A series of backstories of building tensions with the latest election approaching on the layers of accumulated grief and injustice. This is the stuff you don’t hear if you don’t have a practiced ear to the ground in Kenya and may be glossed over in the usual discussion in foreign capitals and international press. And material that is too topical for the traditional Kenyan media with political power at stake.
Congratulations to The Elephant for “speaking truth to power”.
The technology problems will be all too familiar, of course, to Kenyans and others who were involved or closely observed the 2007 and 2013 elections, or were involved in writing up any of the many commission papers, evaluation reports, etc. associated with those misadventures.
Sadly, it may be that the die has already been cast for this year in that the IEBC Commissioners were not replaced until too late to have the requisite time on the job to adequately prepare for the election (a key recommendation from the 2008 “Kreigler Commission”). For the most part they have inherited the work of their predecessors and the staff they hired who made crucial decisions like planning a huge expansion of the number of polling places, while failing to address the corruption in the failed technology procurements or make adequate progress on replacements.
With the new Commissioners taking office, officials from President Kenyatta’s party launched a public attack on the U.S. election assistance effort which is being run by IFES, and singling out long time IFES country director and USAID Chief of Party Mike Yard, who seems to have been the one person with both the most longevity and the best reputation involved in process. And then there were visa problems and other Government of Kenya directed disruptions. I am sure its a coincidence [ha!] but Mr. Yard took on a new challenge earlier this year as Country Director for Libya. Thus, a new director arriving less than five months before the scheduled vote. (I arrived in Kenya roughly six months before the 2007 election and am still learning on a continuing basis things no one told me that I should have known about that election.)
Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role. Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to provide the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation. Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.
One other factor is that IFES does have some separate funding for 2014-18 work from the Canadian International Development Agency this time.
No incumbent president has been recognized by a Kenyan election management body as having lost a re-election bid. Presumably the immediate foreign policy priorities of the United States in Kenya in August will be weighted to the stability of our long time “partner” Kenya. As the State Department continues the process of consolidation of control of USAID as we have seen over the previous U.S. administrations in moving from the 2007 to 2013 now to 2017 election, it will be that much harder to for people handling democracy assistance at USAID to stand firm for the long term interests, and statutory and legal priority of the U.S. to support democracy in the face of competing claims from the diplomatic and defense constituencies within our government which will presumably have incentives to placate the incumbent.
Election observation has always been controversial in Kenya. In the first multi-party presidential election in 1992, Ambassador Smith Hempstone, according to his memoir, recommended having NDI observe the election, anticipating an incoming Clinton administration. President Moi, who used the Republican consulting firm Black, Manafort and Stone, refused to entertain NDI, writes Hempstone, but agreed to IRI. In 1997 and 2002, the observation agreement went to the Carter Center, then to IRI in 2007 (that year USAID did not want to do an observation, as I have written, but Ambassador Ranneberger instigated having IRI observe), then back to the Carter Center in 2013. Observers inevitably get criticized for being too critical or too lenient towards the Kenyan process, which has always been messy.
In my year 2007, the EU and the domestic donor-funded observers stood up initially to the ECK’s obvious irregularities, while IRI was initially neutered. Eventually IRI released both its exit poll indicating an opposition win (August 2008) and a highly critical final report (July 2008).
In both those 2007 and 2013 elections, as in 2002, IFES worked inside the IEBC to provide technical support and did not have an “observation” role. Bill Sweeney , the IFES President, later testified to Congress that the 2013 election was a great success from the IFES standpoint because Kenya “did not burn”. The terminology of the Kenyan constitution for a successful election is “free and fair” as opposed to “did not burn”. Maybe I am just too much of a lawyer in how I look at these things, but I do not think we should have USAID help underwrite elections to a “do not burn” rather than “free and fair” standard to the the tune of $25M when people are literally starving to death in the neighborhood and aid budgets are being cut.
I do not want Kenya to burn, and I hope and pray that this year’s election is less violent than 1992, 1997 or 2007–and even 2013 when “only” 400-500 people were killed in politically driven violence in the pre-election months and only a few protesters were killed by police after the vote. In general terms the reason that people die over elections in Kenya is because they are governed by killers, not because Kenyans aspire to actually have their votes counted honestly and openly.
Political tensions are rising in Kenya ahead of elections in August for the presidency and other senior posts. Measures taken now can avert the risk of a repeat of electoral violence that killed hundreds of people in 2007-2008.
. . . .
The equipment for transmitting results from polling places to the tallying centre is as important as the voter kits. Past elections were compromised by lack of transparency in tallying and transmitting. The installation of a transparent, efficient electoral management system would go a long way to assuaging public concerns. Unfortunately, rushed procurement, with little lead-time for testing, may set the IEBC up for failure. That would also deepen suspicions in a situation already marked by significant tension between parties. Government steps to limit the role of external partners, such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, that can offer valuable technical assistance, have not helped.
. . . .
International partners should extend technical and financial help to the IEBC to help it better tackle the challenges. This should, however, be done with nuance, flexibility and complete transparency, in light of unfounded claims by the ruling party that external parties are seeking to influence the electoral outcome. International observers should be deployed in time to monitor crucial stages of the electoral process, such as verification of the vote register and procurement of electoral materials.
. . . .
Unfortunately, USAID is still stuck on maintaining minimal, at most, public disclosure, rather than adapt to the recommendations of the Crisis Group and the obvious lessons to be learned from the failure of 2007, especially, and 2013.
While USAID Kenya has confirmed for me that their original December 2015 Request for Agreement (“RFA”) for the $20M “Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017” remains a public document at http://www.grants.gov, the subsequent Agreement between USAID and IFES is not being treated as public. Americans who want to understand our government’s approach to subsidizing the Government of Kenya’s election would be well advised to study the Request for Agreement (rfa-615-16-000001-keap-2017) closely to understand the basic structure, but will need to “ask around” informally to get any actual detail as the election now rapidly approaches. Likewise, Kenyans who want to have input in the administration of their own election.
Meanwhile, still no documents whatsoever, from my October 2015 request for USAID documents relating to our support for the 2013 Kenya election (!).
From: Nairobi, US Embassy Press Office
Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 4:59 PM
Heads of Mission on Recent Violent Demonstrations in Kenya
May 24, 2016
We are deeply concerned by the escalation of violence during the demonstrations in Kenyan cities on 23 May around the future of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The deaths and injuries of Kenyan citizens were tragic and unnecessary. We urge the Government of Kenya to investigate the actions of the security services and to hold accountable anyone responsible for the use of excessive force. We call on all demonstrators to act peacefully.
Violence will not resolve the issues regarding the future of the IEBC or ensure the 2017 elections are free and credible. We strongly urge all Kenyans to come together to de-escalate the situation and to resolve their differences, taking every opportunity for inclusive dialogue. Kenyans should talk, and any compromise must be implemented in accord with Kenya’s Constitution and the rule of law. As partners, we stand ready to support such a dialogue in any way that is useful.
# # #
This statement has been issued by the following Heads of Mission in Kenya:
Robert F. Godec
Ambassador of the United States
High Commissioner for the United Kingdom
I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration. It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.
In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction. More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally. In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.
I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard. Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.
There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure. My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.
To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there. The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.
Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts. While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.
A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State. I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.
While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces. The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times. The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi. Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.
Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder. As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation. Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading →
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”.
On Kenya’s police, Jeffrey Gettleman has an outstanding story in the New York Times: “Police Killing in Kenya Deepens Aura of Menace”. Gettleman ties a compelling story of what amounts to the “typical” extrajudicial execution of two bothers in Nairobi’s slums to the massacre of new police recruits in Samburu:
The two episodes were hundreds of miles apart and technically had nothing to do with each other. But beneath them was the same rotten root: a spectacularly dysfunctional national police force.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give our police a 2,” said Macharia Njeru, the chairman of Kenya’s new police oversight board, citing corruption allegations, human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, failed inquiries and lost public trust.
“The list is endless,” Mr. Njeru said.
. . . .
“On the face of it, it’s quite clear that the police leadership totally failed,” Mr. Njeru said. “The senior commanders were sleeping on the job.”
Kenya’s news media have characterized the massacre as the single most disastrous episode for the Kenyan police since independence in 1963. Unlike Kenya’s thriving business community, its booming safari industry or its reforming judiciary, Mr. Njeru said, the national police service has intentionally been kept weak for decades so it could be manipulated by politicians.
The concept of the various reforms under the new Constitution is great, but surely it is time to face the fact that it is simply too late for deep substantive change. Of course every effort should be made by Kenya’s international supporters to intervene and step up as well as possible, but let us not kid ourselves. It has been almost 59 months since the 2007 election disaster–the Kenyan police are still in the state they are in, with less than four months to go to March 4, 2013 because the Kenyan powers that be chose the status quo instead of reform (and for obvious reasons).
Again, please remember that current Kenyan Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere was the commander of the Kenya Police’s GSU (“General Service Unit”) branch during the 2007 election and its aftermath.
. . . the Government has made some important steps. A task force appointed in March 2003 is drawing a road map for the Police Reforms. The Commissioner of Police is committed to a Police Force whose members are motivated, people friendly, open, relaxed and honest with one another and the public; know their role and mandate and be proud of their job; appreciated by the public…
The just concluded Constitutional review holds a promise for the establishment of an emancipated Police Service, that will operate in conformity with democratic transformation from the current practice of Regime Policing to Democratic Policing (Community Policing)
These measures augur well with the Police Reforms as well as the goodwill of citizens. An international survey conducted in January 2003 placed Kenyan’s as the most optimistic citizens in the world. The Government will do well to tap into this optimism. It is the energy that will drive the nation’s transformation to Its desired destination.
For citizen’s security:this is the moment.
Yes, 2003 was in fact “the moment”. Let’s not let 2013 be remembered as a different kind of “moment”.
No big surprises here, but worth reading for anyone planning to be involved from here forward. The most unique thing about these reports is monitoring of public opinion in regard to the various reform and election preparations issues. Takeaways: confirmation that the public nationally has still had a high level of support for the ICC process. In Central and Rift Valley, support is significantly less than elsewhere, but still nears 50%. Confidence in the independence and expected effectiveness of the IEBC was holding up in spite of the problems with the BVR tender. The reform process for the judiciary has been well received with a big increase in confidence in the courts versus the past. On the other hand, nothing of significance has been done in regard to land issues, there has been little done of police reform, and the early pre-election violence has contributed to a large increase in the level of insecurity and expectations for violence around the elections. Interestingly, however, there has been some uptick in perceptions of the police in spite of the lack of progress in implementing major reform.
A personal observation is that confidence in the IEBC is a double-edged sword. If the IEBC has a real chance to deliver a fair and fully legitimate election, then a high level of public support going in can have significant advantages in encouraging the public to avoid cynicism, participate in the process, tone down “negative ethnicity” and avoid pre-election violence, etc. Perhaps most importantly, it could help buy patience in addressing issues and problems that will inevitably arise in the final stages of a close election. On the other hand, if the 2013 election turns out to be openly irregular as in 2007, the dashed expectations should be expected to be naturally volatile.
A candidate who uses public wealth in political campaigns will be fined Sh10 million or jailed for six years.
If Mr Miguna Miguna were to repeat his feat of wrestling Chepalungu MP Isaac Rutto to the ground at the main tallying centre, he would be liable to a Sh1 million fine or a jail term of five years.
Even a thirsty voter who accepts a bottle of water or soda from a political party representative could find himself or herself on the wrong side of the law.
These are among a wide range of offences contained in the Elections Act to curb vote rigging, hooliganism and bribery as Kenyans head to the polls scheduled for March 4, 2013.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) bosses have promised to enforce the law to the letter and appealed to all politicians and voters to follow it.
“We have to learn from the lessons of 2007/08. . . .”
. . . .
Commission chief executive James Oswago said the laws would be enforced following the creation of the departments of prosecution and investigations at the IEBC.
“We are in a position to investigate offences and prosecute cases without referring to any other authority,” he said.
Offences range from falsifying and buying voters cards, double registration, conduct at polling stations, secrecy of commission staff, undue influence, bribery, use of violence, use of public resources and use of national security organs to gain advantage.
While I am certainly all for the concept, there is also an important lesson in the saying “you have to crawl before you can walk”. For one thing, enforcement authority in the Electoral Commission is a new thing and the capacity has to be created from scratch with the campaign already ongoing. And the culture of politics in Kenya certainly won’t change overnight. To date, there have been no prosecutions of even the most egregious election offenses at the highest levels from the last election, much less the rampant “garden variety” vote buying. Impunity has a fifty-year history.
Just as with implementation of the latest technologies, the new IEBC needs to be careful about realism and resources–and maintaining its credibility by not over-promising while trying to do more than is possible in its inaugural effort. A lot of sober judgment is going to be required to prioritize and focus enforcement in an evenhanded way that weeds out the worst offenses and ends up generating real progress that Kenyans can see and “buy”.
Today is the final “Saba Saba Day” in Kenya under the “Government of National Unity.” The presidential campaigns are in full swing and new political parties, alliances and temporary coalitions are announced and denounced weekly.
So how is Kenya?
To be positive, there are lots of important things right in Kenya (as always).
For one thing, there is energy in politics and some real hope that votes will be counted and thus that Kenyans will chose their leaders going forward under the new Constitution. Of course it must be remembered that Kenyans were more hopeful in 2007. An improvement politically is a lack of complacency or naiveté.
The economy in the aggregate continues to grow and attract increased foreign investment. Over the last couple of years taking note of Africa as the last great investment frontier has gotten so commonplace as to be, finally, cliché.
Kenya has tremendous advantages in reference to serving international investors over most other Sub-Saharan African countries at the inception. Aside from Indian Ocean coastline which makes Kenya a natural gateway for Asian trade, Kenya speaks global English and is home to Nairobi which was already well-established during the era of what I have called “the aid bubble” as the favored location for internationals. Whatever happens in South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia in the next few years, a lot of the international support/involvement will come through and be “back officed” in Nairobi. Kenya has been the key regional military ally of the United States throughout its history, while separately serving as “Americans’ favorite African country” in the popular imagination, and attracting a lion’s share of private tourism and aid/mission activity. And of course there are close ties to Great Britain and British companies of long-standing and plenty of interchange with the rest of Europe. Nairobi has been an attractive draw for white African businessmen, especially since the mid-90s, and has become more Continue reading →