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”?

Kenya Election: Overall Observation on Observations [Updated]

This is a quote from an e-mail I sent to an expert back in the U.S. on my way home from Kenya, where I am now. As far as a candid summary of what I think happened in the Kenya elections:

Overall situation with observers was that they were extremely reticent to say anything of substance because of the fear of violence and the fact that IEBC process was ongoing. Further, because of Jubilee attacks on the British High Commission and the West more generally (in my opinion at least) there was an extra level of reticence to say anything that would confront the Government of Kenya election process. We ended up with little impact, if not window dressing, as far as I can see. Someday they will write final reports that might, I hope, involve a deeper look into the original vote count and subsequent events, as well as the prior problems that led to a small voter registration pool, etc.

See Robyn Dixon’s piece in the Los Angeles Times , “Kenya election over, dispute over outcome heads to Supreme Court”::

The narrow margin and repeated failures of the election commission raise the possibility that the Supreme Court could call for an audit of the election result, analysts said.

Kenyatta got 50.07% of the vote, crossing the line with a margin of some 8,000 votes out of more than 12 million cast.

Despite the failures, Kenya’s news media were muted in their reportage of the commission problems. Even international observers have tip-toed around the subject.
However, respected Kenyan anti-corruption crusader John Githongo called the election a failure Sunday. Githongo, an election monitor, said for months a group of community organizations had tried in vain to warn the election commission of problems in its systems and approach.

“In my personal opinion, it’s a failed election,” Githongo said in an interview with The Times. “I think the IEBC performance was catastrophic. I was part of a group of organizations that repeatedly warned them that these problems were there and on the way.”

Commission Chairman Issack Hassan denied the problems and failed to turn up for meetings with the organizations, according to Githongo.

Githongo said Kenyans were so keen to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the disputed 2007 poll that many, especially in the Kenyan media, kept silent about the obvious problems in the election commission.

. . . .

Githongo’s criticisms come after reports that Safaricom, the mobile phone provider involved in the electronic system that was supposed to transmit results to the central tallying point, also warned the commission of looming failures in the weeks before the election, and was also ignored.

Patrick Smith, editor of the journal Africa Confidential, said Western officials privately condemned the commission’s appalling performance but said nothing publicly “for fear of being seen as interfering in the election”.

. . . .

Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 Elections–Ranneberger at the ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and final tabulation of ballots and it did”

Westlands Primary-Line to Vote X

Another document released to me from my FOIA request to the State Department for documentation of the State Department observation of the Kenya elections is a cable from Ambassador Ranneberger from January 2, 2008 reflecting what he witnessed at the ECK. This was primarily declassified, with a few redactions.

Here are key excerpts, which deserve to be read carefully by those preparing to try for better elections this time.  It pretty well clarifies what Ranneberger saw as a credentialed observer at the ECK, and what he wanted to do, or not do, about it.

2. As previewed in ref B, much can happen between the
casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots and it did.
This message recaps developments reported in refs, provides current
state of play, and discusses next steps. Much of our reporting
during the past three days has been done by phone given our
intensive focus on operational issues, particularly efforts to
promote a positive outcome to the election imbroglio.

3. Elaborate procedures were in place (much of it with U.S.
support) to ensure transparency and accountability of the ballot
tabulation process. . . .

5. ECK officials and observers pursued these
allegations to some extent, but the ability to do so was
constrained by lack of time, original data from polling
stations, and by the behavior of a number of ECK officials
who delayed returning results and submitted incomplete or
clearly altered documentation. Moreover, the ECK has no
authority to open ballot boxes; only the courts do. During
the night of Dec. 29, ECK officials together with
representatives of the PNU and ODM, reviewed the tabulations,
but neither side was satisfied that the review had fully
addressed their concerns. The ECK partial review of the
irregularities was also of questionable credibility, given
that all of the commission members were appointed by the
Kibaki government, and a number of them were suspected of
being clearly biased and/or involved in doctoring at ECK
headquarters. The Chairman of the ECK, Samuel Kivuitu, who
was widely respected, was surrounded by staff of uncertain
reliability and competence. It is worth noting that
parliamentary results were not disputed because they were
tabulated and announced at constituency tabulation centers,
thus allowing no interference at ECK headquarters.

6. Kivuitu has only limited authority as head of the
ECK. The ECK works on a majority vote system. It is also
important to note that the ECK is required by law to announce
the results as received at the ECK from the tabulation
centers. Some obvious irregularities like reporting
unrealistically high turnout or clearly altered results can
be rejected. There was, however, only a rejection of the
results in one constituency in which violence resulted in
destroyed ballots. Other alleged irregularities, such as
announcing results that ECK personnel personally inflated
should have been, could have been, but were not corrected. At
one point Kivuitu told me that his concerns about the
tabulation process were serious enough that “if it were up
to me, I would not announce the results.” In the end, he
participated with other commissioners in an announcement late
on the 30th, which turned rowdy when Odinga walked with armed
bodyguards into a room packed with observers, including me,
party agents, and media Kivuitu and the other commissioners
retreated to their upstairs offices, where the results were
announced. Kibaki was quickly sworn in (this was Continue reading

Observations from the IFES Kenyan Election Event in Washington

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has the video up from their program last week in Washington with Kenyan IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan and IFES Country Director Michael Yard.

I found the program very useful and want to thank IFES for making this available.  With so many things going on right now in the region I have been hearing that people in Washington have not begun an intense focus on the Kenyan election preparation at this point, and I hope that this program will serve as a useful reminder of the huge scope of work to be accomplished in a relatively short period of time if Kenya is to be ready for a credible election process.

Michael Yard did a good job of emphasizing the magnitude of the task.  It has been widely recognized through the report of the Kreigler Commission and otherwise that the voter registration process was wholly inadequate in the last election (as reflected in Undersecretary of State Maria Otero‘s comment that “we recognize that over 2 million dead people voted”).    The IEBC says that they intend to implement a biometric registration system, which will obviously be a major undertaking.

In 2007 the number of polling stations was dramatically expanded to more than 20,000.  The domestic election monitoring program which had proven successful in 2002 was unfortunately not funded to make a commensurate increase and a high percentage of the polling stations were thus left without outside observers.  Nonetheless, with the increased demands placed on the voting system from the addition of voting for the new senate and the devolved local governments under the new constitution, the IEBC feels that they need to further reduce the number of voters at each polling station.  Their plans thus call for more than 40,000 polling stations.  This will place huge demands on both observation efforts and on the parties in deploying agents.

Hassan comes across as a “straight shooting” but soft spoken attorney, in contrast to the sometimes irascible Kivuitu from the 2007 ECK, and everyone is encouraged by the competitive screening and selection process for the new IEBC.  Nonetheless, we know now from hard experience that the pressures placed on the commissioners can be huge and it is crucial that active and transparent oversight by the donors supporting the election process be maintained throughout the effort to design and build a new national voting system.

It should also be noted that Parliament has not yet completed all of the necessary implementing legislation, including campaign finance laws, and most especially that the mechanism to handle the constitutional commitment to minimum representation of women in Parliament has not been resolved.  Of the major factors identified in the post-election settlement after the disaster in 2007, land reform has essentially been set aside and we can expect the new election to take place with IDPs outstanding from 2007-08, as well as from previous elections.  The cost of living, especially for food staples is more of a challenge than last time, and there has been no apparent counter to the reported flow of small arms into the potential Kenyan conflict zones following 2008.

Video from yesterday’s CSIS program on USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures program–James Long discusses election monitoring work

Featuring:

Maura O’ Neil, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Counselor to the Administrator, USAID

Thomas A. Khalil, Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation, National Economic Council

James Long, PhD candidate in Political Science, University of California San Diego (UCSD), and from September 2012 Academy Scholar at Harvard University and an Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Washington

Moderated by

Daniel F. Runde, Director of the Project on Prosperity and Development and Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Economist’s Boabob Blog features UCSD work on “smart” election monitoring

More great work to fight election fraud from my former colleagues on the USAID/UCSD/IRI Kenya exit poll, Clark Gibson and James Long:

“African elections:  How to save votes”

COULD smartphones help reduce electoral fraud in Africa and in other regions? At a recent forum hosted by the Brookings Institution on the ways that wireless technologies are affecting politics in various countries, Clark Gibson, a professor at the University of California, San Diego (USCD), presented findings from experiments in Afghanistan and Uganda which suggest that they can. Local researchers were deployed to polling stations armed with digital cameras and smartphones to take photographs of the publicly posted election tallies. The research found that this alone can cut electoral fraud by up to 60%.

The experiment was first developed during the 2010 Afghan elections by James Long and Michael Callen, then UCSD graduate students, with funding from the Development Innovation Ventures section at the United States Agency for International Development. . . . The research concluded that as a result electoral rigging was cut by 25% in the polling stations in the treatment group and the theft of ballot boxes and other election materials was reduced by 60%.

Mr Gibson replicated the experiment during the Ugandan presidential election last year, using a bigger sample of 1,000 polling stations scattered all around the country.  .  .  . using a special app developed by engineers at Qualcomm, a big technology company based in San Diego, the researchers this time were able immediately to send their data back to a server at UCSD. Academics there could then check to see if the voting numbers had been falsified by looking for give away number-patterns. They found again that vote tampering and ballot-box theft were much lower among polling stations that had received warning that a photo would be taken of their tally than among those that did not.

The technology is relatively cheap—smartphones cost around $250—and allows  more locals to get involved in monitoring elections. There is a great hunger for democracy in Africa and elsewhere, says, Mr Gibson, you can tell just by looking at the queues of voters who turn out on election day. Nothing is more dispiriting than to learn that their vote has been manipulated.

Unfortunately we didn’t have funding for separate electronic verification efforts in Kenya in 2007, but this should be that much cheaper and more readily feasible in Kenya for 2012/13. Knowing what happened last time there is no excuse not to have digital image verification this time.

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

The U.S. appears to have paid attention and avoided the pitfall of glossing over the questions about the election.

BBC reports on remarks by the U.S. Ambassador:

But the results’ credibility has been criticised by the EU, the Carter Center and other election monitors.

The US ambassador to the country said there had been several “irregularities”.

“The United States believes that the management and technical execution of these elections were seriously flawed,” Ambassador James Entwistle said in a statement to Reuters news agency.

“[They] lacked transparency and did not measure up to the positive democratic gains we have seen in recent African elections,” he said.

Mr Entwistle said that the US and other Western donors were offering technical assistance to the Congolese to review irregularities identified by observer missions, an offer which has already been welcomed by the country’s prime minister, he said.

The country’s Supreme Court must decide by 17 December whether or not to validate provisional results.

.  .  .  .

And the VOA reports on official comments from the State Department in Washington:

In a statement Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. assessment is based on reports from observation teams fielded by the U.S. and other embassies, as well as by independent election monitoring groups.

Nuland said it was not clear, however, whether the irregularities and lack of transparency were enough to change the outcome of the election.

She calls on Congolese authorities to conduct a “rapid technical review” of the electoral process which she says will help determine whether the irregularities resulted from poor organization or outright fraud. She said the U.S. is ready to give its “technical assistance,” for the review.

Kenya’s Referendum–Uchaguzi platform for citizen monitoring is up

Uchaguzi

Uchaguzi is a technology platform that allows citizens and civil society to monitor and report incidences around the electoral process.

Uchaguzi provides web and mobile-based channels for citizens and civil society to report on electoral offences such as intimidation, hate speech, vote buying, polling clerk bias, voting mis-information etc. The reports are then sent to the electoral authorities or security personnel for action.

Uchaguzi recognizes the need for empowering citizens in the protection of democracy by inspiring individual and collective action in enforcing transparency, accountability and efficient electoral service delivery.

Here is the BBC World Service on security preparations.

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. ]