Remembering Dr. Joyce Laboso and Jerry Okungu and Rift Valley Rural Women Empowermen

Kenya Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment NetworkRift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network – Jerry Okungu seated in front row, far right, Dr. Joyce Laboso standing in second row, in white ball cap, 2nd from right

Dr. Joyce Laboso, who died in July while serving as Governor of Kenya’s Bomet County, and Jerry Okungu, the late journalist, columnist, media consultant and publisher, were favorites from working with them through the International Republican Institute in 2007 before that years’ election. Sadly they have both been lost to cancer at much too early an age.

Jerry worked with us as a consultant doing media and communications training and I travelled with him to conduct multiday programs at Edgerton University in the Rift Valley and Garissa in then North Eastern Province. My next post will be a more involved tribute to Jerry who died in January 2014. In the meantime, see his obituary from Citizen TV. Jerry and I kept up in later years and I have always regretted that we missed getting together again in person as we had hoped.

During the months leading up to the 2007 election, we at the IRI East Africa office were on a relative shoestring. Our primary Kenya work was our National Endowment for Democracy country program which was focused on training women and minority members who aspired to run for parliament. So we latched onto the invitation to work with the UN-supported Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network to provide training and encouragement. We engaged Jerry to provide media and communications training.

At the time, Dr. Laboso’s sister Lorna was running for parliament in Sotik and was nominated by ODM and elected. I got to spend time with Joyce who was especially helpful to me as a newcomer in understanding the “bad old days” (my term not hers) when she spent years as a student and graduate student in England, but at home could not safely even mention in public the name of the then-President. She also helped me understand a bit about “intra-Kalenjin” politics (she was Kipsigis). An ODM wave was coming in the Rift Valley that year and a number of women candidates were part of the perceived post-Moi “change”.

Sadly, Joyce’s entry into elective politics herself later in 2008 came about from two untimely deaths.

The first was on the morning of January 31, 2008 (during the post election violence). David Too of Ainimoi Constituency became the second ODM Member of Parliament to be shot dead since the election. Too was shot by a policeman who also shot and killed a policewoman Too was with in a car. During that time the strategy of Kibaki’s PNU during the post election violence period was to consolidate power by drawing away (or down) the ODM margin in Parliament that allowed the narrow election of ODM’s Kenneth Marende as Speaker (and Marende’s elevation cost ODM one seat). Kibaki had appointed third-place candidate ODM-Kenya’s Kalonzo Musyoka as Vice President (according to Joe Khamisi part of a pre-election deal he negotiated with Stanley Murage representing Kibaki), and KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta as Minister of Local Affairs. Kenyatta and “Retired President” Moi had endorsed Kibaki by August and aligned KANU with Kibaki’s new PNU when it was formed in September, even though Uhuru remained “the leader of the Official Opposition”. (This sticks in my mind in part because I met with new Speaker Marende at his request that morning and the news of Too’s killing hit shortly before I arrived.)

(In October 2009, Judge David Maraga, elevated to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2016, found the killer guilty of reduced charges of manslaughter in the killings of both the policewoman and MP Too. Maraga found the downgrade from murder to manslaughter warranted by the lack of intent indicated by “provocations” of both jealousy and self-defense.)

Unfortunately, on February 1, the day after Too’s killing and my meeting with Speaker Marende, I was told that IRI back in Washington had made the decision not to release the exit poll contradicting the presidential totals announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya shortly before Kibaki’s swearing in on December 30 (per our agreement with USAID release of the results for this exit poll, the third in a series, was to involve consultations with the Nairobi mission that included diplomatic considerations, although there have been some claims that these did not occur for unexplained reasons.) Following that news I was constrained in my ability to interact freely with Kenyan politicians—and on Speaker Marende’s request that I meet with Kofi Annan to encourage the mediation process—since I was not willing to go along with telling anyone the exit poll was “invalid” per the “official line”.  I ended up going home in May when my temporary duty with IRI was up without initiating goodbyes to Joyce or most of the others that I might have.

Raila and Kibaki agreed to their “peace deal” for power sharing on February 28 and it held in spite of the lack of support from some leaders and on the back benches on Kibaki’s PNU side who still wanted to try to wrangle a working majority in parliament, engineer a vote of “no confidence” against the new Prime Minister and re-take full control of government.

Tragically, in June 2008, Joyce’s sister, the Hon. Lorna Laboso, along with her colleague Kipkalia Kones, in his fifth term from Bomet and serving as Roads Minister, were killed when their light plane from Nairobi crashed on a trip to campaign for the ODM candidate in the special election to replace David Too in Ainimoi Constituency. Lorna was remembered as a a pioneer of women in politics and for campaigning against the cultural practice of female genital mutilation among the Kipsigis . (Both she and Kones were mentioned for allegations of backing politically related violence in PEV period but of course there were never any legal proceedings; that part of the February 28 “peace deal” ultimately failed and we are left with the muddle of mass informal immunity among the living, and questions about others, for the mass violence.)

It was this sequence that led Joyce to step up as a candidate in the special election that September to fill Lorna’s Sotik seat. I sent condolences on her sister’s death and congratulations on her special election, and but we never interacted again so I am left with appreciating her as a pre-political leader and not knowing what she thought about the various twists and turns of her own career in politics, sadly cut short by cancer as too many others.

“Livondo Tosha”? Akasha Brothers sentencing memo has “interesting” discussion about Stanley Livondo, Kibaki/PNU candidate to unseat Raila in Langata in ill-fated 2007 election

“Livondo Tosha”/”Make Peace” in Kibera, early 2008:

Kenya Kibera Post Election Violence Livondo Tosha Keep Peace

From the U.S. Attorney’s Memorandum to the U.S. District Court for the sentencing hearing for Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha, filed back on July 25. (Yesterday Baktash was sentenced to twenty five years, and The Star published a downloadable copy of the Memorandum. ) At page 23:

D. The Akashas’ Armed Confrontation with Stanley Livondo
Tensions escalated in the weeks after Ibrahim kidnapped Armstrong. Baktash began to receive threatening calls and text messages from a local politician associated with Armstrong— Stanley Livondo. Soon after, Livondo confronted Baktash at a shopping mall, and the two began to fight. Ibrahim intervened, drew his gun, and threatened to kill Livondo. The sight of Ibrahim’s gun caused panic in the shopping mall, and so Baktash, Ibrahim, Goswami, and Baktash’s bodyguard quickly fled. Before heading to the police station to ensure—with bribes—that there was no fallout from the incident, Baktash, Ibrahim, and Baktash’s bodyguard stashed their guns with Goswami. They retrieved the weapons later that day.

Armstrong as described in the Memorandum manufactured drugs in Congo and elsewhere and brought them into Kenya. He got into a relationship with the Akashas in this context from which he wanted out, leading to his kidnapping as discussed, and the threats to Baktash Akasha from Stanley Livondo.

Livondo was the candidate of Kibaki’s PNU in the December 2007 elections in Raila Odinga’s Langata Constituency who Amb. Ranneberger told me on December 15, 2007 “people were saying” might unseat Raila, which would disqualify Odinga for the presidency even if he beat Kibaki nationally in the presidential race.

See my discussion here from my post of July 2011, “Lessons from 2007 and new FOIA cables–Part Two”:

So on Saturday afternoon, December 15, 2007, I drove to the embassy residence in Muthaiga and was served tea . . .

. . . .

Ranneberger did let me know that he knew what Bellamy [his predecessor as U.S. Ambassador, Mark Bellamy] had been told as to why he had been dropped from the [International Republican Institute election observation] 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 [lobbyist and former Asst. Sec. of State Constance Berry Newman, IRI’s lead delegate for our International Election Observation Mission at Ranneberger’s impetus, and his “great friend and mentor” and now lobbying associate at the firm Gainful Solutions] separately to meet with Kibaki’s State House advisor Stanley Murage on the day before the [Dec. 27] 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 .  .  .  .

For my entire series of posts from 2011-2012 see my page “The Story of the 2007 Election Through FOIA“. And my summary story in The Elephant: “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen With U.S. Connivance“.

Langata Ballot Specimens showing Kibaki versus Odinga for President and Livondo versus Odinga for Member of Parliament:

Battle over Kenyan election corruption has commenced with vote in Parliament to ban the French vendor OT-Morpho/IDEMIA

IDEMIA f/k/a OT-Morpho before a name change (and previously Safran Morpho before the French defense conglomerate sold this division to the French technology group Oburthur Technologies in a transaction closed shortly before August 2017 Kenyan election) has been a fixture of the past two Kenyan elections.

I have written about issues involving these procurements numerous times over the years and am continuing my engagement with the USAID Freedom Of Information office in their review and processing of public information from USAID support to the Kenyan IEBC in the 2013 election, from my request in 2015. (So far they have processed and released or withheld about half of the records sent from Nairobi to Washington by early 2016. They continue to assure me that they are working away at this.)

See: Kenya Election FOIA news: [heavily redacted] Election Assistance agreement shows U.S. paid for failed Results Transmission system.

Election Assistance FOIA update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting Kenya IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition.

Nigeria example shows why U.S. and other donors should act now on election technology procurement fraud.

USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers

Last July IDEMIA dismissed without explanation a defamation suit it had filed against Raila Odinga and other NASA coalition leaders in April 2018 shortly after Raila’s “handshake with Uhuru ended high level political contention over problematic KIEMS system IDEMIA had sold the IEBC in March 2017. The court records I reviewed indicted a unilateral dismissal rather than a settlement.

The judgment of the Supreme Court in the 2013 election petitions of AfriCOG and the opposition found that there was evidence of procurement fraud with the failed technology acquisitions, and ordered an investigation, but the IEBC, Kenyan prosecutors and donors all failed on that account. OT-Morpho, n/k/a IDEMIA once again was chosen in an opaque and controversial procurement process for the bigger 2017 “integrated” system. (I was told by the USAID press office that USAID did not finance the KIEMS purchase for the IEBC for 2017.)

But finally today, reports the Daily Nation, “For credible elections, MPs vote to block Huduma Namba firm“:

Members of the National Assembly voted on Wednesday to block technology firm IDEMIA Securities from doing business in Kenya for at least 10 years, citing violation of the Companies Act.

The move complicates the ongoing Huduma Namba registration, as the contract was awarded to the French firm at Sh6 billion.

. . . .

The MPs amended the report of the House Committee on Public Accounts on the audited accounts of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), to have the technology firm held accountable for irregular payments it received during the 2017 general elections.

So who “went native”? The Ex-Ambassadors’ greatest hit: “Sweet Home Kenya” [updated]

Could one make a case that perhaps it was not me after all, but more the Ambassador and/or others at the State Department who “went native” in Kenya over the 2007 election controversy (and in other situations)?

Interesting to think about as things have played out.

My memory was most recently jogged in seeing that James Swan, a distinguished diplomat who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and signed off on some of the materials related to the 2007-08 Kenyan election controversy that I have obtained through FOIA and written about here over the years, has retired to a Nairobi post with the Albright Stonebridge Group business/investment advisory. (Albright Stonebright Group offers “commercial diplomacy” and advisory services and owns a substantial part of the equity of Albright Capital Management which in turn runs private equity funds out of the Cayman Islands which have investments in other funds and businesses with interests in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries in the region. The Albright is former Secretary of State Madeleine, the NDI chair.)

Also one of those strange articles in The Daily Nation this past week, drawing on a particular bit of older Kenyan political history: the article notes that Ambassador Kyle McCarter will soon take up his post in Kenya for the United States, and that the first American Ambassador to Kenya, William Attwood, had acquired property in Kenya and wanted to retire there, but was banned from staying or returning to the country by Jomo Kenyatta who was angered by his act of publishing his memoir, The Reds and the Blacks. Without explaining specifically what Kenyatta was offended by, the article cites some of Attwood’s material about his perception of Cold War tied machinations involving the competition between Oginga Odinga and Kenyatta and allegations of Odinga’s separate East-bloc arms imports. It then notes Ambassador Ranneberger’s re-marriage to a Kenyan and his vacation home on the Coast at Malindi. (Interesting is the omission of any reference to Ambassador Smith Hempstone and his memoir, Rogue Ambassador, which details his interaction with “the second liberation” and his impressions of Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.)

Maybe Ambassador McCarter is being reminded not to step too hard on certain toes so that the Government of Kenya remains cooperative with his family’s longstanding mission work in Tharaka Nithi?

The topic of “going native” came up for me in early 2010 when my security clearance was up for renewal for my job as a lawyer for Navy shipbuilding contracts where I had returned after my leave of absence to work in Kenya for the International Republican Institute in 2007-08. I filled out the detailed paperwork listing my foreign contacts over the previous years, including my work for IRI in Kenya, Somaliland and Sudan (later to be apparently stolen by Chinese hacking from the Office of Personnel Management) and had my interview with a retired military officer who had served in Somalia in the early 1990’s and thus knew the region.

I did not know how to initiate an explanation in my interview that I had gotten into a “he said/he said” with Ambassador Ranneberger about the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times but I expected it to come up in some form. After the interview, I got a follow up: was I sure that I had been loyal to the United States as opposed to acting on conflicting loyalties to Kenya–had I had gone native? I answered clearly and unequivocally. Essentially I asserted the lawyerly equivalent of the courtroom objection: “asked and answered”. “I already told you I was a loyal American before someone fussed — I have nothing to change.” Apparently this was satisfactory as I did not lose my clearance (and thus my job).

Jendayi Frazer, Asst. Sec. of State for African Affairs during the second G. W. Bush Administration and Swan’s superior during the 2007-08 Kenyan election imbroglio, maintains a home in Nairobi as I understand, and was the primary international spokesman, informally, for the “Uhuruto” campaign in 2013, accusing then Asst. Sec. State Johnnie Carson of “interfering” in the campaign by suggesting that the election of crimes against humanity suspects could have “consequences” in trying to tamp down the use by the Uhuruto campaign of a statement by President Obama that was asserted to bolster a claim that the U.S. had no concerns about the issue. Frazer has business interests in Kenya and with the Kenyan government, through the the Kigali domiciled but Kenya based East Africa Exchange commodity platform arising out of a partnership between Swiss trader Nicholas Berggruen’s Berggruen Holdings and the East African Community. See my previous post here. Frazer and a Berggruen representative are also on the board of the Mastercard Foundation based in Toronto which has extensive programs in the region. Frazier is an Advisor for Rice Hadley Gates, the international consulting firm of of her colleagues from the Bush Administration (Robert Gates also stayed on as Obama’s Secretary of Defense; Hadley was Rice’s Deputy National Security Advisor during the inception of the Iraq War and took over after she went to State where she brought over Frazer; Hadley also turned his experience to the chairmanship of the United States Institute of Peace. Carson has since retired from the State Department and is also affiliated with the Albright Stonebridge Group as well as the United States Institute of Peace and NDI.)

The cases of Attwood, Frazer, Swan and Ranneberger, if nothing else, are examples of the “Nairobi Curse”, demonstrating the advantages that accrue to Uhuruto in controlling access to permission to live and work in Nairobi.

Another famous case showing the “flipside” is British High Commissioner Edward Clay who complained of the milder-than-now corruption in 2004 that senior officials of Kibaki’s first Administration were eating as “gluttons” and “vomiting on [the] shoes” of donors who had stepped up to attempt to alleviate poverty and sickness among Kenyans. After his term ended in 2005 he continued to speak of corruption and was informed by then Kibaki Justice Minister Martha Karua during a BBC appearance during the early 2008 Post Election Violence in the wake of the stolen election that he had been declared persona non grata and banned from returning by the Government of Kenya in retaliation.

And of course there is the purge of the IFES Country Director during the 2017 Uhuruto re-election campaign.

[Update: to be clear, my point here is about the relationships and dependencies of individual Americans to the Government of the day in Kenya and Kenyan politicians in power, not to get into the merits or demerits of specific investment activity. I think it is good for Americans to be in Kenya and Kenyans to be in America. In concept, Frazer’s East African Exchange, for example, seems to offer potential benefit to small farmers, although the authorities in Rwanda and Kenya have a track record of contradictory priorities, so it is hard to know what to expect. As far as ASG and the associated private equity funds, I would think Nairobi is heavily served on the consultancy side but there is always a need for private direct investment in the region in the abstract, through the Caribbean or elsewhere, with the devil in the details of particular investments.]

Challenging Nigeria International Election Observation may present tests of character (2nd update on lobbying/funding) #NigeriaDecides

International Election Observation Mission members, including those from IRI/NDI, are arriving in Nigeria for the general election Saturday in a difficult environment.

Although invited by Nigeria’s government there has been at least one unwelcoming statement and no one could deny that this is a hard job simply from the stakes of the election, the instability in some areas, the poverty and underdeveloped infrastructure faced by large portions of the voting population and the simple relative newness of regular competitive elections.

International election observation, which focuses on civil and political rights, is part of international human rights monitoring and must be conducted on the basis of the highest standards for impartiality concerning national political competitors and must be free from any bilateral or multilateral considerations that could conflict with impartiality. It assesses election processes in accordance with international principles for genuine democratic elections and domestic law, while recognizing that it is the people of a country who ultimately determine credibility and legitimacy of an election process.

Quoted is the standard of independence and impartiality to which the USAID-funded NDI/IRI International Election Observation Mission is pledged under the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (Oct. 2005).

The IRI/NDI Nigeria 2015 Observation Mission was funded directly by the State Department so shifting back to USAID funding this time is one of the positive things that I see as having potential to help preserve independence and maintain clarity between an Assistance Observation and a Diplomatic Observation to the benefit of the process.

See my post “President Trump’s Asst. Sec. of State for Africa candidly explains why election observation and technical assistance have to be ‘fire-walled’ from diplomacy to have integrity” for a current discussion and further links.

The joint IRI/NDI EOM model has positives and negatives in terms of actual and perceived independence. In Nigeria where democracy assistance is confronted by “resource curse” funded problems and lobbyists working “both sides of aisle” in Washington at a unusual level for an “African election”, along with prominent American campaign consultants usually involved, the joint model seems to me to have some important advantages over IRI or NDI doing a nonpartisan mission on its own, in-spite of the tradeoffs (alternatively you could go with the Carter Center as an “outside the beltway” if politically connected choice, or Democracy International as a truly private entity).

IRI in Africa from my now distant view has come quite far from some of the vulnerabilities that we faced in the 2007 Kenya Election Observation–experience is the best “capacity builder” and institutional funding and attention are now much more appropriate to the scope of the job. Some of my old Kenyan friends and colleagues who did such a great job running things on the ground in 2007 have stayed on and climbed the ladder. And we can expect this election in Nigeria to be better than their 2007 election, observed by many involved this year, as well.

Since Nigerian elections are always high profile and “on the map” in Washington there is no danger of overlooking the situation from that front. This Observation is long-planned and expected and well-funded; there have been an ongoing series of pre-election missions with reports on preparations. Likewise these observations have been going on with regularity throughout this century–and we’ve even been through the scenario of an incumbent seeking re-election during the Boko Haram war.

At the same time, you need no expertise to know that national elections are always challenging in Nigeria and that while cumulative progress has been made in some areas there are some particular concerns that have been reported on and discussed by this Observation Mission and others in the donor governments and media.

Thus, there may be hard calls ahead for the Observers, both on concerns they have already highlighted and from unexpected events as the voting, counting and disclosing play out.

American lobbyist and Ellen Johnston Sirleaf advisor Riva Levinson articulated part of the present challenge well in The Hill in Washington over the weekend: “At Risk: Credibility of U.S. democracy promotion in Africa“. Johnston Sirleaf is in Nigeria as lead observer for the ECOWAS intergovernmental Election Observation Mission and was co-lead for the most recent IRI-NDI Mission, “ZIEOM” in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE (Feb 12): Riva Levinson and her firm KRL are “registered foreign agents” in Washington for Retail Express Limited of Lagos, Nigeria. The Foreign Agent Registration Act filing from September 30, 2018 identifies this client as a “limited partnership which supports the goals of the Senate President of Nigeria, Dr. Aubakar Bukola Saraki, to engage international stakeholders in support of free and fair national elections in February, 2019, seek a level playing field for opposition parties, and convey the core tenants of the Senate President’s vision for the future of the country.” (She also currently lobbies for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Liberia and the Ministry of Finance of Ghana.)

Sakari lost the now-opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nomination to Atiku Abubarka but stayed in PDP, having defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) of Pres. Buhari in July. The PDP itself hired Ballard Partners as its Washington lobbyists for a year at $1,080,000 two days before Retail Express hired KRL.

Recent former diplomat and Council on Foreign Relations Africa lead Amb. Michelle Gavin had a notably hard-hitting CFR blog post last week headlined: “The Truth About United States Complicity in DRC’s Fraudulent Election” although in the text she just covers the macro level issue of diplomatically blessing an election whose official result was contrary to all available evidence.

We in the U.S. got partially off the hook in the DRC where the incumbent Kabila did not invite U.S.-funded or other international observers beyond the African diplomatic groupings (although I learned from Levinson’s piece that we provided funding for the Catholic Church run ‘Parallel Vote Count’, a fact I totally missed in the news reporting. USAID’s website indicates we were also providing “technical assistance” to the election management body CENI itself (!) which again I missed somehow in the news reports. These facts may have informed Gavin’s view even if the journalists that I read did not take notice.)

Update II (Feb 18): As it turns out, the U.S. not-for-profit IFES continued USAID-funded work with CENI, along with its partner IRI in the Coalition for Electoral Process and Party Strengthening (CEPPS) according to a brief overview on IFES’s website, and continues to work with CENI toward local elections. CENI hired its own Washington lobbying firm in 2018, Avenue Strategies, founded by former DJ Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (he left and set up a separate firm before the CENI contract). In January 2019 after CENI named Felix Tshisekedi as president-elect, Avenue Strategies also signed on to represent Tshisekedi as president-elect and now president.

Presumably, then, under the CEPPS mechanism USAID funded the third partner, NDI, for the work with the Catholic Church Parallel Vote Count. I will contact USAID to confirm the arrangement and see if they are willing to release any contractual details without a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

The Carter Center stood firm in calling out Kabila’s 2011″re-election” as failing to meet international standards. The State Department followed along in declining to bless the election and offering technical assistance to address irregularities back then, unlike the current situation which Levinson and Gavin question (although the diplomatic impetus for remediation at the presidential level in 2011 went away quickly).

See Dr. Carl LeVan’s Homepage “Development for Security” blog for an overview of the Nigeria election contest. Likewise, Amb. John Campbell’s “Nigeria’s Election: What to Know” at CFR.

Here is my piece from The Elephant in the wake of Kenya’s judicially annulled 2017 presidential election: “Free, Fair and Credible? Turning the Spotlight on Election Observers“.

[UPDATE III: here is the Preliminary Statement issued by the IRI/NDI Observation on February 25, after the delayed vote of February 23.]

International Election Observation Mission IRI Kenya Kibera Lavington Nairobi 2007

George H.W. Bush’s legacy in Kenya

George H.W. Bush was of a generation of America’s traditional elite who not only fought World War II, but also collectively oversaw the transition from Jim Crow racial segregation and discrimination through the Civil Rights era while managing the American response to decolonization in Africa and forming relations with the newly independent African states during the Cold War.

Most notably it was during the G.H.W. Bush presidency that Secretary of State James Baker gave permission to Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen to begin supporting democratization in Africa as a distinct element of U.S. policy. (See Cohen’s Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent, a memoir published in 2000). Part of the initial impetus was to help Soviet leader Gorbachev buy latitude by de-escalating tensions at a time of transition for the Russians.

Although U.S. democratization policy did not fare so well in Russia itself, I do think that we were helpful during the Bush Administration and beyond in bringing some African conflicts to a close and in Kenya, an established U.S. regional security partner, in pushing for a political liberalization through legalization of non-KANU parties and forcing President Moi to actually run for re-election in 1992.

President Bush’s politically-appointed Ambassador Smith Hempstone was fondly remembered during my time in Kenya with the International Republican Institute (2007-08) for having challenged Moi and his circle on political liberty issues. He was seen as having provided aid and comfort to actors in “the Second Liberation” within the context of the basic Kenyan-American security relationship. Hempstone was a journalist and newspaperman, not a diplomat, so needless to say he was not quite a cultural/professional favorite in the State Department itself but he knew his way around both East Africa and Washington with enough background and pedigree in both places to successfully test what he could get away with.

It is worth remembering today that Bush appointed Hempstone (who died in 2006) and stuck with him when it might have been easier to assuage Moi by replacing him with someone who would not “rock the boat” or speak too plainly. My late friend Joel Barkan and others I got to know in the democracy community were admirers of Hempstone’s fortitude at a crucial moment of inflection for Kenya. See “My Joel Barkan Tribute“.

Also see the Foreign Affairs review of Hempstone’s memoir “Rogue Ambassador.”

Caring about democracy in Kenya can be discouraging, but there is no doubt that most Kenyans are in fact freer now than they were prior to the Bush/Baker/Hempstone period. While Kenyans fought their own fight, I think that we made the correct choice to be supportive under Bush’s presidency.

My writing on my experience with the birth of “Birtherism” and Trump’s foreign policy

Birtherism is back in the news with statements by Jerome Corsi, author of The Obama Nation and Where’s the Birth Certificate?, that he expects to be indicted by the Grand Jury in the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference in the American presidential election. News stories this week on Corsi’s role in the current investigation used photos from Corsi at Kenya Immigration in 2008 when he was expelled while investigating Obama while I was Regional Director for the International Republican Institute.

Update: Voice of America, Nov 23, “Roger Stone Associate in Plea Talks with Mueller“.

FILE – Jerome Corsi, center, who wrote “The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, follows an immigration department officer holding his passport.

Likewise, Michelle Obama made news in pre-tour snippets from her new memoir “Becoming” that she most especially found birtherism from Trump unforgivable on a personal basis because of “his loud and reckless innuendos putting my family’s safety at risk.” See “In Her New Book, Michelle Obama Denounces Trump’s Sexism and His Promotion of the ‘Birther’ Conspiracy” from The New York Times.

A few weeks ago I had a piece in The Elephant which ran with the title “From Birther to More of the Same: American foreign policy in the Age of Trump and it’s impact on Kenya.” Salim Lone, former Raila Odinga spokesman, commented: “As always, a very interesting and objective look at our elections and the role the U.S. has played here from Ken Flottman. He is on the dot for pointing out the continuity in Kenya of the Bush Obama Trump arc, but on matters election, I’d give Bush an upper hand.” (I would appreciate any thoughts or observations you might have.)

I wrote about Corsi more specifically and his role in the 2008 United States presidential campaign between the late International Republican Institute Chairman Senator John McCain and then Senator Barack Obama back in 20014 here:

“A few thoughts about ethnic polarization in Kenya as we wait on the ICC”

An important thing for outsiders to realize is how complex, and deliberately obscured, these things are in Kenyan politics–and how much of what is said in popular fora in the United States is at least misleading if not flatly wrong factually and in some cases deliberately malicious. (I have finally just now brought myself to read the whole Chapter 4 on “Kenya, Odinga, Communism and Islam” in Jerome Corsi’s book The Obama Nation which was published shortly after I returned from Kenya in the summer of 2008 during the American presidential campaign.  It was a major bestseller and thousands of Americans may have read more about Kenyan politics in that chapter than they have ever read elsewhere over their lifetimes.  Corsi . . . paints a picture of the Kenyan election and the post election violence that is very much at odds with my understanding and experience, as well as anything I heard expressed internally at the International Republican Institute, or through my family’s church in Kenya or from our missionary friends or at my children’s missionary supported school.  In other words, malicious.)

One of the most important and interesting things that I have learned (so far) from my Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department relating to observation of the 2007 Kenyan election was that the Ambassador’s staff reported to him and up the chain during the campaign that while there was hate speech showing up on both sides of the ODM/Odinga and PNU/Kibaki contest, the greater weight of it was directed against Odinga.  This surprised me because I had relatively limited separate interaction with anyone else at the State Department besides the Ambassador and his personal approach and attitude in my dealings with him certainly gave no hint of this background from his staff in the context of his tactics in addressing the Kenyan campaign.

Barack Obama image New Orleans

Monday at USIP:  What Really Works to Prevent Election Violence?

One in five elections worldwide is marred by violence—from burned ballot boxes to violent suppression of peaceful rallies, to assassinations of candidates. A USIP study of programs to prevent violence suggests focusing on improving the administration and policing of elections. The study, of elections in Kenya and Liberia, found no evidence that programs of voter consultation or peace messaging were effective there. Join USIP to discuss this important new report.

Source: What Really Works to Prevent Election Violence?

“The great observer gamble” is a “must read” on the Zimbabwe election and international election observation

An important election and election observation drama is playing out now in Zimbabwe, and “The great observer gamble” (free feature) in Africa Confidential is the key explainer.

Subhead: “After an eight-month charm offensive wooing bankers and diplomats, the government is failing the legitimacy test”

Please follow the link and read in full.

In this case the U.S.-funded joint NDI-IRI international observation mission made a difference in international understanding of the difficult realities of the election in the context of seemingly conclusory approvals from the regional SADC (of which Zimbabwe is a member) and the African Union.

I have no criticism of the NDI-IRI effort and as far as I can tell my old colleagues have upped their game in important ways in this situation from my previous experience in Kenya. At the same time I would note that with the incumbent government already under sanction and not an important U.S. ally, and in a fairly small (in population) country with lots of opposition support in the U.S., this was a case where it was easier to stick to the facts of the vote without getting caught in a diplomatic undertow.

An important question now is how IFES in supporting the Zimbabwe Election Commission will handle the announced election challenge litigation from the primary opposition. With a fraction of one percent margin over the 50 percent runoff threshold and a lot of delay and uncertainty with the central tally (aside from voter register and larger “playing field” issues, this looks quite a lot like Kenya 2013, which I have been looking into through the Freedom of Information Act.

Mnangagwa’s team may have done enough to allow the most enthusiastic business people and governments to step up re-engagement. Much will depend on the strength of the opposition’s case at the election tribunal and the credibility of its handling by the courts.

Africa Confidential

[Update – the judicial challenge has been file. As in Kenya the process is truncated by a 14 day deadline for the court to rule.]

[This is one of my photos from the IRI Kenya 2007 Observation, as we arrived at Olympic Primary School in Kibera, Nairobi. One of the Zimbabwean newspaper sites used a copy of this image with the gentleman on the left cropped out for their Zim coverage.]

USAID documents show profound U.S. policy shift in Kenya from disappointment on reforms and corruption in 2005-06 to Ranneberger’s April 2007 “building capital” with Kibaki

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polling station Nairobi

In my last post I discussed the late FOIA release of an April 2007 cable setting out U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s explanation of a policy of hands-off neutrality on election reform proposals, and a “plague on both their houses” view of corruption. Ranneberger’s approach was to “build capital” with incumbent Mwai Kibaki’s Kenyan government heading into his re-election campaign, while distancing the U.S. from dissenting opposition and civil society voices.

A very different take was set forth only a few months before in documents released to me by USAID in 2014 under a FOIA request relating to the exit and public opinion polling program I managed in that 2007 election cycle as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute. In memoranda from November 2006 to release a second round of $250,000 in funds for the polling program which had started with an exit poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum, USAID noted “a policy shift toward NGO and civil society partners in light of the weakening of Kenya’s Executive Branch as a reliable and willing partner in areas such as Democracy and Governance”.

Here are excerpts from the documents linked above:

PROGRAM BACKGROUND

Embassy Nairobi has requested that the funds be used to support activities to strengthen democracy and governance, environmental sustainability and economic development and trade. All the programs will be managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In FY 2006, the funds will be used as follows:

*Democracy and Governance ($2,570,000):

$2.25 million will be used to support domestic and international observations, including training for political party agents and independent observers, allowing them to assess whether the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 are non-violent, transparent, and competitive.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

*The U.S. Government seeks to build a democratic and economically prosperous Kenya. This is addressed through five strategic objectives focusing on: reducing fertility and the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission; improving natural resource management; improving the balance of power among the institutions of governance; increasing rural household incomes; and supporting education for children of marginalized populations.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

I. SUMMARY

The Recipient [IRI] shall institute a program to improve and increase access to objective, reliable information on citizen views and reform priorities through public opinion polling. The Recipient’s activities aim to provide this information to the Kenyan public, Kenyan policymakers, and the diplomatic community and to improve the science and popular perception of opinion survey research in the country.

II. BACKGROUND

The degradation of political discourse and consensus-building in Kenya since the country’s landmark 2002 election has culminated in the stalemate over the constitutional reform process. Having ridden a wave of public optimism into power, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) followed through on several of its most important promises during its first year in power. Shortly after taking office, President Mwai Kibaki’s government instituted free primary education nationwide. It also made a strong start in attacking the problem of corruption, beginning with a purge of corrupt members of the judiciary. However, in many areas of concern the performance of the government has been disappointing. Despite its promise of a new constitution within 100 days of taking office, deep disagreements within the NARC government about the content of various drafts have kept this new constitution from Kenyans for nearly three years. Furthermore, NARC’s promises of 500,000 new jobs per year and a vastly reduced crime rate have not materialized. Most unfortunate has been the government’s lack of seriousness in dealing with the resurgence of corruption at high levels of the Kenyan government, resulting in severe criticism by donor countries and civil society groups. Poverty and unemployment remain high; electricity, water, and other services are provided on an irregular basis; and violent crime is prevalent and uncontrolled. Expectations among Kenyans were high that the new leadership would bring rapid relief, but most of the problems have worsened, remained unchanged, or been only marginally improved during NARC’s first three years in office.

. . . .

A chief obstacle for the political parties and other major stakeholders in Kenya has been the lack of reliable information on the concerns and opinions of ordinary Kenyans. Policy priorities are set by political elites who have almost no access to data regarding trends in public opinion and no means by which to gauge how popular or unpopular specific policies are with different segments of the population. In he first few years of this decade, a number of influential opinion polls were conducted that showed the deep satisfaction of the Kenyan public with the Moi government and their desire for a viable alternative to come out of the scattered opposition. These surveys, including one poll conducted by the Recipient [IRI] in 2002 that showed for the first time that a united opposition could beat the Kenya African National Union (KANU), gave strong impetus to the formation of the NARC coalition.

However, after 2002, opinion polling did not become a regular feature of the Kenyan political scene . . . Some major media houses . . . most of these polls have focused exclusively on the “horse race” issues most likely to sell newspapers . . . Moreover, the methods used in some of the most widely-reported polls have been fiercely criticized . . .

. . . .

The future of democracy in Kenya is now much more uncertain than it seemed amid the euphoria of the 2002 election . . . .

It needs to be noted as well that in seeking release of additional funding for the IRI polling in 2006 USAID noted the IRI’s successful performance to date, including the “accurate” 2005 exit poll with the completion of all items on the program work plan, which included the public release of the exit poll results.

(Thus I was taken aback by the objection to public release of the 2007 exit poll results under an extension of the same program, not having incorporated a new direction of “building capital” into the program.)