Book Bitings: read Jerry Mitchell’s “Race Against Time” about investigating and prosecuting 1960s Civil Rights era Klan murders in 1990s Mississippi

If you are interested in “transitional justice” in Kenya, or South Sudan or Sudan, here are recent stories about that some of that process in Mississippi and in nearby Alabama.

Start with a review here from Emory University historian Joseph Crespino in The Wall Street Journal, “Race Against Time review: a reporter for justice.” And from Dean Jobb at the Southern Review of Books: “The journalist who helped solve Mississippi Burning murders”:

Think Spotlight meets All the President’s Men. Mitchell, a born storyteller with a remarkable story to tell, recreates his investigation with the absorbing detail and in-the-moment feel of a police procedural. Readers are along for the ride as he tracks down leads, forges ahead after demoralizing setbacks, and extracts nuggets of information from reluctant sources. They share the sense of victory as key pieces of information come to light and when he finally gets his hands on documents long hidden or long forgotten.

Thanks to his revelations and the public pressure his stories created, prosecutors reopened these cases and secured long-overdue convictions of the surviving killers. Sam Bowers, a former Klan leader, was finally convicted imprisoned in 1998 for ordering the attack that killed Vernon Dahmer. In 2005, eighty-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his role in the murder of the three civil rights workers in the Mississippi Burning case.

Mitchell discovered that his own paper had promoted segregation in the 1960s and had helped the Klan to discredit supporters of the civil rights movement. The Clarion-Ledger had cleaned up its act by the 1990s – collecting a Pulitzer Prize for its advocacy of educational reforms – and to its credit, published Mitchell’s exposés of its own odious past.

Race Against Time underscores the importance of solid, fearless, public-spirited journalism – something more vital than ever in our time of social media distraction and self-serving dismissals of uncomfortable truths as “fake news.” It’s a call to arms against the resurgence of white supremacy and hate crimes. Most of all, Mitchell’s inspiring story of how he told truth to power is a reminder that it’s never too late to do the right thing.

And here is the link to buy a signed first edition from an acclaimed Jackson, Mississippi bookstore where author Jerry Mitchell will do an event on March 18.

I moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1991 from Nashville, Tennessee after law school (with a letter of introduction from the Republican Party in Tennessee to the Republican Party in Mississippi). I joined the Bar after taking the exam in Jackson where Jerry Mitchell was based and in the early years of the pioneering work at the Clarion Ledger newspaper that he recounts in Race Against Time. My only previous trip to the capital city had been to advance a presidential campaign event back during my first year of law school. I spent the rest of the decade having some grand adventures in the private practice of law in the places where “Race Against Time” is set, along with marrying, starting a family, and serving on the local GOP County Committee and a term as President of the local Republican Club. And learning about the history of Mississippi and civil rights from lots of great writing of that era covering especially events of the 1960s, and from the investigative journalism of Jerry Mitchell and the proceedings in the prosecutions of the “cold cases” that he helped to prod to life.

Unfortunately I have yet to meet Jerry Mitchell, but I know the towns and courthouses that he writes about (and I will certainly hope to meet him someday–he is on a very active national book tour now). He posts on Facebook daily moments of history from the Civil Rights Era, which I recommend. I often share them, with the thought that by remembering that necessary changes like voting rights for African Americans that we want to take for granted (or chisel at for reasons of partisanship) do not happen by themselves and that even people who are too “conservative” to like “the liberals” end up incorporating part of the fruits of their labor, because there are always things that need to “change” or be “reformed” just as there are things to be “conserved”, preserved (or pickled and fried as the case may be).

Let me give a shout here to my lovely wife who bought me the book for Valentines Day (and who brought me to Mississippi and into her family and all the great adventures of the American South). I avoid mentioning my family here for the most part just for privacy sake but just have to indulge here. Don’t blame her or our children for how I am.

And here is the link to Jerry Mitchell’s Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

Mississippi Race Cross Country runners time

Mississippi race against time

Mississippi State Fair Jackson Sheriff’s Office integration

Policing the Fair – Mississippi State Fair, 21st Century

[Updated] Something afoot in Kenya: Nation newspaper is running investigative reporting on IEBC procurement corruption in 2017

Democracy Assistance signage painted on rural building - URAIA . . . because Kenyans have rights

Great, must read reporting by the excellent Ken Opala.

17 Dec. 2018 Daily Nation “Impunity reigned at IEBC in tenders scam whose theft “was beyond the imaginable“.

16 Dec. 2018 Sunday Nation “IEBC: Anatomy of a cash cow with serial abortions and indiscretions“:

But more telling was the Secretariat’s response to a resolution to engage USAid’s International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) on the acquisition of the requisite Result Transmission System (RTS).

IFES, which procured the 2013 election servers, had made it known that this time it had earmarked Sh2 billion through its Kenya Electoral Assistance Programme (KEAP).

SUSPICIOUS FUNDING

The secretariat, as in the other cases, reportedly disregarded this decision. IEBC’s lack of enthusiasm can be explained. On Jamhuri Day 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta had, without divulging details, spoken out against what he termed foreign countries’ attempt to influence Kenya’s elections through suspicious funding.

Exactly a week later, the NGO Coordination Board, then headed by Mr Fazul Mohamed, declared IFES illegal in Kenya and asked Central Bank to freeze its bank accounts.

Instructively, the IFES funding was to be a grant. Instead, IEBC awarded Safran the Sh4.19 billion Kiems contract against a budget of Sh3.8 billion. The Auditor General would later indicate an overpayment, contrary to the law.

Intriguingly, IEBC further paid Safran for the same goods and services during the FPE. The comparative costs for the August 8, 2017 election and the subsequent poll indicate huge over-pricing for the latter, despite it being just one election against the six during the General Election.

INFLATED COST

The difference was a mere Sh1.672 billion yet the August Election involved acquisition of 45,000 KIEMS and their configuration, training and logistics while (FPE) entailed the purchase of just 15,000 KIEMS. 

But more disturbing, the cost of FPE election-day support of Sh443.8 million “was almost twice that of the General Election”, that’s Sh242.5 million, according to the audit. 

In defence, IEBC argued that there was an increase in Safran technical personnel, from 94 during the General Election to 292 in the FPE, a position the Auditor General found wanting. In fact, not all the technical staff were deployed during the FPE and “in any case, elections did not take place in 21 constituencies”.

Despite the inflated cost, the glitches in the General Election also littered the FPE. In fact, the October 26 Election was a replica of — if not worse — than the August 8 General Election.

However, Safran couldn’t be held liable for non-compliance, for the contract of September 28, 2017, was without guarantee of compensation in case of non-execution. This is because the firm flatly declined to provide performance security bond for the huge undertaking.

BOND FUNDING

It argued that such a bond and a Letter of Credit (which it had) “serve the same purpose”.

(A bond is a specified amount of money to ensure work is performed to the contract standards. If poor, the recipient can request bond funding to be released to hire someone else to complete the work. Letter of Credit promises that payments will be made; it covers payment for a project).

Later, it emerged that Chiloba had discussed with Safran about the issue of performance security and agreed with the company’s position. He reasoned that at the time the contract was signed, Safran “had performed more than 60 per cent of the contract” in what he termed as a “high risk” venture.

Against this background, it would appear Safran was the master here; IEBC merely complied. “Retaining one company over a long time puts the organisation at the risk of compromise,” says Dr Nyanjom.

15 Dec. 2018 Saturday Nation “Intrigues and secrets at IEBC doomed 2017 election“.

These articles provide the kinds of details of corrupt procurement that we need for the 2013 election as well. I have waited another five months for another release of documents from USAID from those found responsive to my 2015 Freedom of Information Act Request for records related to the IFES work with the IEBC in 2012-13. Here is my post from last July when I received the initial batch: Election Assistance FOIA Update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition.

Certainly we have never seen this type of investigative reporting, yet, for the momentous election of 2007.

The exposure of the rejection of USAID’s allocated funding for purchase of the Results Transmission System (RTS) under the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017 (KEAP) is fascinating. This could explain a discrepancy I have been a bit concerned about. I was told that we (the United States) were funding the KIEMS system and had high confidence in it (this time), based on other implementations of the same system elsewhere. Then the USAID press office said after the election as I worked on a piece for The Elephant that we had not in fact paid for it. Perhaps the first report was not so much flatly wrong information as a good faith assumption that did not pan out when the planned assistance was rejected?

Unfortunately, I am left with concern about why USAID and IFES went ahead with the Kenyan Election Assistance Program, including IFES’ work directly with the IEBC and its management of the NDI and IRI components after the rejection of the RTS funding to proceed with Safran-Morpho. Especially since IFES had already been attacked by the Jubilee Party and the Government of Kenya and had to replace the highly qualified incumbent country director apparently to appease the incumbent. See “Why has Uhuru Kenyatta’s government acted against USAID and IFES?” from December 20, 2016. “State now expels American NGO’s boss, Genet MenelikStandard on Sunday, Jan 1, 2017.

The background for my reaction to this news includes the unexplained “shelving” by the ECK in 2007 of laptop computers purchased for it by USAID which facilitated the alteration of paper tally sheets at the ECK central headquarters in Nairobi to deliver the election to the incumbent and the “failure” of the RTS in 2013, which was attributed to a failed procurement by the president of IFES in subsequent U.S. Congressional testimony.

From March 17, 2017: “International Crisis Group report on Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis” calls for donors to show “complete transparency”; USAID is apparently not convinced yet.”

As I wrote back in October 2017, “Kenya cannot have a free and fair presidential election without consent of the President“.

An interesting twist is that we ended up with two USAID-funded Election Observation Missions, but only the Carter Center mission–funded under a separate agreement as I understand–has produced a final report, whereas the NDI mission, under the auspices of the IFES KEAP program, has not followed up their interim reporting. The technology procurement issues that IFES would have been working with the IEBC, in particular the rejected plan to purchase the RTS system, did not find their way to the Carter Center observers report.

See from August 27, 2017: IEBC having admitted in Supreme Court that Results Transmission System did not work as advertised, March 2017 contract for KIEMS acquisition should be tabled.

One could wonder if the Government of Kenya has opted not to lean on the Nation in this instance, tacitly permitting the expose to at least the current extent? One could wonder if the US Mission in Kenya and/or other donors are not seeking to step up on this in the relative tranquillity of the post-handshake, pre-referendum and/or full fledged 2022 campaign? Any of that would be speculation and I do not claim any insight as to what has caused a crack in the edifice. [Update: I have learned, and should have guessed, that underlying the reporting is research from AfriCOG/KPTJ, the Kenyan civil society free election sojourners.]

Regardless of the reason this news is seeing “the light of print” (and the World Wide Web), it would seem with hard work in follow up there might be an opening to start to “lance the boil” of corrupt election management in Kenya.