Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s “People’s President” swearing in?

[Update Feb. 2: Here is a good overview from Martina Stevis-Gridnef in the Wall Street Journal, Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens“; Fr. Gabriel Dolan explains how the Kenyatta government has popularized the “National Resistance Movement by banning it, with good historical context.]

Since I elected to stay away from the 2017 election in Kenya myself, I have tried to avoid offering a lot of derivative commentary from afar, but have continued to be interested and concerned with how my American government representatives approach this on behalf of the American people.

Privately, I shared the worry that perhaps Raila was not being a good steward of the lives of his supporters given the risk of threatened action by the Kenyan governments’ security forces (and my inability to decipher what he was really aiming to accomplish).

Nonetheless, I also decided that it was not my place to lecture for several reasons. First, any Kenyan who would be deciding to attend or not attend the rally knew full well and far better than I the risks of running afoul of the GSU (General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, known for use for high profile political missions, such as sealing off Uhuru Park in the weeks after the 2007 election to prevent opposition rallies) as or other force at the disposal of the “Commander in Chief President”.

Second, we ourselves have passed on doing our part to forthrightly deal with the detritus of the stolen 2007 election and the substandard and opaque election process that put the current Uhuruto regime in power in 2013.

Third, in this election cycle we did not give visible public support to reasonable reforms of the IEBC process. I am not willing to be too critical from afar without knowing more (although I don’t know more because our approach is intentionally more opaque than I think is appropriate or prudent) but in watching as an American back home we certainly gave the impression over the last couple of years that while we wanted things to go smoothly and would support negotiation of the disputes surrounding the IEBC in areas where they were pushed to the forefront by the opposition, we remained in the mode of supporting the old “Chickengate” IEBC team and staff, even while the investigation of procurement fraud directed by the April 2013 Supreme Court ruling never happened. Even when the British secured criminal convictions for the Chickengate bribes and paid money over to the Government of Kenya, we were mute as Kenyans enjoyed the customary impunity for corruption–and when Uhuru used the funds to do a “photo op” for the purchase of ambulances as if it was a charitable donation.

We allowed the incumbent administration to attack and potentially interfere with our assistance to the IEBC through IFES in the critical months before the election (see “The hardest job in Kenya . . .”) without obvious penalty, and stayed silent on reforms called for by the EU Election Observation Mission and others–aside from the opposition–in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling striking the presidential election of August 8 because of the IEBC deficiencies.

As it turned out the incumbent administration acted extra-legally to shut down private broadcasters (except the President’s own) but had the security forces pull back and did not initiate the feared violence. If we had any influence on that decision then I am pleased that our long years of support to Kenya’s various police and security services and governments of the day may have borne some positive fruit in that instance.

As far as the notion that Raila would be likely to unilaterally instigate violence in this situation, people in the State Department would do well to remember the analysis of Ranneberger’s own staff pre-election in 2007 that while there was hate speech on both sides the largest share was directed against Raila rather than on behalf of his candidacy or the opposition.

Invoking the so-called “ooga booga factor” to scare Westerners about Raila has been more than a cottage industry in Kenya (and in London and Washington PR shops) along side the ethnic hate speech to rally other ethnic groups against him in Kenya. And Raila is unavoidably controversial in some respects and gives his critics ammunition. But at present Raila is in a relatively physically powerless position in opposition; the Government of Kenya security forces are in the hands of “Uhuruto”, controversially elected in the first place as a “coalition of the killing” from the violence that was taking place exactly ten years ago.

In this context the “black propaganda” operation on behalf of the Uhuruto re-election campaign through Harris Media of Texas, United States, was particularly pernicious and even worse than 2007.

Let’s remember that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer herself insisted that what was being done through the Kalenjin militias in the Rift Valley in early 2008 was “ethnic cleansing” and we all know the “revenge” attacks through the Mungiki against especially Luo and Luhya who had the misfortune of living and working in Naivasha and Nakuru were horrific. And that the largest share of the killing was done by the police and largest number of killed identified by ethnicity Luo per the Waki Commission. The ICC Prosecutor’s Office may have run a sloppy legal operation, but did they really get “the wrong guys” factually in the six indictments? Will O.J. someday find the real killers? (Do Raila and Kibaki–Commander in Chief then–and many other politicians also bear some real moral responsibility, too–surely so; does Kalonzo Musyoka? I personally would not vote for either ticket if they were running in my country, but they weren’t, and left us with our own problems.)

Fair minded representatives of the United States in current circumstances have to recognize that the threat of violence on behalf of an incumbent “Uhuruto” regime in full control of all military, paramilitary and other police forces is much greater than that presented by an opposition rally or ceremony.

Old Party Office in Kibera

Remembering Paul Muite’s open questions about the IEBC’s integrity before Kenya’s previous elections

Back in February 2013 The Africa Report ran a feature entitled “Can Kenya’s judiciary and election commission pull it off?” on readiness for the general election on that March 4. In a blog post from that April after the Supreme Court upheld the election I discussed Hon. Willie Mutunga’s “judicial philosophy” in the context of what he had had conveyed in that Africa Report just before the vote.

With this year’s Supreme Court decision annulling the August 8 presidential vote with Paul Muite, one of Kenya’s most prominent lawyers–and sometimes “Central Province” politician and official–representing the Election Commission (IEBC) I thought it was worthwhile to highlight his pre-election integrity concerns when he was not litigating:

There is, however, nervousness about how the IEBC will fare.

Led by Ahmed Issack Hassan, the IEBC has enjoyed public confidence since August 2010 when it ran the referendum on the new constitution.

It then held several by-elections with textbook efficiency.

But troubles began last year over a tender for biometric voter registration kits.

After anomalies were exposed, the government intervened and awarded the tender to France’s Safran Morpho at almost double the stipulated cost.

The delayed voter registration was com- pressed to one month instead of three.

James Oswago, the IEBC chief executive, says it is absolutely committed to transparency: “In fact, I am not aware of any public procurement officer who has referred a controversial process to the government for arbitration. I did. You have not heard anybody going to court for corruption linked to this process.”

Unlike the old Electoral Commission of Kenya, whose top officials were in the president’s gift, the IEBC has nine one-term commissioners including Oswago, who acts as secretary to the board.

Each commissioner was selected after consultations between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, the two main rivals in the 2007 election, and then vetted by parliament.

“We have in place structures that invalidate a discretionary announcement – a rigged vote. You can accuse the commission of inefficiency or of lateness and so on, but not of rigging,” Oswago says confidently.

INTEGRITY QUESTIONS

But Paul Muite, a lawyer who is contesting the presidency himself, does not share such certainty: “The IEBC is not inspiring confidence. I am not sure that they have the capacity or political will to conduct credible elections.

“There are integrity questions regarding some commissioners […] the composition of the commissioners was motivated not by merit but by the coalition government’s need for ethnic and regional balance.”

Similarly, a report by South Consulting, which has been monitoring the coalition government for the Panel of Eminent African Personalities led by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, raised questions about the IEBC’s capacity.

It questioned its capacity to act decisively on electoral disputes and pointed to its inability to censure rogue parties and politicians during the chaotic party primaries in January.

In January, the IEBC vetted and registered eight presidential candidates, rejecting two on technical grounds.

Among those approved was Uhuru Kenyatta, although he was facing a local case challenging his candidature on integrity grounds.

The case is unlikely to be decided before the presidential elections.

It seems the IEBC did not want to prejudge it, so was happy to let the courts decide.

Pressure is certain to build on the new and inexperienced IEBC as elections approach and then again in likely second round elections.

The courts, determined to uphold their independence, will probably act as a buffer against violent street protests.

The police force, overstretched as it is and caught in a maelstrom of reform, resistance and warring political factions, may not.

Voters may find themselves caught between these two institutions●

Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Can Kenya’s judiciary and electoral commission pull it off? | East & Horn Africa

Follow us: @theafricareport on Twitter | theafricareport on Facebook

While Washington grapples with another Kenyan election mess, an update on my FOIA pursuit of our policy from 2007

Still no more documents from USAID from my 2015 request for material involving our support for the IEBC in the 2013 election, from which I finally learned in April of this year that USAID had tasked the American International Foundation for Electoral Systems with making sure the electronic Results Transmission System that failed worked:  “IFES will ensure this system is fully installed, tested and operational for the 2012 election.  Furthermore, IFES will fund essential upgrades and adjustments to this results transmission system.” 

In the meantime my Mandatory Declassification Review appeal relating to a document I originally requested from the State Department more than eight years ago relating to the January 3, 2008 post-election telephone conference between U.S. Secretary of State Rice and E.U. High Commissioner Javier Solano is now more than a year old:

September 15, 2016

Re: Case No. M-2016-04563

Dear Chairman:

I am appealing the decision to withhold in full all material identified in Case No. M-2016-04563.

Because all information was withheld in the response to my original FOIA request, FOIA Case No. F-2009-07810 and this Mandatory Declassification Review request, I have not been given much ability to evaluate and argue the details of the withholding on appeal. It is difficult to believe that every bit of information in the identified document responsive to my requests has been and continues to be necessarily kept secret in the interests of national defense or foreign policy.

In particular I note that I requested documentation on the telephone conversation between former Secretary Rice and former EU High Representative Javier Solana based on media reports containing public communications about that call, the subject matter of which was as I understand related to public diplomacy regarding the Kenyan election. Both our country and the E.U. had undertaken assistance programs to support democracy in Kenya, including neutral International Election Observation Missions and I was an NGO employee as Chief of Party for the USAID-funded observation on the U.S. side. It would seem that U.S. interests and law would counsel a tilt toward openness rather than secrecy in this specific context and I ask for your consideration in this regard.

Thank you.

Raila on the Kenyan elections at CSIS

Catch the webcast, live Thursday morning 9:30-11:00 EST:

“Raila Odinga on the Kenyan Elections” with Amb. Mark Bellamy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The link will also take you to the video for CSIS Africa programs addressing the Kenyan election in June, July, August and September.

Meanwhile, the AP has a story out this afternoon widely re-published in American newspapers: “After Kenyan vote drama, successionist talk hits the mainstream“.

The succession concern may likely have resonance in Washington given U.S. interests, although my sense is that the economic boycotts are the most salient message in Nairobi.  During the PEV period following the corrupted 2007 election, ODM backed off on threats of such economic boycotts which seemed risky as unprecedented and perhaps perceived to be “over the top”.

Vogue gives us “Three Nairobi Fitness Excursions Prove There’s Plenty of Life Beyond the Safari” for Americans who want to play around the city after their “humanitarian” trip to Kakamega from the U.S.

And the Carter Center has released a statement on the October 26 re-vote mirroring the State Department’s call for “national dialogue”: “Repeat poll polarized Kenya: Carter Center” headlined the Daily Nation.

Update: A Thursday story in The Star reports that  “British Army may pull out of Kenya, decision by end of month“.  The issue is KDF approval for leases of private land in Laikipia, the established practice, as opposed to a restriction to using only Kenyan government property.

For a good overview, see “The Kenya Election Crisis, Explained” at UNDispatch         by Kimberly Curtis.

Don’t be confused: preparations for Kenya’s failed August election election were controlled by Kenya’s ousted “Chickengate” IEBC and its CEO and staff with support of international “partners”

From this blog late last year:

Meanwhile, Kenya is paying an average of about $343,000.00 “severance” to each of the outgoing Independent Electoral and Boundary Commissioners for leaving earlier this fall rather than completing their terms through November 2017. No signs of accountability for the #Chickengate bribes to the IEBC by Smith & Ouzman that were prosecuted by the UK and no sign of accountability for corruption in the subsequent 2013 election technology procurements.

While the “buyout” has been negotiated, the incumbent IEBC staff without the “servered” Commission has been proceeding to undertake election preparations that will be fait accompli for the new Commission when it is appointed next year.  

Accordingly, the chief executive has proceeded to report plans to spend an astounding 30Billion KSh to conduct the 2017 general election, while setting a target of 22 million registered voters. In other words and figures, roughly $13.40US per registered voter if the target is met or $19.60US per currently registered voter. (For comparative data from places like Haiti and Bosnia,see The Ace Project data on cost of registration and elections.)

Update: see Roselyne Akombe’s interview in the Saturday Nation, Credible Oct. 26 election not possible: Akombe” 

Friday Lizard Blogging

Enough democracy and elections for this week.  

If Kenyan Election Commission leader Roselyne Akombe’s loud public whistle was not enough to get the Western democracies to back off the “happy talk” about Kenya’s “fresh election” preparation [as the Chris Msando murder was not in July and August] then there is nothing more to say.  

It is worth remembering that when USAID solicited proposals for the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017, it required IFES and the others to include an alternative plan for an election pushed back several months.  This is hard now, but Kenyans and their partners can give themselves a break here if there is enough good will and sobriety lurking somewhere beneath the surface.  And if not, then safer not to pretend.

Kenya Supreme Court clarifies a common sense interpretation of duties of IEBC Chairman as National Returning Officer

Daily Nation: “Chebukati cannot edit poll results“:

In their judgement, five judges of the court said where there are discrepancies between results in Forms 34A and 34B, the chairman should announce the results and leave the matter to the court.

The judges said Mr Chebukati has the duty to verify the results as transmitted electronically.

However, whenever he detects errors, he should notify the parties, observers and the public and leave it to the election court.

. . . .

However, the Supreme Court faulted Wafula Chebukati, who is national returning officer, of announcing the winner before comparing the results in Forms 34A and 34B.

The court stated, “There can be no logical explanation as to why in tallying the Forms 34B into Forms 34B into the Forms 34C, this primary document (Forms 34A) was completely disregarded.”

I would say that the underlying factual–if not “logical”–explanation is that Mr. Chebukati gambled on August 11, likely under great pressure, that the “Maina Kiai decision” left unappealed by the IEBC, left a loophole that could be exploited to announce a national “result” early from the purported constituency returns in spite of the knowledge that a huge number of the polling station returns had not been transmitted as required by law.  This gamble did not work and Mr. Chebukati has now obtained from the Supreme Court notice to all interested parties that it still will not work going forward.

A must read and some thoughts on context as Kenyan presidential politics continues


  1. As a necessary corrective to fatalism, start with an important piece from Patrick Gathara in today’s Washington Post:

Raila Odinga and the surprising bright side to Kenya’s never ending election.

Events of the last few days are more twists, turns and wrenching associated with Kenya’s status as being stuck or frozen by the stolen election of 2007 and its aftermath, pending forward movement to truly realize a new system under the new constitution approved overwhelmingly in 2010, or back into a now-digitized/globalized version of a single party power structure based on elite-level tribal bargains.

Based on the 2013 election and Kenyan history, in the immediate run the continued retrenchment of democracy is surely likely, but we can hope otherwise.  And most importantly, Kenyans can keep their eyes on the horizon and recognize that much of the work of getting Kenya (back?) to the state of democratic openness that was preceived to have existed in the early times after the defeat of KANU at the polls in 2002 will remain regardless of who is president.

And the vital task of acheiving a transparent and trustwothy, bona fide independent electoral commission must not stop with the immediate “fresh election” regardless of when it is or whatever limited progress is obtained through current NASA demands for “irreducible minimums”.

ODM and Wiper and other parties made a mistake by waiting until early 2016 to focus on forcing reforms of the Issaak Hassan “Chickengate” IEBC of the badly administered 2013 election.  Even though agreement was obtained to replace the Commission with loss of life of protestors killed by police by mid-2016, the old Hassan Commission stayed in control until early this year, after budgets and plans (and some contracts apparently) were in place, assistance programs by the United States and others contracted–and apparently adjusted by demand of the incumbent ruling party.

The new Commission inherited Hassan’s staff and remains quite murky as to the extent that they are de facto independent enough to effectively manage and discipline that staff.  The selection process was messy and murky and the Vice Chair of the Commission turns out not to have resigned her job with the UNDP but rather taken “leave” of undisclosed terms while serving.  Are other Commissioners of uncertain independence from other players in administration of the elections? (I am not concluding that Dr. Akombe is not independent of the UNDP–just that there are unavoidable questions which neither the UNDP nor Dr. Akombe seem willing to address–nor Kenya’s media to take up.)

No incumbent president in Kenyan history has been found by Kenya’s election management body to have lost an election–certainly the opposition has always known it had an uphill battle to have real hope of winning, aside from the fact that the incumbents have strong support in their bases and were ahead by a few points in most polls as of late July.  In this environment, the failure to achieve deeper reform of the old IEBC by early 2017 was probably fatal to a real chance to win all other things being equal.

The surprising and gutsy decision of the Supreme Court of Kenya to rule that the IEBC’s conduct was just too far beyond the pale to pass legal muster gave everyone another chance, but of course it did not change any hearts and minds of people who were never willing to risk of losing office at the polls in a free and fair vote.

The United States and other donors attracted a lot of published advice from its own employees and through indirectly supported sources like the International Crisis Group stressing the importance of transparency for trust building but elected instead to continue to stay the course of underwriting the ECK-IIEC-IEBC and publicly promoting its output to Kenyans without re-consideration of the risks and costs of non-transparency and undisclosed failures with the electoral management process, such as the alleged bribery in 2007 that warranted undisclosed US “visa bans” and the subsequent “Chickengate” bribes and the bogus procurements of technology that left Kenyans exposed again in 2013.

This is not rocket science.  Kenyans who are increasingly divided by tribalism as their politicians offer and deliver less democracy and less other models of leadership, are more likely to accept and trust what they are openly shown and explained.

Trust and Accountability”-  Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peaceful  election.

I will be prepared to more substantively address the 2017 vote/s once I get the documents I am due and expecting from my 2015 FOIA request about the 2013 election.  Until then, we can still decide to do what we know can be most helpful to build trust if we want to.

Update: do not miss this – “Against second rate democracy in Kenya” from Aziz Rana in the Boston Review.

Kenya’s “fresh election”: new statement from Carter Center EOM and background on UNDP election support to GOK

Today the Carter Center Election Observation Mission released an additional report discussing briefly the findings and proceedings of the Supreme Court of Kenya in deciding the presidential election petition but primarily focused on the negotiations and preparations for the “fresh election” scheduled by the IEBC for 26 October.

kenya-statement-supreme-court-ruling-100417kenya-statement-supreme-court-ruling-100417

There has been some public controversy and debate, as well as confusion, about the role of the UNDP in the funding and management of this years Kenyan election to a degree that was not apparent in the last two cycles.  The UN is a big presence in the Nairobi and Kenyan economic and political scene, so it hardly surprising that their role in the overall outside democracy assistance program would come into scrutiny where things went badly and the election was annulled.  Most recently there was an offer made by the IEBC to have the UNDP undertake ballot paper procurements, for instance, which was declined by the candidates.  (I am not ready to wade into the thickets of the controversy about the fact that the most public face of the Commission itself other than the Chairman has retained her employment with UNDP in a leave status while accepting appointment from the President and taking office as an IEBC Commissioner in January and related matters,)

From an EU report at the beginning of the year:

  • The UNDP-led “Strengthening the Electoral Processes in Kenya Project” aims to strengthen Kenya’s electoral institutions, systems and processes in Kenya in view of the 2017 elections.

Following the EU’s support to Kenya during the 2013 elections, the EU is capitalising on the lessons learnt from that period to provide a better electoral support mechanism for future elections. The EU’s financial contribution to “Strengthening the Electoral Processes in Kenya” aims to develop stronger legal and institutional structures that will lead to transparent, credible and peaceful elections, as well as leading to more informed participation in the electoral process. In particular, we expect:

  • a strengthened institutional and legal framework for the electoral processes;
  • a strengthened participation of voters, parties and candidates in the electoral process with emphasis on women, youth and disabled
  • the delivery of more efficient, transparent and peaceful elections
  • a strengthened electoral justice and increased compliance with the electoral framework

The programme supports activities that cover the whole country. Beneficiaries of it include the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which will be the largest recipient of the programme’s assistance. Other beneficiaries include Kenyan institutions and organisations involved in the drafting of legislation, dispute resolution between political parties, media regulation, women’s empowerment and security, including:

  • the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties
  • the Kenya Law Reform Commission
  • the Judiciary and Political Parties Disputes Tribunal
  • the Director of Public Prosecutions
  • the Police Service
  • the National Cohesion and Integration Commission
  • the Parliament
  • other government agencies including county governments
  • civil society (including women movements) and media

The EU is contributing EUR 5 million to a projected total basket fund amount of EUR 21,5 million (US$24 million). The other donors to the “Strengthening the Electoral Processes in Kenya” project are currently DFID and USAID; some other donors might also join. To date (as of January 2017) US$14.65 million has been raised. The basket fund became operational in the second half of 2015, and activities will last till the end of 2018. The implementing partner is UNDP, with support from UNWOMEN.

Source: “EU support for democracy in Kenya” 17/1/2017

Western envoys in Kenya decry difficult pre-election environment, but say too late for substantial reforms, leaving no obvious way forward

[Update: Here is an Oct. 3 Daily Nation story on the status of negotiations and demands among Kenyan politicians and Western diplomats: “Envoys threaten travel bans to politicians derailing poll plans“.  The International Crisis Group meanwhile offers a good brief: “How to have a credible, peaceful presidential election in Kenya“.

The independent European Union Election Observation Mission issued a new 3 October statement saying “decisive improvements are still achievable if Kenyans come together in a constructive manner” while decrying excessive demands and proposed law changes and with confrontation from both sides.

And to refresh the memories of the envoys and candidates here are the September 14 recommendations of the European Union Election Observation Mission for reforms ahead of the election re-run.]

It is in fact very unfortunate that time has been running hard against the 60 day deadline for the “fresh election” necessitated by the failure of Kenya’s IEBC (significantly supported by the United States and, at least indirectly through the UNDP so-called “basket funding”, other donors) to conduct a lawful presidential election on August 8 as determined by the Supreme Court of Kenya.

With the passage of time things like the then-shocking torture/murder of acting IEBC ICT head on the eve of the election are no longer mentioned in such statements as today’s from the envoy group.  Too long ago that murder (passing 60 days) and with no sign of progress or serious effort to solve the case we should of course “accept and move on” that it was simply an unfortunate coincidence (or at most one of those political murders that happen periodically in Kenya that are agreed to be ignored so that we don’t have to face the darker realitity of how “democracy” really works in such a pretty country).  Of no relevance to the August 8 election or its rerun in the hands of the his suspened predecessor who got his job back when Msando was killed even though he had been earlier suspended as ICT director for refusing to cooperate in an audit.

Rather it is noted today that it is “too late” to replace staff hired under the removed Issack Hassan Chickengate regime or otherwise substantially reform the IEBC.

Longstanding CEO Ezra Chiloba doubled-down last week and signed (reportedly) a new (amendment??) with the controversially sole-sourced ICT vendor OT Morpho now owned by a US-based fund and a fund of the Government of France.  Pretty much an “in your face” gesture toward reformers if true. [Update 4/17: The IEBC twitter feed has reported that the OT Morpho contract will be released – I gather this is confirmation of the reported new agreement but we shall see.]

Either the donors have lost all significant influence, if they had any, toward transparency and trust building at the IEBC or they are really gambling hard on selling whatever the IEBC in existing form–without meaningful reform–will offer up on October 26 and the seven days thereafter.

As for me, I think this is a bad gamble, both in terms of odds and because the known character of the other players at the table.

As an American who was involved in the 2007 fiasco from part-way inside and witnessed 2013, I would like to see my Government cease to help underwrite this IEBC as a matter of our own integrity and of our long term ability to provide some future positive influence to the future development of independent democratic institutions in Kenya.

The American dollars supporting through USAID this IEBC would be much better spent on urgent humanitarian needs (see the UNDP’s call for additional funds of more than $100M for Kenya famine relief).

It may be that NASA will throw in the towel and agree to go along to run in a “not so fresh” election without IEBC reforms.  That is for NASA to decide.  I just do not want my Government to interfere in that decisionmaking process unless we are willing to provide some independent assurance of transparency and support for fairness to all Kenyans (not just NASA) that the Government of Kenya cannot be expected to agree to unless we are willing to stand up to them in a way that I have not seen from us in 2007 or 2013.