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.

Next “Shoe to Drop”: Besigye to Return to Entebbe Wednesday Morning ahead of Museveni Swearing-in

Wednesday morning the Ugandan opposition/protest leader is due to land at Uganda’s international airport at Entebbe. The Museveni government is giving signs of that much less tolerance on the basis of Museveni’s swearing in as his rule extends for another term in its 25th year. Human Rights Watch has issued a report that is sharply critical of the government over violence against protestors, while the EU Election Observation Mission issued their Final Report on the February election on May 6 with a press release that seems more to address the current Walk to Work situation–and in a way that contrasts with the Human Rights Watch criticism–than the actual election. See quotes below.

Great report today from Will Ross in Kampala on BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent: “Would Uganda’s Museveni recognize his former self?”

One obvious question at this point is why the U.S. doesn’t seem to have more ability to influence the Ugandan military in a more professional direction.

“Human Rights Watch pins Government over Killings” in the Daily Monitor:

At least nine unarmed Ugandans were shot dead – many of them in the back – by government security agents in the recent walk-to-work protests despite not being involved in rioting, a new report says. In a report issued yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for a “prompt, independent, and thorough investigation” into the use of lethal force by security forces to counter the protests against the rising cost of living.

“Uganda’s security forces met the recent protests with live fire that killed peaceful demonstrators and even bystanders,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. Supporting the need for an investigation, she added: “For far too long Uganda’s government has allowed a climate of impunity for serious abuses by the police and military.” Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said the Professional Standards Unit and the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) were investigating all the shooting incidents. “Once there reports have been compiled, the police will be in position to avail details,” she told Daily Monitor last evening. She added that the Masaka shooting suspect was still in custody. “He will be arraigned in court any time from now,” she said, but declined to comment where the force would welcome an independent investigation team from the African Union and the United Nations.

The HRW report was released a few hours before women in civil society organisations marched peacefully and uneventfully through Kampala to protest against the security agencies’ brutal response to the protests that started last month. The women’s march followed a three-day strike by lawyers against the government’s response, which they said infringed on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

EU Election Observation Mission announces release of its final report:

The EU EOM drew up its Final Report independent of any European Union institution. However, it will now fall to the EU’s permanent representation in Uganda to follow up on the issues it raises.

Ambassador Ridolfi said: “The question of the legitimacy of the outcome of the election should not now be under question. Moving forward, what is important is that the government, political parties and civil society establish a peaceful and conducive dialogue inside and outside the parliament. “The European union is concerned about respect for the right to peaceful demonstration, as freedom of speech and assembly are fundamental pillars of any democracy. We call on the protesters to respect the law and conduct themselves in a peaceful manner. The police should act always in a proportionate and impartial fashion.”  Dr Ridolfi added: “On this, the EU is ready to engage positively with political dialogue and development actions.”

The EU EOM was invited by the Government of Uganda and the Uganda Electoral Commission to observe the entire electoral process. Around 120 observers were deployed to the country’s 112 electoral districts.

The EU EOM operates in accordance with the “Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation” adopted by a number of international bodies involved in election
observation at the United Nations in New York in 2005.

Djibouti Suspends USAID-funded Election Observation (with update)

UPDATE Mar 16: Following the reports here, the election observation team was ordered out of the country, reports the Financial Times.

With Djibouti’s presidential election scheduled for April 8, and opposition parties announcing plans to boycott and continue protests, the government has come out against an election observation mission that has been working since last fall.  The Financial Times story is here:

Djibouti has told the United States that an independent election observer mission is “illegal” and suspended its partnership with the US-funded mission.

The news came amid reports that the north-east African coastal state had arrested two opposition leaders on Friday.

Democracy International (DI), which has a $2.2m, eight-man team in the tiny strategic state, provides the only international technical assistance and observation group in the country, which has been ruled by the same dynasty since independence.

The increasing visibility of the Djibouti’s anti-democratic leanings is awkward for the US, which relies on the country for its only military base on the continent and last year doubled aid to the country, funding DI’s Djibouti operation. Many of its 3,000 troops are dedicated to fighting piracy and terrorism in neighbouring Somalia.

.  .  .  .

Sources say efforts to resolve the dispute with DI continue. “We have not closed up our operations, (but) we are not undertaking any active programming,” DI co-founder Glenn Cowan told the Financial Times, adding that the group still plans to observe the elections.

Today’s Bloomberg report is here The Washington Post reported on the mission in February, noting that no foreign journalists were working in the country. The story includes relatively positive comments by the mission head on the government’s approach to allowing protests and the political climate.

Uganda International Election Observation Roundup

“African Union observers fault Uganda election”, AP story at RealClearPolitics.

The leader of the AU observer mission, Gitobu Imanyara, said that many voters couldn’t vote due to the poor management of polling centers.

“Many voters with voter cards were turned away from polling stations because names could not be found on the voter registrar,” Imanyara said. “A good number of polling officials did not seem to have adequate training or confidence to perform their responsibilities and as a result procedures were not properly followed.”

Imanyara also said the large deployment of security forces on voting day could have intimidated some voters, and that allegations of vote buying by Museveni’s side undermined the integrity of the process.

Despite those shortcomings, Imanyara said the AU mission believed the 2011 election was better than the 2006 vote.

EU Uganda Election Observation Mission–Preliminary Statement:  “Improvements Marred by Avoidable Failures”

Chief Observer of the EU EOM, Mr Edward Scicluna, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), said the elections showed some improvement on those held in 2006. However, he said the electoral process was marred by avoidable administrative and logistical failures which led to an unacceptable number of Ugandan citizens being disenfranchised.

“In addition to this, we have found that the power of incumbency was exercised to such an extent as to compromise severely the level playing field between the competing candidates and political parties.” Mr Scicluna said the campaign was conducted in a “fairly open and free environment, in which freedoms of expression, assembly and association were generally respected”. At the same time, he noted a significant increase in campaign spending on 2006 and raised concern at what he described as the “monetisation” of the election.

“The distribution of money and gifts by candidates, a practice inconsistent with democratic principles, was widely observed by EU EOM observers.”

Mr Scicluna noted the lack of trust shown by stakeholders in the electoral process towards the Electoral Commission and the National Voter Register, the compilation of which it oversaw. At the same time, he welcomed the Commission’s adherence to best international practice by publishing the results as they became known polling station by polling station.

Joint EAC-COMESA-IGAD Uganda Observation:

In most polling stations visited, some teams observed general low voter turnout in the first six hours of voting; less than 50% of the voters had cast their votes. In some places such as Mbale, the team observed a few incidences of violence.

There was high presence of military personnel in fatigue uniforms which may have intimidated and frightened some voters. The capacity of the Election polling personnel to manage the voting process was inadequate. In some cases they did not have sufficient knowledge and skills on voting operations.

This was exemplified by slow voting process, unsealed ballot boxes and abdicating the role of guiding assisted voters to unauthorised personnel including the police and members of the public; Even though the open air voting lends itself a transparent voting process, it however compromises the secrecy of the ballot as witnessed in some areas. In certain cases, rain interfered with the voting process;

Uganda Commonwealth Observer Group:

 

Key Findings

  • The 18 February Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Uganda were the country’s 2nd multi-party elections. It is clear that in some respects the country is still in the process of consolidating its multi-party political system. There was a largely peaceful campaign and a reasonably calm Election Day in most areas but regrettably marred by localised incidents of violence.
  • However, some serious concerns remain which mirror findings highlighted after the 2006 elections. Of particular note is the lack of a level playing field and the “commercialisation of politics”, both of which will need to be addressed.
  • It is encouraging that during the election campaign basic freedoms, including freedom of association, freedom of movement and assembly, were generally provided for. Parties conducted extremely active national campaigns which attracted large crowds. The campaign was generally peaceful, though some localised incidents were reported. The Electoral Commission (EC) coordinated the campaign schedules and thereby contributed to the generally peaceful conduct of the campaign by ensuring party rallies did not overlap.
  • The 2011 elections were contested by more candidates compared to previous polls. But the lack of a level playing field and strong advantage of incumbency compromised the competitive nature of the polls. The ruling party in Uganda is by far the largest and best-resourced party and following many years in power, elements of the state structure are synonymous with the party. Further, reports regarding the “commercialisation of politics” by the distribution of vast amounts of money and gifts are most disturbing.
  • The EC undertook to improve the voter register with an extensive update and cleaning exercise aided by the use of Information Technology. Overall the register shows some improvement, but it is clear that it remains a work-in-progress with some names still missing and some voters lacking awareness of their place of poll. It is regrettable that the National Identification Card was not made ready for use during these elections.
  • On the day of the elections, our teams reported a reasonably calm process in the majority of areas, but with some localised incidents. We also noted reports of some other serious incidents of violence, which is deplorable. Our teams reported that in most areas the voting process proceeded reasonably well. The main problems encountered related to the widespread late delivery of materials and late opening of many polling stations; inconsistent application of procedures by polling officials and instances of voters not finding their names on the list, the scale of which varied. In some areas the nature of the presence of security forces, particularly the military, was a concern.
  • Our teams followed the count at polling stations and tabulation in a number of Districts. Overall, the polling station count was transparent, but again inconsistencies were observed, notably in the completion of documentation. At the District level, the process was again transparent and proceeded smoothly, but the poor completion of paperwork at polling stations became evident.
  • The new results aggregation system is welcomed as it helps increase transparency and the National Tally Centre provided access to timely and transparent information. During the tabulation, Observers did report tensions in Mbale outside the District office, reflecting tensions encountered in the area during voting, but elsewhere the process was calm.
  • We continue to follow the process and our Final Report containing our conclusions and recommendations will be made public in a few weeks.

Election Campaign

The election campaign was generally calm, with Presidential and Parliamentary candidates holding meetings across the country. The Electoral Commission’s coordination of campaign schedules to help to avoid direct clashes between party supporters was a great help in this regard. While a number of isolated incidents were reported these were the exception and not the norm, which is heartening. However, media monitoring reports indicate that the ruling party enjoyed a large advantage in coverage by state-owned radio and TV.

The main concern regarding the campaign, and indeed regarding the overall character of the election, was the lack of a level playing field, the use of money and abuse of incumbency in the process. The magnitude of resources that was deployed by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), its huge level of funding and overwhelming advantage of incumbency, once again, challenged the notion of a level playing field in the entire process. Indeed, the ‘money factor’ and widespread allegations of bribery, and other more subtle forms of buying allegiance were key features of the political campaign by some, if not all, the parties. By all accounts, the 2011 elections were Uganda’s most expensive ever. It is therefore important that for the future serious thought be given to election campaign financing and political party fundraising.

This is more so given that there are virtually no checks on the levels of campaign financing and expenditure due to the cash-based nature of the campaign and the lack of stringent campaign financing regulations, both of which facilitate the use of illicit payments to voters as inducements and has the potential to undermine their free will.

Electoral Framework and Management of the Electoral Process

The legal framework provides the basic conditions for a competitive election. However, in some ways it still reflects the pre-multi-party era. For instance, EC and senior District officials are directly appointed by the President. This has raised questions about their ability to be independent.

The late changes to the legal framework for the elections impacted on some of the Election Commission’s preparations. But overall it stuck to its published road map. The Election Commission held numerous meetings with stakeholders from political parties and civil society, but there were still complaints of lack of information on all issues. Further, the poor voting and counting procedures showed that the Election Commission had not adequately trained its staff.

The voter register remains a work-in-progress. While some improvements have been made following cleaning of the list and public verification exercises, many anomalies remained. The extent of this varies from area to area but the phenomena are consistent. The absence of voter cards or some other regulated form of ID together with the inaccuracies in the voters register opened the process up to abuse and disenfranchisement.

Uganda will next go to the polls for President in 2016.

Is There Any Cost to Museveni for Refusing to Reconstitute the Electoral Commission?

Certainly the United States, as a major donor, and others, seem to have tried hard to persuade Ugandan President Museveni to relinquish his unilaterally appointed electoral commission.  An independent electoral commission is to me clearly a necessary pre-condition for a fair electoral process–and we know now that allowing the incumbent president running for re-election to control the electoral commission was the fundamental thing that went wrong in Kenya’s election in late 2007.

Today’s Daily Monitor reports on the latest dust up about the suspect voter registration rolls:

A fresh disagreement is creeping between the Electoral Commission and the civil society after the latter said there could be about half a million or more duplicated voters particulars in the national register to be used on Friday. EC officials reportedly first unearthed the ‘ghost’ voters and the Democracy Monitoring Group (Dem-Group) yesterday said the official figure of 13.9 million registered voters is exaggerated.  Dem-Group officials, presenting to the EC team their findings following analysis of the national voter’s register, reported wide disparity between the official voter figures and probable adult population based on the 2002 population census.

Nonetheless, the EU, Commonwealth and COMESA observers are proceeding to observe the final stages leading to voting on Friday.  If Museveni wins without major violence, then it would seem that he will have successfully bested the “international community” which has made possible much of what he gets credit for in his tenure as president through assistance to his government.  One more bad example unless the donors find a will and a way to exact some cost.

See “Uganda goes to the polls in 5 days” at Chris Blattman’s blog, along with “The Africanist” for perspectives on the campaign itself.

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.

 

Museveni and Kenyan Politics, with America watching

The interplay of Ugandan and Kenyan politics continues, as covered in a fascinating story in the Standard, “Why Museveni is warming up to Kenyan politicians”. Well worth reading the whole thing.

Aside from the oil and ethnicity issues mentioned in the story, it is worth keeping in mind the value to Kenya–and to the United States–of Uganda’s troops serving in the AMISOM mission in Somalia. See the Jendayi Frazer interview with CFR.org from January 2008 on the impact of the post-election violence in Kenya in delaying a planned deployment to Somalia.

On the “Diplomacy or Assistance?” topic we will once again have dual U.S.-funded election observations for the Ugandan election in February, both the U.S. Embassy and IRI, like in Kenya. I have been waiting for well more than a year now for a response to my Freedom of Information Act request for the documentation behind the public statements made by the Embassy in Kenya about their observation of the Kenyan election. It will be interesting to see how transparent things are in Uganda this time.

See my April post “Odinga and Museveni, ICC”; and from January, “Secretary Clinton Keynote at National Prayer Breakfast and Museveni”, and “Somalia/Somaliland, Moi, Uganda . . . “

Kenya Referendum Retrospective–some lessons from the voting and election observation

This week will see the formal implementation of Kenya’s new Constitution to much fanfare. Before looking ahead, I wanted to take time to share by permission this excellent report from a grassroots election observation conducted in Western Kenya by Quaker Peace Network teams through a program called the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams.

For those of you who may not be familiar, roughly half the world’s Quakers are said to live in Africa’s Great Lakes region and Quaker Meeting Houses are common and important in Western Kenyan communities, including in areas impacted particularly by the 2007 post-election violence.

Yesterday we had the debriefing for the fifty observers. The feeling was that the new Interim Independent Electoral Commission did an excellent job of conducting the election. Yet there were some concerns:

1. It was not completely clear the criteria for the validity of the votes so that different poling stations rejected votes that other stations accepted.

2. In some communities the youth voted well, but in others very few youth voted. There needs to be more outreach to youth.

3. In some places the cell phones of the observers were confiscated for the day by the voting officials. This meant that the observer was out of communication and could not report something if needed. We felt that observers should be allowed to keep their cell phones, perhaps on vibration mode.

4. In at least one station, election officials were showing voters how they should vote.

5. There were no good guidelines on how illiterate voters should be handled when they did not come in with a family member to assist them.

6. In areas where there was violence after the 2007 election, some voters left to go back to their home community because they were afraid of violence after this election. This meant that these voters were disenfranchised.

My particular polling station in the hard hit town of Jua Kali had 80% turnout with 81% voting “No.” But it was in one of the 18 (out of 210) constituencies that had electronic registration of voters. Voters put their left thumb on a device that immediately brought up their picture, registration card, etc. on a computer. This worked extremely well with only about 5 people where it did not work These were sent to the Presiding Officer who checked their name manually on the hard copy–in every case the voter was a valid voter and allowed to cast his/her vote. Another significant innovation for most of the country was the Presiding Officer was give a special cell phone so that he/she could send a text message with the results from his/her station to headquarters in Nairobi. Results were being announced two hours after the polls closed and by 10:00 PM it was clear that the Yes side was winning by a landslide. There was no ability or time for rigging of voting returns at the headquarters as happened in the 2007 election. The cell phone results then had to verified by the official documents signed by the Presiding Officer and agents for the two sides.

In other words, as Andrew commented, although not much happened at the polling stations, our presence was a valuable part of the process. We found that most of the polling stations had no neutral election observers and in one constituency, the QPN observer was the only independent observer.

This type of detailed and candid reporting is what is needed to continue to improve the election process and the presence of a neutral peace-oriented group of grassroots observers living and working in the region seems ideal for the challenges presented by elections in this area.

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. ]