“The War for History” part six: USAID ended up saying exit poll “disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner” in 2007 Kenya election

From USAID’s Frontlines magazine for August 2008:

Kenya’s President Lost Disputed Election, Poll Shows
NAIROBI, Kenya—An exit poll carried out with a grant from USAID in Kenya after elections six months ago that unleashed a wave of political and ethic killings, disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner.

President Mwai Kibaki, whom official results credited with a two-point margin of victory in the December vote, finished nearly 6 points behind in the exit poll, which was released in July by researchers from the University of
California, San Diego.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga scored “a clear win outside the margin of error” according to surveys of voters as they left polling places on Election Day, the poll’s author said.

The exit poll was first reported on by the McClatchy news agency. It was financed by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan democracy-building organization, with a grant from USAID.

Amid post-election violence, IRI decided not to release the poll. But the poll’s authors and the former head of the institute’s program in Kenya stand by the research, which the authors presented July 8 in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the exit poll, Odinga had 46.07 percent of the vote and Kibaki had 40.17
percent.

Part Three of “The War for History”: Continuing my email reports to Joel Barkan

Continuing with my Jan. 2-3, 2008 e-mails reporting back to Joel Barkan in Washington from Nairobi:

When I reported the call [to me from Ranneberger] to Washington, Lorne eventually and reluctantly made the decision to scratch Bellamy (he was not told the truth to my chagrin).  Lorne then called Asst. Sec. Frazer on his way to the airport to tell her to get her Ambassador in line, then when he landed in Thailand he called the Ambassador to tell him to stop interfering in our EO.

After the Ambassador first raised his objection to Bellamy a few days earlier we had research Bellamy’s record and found no problems and checked out the political perception in Kenya and also found no problems.  Likewise, we had confirmed with the State Dept in Washington and confirmed that they had no issues with Bellamy being a delegate.  Likewise, we had confirmed that USAID was not objecting (and that they acknowledged they had no right to).

In the meantime, I had gotten a call from the Embassy that next Friday afternoon to come to Ambassador’s residence to see him on Saturday afternoon.  When I visit him, he in a fashion apologized for getting spun up with me, but reiterated that it was vital to the credibility of our whole delegation that Bellamy be struck because he was absolutely “perceived as anti-govenment”.  Whether he intended to or not, he left me with the distinct impression that the “perception” had been conveyed straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak (one of the provisions in our international agreement covering EOM standards prohibits allowing a government or other party any ability to veto members of our delegations).

Further, the Ambassador told me that “people” were saying that Raila might lose Langata.  He said that he would be personally observing the voting in Langata and wanted to take Connie with him for part of the day.  He also said that he wanted to take Connie privately to meet with Stanley Murage before the election.

When I reported this to DC, needless to say alarm bells went off.  We nixed letting Connie go off observing separately with the Ambassador and insisted that Connie would not be available for any off-schedule private meetings.  Serious consideration was given to cancelling the EO and I think it would have been cancelled if I didn’t say that I thought that I could manage the situation here.

When I told Sheryl about the Murage gambit she audibly gasped on the other end of the phone but didn’t comment.  She

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Part Two of “The War for History”: My emails to Joel Barkan on January 2, 2008

In the immediate aftermath of the 2007 Kenya election I exchanged emails with Joel Barkan who had just returned to Washington from the IRI/USAID Election Observation Mission. On January 2, 2008 Joel was trying to understand why the exit poll had not been released “to calm Raila’s people and perhaps prevent tomorrow’s march.” He wrote:You know, if this is not released before six months out, both IRI and probably the embassy will be accused of a cover up.  I would reflect again on how this should be played . . .“.  This is my response:

Joel,

My e-mail shows that I responded to this message, but the “sent” box does not reflect this.  There was a connection problem and my copy of the text will not come up.  What I drafted was long and I will attempt to reconstruct in some fashion:

I completely agree with your thoughts.  At the urging of our polling firm and UCSD I argued this as vigorously as I knew how within IRI to no avail.  I see a major embarrassment in the works as time passes.

This was a much better poll than our previous exit polls in 2002 and 2005 in which we had expressed pride thanks to the tireless work of James Long/UCSD.  The previous sampling was 3,000 in 55 constituencies. {Ed. note: 2007 sample size was 5500 in 179 constituencies in 71 districts out of a total of 212 constituencies in 72 districts}

My original agreement with IRI DC was that we should not release data to anyone while the polls were still open even though USAID had said that they would like preliminary data that Strategic said would be available around 3pm.  This was consistent with agreed US practice to avoid influence on voting.  In spite of this, Sheryl pressed me while I was still at polling place on the afternoon/evening of the election saying that the primary reason for funding the poll was for “early intelligence”.  She got the data by calling Strategic directly.

I sent Sheryl an e-mail confirming that she had gotten the data from Strategic and that I understood that the data was for “internal use of USAID only” and not to go to anyone else.

Frankly, I was concerned that the data would get to the Kibaki camp and that they would make tactical use of it.

Background:  On Thursday, two week before the election, I got a message from Sheryl that the Ambassador needed a copy of our last delegate list asap and she sent me a fax for him.  I sent the list, noting that it was to be released to media the next day.  On my way to lunch I got a call on my cell from the Ambassador raising hell about Mark Bellamy being on the list, saying that he was “laying down a marker” and that he would hold me “personally responsible” as IRI’s “person on the ground” even though I had in previous conversations explained that I had little or no influence over the delegate selection in DC.

More to follow:  Just got an e-mail from our press office with a mention of our failure to release the poll in Slate.

Ken

The War for History: Was Kenya’s 2007 election stolen or only “perceived to be” stolen?

As the ICC proceedings play out, understanding the 2008 post election violence and evaluating the role of the parties, including the international actors, requires addressing the conduct of the incumbent Kenyan administration in the election itself.

In my estimation, those of us who observed the election in Nairobi watched as the vote tally was hijacked in a shockingly blunt manner. If this election could not be labelled as stolen, the question has to arise as to whether any election in Africa, as opposed to in Europe, Asia or the Americas, could ever be so labelled, in a context in which diplomatic actors valued “stability” as a key interest. Nonetheless, some who came to Kenya after the election, both from Washington and South Africa, have continued to suggest that the theft of the election may have been only a “perception” from ambiguity, or even asserting that the election was not “rigged” at all.

Because the truth matters in understanding the violence, and in preparing for the future in response to the Chairman of the current IEBC who has labelled the 2007 opposition as mere “sore losers”, I am going to devote much of my attention in the blog this year to articulating “the rest of the story” as I know it, as I continue to wait for release of additional public records under the Freedom of Information Act. I will dedicate these posts to my late friends Dr. Joel Barkan and Dr. Peter Oriare, who worked for a better process.

To begin, let me post here an August 4, 2008 e-mail I sent to Mike McIntire, the investigative reporter for the New York Times who contacted me on July 31, 2008 for an interview about the International Republican Institute exit poll which remained, as of that date, unreleased as allegedly “invalid”:

Mike,

After having some time to reflect on our conversation, I thought it might be useful to emphasize a few points in reference to what we talked about and the documents I have provided:

1. Prof. Joel Barkan at CSIS was our primary (indeed only) Kenya expert on our Election Observation Mission. Professor Barkan was independently identified by IRI to be invited based on his stature as an expert and was also one of those specifically recommended/requested by the Ambassador. Prof. Barkan had headed the Democracy and Governance program for USAID in Kenya during the 1992 elections when IRI conducted a very large USAID-funded observation mission and knew Sheryl Stumbras at USAID and the Ambassador well from his work in Kenya .

2. I got acquainted with Prof. Barkan in the lead up to the observation by e-mail as he offered suggestions, and my discussions with him during and immediately following the election were very influential in forming my own opinions about the nature of the evolving situation with the ECK and the electoral tally and the appropriate handling of the exit poll.

3. Prof. Barkan and I were in agreement that IRI was causing a situation in which it was generating unnecessary controversy and likely embarrassment by refusing to release the poll results on the presidential vote on an ongoing basis.

4. Prof. Barkan was impressed with the methodology of the poll and vouched for the work of Prof. Gibson/UCSD.

5. Again, the decision to involve UCSD pre-dated my arrival to manage the Kenya programs. To my understanding, there was never any question that the point of UCSD’s work was to create data that would be relied on and published–no later than the expiration of IRI’s exclusive right to publicity for the first 180 days. It was also my understanding that IRI was pleased to have Prof. Gibson and UCSD involved because of their strong reputation.

6. With the blessing of IRI Washington, including the press office, I had provided data from the IRI September 2007 public opinion survey to Tom Maliti of the AP in Nairobi for work he was doing on tribal issues as a voting factor. My discussions with Tom and the data were inputs for a story he wrote for the AP that fall linked on the media section on IRI’s website. Tom later asked if IRI would be doing an exit poll as we had done in 2002 and 2005 and I confirmed that we were. It was my understanding that we would have to decide WHEN and in what forum, not IF, the results would be released. [If anyone had asked, I would have been of the opinion that given the way things work in Kenya , we would have to expect the poll results to leak regardless.]

7. The Daily Nation ran a story, I believe the day before the election, in which our pollster, Peter Oriare of Strategic, discussed the fact that Strategic would be conducting an exit poll for IRI. While this was not something that I had authorized or been involved in, I did not consider it to be any type of violation of our relationship or against any wishes that I had conveyed to Strategic.

8. I think it is important to look at the exit poll situation in the context of IRI’s Election Observation Mission Final Report which has now been published as a printed booklet (they FedEx’d me a copy with a cover letter from Lorne in mid-July). The report, which I had the opportunity to provide input on, working with my staff in Nairobi on early drafting and through later editorial input on into April when I was doing follow-up work such as the internal exit poll memo of 4-20 that I sent you, is very explicit that IRI found that “after the polls closed and individual polling stations turned over their results to constituency-level returning centers, the electoral process ceased to be credible”. Likewise, the report states that “To date, there has been no explanation from the ECK as to exactly how or when it determined the final election totals, or how and when that determination was conveyed to President Kibaki to prepare for the inauguration.” The report also notes “. . . the obvious fraud that took place during the tallying of the presidential race . . . ” The Executive Summary states: ” . . . IRI has reason to believe that electoral fraud took place and condemns that fraud. The rigging and falsifying of official documentation constitutes a betrayal of the majority of the Kenyan people who peacefully and patiently waited in long lines to vote on December 27.”

9. It should be recognized that between the time that Kibaki was quickly sworn in and the announcement of the initial agreement at the end of February in the Kofi Annan talks that led to the formation of the GNU in April, there were clear indications that Kibaki and his supporters were using the time to attempt to consolidate power. Initial efforts toward mediation from other African leaders, including Bishop Tutu were dismissed, key cabinet posts were filled unilaterally, etc. Even with Annan talks, the Kibaki position on behalf of the “Government of Kenya” was that it was something less than actual mediation.

10. To this day, there has been nothing done to reform the ECK and there has been no accountability for the misconduct discussed in the IRI EOM report. As best I can tell from what I have read about the hearings conducted around the country by the Kreigler commission, the situation remains one in which partisans of the PNU side argue that there was rigging and misconduct on both sides, that it was as bad in Nyanza by ODM as by PNU in Central and that the ECK decision was appropriate, while partisans of ODM argue that the election was stolen. Because “the ECK is not an independent institution and is subordinate to the executive branch of the Kenyan government” [Finding 1 from the IRI EOM report] the IRI exit poll is the best source of actual disinterested data available under the circumstances.

11. To my understanding, I was charged with managing a foreign assistance program that was intended to be for the benefit of the Kenyan people, funded by USAID, but managed by IRI as an independent NGO. To me, this is something entirely different than something the State Department would do on its own for its own internal purposes–although in that case they would still need to be accountable to the American public and Congress.

12. I think we did a pretty good job with limited resources on the actual election observation. I think we did a pretty good job with the exit poll, too. On balance, my experience as Resident Director of the East Africa office was good, with the exception of the specific situation that arose about the exit poll–just as I had had a positive experience as a volunteer with IRI in Central Asia that led me to be interested in making a bigger commitment to go manage IRI programs in Kenya on leave from my primary career. IRI is a fairly small organization in some ways, but they work all over the world, with programs large and small–ours in Kenya was a small one. As best I know, the program in Kenya had a good reputation and had done good, albeit limited, work in Kenya , over a period of years, due in greatest part to the Kenyans on the local staff. This is not anything like what may have happened in Haiti where the program itself may have gotten out of bounds (and in fact I was told that my successor could not be a member of my local staff because of policy in place as a result of that kind of past experience requiring expatriate leadership in the Country Director position). Whatever happened in Washington regarding the exit poll was a departure from my expectations and experience with IRI otherwise.

13. I am told that things have been “different” in IRI recently by people who have been around the organization for awhile, and it is frequently attributed to a hypersensitivity to the situation where John McCain as the long-time Chairman of the Board has been a leading presidential candidate and then the presumptive Republican nominee. This was something that I did not think about in the context of deciding to take the Kenya position at this particular time (and in the spring of 2007 McCain didn’t look very likely to be the nominee anyway). Another twist in regard to Kenya is Obama’s background there and most recently, the things that are circulating against Obama within the “religious right” regarding some notion that Obama was somehow involved in conspiring in Kenya with Odinga on behalf of Muslims against Christians in the context of the Kenyan election and in the context of the post-election violence–laid against a backdrop in which the policy justification for the State Dept. to support Kibaki would presumably tie into the “extrodinary rendition” controversy and more generally the notion that Kibaki has been an ally of the US in sealing the border with Somalia after the engagement of the Ethipian troops to attempt to restore the TFG and otherwise in anti-terrorism efforts, as well as in regard to other regional issues.

14. Ironically, IRI’s mission in Kenya has to a significant degree focused on working to bring minorities, in particular Muslims [the program is primarily funded through NED as opposed to the specific agreements with USAID for the EOM and the polling], into the mainstream of democratic governance. The most striking difference between the voting reported in the IRI exit poll, and what was reported by the ECK is the opposite outcome in North Eastern Province –by the ECK’s reckoning, Kibaki won in a landslide–in the exit poll, Odinga did. I am no expert on that part of the country, but we did do training for candidates in the province in Garissa, the largest town, and in Mombasa for others in the region, and my expectations would have been much more consistent with the exit poll results than with the ECK tally. Given the requirement that a presidential candidate has to get more than 25% in five of the eight provinces, the NEP vote looms larger than it would based on its limited population in a strict nationwide popular vote.

Ken

The United States sure could use multiparty democracy, too

Big political news in the U.S. is the election loss of the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, in the Republican primary. Losing a primary is something that “just doesn’t happen” to Majority Leaders (never in the 20th century or the first five elections of the 21st).
While Cantor was substantively to the right of Ronald Reagan and any of the other broadly popular conservative figures of the modern Republican Party, and was known as a key figure in blocking compromise by House Republicans with House Democrats in recent years, there is a perception that his loss will make future legislative compromises even less likely.

John McCain, the International Republican Institute chairman, has previously noted publicly the potential demand for a “third” party that would compete for the plurality of American voters that the Republican and Democratic Parties in present form merely tolerate (naturally he didn’t put it quite that way–he had a Republican primary coming up).

We have a political system that seems to be pretty well ossified under the control of two parties that have both changed quite dramatically during the period of their mutual hegemony. Each party presently has a majority in one house of our bicameral legislature, yet disapproval of this Congress comes about as close to a consensus as you will find in the United States today. Most voters don’t vote in most elections, especially primaries which functionally decide the outcome of vast numbers of legislative seats in districts that are dominated by a single party, often for demographically derived reasons.

The present reality on the ground has departed rather dramatically from our own traditions in important respects, and is at odds with the conceptual rationale for a “two party system” in which each party competes to build a governing majority.

What should we do? My suggestion: let’s enlist our official nonpartisan democracy and party-building experts at the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute. Offer the help to ourselves that we offer others. Heal ourselves first. Certainly in present circumstances it would be unduly controversial to consult any of the foreign democracy groups like the Westminster Foundation or the German party foundations, but IRI and NDI have well established Congressional relations on both sides.

It would be sort of like the instructions we all get when flying. Even if you are accompanying a child or disabled person, if there is a problem, put the oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth first, so you can breath freely enough to help.

Why is IRI’s report on the Kenya 2007 Exit Poll missing from the USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse? (FOIA Series Part 13)

This is the latest on my ongoing Freedom of Information Act requests to get the U.S. government records on the USAID programs I supervised for the International Republican Institute as East Africa Director for the 2007 Kenya election.

In mid-2009 I assisted my former colleagues from the University of California, San Diego on the 2007 Kenya exit poll in submitting a FOIA request to USAID for a broad set of basic records under the USAID/IRI polling program, including comparative materials from the prior 2002 and 2005 USAID/IRI exit polls. Unfortunately, it took USAID roughly two years to produce anything, and when they did it was rather aggressively nonresponsive.  They simply sent a copy of the Cooperative Agreement under which the program operated from 2005-2007 (the final agreement started with the exit poll for the 2005 constitutional referendum and went though pre-election polls in the fall of 2007, with an amendment to add the 2007 exit poll at the end) with none of the reports, results, correspondence or anything else at all.  My academic colleagues had expected to get the historical documentation from IRI in consideration of the supplemental funding they povided to IRI for the exit poll, but were left to FOIA when IRI didn’t come through.

Upon returning from the 2013 Kenya election when there was another round of questions on the USAID/NDI/ELOG sample PVT and the communications around it, I submitted a new USAID FOIA of my own to try again for the 2007 exit poll records. This time I have been fortunate enough to have what appears to be active and engaged efforts by the current USAID FOIA office to seek records and keep me up to date on the request.  Unfortunately it has still been another 13 months now of waiting.

A key document that should answer a number of questions is the IRI final report on the 2005-2007 polling program, which was originally due during my tenure at IRI in early 2008. At the time I completed my IRI service to return to my permanent job in the U.S. IRI’s second extension to file the report was winding down. At that point, IRI was faced with a quandary as it had posted on its website on February 7, 2008 a statement that it was not releasing the exit poll results because it had determined that they were “invalid” the evening following a demand by Senator Russ Feingold in a hearing of his Africa subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and the Africa Assistant Administrator for USAID report back to him on why the exit poll had not been released. Previously, however, in January IRI had filed its quarterly performance report with USAID reporting that the poll had been successfully conducted.

According to the requirements of the Cooperative Agreement between USAID and IRI, three copies of the final report were to be submitted by IRI, one to the agreement officer in Washington, one to the Democracy and Governance lead in Kenya, and another to the USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) in Washington. I was able to learn in a conference call with the FOIA office last week that they have been unable to find such a copy on file in Development Experience Clearinghouse. Likewise, the other copy in Washington has not yet turned up, so it is being sought through the mission in Kenya.

Strange.

In the meantime, on the State Department side I have written, again, to the Appeals Officer to request a decision or the status of my April 2013 appeal of the withholding of a document about the USAID exit poll from my 2009 FOIA request on the asserted basis of a “deliberative process” exemption from the FOIA.The documents produced to me under the 2009 request show the Africa Bureau at State mischaracterizing the exit poll in response to media inquiries as a capacity building “exercise” that was never intended to be released. To the contrary, both the USAID contractual documents themselves and the Ambassador’s own released State Department cables from before the election describe the exit poll as a key part of efforts to prevent election fraud and support a democratic process, along with the IRI election observation mission. My appeal argues in a nutshell that there is not a legitimately protected agency deliberative process for the State Department to decide whether or not to be truthful in response to after-the-fact press inquiries about a USAID program.

To eliminate redundancy with constrained budgets and growing demand: Is it time to merge IRI and NDI?

Donkey

Mara Herd

This is a post I started a few years ago and let sit.  I usually avoid writing about things that directly mention the International Republican Institute other than as specifically necessary in regard to the 2007 election in Kenya and some advocacy for people arrested in Egypt.   It’s awkward for a lot of reasons to write about IRI,  the most personally important of which is my deep affection for people that work there.  And to the extent I have criticisms it would be my desire that they become better rather than that they be harmed.

Nonetheless, I think the structure of democracy assistance is something we need to think about and almost everyone who is in a position to be engaged is also in a position to feel constrained from speaking freely or has an unavoidable conflict of interest.  And its is an especially challenging time for the effort to share or support democracy so I am going to suck it up and proceed:

—————–

In an era of hyperpartisanship in the U.S. we are also faced with a divided government and a real question about our collective ability to do the basic business of governance in terms of passing budgets, for instance.

More specific to democracy support, the old notion that “politics stops at the water’s edge” is long dead. Every issue anywhere is contested space between Democrats and Republicans in grappling for power. [The attack on the U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 being perhaps the most conspicuous example.] There are profound divisions in a few areas of policy and culture between the Republican and Democratic base voters.  Nonetheless, it is also clear, ironically perhaps, that in the present moment there is not any clearly identified and coherent policy difference between the parties on foreign affairs as such. Now in the early stages of the 2013-16 presidential campaign, Republican Senator Rand Paul appears to be his party’s front runner for the nomination. The traditional Republican foreign policy establishment has less disagreement on specific points of foreign policy with the Obama Administration than with Senator Paul. And much of its membership would presumably in private vote for a Democrat seen as somewhat more hawkish and interventionist than Obama, such as for instance Hillary Clinton, than for Paul. Some piece of the base of the Democratic Party might well feel obligated to vote for Paul over Clinton in a general election if it came to it.

Referencing the policies of the most recent Republican Administration, which was in office when I worked for IRI in East Africa, there is no reason to think that Jeb Bush, for instance, believes in the “Bush Doctrine” and certainly Ron Paul doesn’t.  Foreign policy was important in the 2008 Democratic primaries and in the 2008 general election and there was at that time a sharp perceived difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin over the aspects of foreign policy that were important to most voters and that difference was essential to Obama’s election.  Not so much in 2012 in either the Republican primaries or in the general election.  All presidential elections matter with great intensity for Washington foreign policy people because they decide who gets what jobs (like do you go to the State Department or stay at IRI or NDI or some think tank) and in general everyone is either Democrat or Republican and either wins completely or loses completely, heads or tails, each time.  For most American voters the relationship of parties and elections to foreign affairs is completely different.

The traditions of the Democratic and Republican foreign policy establishment in Washington are based on the Cold War, like the structure of the National Endowment of Democracy itself, with IRI and NDI along with the overseas arms of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO as its “core” “private” institutes. Relatedly this tradition and structure is also critically Eurocentric. Going on a quarter century after the fall of the Soviet Union the terms of the contest between a democratic Washington and an authoritarian Moscow are very different in Europe itself today–and much less of immediate relevance in, say, Africa. The old days of the American Democrats supporting the democratic left in Europe and the American Republicans supporting the right–both as a pro-American alternative to Soviet-aligned Communists–are interesting history that we should learn more from, but they are history.  And we are not nearly so Eurocentric now in our policies and relationships in Africa, Asia and Latin America, so we have different types of opportunities to support democracy and its related values in those regions rather than dividing everyone up as pro-Western Bloc versus pro-Eastern Bloc.

In practice today, I don’t see the Democratic Party in power in Washington really aligned with the “democratic left” in other countries, given the lack of need to shore up against Marxist/Communist forces (among other reasons) nor much particular interest in the Republican Party in supporting more rightist or conservative parties abroad per se.  Generally Republican and Democrat campaign and media consultants, like lobbyists, seem to work for whoever they come to terms with commercially in any given emerging or frontier market rather than on the basis of some coherent party related framework.

Formally, IRI and NDI are completely overlapping as they are both non-partisan.  Occasionally they are said to be “affiliated” with their respective parties, but more frequently they are said to have “no connection” to parties.  Ultimately this is simply confusing and unclear–and not really consistent with the principles that the organizations are trying to teach to others.  In Germany where the government funds overseas institutes of the parties, the law is different and the government provides funding for the parties themselves in a way that would presumably be unconstitutional in the United States.  So you don’t have a counterpart to this strange melange of “nonpartisan Republican” or “nonpartisan Democratic” even though the German organizations are said to be a model for setting up IRI and NDI back in the early 1980s.

In my personal experience, I had the clear impression that IRI was quite serious about being legally compliant in terms of the 501(c)(3) nonpartisan formalities [and this was noteworthy in an  a organization that did not have an overall compliance component at that time–I am not going to be a whistleblower or even a public critic on this but have noted that they have gotten in at least a little difficulty with the government for ignoring cost accounting regulations that I told them they shouldn’t ignore when I worked for them].  I have no reason to assume that NDI is not equally serious.  In the case of IRI, with the chairman running for president two different times during his tenure, they know that the Democrats have had incentive to catch them if they were to get tangled with a Republican campaign; and of course everything is potentially tit-for-tat in that regard for the other side.

At the same time, both parties have an incentive to make as much use of “their” respective unaffiliates as permissible on a mutally backscratching basis.  While there are certain cultural and stylistic differences in how this plays out–as any observer of the current American political scene can well imagine–I don’t think this warrants the whole separate infrastructure of two duplicate organizations.  For instance, unaffliliated Republicans could still do programming at the Republican National Convention and unaffiliated Democrats could still do programming at the Democratic National Convention even if it was under the umbrella of one unaffiliated nonpartisan organization instead of two separate unaffiliated nonpartisan organizations. And the unaffiliated Republicans could apply a conservative orientation to have programming that is solid, on-message stuff supporting the party line; and the unaffiliated Democrats could be liberal-minded and have a “soft power” approach that involves people on both sides at the convention of their side.

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Africa Bureau under Frazer coordinated “recharacterization” of 2007 Kenya Exit Poll showing Odinga win (New Documents–FOIA Series No. 12)

Over the weekend I finally received the first documents from the State Department’s Africa Bureau from my September 2009 Freedom of Information Act request for State Department documents about the 2007 Exit Poll for the Kenyan Elections. This is the exit poll funded by the USAID, through the International Republican Institute (IRI) that I managed as East Africa Director for IRI. By letter dated March 5 (the day after the new Kenyan election) but not mailed for another week, the State Department released five documents, while stating that it was withholding one unidentified document in full “because it consists of pre-decisional deliberative process material.”

Long story short:

1) as described by the Embassy, “auxiliary to efforts in this regard by Kenya’s vibrant press, active civil society, and credible, proven electoral commission,” the U.S. government undertook several efforts to “preserve Kenya’s democratic success and contain the prospects of violence and voting irregularities if the presidential election is tight.”

2) one of these efforts was “Public Opinion Polling” described as follows:

* This USAID-funded program seeks to increase the availability of objective and reliable polling data and to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls. Implementer: IRI

3) after this same Exit Poll became a source of political contention because it showed the opposition candidate winning rather than the incumbent as named by the “credible, proven electoral commission”–the Africa Bureau engaged in a practice of mischaracterizing the USAID program and the Exit Poll.

For example: when the McClatchy newspapers ran a story on July 9, 2008 by Shashank Bengali reporting that “Kenya’s President Lost Disputed Election, Poll Shows” after the release of the exit poll results by the researchers from The University of California, San Diego at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Africa Bureau generated “AF Press Guidance” as follows:

Q: Please provide details on the U.S.-funded exit poll for elections in Kenya. Do we have a comment/reaction to the poll results?

* The International Republican Institute (IRI) provided funding to Strategic as a capacity building exercise for the organization.

* IRI did not have confidence in the results of the poll once they received them due to questions about the methodology, so the results of the poll were never officially released.

* Given the potentially significant nature of the results, however, IRI commissioned an audit of Strategic’s poll results. We have yet to see the results of that audit.

* Our Embassy in Nairobi was not informed by Strategic or IRI of the exit poll results by 3pm on Election Day.

It is simply false to suggest that IRI gave money, from USAID, to Strategic, a private Kenyan firm, simply as a “capacity building exercise” for either Strategic or for IRI, whichever is intended here. No, as described by the State Department before the exit poll became a “hot potato” after Kibaki was serving a second term based on the ECK’s announcement of an alleged election win on his behalf, we paid Strategic for their work “in providing an independent verification of electoral outcomes via exit poll” in the State Department’s own words. Strategic was hired based on already proven capacity having conducted the exit polls in 2002 and 2005. I have noted before that the Ambassador claimed this excuse–that the poll was only an “exercise” and never intended to be released–in a March 2008 on-line Q-and-A, but this is the first time I see this characterization stated from Washington.  See Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan Election and the new FOIA Cables–Part Three, here.

As I have noted, the concern that I was aware of and discussed within IRI during the immediate post-election in Nairobi was how people would react to the release of the poll, not about its “methodology”.

The guidance notes that IRI has “commissioned an audit” but doesn’t say when it was commissioned, or whether the State Department has asked to see it. [Note also that an “audit” could not fix the “methodology” of the poll if it had been flawed.  IRI released the poll the next month, in August 2008, the day before the technical consultants from UCSD were to testify about the poll before the Kriegler Commission investigating the elections.]

Finally, the statement that the Embassy “was not informed . . . of the exit poll results by 3pm on Election Day” is precious. They were informed of the results at closer to 5pm.

I’m quite curious about the “pre-decisional deliberative process material” that they decline to produce. Were they deliberating about whether to tell the truth about the USAID poll? Does this qualify for exemption? [Update: I appealed the withholding of this document to the State Department’s internal FOIA appeals board; the appeal remains pending as of March 2014.]

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION SERIES

Warnings to Take Seriously for Kenya’s March Election . . . and something to enjoy

The Council on Foreign Relations has just published a “Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 17” regarding “Electoral Violence in Kenya” by Joel Barkan, of CSIS and professor emeritus from the University of Iowa.

Well worth a careful review. Joel Barkan is a dean among the community of American scholars of Kenyan and East African politics who has also worked on the democracy and governance assistance side with USAID in Kenya during the birth pangs of 1992 and made the transition to the policy world in Washington through his post at the CSIS Africa Program and activities such as helping to spearhead the “Kenya Working Group” to put together a broad range of people in Washington working on Kenya issues to generate necessary focus within the U.S. government. Joel was our “resident expert” among the Election Observation delegates for the International Republican Institute observation for the 2007 Kenyan election and had the singular position of being independently identified as someone we wanted as a delegate by both IRI staff and as a “suggestion” to me from Ambassador Ranneberger.

Someday, when a careful history is written of the last Kenyan election and its aftermath, Joel will be noted as one of those who helped the United States get its diplomatic response turned around in part so that we were then able to assist in addressing the crisis presented by the failed election. He spoke out from Kenya and immediately afterwards back in Washington about the obvious failure of the ECK central tally in Nairobi–and raised in Washington the failure to release and use the IRI/USAID exit poll data as a clear indicator that the ECK’s announced numbers did not justify the intransigence being shown by Kibaki and his networks of “hardliners”. Thus, Joel is an obvious person to pay attention to in preparing for the 2013 election.

Let me also flag the comment to my last post entitled “Countdown to Chaos” from Andrew J. Franklin, an American former Marine who has lived in Kenya since the 1970s. I don’t know Mr. Franklin personally yet outside the blog, but this is a warning “straight from the ground” in Kenya, from someone with involvement in the security business. It is a lot easier for expats in Kenya to keep their heads down and say nothing, so I take his cautions with extra gravity.

In closing, let me refer you to a video from bloggingheadstv.com with Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch and Wycliffe Muga of Nairobi’s The Star. Regular readers will have noticed that I cite Wycliffe Muga’s Star columns frequently as having noteworthy insight. I didn’t get to meet nearly as many Kenyan journalists as I would have liked while working the last election, in part because I wasn’t wanting to be in the media myself and in part because I was just too busy with the immediate demands of the job with the programs I was responsible for. Nonetheless, I did get to meet Wycliffe in person early on and got tutored in some important intricacies of Kenyan politics, both historically and in terms of the current situation in Mombasa at that time where he was living then. I will call Wycliffe a friend, like Joel, in the interest of disclosure and because I like them both–but please don’t assume that either of them necessarily ever agree with me on anything I write here!

I think it might be fair to call Wycliffe something of an “Ameriphile”, which of course I appreciate as an American myself. In this bloggingheadstv discussion, Wycliffe perhaps provides a “shot in the arm” for those of us who might get discouraged by some of our more feckless foreign policy moments and expresses appreciation for what the United States did ultimately do in applying muscle to leverage a mediated settlement of the Kenyan 2007-08 election crisis, as well as, in particular, health assistance in the form of PEPFAR.

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Election Observation as “Diplomacy or Assistance” continued–how I spent my pre-election Christmas in Kenya

In my Freedom of Information Act Series I have described how then-Ambassador Ranneberger got his predecessor, Ambassador Mark Bellamy removed from the International Republican Institute’s Election Observation Mission shortly before the last Kenyan election, implying an objection to Bellamy from the Kibaki government. While IRI capitulated in removing Bellamy, I was told to accept “no more b.s.” from Ranneberger in interfering with the IRI Election Observation.  As problems continued to arise, this is a letter I wrote to my USAID officer on December 22, 2007, five days before the voting:

I think that you and I have had a good working relationship over a period of months until just recently, reflecting efforts and intentions on both our parts.  The problem now is that we are in a position of working in part at cross purposes, regardless of how much effort we continue to put into trying to be cooperative.

Previously I thought that you had some real level of agreement with my basic position regarding IRI’s independence, in spite of the contradictory viewpoint of the Ambassador.  At this point, it seems clear that we just do not have a meeting of the minds about this.

As far as IRI is concerned a major line was crossed last week and we expected that there would be as a result of Lorne Craner’s intervention a recognition that IRI’s independence would be respected going forward.  Unfortunately, the only substantive change seems to be that we have one less delegate–one of the best qualified members of the team that we had selected.  And of course people in the State Dept. did know what our own plan was before the Ambassador intervened.  I find the whole situation embarrassing personally.

I have tried to move us to a situation where we agreed to document at least by e-mail the specific things we were doing in terms of direct involvement of the USG with the IRI EO.  I think this is the least we should do and was intended to move us forward in terms of making sure we all understood each other, both personally and contractually.  I am tired of suggestions, directions, demands, “markers”, etc. to do things that people are not comfortable putting in writing.  If it should not be put in writing, maybe it should not be part of how we conduct ourselves here.

There are a variety of basic things that USAID can do that would in fact help IRI do the best it can.  One easy and obvious one would be to add IRI to the distribution list for ECK events, recognizing that the ECK is not at the point of providing IRI with timely notice, or in many cases, any notice, of its activities.  The other would be to provide us security information to assist us in protecting the safety of our teams.  Certainly having ——– come over and brief the teams is a big help.

 As far as I am concerned, if IRI is not substantively independent, rather than just offering an appearance or representation of independence, then all of our work here is at best a waste of time in terms of actually providing assistance to the Kenyan people as per the MOU between USAID and the GOK.  At worst, we could undermine the ability of IRI to accomplish anything substantive in Kenya in the future and taint our election work elsewhere.  IRI adds value if we are independent; we do not add value if we are not independent. (emphasis added)

Please give consideration to this and let me know what you suggest.

At the end of the day IRI’s final report on the Election Observation found strong evidence of fraud, when it was released more than six months later in July, and IRI released the Exit Poll indicating an opposition win one more month later, in August 2008. By that time the election was long over and the President along with his initial appointees stayed in office. The next chance for Kenyans to vote will not be until  March 2013.

Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?