Watch USAID’s “Frontiers in Development” Monday – Wednesday from Washington

USAID’s “Frontiers in Development” Conference in Washington Live Video Feed

On Twitter:  #Frontiers #DevelopmentIs

Speakers relating to East Africa specifically include Rakesh Rajani of Twaweza:

Twaweza is an independent East African initiative that was established in 2009 by Rakesh Rajani, a Tanzanian civil society leader who founded HakiElimu and served as its first executive director until the end of 2007. Twaweza’s approach and theory of change is built on the lessons from the HakiElimu experience, as well as wide ranging conversations across East Africa conducted through 2008 and a review of the literature. Hivos provided the incubation space for Twaweza’s development, and currently houses the initiative before it becomes fully independent by 2013. Hivos is registered in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as a non-profit company (company limited by guarantee with no share capital).

Twaweza’s approach and its policies, systems and procedures reflect a set of values around effective and transparent governance. Five key values and principles guide our work: effectiveness and accountability; transparency and communication; ethical integrity; reflection and learning; and responsibility and initiative.

More Kenyan-U.S. Diplomatic History: Kenyatta’s health and succession; status of whites; military assistance

For those of us who would still like to have a better understanding of what went wrong with the last Kenyan election, and how to do better this year, it’s worth taking advantage of the passage of time (and the declassification and publication of the kind of things that we don’t have yet from 2007) to see more clearly how U.S. and Kenyan leaders have interacted over time.  And in looking at the 1970s, while Kenyatta is no longer with us, he casts a broad shadow, and Scowcroft and Moi are of course very much still around.

MEMORANDUM

  • OF CONVERSATION
  • PARTICIPANTS:
  • Brent Scowcroft
  • Ambassador Anthony D. Marshall
  • Robert S. Smith
  • SUBJECT:
  • Current Situation in Kenya

NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL

DATE & TIME: Wednesday – October 13, 1976 5:45 p.m.

PLACE: Scowcroft’s Office

Ambassador Marshall summarized the present security and political situation in Kenya. The GOK very much appreciated our moral support during the Uganda crisis. They believe this brought the Ugandans to the conference table. Ambassador Marshall remains pessimistic, however, about Uganda’s capacity for destabilizing Kenya. He does not expect an invasion, but he does see the continuation and increase of terrorist activities from Uganda. Nevertheless, he thinks that the ultimate threat to Kenya comes from Somalia with Soviet support. He also sees Tanzania’s economic difficulties and political policies affecting Kenya.

Ambassador Marshall believes that our interests in Kenya are to see the country remain stable. Military and economic aid and political reassurances from us can help. He sees Kenya as a buffer among the East African states and a means of slowing down Soviet penetration in East Africa. He believes that continuing stability in Kenya might even turn some of the other countries in the region to Kenya’s way of thinking. [Note: Unfortunately, African nations do not learn economic stability from one another.]

Ambassador Marshall said we have excellent bilateral relations with Kenyatta. Kenyatta is very pleased to be receiving our arms aid even though we are one of several suppliers. We have stressed the defensive purpose of our arms aid.

Ambassador Marshall turned over to General Scowcroft a letter from President Kenyatta to President Ford. It covers two principal issues. One is the possibility that the U.S. will provide a “fly past” in Kenya on December 12, Kenya’s independence day. This was discussed by Secretary Kissinger when he was in Nairobi in September. General Scowcroft knew of the proposal but did not know whether there would be an aircraft carrier available in the area at the time. If not, he said the planes could be ferried down.

The second important issue in the letter is Kenyatta’s prospective visit to the United States. Unfortunately, according to Ambassador Marshall, although Kenyatta knew about the trip in advance of Secretary Kissinger’s visit, he had not told his staff about it. The room was full of people when Secretary Kissinger brought it up and the invitation for November 10 drew a laugh from staff members who could not understand the implications of a date which followed our elections. Kenyatta himself did not understand that, in the event that President Ford was defeated, he would still be in office until late January.

General Scowcroft inquired as to Kenyatta’s health and the prospect that he could really travel to the U.S. Ambassador Marshall explained that Kenyatta has a blood clot which occasionally causes total unconsciousness for periods up to one and a half days. This has occurred three times in the past year. The rest of the time Kenyatta is in good health for a man of 84.

Ambassador Marshall noted that a move to change the constitutional provision for a 90-day Vice Presidential succession when the President dies was squashed. Nevertheless, said Marshall, we should not put all our eggs in Vice President Moi’s basket. There are other potential candidates and so far Kenyatta has not named anyone. [Note: There are indications Kenyatta does not favor Moi.] Marshall said that part elections which are expected in early 1977 (for the first time since 1966) may fill three senior vacancies and thus be a clue to the succession.

As to the post-Kenyatta era, Marshall sees the continuation of civilian government, slightly to the left of the present government. There would be tribal disturbances but the situation would remain stable. There is a good civil service and the Kenyans are interested in maintaining foreign investment and a sound economy.

General Scowcroft asked about the status of whites in Kenya and Ambassador Marshall replied that they flourish. Scowcroft was impressed.

General Scowcroft asked about the status of the MAP program and Ambassador Marshall said that it was on schedule and the Kenyans were highly satisfied. We have requested the Kenyans to accept a U.S. Defense Attache but we are not pushing it. General Scowcroft agreed that we should not push.

There was a brief discussion of the Seychelles, to which Ambassador Marshall is also accredited. The Ambassador referred to the importance of tourism to those islands. The U.S. has an Air Force tracking station there with 300 Americans. [text not declassified] We are concerned that the Prime Minister, Mancham, is flirting with the Communists.

1 Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Africa, Box 3, Kenya. Confidential. The meeting took place in Scowcroft’s office. All brackets are in the original memorandum. The letter from Kenyatta to Ford, dated September 28, is ibid.


A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki–getting the F-5s, safaris and slums

A priceless bit of diplomatic history, from October 1, 1975, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meets with Kenyan Foreign Minister Waiyaki  at the U.S. United Nations Mission in New York.  You just have to read it:

The Secretary: It is good to see you here.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: We are enjoying ourselves very much.

The Secretary: I was in Nairobi before your independence. I went to see the animals. I was there in June. It was very pleasant. How long are you staying here?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I hope to leave tomorrow. I have been here a long time.

The Secretary: You were here for the Special Session of the UN?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Yes.

The Secretary: How did you get into your present job? Were you a career officer in the Foreign Ministry?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: No, I am a member of Parliament. I was formerly Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.

The Secretary: The only way I could get into the State Department was to be appointed Secretary of State. I was told that I don’t have the qualifications for entry into the Foreign Service.

The Secretary: What are the major problems in our relations?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Our relations are good.

The Secretary: I can’t understand Foreign Ministers saying that our relations are good. Normally everyone says they are lousy.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Relations are good.

The Secretary: I agree with you. Our relations are good. It is pleasant to hear this. Usually I am told that everything we are doing is wrong. You have a very constructive policy and our intention is to support you within the limits the Congress will go along with.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I hope Congress will understand the requests which we make.

The Secretary: Congress does not go along with the requests I make, but we are going to get them under control soon.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I am in the strange position where I am a congressman myself, but I still get pushed around by other congressmen.

The Secretary: You have a parliamentary system?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Yes.

The Secretary: You have only one party?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Yes, but I am questioned by backbenchers and also by assistant ministers sometimes.

The Secretary: We have had some talks on arms. We are trying to put together a military assistance package for Kenya.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I hope you can move quickly.

The Secretary: What is holding things up?

Mr. Coote: We thought we had some F5A aircraft lined up for Kenya. They would have been available immediately at a low cost. This was the big advantage of that package. However, it did not work out.

The Secretary: Why didn’t it work out?

Continue reading

Odinga in Washington; U.S. in Libya; “Kinetic Action” v. MCC

Here is the link to a multimedia page for Raila Odinga’s speech and Q & A last week at CSIS in Washington.  Nothing newsmaking in itself that I saw, but a good speech of interest to those following governance and democratization issues in Africa and especially Kenya and Ivory Coast.

In the meantime, one of the most telling things I have read about how our actions in participating in the Libyan mission are viewed by others is from Bruce Reidel at Brookings:

The Indians are puzzled that some in the West who had embraced Qaddafi less than a hundred days ago are now so shocked by his cruelty. Qaddafi did not change in 2011. Some former Indian diplomats are quick to suggest that the Libyan war shows America’s “unreliability” and a tendency to over react to the last news broadcast. Who are the rebels in Benghazi, they ask, that are now your allies? Why do you rush to help them, and not the shia protesters in Manama?

As one Indian observer put it, “the U.S. is both promiscuous and flighty” with its relationships.

“A Letter from Agra:  How India Views U.S. Actions in Libya”

These observations on the Indian view were published almost a month ago.  If the NATO effort in Libya bogs down, we may find ourselves asking more rigorously, “why exactly did we decide to do this?” and “what specifically were we trying to accomplish originally and what specifically are we trying to accomplish now?”.  Those same questions that eventually became “known unknowns” in Iraq.

In the meantime, The Hill caries a piece by Paul O’Brian of OxFam America on potentially critical budget cuts for the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  No one at the MCC could afford to make the comparison politically I am sure, but let me make it for them:  look at the cost of the Libya action versus the cost of the MCC.  The MCC would seem to have bipartisan support if any area of development can.  A George W. Bush initiative originally, but very compatible with Democratic “soft power” thinking and led by Obama appointees now.   A relatively small staff and bureaucratic footprint.

In geopolitics, and in longer term development, we need to pay some real attention to states, but if this is a humanitarian effort don’t we need to look also at the numbers of people involved: is this worth the cost relative to the cost of other “kinetic” or “non-kinetic” endeavors?  Ivory Coast, for instance, is a much more populous country.

Provocative Question: To Eliminate Redundancy, Should We Move USAID from DOS to DOD?

In this era of perceived relative austerity in U.S. public budgeting, there is much discussion about (1) cutting “foreign aid” and (2) addressing redundancy in federal spending. One obvious area of redundancy in terms, at least, of conceptual capacity and planning, is in the foreign assistance area where the lead agency is said to be the State Department in some cases, and in others USAID as a partially independent but intertwined organization funded through the State Department. At the same time, the Department of Defense, as part of military doctrine, aspires to maintain a parallel capacity to conduct reconstruction and development functions–and is often the “go to” agency for aspects of humanitarian/disaster relief in places like Indonesia, Haiti and New Orleans.

The basic doctrine is that the military services need to be ready to step in where civilian capacity is insufficient or simply fails (as in dealing with the situation when the Coalition Provisional Authority closed up shop in Iraq in 2004).

Redundancy has costs and benefits–there is a positive value to having “excess” capacity in terms of risk mitigation. On the other hand, there may be some downside from difficulties in coordination, moral hazard associated with having someone else available to “bail out” failure, etc. On balance, I think it is a net positive to have redundant development/assistance capacity. This is a bit like the much discussed and debated “extra engine” for the military Joint Strike Fighter program–there is some reduction in risk to have two engines in development at the same time to do the same thing. The question is one of efficiency and affordability.

In an era of cuts to assistance, it probably is not efficient enough to warrant duplicate capacity with the U.S. government.  Thus we should chose which basket to put our eggs into.

Personally, I am well persuaded that the national security triad (or “three-legged stool”) of Defense, Development and Diplomacy would be most efficiently and effectively handled through having USAID or a similiar agency operate as an independent “step sister” agency, rather than as a branch off one of the other legs of the stool. If that is not politically feasible, or there is not political will or courage to try it, and we are tasked with eliminating redundancy to maximize effectiveness with more limited dollars, we need to ask whether to continue with the current structure and try to eliminate funding for development within DOD and perhaps shift some of the savings to the DOS complex, or to simply consolidate the work in DOD.

At present we are more than two years into the Obama Administration and there is still no nominee for USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa.  In the meantime, AFRICOM has extensive support from USAID as described by testimony to Congress last summer by a USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator about national security and interagency collaboration:

The Africa Command, or AFRICOM, provides another example of where strong interagency partnership from its inception has advanced U.S. national security interests. Beginning in 2007, USAID staff in Africa was engaged in helping DOD plan U.S. Africa Command. As AFRICOM developed from a concept similar to the SOUTHCOM model to an independent command, USAID was engaged with counterparts in the Defense Department at every step in the process. AFRICOM was intended to bring together U.S. military assets devoted to Africa’s security in one unified command, but the mandate and operation of the command were the subject of lively interagency debate prior to its establishment. Our first senior development advisor, assigned to the European Command, or EUCOM, in 2007, was actively involved in the process. Other USAID officers, including senior career and political leadership, helped General Ward and his staff to define AFRICOM’s mandate, coordination mechanisms, and civilian roles in the Command, as well as shaping the Command to focus on its central priority of building the capacity of African military institutions. This resulted in the establishment of a USAID senior development advisor position at the command as well as detailing two USAID representatives to the command, one to direct the Programs Division and the other to manage their Humanitarian and Civic Assistance programs and funds. Subsequently, a representative of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance was assigned to the command.

As AFRICOM has stood up and developed its relationships with interagency partners, and senior Command officials have sought to forge strong ties with USAID. Developing capable and rightly-structured militaries in Africa is absolutely essential for Africa’s development and stability and AFRICOM plays an important role in enhancing the capacity of Africa’s military. We support and emphasize this crucial core function of AFRICOM in the interagency and in discussions in Stuttgart. At the same time, there are other areas where USAID and AFRICOM work closely and effectively together.

AFRICOM leadership has pressed for significant participation and officer exchanges with USAID, in general, for more positions than our small agency can provide. USAID officers in AFRICOM — at the level of the Commander, the Plans and Program Directorate, and Disaster Response unit — have both helped “shape” this new Command and improved the Command’s civil affairs and humanitarian programs and their intended audience, and interagency collaboration in strategic, conflict-prone areas, and in disaster response.

Perhaps the best example of USAID’s effect upon the Command has been where AFRICOM’s office overseeing funding for development projects or what the military refers to as “humanitarian assistance,” our representative has repeatedly proven the value of having a development advisor in this position. That officer has reshaped the provision of AFRICOM humanitarian assistance to be more effective and sustainable based on AFRICOM’s expertise in this area. Most recently, her efforts were recognized when she won a “dissent” award from the American Foreign Service Association for her contribution to the dialogue about the Defense Department’s proposed programs in the area of women’s health. USAID also actively participates in logistics cooperation training which illustrates a cohesive approach to coordination at all levels.

Realistically, isn’t it more feasible politically to consolidate the functions in DOD rather than DOS to maintain bi-partisan support for funding?  Isn’t the reality that the DOD function is the stronger bureaucratic player and will find ways to continue its own programs and capacity regardless? For instance, would a key appointment in a military combatant command such as AFRICOM remain unfilled for over two years?

Is it the case, cosmetics of “hard power” and “soft power” aside, that Development has more overlap with Defense than with Diplomacy anyway if it can’t stand on its own?

AFRICOM and the “Whale of Government” Approach

China to send observers to Sudan Referendum–what will they look for? [Updated Jan. 6]

The link to the Reuters report from Beijing is here.

China will send observers to Sudan when the south holds an independence referendum on January 9, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

“At the invitation of both the north and the south, China will send observers to participate in the referendum,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular news conference.

“China is willing, together with the international community, to continue to play a proactive and constructive role for the sake of Sudan’s peace and stability,” Hong said.

Hmm. Will these be people who have observed an election before, much less participated in one? If China is serious about peace and stability within the parameters of a democratic process then great and welcome to the community, but if they are just protecting their own interests irrespective then what are they adding?

This is surely a clear example of a diplomatic observation rather than an assistance effort–no indication that China has an interest in improving democratic elections abroad.

Radio France International has an interesting take on the Chinese diplomatic strategy:

Beshir’s more reconciliatory tone is however a diplomatic advantage for China, which is a long-time ally of Beshir and a major investor in the country’s oil industry, which is mainly based in the south.

“China is working very hard to in effect play both sides of the border,” says David Shinn, the former deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Khartoum. “It wants to maintain its very close relationship with the Beshir government and it wants to maintain as close a tie as possible to the southerners if they secede.”

China has a consulate in Juba and has been providing some assistance to southerners over the last year, but Shinn says it will still have to work hard to create a good relationship with the south, should it become independent.

“They certainly will have an uphill climb in that they are well known to have been very strong military backers of the northern government and those feelings will not disappear quickly,” says Shinn. “On the other hand, the Chinese have shown great propensity over the years to be able to make the switch to the new rulers in town”.

Chinese financial resources will give it an advantage, especially as it is almost alone in having a state sector that is willing to make investments. The Chinese government also backs several banks in Africa, which able to provide low interest loans fast.

Shinn says China has enough invested in the north to want to maintain a good relationship with the north even though most of Sudan’s resources come from the south. Beshir’s diplomatic approach has given China a chance to work with the south without upsetting the Khartoum government.

“Who knows, behind the scenes maybe China has even been encouraging that,” says Shinn.

 

QDDR–the second leg of a two-legged stool?

It has been said that the Obama administration aspired to recognize development as a key aspect of American foreign policy for global security in parallel with defense and diplomacy. Thus the notion of development and diplomacy being subject to a quadrennial review/planning process modeled after the Department of Defense QDR. Having the discussion and creating a first document is noteworthy, and there are positive details in the plans presented in the QDDR released Wednesday. But the overarching policy is to institutionalize development as one of the subordinate functional operations of the State Department’s diplomatic mission.

From “The Cable” blog at Foreign Policy, “NGO community likes State’s QDDR, but is worried about implementation”:

Paul O’Brien, vice president of policy and advocacy campaigns for Oxfam America, noted that while the QDDR clearly puts ambassadors and chiefs of missions at the head of country teams as the so-called “CEOs” of American diplomacy, it doesn’t tackle how the inevitable conflicts between short-term foreign policy objectives and longer-term development goals are resolved.

“The QDDR is an important step in reaffirming the efforts to modernize USAID and further elevate it as ‘the world’s premier development agency. But the document leaves open the question of how the United States will resolve situations where diplomacy and development will require different approaches and tradeoffs,” he said.

And from Secretary Clinton’s “Town Hall” with the QDDR release Wednesday:

Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s vice president of policy and advocacy, asked at the town hall meeting how Clinton planned to deal with the tension between long-term development goals and short-term diplomatic objectives. Clinton responded that that tension would remain but the State Department’s chief of mission would be empowered above all others.

“I don’ think there’s any way to resolve it. I don’t think it will disappear but there is a way to diminish it,” she said. “But we’ve got to have somebody in each country that actually speaks for the entire government.”

With all respect, I think what this ultimately means in practice is that you “resolve” the conflict by making sure that the State Department’s chief diplomat in country is empowered to do what is expected of a chief diplomat (who also has significant responsibility in the defense arena as well), which is to prioritize diplomacy.

IMG_0789[Todd Moss made similar points more persuasively in a post at the “Views from the Center” blog from the Center for Global Development.]

Swamp Fever?

Kenya’s Presidential Spokesman Dr. Alfred Mutua has expressed great umbrage at the Wikileaks disclosure that his government was referred to privately by U.S. diplomats as a “swamp of corruption”.

No indication that Dr. Mutua has offered to disclose Kenya’s internal diplomatic correspondence for comparison and discussion. Also no indication that he mentioned anything about the scandal involving financial misdoings in the purchase of various embassy properties by the Kenyan Foreign Ministry that has led Foreign Minister Wetangela to step aside to be investigated.

Record inflows to “Frontier Africa Funds” reflect continuing “mainstreaming” of global investment in Africa

Reuters reported record inflows of $660M into African regional equity funds in the past 12 months, with positive inflows in 51 of the 52 weeks based on a report from EPRF Global in Washington. Not large numbers on a global scale, but definite confirmation of the arrival of Africa into the mainstream of emerging markets equity investment.

Certainly this number is much smaller than aggregate aid flows of various types, but it also represents only public equity funds and does not capture the scope of overall international investment, particularly private equity. How this fits in to the overall development picture is a worthy subject of study. It surely creates opportunities for growth and reflects some underlying optimism in future governance and stability at least in some major markets.

One question of course is competition among developed countries for deals in a growing African market. Here is a fascinating story from Uganda’s “Independent” entitled “German, US, UK envoys fight over EC [Electoral Commission] tender”.

Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

At the suggestion of a Kenyan blogger active in democracy issues whom I have long followed and admired, I am going to raise some discussion here about the funding of election observations, who “pays the piper” and how that may matter in practice from my experience.

This will be an ongoing process and I will appreciate any feedback and discussion. One of the things that makes this difficult for me is that I submitted complaints about how the U.S. Ambassador interacted with the 2007 Kenyan Election Observation and Exit Poll programs that I was managing for IRI with USAID funding to the “hotlines” for the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID, but no substantive action resulted and much of what I have been concerned about has not seen print anywhere. And the same Ambassador is still running my country’s governmental presence in Kenya. So, given that my reason and intention for going to Kenya and getting involved in these things was to be helpful (to Kenyans) what is helpful to say now, recognizing that the past cannot be undone?

Let me start by fleshing out a distinction between types of observations: “diplomatic” observations and “assistance” observations. The goal of a diplomat of course is to represent his country and advance its interests as determined by policy makers. On the other hand, the immediate goal of “foreign assistance”, including “democracy promotion” or “democracy support” is presumably to help others, even though this may be done for any number of reasons involving self-interest. The fundamental problem we had with the IRI observation for Kenya in 2007 was that the Ambassador viewed the observation as a direct part of his endeavors as the controlling diplomat for the U.S. in Kenya in the lead up to the election, whereas IRI, prior to the election, viewed the effort as within an established practice for observations conducted by non-governmental organizations, with funding provided as a matter of foreign assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI, like NDI and the Carter Center, is party to a formal international agreement and accompanying code of conduct governing international election observation missions which is intended to provide for independence and objectivity.

It is important not to underestimate the significance of the reorganization of U.S. foreign assistance during the Clinton and Bush Administration, and now continued under the Obama Administration, which places USAID directly inside the State Department [for budget and planning purposes rather than as a matter of formal structure]. As a matter of bureaucratic and political reality, this may make any clear distinction between diplomacy and assistance impossible, especially in the field where an ambassador has largely unchecked powers. When you are dealing with feeding people, or providing health care or regular security training, for example, there may not be immediate tension once you set priorities in allocating resources, but in the case of an election observation mission, you are either committed to the election process in a neutral and objective way or you are not. So if people in the State Department at the level of Ambassador or higher, have the view that diplomatic interests are served by things other than strict neutrality and objectivity in an election campaign, and the State Department controls foreign assistance programs through USAID that provide election support, then as a practical matter there will be tension unless the Ambassador is truly committed to “playing by the rules”.

In Kenya in 2007 the Ambassador was directly sending out large numbers of U.S. government employees as “observers” of the election. I had been warned by USAID staff that the Ambassador considered the IRI international observation mission to be essentially part of his program, to my surprise. Subsequently he told me this was his view himself on one of his after hours cell calls to me to try to micromanage the selection of election observation delegates. Further to my surprise, I was told that higher levels of management at USAID were not in agreement with IRI on our need for independence.

This leads into discussion of another distinction: “national” versus “international”. IRI is a U.S. organization which gets almost all its funding from a combination of the State Department (including USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and works internationally. Notionally, IRI is a “core institution” established under NED, along with its sister organizations NDI, CIPE (the Center for International Private Enterprise, affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and the Solidarity Center (affiliated with the AFL-CIO union organization), but the lion’s share of the overall dollars now come from the State Department rather than from NED. For election observations, IRI will normally include non-U.S. delegates. In the case of Kenya in 2007 there were no other NGOs working internationally that had formal election observation missions to my knowledge, but there were a variety of African organizations, and there was an international observation mission from the Commonwealth. The EU is something of a special case. The EU of course is regional and inter-governmental, but operates an election observation program with professional staffing and that is intended to operate independently.

Backing up a bit to give more context, when I arrived in Kenya at the beginning of June 2007, USAID had no plans for an election observation mission for Kenya–likewise, IRI’s Washington office did not have any desire to seek one. The Ambassador told me early on that he wanted one, and had a list of people he had in mind as delegates, but there was still no plan from USAID to fund it until later when USAID said they would “move heaven and earth” to try to meet the Ambassador’s wishes. On the last day of the fiscal year (September 30) a request for proposals was released by USAID to CEPPS, a consortium of IRI, NDI and IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Both NDI and IFES were also already doing USAID work in Kenya for the elections, but the RFP was clearly written in such a way that it was intended for IRI rather than NDI or IFES. A small amount of money had apparently been found for the effort ($270,000) as opposed to several million that the EU spent for their observation. The RFP proposed an international election observation mission with USAID’s involvement to be the approval of the observing organization’s “key personnel”, specified as the chief delegate. Examples of other suggested delegates were given to correspond to the Ambassador’s list, but there was no contractual assertion of a right of government approval except as to the one position.

The Ambassador wanted the lead delegate to be either Connie Newman or Chester Crocker, both former Assistant Secretaries of State for African Affairs with whom he had worked closely. IRI invited both–Crocker declined due to a conflict and Newman, also an IRI board member, accepted. Nonetheless, it was IRI’s position that it was not appropriate for USAID to claim a contractual approval right over the selection of the head of the observation delegation, as opposed to IRI’s own staff. IRI submitted me and the IRI Vice President from Washington that would be the senior IRI staff person coming for the election instead, but USAID refused to accept this. As of the time of the election this was a standoff that had never been formally resolved.

The more substantive dispute was over former Ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy. When I mentioned Bellamy in one of the Ambassador’s calls to me regarding the delegates, he said Bellamy would be a bad choice because he was perceived as “anti-government” (i.e., critical of the Kibaki administration). Ultimately when Ranneberger got what was intended to be our final delegate list (I faxed it to him at USAID’s request two weeks before the election) he called me and gave me the full “treatment” to get Bellamy dropped, including saying that he would cancel the funding for the observation otherwise. When I passed this along to my office in Washington, IRI’s president called Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport for a trip to Thailand over Christmas and then called the Ambassador when he got there. I got the message back that it was agreed that we would nix Bellamy but that I was to accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.

In a nutshell, it was my understanding that there was complete agreement between myself and the senior IRI leadership in Washington going into the election that it was essential that we actively resist further intrusion by the Ambassador on our independence–with a common recognition that the Ambassador was attempting to involve us in things that we could not agree to. Unfortunately, once Ms. Newman arrived in Nairobi the weekend before the election she was the ranking person as an IRI board member as well as retired senior diplomat and the plans to make sure she kept her distance from the Ambassador were not effectuated and it was obvious that she was closely collaborating with him.

There was clear recognition within IRI of the need to maintain independence of the election observation function from the Ambassador’s other agenda, and a clearly expressed intention to do what needed to be done–but we failed. On balance, I don’t think we made the situation worse than it would have been if we had not done an observation at all, but we failed to help and thus wasted some money and a lot of hard work, and as Alex Halperin wrote in Slate in the first story published on our exit poll results, missed an opportunity to advance the interests of democracy.

So the lesson learned from the U.S. perspective should be, in my opinion, that U.S. policy makers need to make clear choices about whether to have “assistance” observations or “diplomatic” observations and recognize that allowing an Ambassador to call the shots makes an observation a diplomatic exercise rather than a bona-fide assistance program. There are in fact rules and regulations that are intended not to allow the Ambassador to override the process, but we have the same Ambassador getting into controversy about election assistance two years later in a new administration, so obviously the problem has not been given a high priority.

[Regarding the Slate article, I had been instructed by our press secretary in Washington not to return Mr. Halperin’s call on the exit poll, but he caught me on the cell on January 2 during the post-election violence and I said that I couldn’t confirm or deny the two reports he had regarding the results of the exit poll. He asked why we would do an exit poll and not release it and I explained that the poll included a great deal of information besides the presidential election results that was part of research that would be published so he should not assume we were trying to hide anything. (My superior in Washington later e-mailed that UCSD would not be able to publish the results under the circumstances, but they did go ahead anyway after the expiration of IRI’s six month exclusive right of publicity, as discussed in the NYTimes coverage.) I e-mailed Washington to report the conversation and noted the irony that when the story hit I was the one who was identified in the international media in defense of a decision that I disagreed with in not releasing the preliminary presidential results, or even making any statement at all about what our plans and intentions were in regard to the exit poll. A Kenyan blogger wrote that I should be subpoenaed to force IRI to disclose the results. ]