Don’t Mess from Texas: disturbing Privacy International report indicates Uhuruto re-election campaign bought Texas-based negative propaganda campaign (updated)

Read the important report here: “Texas media company hired by Trump created Kenyan president’s viral ‘anonymous’ attack campaign against rival, new investigation reveals“.

I am a native Texan myself, so I do not think that Texans are less likely to understand the moral, spiritual or foreign relations repercussions of aggressive tribalist propaganda on behalf of William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta than Americans in Idaho or Arkansas, say.  The problem is that the operation seems to have been conducted by a United States-based firm, staffed by Americans, orchestrating a digitized propaganda campaign directed against both Kenyan voters and those Americans such as myself and other amateur or professional “Kenya watchers” or U.S. government personnel who would conduct internet activity touching on Kenya politics and government.

The firm in question, Harris Media, based on this report but also their associated social media, seems to have affinity for what I think of as the “White Right”–the National Front, AfD, UKIP, Roy Moore, etc., aside from Trump.  I have noted the Uhuruto government courting these folks in the United States over the years — I won’t elaborate here but it has always troubled me as an American Southerner.  Some of these people also use Christian symbolism as part of their personal branding which is that much more troubling for me.

Unfortunately the Americans involved as of this writing have not filed a Foreign Agent Registration Act registration and made the associated disclosures to the Justice Department and the American public.

The Privacy International report appears to to reveal that the American firm was an “agent for a foreign principle” in conducting a propaganda campaign for Kenyatta and Ruto’s re-election, in substantial part through generating fear and loathing of the opposition. I do know that some of my friends in Washington wrongly predicted violent behavior on the part of the opposition in the context of the botched August 8 election. Could they have been influenced by this propaganda campaign, and/or by others that have not yet been uncovered by outside investigation?

A timely new read: “Selling Apartheid – South Africa’s Global Propaganda War”

 

I ordered this book through the University of Chicago at the African Studies Association meeting in Washington last month– newly published in the U.K. and released in 2015 in South Africa:

For fifty years the South African government spent an estimated $100 million annually on a campaign of disinformation, much of it in the US and UK.

New York Times journalist Ron Nixon provides a lively and shocking account of how power and influence were used to buy media coverage and create extensive support networks.  These included an unlikely coalition of anti-communist black conservatives, religious organizations and global corporations.

With all the current buzz about Russian involvement in U.S. and European elections and political controversies, and since I knew some of the people who played a role in this story through my work in the Republican Party during the later years of Apartheid, I was naturally glad to see this and anxious to read through and see what new I learn about this fairly recent era in US and African politics and relations.

See my post  Abramoff’s Africa and Obama’s America from 2012.

Update:  I’ve finished it and highly recommend.  Here is a review from The Daily Maverick.  Of personal interest, some events took place in familiar locales in Mississippi, and Jack Abramoff gave an interview with the author in 2014 in which he claims, amazingly, that he didn’t know that the  International Freedom Foundation which he helped found with South Africans in 1986 was a front for South African intelligence.  (Jack was in relevant news this week sharply criticizing Senator Marco Rubio for his questioning of Trump Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson during confirmation hearings.)

[Updated] Latest Podesta Group Foreign Agent disclosure filing on lobbying for Kenya: Media, Congress and Executive Branch, State Comptrollers and Treasurers

[Update March 25–readers have asked how much Kenyan taxpayers are giving the Podesta Group.  According to the Justice Department filings, the current 1 year contract through May 2016 costs $360,000 US, payable at $30,000 month in advance, plus expenses. So the minimum cost of the “contacts” shown at the link below for June-August is $90,000.]

The Podesta Group filed its latest supplement to its Foreign Agent Registration Act disclosure of lobbying contacts for the Government of Kenya with the U.S. Justice Department last month, covering its work during the third quarter of 2015:

Foreign Agent Registration Act filing Podesta Group Supplemental Statement 2-16 for 2015-Q3 Kenya

As you can see, the lobby group continued to work public relations efforts with media outlets such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Reuters and The Guardian, along with Congressional offices, the National Security Council, the State Department and other agencies, various think tanks, and financial officers of the States of Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.

See: Washington Post, New York Times, Poltico, Roll Call, Foreign Policy, Guardian, Financial Times, Reuters, Washington Diplomat

Another sad tale of why it IS hard to support democracy from inside the Beltway in Washington . . .

“Democracy Digest” from the National Endowment of Democracy reports on a perplexing problem that anyone who is interested in democracy support or promotion should give some serious attention to:

. . . But as President Barack Obama was telling the ruling military [in Egypt] to stop harassing pro-democracy groups, powerful lobbyists were pressing the regime’s case in Washington.

Egyptian security forces seized computers, documents, and tens of thousands of dollars in cash in December 29 raids on the offices of pro-democracy NGOs, including several Egyptian groups as well as the US-based National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

“The lobbyists quickly mobilized to provide Egypt with political cover, touching off a behind-the-scenes battle between K Street interests and U.S. officials — with potentially huge implications for the critical U.S.-Egyptian relationship,” Politico reports.

A lobbyist working for the Livingston Group immediately circulated talking points — which some Capitol Hill insiders suspect were drafted by Egyptian officials in Washington — claiming that the IRI and NDI were operating outside Egyptian law. These lobbyists vehemently opposed any calls for cuts in U.S. aid to Egypt. The United States gives Egypt roughly $2 billion per year in aid, mainly as military assistance.

“[There] are foreign NGOs working in Egypt without being licensed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Social Solidarity. Under this category falls NDI and IRI,” the talking points stated, which were obtained by POLITICO. “No organizations, entities or individuals, national or foreign, should be allowed to operate outside the law.”

IRI, NDI and Freedom House have pushed back hard, with help from their own high-profile supporters. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the chairman of IRI’s board of directors, while Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and a particular target of Egyptian ire, runs its program there. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is the head of NDI’s board, with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) serving as a vice chairman.

“I think what’s concerning about this, about where we are right now, is you have American citizens being hauled into the Egyptian Ministry of Justice and questioned, interrogated, and at the same time, you have American citizens — lobbyists — lobbying on Egypt’s behalf,” said Scott Mastic, IRI’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It’s very distressing.”

“I think a lot of people were very angry to see Livingston up here lobbying for the Egyptians after all this,” a congressional source told Politico. “Some people up here are pretty pissed.”

“To be prosecuted now strikes us as 100 percent political,” said Les Campbell, NDI’s Middle East program director. “This is more about what is happening in Egypt, and we’re caught in a Catch-22.”

For the record I had an entirely positive experience running the NED-funded portion of the IRI Kenya programming when I was Resident Director of the IRI East Africa office–the controversy that we ended up having was strictly about the Kenyan election observation and exit poll that the Ambassador got funding for through USAID which did not involve NED at all.

At the same time, it has to be noted that IRI certainly has Americans who are lobbyists for foreign governments on its board — including the board member who was the lead delegate for the Kenya election observation. What is being done to IRI and NDI–most especially to their local staffs who don’t have the protections associated with American citizenship–is to me very wrong and unfortunate. But what thuggish foreign government that can afford it does not hire one or more lobbyists in Washington to represent its interests (including opposing pressure for democratic reforms) unless it is prohibited by U.S. law from doing so?

We all read about the Abramoff scandals, etc., etc. I have noted here before some of the people who served this role for the Moi regime in Kenya at the same time IRI was doing an election observation back in 1992. Yes, it would be nice if Americans refused to do this work for foreign governments working at cross purposes with our professed values and our stated policies, but that just does not appear to be a realistic thing to hope for given the long track record of how these things work–this is not a new problem. [Update–it appears that the “naming and shaming” approach may have borne fruit in this case: “Lobbyists Drop Egypt’s Government as Client”, NYTimes.]

The Kenya Lobby, Corruption, and Hunger

Here is a link from the newly published digest of 2009 foreign lobbyist disclosure filings for Kenya from ProPublica and the Sunlight Foundations.

Assume some focus this year is on the MCC vote coming up for December 15 and the ICC indictment situation on a similar timeframe. New Congressional leadership and staff to cultivate for the new year. And then there’s the corruption.  [Update: here is a story from this fall in The Hill magazine entitled “Kenya turns to K Street to help reshape image”.]

Today at the Voice of America, John Githongo contradicts Government of Kenya spokesman Alfred Mutua regarding criticism of Kenya as a “swamp of corruption” in the wikileaked cables:

Kenya government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the comments are “malicious and a total misrepresentation of Kenya and its leaders.” However anti-corruption crusader John Githongo called them “quite accurate.” Githongo investigated domestic bribery and fraud as a journalist, and later as Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics of Kenya under the presidency of Mwai Kibaki.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is expected to be worse next year:

NAIROBI, 30 November 2010 (IRIN) – Kenya is likely to witness worsening food security, significant disease outbreaks, and further pockets of conflict in 2011, as well as a continuing flow of refugees from Somalia, say aid officials.

“There is a fear of La Niña compromising the [food security] gains made,” said Aeneas Chuma, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator at the 30 November launch of Kenya’s 2011 Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan (EHRP) appeal. Most of the US$525 million funding requested is expected to meet food security and refugee needs.

At present, the number of food aid beneficiaries has dropped to 1.2 million from a peak of 3.8 million during the 2009 drought due to favourable October-December 2009 short rains and March-May 2010 long rains. But numbers are expected to rise, with poor rains in eastern and northeastern regions, as well as lower levels in western areas.