Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha reports that Trump Administration learned of staggering procurement corruption at top of DRC’s Election Commission “a few weeks before” 2018 election, stayed mum

In a must read story of “Africa in DC”, Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha peels back several layers of the story of how DRC strongman Joseph Kabila managed his 2016-19 election problem with the new Trump Administration: “A Secretive Company Needed to Convince Washington That Congo’s Election Would Be “Free and Fair.” It Found A Friendly Ear Among Trump Allies.

Previous reporting disclosed internal dissent within the State Department, including an early 2019 story from Robbie Graemer and Jeffcoate O’Donnell I noted here: “Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump Administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote.”

Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.

Update: Here is a link to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act filing of Mer Security and Communications, Ltd of Halon, Israel for the Government of the DRC for the 2018 election. And the filing of Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group for their subcontracted portion, including lobbying the National Security Council, and hosting “the Cobalt Reception”. (Further on Sonoran Group, see “Trump-linked lobbyist turns from Gulf Arabs to more toxic clients,” al-Monitor, Feb. 19, 2020.)

You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.

This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.

The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.

Update: Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy appears to have effectively announced the “climb down” by the State Department on supporting Tshisekedi as the de facto president at a CSIS dinner in Washington on January 30, 2019, while still asserting “In addition, we will continue to voice our disapproval of the poor implementation of a flawed electoral process, which was far below the standards of a fully democratic process. We will hold accountable those most responsible for undermining D.R.C.’s democratic processes and institutions.” Nagy celebrated a peaceful transition of power “that few thought possible”. “Ultimately, the Congolese people have the final word. After President Kabila left office, there have been no meaningful protests to the election outcome. Felix Tshisekedi has vowed to unite the country, reform the security forces and justice sector, fight corruption, and spur greater U.S. investment and it is in our interest to help him succeed.”

On March 21, 2019 the Treasury Department announced personal sanctions against the two top officials of CENI:

Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.

Consider in light of the ultimately similar context from Kabila’s alleged 2011 “re-election” during Secretary Clinton’s State Department tenure as I warned about in a post here on August 8, 2018: “With DRC’s Kabila Backing a Substitute Candidate This Year, Time to Review the International Observation Experience from 2011 Vote”:

At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.

Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.

In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist.  In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).

On the last election:

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring piece is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC — offer technical assistance

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

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

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

Here is the statement.

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

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

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

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

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

So, what’s next?

Challenging Nigeria International Election Observation may present tests of character (2nd update on lobbying/funding) #NigeriaDecides

International Election Observation Mission members, including those from IRI/NDI, are arriving in Nigeria for the general election Saturday in a difficult environment.

Although invited by Nigeria’s government there has been at least one unwelcoming statement and no one could deny that this is a hard job simply from the stakes of the election, the instability in some areas, the poverty and underdeveloped infrastructure faced by large portions of the voting population and the simple relative newness of regular competitive elections.

International election observation, which focuses on civil and political rights, is part of international human rights monitoring and must be conducted on the basis of the highest standards for impartiality concerning national political competitors and must be free from any bilateral or multilateral considerations that could conflict with impartiality. It assesses election processes in accordance with international principles for genuine democratic elections and domestic law, while recognizing that it is the people of a country who ultimately determine credibility and legitimacy of an election process.

Quoted is the standard of independence and impartiality to which the USAID-funded NDI/IRI International Election Observation Mission is pledged under the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (Oct. 2005).

The IRI/NDI Nigeria 2015 Observation Mission was funded directly by the State Department so shifting back to USAID funding this time is one of the positive things that I see as having potential to help preserve independence and maintain clarity between an Assistance Observation and a Diplomatic Observation to the benefit of the process.

See my post “President Trump’s Asst. Sec. of State for Africa candidly explains why election observation and technical assistance have to be ‘fire-walled’ from diplomacy to have integrity” for a current discussion and further links.

The joint IRI/NDI EOM model has positives and negatives in terms of actual and perceived independence. In Nigeria where democracy assistance is confronted by “resource curse” funded problems and lobbyists working “both sides of aisle” in Washington at a unusual level for an “African election”, along with prominent American campaign consultants usually involved, the joint model seems to me to have some important advantages over IRI or NDI doing a nonpartisan mission on its own, in-spite of the tradeoffs (alternatively you could go with the Carter Center as an “outside the beltway” if politically connected choice, or Democracy International as a truly private entity).

IRI in Africa from my now distant view has come quite far from some of the vulnerabilities that we faced in the 2007 Kenya Election Observation–experience is the best “capacity builder” and institutional funding and attention are now much more appropriate to the scope of the job. Some of my old Kenyan friends and colleagues who did such a great job running things on the ground in 2007 have stayed on and climbed the ladder. And we can expect this election in Nigeria to be better than their 2007 election, observed by many involved this year, as well.

Since Nigerian elections are always high profile and “on the map” in Washington there is no danger of overlooking the situation from that front. This Observation is long-planned and expected and well-funded; there have been an ongoing series of pre-election missions with reports on preparations. Likewise these observations have been going on with regularity throughout this century–and we’ve even been through the scenario of an incumbent seeking re-election during the Boko Haram war.

At the same time, you need no expertise to know that national elections are always challenging in Nigeria and that while cumulative progress has been made in some areas there are some particular concerns that have been reported on and discussed by this Observation Mission and others in the donor governments and media.

Thus, there may be hard calls ahead for the Observers, both on concerns they have already highlighted and from unexpected events as the voting, counting and disclosing play out.

American lobbyist and Ellen Johnston Sirleaf advisor Riva Levinson articulated part of the present challenge well in The Hill in Washington over the weekend: “At Risk: Credibility of U.S. democracy promotion in Africa“. Johnston Sirleaf is in Nigeria as lead observer for the ECOWAS intergovernmental Election Observation Mission and was co-lead for the most recent IRI-NDI Mission, “ZIEOM” in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE (Feb 12): Riva Levinson and her firm KRL are “registered foreign agents” in Washington for Retail Express Limited of Lagos, Nigeria. The Foreign Agent Registration Act filing from September 30, 2018 identifies this client as a “limited partnership which supports the goals of the Senate President of Nigeria, Dr. Aubakar Bukola Saraki, to engage international stakeholders in support of free and fair national elections in February, 2019, seek a level playing field for opposition parties, and convey the core tenants of the Senate President’s vision for the future of the country.” (She also currently lobbies for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Liberia and the Ministry of Finance of Ghana.)

Sakari lost the now-opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nomination to Atiku Abubarka but stayed in PDP, having defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) of Pres. Buhari in July. The PDP itself hired Ballard Partners as its Washington lobbyists for a year at $1,080,000 two days before Retail Express hired KRL.

Recent former diplomat and Council on Foreign Relations Africa lead Amb. Michelle Gavin had a notably hard-hitting CFR blog post last week headlined: “The Truth About United States Complicity in DRC’s Fraudulent Election” although in the text she just covers the macro level issue of diplomatically blessing an election whose official result was contrary to all available evidence.

We in the U.S. got partially off the hook in the DRC where the incumbent Kabila did not invite U.S.-funded or other international observers beyond the African diplomatic groupings (although I learned from Levinson’s piece that we provided funding for the Catholic Church run ‘Parallel Vote Count’, a fact I totally missed in the news reporting. USAID’s website indicates we were also providing “technical assistance” to the election management body CENI itself (!) which again I missed somehow in the news reports. These facts may have informed Gavin’s view even if the journalists that I read did not take notice.)

Update II (Feb 18): As it turns out, the U.S. not-for-profit IFES continued USAID-funded work with CENI, along with its partner IRI in the Coalition for Electoral Process and Party Strengthening (CEPPS) according to a brief overview on IFES’s website, and continues to work with CENI toward local elections. CENI hired its own Washington lobbying firm in 2018, Avenue Strategies, founded by former DJ Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (he left and set up a separate firm before the CENI contract). In January 2019 after CENI named Felix Tshisekedi as president-elect, Avenue Strategies also signed on to represent Tshisekedi as president-elect and now president.

Presumably, then, under the CEPPS mechanism USAID funded the third partner, NDI, for the work with the Catholic Church Parallel Vote Count. I will contact USAID to confirm the arrangement and see if they are willing to release any contractual details without a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

The Carter Center stood firm in calling out Kabila’s 2011″re-election” as failing to meet international standards. The State Department followed along in declining to bless the election and offering technical assistance to address irregularities back then, unlike the current situation which Levinson and Gavin question (although the diplomatic impetus for remediation at the presidential level in 2011 went away quickly).

See Dr. Carl LeVan’s Homepage “Development for Security” blog for an overview of the Nigeria election contest. Likewise, Amb. John Campbell’s “Nigeria’s Election: What to Know” at CFR.

Here is my piece from The Elephant in the wake of Kenya’s judicially annulled 2017 presidential election: “Free, Fair and Credible? Turning the Spotlight on Election Observers“.

[UPDATE III: here is the Preliminary Statement issued by the IRI/NDI Observation on February 25, after the delayed vote of February 23.]

International Election Observation Mission IRI Kenya Kibera Lavington Nairobi 2007

Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote

Foreign Policy has published a piece reporting significant internal dissent from the reversal of the U.S. position from significantly negative to largely positive on the recent DRC election:

. . . .

In a series of preliminary statements crafted by the team and released by the State Department on Jan. 3, 10, and 16—before confirmation of the final results—the United States sharply condemned reports of election-related interference and violence. The Jan. 3 statement included a threat that people involved “may find themselves not welcome in the United States and cut off from the U.S. financial system.”

With the Constitutional Court’s decision to confirm the election later in the month and with news of widespread election fraud, the group drafted a new U.S. response on Jan. 23. It noted the election results rather than welcoming them—a diplomatic way of signaling displeasure—and condemned the “deeply flawed and troubling” election, according to a draft reviewed by FP. It also stated that Congo’s electoral commission “failed to live up to the responsibility” it had to carry out elections fairly and ivowed that the United States would “hold accountable” any figures engaged in election fixing or violent crackdowns on any ensuing protests.

But none of this language made it into the final statement. Instead, Washington welcomed the results and declared itself committed to working with Tshisekedi. The revised statement made only passing mention to “electoral irregularities.”

Michael Hammer, the U.S. ambassador to Congo, along with Michael McKinley, a senior career diplomat advising Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, pushed for the revised statement, according to three U.S. officials. The department’s third-ranking official, David Hale, ultimately signed off on it, the officials said.

Senior U.S. officials in other agencies and some State Department officials—including the special envoy for the region, Pham—were kept out of the final decision entirely and did not know that a shift in policy was in the works, officials told FP. They said some officials found out about the shift in policy only once the statement came out. It left some of them fuming.

“If we said we’ll hold the government accountable … and five days later we congratulate a bunch of thieves, what good are our threats?” one senior U.S. official said.

One former State Department official familiar with the process said the implications went beyond Congo. “It was just a stupid decision to release that statement, a statement that has much bigger bearing on U.S. government democracy promotion in Africa,” the former official said.

The State Department, USAID, and NSC all declined to comment for this story. A State Department spokesperson also did not respond to a request to interview the senior diplomats who FP was told were involved in the process. . . . .

This is the kind of thing I always had hoped to see about Kenya 2007 where the U.S. initially relied on what my FOIA research indicates was a pre-determined blessing of Kibaki’s alleged re-election even after Ambassador Ranneberger witnessed vote totals being changed by the Kibaki-controlled Electoral Commission of Kenya and reported some pre-knowledge of unlawful rigging plans and conduct. In the face of violence the initial congratulations were withdrawn and the State Department pivoted to support a negotiation to include the opposition in a sharing of power with Kibaki. I know that there were differing internal opinions but I have never seen this level of public reporting on the internal debate.

Some of this may reflect differences in the internal environment and reporters’ expectations and aspirations during the Bush and Trump administrations as well as “the times” more generally. Regardless, I am glad to know more about how my government made this decision and encouraged that the problems with the positive statement final statement on the were recognized by some of those involved.

On the Congressional side, here is the January 18 Statement from the incoming Republican Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee:

Washington D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) released the following statement on the fraudulent election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“After eighteen years of the Kabila regime, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had a historic opportunity to give its people a voice by holding free and fair elections. Millions of Congolese bravely went to the polls to cast their vote amid long lines, intimidation and violence. Unfortunately, the fraudulent vote count does not demonstrate the will of the people. 

“I commend the African Union’s call for transparency and credible election results. All parties must refrain from violence as this process continues. It’s imperative for the United States and the rest of the world to stand with the Congolese people to demand an accurate vote tally and I urge Secretary Pompeo to fully engage at this pivotal moment. All individuals who impede this democratic process must be held accountable.”

I would also like to know more about slightly more gradual process of walking back the substance of our objections to Kabila’s 2011 re-election vote during the Obama administration.

Lake Edward into Congo

 

 

“Another Fine Mess” in Uganda? Time to read Helen Epstein on “America, Uganda, and the War on Terror” if you haven’t yet

I first bought a copy of “Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror“, by Helen Epstein, then “hot off the press” as a “sizzling indictment” of our policy in Uganda while evacuated to the Florida Panhandle from hurricane Maria last year.

Helen Epstein Uganda Another Fine Mess

This year in Northeast Florida were have missed Florence but are watching our neighbors in the Carolinas with concern. Meanwhile our neighbors in Uganda are suddenly on the radar screen in a heightened way.  Museveni’s political repression has struck an international nerve through the popular musician turned Member of Parliament and opposition by-election campaigner Bobi Wine.

See “Ugandan politician confronts diplomat over torture allegation” from VOA Africa.

Earlier this week Bobi Wine agreed to be represented pro bono in Washington by the Vanguard Africa Group.

Epstein’s book from the Columbia Global Reports series is a quick read (and inexpensive) so there is really no excuse to duck it if you are an American concerned about Uganda. Helen Epstein is an American with “skin in the game” in Uganda. She has lived there and worked with the failing health systems — her “active voice” as a critic comes not from the abstract but the specific. You do not have to agree with her about everything, or think she has figured out all our governmental secrets or inside-the-beltway motivations, but you would be foolish not to take her seriously and account for what she has to say.

Update: let me add here a couple of key blurbs for Epstein’s book from other writers who I have relied on and who will be well familiar to readers here:

William Easterly: “As her new book reveals, Helen Epstein is an eloquent advocate of human rights and democracy for Africans, as well as a courageous critic of how U.S. aid supports oppressive dictators like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.”

Michela Wrong: “For decades, Western policy-makers have hailed Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni as a benign autocrat, a charming African Bismarck and trusted partner in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Another Fine Mess reveals a far darker side to this key African ally, while exposing the cynicism at the heart of American policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. This gripping, iconoclastic, angry book raises a host of uncomfortable questions.”

I want to note that Epstein highlights my old friend the late Joel Barkan’s investigation of Uganda’s economic issues for the World Bank.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss this work with Joel a few years ago. Joel also prepared a prescient warning for American policy makers back in 2011 at CSIS of the risk of instability in Uganda with Museveni’s advancing age, elimination of term limits and need to transition.

[Note: Some of my Washington friends took a bit of umbrage about some of Helen’s real time reportage on Kenya’s last election–fine. If we were more transparent we would not risk being misunderstood; I was not in Kenya for the 2017 vote and at the end of the day we will have to see what the record shows. In that regard I am still working on 2007 and 2013. Uganda is Epstein’s lived experience in a different way.]

With DRC’s Kabila backing substitute candidate this year, time to review international observation experience from 2011 vote

[Updated Aug 9]

The Democratic Republic of Congo stands out as a wealthy country with mostly very poor voters, a fairly poor government, extremely poor governance, high corruption, pervasive political violence, a current humanitarian crisis on a Yemani scale and as a “honeypot” for some of the worst people in the world.

The announcement, at the filing deadline, that term-limited incumbent president Joseph Kabila would not be his faction’s candidate in the upcoming national elections (legally due last year) has generated some relief. See “Joseph Kabila, Congo strongman, will step down after 17 years in power” in the New York Times.

In Congress, Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he approved of Mr. Kabila’s decision — “after 17 dark and bloody years” — to step down.

“Now, deadly government crackdowns must stop so the Congolese people can choose their next president in free, fair and transparent elections,” Mr. Royce said. “Any credible election will allow opposition candidates to run campaigns free from legal harassment, intimidation and physical harm.”

A decent election in December would be a huge “win” for Congolese and for international democracy advocates but sobriety is in order as to whether that becomes a realistic possiblity as the much-delayed date approaches.

At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.

Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy.  If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason.  Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge.  The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.

In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist.  In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).

On the last election:

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring piece is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Weatern donors support review of election irregularities in DRC — offer technical assistance

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

Why does the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee keep leaving the Carter Center off their election hearings?

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations is holding a hearing Wednesday morning, March 18, on U.S. Election Support in Africa.

Good.  Unfortunately, as was that much more conspicuous with the hearing about the 2013 Kenyan election, the subcommittee has scheduled testimony from the IFES/NDI/IRI troika, but without the Carter Center scheduled.  The Carter Center conducted the USAID-funded Election Observation Mission itself for Kenya in 2013, so the omission was hard to understand on a hearing on that very election; it is still hard to understand for an Africa-wide hearing.  (I have no idea why things have turned out this way, I am simply making the point that Congress would have an opportunity to be better informed if this wasn’t just an “all in the Beltway” experience.)

For Kenya’s last vote, see Carter Center quietly publishes strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

For further discussion of the Subcommittee’s April 2013 Kenya hearing, see AfriCOG’s Seema Shah asks in Foreign Policy: “Are U.S. Election Watchdogs Enabling Bad Behavior in Kenya?”

In new developments, now with the British #Chickengate prosecutions for bribing Kenyan election officials: USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers.

The Carter Center also observed the 2002 and 1997 elections in Kenya, along with many others, including the most recent election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2011 which provides perhaps another set of lessons as the Kabila government arrests democracy supporters and even a U.S. diplomat.

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC–offer technical assistance.

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

IRI Poll Releae Press Conference

Friday Reading [updated]

Update–here is a new blog post from Progressio on the Somaliland election: “Election hots up, but remains largely peaceful.”

Somaliland election–preliminary observation report due on Monday.. Initial impressions are generally positive.

Turnout is low in Kenya’s voter registration so far.

The legal petition challenging the legal eligibility of ICC defendants Kenyatta and Ruto to seek the Kenyan presidency was suddenly dropped Thursday. The civil society petitioners’ lawyer, Ambrose Weda, “promised” an amended re-filing that would also seek an eligibility ruling on the other 3 candidates, Kalonzo, Odinga and Mudavadi:

There had been speculation that the group withdrew their petition as a result of pressure. Lawyer Ambrose Weda denied this, but in an interview with DW’s “Africalink”, political analyst Martin Oloo said he believed that they been under intense pressure and that “with the passage of time, we’ll get to know the details.”

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has released a detailed report on the Tana River violence: well organized and planned attacks and killing. Fundamental tension over resources will remain unless/until solved. Download “28 Days of Terror in the Delta”.

Andrea Bohnstedt in The Star: “Anti-Corruption Fight in Uganda Seems Dead”.

James North in The Nation on M23, the DRC, Rwanda and the West.

U.S. Policy Toward a Post-Election Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb. 12, 2012 Testimony of Daniel Baer, Deputy Asst. Sec., Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, before House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights; Testimony of Don Yamamoto, Principal Deputy Asst. Sec, Bureau of African Affairs, Dept. of State; Testimony of Sarah Mendelson, Deputy Asst. Admin. for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs, USAID.

“LRA nutures the next generation of child soldiers”–IRIN story from the DRC

I thought I should note a very interesting story today from IRIN, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

FARADJE, 26 March 2012 (IRIN) – The dilemma for Atati Faustin, 13, from Faradje in Haut-Uélé District, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is that although he misses his younger brother – abducted into the ranks of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) two years ago – he is also afraid of being reunited with him.

“I want my brother back,” he told IRIN, “but if I see him I would run. I am scared of him. I feel like he has died.”

Displaced with about 1,300 people from the nearby village of Kimbinzi in 2008 following repeated LRA attacks, and relocated to Ngubu, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Faradje, he has not yet encountered him, but others in the community have – dishevelled, with dreadlocks, and carrying an AK47 assault rifle and a panga.

Kimbinzi is about 7km from the camp and occasionally some villagers return under a military escort provided by Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) to till the fields, as crops planted on land provided for them close to the River Dungu are routinely destroyed by hippos. Only young men return (during daylight hours) to Kimbinzi in a phenomenon described by relief workers as “pendulum movement” – women and children stay in the relative safety of Ngubu. .  .  .
Ugandan aid worker George Omoma has tracked the carnage left in the LRA’s wake across three countries, where children are not so much collateral damage, as the focus of LRA activity.

“Kony tells his people that it is not you [adults] that will overthrow the [Ugandan] government, it is the children. He wants to create a new generation of the LRA,” Omoma told IRIN.

Omoma is in Dungu helping to establish a rehabilitation centre for child victims of the LRA by the Catholic Church and NGOs Sponsoring Children and the San- Diego-based Invisible Children. When operations start later this year, the facility will be able to provide accommodation, counselling, training and education to hundreds of former child soldiers and abductees. .  .  .  .

Breeding child soldiers

Dominic Ongwen has risen through the ranks to become the LRA’s most senior commander in the DRC and is the armed group’s most notorious example of a kidnapped boy forced into child soldiering and who is now wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Sam Otto Ladere has appeared on the radar with a similar personnel history to Ongwen. He commands a group of 17 fighters falling under the command of Vincent Okumu Binany in the DRC.

Matthew Brubacher, political affairs officer working with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC’s (MONUSCO’s) Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) unit, and an LRA specialist based in the eastern DRC city of Goma, told IRIN Ladere was abducted at a young age from a village west of Gulu.

“Ladere is one of the up and coming commanders. He is very trusted. This was evidenced by his being placed as chief of intelligence after Maj-Gen Acellam Ceasar was suspended following the execution of Lt-Gen Vincent Otti on 2 October 2007, even though Ladere was only a captain,” he said. DDRRR is working on a radio message on their FM network to try and lure him out of the bush.

Omoma said former abductees and child soldiers had told him of Ladere’s brutality.

Kony has taken many wives. At the Juba peace talks in 2006 it was estimated he had about 80 wives and it is unknown how many children the rebel leader has fathered.

“I don’t know how many Kony kids are active in the LRA, probably quite a few. There are a few bush kids now that were born and bred in the LRA. They are pretty wild when they come out as they have never known civilization,” Brubacher said.

Certainly the idea that the LRA has been able to continue to fester and mutate and perhaps in part replicate should be given some consideration in evaluating what priority to place on military efforts against the relatively small number of active fighters that appear to remain at present.

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

“Congo Opposition Rejects Early Poll Results,” Financial Times [It is a bad sign that “the money quote” is anonymous]:

.  .  .  .

According to the latest partial results, Mr Kabila is winning most support from the mining-rich Katanga province, his stronghold. Some observers have questioned the use of an unaudited voter registration system, which allotted Katanga 4.6m voters, 50 per cent more than the capital Kinshasa, home to 10m people.

A UN Security Council meeting last week noted some electoral irregularities but pressed for a peaceful conclusion to the polls.

“There is no [international] appetite to press for transparency, but just pushing to accept whatever result [the poll commission] comes up with is not going to bring peace,” one Congo expert told the FT. “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

Joshua Marks, of the National Endowment for Democracy, a US-funded foundation, said: “The Security Council wants to avoid violence at all costs. He added: “It’s patronising to the Congolese people. . . You’re still going to have these unresolved grievances in the country and an ever larger number of people against the Kabila regime.”

Despite mineral wealth in copper, gold and diamonds, Congo has slipped to the bottom of global development rankings under Mr Kabila’s latest term, as the country recovers from the 1998-2003 war in which an estimated 5m people died. A clutch of rebel militias still hold sway in the east.

A real election requires credible preparation by a credible election commission and credible dispute resolution mechanisms.  The DRC election has already gone this far (past the actual voting) without the “international community” blowing the whistle.  The Carter Center and the EU observation missions have made clear that there are serious issues with the preparation and execution of the election by the government.   The actors who have supported the process to date need to stay engaged and stay committed as the process continues.

Congolese voters need hope that it makes some difference who they voted for, just like voters anywhere are entitled to expect.  A pretense that the voters cannot believe in can be expected to drive violence.

Here is the Nov. 28 preliminary post-election statement from the Carter Center election observation mission.