An appreciation for church leaders and diplomats pushing dialogue in Kenya; next steps?

Someday, my hope remains, administration of elections in Kenya can be a straightforward and transparent affair that is not the stuff of secrets, drama and death.  However, that is not an option on today’s menu.  Church leaders by first speaking out earlier on the need for reform of the IEBC, followed by a call for dialogue now with escalating tensions and killings by police, have served the needs of the mwananchi; the foreign envoys who have spoken collectively both publicly and presumably privately during the recent opposition demonstrations and crackdown have added muscle toward an a needed de-escalation.

Next steps: let’s lance the boil of secrecy in the administration of elections; I firmly believe that Kenyans can be trusted to know how they voted and that counting votes in Kenya does not really have to be harder than in other countries.  

Without the secrecy, the opportunity opens for the more patriotic and more humane voices within the policitical process, both within parties and in civil society, to come to the fore.

Kenya: Police brutality, like other election violence, is used to rally political support as well as to suppress opposition

It is pollyannish not to appreciate that in a society as violent as Kenya’s, where violent crime and violent vigilanteism, along with police brutality, are features of everday life to be navigated by most Kenyans, the public reaction against or in favor of extra-legal violence by the police very much divides along political lines in accordance with who is delivering and who is receiving the violence.

It is the sort of thing that can be seen in the context of the height of the “civil rights movement” in the early 1960s in the American Deep South where I live.  Photographic and videographic images that shocked the rest of the United States and some of the rest of the world reflected police brutality under the command and for the purposes of political leaders who in some substantial part were playing for popular support among their own constituencies.  Not to argue that most white voters were necessarily in favor of particularly bad behavior by the police, but to note that popular support feeding political opportunism was part of the dynamic of repressive violence.

In this respect it has particularly saddened me to see Kenya led now by politicians who elevated themselves in the political ranks on the basis of their perceived reputations as champions of tribally organized violent politics after the failure of the 2007 vote count.

Kenya: Joint Statement from several Western diplomats

From: Nairobi, US Embassy Press Office
Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 4:59 PM

JOINT STATEMENT

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

Nic Hailey
High Commissioner for the United Kingdom

Jutta Frasch
Ambassador of Germany

David Angell
High Commissioner for Canada

Johan Borgstam
Ambassador of Sweden

Mette Knudsen
Ambassador of Denmark

Victor C. Rønneberg
Ambassador of Norway

John Feakes
High Commissioner for Australia

Frans Makken
Ambassador of the Netherlands

Rémi Marechaux
Ambassador of France

Roxane de Bilderling
Ambassador of Belgium

Stefano A. Dejak
Ambassador of the European Union

Pre-election violence in Kenya: here we go again?

The pre-election killings in Kenya in 2013 were “only” 500 or so as reported at the time.  The various branches of the Kenya Police Service were more restrained than they seem to be this cycle.  In the pre-election period the IEBC was well respected and trusted, having not experienced overlapping scandals and problems that materialized later and remain outstanding.

I think it is well worth remembering that in the especially violent and destabilizing election campaign of 2007, it was the deployment of the Administrative Police (the “AP”) to the western provinces on behalf of the Kibaki re-election effort just before the vote that first openly “militarized” the campaign.  I should have been more alarmed by the “physical” rather than simply electoral implications of that move at the time.

It seems to me that the open use of armed force for political advantage by an incumbent puts the opposition in an unavoidable “fight or flight” bind to the great risk of public safety and stability, affecting the majority who are ardently supportive of neither “side” in the actual campaign.

As Americans we naturally prefer to see Africans choose the “flight” option rather than the “fight” option in most cases.  There are a variety of reasons for this, some that are morally well grounded and some that are morally questionable.  Some of it is compassion; some of it is geopolitical self interest; part of it may be unique to more individualized interests and relationships.  In European countries especially, for instance Ukraine, and in other parts of the world, we often weigh these choices differently.  

In Kenya, it would be most convenient for us, of course, if the opposition stood down, kept quiet, and trusted their government and the donors to handle election administration like in 2007 and 2013.  We know that we cannot ask that explicitly and we see that the IEBC has lost wide confidence from the public but we seem to be unwilling to directly engage in support of reform now.

I would not want to see any of my Kenyan friends or acquaintences sacrifice bodily harm for any of the Kenyan politicians I knew personally from the 2007 campaign.  In 2007 I thought that Kalonzo, Kibaki and Odinga were all three reasonably plausible and well experienced, well known choices; the election itself ought not to have been seen as particularly high risk or high reward, one way or the other, for the vast majority of Kenyans.

However, as I am deeply grateful that my ancestors made the sacrifices required for me to inherit the benefits of a democratic system here in the United States, I would be embarrased to suggest–and am always disappointed to see my government imply–that Kenyans should simply knuckle under and accept that they do not have the freedom-in-fact that their constitution says on paper, under the law, that they have achieved. 

The opposition has generated an opening for reform through the aggressive and disturbing police brutality meted out against them by the government.  There needs to be a pivot, however, to a more nuanced approach if meaningful reform is to be achieved that advances the causes of both non-violent politics and freedom.

The opposition pols seem to focus on the personalities and roles of the IEBC commissioners.  Obviously someone like Hassan who has relished an extraneous public profile as the nemesis of one potential candidate has gone beyond the point of being a trusted neutral in the future, but the delay in the election date that seems to be in the offing from yet another round of procurement “issues” can cycle tainted individuals out of office.  Reform and systemic trust is a much deeper problem than that however–and it is too important to all Kenyans and the country as a whole to be left to the competing camps of pols.

Kenyan democrats should call out the donors.  If we say we are serious about supporting dialogue why not ask us to show a bit of leadership to go with our cash underwriting?

As for me, I am waiting on the first documents from months ago from a FOIA to USAID to understand more about our spending on the IEBC procurements last time.  No sign yet that our advocacy of “open government” is penetrating our approach to democracy assistance in Kenya, but I certainly think transparency would be hugely helpful in supporting real problem solving and rebuilding trust.

Latest “gangland style hit” of opposing voice in Kenya reminds of neglected seventh anniversary of the murder of Oscar Foundation leaders

Here is my remembrance post from last year for the sixth anniversary of the murders of Oscar Kingara and John Paul Oulu.  

The hit last week of Jacob Juma–a combative and controversial businessman who had taken on a public profile as a vocal critic of corruption in the Kenyatta government, and political proponent of the opposition–was clearly intended to send a chilling message.  Care was taken to make sure the killing was unambiguously seen to be an assassination even though it happened overnight without known third party witnesses.  It would have been simple to raise doubts about common robbery as a motive if the killers were worried about being caught as opposed to frightening other potential victims.

Juma had been “vocal” on  most of the hotest contemporary corruption topics, including the multi-faceted looting at the National Youth Service and the “Eurobond” debt.  The day of the hit, May 5, he was focused on the IEBC and “tweeted” a picture of former U.S. Ambassador Smith Hempstone from time of the end of the Cold War and the “second liberation” to the current ambassador.  

Kingara and Oulu will continue to be missed as Kenya is faced with yet another extrajudicial killing–the kind of thing that the Oscar Foundation investigated when its leaders where denounced by the Kenyan Government, then assassinated.

(Updated) U.S. and IGAD statements on #Djibouti election

imageIn the previous Djibouti election in 2011 the incumbent administration kicked out the US-funded Democracy International Election Observation Mission–this time we didn’t go, nor offer substantive criticism of Guellah’s latest re-election:

“The United States commends the Djiboutian people for peacefully exercising their right to vote during their country’s April 8 presidential election.

While elections are an integral component of all democratic societies, democracy is also built on the foundation of rule of law, civil liberties, and open political discourse between all stakeholders. We encourage the Government of Djibouti to support the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression for all of Djibouti’s citizens.

The United States has a strong partnership with Djibouti. We look forward to advancing our shared interests and helping Djiboutians build a more prosperous, secure, and democratic future. We take note of the reports released by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the African Union, and others and the recommendations by the African Union on improving future electoral processes in Djibouti. We hope to work with the Government of Djibouti to advance those recommendations.”

In addition to hosting AFRICOM’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and Japanese military, Djibouti has also agreed to what appears to be a significantly larger Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) base.  Obviously we can’t buy love, but perhaps Djibouti can buy quiet on democratization pressures?

See “Jostling for Djibouti” from Katrina Manson at the Financial Times. Outstanding journalism, setting the scene in the country before the vote.

From RFI’s Clea Broadhurst following the vote:

Ahead of Friday’s vote, opposition groups had complained of curbs on freedom of assembly while rights groups accused the government of political repression and crackdowns on basic freedoms.

Djibouti has been on the radar of human rights groups for some time, with allegations of a pattern of political repression and lack of freedom of expression. Just days before Friday’s election, three BBC journalists were detained and expelled from the country without explanation.

“Everybody knew that Ismaïl Omar Guelleh would be the winner of those elections. It’s important to understand the real opposition did boycott those elections because there was absolutely no guarantee for a fair, transparent and democratic election,” Dimitri Verdonck, the president of the association Culture and Progress working on human rights issues in Djibouti, told RFI.

“It’s important to know also that the international community is looking at these elections with a very high level of caution. The European Union did not send any observers in Djibouti, same goes for the United States and other partners of Djibouti – the only ones who did accept to be there during the elections are the Arab League and some members of the African Union. But nobody wants to give any credibility to these elections.”

Well, not no one exactly:  the dependable and indefatigable Issack Hassan, chair of Kenya’s IEBC, headed up an IGAD observation delegation. “The overall objective of the Mission was to observe the Presidential Elections held on April l 8th in Djibouti in the efforts by this country to conduct free, fair, and credible elections by providing positive and constructive feedback.”

Here is the Conclusion from the IGAD EOM Preliminary Statement:

CONCLUSION
IGAD Election Observer Mission was limited to three days observation only which entailed two days of pre-election assessment and the observation of the voting day on the poll opening, polling, poll closing and vote, counting and tallying processes. Therefore, the Mission will not be in a position to provide complete and comprehensive conclusions on the entire election process. However based on what it has been able to observe, the Mission preliminary conclusion is that the 2016 Presidential election was conducted in a transparent, peaceful, and orderly manner and in accordance with the Constitution and the laws governing the Republic of Djibouti.

IGAD wishes to take this opportunity to express its gratitude to Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Cooperation and the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Djibouti, the Constitutional Council, the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) as well as the Media for the assistance rendered to IGAD to make the Observer Mission task easy.

Finally, the Observer Mission would like to congratulate the people of the Republic of Djibouti for the peaceful and orderly manner in which they conducted the election and wish them peace, continuous progress and prosperity.

Done on 9th April 2016, Kempinski Palace Hotel,
Djibouti, Republic of Djibouti

Museveni’s Election Commission has released voting station data–putting Kenya’s IEBC to shame

See “Ballot box stuffing in Uganda elections: early analysis of open election data surfaces suspicious stations“from Drew Bollinger at developmentSEED.org.

Those who follow Kenya’s elections will remember that in the 2007 election, the Electoral Commission of Kenya, despite its generous USAID funding, never did publish alleged results at all below the level of the 212 parliamentary constituencies.  That in itself was damning evidence of the conclusion of my “War for History” series that all of us involved essentially saw the election being brazenly stolen.

In 2013 the “results” were again long kept secret by what was then then called the Independent Electoral  and Boundaries Commission or IEBC.  See “It’s mid-May, do you know where your election results are?” and “It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington”. (Much later partial publication was made, with many polling stations never surfacing, in spite of the claim by the IEBC that it had been able to reliably determine within days the presidential winner by .07% over the required threshold to avoid a second round of voting.)

Certainly the Ugandan election process roundly deserves the condemnation it has received, and the Election Commission is unequivocally appointed by the president/general Museveni himself rather than through a process that would create more plausible hopes of independence.  Nonetheless, the Ugandan EC has at least surpassed Kenya’s ECK and IEBC in it’s most fundamental of duties by an initial release of results.

Top new posts of 2015

USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers

Washington sees that Uhuru’s security approach is counterproductive; Kenya’s democrats must still counter Uhuru’s DC lobbyists to hope for better U.S. policy by 2017

“The War for History” part ten: What was going on in the State Department on Kenya’s failed election, recognizing change at IRI–and how the 2007 exit poll controversy turned into a boon for IRI in Kenya

Jamhuri Day no. 52–Secret “visa bans” are too little, too late from the USA to revive Kenya’s democratic spirit of 2002

Integrity Centre

US Secretary of State Kerry issued a short perfunctory statement of congratulations to Kenyans for Jumhuri Day, mentioning his visit to Kenya in May, but not President Obama’s visit in July.

I get tired of expressing my disappointment in my government’s approach to relations with Kenya’s government and informal power structure and I did not have much to say about Obama’s visit.  One particular item that got marginal attention in the Kenyan media and that I chose to ignore was an actual signed agreement between the Government of Kenya and the Government of the United States styled as a “Joint Commitment to Promote Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya“.  There is actually a fair bit of detail to this agreement in terms of process, meetings, communications, and such, aside from the platitudes suggesting that the same people with life-long track records of comfort with corruption in Kenya were suddenly born again  GooGoos (GooGoo being an old American slang term for “good government” types, referring to reformers who opposed corrupt urban political “machines” in large cities such as Chicago and my hometown of Kansas City).

In spite of the temporary boost to the UhuRuto administration from President Obama’s Nairobi visit, there has been a rising chorus of Kenyan grassroots umbrage to the extreme corruption levels as more and more scandals have emerged without, still, any actual sucessful prosecutions of major figures (meaning major players in either business or politics, or most likely both together) for any of the known thievery.

In the wake of the Pope’s visit, Uhuru–who has made conspicuous use of Roman Catholic photo props in his campaign and PR imagery since the contested 2013 vote–was said to have been moved or shamed to take some action, along the lines of the kinds of things that he had already agreed to do in his July agreement with the United States, to fight “graft”.  Perhaps.  “You just never know,” as some older conservative friends in Mississippi said when I tried to explain back in 2008 that everyone in Kenya knew that Barack Obama was born in the United States, not in Kenya.

What about on the United States side?  Does our government really want to change things now?  Here is what I would need to see to be persuaded that we have decided to change the game: 1) public follow up on the Goodyear bribes paid to public officials in Kenya [months have gone by now with no prosecutions in Kenya reported in the press after the parent company in the US turned itself in to the SEC and the Justice Department]; 2) public follow up on the bribery of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the 2013 election procurements [I finally submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request a few months ago to USAID on the procurements we paid for through IFES and for our dealings with the vendor Smith & Ouzman which was convicted in the UK of bribing the Kenyan IEBC–no documents or substantive response yet]; 3) public follow up on the issue of unnamed Kenyan officials being among those bribed by Chinese interests at the UN in New York resulting in U.S. indictments.

It has been credibly reported based on leaks that the new “visa bans” on travel to the US by Kenyan officials are quite extensive.  Great.  But we do this type of thing, if not quite to this extent, periodically.  Over the years it obviously has not added up to any strategic progress even if there may (or may not) have been a few tactical successes here or there. Bottom line is that I don’t think you can really fight corruption with secrecy–you have to chose your priorities.  And for my government to ignore the cases that have been publicly exposed in which we have some direct stake leaves me unconvinced that we have actually changed our priorities from 2007 and 2013 when I was in Kenya to see for myself.

One thing that we could do to make sure we are “practicing what we preach” on the governance side is for Congress to have oversight hearings about how we are carrying out the July 25 “Joint Agreement”.

Tanzania Decides: EU, Commonwealth, AU and SADC observers issue joint statement regarding election and Zanzibar annulment; call for transparency

October 29 Statement
internationalobservermissionsjointstatement_en.pdf

LSE’s Africa blog asks: Is Tanzania’s National Election Commission credible?