorse or “search for justice”–international or otherwise–for the victims. The very idea that there should be such a search for justice for victims of electoral violence is an affront to the political order in Kenya and on this Kenyatta and Ruto can easily circle the parliamentary wagons against the threat to their private sovereignty and that of their cohort.

The High Commissioner ought to appreciate that he is speaking to an audience which has, over many years, shown that it takes these thing deadly seriously. If the Canadians want to step into the current diplomatic vacuum in Nairobi to address the situation, I certainly applaud the intention, but they if they want to have influence they need to speak of things that their audience cares about.

Kenya’s party primaries Thursday will be key test for credible elections–international community should speak candidly this time

A key indicator of major Kenyan general election problems ahead that was downplayed in 2007 was the magnitude of problems in the party nominations process.  All of us who were involved in supporting and watching the process were aware from our own experiences and from the Kenyan media that things were messy.  As it turned out, the U.S., at least, conducted a more systematic observation of the primaries and saw a lot of things that would have raised more red flags for the rest of us had anything been said publicly (or even shared privately with others working election observations).

For the latest this year, see “Confusion ahead of Jan 17 party nominations deadline” from The Star today and  “Rivals prepare for tough nomination fight” from the Sunday Nation.  Of course, the challenges now are much greater because of the addition of the Senate and county offices.  See “Fairness a Must In Party Nominations” from Jerry Okungu in The Star.

[Update Jan. 16 0200 Nairobi time, Daily Nation: “Lobby names possible nomination hotspots“:

Nairobi, Siaya, Nakuru and Migori have been identified as possible violence hotspots in party nominations tomorrow.

The Elections Observation Group said on Tuesday it was concerned about the rise in sporadic violence in parts of Kenya, particularly in Nairobi’s slums and Tana River.

The group has deployed 290 observers countrywide, with a concentration on the hotspots, to monitor and report on the primaries.]

Through my 2009 FOIA request for documents from the State Department on the Embassy’s own 2007 election observation endeavor, I was provided in addition to a minimal amount of information on the general election observation a copy of an e-mail about the primaries, as discussed in Part Eight of my FOIA Series, especially noteworthy regarding the role of the ECK, as well as hate literature, and the overall mess:

The one document released that substantively describes observation of voting by State Department personnel is a November 20, 2007 e-mail which is a headquarters “readout” of a video conference held “with Post to discuss the experiences of Post’s first-ever observation of the political primary process in Kenya.”:  Here is the text:

The Observation Effort:
*21 teams (total about 60 people) deployed to the field. This is our first time observing the primaries. We expect to deploy about 50 (100+ people) teams to the general elections as part of the larger international observer effort. The EU plans to deploy 150 people.
*These will be Kenya’s 4th multiparty elections but only the second “free and fair”.

Negatives Observed:
*The process was very poorly organized. We would say the the parties embarrassed themselves, except most of the party leaders have no shame and are thus immune from embarrassment. General feeling is that apparent total lack of organization is not an accident, but reflects efforts to rig/manipulate the outcomes.
*There were obvious deals between the incumbents and local party operatives.
*The process was well-run and by the book only in where parties had no hope of winning in that area anyway. Where there were real stakes, manipulation was rampant and obvious.
*Ballots were delayed for many hours in many locations; some politicians felt this was intentional and especially disenfranchised women voters, who either couldn’t wait all day or had to go home before dark for safety reasons.
*Hate literature observed to date is overwhelmingly generated by PNU supporters.

Positives Observed:
*Turnout was surprisingly good. People were very determined to vote. Many waited from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later for ballots to arrive. In some cases where ballots were delayed, people agreed amongst themselves to vote on whatever pieces of paper and honored the results.
*Dozens of outgoing MPs (including some we are very happy to see go, i.e. [REDACTED] were eliminated at this stage, which suggests that you can’t always manipulate the results.
*Our sample was biased as we purposely went to areas where trouble was expected and/or stakes were high, so we likely observed a disproportionate amount of rigging, etc.
*With the recent passage of the Political Parties Bill, this is the last time that the party nomination process will be run by the parties themselves. In the future, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will run it (at least, for all parties who want public money). PNU contracted with the ECK to run their primary this time, but it didn’t happen in practice–party leaders took over and wouldn’t let ECK do its job.

After the Primaries:
*We expect a lot of horse trading. Some winners were DQed on appeal and even without an appeal. There were also many “directed nominations,” which led to the resuscitation and handpicking of many old dinosaurs/unpopular incumbents notwithstanding voter opposition.
*There may be blowback with an impact on turnout for Dec. 27. There were widespread feelings of bitterness and disappointment, especially among ODM supporters, who expected to participate in a “new beginning.” Many people complained that, populist image notwithstanding, ODM is run like a dictatorship and that the way of doing things is no different than KANU used to do in the past. The positive difference is that the electorate is much more vocal and active in demanding transparency and participation in the electoral process. The howls of protest regarding some of the directed nominations show the electorate’s increasing maturity and lack of interest in this kind of politics.
*Many unsuccessful candidates have jumped to smaller/marginal parties. There is a cottage industry of sorts selling nominations.

Possible Impact on Main Parties:
*The disappointment and frustration with the nominating process was greatest among ODM supporters. Will this experience sap the energy of ODM supporters, or can ODM redeem itself? Will people continue to be willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity?
*Fear/stability is a powerful motivating factor in Kibaki’s reelection prospects. The contest between ODM and PNU can be characterized as “hope vs. fear.”
*PNU has much less internal discipline and message consistency. Virtually all PNU parties are fielding their own candidates for Parliamentary seats, so not much of a real coalition.

Political Violence
*Two possible types. One, aspirant (often incumbent) MPs use paid gangsters (and sometimes local police officials) to intimidate or disrupt the polling process (trash polling stations, threaten voters waiting in line and/or election officials). Two, spontaneous voter uprisings, where voters feel they are being disenfranchised and attach the presiding officers. If the ECK runs an efficient process as expected, this should lessen the possibility of voter violence. —–END—–

For context, this November 20, 2007 summary of what was observed during the primary election was roughly a month after the Ambassador’s intervention in the public opinion polling as described in previous documents and a month before the Ambassador’s public statement predicting a “free and fair” election the week before the general election. Nairobi is the State Department’s biggest Sub-Saharan post; it was staffed with smart and observant people and obviously well funded–the problem was not what the State Department didn’t know, rather it was what it wouldn’t say.