Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha reports that Trump Administration learned of staggering procurement corruption at top of DRC’s Election Commission “a few weeks before” 2018 election, stayed mum

In a must read story of “Africa in DC”, Buzzfeed’s Albert Samaha peels back several layers of the story of how DRC strongman Joseph Kabila managed his 2016-19 election problem with the new Trump Administration: “A Secretive Company Needed to Convince Washington That Congo’s Election Would Be “Free and Fair.” It Found A Friendly Ear Among Trump Allies.

Previous reporting disclosed internal dissent within the State Department, including an early 2019 story from Robbie Graemer and Jeffcoate O’Donnell I noted here: “Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump Administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote.”

Kabila’s innovation was to turn directly to his Israeli surveillance and security contractors to broker the hiring of lobbyists connected to the Trump Administration, such as Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group who repped the Kenyatta-Ruto Administration in Washington during its 2017 re-election effort. Kenyatta hired Stryk through the Kenyan foreign ministry rather than through surveillance contractors. One could suggest that the use of outside-the-Beltway intermediaries raised eyebrows and ultimately loosened tongues.

Update: Here is a link to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act filing of Mer Security and Communications, Ltd of Halon, Israel for the Government of the DRC for the 2018 election. And the filing of Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group for their subcontracted portion, including lobbying the National Security Council, and hosting “the Cobalt Reception”. (Further on Sonoran Group, see “Trump-linked lobbyist turns from Gulf Arabs to more toxic clients,” al-Monitor, Feb. 19, 2020.)

You owe it to yourself to read Samaha’s whole story, but the thing that is most profoundly disappointing to me is the report that my government learned about massive corruption at the CENI in time to say something before the vote but elected not to.

This casts new color to the internal debate within the U.S. government over what to say and do, and what to disclose, when CENI subsequently announced “results” that lacked credibility.

The excuse for not speaking to government-sponsored election fraud is supposedly the fear of instability from aggrieved voters faced with intransigent incumbents—a real concern—but how can we claim to be serious about democracy support when we chose to keep quite on obviously debilitating fraud before the vote? A key question for me about the Kenyan election disaster in 2007 has always been how much we knew about Kibaki’s intentions before the election, having documented through FOIA that Ambassador Ranneberger personally witnessed the wrongful changing of tallies at the Kenyan IEBC but still encouraged Kenyans to accept the vote without disclosure.

Update: Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy appears to have effectively announced the “climb down” by the State Department on supporting Tshisekedi as the de facto president at a CSIS dinner in Washington on January 30, 2019, while still asserting “In addition, we will continue to voice our disapproval of the poor implementation of a flawed electoral process, which was far below the standards of a fully democratic process. We will hold accountable those most responsible for undermining D.R.C.’s democratic processes and institutions.” Nagy celebrated a peaceful transition of power “that few thought possible”. “Ultimately, the Congolese people have the final word. After President Kabila left office, there have been no meaningful protests to the election outcome. Felix Tshisekedi has vowed to unite the country, reform the security forces and justice sector, fight corruption, and spur greater U.S. investment and it is in our interest to help him succeed.”

On March 21, 2019 the Treasury Department announced personal sanctions against the two top officials of CENI:

Under Nangaa’s leadership, CENI officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate. Nangaa, with other CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership. Nangaa approved the withdrawal of CENI operation funds for non-authorized budget items for personal use by DRC government employees. Nangaa ordered CENI employees to fabricate expense receipts to cover spending gaps resulting from CENI funds being used for personal gain. Nangaa delivered bribes to Constitutional Court justices to uphold a decision by the CENI to delay DRC’s 2016 elections.

Consider in light of the ultimately similar context from Kabila’s alleged 2011 “re-election” during Secretary Clinton’s State Department tenure as I warned about in a post here on August 8, 2018: “With DRC’s Kabila Backing a Substitute Candidate This Year, Time to Review the International Observation Experience from 2011 Vote”:

At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.

Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy. If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason. Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge. The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.

In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist.  In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).

On the last election:

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring piece is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC — offer technical assistance

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

US Senate: more on collaboration by Moi’s former consultants Manafort and Stone with Wikileaks and Russian spy Kilimnik on behalf of Trump

For context see “Kenya’s Moi hired Paul Manafort and Roger Stone to lobby National Democratic Institute and others in 1992 election“.

Here is how The Los Angeles Times morning newsletter describes yesterday’s US Senate release:

‘A Grave Counterintelligence Threat’

President Trump‘s 2016 campaign eagerly capitalized on Russia’s efforts to meddle in the U.S. election four years ago, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report from Republicans and Democrats that raises new concerns about connections between Trump’s top aides and Moscow.

As Russian military intelligence officers were releasing hacked Democratic Party emails through WikiLeaks, the report said, the Trump campaign “sought to maximize the impact of those leaks” and “created messaging strategies” around them. The report found that the Trump campaign “publicly undermined” the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was behind the email hack and “was indifferent to whether it and Wikileaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort.”

The 966-page document describes Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman who is serving prison time for financial crimes, as “a grave counterintelligence threat” because of his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business partner in Ukraine who is conclusively described as a “Russian intelligence officer.” Manafort and Kilimnik used encrypted messaging applications and codes to communicate, sometimes telling each other to look at the “tea bag” or the “updated travel schedule” when it was time to check the email account they shared, according to the report, which represents a rare bipartisan consensus on a hotly contested topic.

The report includes new details about Roger Stone communicating with Trump about Wikileaks and concerns about whether anyone encouraged Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, to lie about Trump’s pursuit of a luxury skyscraper in Moscow during the campaign.

This fifth and final volume from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian election meddling in 2016 arrives soon after Trump’s own intelligence officials have warned that Moscow is revisiting its playbookahead of the 2020 election by trying to undermine Joe Biden.

More at “Senate’s Russia Report Implicates More Than Trump’s Campaign“, Bloomberg Quint, Eli Lake, Aug. 19, 2019.

Old Party Office in Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Kenya’s Moi hired Paul Manfort and Roger Stone’s firm to lobby the National Democratic Institute and others ahead of 1992 election

Back in the 2008 presidential campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama, Senator McCain got some criticism for using Charlie Black, previously of the Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly firm as a campaign consultant in part because of the firm’s background in lobbying in Washington for various dictators like Moi and Mobutu of African nations and Marcos of the Philippines. More recently, the spotlight has shifted to Paul Manafort and Roger Stone from that storied firm who have been convicted recently of multiple felonies related to their service to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and in Manafort’s case also involving money laundering associated with more recent work for a Russian oligarch in Ukrainian politics.

Washington reporting that I saw during the 2008 campaign noting the Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly work for Moi had a significant oversight in accepting spin that the Moi relationship had concluded with the end of the Cold War and the beginning of active U.S. support for democratization in Africa, including the push on Moi to legalize non-KANU parties, which came to fruition in the December 1991 legalization of political opposition.

My guess is that reporters relied on an incomplete aggregator rather than going directly to the original Foreign Agent Registration Act filings (online at http://www.fara.gov). Regardless, the point is that Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly made a third filing for Kenya under Moi for March 1, 1992 to February 28, 1993 that covers Moi’s December 29, 1992 re-election. Along with the U.S. Executive and Legislative branches, Black Manafort Stone & Kelly were to lobby the IMF and World Bank and “public interest and activist groups such as the Black Caucus, Africa Watch, Environmentalists, National Democratic Institute, Civil Rights Lawyers, African-American Institute, Article 19 (journalists) and other activists and public interest groups.”

[Another discrepancy is that the summary list on the Justice Department website lists an incorrect name, a successor firm, for the Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly, Inc. filing for 1992-93.]

As I have written previously, see “My Joel Barkan Tribute“, US Ambassador Smith Hempstone, a George H.W. Bush political appointee, wrote in his memoir Rogue Ambassador that he had recommended to Moi that Kenya allow the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to observe that first post-independence multi-party election featuring FORD-Kenya (Jaramogi Oginga Odinga), Ford-Asili (Kenneth Matiba) and the Democratic Party (Mwai Kibaki) among others challenging Moi’s KANU. Moi vetoed NDI for the Election Observation Mission but went ahead to invite “sister organization” the International Republican Institute (IRI) for whom I served years later in 2007-08 as Resident Director for East Africa in Nairobi.

IRI and NDI are private District of Columbia not-for-profit corporations established originally at the Republican and Democratic National Committees, respectively. Along with two other special purpose democracy assistance not-for-profits associated with two other parents, the United States Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO (an affiation of labor unions), these four “core institutes” receive funding from the National Endowment for Democracy or NED, pursuant to 1983 legislation. NED receives direct funding from the United States Government and is also able to raise private donations, as are the four “core institutes”.

It never came to my attention one way or the other whether Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly consulted Moi on the decision to reject NDI in favor of IRI or what Moi’s considerations might have been in taking that position. Nor of the State Department, USAID and/or others in the US Government and in IRI in going along.

Moi was re-elected according to the Electoral Commission of Kenya with approximately 36% of the vote.

The election was seen as badly flawed but nonetheless representing “the will of the people”. Presumably that would mean a recognition that within a year of opposition being legalized and with State resources deployed on behalf of Moi, a good 2/3 of Kenyans wanted to replace him, but without a runoff or a pre-election “deal” among the fledgling opposition parties Moi would be able to keep power and claim to have switched from a single-party authoritarian system to a “democratic mandate” without giving up power or persuading a majority of Kenyans that he deserved it.

After Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in the November 1992 elections, Bush launched Operation Restore Hope, landing Marines and Navy Special Forces on the beach in Somalia December 9 leading UNITAF, a new UN humanitarian mission to replace UNISOM I, the ultimate predecessor of the current AMISOM which began in 2007. See an early official postmortem on Operation Restore Hope from the United States Institute for Peace here.

In Kenya after 27 years the Moi family remains prominent in political and business matters in Kenya with the son of Moi’s original benefactor Jomo Kenyatta eventually succeeding Moi as president in 2013 after a 2003-2013 interregnum under Mwai Kibaki who was Moi’s Vice President for the first ten years of his presidency from 1978 to 1988.