“No shame, and thus immune from embarrassment” – it’s primary election time again in Kenya 

We have seen this before, in 2007 and 2013, but here is the best description I have read. A few details are unique but in general terms this is the same scene from a different year.

Courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request, here is a November 20, 2007 State Department email which is a headquarters “readout” of a video conference held “with Post to discuss the experiences of Post’s first-ever observation of the political primary process in Kenya.”:

The Observation Effort:

*21 teams (total about 60 people) deployed to the field. This is our first time observing the primaries. We expect to deploy about 50 (100+ people) teams to the general elections as part of the larger international observer effort. The EU plans to deploy 150 people.

*These will be Kenya’s 4th multiparty elections but only the second “free and fair”.

Negatives Observed:

*The process was very poorly organized. We would say the the parties embarrassed themselves, except most of the party leaders have no shame and are thus immune from embarrassment. General feeling is that apparent total lack of organization is not an accident, but reflects efforts to rig/manipulate the outcomes.

*There were obvious deals between the incumbents and local party operatives.

*The process was well-run and by the book only in areas where parties had no hope of winning in that area anyway. Where there were real stakes, manipulation was rampant and obvious.

*Ballots were delayed for many hours in many locations; some politicians felt this was intentional and especially disenfranchised women voters, who either couldn’t wait all day or had to go home before dark for safety reasons.

*Hate literature observed to date is overwhelmingly generated by PNU supporters.

Positives Observed:

*Turnout was surprisingly good. People were very determined to vote. Many waited from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later for ballots to arrive. In some cases where ballots were delayed, people agreed amongst themselves to vote on whatever pieces of paper and honored the results.

*Dozens of outgoing MPs (including some we are very happy to see go, i.e. [REDACTED] were eliminated at this stage, which suggests that you can’t always manipulate the results.

*Our sample was biased as we purposely went to areas where trouble was expected and/or stakes were high, so we likely observed a disproportionate amount of rigging, etc.

*With the recent passage of the Political Parties Bill, this is the last time that the party nomination process will be run by the parties themselves. In the future, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will run it (at least, for all parties who want public money). PNU contracted with the ECK to run their primary this time, but it didn’t happen in practice–party leaders took over and wouldn’t let ECK do its job.

After the Primaries:
*We expect a lot of horse trading. Some winners were DQed on appeal and even without an appeal. There were also many “directed nominations,” which led to the resuscitation and handpicking of many old dinosaurs/unpopular incumbents notwithstanding voter opposition.

*There may be blowback with an impact on turnout for Dec. 27. There were widespread feelings of bitterness and disappointment, especially among ODM supporters, who expected to participate in a “new beginning.” Many people complained that, populist image notwithstanding, ODM is run like a dictatorship and that the way of doing things is no different than KANU used to do in the past. The positive difference is that the electorate is much more vocal and active in demanding transparency and participation in the electoral process. The howls of protest regarding some of the directed nominations show the electorate’s increasing maturity and lack of interest in this kind of politics.

*Many unsuccessful candidates have jumped to smaller/marginal parties. There is a cottage industry of sorts selling nominations.

Possible Impact on Main Parties:

*The disappointment and frustration with the nominating process was greatest among ODM supporters. Will this experience sap the energy of ODM supporters, or can ODM redeem itself? Will people continue to be willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity?

*Fear/stability is a powerful motivating factor in Kibaki’s reelection prospects. The contest between ODM and PNU can be characterized as “hope vs. fear.”

*PNU has much less internal discipline and message consistency. Virtually all PNU parties are fielding their own candidates for Parliamentary seats, so not much of a real coalition.

Political Violence

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

As I wrote in including this content in my 2012 post titled “Part Eight, new documents from FOIA: Diplomacy versus Assistance Revisited–why observe elections if we don’t tell people what we see?“:

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

The hardest job in Kenya . . .

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The new Kenya IFES country director has arrived in time to learn her way around for the August election, just as Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (“IEBC”) has thrown in the towel, again, on a crucial technology acquisition–and once again going with a “sole source” procurement with Safran/Morpho (as with the BVR kits in 2013) to save time since they are already late.

The technology problems will be all too familiar, of course, to Kenyans and others who were involved or closely observed the 2007 and 2013 elections, or were involved in writing up any of the many commission papers, evaluation reports, etc. associated with those misadventures.

Sadly, it may be that the die has already been cast for this year in that the IEBC Commissioners were not replaced until too late to have the requisite time on the job to adequately prepare for the election (a key recommendation from the 2008 “Kreigler Commission”). For the most part they have inherited the work of their predecessors and the staff they hired who made crucial decisions like planning a huge expansion of the number of polling places, while failing to address the corruption in the failed technology procurements or make adequate progress on replacements.

With the new Commissioners taking office, officials from President Kenyatta’s party launched a public attack on the U.S. election assistance effort which is being run by IFES, and singling out long time IFES country director Mike Yard, who seems to have been the one person with both the most longevity and the best reputation involved in process.  And then there were visa problems and other Government of Kenya directed disruptions.  I am sure its a coincidence but Mr. Yard took on a new challenge earlier this year as Country Director for Libya.  Thus, a new director arriving less than five months before the scheduled vote. (I arrived in Kenya roughly six months before the 2007 election and am still learning on a continuing basis things no one told me that I should have known about that election.)

Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role.  Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to provide the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation.  Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.

Of course this is all based on what is public to me as an interested American taxpayer–maybe USAID changed its mind and ended up restructuring all this on a non-public basis?

One other factor is that IFES does have some separate funding for 2014-18 work from the Canadian International Development Agency this time.

No incumbent president has been recognized by a Kenyan election management body as having lost a re-election bid.  Presumably the immediate foreign policy priorities of the United States in Kenya in August will be weighted to the stability of our long time “partner” Kenya.  As the State Department continues the process of consolidation of control of USAID as we have seen over the previous U.S. administrations in moving from the 2007 to 2013 now to 2017 election, it will be that much harder to for people handling democracy assistance at USAID to stand firm for the long term interests, and statutory and legal priority of the U.S. to support democracy in the face of competing claims from the diplomatic and defense constituencies within our government which will presumably have incentives to placate the incumbent.

Election observation has always been controversial in Kenya.  In the first multi-party presidential election in 1992, Ambassador Smith Hempstone, according to his memoir, recommended having NDI observe the election, anticipating an incoming Clinton administration.  President Moi, who used the Republican consulting firm Black, Manafort and Stone, refused to entertain NDI, writes Hempstone, but agreed to IRI.  In 1997 and 2002, the observation agreement went to the Carter Center, then to IRI in 2007 (that year USAID did not want to do an observation, as I have written, but Ambassador Ranneberger instigated having IRI observe), then back to the Carter Center in 2013.  Observers inevitably get criticized for being too critical or too lenient towards the Kenyan process, which has always been messy.

In my year 2007, the EU and the domestic donor-funded observers stood up initially to the ECK’s obvious irregularities, while IRI was initially neutered.  Eventually IRI released both its exit poll indicating an opposition win (August 2008) and a highly critical final report (July 2008).

In 2013, the domestic observation, ELOG, initially “verified” the incomplete “final results” announced by the IEBC but eventually released a significantly critical final report.  Similarly, the Carter Center provided key initial bolstering of the IEBC’s position in their preliminary report but issued a much more critical final report months later. See Carter Center quietly published strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

In both those 2007 and 2013 elections, as in 2002, IFES worked inside the IEBC to provide technical support and did not have an “observation” role.  Bill Press, the IFES President, later testified to Congress that the 2013 election was a great success from the IFES standpoint because Kenya “did not burn”.  The terminology of the Kenyan constitution for a successful election is “free and fair” as opposed to “did not burn”.   Maybe I am just too much of a lawyer in how I look at these things, but I do not think we should have USAID help underwrite elections to a “do not burn” rather than “free and fair” standard to the the tune of $25M when people are literally starving to death in the neighborhood and aid budgets are being cut.

I do not want Kenya to burn, and I hope and pray that this year’s election is less violent than 1992, 1997 or 2007–and even 2013 when “only” 400-500 people were killed in politically driven violence in the pre-election months and only a few protesters were killed by police after the vote.  In general terms the reason that people die over elections in Kenya is because they are governed by killers, not because Kenyans aspire to actually have their votes counted honestly and openly.

See: It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington [with link to video] June 13, 2013

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Counting in Nairobi suburb

 

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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My Joel Barkan tribute

I have been very much saddened by the sudden passing of Joel Barkan, the dean of American Kenya experts and a real friend to me during these years since we got together through the 2007 Kenyan election tragedy. Joel and his career are eloquently remembered here by his colleagues at CSIS–please take a moment for this.

Joel and I last corresponded two days before he died from a pulmonary embolism on January 10. He was having a wonderful time with his family in Mexico City and looking forward to going on to Colorado to ski. I was getting ready to observe the referendum in Egypt and got a chance to thank him again for providing me an introduction to the leadership of Democracy International a few years ago. Joel was always palpably excited about the time he and his wife Sandy got to spend with their adult children and I know that he had a fulfilling family life as well as an amazingly productive career. It’s just hard to accept that he is suddenly not here and I want to express my deepest condolences both to his family and to those many friends who knew him so much longer than I was privileged to.

It is especially sad that two of the friends that I came to admire and respect through the 2007 Kenyan exit poll saga have now passed away. See my tribute to Dr. Peter Oriare here.

When then-Ambassador Ranneberger listed the people he wanted the International Republican Institute to invite to observe the 2007 Kenyan election, Joel was the only person on both the Ambassador’s list and on IRI’s. Fortunately Joel agreed to come for the election and was our primary Kenya expert for our observation mission. On January 10, 2008, during the post election violence with no negotiation process under way, Joel was a panelist at a well-attended and high profile Washington event, Kenya: A Post Election Assessment, (program information and the video here) at the Wilson Center and co-sponsored by CSIS. Joel cited the IRI/USAID exit poll suggesting an opposition win, noting that it was “unfortunate” that it had not been released, although it had been covered by Slate magazine. IRI was chagrined–for whatever reason–that the exit poll had been brought into the discussion in Washington; I explained to the IRI Washington office that I had provided Joel the information on the embargoed poll results when he asked about them since he was our subject matter expert on the election observation and another member of the delegation had already gotten themselves engaged on the poll. Later, Joel supported the formal release of the poll results by the University of California, San Diego, researchers at CSIS once IRI’s contractual six month period of exclusivity with the University were up, in spite of pressure to stop it. IRI finally published the poll themselves the next month, but Joel still got attacked for doing what he thought was the only right and appropriate thing. Fortunately, Joel had thick skin and deep respect from those who knew him and his work.

Ironically, perhaps, it was Joel who served as the initial Democracy and Governance advisor for USAID for East Africa back in 1992 when IRI was selected to observe the initial post Cold War multi-party election in Kenya. Joel sent me a copy of Ambassador Smith Hempstone’s memoir, Rogue Ambassador from those years when he served as President George H.W. Bush’s political appointee in Nairobi. Hempstone explains that he had recommended to Moi that NDI be invited to observe that election. Moi refused to accept NDI but would agree to IRI. (Although Hempstone’s book does not mention it, during that 1992 election and into the next year Moi was represented in the United States by famed GOP consultant Charlie Black. Black was IRI Chairman McCain’s consultant in his own presidential bid in the US. during the 2008 contretemps in Kenya. With the average American democracy assistance worker too young to have much memory of the Cold War, much less have played in it, Joel’s institutional memory of both Kenyan politics and American policy was a tremendous resource, freely shared with those who cared about being right about Kenya.)

So Joel and I bonded initially over the shared experience of watching the post-vote fiasco unfold at the Electoral Commission of Kenya, then the shared conviction that a mistake was being made by not releasing the exit poll, and ultimately the common experience of attracting opprobrium for being seen as out of step with powers that were at IRI. He taught me a great deal, and will inspire me always. I will continue to miss him.

Updated: Burgeoning South Sudan crisis will increase Kenya’s leverage over donors, NGOs, international media

The news from South Sudan seems quite serious and disturbing. This is an area of special responsibility for the United States, and needless to say, I hope we are able to help.

Nairobi’s role for many years as the “back office” for international assistance to South Sudan has always given the Government of Kenya extra leverage through control of visas and work permits. My twitter feed indicates that the U.S. is recommending that Americans evacuate South Sudan as the current crisis swells with reports indicating 400-500 people may have been killed.

This brings to bear what I have called “the Nairobi curse” for Kenyans seeking political space, democracy and civil liberties of their own and hope for support from the international community. The thing you always hear, but never read, from internationals working in Kenya is “what if I can’t renew my work permit” because of some offense taken by someone in the Kenyan government.

Back in 2007-08 when I was East Africa director for IRI in Nairobi, we shared space with our separate Sudan program, which was much, much bigger than our Kenya program (and was IRI’s second largest program worldwide I was told, after Iraq). Under my East Africa office, our Somaliland program also got more funding than Kenya. Obviously there would have been repercussions from soured relations with the Kenyan administration. The same situation would pertain for NDI or other international organizations with large permanent regional operations based in Nairobi.

In my case, I arrived in Nairobi on the job in June 2007 expecting my work permit to come through within perhaps a few weeks of ordinary bureaucracy. With no explanation, it was not forthcoming until February 2008 during the late stages of the post election violence period. Thus, I did not have my permit issued yet when I was dealing with our controversial election observation and the issues about whether or not to release the exit poll that showed the opposition ODM winning the presidential race rather than the ECK’s official choice of Kibaki.
At some point that month I was summoned to an Immigration office at Nyayo House (where political prisoners where tortured in the basement during the Moi era) for no readily apparent reason and received the permit shortly thereafter. Of course Nairobi was a much more easy going place before the 2007 election than it is now. Nothing was ever said to connect any of this delay to anything to do with politics or the election and it may have been strictly a coincidence.

Fortunately for me, I was on leave from my job as a lawyer back in the United States, so being denied a permit and thus losing my job in Kenya and having to move my family back precipitously would not have been consequential for me in the way that it would have been for the typical young NGO worker. Everyone has their own story I am sure.

Earlier this year the Kenyan government announced, for instance, that it would start enforcing work permit rules for academic researchers on short assignments. Lots of room to maneuver for creatively repressive politicians.

By the way, Uhuru did end up signing that Media Bill.

Update: See the editorial in today’s Star: Work Permit Crackdown Is Counter-Productive. And the news story, “Rules on Work Permits Tighten“.

AfriCOG’s Seema Shah asks in Foreign Policy: “Are U.S. election watchdogs enabling bad behavior in Kenya?”

UPDATE: See Dr. Shah’s article “Kenya: Supreme Court’s Disappointing Judgement” from Think Africa Press via allAfrica.com.

Stanley Livondo for Senator

From Transitions–the Democracy Lab Blog at Foreign Policy.com:  “Are U.S. election watchdogs enabling bad behavior in Kenya?”:

In recent testimony to Congress, three American non-profit electoral assistance organizations, all of whom worked on Kenya’s general election in March — the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI) — reported that last month’s presidential vote was “credible,” thereby negating the still-increasing amounts of evidence that the electoral process was fundamentally flawed. Their view was based largely on a recent ruling by Kenya’s Supreme Court, which upheld the presidential election result. The three groups also cited the “acceptance” of the Court’s decision by presidential runner-up Raila Odinga.

And that’s just where the problems begin.

The Kenyan Supreme Court’s detailed judgment reveals numerous problems. Legal scholars have decried its reliance on questionable outside sources and its lack of academic rigor while civil society groups have lambasted it for its refusal to engage with the vast array of evidence presented. These criticisms cast doubt on the Court’s independence, thereby threatening public confidence in the judiciary.  .  .  .

Meanwhile, Odinga’s call for peace in the aftermath of the ruling is hardly an acceptance of the veracity of the Court’s statement. Rather, he made it clear that he did not understand how the Court could have looked at the “massive malpractices” documented by his team and still deliver its ruling. In fact, he said, “In the end, Kenyans lost their right to know what indeed happened.” His call for Kenyans to move forward should not be confused with a conclusion that the election was free and fair. His recent statement that the IEBC cannot be trusted to run another election says it all.

As part of its testimony, IFES also somewhat condescendingly said, “ultimately, the new Kenyan president, Mr. Kenyatta, was elected by a margin of 8,000 votes, or 7/100ths of a percent of the total votes cast, making it inevitable that the result would be challenged.” This statement implies that a legal challenge was inevitable, presumably because Odinga would have challenged any close result, even one set in the context of an open, verifiable, and transparent electoral process. The fact remains, though, that the lack of transparency set itself up to be challenged. In fact, the petition against the veracity of the results was brought by civil society groups, (a fact not even mentioned to the U.S. Congress), and focused on the myriad discrepancies, errors, omissions, and inexplicable alterations noted throughout the electoral process.

.  .  .  .

These organizations go on to claim that the main problem with the management of the election was the failure of the electronic voter identification and results transmission systems, which IFES describes as “a failure of project management.” IFES in fact claims that it was “the paper register and paper ballots [which] ultimately…ensured the integrity of the Kenyan election.” What these statements leave out is that both the electronic systems were specifically put in place as critical checks on the manual process. They were meant to prevent instances of multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of the manual forms as happened in 2007. Indeed, the alteration of manual forms was at the heart of the problem in this election as well. These issues seem to go well beyond problems of “project management.”

.  .  .  .

IFES even credits the election commission with ensuring that this election “was not a repeat of the 2007 vote.” Such statements wrongly imply that the default in Kenya is violence. And while it is true that there was very little conflict this time around, the problems with the process were very much a repeat of the last election, minus the politicians’ calls for violence. Instead of praising the election commission, these organizations should have called on them to answer the unresolved questions about the process, especially those related to the voter registry.

Would these sorts of problems be tolerated in the United States? It seems doubtful. Why is Kenya being held to such a low standard? Given the context of Kenyan electoral history and the country’s efforts to reform the electoral system, it is even more important to point such weaknesses out. Endorsement of this election by the United States as credible makes it seem as if the problems that transpired during this election are negligible, when in fact many Kenyans are still wondering whether their votes were actually counted at all.

To their credit, NDI and IFES have emphasized the need to take stock of the election and focus on lessons learned. It will be interesting to see what those exercises find. In the end, though, Congress has barely heard enough to truly know if the election was in fact free, fair and credible. The 2013 election was not free and fair, and it was not truly different from the one in 2007. A look beyond this testimony is critical for them — and anyone — interested in the entire story behind the Kenyan election.

Dr. Seema Shah is a public policy researcher for the Africa Center for Open Governance in Kenya. Her focus is on elections and ethnic violence.

Some thoughts that I would add from my perspective as the former IRI country director from 2007-08:  As in the past national elections, IFES was not in a “watchdog” role at all, but rather was on the inside working directly with the IEBC as they had previously worked with the ECK in 2002 and 2007.  They did not speak out at all in 2007 about the problems so I think its fair to say that they have not seen that as within their role.  NDI was also not a watchdog as they did polling which was not released and worked internally with ELOG, intended to be a new Nairobi-based permanent African observation group. IRI did various voter education programs.  The three organizations accounted together for an “8 figure” U.S. tax dollar expenditure on their respective efforts but the actual Election Observation function was awarded by USAID to the Carter Center–which amazingly enough was not testifying at the hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Africa, Global Health and International Organizations.

Nor were there any other witnesses!

As a practical matter I think what that tells us is that the hearing was not really so much about Kenya or this particular election, but rather an opportunity to pitch a “success story” in the context of the current U.S. foreign affairs budget process.  In 2008 there were serious hearings in both the House and Senate about the Kenyan election–presumably because of the ongoing violence.  Without the violence, the Kenyan election process itself apparently did not warrant focus from Congress even though we spent so much more money this time.  Unfortunately, I do think that  part of the end result of this sort of sales pitch in Congress is collateral damage, in fact, “enabling bad behavior in Kenya.”

New material is now uploaded at AfriCOG and InformAction’s “The Peoples Court” website.

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

Update on the Egypt NGO trials, and an appeciation of “the local staff” working for democracy

The Christian Science Monitor published an update today by Dan Murphy on the lingering situation of the trials of international NGO workers from the staffs of NDI, IRI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Egypt:

“Mostly forgotten, Egyptian trial of U.S. NGO workers drags on”

. . . .

The departure of most of the Americans took the air out of musings in Washington that Egypt’s US aid would be cut off in retaliation and in general press coverage of the case. Further easing concerns were the eventual charges, around the question of illegally receiving foreign funding for the NGOs, which carries jail time, but not a death sentence. Press coverage has dwindled to a trickle.

Civil society growth at stake

Yet the stakes of the ongoing trial, which is scheduled to resume on March 6, loom large for the future of the development of civil society in Egypt as much as they do for the 13 Egyptians, American, and German who have remained behind. “The government has successfully stigmatized the NGO world,” says Becker.” [The American NDI worker who stayed behind with the Egyptians.]

“It’s very lazy to to class this as an American-Egypt battle, or about the former regime versus the revolution,” says Halawa, who joined NDI in Cairo in July of 2011 and worked on training Egyptian political parties on grass-roots organization, poll-watching, and outreach. “It’s about civil society in this country and the ramifications are quite huge. You get the feeling that people are quite scared. We joined up with the revolution, to fight for free elections, most of us were election observer, and most of us weren’t planning to stay on much longer.”

Halawa and other defendants complain that Egypt’s NGO community has not rallied around them, frightened off by the early claims in the Egyptian press that they were spies or guilty of treason. That tactic was a staple of the Mubarak-era, and the meme was pushed hard by Mubarak holdover Fayza Aboul Naga, minister of international cooperation until earlier this year, who had long been at the sharp end of Mubarak-era efforts to prevent civil society from flourishing here.

[Update: see this excellent McClatchy story for Jan. 16, “Egyptians democracy workers still on trial for helping U.S. groups”]

I think this is the time for me to say something long overdue about the Kenyans (and one third-country national) who reported to me as “local staff” for the Kenya and Somaliland programs when I directed the East Africa office for IRI in Nairobi in 2007-08. The local staff made the programs run successfully and taught me most of what I learned about Kenya. I loved working with them. As the only American there, I got a disproportionate share of the recognition and appreciation, but we were all especially dependent on the local staff because IRI was short-handed for East Africa in Washington. When the New York Times called me in July 2008 after the embargoed IRI exit polI showing an Odinga win was released at by CSIS in Washington, I sent the Times a written statement following my interview. I included this, although it wasn’t “news” when the story finally ran the next January:

The local IRI staff in Kenya did an outstanding job with the hard work of the election observation and keeping the office and programming together under very trying circumstances. I am very proud of the job they did with all of our programming. The exit poll was primarily handled by Strategic and UCSD and myself—if it failed in its execution that would be my responsibility and not that of anyone else in the office. As far as the decisions regarding whether or not to disclose the results to the Kenyan public, those were made in Washington and were outside the control of the local staff.

I hope that IRI and NDI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation are able to be of substantial aid to those stuck facing trial in Egypt for simply working for democracy in their own county for these organizations. These people should not be forgotten.

[Updated] New Book Recommendation: Monitoring Democracy

UPDATE:  See “Election Monitoring:  Power, Limits and Risks” an “Expert Markets and Democracy Brief” at the Council on Foreign Relations website, including discussion of the 1992 and 2007 IRI observations in Kenya.

Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works and Why It Often Fails, newly released this month by Dr. Judith Kelley at Duke, from Princeton University Press is a major contribution to the academic study and assessment of election observation. This isn’t East Africa specific, but with all major elections in the region now drawing a variety of international observation mission on a regular basis, it is time to apply the kind of social science analysis that is used to look at the effectiveness of other types of aid/assistance or foreign policy interventions.

I’m still reading so I’ll wait for a full review, but I can definitely encourage anyone devoting significant time and effort to elections on an international basis to add this to the core library.

Orange Democracy, Exit Polls and Egypt

Kansas City Star–Commentary:  Egypt’s Democracy Falters (special to the McClatchy papers):

.  .  .  .

But it is no surprise that hard line authoritarian rulers have suspicion and disdain for U.S.-backed democratic movements.

The Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 might never have taken place if not for U.S. aid. First, the former communists in control of the Kiev government declared their candidate won an election. Then, a U.S.-funded think tank tallied up exit polls that showed the government had lied and it really lost the election.

Next, a Ukranian TV newsman trained by a U.S. aid program broadcast the exit polls and set up its cameras on the main square for an all night vigil. Up to one million people came to join the vigil. Then the Supreme Court — which had been brought to visit U.S. courts in action — ruled the election was invalid and the government had to step down.

Furthermore, U.S. legal, legislative, journalism and other trainers taught judges, prosecutors, legislators and journalists how to do their jobs in a democratic system.

Russia was panicked by the success of these democracy aid teams, operated by the Congressionally funded National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, the U.S. Bar Association and other groups. It began clamping down on them in Russia. Other autocrats expelled the democracy trainers as well, fearing they aimed to help the opposition overthrow their regimes.

In a bitter irony, although U.S. aid did help democratic forces hold elections and win power in Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, and the Palestinian territories, these countries backslid into coups or else the old guard won back power.

Either the new democratic forces were incapable of managing their countries, or the old guard rapidly learned the techniques of advertising and marshalling political forces to win back control. In some cases, people turned from the chaos of democracy to the firm hand of strongmen like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

People don’t change. They may like the feeling of liberty but they also fear the lack of guidelines.

In Egypt and in many Middle East countries, there is a huge youth population lacking jobs, housing and opportunities. People fear the young will erupt into crime and violence — similar to the soccer riots in Port Said and Cairo, and the ongoing rock and tear gas fights at Tahrir Square. Because they fear the youth, people have long accepted the ruthless power of the secret police and the authority of the kings and strongmen from Rabat to Baghdad.

While I love my liberty and would like every other country to enjoy it as well, maybe it’s wise for us to accept that what other countries choose for their way of life is best for them to decide.

If someone comes into my house and tells me better ways to plant my yard and build my bookshelves and paint my walls and cook my meals, even if they are right I will resent it and probably ignore all they suggest. So what is happening in Egypt is no big surprise.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Ben Barber has written about the developing world since 1980 for Newsday, the London Observer, the Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Times and USA TODAY. From 2003 to August, 2010, he was senior writer at the U.S. foreign aid agency. His photojournalism book — GROUNDTRUTH: The Third World at Work at play and at war — is to be published in 2012 by de-MO.org. He can be reached at benbarber2@hotmail.com.