Election Observation as “Diplomacy or Assistance” in practice
We learned four years after the 2007 Kenyan election from my 2009 Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department that U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger had witnessed in person the inflation of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya leading to the announcement of Kibaki as the winner of the election by 230,000 votes on December 30, 2007. This is described in my post Part Ten—FOIA Documents from the Kenya 2007 election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots, and it did”.
We also learned that Ranneberger was with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorf, at the ECK while witnessing what happened.
Ranneberger’s cable back to Washington explaining what he saw and his version of its significance is notably backward looking, as it is dated January 2, 2008, the Wednesday after Kibaki was sworn in at twilight Sunday. He explains that most of his contemporaneous reporting to Washington had been oral due to the exigencies of events. By the time of this cable quite a number of people were dead and injured by the police in suppressing protest and by other violence such as the infamous church burning in the Rift Valley.
On January 1, 2008, the day before the cable, the EU Election Observation Mission released its Preliminary Statement on the election, with Lambsdorf presenting and answering questions from the press and public at the Intercontinental Hotel. The EU Observers strongly criticized the fraud. The EU at that time was pressing for remedial action on the election fraud while the US was pushing for a “power sharing” settlement after Ranneberger initially promoted acceptance of the results speaking to the media from Nairobi. Back in Washington the State Department’s Africa Bureau had election day media guidance stressing that the opposition might claim fraud regardless if they lost and when the results were announced the State Department spokesman issued congratulations to Kibaki that evening which were “walked back” the next day.
On December 28, the day after the election, Ranneberger sent the last of the cables I have been provided before the January 2 cable explaining the fraudulent tallying, titled “Kenya’s Elections–A Positive Process Thus Far” as discussed in “Part Six–What did the U.S. Ambassador report to Washington the day after the Kenyan election?”. In this cable he reiterated his assertion that it was in the diplomatic interest of the United States for the election to be a “positive example” and a “watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy”.
“Advancing U.S. Interests”
We will keep the Department closely informed as results become clearer. At this point, there are sound reasons to believe that this election process will be a very positive example for the continent and for the developing world, that it will represent a watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy, and that it will, therefore, significantly advance U.S. interests. The Kenyan people will view the U.S. as having played an important and neutral role in encouraging a positive election process” [End]
In a December 24 cable titled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections” Ranneberger had been explicit that it was in the U.S. diplomatic interest to be able to treat the announced outcome by the ECK as credible.
Thus we have a clear example of an election observer and a diplomat witnessing election fraud together and reacting in contradictory ways, and an explanation from the diplomat from the produced cables of his a priori position as to the interests of his client in how the election would come to be seen.
We don’t know from any of this what anyone in Washington thought about the interests of the United States as opposed to Ranneberger’s assertions to them. Nor where Kivuitu’s expression of concern to Ranneberger prior to the election (which is not reflected in these cables) fits in; nor a possible election eve meeting among the Ambassador, Kibaki advisor Stanley Murage and Connie Newman, the designated lead delegate for the International Republican Institute election observation mission (it was agreed in advance among the IRI staff that such a meeting “must not happen” but in spite of my precautions there were a couple of logistical windows of opportunity when such a meeting may have been possible; again nothing in the cables I have received to explain the purpose of a meeting or whether or not it actually took place).
What we do know is that an independent election observation mission is in a position to be objective about the facts of the conduct of an election in way that a diplomatic mission is unlikely to be. In terms of the “war for history”–whether Kibaki’s second term was in fact the result of a stolen election–the independent observers rather than the diplomats should be the point of reference for the facts.