Kenya’s party primaries Thursday will be key test for credible elections–international community should speak candidly this time

A key indicator of major Kenyan general election problems ahead that was downplayed in 2007 was the magnitude of problems in the party nominations process.  All of us who were involved in supporting and watching the process were aware from our own experiences and from the Kenyan media that things were messy.  As it turned out, the U.S., at least, conducted a more systematic observation of the primaries and saw a lot of things that would have raised more red flags for the rest of us had anything been said publicly (or even shared privately with others working election observations).

For the latest this year, see “Confusion ahead of Jan 17 party nominations deadline” from The Star today and  “Rivals prepare for tough nomination fight” from the Sunday Nation.  Of course, the challenges now are much greater because of the addition of the Senate and county offices.  See “Fairness a Must In Party Nominations” from Jerry Okungu in The Star.

[Update Jan. 16 0200 Nairobi time, Daily Nation: “Lobby names possible nomination hotspots“:

Nairobi, Siaya, Nakuru and Migori have been identified as possible violence hotspots in party nominations tomorrow.

The Elections Observation Group said on Tuesday it was concerned about the rise in sporadic violence in parts of Kenya, particularly in Nairobi’s slums and Tana River.

The group has deployed 290 observers countrywide, with a concentration on the hotspots, to monitor and report on the primaries.]

Through my 2009 FOIA request for documents from the State Department on the Embassy’s own 2007 election observation endeavor, I was provided in addition to a minimal amount of information on the general election observation a copy of an e-mail about the primaries, as discussed in Part Eight of my FOIA Series, especially noteworthy regarding the role of the ECK, as well as hate literature, and the overall mess:

The one document released that substantively describes observation of voting by State Department personnel is a November 20, 2007 e-mail which is a headquarters “readout” of a video conference held “with Post to discuss the experiences of Post’s first-ever observation of the political primary process in Kenya.”:  Here is the text:

The Observation Effort:
*21 teams (total about 60 people) deployed to the field. This is our first time observing the primaries. We expect to deploy about 50 (100+ people) teams to the general elections as part of the larger international observer effort. The EU plans to deploy 150 people.
*These will be Kenya’s 4th multiparty elections but only the second “free and fair”.

Negatives Observed:
*The process was very poorly organized. We would say the the parties embarrassed themselves, except most of the party leaders have no shame and are thus immune from embarrassment. General feeling is that apparent total lack of organization is not an accident, but reflects efforts to rig/manipulate the outcomes.
*There were obvious deals between the incumbents and local party operatives.
*The process was well-run and by the book only in where parties had no hope of winning in that area anyway. Where there were real stakes, manipulation was rampant and obvious.
*Ballots were delayed for many hours in many locations; some politicians felt this was intentional and especially disenfranchised women voters, who either couldn’t wait all day or had to go home before dark for safety reasons.
*Hate literature observed to date is overwhelmingly generated by PNU supporters.

Positives Observed:
*Turnout was surprisingly good. People were very determined to vote. Many waited from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later for ballots to arrive. In some cases where ballots were delayed, people agreed amongst themselves to vote on whatever pieces of paper and honored the results.
*Dozens of outgoing MPs (including some we are very happy to see go, i.e. [REDACTED] were eliminated at this stage, which suggests that you can’t always manipulate the results.
*Our sample was biased as we purposely went to areas where trouble was expected and/or stakes were high, so we likely observed a disproportionate amount of rigging, etc.
*With the recent passage of the Political Parties Bill, this is the last time that the party nomination process will be run by the parties themselves. In the future, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will run it (at least, for all parties who want public money). PNU contracted with the ECK to run their primary this time, but it didn’t happen in practice–party leaders took over and wouldn’t let ECK do its job.

After the Primaries:
*We expect a lot of horse trading. Some winners were DQed on appeal and even without an appeal. There were also many “directed nominations,” which led to the resuscitation and handpicking of many old dinosaurs/unpopular incumbents notwithstanding voter opposition.
*There may be blowback with an impact on turnout for Dec. 27. There were widespread feelings of bitterness and disappointment, especially among ODM supporters, who expected to participate in a “new beginning.” Many people complained that, populist image notwithstanding, ODM is run like a dictatorship and that the way of doing things is no different than KANU used to do in the past. The positive difference is that the electorate is much more vocal and active in demanding transparency and participation in the electoral process. The howls of protest regarding some of the directed nominations show the electorate’s increasing maturity and lack of interest in this kind of politics.
*Many unsuccessful candidates have jumped to smaller/marginal parties. There is a cottage industry of sorts selling nominations.

Possible Impact on Main Parties:
*The disappointment and frustration with the nominating process was greatest among ODM supporters. Will this experience sap the energy of ODM supporters, or can ODM redeem itself? Will people continue to be willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity?
*Fear/stability is a powerful motivating factor in Kibaki’s reelection prospects. The contest between ODM and PNU can be characterized as “hope vs. fear.”
*PNU has much less internal discipline and message consistency. Virtually all PNU parties are fielding their own candidates for Parliamentary seats, so not much of a real coalition.

Political Violence
*Two possible types. One, aspirant (often incumbent) MPs use paid gangsters (and sometimes local police officials) to intimidate or disrupt the polling process (trash polling stations, threaten voters waiting in line and/or election officials). Two, spontaneous voter uprisings, where voters feel they are being disenfranchised and attach the presiding officers. If the ECK runs an efficient process as expected, this should lessen the possibility of voter violence. —–END—–

For context, this November 20, 2007 summary of what was observed during the primary election was roughly a month after the Ambassador’s intervention in the public opinion polling as described in previous documents and a month before the Ambassador’s public statement predicting a “free and fair” election the week before the general election. Nairobi is the State Department’s biggest Sub-Saharan post; it was staffed with smart and observant people and obviously well funded–the problem was not what the State Department didn’t know, rather it was what it wouldn’t say.

Freedom of Information Series (Part Eleven): Better to Learn More Lessons from Kenya’s Last Election After the Next One?

Back last May I had checked in with the State Department’s Freedom of Information Office about the status of outstanding documents from my 2009 FOIA requests regarding the 2007 Kenya elections.

At that time the FOIA Office wrote me that State Department documents about the IRI and USAID Exit Poll had finally been received from the Africa Bureau, presumably including the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, in addition to just the Central Records in Washington. (From what I had been told by the FOIA Office previously, the Africa Bureau did not respond for well more than two years following my original FOIA submission.) The estimated additional time to review and release documents was six months, to November 30, 2012.

November 30 came and went with no documents. i wrote to request release on an expedited basis due to the new elections upcoming but got no response. Checking back I was eventually given a new date of May 2013, after the new Kenyan elections.

A lot of people in a variety of capacities in the U.S. government, or otherwise funded by U.S. taxpayers, are working on matters involving the March Kenya elections. Likewise, from other donor governments and international organizations. And of course Kenyans who bore the actual effects of the disaster in the last elections have the most at stake in the new elections. Why further delay disclosing and addressing the documentary record from 2007?

Impunity for election fraud in 2007 makes the 2013 Kenya elections riskier. Even though there will be no accountability now, Americans and Kenyans should at least know as much as possible about what happened.

Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 Elections–Ranneberger at the ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and final tabulation of ballots and it did”

Westlands Primary-Line to Vote X

Another document released to me from my FOIA request to the State Department for documentation of the State Department observation of the Kenya elections is a cable from Ambassador Ranneberger from January 2, 2008 reflecting what he witnessed at the ECK. This was primarily declassified, with a few redactions.

Here are key excerpts, which deserve to be read carefully by those preparing to try for better elections this time.  It pretty well clarifies what Ranneberger saw as a credentialed observer at the ECK, and what he wanted to do, or not do, about it.

2. As previewed in ref B, much can happen between the
casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots and it did.
This message recaps developments reported in refs, provides current
state of play, and discusses next steps. Much of our reporting
during the past three days has been done by phone given our
intensive focus on operational issues, particularly efforts to
promote a positive outcome to the election imbroglio.

3. Elaborate procedures were in place (much of it with U.S.
support) to ensure transparency and accountability of the ballot
tabulation process. . . .

5. ECK officials and observers pursued these
allegations to some extent, but the ability to do so was
constrained by lack of time, original data from polling
stations, and by the behavior of a number of ECK officials
who delayed returning results and submitted incomplete or
clearly altered documentation. Moreover, the ECK has no
authority to open ballot boxes; only the courts do. During
the night of Dec. 29, ECK officials together with
representatives of the PNU and ODM, reviewed the tabulations,
but neither side was satisfied that the review had fully
addressed their concerns. The ECK partial review of the
irregularities was also of questionable credibility, given
that all of the commission members were appointed by the
Kibaki government, and a number of them were suspected of
being clearly biased and/or involved in doctoring at ECK
headquarters. The Chairman of the ECK, Samuel Kivuitu, who
was widely respected, was surrounded by staff of uncertain
reliability and competence. It is worth noting that
parliamentary results were not disputed because they were
tabulated and announced at constituency tabulation centers,
thus allowing no interference at ECK headquarters.

6. Kivuitu has only limited authority as head of the
ECK. The ECK works on a majority vote system. It is also
important to note that the ECK is required by law to announce
the results as received at the ECK from the tabulation
centers. Some obvious irregularities like reporting
unrealistically high turnout or clearly altered results can
be rejected. There was, however, only a rejection of the
results in one constituency in which violence resulted in
destroyed ballots. Other alleged irregularities, such as
announcing results that ECK personnel personally inflated
should have been, could have been, but were not corrected. At
one point Kivuitu told me that his concerns about the
tabulation process were serious enough that “if it were up
to me, I would not announce the results.” In the end, he
participated with other commissioners in an announcement late
on the 30th, which turned rowdy when Odinga walked with armed
bodyguards into a room packed with observers, including me,
party agents, and media Kivuitu and the other commissioners
retreated to their upstairs offices, where the results were
announced. Kibaki was quickly sworn in (this was Continue reading

Part Nine–New Kenya FOIA Documents: What Narrative Was the State Department’s Africa Bureau Offering the Media While Kenyans Were Voting? And Why?

In my last post in this series, Part Eight, I noted my frustration that the Africa Bureau after roughly 30 months, in response to my 2009 FOIA request, had provided none of the actual documentation from the large-scale 2007 Kenyan general election observation conducted through the Embassy,

The question could be raised then whether the point of the State Department observation through the Embassy became not so much to observe as to be observed observing.  Being observed observing gives an extra patina of gravity to whatever narrative you wish to present about the election afterwards; and who can question without an independent look at your data? [or an independent exit poll?]

Let’s remember how Ambassador Ranneberger concluded his December 24, 2007 cable “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections”:

RANNEBERGER  to WASHINGTON
24 DEC 07  UNCLAS NAIROBI 004830

“It is likely that the winner will schedule a quick inauguration (consistent with past practice) to bless the result and, potentially, to forestall any serious challenge to the results.  There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable.The courts are both inefficient and corrupt.  Pronouncements by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and observers, particularly from the U.S., will therefore, have be [sic] crucial in helping shape the judgment of the Kenyan people.  With an 87 percent approval rating in Kenya, our statements are closely watched and respected.  I feel that we are well-prepared to meet this large responsibility and, in the process, to advance U.S. interests. [emphasis added]

So what was the narrative?  We have all known about the quick congratulations to Kibaki on winning the election from back in the United States on Sunday December 30 after the ECK’s announcement (and that the U.S. was the only country to issue such congratulations, which were quickly withdrawn–and that later Uganda’s Museveni also congratulated Kibaki).  Something new that I have learned from the FOIA response however, is that the Africa Bureau issued a very interesting December 27 “Press Guidance”  that projects an outcome narrative while the voting is still going on.  Here it is in its entirety:

Kenya:  Elections

Key Points

The U.S. fully supports a transparent and credible electoral process.  The U.S.-Kenyan partnership will continue to grow regardless of who is elected.

Kenya’s elections have proceeded with very little violence.  This morning, there was a report of two killed and three injured near a polling station in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, but it is not known if the killings were related to the election.

There were reports of minor incidents such as pushing and shoving at polling stations.  Votes are being tallied tonight and tomorrow.  The Electoral Commission of  Kenya (ECK) has responded well to reports of problems and does not appear to be acting with bias or favoritism.

Voter turnout nationwide has been high.

Late last night and early this morning, 160 U.S. Embassy officials in 56 U.S. Embassy observation teams successfully deployed nationwide to monitor the elections.

Background:

On December 27, Kenya will hold presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections.  More than 2,500 candidates are vying for the 2010 seats in Parliament, and there are three main Presidential candidates.  Ethnic and tribal affiliation remains the most influential factor in voting choices for races at all levels of government.  We expect that the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will announce the results on either December 28 or December 29.  A team of observers organized by the International Republican Institute will monitor the elections, in addition to Kenyan and other international observers.  The presidential inauguration will likely take place on December 31.  Because the Kenyan government did not fix an inauguration date in advance, it was not possible to arrange for a high-level Presidential delegation to attend.

In the Presidential race, the most recent polls show incumbent Mwai Kibaki at 43 percent, challenger Raila Odinga at 46 percent, and dark horse candidate Kalonzo Musyoka at 10 percent.  If Kibaki wins by a small margin, it is possible that Odinga will allege that the elections are flawed, will refuse to accept the result, and may incite his supporters to protests that could easily become violent.

It sounds to me like the Africa Bureau was “spinning” ahead of time to question the legitimacy of opposition protests rather than remaining objective to entertain the possibility (or likelihood based on what was known about the ECK by this time) of an election “result” of questionable legitimacy.  And as Ranneberger had noted, if the election was stolen there was simply no recourse other than protest.

Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 Election from the Truth Trickling Out About 2007–New Cables From FOIA (Part One)

Lessons from 2007 and New FOIA Cables–Part Two

Lessons from the Kenyan 2007 Election and New FOIA Cables–Part Three

Part Four–Lessons from the Kenyan 2007 Election and New FOIA Cables

Part Five–Lessons from the 2007 Election and New FOIA Cables

Part Six–What Did the U.S. Ambassador Report to Washington the Day After the Kenyan Election?

Part Seven–One Last FOIA Cable on the 2007 Exit Poll

Part Eight–new Kenya FOIA documents: Diplomacy vs. Assistance Revisited or “Why Observe Elections If We Don’t Tell People What We See?”

 

Part Eight–new Kenya FOIA documents: Diplomacy vs. Assistance Revisited or “Why Observe Elections if We Don’t Tell People What We See?”

We are in full swing now in the 2012/13 presidential campaign in Kenya, but unfortunately there remains much confusion, misunderstanding and simple lack of awareness over what actually happened in the 2007 elections.  I have gotten a couple of additional partial releases of a few documents from the State Department in December and again this month from my 2009 Freedom of Information Act requests about the State Department’s 2007 election observation and the exit poll, and since we are running out of time to get ready for the upcoming elections, it seems time to start introducing some more of this information.

New this month is the release of a grand total of three documents purporting to be the entirety of the releasable documentation from the Africa Bureau (as opposed to the cables in the central State Department records) related to and derived from the State Department led observation of the Kenya elections.  One (undescribed) document was withheld in full bringing the total Africa Bureau documentation to four items.  In other words, in sprite of the fact that “160 Embassy officials in 56 U.S. Embassy observation teams successfully deployed nationwide to monitor the elections” according to the election day Africa Bureau press guidance (one of the documents released) they did not generate records.

The question could be raised then whether the point of the State Department observation through the Embassy became not so much to observe as to be observed observing.  Being observed observing gives an extra patina of gravity to whatever narrative you wish to present about the election afterwards; and who can question without an independent look at your data? [or an independent exit poll?]

Again, this highlights the difference between the diplomatic function with its command structure to carry out foreign policy with its multiplicity of interests and objectives, but clarity in who is being served, on the one hand, and the function of an independent international election observation mission, funded as a matter of “democracy assistance” intended to serve the very much narrower interest of the internal democratic process in the host country to advance values shared by the funding nation/s and a broader international community (and accepted in theory by the host country).

The one document released that substantively describes observation of voting by State Department personnel is a November 20, 2007 email which is a headquarters “readout” of a video conference held “with Post to discuss the experiences of Post’s first-ever observation of the political primary process in Kenya.”:  Here is the text:

The Observation Effort:
*21 teams (total about 60 people) deployed to the field. This is our first time observing the primaries. We expect to deploy about 50 (100+ people) teams to the general elections as part of the larger international observer effort. The EU plans to deploy 150 people.
*These will be Kenya’s 4th multiparty elections but only the second “free and fair”.

Negatives Observed:
*The process was very poorly organized. We would say the the parties embarrassed themselves, except most of the party leaders have no shame and are thus immune from embarrassment. General feeling is that apparent total lack of organization is not an accident, but reflects efforts to rig/manipulate the outcomes.
*There were obvious deals between the incumbents and local party operatives.
*The process was well-run and by the book only in where parties had no hope of winning in that area anyway. Where there were real stakes, manipulation was rampant and obvious.
*Ballots were delayed for many hours in many locations; some politicians felt this was intentional and especially disenfranchised women voters, who either couldn’t wait all day or had to go home before dark for safety reasons.
*Hate literature observed to date is overwhelmingly generated by PNU supporters.

Positives Observed:
*Turnout was surprisingly good. People were very determined to vote. Many waited from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later for ballots to arrive. In some cases where ballots were delayed, people agreed amongst themselves to vote on whatever pieces of paper and honored the results.
*Dozens of outgoing MPs (including some we are very happy to see go, i.e. [REDACTED] were eliminated at this stage, which suggests that you can’t always manipulate the results.
*Our sample was biased as we purposely went to areas where trouble was expected and/or stakes were high, so we likely observed a disproportionate amount of rigging, etc.
*With the recent passage of the Political Parties Bill, this is the last time that the party nomination process will be run by the parties themselves. In the future, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will run it (at least, for all parties who want public money). PNU contracted with the ECK to run their primary this time, but it didn’t happen in practice–party leaders took over and wouldn’t let ECK do its job.

After the Primaries:
*We expect a lot of horse trading. Some winners were DQed on appeal and even without an appeal. There were also many “directed nominations,” which led to the resuscitation and handpicking of many old dinosaurs/unpopular incumbents notwithstanding voter opposition.
*There may be blowback with an impact on turnout for Dec. 27. There were widespread feelings of bitterness and disappointment, especially among ODM supporters, who expected to participate in a “new beginning.” Many people complained that, populist image notwithstanding, ODM is run like a dictatorship and that the way of doing things is no different than KANU used to do in the past. The positive difference is that the electorate is much more vocal and active in demanding transparency and participation in the electoral process. The howls of protest regarding some of the directed nominations show the electorate’s increasing maturity and lack of interest in this kind of politics.
*Many unsuccessful candidates have jumped to smaller/marginal parties. There is a cottage industry of sorts selling nominations.

Possible Impact on Main Parties:
*The disappointment and frustration with the nominating process was greatest among ODM supporters. Will this experience sap the energy of ODM supporters, or can ODM redeem itself? Will people continue to be willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity?
*Fear/stability is a powerful motivating factor in Kibaki’s reelection prospects. The contest between ODM and PNU can be characterized as “hope vs. fear.”
*PNU has much less internal discipline and message consistency. Virtually all PNU parties are fielding their own candidates for Parliamentary seats, so not much of a real coalition.

Political Violence
*Two possible types. One, aspirant (often incumbent) MPs use paid gangsters (and sometimes local police officials) to intimidate or disrupt the polling process (trash polling stations, threaten voters waiting in line and/or election officials). Two, spontaneous voter uprisings, where voters feel they are being disenfranchised and attach the presiding officers. If the ECK runs an efficient process as expected, this should lessen the possibility of voter violence. —–END—–

For context, this November 20, 2007 summary of what was observed during the primary elections was roughly a month after the Ambassador’s intervention in the public opinion polling as described in previous documents and a month before the Ambassador’s public statement predicting a “free and fair” election the week before the general election. Nairobi is the State Department’s biggest Sub-Saharan post; it was staffed with smart and observant people and obviously well funded–the problem was not what the State Department did not know, rather it was what it would not say.

Meeting

Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 elections from the truth trickling out bout 2007–new FOIA cables (Part One)

Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas for the third time from the AfriCommons Blog.  Sorry for the light posting–I’ve slowed down for the holidays.  I didn’t take note earlier this month of the second anniversary of the blog and have also been taking some extra time to read and take stock of where the blog should go next year with the Kenyan election campaign and so much else going on in the region at the same time.

The latest “birther” lawsuit was thrown out by a federal court today–hope that will die and that people involved in the U.S. campaigns can leave Kenya out of our races here.

I have received a couple of Christmas presents from the State Department this week:  first, I finally got the first installment of cables from my outstanding FOIA request from October 2009 about the Embassy’s 2007 election observation (albeit with pretty extensive redaction on several of them).

Second, the Secretary rose to the occasion and made a strong statement criticizing the cursory approval by Kabila’s Supreme Court of his asserted re-election:

Secretary Clinton’s statement:

The United States is deeply disappointed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the electoral commission’s provisional results without fully evaluating widespread reports of irregularities. We believe that the management and technical execution of these elections were seriously flawed, lacked transparency and did not measure up to the democratic gains we have seen in recent African elections. However, it is still not clear whether the irregularities were sufficient to change the outcome of the election.

We believe that a review of the electoral process by the Congolese authorities and outside experts may shed additional light on the cause of the irregularities, identify ways to provide more credible results, and offer guidance for the ongoing election results and for future elections. We strongly urge all Congolese political leaders and their supporters to act responsibly, renounce violence, and resolve any disagreements through peaceful, constructive dialogue.

We have called on Congolese authorities to investigate and prevent election related human rights violations and we urge security forces to show restraint in maintaining order. The United States continues to offer our assistance and we stand with the Congolese people in their quest for greater peace and democracy at home and throughout the region.

Part Six–What did the U.S. Ambassador report to Washington the day after the Kenyan election?

See the previous posts in this series:  Part One, Two , Three , Four and Five.

There were additional machinations with the Ambassador’s approach to IRI up through election day that I think raised legitimate concern about what his objectives and intentions were in regard to the election, as reflected in my complaint to USAID, but for present purposes, I will skip ahead to the next cable I have received, a report by the Ambassador to the Secretary of State and others on December 28, 2007 entitled “Kenya’s Elections – A Positive Process Thus Far”  [Ed.  Note:  the group of cables I have been discussing is limited to five items from the Central Foreign Policy files in Washington,  whereas the Africa Bureau has made no response to the Department FOIA office as to its records on the same FOIA request, including those kept at the embassy in Nairobi.  Follow up: In October 2011, two years after my request was filed, my status inquiry finally indicated that documents from the Africa Bureau were under review for release.]

So what did the Ambassador say on the day after election?  Here is his summary:

“The relatively smooth and peaceful way in which the elections were carried out on December 27 represents a victory first and foremost for the Kenyan people and their democracy.  Herculean efforts by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), the responsible statements made by the leaders of the main parties, the constructive role played by the media, and strong U.S. support and observation all contributed to this positive outcome.  All observers share a relatively positive view of how the election process was carried  out.  I have made an informal positive statement to the Kenyan media.  It is, however, too early to make final pronouncements.  Septel will provide text of a proposed draft statement that can be issued by Washington on December 29 .  The vote counting will not be completed until the 29th.  The potential for last minute fraud cannot be ruled out.  The electoral process in some areas was characterized by delays and problems with voting procedures and electoral registers, but these were largely resolved in a way that did not disenfranchise voters, who turned out in record numbers.  Initial informal results show opposition candidate Raila Odinga leading President Kibaki by between 3 and 8 points, but this reporting is uneven and not systematic.  The election is still, in our view, too early to call.”

. . .  The most striking impressions from all observers about election day are the peacefulness and orderliness of the process.  Even the most problematic and contentious constituencies completed voting in an acceptable fashion.

For example, I observed the opening of the polls in the Kibera slum, which is a key part of Langata constituency, where presidential candidate Raila Odinga was a candidate for Parliament.  This race was ground zero in the election process given widespread fears that extra-legal efforts would be made to defeat Odinga there, thus making him ineligible to become President (since whoever is elected President must also be an elected member of Parliament).  At 0600 there was already over 5,000 people lined up to vote at the largest polling station in Langata, which is Olympic School in the Kibera slum.  The bigger problem was confusion over voting procedures.  People had begun lining up since just after midnight.  [Ed. Note:  Why?  According to one account I have been provided this was done in the context of the exposure of organized efforts to bus in large numbers of people to disrupt the voting.]  . . . Calls from us to ECK were instrumental in getting senior ECK officials to act quickly to resolve the issues [the need for more full copies of the electoral register for the polling station], and I was able to make some reassuring statements to the media.  ECK Chairman Kivuitu went to Kibera himself to calm people.  In another remarkable testament to the professionalism of ECK officials, all those waiting to vote were eventually processed, and by late evening Kibera was quiet (a truck standing by with riot police was not needed).  .  .  .

“One embarrassing stumble by the ECK actually became on the the day’s best examples of Kenya’s maturing commitment to a responsible democratic process.  The ECK inexplicably failed to include Raila Odinga’s name in the voting register in his own polling station in his Langata constituency, resulting in a potential crisis when Odinga was turned away.  Instead of inflaming the Kibera slum, Odinga simply drove to ECK headquarters and officially protested the omission.  The ECK offered no excuses and acted immediately to amend the register to include Odinga’s name.  There were a few quick press conferences and the situation ended peacefully with Odinga casting his vote.

That the voting process was so relatively smooth and peaceful despite delays and organizational problems testifies to the commitment of the Kenyan people to democratic values.  The leadership of the President and the opposition candidates in calling for peaceful elections and respect for the results was also crucial to this positive outcome.

The other remarkable aspect of the elections was the unprecedented high turnout (which will average somewhere between 65 and 80 percent).  Not surprisingly, Kibaki’s team produced a record turnout of around 85% in his home area of Central Province, and Odinga produced a high turnout in his home area of Nyanza Province.  Many people waited in line for six hours or more.  Some of the turnout was clearly the result of increased participation by youth.  It appears that Odinga will profit from youths’ perception that he represents a younger generation (though he is 63 to Kibaki’s 76, and both are from the same political class) and that he will be more decisive against corruption.

The electoral process thus far deserves a strong statement of support, and clearly meets a high standard for credible, transparent, free and fair elections.  I made an informal statement last night that was carried extensively on Kenyan television.  It is, however, too early to make definitive pronouncements.  The ECK will likely not announce final results until December 29.  The EU and Kenyan domestic observation missions will make statements on the 29th.  By COB Washington time on the 29th we will send a proposed draft for a statement by Washington.  IRI will make a largely positive statement the afternoon of the 28th.

The ballot counting process is carried out in three stages, each fraught with the potential for fraud.  First, the ballots are counted at each polling station in front of party agents.  Party agents were given copies of the results and they were also posted publicly at each station.  My observations and those of our observers indicate that this counting process was generally transparent and efficient.  Second, the ballots were taken to central tally stations in each of the 210 constituencies.  Observations indicate that this process has also been carried out well.  Finaly, the ballots and results of the tally stations are, where possible, being called or sent by e-mail to the ECK and then physically carried to ECK headquarters.  This process, which will be carried out during the course of today and this evening, is where the potential for trouble is currently greatest.  Ballots can be lost, burned, or otherwise destroyed.  Even though results will have been posted at polling stations, any interference with the final phase of the count would raise serious issues that the ECK would have to address (especially if the ballots delivered to the ECK in any way differed from results tabulated at polling stations).  During this period tensions will rise as inevitable rumors circulate (given the history of extensive fraud in all previous elections except the one in 2002).  We have received, unconfirmed reports that the police had to fire into the air at several tally centers to disperse unruly crowds worried that ballots were being tampered with.   Commissioner of Police Ali gave a press conference this morning and said all the rights things to assure people of his commitment to ensure protection for ballots and to highlight the non-political role of the police.

As a result of its generally responsible, extensive, and timely reporting, the media also deserves credit for how well the process has proceeded thus far.   Since before the polls closed the media has been reporting on a 24-hour basis.  They are reporting vote totals based on the results posted at polling stations, but making clear that only the ECK can announce official results.  The results that the media are reporting reflect uneven inputs from around the country, but so far show Odinga leading Kibaki by about almost 10 points.  Two exit polls (with uncertain methodology) also show Odinga winning by 3 -8 points.  The race is, in our view still to [sic] early to call.   It appears, as expected, that these elections will result in a sea change in Parliament, with up to 70 percent of incumbents replaced.  This may in part be due to a wave of ODM support, but is even more the result of dissatisfaction with the incumbents’ perceived inattention to their constituencies and to the exorbitant pay raise that they awarded themselves.  Initial reports indicate that some of the most corrupt incumbents have been defeated.

“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]

All told, a smashing success then, reports the Ambassador.

No particular security concerns.  Kudos to the ECK, kudos to the police, kudos to the media and kudos to the State Department.  “And that exit poll I commissioned through USAID to ‘provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes’ as I described it in my December 14 cable (and to provide ‘early intelligence’ for me as the USAID officer said on the afternoon of election day)?   Its methodology is ‘uncertain’ ” (even though it was developed by experts, at the expense of USAID and UCSD, with open consultation with USAID all along). [Ed. Note:  The other exit poll Ranneberger referred to in the cable is apparently one conducted by the Institute for Education in Democracy in Nairobi with funding from the British Westminster foundation as I was told.  I was told that the IED, unlike IRI, was not able to obtain complete results from the field in the context of the violence and was not able to publish final results.  I could, arguably, say that its methodology is “uncertain” because I don’t personally know anything about it.]

IRI was criticized by members of the EU Observation Mission for releasing its “largely positive” statement of that day, the 28th, while all the other observation delegations waited.  Ironically, the U.S. was the largest and lead donor for the UNDP election coordination effort, through which other delegations cooperated in waiting to make preliminary statements for the ECK to announce results.

[See Part Seven–One Last FOIA Cable on the 2007 exit poll.]

Part Five–Lessons from the Kenyan 2007 elections and the new FOIA cables

Getting back to the narrative, I also remember Tuesday, December 18, 2007, the date that Ranneberger wrote the second of the cables that I received recently through a 2009 FOIA request.

That morning’s Standard featured a big, full page exclusive interview with Ambassador Ranneberger, nine days before the election.  For me this article was something of a benchmark in terms of my “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador instructions.  There are several reasons I found the article troubling, part related directly to the independence of  our IRI election observation mission, and part related to the Kenyan campaign itself,  in particular the corruption issue.  On corruption:

[From “Envoy Predicts Free and Fair Election”, The Standard, December 18, 2007–an interview with U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger nine days before the Kenyan election]

Q: What are your views on corruption?

A: Lots of people look at Kenya and say lots of big cases have not been resolved because of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg. I always point out that we have lots of corruption even in the US. These cases take a lot of time to bring to justice. We had the famous Enron case. It took over four years to resolve in a system that works efficiently, yet only a couple of people were convicted. These things take a long time.

There has been substantial effort to fight corruption in Kenya and the award the country won for Civil Service reform [from the World Bank] is a pointer to that effect. The fact that the Civil Service is more professional than ever before is progress as are the new procurement laws recently put in place and the freedom of the Press to investigate and expose corruption. More, of course, needs to be done.

The economy has grown by 7 per cent. How much of that has actually trickled down to the people will again be determined by time.

A career diplomat, Ranneberger has been in Kenya for close to one-and-a-half years, and has served in Europe, Latin America and Africa.

This was a full page “exclusive” feature interview in The Standard nine days before the 2007 Kenyan election.

During previous days The Standard had been running new revelations about corruption in the Kibaki administration from documents from exiled former Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance  John Githongo. Rumor had it that Githongo wanted to be able to return to Kenya and might want to be able to return to government after the election, although I had no knowledge one way or the other about whether that was true. Githongo’s personal adventure trying to address corruption in the Kibaki administration is the subject of Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat. Wrong rightly noted in her book that stealing the election was the ultimate corruption.

Githongo had previously alleged that the Anglo Leasing scandal that Ranneberger referred to was intended to fund the campaign to re-elect Kibaki. See this from BBC News, January 26, 2006, “Kenya ‘safe’ for anti-graft czar”:

On Wednesday, the World Bank urged Kenya’s president to take tough action against any cabinet ministers found to be corrupt.

The warning came as the World Bank approved a new $25m loan to help fight corruption – a decision slammed by former UK Kenya envoy Sir Edward Clay.

Sir Edward, who has condemned Kenya for not tackling graft, said the new loan would feed the “pig of corruption”.

‘Insensitive’

“The Anglo-Leasing cases represent an excellent opportunity for the authorities to invoke the disciplinary provisions of the code of conduct signed by the new cabinet weeks ago,” said World Bank Kenya director Colin Bruce.

“I believe that this is an historic moment for the government to signal where it stands on the issue of political accountability,” he said.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki

President Kibaki is under increasing pressure over corruption

President Kibaki was elected in 2002 on a pledge to fight corruption.

Some donors, including the UK, have suspended some aid to Kenya over concerns about corruption and Sir Edward, who retired last year, thought the World Bank should have sent out a tough message.

“How can the World Bank be so insensitive and hapless to announce new loans to Kenya?” reports the Guardian newspaper.

“They have added insult to injury by feeding the pig of corruption in Kenya when many Kenyans were beginning to hope they might smell the bacon beginning to fry.”

Over the weekend, Mr Githongo’s leaked report said his attempts to investigate the Anglo-Leasing scandal were blocked by four top ministers – Vice-President Moody Awori, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi, Finance Minister David Mwiraria and sacked Transport Minister Chris Murungaru.

Mr Murungi and Mr Awori have publicly denied the claims.

Mr Murungi said the report was “untrue” and an attempt to bring down the government.

Mr Githongo resigned last year amid reports that his life had been threatened.

The money raised by the alleged scam was to be used to fund the ruling Narc coalition’s campaign in elections due next year, Mr Githongo said.

Following the leaking of the 31-page report, the opposition has urged President Kibaki to dissolve cabinet.

Opposition Orange Democratic Movement leader Uhuru Kenyatta said: “This is clear evidence that the government can no longer be trusted to conduct detailed and honest investigations into this saga.”

Other diplomats were maintaining effective “radio silence” in the sensitive closing days of the 2007 campaign, while Ranneberger was speaking out to defend the Kibaki administration’s corruption record. In the meantime, after my December 15 experience at the Embassy residence I was quietly preparing the new last-minute pre-election Langata survey, along with all the other work for the exit poll and Election Observation Mission.

After reading the Standard article, I e-mailed my local USAID officer on the Election Observation and Exit Poll to complain, noting my opinion about the article and where things seemed to be going in regard to my obligation to supervise an objective and independent Observation Mission and the Ambassador’s alternative approach.

Part One;   Part Two;    Part Three;    Part Four;    Part Six;    Part Seven;   Part EightPart NinePart Ten

Part Four–Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan Election and new FOIA cables

See Part One, Two and Three of this series. And the full Freedom of Information Act Series.

Also see Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

The fourth cable I received last weekend under the Freedom of Information Act was a lengthy unclassified report from Monday, December 24 entitled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections”.  The most noteworthy items are the Kibera issue discussed in my last post and, as also discussed there, Ranneberger’s very explicit position regarding what he considered U.S. interests to be in the whole matter–being able to treat the announced outcome as credible.  Otherwise, the cable is pretty much the kind of thing that I would have expected him to write based on my interactions with him personally and more generally with the Embassy, and as an observer of his very conspicuous role as a media figure in Kenya during the campaign.

Overall, Ranneberger was uniformly positive about Kibaki, even on the corruption issue.  He offered no real positives on Odinga other than, if it can be viewed in a positive light, noting that he was generally a more effective campaigner and speaker than Kibaki, but at the same time his criticisms of Odinga were in context fairly mild. Generally the view in the cable seems to be what I saw in muted form in Ranneberger’s statements to Kenyans through the media, and more strongly in his speech to the delegates of the IRI Election Observation at a reception at the Embassy residence that same Christmas Eve and in private conversation:  it certainly seems that Ranneberger preferred a Kibaki re-election, but in this writing to Washington he acknowledged Odinga as a “friend of the United States” like Kibaki and did not suggest at all that Odinga was seriously dangerous, threatening or sinister in some way along the lines of the some of the attacks from hardline Odinga critics in the U.S. or in Kenya.

Likewise, nothing about ideology;  whereas the New York Times picked up on concern back in Washington about Odinga’s background association on the left during the Cold War, going to college in East Germany and naming his son Fidel, I never talked to anyone with the U.S. government in Kenya that gave any indication that they found Odinga to present ideological or economic concerns to the U.S.  Ranneberger did make one derogatory comment about Odinga to me privately, but I would not let the Times use it when they interviewed me because I felt that it could be misleadingly inflammatory and was said only in private in his office in the context of doing legitimate business.

Another statement that he made to me separately in October in the context of the discussion about the pre-release Steadman poll showing Odinga leading Kibaki by a large margin was that “if we’ve been wrong about this all along” in what was reported to Washington about Kibaki’s standing “we might as well not even be here”.  I have no way of knowing what any of his previous reporting had been, but I was certainly struck when I first arrived in Kenya by how positive he seemed to be about the Kenyan administration and political climate in the context of what I had read in the my preparations for taking the post.  He said that he wanted to have an election observation with the notion of telling an African success story.

Under the heading “Messy, But Probably Credible Elections” Ranneberger wrote:

9.  Election day will almost certainly be messy, meaning some violent incidents, and a fair amount of allegations of interference with the voting process.  Both Kibaki and Odinga have senior people around them who are desperate to win, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.  While the potential for dangerous actions must be taken seriously, the track record of the well-run elections in 2002 and the national constitutional referendum in 2005 (which the government lost) bodes well.  The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Samuel Kivitu, is highly respected and determined to run a clean election.  Elaborate procedures are in place to assure a credible and transparent process.  The large number of international observers will also help to limit misconduct.  The EU has about 120 observers, the U.S. Mission is fielding almost 200 observers plus funding an observer mission of the International Republican Institute led by former A/A Connie Newman, and there will be over 17,000 Kenyan domestic observers.  Finally, as we have traveled the country, average Kenyans have emphasized their determination to participate in a free and fair election (even if this is mixed with underlying tribal sentiment).

10.  If Kabaki loses, Odinga supporters will be riotously happy.  At the same time, most of the Kikuyu elite, with their business interests, will want to work out accommodation with the with the new government (many have already launched feelers).  The greater danger is if Odinga loses.  He and his supporters will be very tempted – even if the Electoral Commission and observers deem the process credible — to declare the election fraudulent and to resort to violence.  In that case, there could be significant violence and several tense days while things calm down.  While there is no likely scenario that would lead to generalized instability, substantial violence along tribal lines would be a setback for Kenyan democracy.

Lessons from 2007 and New FOIA Cables–Part Two

Continued . . .

So on Saturday afternoon, December 15, 2007, I drove to the embassy residence in Muthaiga and was served tea by a woman from the house staff while waiting a few moments for the Ambassador.  I had understood from IRI’s president that Ranneberger was going to talk to me and my general impression or assumption was that he wanted to smooth things over after twisting my arm so hard toward getting Ambassador Bellamy, his predecessor, off the IRI Election Observation delegation.

As it turned out, the purpose of the meeting was more substantive.  I am not writing to “dish” on a private conversation and I won’t recount everything in general here, but this did involve public business of the U.S. as well as the Kenyan election, regardless of the fact that it took place without witnesses or records on a Saturday afternoon.  All circumstances considered I think I ought to explain a couple of salient points from this meeting that remain to me significant in trying to learn what happened with the election twelve days later.

To start, Ranneberger elaborated on the importance of removing Bellamy from the delegation because of the notion that he was perceived as “anti-government,” obviously meaning the Kibaki administration.  As mentioned in the New York Times story, what was new in this conversation is that he seemed to be saying that the objection had come from someone in the Kenyan government, although that was not completely explicit.  When Ranneberger had originally raised this objection to Bellamy earlier in the month, I had asked for input from our Kenyan program staff who indicated that they did not think that this was Bellamy’s general reputation in Kenya and IRI staff had checked this with State Department contacts in Washington and found no support for that view there either.

The Ambassador definitely did not apologize for giving me “the treatment”, but he was smoothly back to his usual more pleasant/diplomatic self and I certainly did not take the matter personally–I was just the guy on the ground who provided an available pressure point.

Ranneberger did let me know that he knew what Bellamy had been told as to why he had been dropped from the delegation.  In other words, he was letting me know, without taking responsibility for the situation himself, that he knew that “we” at IRI had lied to Bellamy.  This may not have put us in the best position to hold the “no more b.s.” line with Ranneberger going forward.   He didn’t say how he knew about the “story line” to Bellamy and I have no idea myself.  IRI was in a difficult situation not of our making on the Bellamy situation–would we cancel the Election Observation (as the only international NGO scheduled to observe, and raise lots of questions we couldn’t very well answer) or let the Ambassador interfere with the delegation? Regardless, once the directive from the top was given to lie to Bellamy about why he was off the list, IRI no longer had completely clean hands.

There are a variety of things from the more substantive part of the discussion that leave open questions in my mind now after what ultimately happened with the ECK and the election.  One in particular that stands out now in light of the FOIA disclosure.

The Ambassador told me that Saturday that “people are saying” that Raila Odinga, as the leading opposition candidate for president, ahead in the polls as the vote was nearing, might lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency (which under the existing system would disqualify him from becoming president even if he got the most votes nationally).  This was “out of the blue” for me because I certainly was not aware of anyone who thought that.  Odinga’s PNU opponent Stanley Livando had made a big splash and spent substantial money when he first announced, but he had not seemed to get obvious traction in the race.  Naturally, I wondered who the “people” Ranneberger was referring to were.  Ranneberger said that a Raila loss in Langata would be “explosive” and that he wanted to take Ms. Newman with him to observe voting there on election day.

Ranneberger also went on to say that he wanted to take Ms. Newman separately to meet with Kibaki’s State House advisor Stanley Murage on the day before the election with no explanation offered as to why.

After midnight Nairobi time I had a telephone call with the Africa director and the vice presidents in charge at IRI in Washington in the president’s absence.  I was given the option to “pull the plug” on the observation mission based on the concerns about Ranneberger’s approach following my meeting with him.   The Ambassador, rather than either IRI or USAID, had initiated the observation mission in the first place, and IRI was heavily occupied with other observations.  Nonetheless, based on assurances that Ms. Newman would be fully briefed on our agreement that she needed to steer clear of separate interaction with the Ambassador and that the Murage meeting must not happen, and my belief that it would be an “incident” in its own right to cancel the observation, we agreed to go forward with precautions.

I got the idea of commissioning a separate last-minute poll of the Langata parliamentary race.  I thought that the notion that Livondo might beat Raila in Langata seemed far fetched, but objective data from before the vote could prove important.  We hired the Steadman polling firm for this job, to spread the work.  Also Strategic was already heavily occupied with preparing for the exit poll, and  Steadman was the firm that Ranneberger had instructed his staff to call (too late as it happened) to quash the release of poll results that he knew  would show Raila leading back in October, so I thought that it was that much more likely that word would get back. Further, in the partisan sniping which I generally did not credit, Steadman was claimed by some in opposition to be more aligned with Kibaki so would be extra-credible to verify this race.  I also made sure that we scheduled an “oversample” for Langata for the national exit poll so that we would have a statistically valid measure of the actual election day results in the parliamentary race.

On to the new FOIA release:  On Tuesday, December 18, Ranneberger sent another cable to the Secretary of State entitled “Kenya Elections:  State of Play on Election”.  This cable says nothing about the “explosive” Langata parliamentary race issue that Ranneberger had raised with me on Saturday, three days earlier.  It concludes:  “Given the closeness of the election contest, the perceived legitimacy of the election outcome could determine whether the losing side accepts the results with minimal disturbances.  Our staff’s commendable response to the call for volunteers over the Christmas holiday allows us to deploy teams to all sections of the country, providing a representative view of the vote as a whole.  In addition, our decision to host the joint observation control room will provide much greater access to real-time information; allowing a more comprehensive analysis of the election process.”

Next, we have a cable from Christmas Eve, December 24, three days before the election.  The first thing that morning the IRI observation delegates were briefed on the election by a key Ranneberger aide.  I told him then that we had commissioned the separate Langata poll.  He said that the Ambassador would be very interested, and I agreed to bring results with me to the embassy residence that evening when the Ambassador hosted a reception for the delegation.  The results showed Odinga winning by more than two-to-one.

There are a number of noteworthy items that I will discuss later from this cable, but for today, let me note that  Ranneberger has added in this cable a discussion of the Langata race:

“11.  We have credible reports that some within the Kibaki camp could be trying to orchestrate a defeat of Odinga in his constituency of Langata, which includes the huge slum of Kibera.  This could involve some combination of causing disorder in order to disenfranchise some of his supporters and/or bringing in double-registered Kikuyu supporters of the PNU’s candidate from outside.  To be elected President a candidate must fulfill three conditions:  have a plurality of the popular vote; have at least 25 percent in 5 of the 8 provinces; and be an elected member of Parliament.  Thus, defeat of Odinga in his constituency is a tempting silver bullet.  The Ambassador, as well as the UK and German Ambassadors, will observe in the Langata constituency.  If Odinga were to lose Langata, Kibaki would become President if he has the next highest vote total and 25 percent in 5 provinces (both candidates will likely meet the 25 percent rule).

12.  The outside chance that widespread fraud in the election process could force us to call into question the result would be enormously damaging to U.S. interests.  We hold Kenya up as a democratic model not only for the continent, but for the developing world, and we have a vast partnership with this country on key issues ranging from efforts against HIV/AIDS, to collaboration on Somalia and Sudan, to priority anti-terrorism activities.

.  .  .

14.  As long as the electoral process is credible, the U.S.-Kenyan partnership will continue to grow and serve mutual interests regardless of who is elected.   While Kibaki has a proven track record with us, Odinga is also a friend of the U.S. . . .

15.  It is likely that the winner will schedule a quick inauguration (consistent with past practice) to bless the result and, potentially, to forestall any serious challenge to the results.  There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable.  The courts are both inefficient and corrupt.  Pronouncements by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and observers, particularly from the U.S., will therefore have be [sic] crucial in helping shape the judgment of the Kenyan people.  With an 87% approval rating in Kenya, our statements are closely watched and respected.  I feel that we are well -prepared to meet this large responsibility and, in the process, to advance U.S. interests.”  END

None of this material was mentioned in the briefing to the observation delegation or to me that day.  Long after the election, the Standard newspaper reported that the original plan of the Kibaki camp had been to rig the Langata parliamentary race, but at the last minute a switch was made to change the votes at the central tally, supposedly on the basis of the strength of early returns for Odinga in Western and Rift Valley provinces.

To be continued .  .  .  .