Is Washington finally losing patience with governance by UhuRuto? If so, what is seen as “the way forward”?

I touched a few bases while briefly in Washington recently. I was left with the impression of general “benign neglect” on Kenya, which would be expected given the overwhelming number of more immediate crisis situations around East Africa, such as the South Sudan “civil war/state failure” situation, escalating tensions between the Kagame and Museveni regimes, the uncontained Ebola crisis, etc. And always the war in Somalia.

Nonetheless, there are those who work or engage with Kenya more specifically on a less seasonal basis who will unavoidably have noticed how badly the Government of Kenya has been underperforming just as a factual matter regardless of the diplomatic angles of the day.

All this is to lay the groundwork for my great interest in a couple of news items today:

1). First was the report that Ambassador McCarter had said in Kisimu that the U.S. was putting on hold financing for the Bechtel Mombasa-Nairobi expressway due to concerns about corruption risk and debt levels escalating costs such that the intended value to the Kenyan people was not delivered. Here is the version from “Kenyans.co.ke” which has been running a bunch of pieces bringing up events from political inflection points from years past with no specific explanation of the timing, such as the piece I posted about last week taken off from my June 2017 piece in The Elephant on “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics was Frozen and a Election Stolen with U.S. Connivance“.

As a private American “friend of Kenya” and taxpayer I am quite gratified by this willingness to change policy to address current “facts on the ground” and to actually “walk the talk” on “anti-corruption” even if it involves possibly giving up a big subsidized project for a very big well-connected private business owned by a group of Americans.

I have been concerned about this project for the reasons identified by the Ambassador but have not wanted to say much without being close enough to have details and not wanting to be seen as an inveterate naysayer or unduly skeptical about things where I am not that well informed.

Maybe Ambassador McCarter can end up being a “breath of fresh air” and is actually serious in his talk of zero tolerance for corruption in a way that would be different from the ordinary diplomacy where we run hot-and-cold at best. If no one explained to him as a political appointee from outside Washington that “zero” among diplomats ends up as shorthand for a wide range of dollar values in varying circumstances explained in the addendums and codicils, as opposed to just “zero” as it might mean to a businessman in downstate Illinois, then maybe Kenyan cartel leaders need to be worried a bit after all?

And if people in Washington have their hands full or are not focused on the immediate situation in Kenya, and with what we read about how national security policy management is working in Washington these days, it may well be that McCarter has that much greater practical latitude “on the ground”? Likewise, usually an Ambassador in Kenya will have the potential distraction of career considerations not dissimilar to people working in the government in Washington; this would not seem to be a challenge for McCarter. (And maybe he isn’t looking to be a lobbyist for a neighboring warlord in a black hat, and an oil and gas consultant and an investor-broker in USAID-funded health business, for instance.)

There are obvious sociocultural and political barriers to how McCarter will be perceived in Washington and among Americans who typically engage with foreign policy on Kenya or are “Kenyanists” or “Africanists” with focus on Kenya, but open minds are warranted. And maybe that works both directions.

Part of what is so striking here is how much Uhuru Kenyatta has in the past seemed to be arguably “Donald Trump’s signature African leader”–not so much that they are seen to really know each other or have some personal rapport, but rather that in the face of general lack of signs of personal interest in Africa from Trump we still have Uhuru at least included in meetings and doing photo ops with Trump in Europe, Canada and Washington, if not yet Mar-a-Lago, during the first two years of the Administration. Even though he was such a favorite of some in the Bush-Obama years.

So surely putting the Bechtel deal on hold suggests that there is finally heightened willingness to openly acknowledge that governance is simply not now what it was cracked up to be from our previous public diplomacy in recent years.

2) Next is Macharia Gaitho in the Daily Nation publishing today’s column: “Either rebels in Jubilee ranks join opposition, or Uhuru steps down” calling out Jubilee’s divide:

The politicians who contrive to insert his name [Deputy President Ruto’s] into every issue do the DP no favours at all. It does not help his image or his 2022 presidential election prospects when his name is used to fly cover for disreputable leaders caught on the wrong side of the law.

. . . .

As an elected member in his own right, a Majority Leader [Sen. Kipchumba Murkomen] does owe a duty to his constituents. Where conflicted, however, he could consult internally within the government and party organs.If his concerns are not adequately addressed, then the honourable thing would be to relinquish the Majority Leader role so that he can, in good conscience, speak out for his people both inside and outside Parliament.

As it is, what we are seeing from Mr Murkomen’s now frequent outbursts are the hallmark of rebellion. This is rebellion not from one disaffected individual, but a powerful Ruto faction in Jubilee that is unhappy with the path pursued by President Kenyatta.

Jubilee cannot govern effectively when it has such a powerful opposition within; hence the rudderless, dysfunctional government seemingly sabotaging its own efforts.

This is not a healthy situation. Maybe, it would be best for Mr Ruto and his cohorts to resign and go officially into opposition or for President Kenyatta to throw up his hands in surrender and leave the burden of leadership to those more able.

Now I don’t know and haven’t asked, but there have been recent times when Gaitho has seemed to be carrying a message, such as the time when he explained that Raila’s fellowship at Yale was intended to be a perk to ease into a honorable retirement, not a springboard to run yet again in 2017. Different Kenyan columnists are in this role at different times it has seemed over the years. See “Six years an Ambassador: Godec’s Kenya valedictory with Macharia Gaitho”.

This background made me figuratively “perk up my ears” when I read the Gaitho blast after the news on the Bechtel expressway deal.

As a practical matter, there are certain ironies any time it is suggested that “regular order” of some type is suddenly warranted in Kenyan politics. Uhuru Kenyatta himself as KANU leader and Leader of the Opposition in 2007, crossed the aisle to support “Kibaki Tena” without resigning, when party godfather, retired President Moi who picked Uhuru from relative obscurity to nominate as his successor in 2002, realigned his fortunes, so to speak, to be with Kibaki while being appointed as Kibaki’s diplomatic representative for Southern Sudan. So I think Ruto might scoff at Gaithos’s advice now, and I doubt Uhuru’s mother would be good with him resigning at this point with all the family has going on at stake. Too much water under the bridge for too many years to expect anyone “in government” to go formally into “opposition” voluntarily–reform can happen but not nearly so easily or cheaply.

A necessary and complimentary read is the latest from Rasna Warah in the East African Review with what needed to be said on the most egregious act of contempt toward what we used to call “the reform agenda”: “In whose interest? Reflecting on the High Court judgment against John Githongo?”

Kenya 2007 election Kibaki Tena Kazi iendelee re-election

Podcast recommendation: over the past six months Travis Adkins’ “On Africa” from Washington has been a great resource

Djibouti IGAD Election Observation Mission press conference led by Kenya’s Issack Hassan of IEBC

There has been an explosion of great work in English relating to Africa in the podcast genre recently, and as an amateur I am way behind in sampling the free learning available just from time constraints. Today I want to flag the relatively new “On Africa” podcast hosted by Travis Adkins which has been a great teacher for me.

Start with Episode One, on October 4 of last year with Amb. Johnnie Carson, who has lived the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, on “Zimbabwe after Mugabe.” November 6 on Cameroon as an “Electoral Dictatorship in Crisis” with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh of NDI was especially helpful for me since I focus on East Africa and do not have much background on the unique challenges there. Dr. Fomunyoh is a native of Anglophone Cameroon but attended university in Francophone Cameroon and has been a high level fixture for many years at NDI where he is Director for West and Central Africa.

Episodes of December 19, 26 and 31 on Sudan and South Sudan with Amb. Susan Page were especially good. Amb. Page has a personal background with the negotiations leading to the 2005 provisional government, served as NDI Regional Director and was appointed by President Obama as the first U.S. Ambassador following South Sudanese independence–so again, a sweep of recent history on into current events from an “insider” perspective.

Most recently for me, the February 13 episode with Zach Vertin, former diplomat now at the Brookings Institution Doha gives a 39 minute dive into the current “Red Sea Rivalries” shaking up international relations in the Horn of Africa region. Partin has a new book out on the birth of South Sudan which sounds fascinating and I have on my list.

Most of the best Africa podcasts I have been able to take time for in recent years have been more of an academic nature–what Adkins is doing at “On Africa” with accessible overviews of high level politics and diplomacy with people directly involved is a welcome addition for someone like me who wants to deepen and broaden their knowledge as an interested citizen with limited time due to other responsibilities.

Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote

Foreign Policy has published a piece reporting significant internal dissent from the reversal of the U.S. position from significantly negative to largely positive on the recent DRC election:

. . . .

In a series of preliminary statements crafted by the team and released by the State Department on Jan. 3, 10, and 16—before confirmation of the final results—the United States sharply condemned reports of election-related interference and violence. The Jan. 3 statement included a threat that people involved “may find themselves not welcome in the United States and cut off from the U.S. financial system.”

With the Constitutional Court’s decision to confirm the election later in the month and with news of widespread election fraud, the group drafted a new U.S. response on Jan. 23. It noted the election results rather than welcoming them—a diplomatic way of signaling displeasure—and condemned the “deeply flawed and troubling” election, according to a draft reviewed by FP. It also stated that Congo’s electoral commission “failed to live up to the responsibility” it had to carry out elections fairly and ivowed that the United States would “hold accountable” any figures engaged in election fixing or violent crackdowns on any ensuing protests.

But none of this language made it into the final statement. Instead, Washington welcomed the results and declared itself committed to working with Tshisekedi. The revised statement made only passing mention to “electoral irregularities.”

Michael Hammer, the U.S. ambassador to Congo, along with Michael McKinley, a senior career diplomat advising Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, pushed for the revised statement, according to three U.S. officials. The department’s third-ranking official, David Hale, ultimately signed off on it, the officials said.

Senior U.S. officials in other agencies and some State Department officials—including the special envoy for the region, Pham—were kept out of the final decision entirely and did not know that a shift in policy was in the works, officials told FP. They said some officials found out about the shift in policy only once the statement came out. It left some of them fuming.

“If we said we’ll hold the government accountable … and five days later we congratulate a bunch of thieves, what good are our threats?” one senior U.S. official said.

One former State Department official familiar with the process said the implications went beyond Congo. “It was just a stupid decision to release that statement, a statement that has much bigger bearing on U.S. government democracy promotion in Africa,” the former official said.

The State Department, USAID, and NSC all declined to comment for this story. A State Department spokesperson also did not respond to a request to interview the senior diplomats who FP was told were involved in the process. . . . .

This is the kind of thing I always had hoped to see about Kenya 2007 where the U.S. initially relied on what my FOIA research indicates was a pre-determined blessing of Kibaki’s alleged re-election even after Ambassador Ranneberger witnessed vote totals being changed by the Kibaki-controlled Electoral Commission of Kenya and reported some pre-knowledge of unlawful rigging plans and conduct. In the face of violence the initial congratulations were withdrawn and the State Department pivoted to support a negotiation to include the opposition in a sharing of power with Kibaki. I know that there were differing internal opinions but I have never seen this level of public reporting on the internal debate.

Some of this may reflect differences in the internal environment and reporters’ expectations and aspirations during the Bush and Trump administrations as well as “the times” more generally. Regardless, I am glad to know more about how my government made this decision and encouraged that the problems with the positive statement final statement on the were recognized by some of those involved.

On the Congressional side, here is the January 18 Statement from the incoming Republican Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee:

Washington D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) released the following statement on the fraudulent election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“After eighteen years of the Kabila regime, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had a historic opportunity to give its people a voice by holding free and fair elections. Millions of Congolese bravely went to the polls to cast their vote amid long lines, intimidation and violence. Unfortunately, the fraudulent vote count does not demonstrate the will of the people. 

“I commend the African Union’s call for transparency and credible election results. All parties must refrain from violence as this process continues. It’s imperative for the United States and the rest of the world to stand with the Congolese people to demand an accurate vote tally and I urge Secretary Pompeo to fully engage at this pivotal moment. All individuals who impede this democratic process must be held accountable.”

I would also like to know more about slightly more gradual process of walking back the substance of our objections to Kabila’s 2011 re-election vote during the Obama administration.

Lake Edward into Congo

 

 

Barack Obama, son of American anthropologist, retired President USA, stops in Kenya on way to South Africa after safari

Ten years after 2008 campaign, the “Birthers” have won for now in the U.S., but Obama remains a positive symbol with time for another act:

Former President Obama stopped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, his third visit to Kenya since arriving on the national political scene in the United States in 2004 as an Illinois state legislator through a speech at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry to challenge the re-election of George W. Bush.

It is now ten years since I returned to the United States with my family from our year-long East Africa democracy assistance sojourn in Nairobi in the wake of the failed 2007 election, the post-election violence, and February 28 “peace deal”. The day we flew out of JKIA for Amsterdam en route to Atlanta on the way home to Mississippi I was first exposed to the “birther” conspiracy theory through a front page story in the Daily Nation.

Many may not remember fully now, but recognize that in its inception the “birther” conspiracy theory was not just the idea that then-Senator Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and secretly smuggled into the United States as an infant, and thus not technically eligible to be elected President. It also fit into the context of the claims that Obama was involved as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2007 in a conspiracy with Raila Odinga to steal Kenya’s election on behalf of Muslims, with killing of Christians and embellished from there into a narrative that rather than a loyal American Obama was essentially on the side of al-Queda and the global jihad to establish a sharia-enforcing caliphate. That Obama was in essence on the other side of the war being fought by Americans in the “surge” led by Bush and General Petraeus in Iraq as well as the fundamental underlying values of our democratic republic and Western democracy in general.

The conspiracy theories about the 2007 Kenyan election faded somewhat over time–partly because of the peace deal that put Odinga in Kibaki’s government as Prime Minister where he continued to be friendly to the West and partly because it became clearer that the election was stolen by Kibaki’s side which controlled the ECK (and not by the opposition which didn’t). Reports at the time from the American right at the Heritage Foundation think tank and National Review magazine (“Inside Kenya’s clumsily rigged election” Jan 4, 2008 National Review Online) noting the theft of the election helped American conservatives who cared about facts avoid getting sucked into nonsense about a Luo jihad involving “tribesman” Obama and “cousin” Raila.

While there remain a few holdouts who claim that “we can’t know” who won in Kenya’s 2007 election, they seem to be pretty well limited to personally interested parties at this point with the release of the State Department cables showing that our Ambassador Ranneberger himself saw tallies being changed at the ECK and claimed to have encouraged the late ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu to withstand the pressure to declare Kibaki the winner anyway, even though Ranneberger knew that the Chairman had no way to control the Committee which was thoroughly stacked by Kibaki in the weeks and months before the election.

Once it is recognized that the vote tallies were actually changed at the ECK, Americans–most especially rock-ribbed traditional stalwarts attracted to “the Tea Party” and/or Donald Trump’s “neopatriotism”–will understand that Kenyans had a duty not just a right to protest the 2007 election. Americans would not trust biometric voter registration (or tolerate secret voter lists) but most certainly the traditional American narrative would demand that we march on our county courthouses if our votes were simply changed by our election officials. Ranneberger’s pre-election cables to Washington made clear that as of that time, the Kenyan courts were not independent and would provide no recourse so that voters would be forced to go to the streets if there was fraud that became known.

Once you legitimize protesting the actions of the ECK, and recognize that the largest category of deaths in the Post Election Violence, per the Waki Commission, were those shot by Kibaki’s security forces, and the largest number that were identifiable by tribe were Luo, then the whole notion of some extraneous evil conspiracy somehow involving Obama and the global jihad as the reason for the post election violence becomes that much more irrational. The portion of violence in the Rift Valley that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer insisted on calling “ethnic cleansing” in a January 2008 visit (a label not adopted in Washington) was conducted by Kalenjin militia in the pattern employed by KANU in 1992 and 1997. KANU was a religiously diverse secular party that sought to maintain single-party hegemony through compliant cadres among all major tribes and religious groupings in accordance with its political needs. No suggestion that Moi, who personally identified as a Protestant Christian, was a secret Muslim jihadi even though the victims may have been mostly Christians.

The International Republican Institute/University of California, San Diego exit poll funded by USAID (the one showing an Odinga presidential win by roughly six points that was embargoed for six months) gave more evidence in the details that the 2007 election contest was driven, as normal in Kenyan, by tribal rather than religious alignment with Odinga shown as winning a majority of self-identified Christians and of Muslims (although the margin was greater among Muslims). On the other hand, there was a “gender gap” with women favoring Kibaki and men Odinga.

It may also seem hard to remember now but by January 2009 Obama was sworn in to a wave of good feeling with high approval numbers. He had campaigned as a pragmatic moderate Democrat who was against dumb wars and only for smart ones, a Christian who grew up with limited religion who was popular with the irreligious left, the Christian left and made some real inroads courting what we call “Evangelicals” who were not part of the more politicized harder “Religious Right”. The inaugural celebrations seemed to suggest some real healing from the cultural rifts from “the Sixties” and “Vietnam” that featured so prominently in presidential campaigns throughout my lifetime, as well as a milestone to show that we had come so far in overcoming racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era that black/white racial issues were no longer much a part of those cultural rifts. Maybe we had more in common than our political leaders had been telling us since the rise of Fox News and the Bill Clinton impeachment saga; maybe this president could be a “uniter not a divider” where his predecessor had failed. In part this failure was because the Bush political operation ended up pulling a “bait-and-switch” by mobilizing gullible church networks to support the invasion of Iraq for regime change using a claimed causus belli of active chemical/biological and nuclear weapons programs then firing up the culture wars further to drive turnout to get re-elected over John Kerry. This was a bad error of moral judgment that has continued to reverberate through American politics.

Kerry was certainly a Yankee patrician from “central casting” — as Kenyans well know from the 2017 election — but was unquestionably accurate in pointing out in debate with Bush that we had gotten “stuck in Iraq”. Of course Kerry was too polite, patrician and/or patriotic to go for the jugular and trash Bush for Iraq the the way Donald Trump did in his 2016 campaign.

For saying that we were “stuck in Iraq” Kerry got pilloried as “unpatriotic” aside from the “Swift Boat” sliming he got over his military service in Vietnam–conveniently not a problem for Clinton, Bush, Cheney or Trump who all managed in various ways not to get sent, and unlike Kerry, did not volunteer to actually go to Vietnam. Nonetheless, the unhealed cultural wounds were still such almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon that Vietnam was a winner for Bush over Kerry in spite of Iraq.

Part of the reason that Obama took office with a waive of good feeling and better numbers than he had during the election was that McCain declined to play along with trashing Obama in the darker ways and treated him as a legitimate political adversary. It was good for the country and gave Obama a fair start in office.

“Birtherism,” though, in spite of McCain’s choice, became an enduring American movement which has had a profound effect on our politics and transformed the Republican Party with which I had been involved for much of my life.

Ultimately, the Birther Movement became a tool for Donald Trump as an outsider to gain “free media” and attention and admiration with those who were otherwise profoundly afraid of or opposed to the Obama presidency.

People like John McCain and George W. Bush or his family members in politics, whatever their faults and mistakes on policy choices (even the really big one, invading Iraq, which McCain acknowledges in his latest book, The Restless Wave) were too experienced, too educated, and too well advised to believe craziness about Obama being secretly smuggled into the U.S. as a Kenyan child (although the McCain campaign did check it out to make sure as did the McClatchy newspaper chain) and were morally constrained, in my judgment at least, from deliberately lying about it to hurt Obama. If you cannot buy that it was morals, at least we can agree that they were restrained by a judgment that it was better politics to stay out of that gutter. Hillary Clinton also stayed away (even if one credits the report that her adviser Sidney Blumenthal triggered the McClatchy review to make sure their was nothing to it).

Donald Trump was not similarly constrained and his hectoring of Obama put him in the front row of politics in America. He shared headlines with Obama even as Osama bin-Laden was being killed by the Navy under Obama’s command. Not one to accept defeat in an argument by being proven factually wrong, in this case by the release of Obama’s long form Hawaii birth certificate, Trump bided his time and cranked the Movement back up for his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, discarding it once he had seized the agenda and the Republican Party and the specific “birther” claim was no longer useful to him.

It has been a bit surreal for me to see this happen. Educated middle class Americans of my generation (Obama’s essentially) have a lot to answer for in our complacency I am afraid. Our democratic republic requires more attention and effort than we have delivered in recent years whatever our party or policy preferences.

Fortunately, just as Obama himself has, we hope, time for other acts in his public life as an American after elective politics, the Trump presidency too shall pass and the Birther Movement will be a strange chapter in political history books. It will leave scars and I expect that Trump will be willing to use other lies for domestic advantage that will manipulate gullible people and torque emotions on difficult and divisive social matters. But in the longer term I think we will rise to the occasion and get to a better range of equilibrium. We have significant long term challenges on poverty, education, healthcare and economic mobility and government debt that have been building up during our protracted wartime, but I think Americans getting more engaged and rolling up our sleeves to work on solutions.

Trump as an individual is something of a fluke. Most of the people who voted for him have little in common with him really. I know this because they are my peers, my extended family and friends to a great extent. He lost the national popular vote in a low turnout election. Trump won in large part because neither Obama nor the Clintons succeeded in building a Democratic Party that was seriously competitive in much of the country.

The big difference as of now is that Trump as president in our system still has far less power than the president in any of the East African countries. He will leave office at by the end of his lawful first term or his second if re-elected.

On balance, I think that we will see American policy in its relations with Kenya in the Trump years to continue to be largely a continuation of that under Obama, as reflected in the American approach to supporting both the 2013 election with John Kerry as Secretary of State and 2017 with Kerry as chief election observer and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with Bob Godec as “our man in Kenya” throughout. Just as Obama’s relationship with Kenya in its policy aspects was primarily a continuation of the approach under George W. Bush.

There have been a few major inflection points in the American/Kenyan relationship in the last twenty years, but most have not been specific to whoever was president in either Washington or Nairobi.

The first,of course, was the al-Queda Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, kicking off the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Kenya against various Islamist “violent extremists”. As reflected in the Mombasa rocket attack, the USS Cole bombing, the bombing in Kampala, the various attacks in Kenya, most notoriously the Westgate Mall and Garissa University killings, a persistent understood risk of terrorist incidents have been a regional “fact of life” since. For most Kenyans who are not well secured in their daily bread, and face many bigger daily risks of violent death, terrorism is not quite so central as is to Americans, but has still inevitably shaped both sides of the relationship over the last two decades. And in this context, after 9/11 and our ensuing land wars in South Asia, with the establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti Kenya resumed its regional security role along the lines established in the 1970s and 80s when the United States was fighting the Cold War and Kenyatta and Moi wanted protection from Idi Amin and Siad Barre and the kind of relationship that would be useful to them in avoiding disruption to their domestic rule.

The next inflection point, albeit of lesser magnitude from an American standpoint, was the retirement of Moi and the transition to NARC and Kibaki.

Next was the demise of NARC and the failure of constitutional reform with the 2005 referendum. Relatedly the Anglo Leasing scandal showed security and counter-terrorism were for sale at high levels along with the baseline of corruption in the police and security services that let terrorists move about and in and out of the country. The Artur Brothers and the Standard flamboyantly highlighted the rot.

Next and finally was the start of the war in Somalia to save and reinstate the Transitional Federal Government and oust the ICU in December 2006.

Since that time the United States Government has continued to have and support all our other existing priorities in Kenya such as lifesaving humanitarian health support through PEPFAR and other lower profile programs, food assistance and small farm agricultural support, along with supporting all sorts of philanthropic type programs and the somewhat more controversial “big development” initiatives like Power Africa, frequently in cooperation with other donors.

In recent years we also started devoted more governmental focus to promoting international private financial investment, such as the 2015 U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation investment in the Dubai-based Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, L.P., that has been active in the Nairobi private healthcare market prior to recently entering liquidation under circumstances being investigated.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have been at war in a country with a huge border with Kenya. A country during during much of these last 11 1/2 years which has been too dangerous to support a full diplomatic and aid presence and has thus had those parts of the effort supported from Kenya, as well as a smaller role for Kenya as a host for some U.S. defense forces in addition to those at our base in Djibouti. And from reading the newspapers back in the day and a few books it is apparent that Kenya provided some military support for the invasion by the Ethiopian military at the time to contain potential spread of terrorism.

And in 2011, during Kibaki’s second term, with the support of Prime Minister Odinga, Kenya entered the war directly and formally in its own right.

Roughly nine months later the Kenya Defense Forces were admitted into the AU’s AMISOM peacekeeping collaboration, allowing for financial reimbursement through the Western donors, and eventually drove al-Shabaab, now formally asserting affiliation with al Queda, out of their previous position of direct control of the port at Kismayo (not to say that al Shabaab did not continue to apparently benefit from the illicit charcoal and sugar trade through the port).

A few months before the Ethiopians were invited to restore the TFG in Mogadishu, our Ambassador Bellamy finished his service and Ambassador Ranneberger was similarly appointed by President Bush from the Foreign Service. Within a few months after the start of the war Ranneberger sent a cable to Washington explaining that his approach for “achieving U.S. objectives in Kenya’s elections” was to stay quiet on the debates on constitutional reform and election reform and “build capital” with the incumbent. With the perturbation of the 2008 crisis and the intervention for constitutional reform up through 2010, this has remained the baseline beat of our relationship over the years.

Will the recent moves by Kenya’s dominant new Jubilee Party to align with Communist Party of China structures and philosophy to accompany its huge borrowings from the Chinese State cause any serious rethink in Washington? I have no idea, but it certainly does not seem to have captured any particular place in the priorities of either the retired President Obama or current President Trump.

“Six Years An Ambassador” : Godec’s Kenya valedictory with Macharia Gaitho

Macharia Gaitho seems to have been of late the designated Kenyan columnist to convey certain background perspectives from the American Embassy.  His April 8 Sunday Nation column provides in interview form a review by outgoing Ambassador Godec of his tenure and the position of the State Department at present.

For me the primary “takeaway” is, as the Nation headlined, the continued/renewed statement of the need for “national dialogue”. The issues were apparent from the 2017 election going back to the 2007-08 election. The “handshake” of a month ago is said to open an opportunity for that dialogue. Likewise the U.S. position is reiterated on the status of the October 26 election and Kenyatta as legitimate per the IEBC and Supreme Court as the U.S. sees it.

I have not met Godec and I really do not have an opinion about him personally. I am not able to say, with the late American humorist Will Rogers, that “I never met a man I didn’t like” but I try to be able to say “I never dislike a man that I’ve never met.”

What makes me sad is that Godec as the Ambassador has been controversial and drawn more anger as well as more disappointment from many Kenyans than I have seen in the past.

Some of the heat would fall on the shoulders of anyone who was the voice of the controversial policies from Washington. Some of it reflects more specifically the reasons that “national dialogue” is needed: the 2008 “peace deal” got only perhaps half-executed and a lot of Kenyans are unenthused as they should be about getting the short end of the stick over the past ten years from their own government. As a “friend” of the Government of Kenya we naturally find ourselves with some “guilt by association” from the Kenyan public. And of course some of it is the behind the scenes stuff that we Americans back home have to hope to evaluate, someday, from the media or private conversations with insiders or the Freedom of Information Act, if ever.

Godec was candid enough to acknowledge that “peace” was prioritized first as a “must” in United States foreign policy in regard to Kenyan elections as but noted that we continued to also support other equities of justice and fairness. For instance, we support  allowing civil society freedom to operate. Nothing was said however to indicate we ourselves need to take a fresh look at our own role in supporting the election mechanisms or our role in supporting reform and transparency out of our own experience in these last three Kenyan election cycles.

It perhaps goes without saying that we no longer mention any notion or prospect of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post election violence. (Or pre-election 2013 for that matter.) That was something we always used to talk about.

Ambassador Godec noted that his biggest regret was the ongoing security situation as reflected in the Westgate and Garissa University attacks. I assume we are not waiting for those reports from the Government of Kenya on those attacks that Kenyans have been waiting on. (Of course both Kenya and the United States remain at war in Somalia as we were when the Ambassador arrived as Charge in 2012.)

The biggest thing that really struck me from Ambassador Godec’s interview was that there are now 28,000 Americans living in Kenya. More people have been realizing what a great place to live Kenya can be if you are an American, as I can attest. I hope that’s a good thing.

I also hope the Ambassador will sit down with The Elephant as a newer Kenyan publication that is able to generate more depth on current controversies than the big media groups usually feel able.

Must Kenyans bear a “model” cross?

In his sermon, Archbishop Welby said reconciliation was the only way that the country could retain its status as a model nation for Africa, and that disagreements can only be sorted out through understanding.

“Kenya has been a good model of peace and reconciliation across Africa,” he said. “Reconciliation is a supreme gift of Jesus, and is so costly it caused Jesus to die on the cross.”

(From the Sunday Nation, Talks in the air as Uhuru, Raila meet” featuring the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Nairobi.)

As a Christian, I embrace the message of the Archbishop on the value and centrality of reconciliation for Kenyans, as for the rest of us. I am just not sure that the purpose or motivation needs to involve further taking up the burden of being a “model nation” as that term has been used. Kenyans need reconciliation among themselves, for themselves–really to become a nation in a more meaningful sense than they are now.

The history and immediate circumstances of Kenya are rather specific. The spiritual and temporal challenges of reconciliation in Kenya certainly have a fair bit in common with those faced by Americans. I am sure others elsewhere, in places that I have not lived, including in various other nations on the African continent have substantial commonality in their experiences, needs and circumstances.

It is natural–almost reflexive and inevitable perhaps–for leaders from the UK to call on Kenya’s leaders to bear the burdens of being exemplars for the region. And are Kenya’s elitemost not to able to be motivated by the extra status of ruling the country that is recognized as a sort of head boy for the whole neighborhood? To me this sort of thinking has been a fixture of Anglo American establishment orthodoxy toward Kenya and effectively served the interests of Anglo American foreign policy as the current relationships were worked out during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. While it has arguably worked out better in some important respects for quite a few Kenyans than many possible alternatives might have, it is decidely shopworn and insufficient now for the future.

The cross of being a “model nation” has always been in another sense the burden borne by most Kenyans in carrying on their backs in parade profoundly corrupt and frankly greedy “prefects”. Kenyans have more valid dreams than this. In reality the Kenya of Kenyatta/Moi/Kibaki/Kenyatta (and the rest of the usual immune suspects) is not something that could (or should) be replicated anywhere else, and it is not even a viable model for Kenya on into the 21st Century. There are too many more people without jobs or enough to eat, with many many more coming.

And let us be clear that a specific cost of being used as a “model” by outsiders: truth.  One of the main reasons Kenyan elections are so bad but so uniquely expensive is that we pretend that they are better than they are, to serve the idee fixe of the model.  We still cannot come to grips with talking openly among ourselves even about our role in the disaster of 2007, to go along with our role in mitigating the crisis in 2008-10.

See my post from August 2012: Didn’t we learn from the disaster in 2007? Kenya does not need to be anyone’s “model” anything; it does need truth in it’s election.

The Cold War is long over and the Anglo American orientation to Kenya as it evolved up into the 1970s might well be due for a serious refresh, especially with more aggressive Chinese and French mercantilism offering competing opportunities for Kenya’s rentier class and Western technology, along with global oil proceeds routed through the Gulf Monarchies greatly expanding the reach and toxicity of militarized jihadist ideology since the early days of al Qaeda activity in East Africa more than twenty years ago now.

Regardless, the United States and the United Kingdom are not going to be leading the reconciliation of Kenyans, much less any of the other outside influencers.  We can provide moral support or detract from opportunities by supporting an inadequate status quo.

In the case of the United States we all know enough now about Donald Trump to know that America will not have anything along the lines of foreign policy in any traditional sense during his presidency.  This means overall inertia within the military in an expanding role and within the bureaucracy in other areas in a receding role.  It also means a greater latitude for non-state actors such as the aggressively “libertarian” billionaires who helped make Trump president, such as the eccentric quant fund mogul Robert Mercer who will be of note to Kenyans through his role as an investor in Cambridge Analytica of Kenyatta’s 2013 and 2017 campaigns.

Trump has explained that it is not necessary to fill many of the policy and other positions in the State Department because he himself “is the one that matters” for policy.  Presumably in the case of a crisis in Kenya cataclysmic enough to require decisions on his part regarding U.S. policy, Trump would be inclined to rely on the Pentagon.  Otherwise perhaps he would also reach out to friends who have business interests as he referred to in his lunch with African leaders alongside the UN General Assembly.

Trump and his cronies aside, if Kenyans are able to find ways to reconcile and seek specific support from the United States, they will find many Americans including even within Congress who will wish to be of assistance for the reasons that we otherwise wish to help with the needs of Kenyans for food and medicine, for instance.

In first instance , however, Kenyans are in the same boat as everyone else and have to decide how they value reconciliation and love frankly, versus greed, power, hate, heirarchy and other alternative priorities.

“Sitting on” the embargoed USAID-funded IRI exit poll indicating opposition win in Kenya 2007 election, I wished someone would subpoena me

 

A Kenyan blogger wrote in early 2008 that  I “should be” subpoenaed after I was reported in Slate magazine as “sitting on” the embargoed USAID-funded IRI exit poll. I would have welcomed it. Sadly no subpoena came.  No one approached me except from the media as I hoped that the decision would be made in Washington to end the embargo as Joel Barkan and I urged.

The exit poll was publicly released by the the University of California San Diego research team at an event at CSIS in Washington only in July 2008 after the six month publicity restriction in their consulting contract with IRI. [ed. note: Remember it was then released in August by IRI.]

By that time, it mattered  for “the war for history” as to whether the election had actually been stolen or not, but had no real time impact in that Kibaki’s second full term was well underway.  The “Kreigler Commission” reporting to President Kibaki was staying off the question of what really happened to the presidential tally at the ECK.

Lessons for today, in time to matter?

What if vital information about what happened with the presidential tally is in the hands of people working for the donor-funded election assistance operations who wish they could provide that information and answer the vital questions?

Happy National Day and Thanks for the Troops (Burundi)

2016_06_28-Burundi_Rotation-2

AMISOM flickr photo- Burundian troops rotate home
The State Department issued this statement today, as Burundi’s long crisis drags:

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, congratulations to the people of Burundi on the 55th anniversary of your independence.

We applaud Burundi’s ongoing commitment to international peacekeeping operations and recognize the positive impact its troops have had in Somalia.

The United States stands with all Burundians committed to peace and prosperity. As you reflect on your history and address the challenges of today, we send best wishes for a bright future.

In the meantime, the Burundian government has accused the West and “international organizations” of conspiring with the Rwandan government to seek regime change and to steal Burundi’s resources.

On foreign policy, the Trump/Bannon approach is not to recreate the 1950’s, but to undo the post-Cold War era

On  Africa, thus back to the era of the American consultants Paul Manafort and Roger Stone working for Kenya’s autocrat Moi through his re-election in 1992.  Go back and support right/nationalist movements in white Europe and Russia, rather than internationalist liberalism and NATO expansion.  

At the core, repudiate the thinking of the the George H.W. Bush administration in promoting a globalist, rule-based “New World Order” with an alternative that imagines a third Reagan term in which the U.S. turned on the end of the Cold War with the Soviets to engage in a similar confrontation against “expansionist global Islamism” and treated China as a Communist power in rivalry rather than an economic partner whom we would continue to assist to rise on the faith that its role in the economic order would eventually result in liberalization and even democratization.  

Reorient to say the problem is not “the arc of instability” and a lack of elections or freedoms, it’s the jihadis.

“Nixon would have told us to stop with the ‘China card’ after we ‘won’ the Cold War.  Henry has been hanging out with Hillary for ‘the holidays’ and working both sides and we’ve gotten confused.  Never could trust him.  We’ve gotten this completely wrong and have to straighten up.”

In this perspective the collaboration between the neocons and the liberal  internationalists that drove policy under Clinton and George W. Bush left us weakened and feckless, snatching long decline from the jaws of victory.  We ended up paying for European security because they would rather focus on competing for arms exports–nice deal if we are suckers enough to go for it!  

And we’ve ended up following the European liberals to the point of underwriting the wrong sides in the culture wars.  The Bushes and Bill Clinton were bad enough–but Obama really went far left; we’ll fix that.

Calling Ollie North and Erik Prince.

Expect US Africa policy to be led from Pentagon rather than State Department or White House, in near term if not for the next four years [updated]

(https://flic.kr/p/6fgHxc)

The President himself has never been to Africa and has shown no particular interest or inclination toward engagement on any of the various issues on his plate regarding the United States’ activities in and relationships with African countries.

In some respects this suggests a level of continuity through inertia that is unavailable in those areas to which Trump has some personal connection or exposure through his business organization or personal relationships (Russia on one hand and Mexico on the other, for instance).

Trump seems to be networked into the Safari Club and is politically very much indebted to Franklin Graham (the  American evangelist/missionary who has been especially engaged in Sudan and otherwise in Africa) but I don’t think that this will put much claim on Trump’s attention, as he already ordered a cutoff in U.S. funding to organizations that separately have connections to programs touching on abortion (a significantly broadened approach to the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations’ rules) as an early low cost “deliverable” to “pro-life” supporters on an issue he doesn’t personally have any particular feelings or opinions on. [Graham does not make specific candidate campaign endorsements–my perception of his influence for Trump is subjective from my vantage point as a white Southern American Protestant, who has been involved in congregational mission efforts that include support for one of Graham’s programs.]

Trump did not get where he is by building a reputation for paying his debts (any more than for forgiving his debtors), so I will be surprised, pleasantly, if Graham were to influence Trump on non-abortion related health issues that involved spending rather than cutting, like famine relief or other things that had some political purchase under “compassionate conservatism” in Africa during the G.W. Bush administration.

Trump is pretty clearly anti-conservation domestically and probably disinclined to have anything much to do with things involving wildlife or the environment in Africa other than to reduce funding for any direct or international programming in these areas, Safari Club notwithstanding.  Generally speaking my big game hunter friends are more concerned about wealth accumulation and tax cutting–Trump’s policies will leave them net ahead even with a likely loss of habit and species diversity (and better situated to buy private reserves).  Along with the expected big overall aid cuts, I would speculate that  conservation programs may be especially attractive targets to “zero out” to give Congress political bragging rights for some program “kills”.

So outside the military and Department of Defense we will probably see Trump to be as slow to fill key policy positions on Africa as Obama was, but with more turnover in the next tiers of the bureaucracy.

Because the Defense Department has already been the big repository of funding to maintain policy expertise in the U.S. on Africa (as elsewhere) during the Bush/Obama years, as funds and political bandwidth are reduced in other areas, we will be more dependent on those functions under the portfolio of Secretary Gen. Mattis at the Pentagon.  It is very fortunate that he stands out as unusually well-qualified and genuinely respected.

In the event any of the major players in the hospitality/tourism/”conferencing” business–say the Kenyatta family of Kenya–were to entice the Trump Organization into their market, certainly that would be expected to profoundly change everything I have observed here.

In that regard, perhaps we will see “The Scramble for Trump” as a new frame for engagement in the post-development era.