Election Violence threat in Kenya — my thoughts on NDI’s new warning 


1. NDI is right to warn of a risk of violence, highlighting the unprecedented level of division and tension in Kenya related to the competition for power in this election scheduled for August.

2.  Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.

3.  Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved.  Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust.  No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.

4.  The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over.  There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others.  I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).

5.  Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

6.  Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007.  Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab.  In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi —  is really failing.  Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood.  Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.

7.  It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year).  It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning.  Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.

8.  Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time.  Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.

9.  I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war.  In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction.  The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted.  On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.

Update: 13 April — See Muthoni Wanyeki’s latest column in The East African, Polls: the heat is rising, mayhem escalating,” for a look at the current temperature official behavior around the country.

 

Washington sees that Uhuru’s security approach is counterproductive; Kenya’s democrats still must counter Uhuru’s DC lobbyists to hope for better U.S. policy by 2017

As Kenya’s politics shift into more focused attention on the 2017 presidential race, Kenya’s security environment has become so conspicuously bad that all sorts of people are noticing and commentating in Washington, with an unusually broad consensus that the Uhuruto administration is failing: draconian and corrupt crackdowns unnecessarily alienating Kenyans whose cooperation is needed; corrupt diversion of resources from national security needs as notoriously demonstrated in the successful Anglo Leasing scams; gross incompetence as reflected in the tragically late response to the Garissa University terrorist takeover.

For but one small sample, see today’s “DefenseOne” with headline “How Kenya’s Counterrerrorism Turned Counterproductive”.  You cannot get more mainstream DC than a Council of Foreign Relations post republished in Atlantic Media’s DefenseOne.

One might expect that a lot of people in Washington would be moved to take a hard look in the mirror under the circumstances, given the U.S. policy of, at best, actively looking the other way as Kibaki stole re-election in 2007, and the fact that the U.S. ended up doing far more to help than hurt the Uhuruto election effort that Kibaki supported for his succession in 2013.  But that won’t happen; domestic politics in the era of the “permanent campaign” stifles critical self-examination in our foreign policy establishment in Washington.  Thus it is incumbent on Kenyans who don’t want the U.S. to repeat its mistakes of 2007 and 2013 to engage with American policy now before it is too late for 2017.

Let me digress to make sure there is no confusion about the U.S. role in 2013 and the fact that the U.S. did more to help than hurt the Kenyatta and Ruto ascension in 2013.

Yes, I know, Jendayi Frazer vociferously accused the Obama administration of “interfering” in Kenya’s 2013 campaign, against Uhuruto, because her successor Johnnie Carson made a single reference in one statement that “choices have consequences”.  In reality, so far as I know, Carson’s statement was “damage control” from within the Obama Administration after Obama himself issued a statement to Kenyans on the election of fully vetted bureaucrateez, saying nothing.  Because Obama made an affirmative statement, saying nothing, he created, predictably, an opening for the Uhuruto public relations team to take to the media in Kenya with the assertion that Obama had made it clear that the U.S. had no concern about the election of those accused of prime roles in the 2008 post election violence.  The United States was thus embarrassed by the questions of whether it was being hypocritical on human rights atrocities and whether it was again, as under the first Kenyatta, and Moi, and Kibaki, sucking up to local powers-that-be in Kenya.  Carson’s attempted corrective, of course, made matters that much worse as it handed a tool to Frazer in the international, U.S. and Kenyan media, and to others within Kenya in the Kenyan media, to fire up Uhuru’s and Ruto’s supporters through a false (and profoundly ironic) victimization narrative.

Contrary to what I think were the honest expectations of some Kenyan human rights and democracy advocates, the consequences of the Uhuruto electoral success were nothing more nor less than those that followed directly from having these two particular individuals at the helm of state.  The United States, so far as I knew at the time, never had any intention whatsoever of any type of sanctions or penalty against either the two suspects or against the Kenyan government–and it seems to me that the way the U.S. handled its support of the IEBC and the immediate environment with the election controversy  definitively demonstrates that the U.S. had no desire or intention to impede Uhuru and Ruto from taking power even if we were not going to openly favor them.  Of course the knowledge of what had happened in the 2008 violence imposed some bit of color on the relationship after the Uhuruto inauguration but it didn’t have any major policy impact except to make the U.S. more circumspect, if anything, in any criticism of the Kenyan government and more ginger in avoiding anything seen as unduly supporting the old “reform agenda” from the first few years after the PEV so as not to offend those inflamed against the U.S. by the Uhuruto campaign rhetoric.

Substantively, the primary apparent U.S. role in the 2013 election was to spend many millions of dollars on a largely nontransparent basis to underwrite the IEBC, even though it turned out to be corrupt, and to facilitate sale and acceptance of the “results” it chose to announce. The “verification” of the margin of just a hair over the 50%+1 threshold without the actual tallying of all the votes.  In essence, the larger established pattern from 2007 if not the goriest of details from the backrooms.  While Ambassador Godec and his boss Carson did not embrace Uhuru in the way that Ambassador Ranneberger and presumably Frazer embraced Kibaki, the bottom line priority remained superficial “stability” over “deepening democracy”.

So where does that leave things now with the “chickens coming home to roost” on that superficiality as the ephemeral nature of the “stability agenda” becomes apparent?

Kenyan democrats must be more sophisticated in dealing with Washington–it is crucial that they engage to counter Uhuru’s new lobbyist teams from the Podesta Group (along with Uhuru’s hiring of Tony Blair and whatever other moves of this type have not be widely reported in the media).

In the wake of the 2013 mess at the IEBC, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa initiated a critical unanimous Senate Resolution; that resolution never saw the light of day on the House side.  Why?  Arizona Senator Jeff Flake co-sponsored that resolution and is now Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee.  New Jersey Representative Chris Smith on the House side, whose Subcommittee would not take action on the resolution, is ripe for appeal on these issues as he is supporting a globalized Magnitsky Act approach to broaden and make more consistent U.S. sanction against human rights abuse, and he doggedly and successfully pursued the investigation showing that USAID funding was improperly diverted for partisan ends in the 2010 Kenyan referendum during Ranneberger’s tenure.  In this context, Smith should have no sympathies for actors like Uhuru or Ruto as individuals and certainly should have grave concerns about the monkey business with U.S. assistance at the IEBC.

But given that powerful well-connected people are getting paid by the Kenyan taxpayer to grease the skids in Washington the other way, it is imperative that Kenyans get the truth directly to Washington or risk the consequences of more misguided U.S. policy.  Likewise, Kenyans need to engage directly with the Dutch who funded the NDI pre-election polling in 2013 and the other Western donors who plumped for the ECK/IEBC operations in 2007-13 both through the UNDP and otherwise in the U.S. coordinated basket funding.

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

UhuRuto Campaign Ad Kenya 2013

UhuRuto billboard March 2013

Again: Is Uhuru on his way to being the next East African authoritarian American darling?

Is Uhuru on his way to being the next East African authoritarian American darling? [originally I asked in April 2013; we are moving that much more quickly along the path with Secretary Kerry’s current visit ahead of Obama in July, as further allegedly necessitated by the Uhuruto administration’s conspicuous incompetence on “security”]

Uhuru Kenyatta, Jendayi Frazer and Paul Kagame walk into a commodity exchange in Kigali . . .

Swiss trader looks up and says, “You must be here to save Kenya’s small family farmers!”

Post-election IDP camp at Naivasha, Kenya, 2008

Post-election IDP camp at Naivasha, Kenya, 2008

“Could Rwanda’s Kagame get thrown out of the ‘smoke filled room’?” AfriCommons, 13 March 2014

“East Africa Exchange Formally Launched” BizTech Africa, 4 July 2014

“Carter Center release; Initial observations on the ‘Frazer v. Carson’ controversy”  AfriCommons, 21 Feb. 2013

“Beth Mugo Admits Kenyatta Family Owns Huge Tracts of Land, But Defends Uhuru” Mwakilishi, 12 Feb. 2013

“How Kosgei pulled strings to block U.S. from endorsing Kibaki presidency” Daily Nation, 13 July 2012

“Kenyan PM Odinga Speaks Out on Election, ‘Dubious’ Role of Jendayi Frazer and Ambassador” AfriCommons, 4 March 2010

Part Ten–FOIA Documents from Kenya’s 2007 election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[Much caan happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots and it did” AfriCommons, 30 April 2012

“Africa Bureau under Frazer coordinated “recharacterization” of 2007 exit poll showing Odinga win (New Documents–FOIA Series No. 12)” AfriCommons, 18 March 2013

Could Rwanda’s Kagame get thrown out of the “smoke filled room”?

The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R. Calif.)  has released a letter yesterday “decrying targeted killings of Rwandan regime critics abroad” in which “the Chairman urged Secretary Kerry to reevaluate U.S. engagement with Rwanda, including future assistance”:

Dear Mr. Secretary: I am writing to express my deep concern over the numerous attempted attacks and killings of Rwandan dissidents living outside that country. Any functioning and responsible democracy allows the voices of opposition to be heard. Yet in Rwanda there is a systematic effort to silence – by any means necessary – the voices of those who question the regime in Kigali.   .  .  .  .

This really strikes me as a potentially major setback for Kagame.  In addition to the support Kagame has had from those who were at the helm in the U.S. executive branch 20 years ago during the 1994 genocide and Kagame’s ascension, he has also had an extra level of support in recent years from some House Republicans and others in the Republican Party.  Part of it is the same type of thing that kept Museveni and the Ethiopian regime of Meles Zenawi in favor with some on the “right” in American politics well after most people who pay attention to Africa got over the notion that this class of rulers represented a “renaissance generation” of semi-democratic leadership.  Kagame has lost a lot of his American support over the last few years over the exposure of his actions in relation to the DRC and his growing authoritarianism, even though continuing to solidify his stature as a “go to” source for troops for the U.S. and Europe in the region and a secure landingpad for global investment endeavors. (h/t Cameron Hudson @cch7c on the Royce letter)

Kagame may have finally gone too far to stomach for both the Republican and Democrat mainstream in Washington.

A next question will be what reaction we see from the global elite, what some might refer to as “the Davos crowd”, including the wealthy investor/philanthropist/celebrity networks which have patronized Kagame.  In fact, the World Economic Forum last year was the venue for Kagame to announce with “homeless billionaire” Nicolas Berggruen, Nigerian investor Tony Elumelu and former U.S. official Jendayi Frazer the launch of the “East African Exchange” in Kigali.

As reported at the time in Africa Mining Intelligence, “Kigali, Future minerals trading platform” : “[A] commodities exchange in East Africa that will deal initially with farm goods and minerals covering the entire Great Lakes region, will be set up in Kigali, capital of Rwanda . . . The inauguration of the East African Exchange (EAX) will be seen to by a consortium whose most prominent figure is Jendayi Frazer who was a U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs under George W. Bush.”

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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

“Peace,” “Truth” and American commentary in the wake of the election

“Peace versus Truth: A Story of Unnecessary Trade-Offs”.

“Indictee for President!”  Michella Wrong writes in the New York Times Latitude blog on how “being prosecuted by the ICC helped Uhuru Kenyatta’s chances in the Kenyan election.”  I would go a little further back and identify the ICC indictment as the impetus for Uhuru’s launching of his TNA party and his run for President in the first place, through his emergence as the dominant Kikuyu candidate.  In other words, absent the ICC factor, I doubt Kenyatta would have run, or at least run seriously, and if he had, I doubt he would have gotten very far early on.

Here is Jendayi Frazer’s solo interview on PBS NewsHour last night: “Western Allies Have ‘Muted’ Response to Kenya’s Presidential Election”:  

GWEN IFILL: After all the violence in 2007 and 2008 after the last presidential election, we were all bracing to see if the same thing would happen this time. And so far it has not. Why do you think that is?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Right.

Well, I think the Kenyans learned lessons from 2007. And the civil society very much was guarding their country and guarding against future violence.

They also had this election under entirely new institutions. There’s a brand-new constitution. There’s a de-evolution of power from the center, from the presidency, to governors of 47 counties. There’s county assemblies. And so I think the diffusion of power, the expectations about their new institutions and the lessons learned from 2007 account for the lack of violence this time.

Frazer is right in identifying why the situation in 2013 was different and “the same thing” that happened in 2007-08 was not going to happen this year.  There is an irony, however, for her to invoke the work of Kenyan civil society, and the reforms of the new Constitution, in the context of her advocacy now in regard to this election when William Ruto was the leader of the “reds” who campaigned against the Constitution and  Uhuru Kenyatta was seen as a “watermelon”, nominally “green” or pro-Constitution on the surface, but “red” in substance.  The “Uhuruto” Jubillee Coalition took the position pre-election that it wished to restrict civil society if it took power.

Otherwise, there is much that is very telling in this solo interview about how the American media covers politics in the “developing world” and Africa in particular, and much that is telling about America’s official and unofficial interaction with foreign politicians and leaders.

It should be noted that for someone that served only a short time in the State Department, Frazier has positioned herself as a dominant figure in the Washington media in commenting on this election.  A plausible reason for this relates to the fact that she has deeper roots in the Kenyan scene than her service as Ambassador to South Africa and then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Bush Administration.  These roots, however, are not discussed publicly in the context of her commentary on this Kenyan election.  By reputation in Kenya, Frazer is identified widely but privately as a close family friend of the Kenyattas,  Read the following exchange in this context:

GWEN IFILL: Uhuru Kenyatta, you have met him. You know something of him. What do we know about him, other than he’s the son of a very famous leader of the country, a very wealthy man and now is under this cloud?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, he’s also very much a person who respects the West. He was educated in the United States. He’s been pro-Western in his outlook.

He’s been the minister of finance before and the deputy prime minister. He’s always had strong relations with the United States. Now, the case against him is problematic. And as it was stated, it’s falling apart. The co-conspirators have all — that were charged with him are charged with attending a particular meeting at statehouse and in that meeting planning reprisals against the violence that was being meted out against the Kikuyus.

But the key eyewitness has now said that he lied and he’s been changing his testimony and has — and even said that he’s taken bribes. And so the case is falling apart.

There is much that is unsaid that may be of vital import.  One question is simply whether Dr. Frazer, especially as a private citizen engaging with this is in a position to be objective about Kenyatta personally beyond describing the basic relationship to the U.S.  Second, and relatedly, there is much more involved here than just the actual status of ICC prosecution’s case: there is also the bigger moral question of whether or not Kenyatta, and his running mate Ruto, are in fact innocent of being directly involved in deliberate killing of innocent Kenyans on the basis of their ethnicity for instrumental political reasons.

From a standpoint of pragmatic realpolitik, as well as for Western private and business interests, it might be convenient now for the ICC cases, especially the case against Kenyatta, to “go away” to protect the ability to do “business as usual”.  Frazer is right that Kenyatta has had ties in the U.S.–he would have been a favorite of some others in the U.S. but for the post-election violence in 2008.  But I do not believe that there are very many Kenyans at all–whether Kenyatta voters or not–who do believe that both Kenyatta and Ruto did not in fact do in essence, if not in exact detail that can be proven in court now, what they are accused of doing in terms of engaging in leadership of “militia” killings.  Kenyatta’s appeal in fact relates to the notion that the use of the Mungiki to kill in the eastern Rift Valley was in some notion “defensive” of Kikuyu killed by members of other tribes in other places further west in the Rift Valley (what Ruto is accused of being involved in).

Part of what is happening here is that by attacking the shortcomings of the ICC and the Western media among others, some are seeking to relieve themselves of some of the moral tension associated with the haunting question of whether “peace” is being bought by the (possible) election of “killers”.

In this context, here is a link to Dr. Frazer’s aggressive interview with Michelle Martin on NPR’s “Tell Me More” this afternoon.

Carter Center release; Initial observations on the “Frazer v. Carson” controversy

The Carter Center 2013 EOM Pre-Election Statement was released today based on the work so far of 14 long term observers, who will later be joined by short term observers from 19 countries. Not surprisingly, the Statement has no particular revelations pro or con for those following the election situation. While it primarily exhorts good future behavior, the statement generally praises the IEBC on its internal preparatory work while stressing concerns about the adequacy of voter education to date. It praises the IEBC’s willingness to work with judiciary, while noting the huge volume of cases that might arise from election challenges. Discussion of security seems to me quite generic under the circumstances, but read it for yourself.

The environment for comment from “outsiders” is difficult given the growing tension in the closing days of the campaign. With yesterday’s incident with an American academic/investor who was a George W. Bush administration Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs accusing the serving American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs of “essentially meddling” in the Kenyan election for noting that while Kenyans should freely elect their choice of candidates such choices did have “consequences” in their external relationships, I would think it becomes that much more challenging for the Carter Center or other observers to push on any particular pre-election issues.

My initial reaction to Jendayi Frazer’s high profile “denouncement” of her successor is to say that while I would strongly defend Ms. Frazer’s right as a private citizen in the United States to dissent from and critique American foreign policy (as I have done myself), I personally think her comments were quite unfortunate under the circumstances. To me, if her concern was to try to improve on American performance by criticizing current officials’ actions, she would have done better to hold her tongue in public for less than two weeks until the vote was over. The timing of her attack on Johnnie Carson, combined with her specific characterization of the ICC’s case against Uhuru Kenyatta, in the context of her own highly controversial role in 2007-08 in the last election, could suggest that perhaps Ms. Frazer herself was seeking to be a public player in the Kenyan campaign rather than advocating for “non-interference”.

Part of the situation here is that Frazer has a bully pulpit by virtue of her time in the government position before Carson was appointed to serve the current administration. When she speaks in this way, as a practical matter she is identified in the media and otherwise primarily as a recent former senior appointee in the State Department, rather than as someone launching business enterprises, as a professor or any other role or roles that she may play as a private citizen in the context of East Africa today, as opposed to her role five years ago.

More to the point for me is how disappointing Frazer’s statement is for people in Kenya who have supported the rights of the victims of the 2007-08 post-election violence and supported “the reform agenda” and the long, hard and dangerous work of seeking some small measure of justice in whatever legal venue. Kenya is in fact a member of the ICC even if the United States is not; the ICC is involved only because Kenya’s parliament, including Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, voted “don’t be vague, go to the Hague”. Kenya’s government committed to cooperate with the ICC before what Frazer calls a weak case was in fact confirmed to go forward to trial by the Court.

Given that the United States is again the leading donor in the $100 million effort to support the Kenyan election process, I personally don’t think that Carson’s statement was outside the boundaries of appropriate diplomacy in the context of the characterization of the President’s immediately proceeding statement being given in the Kenyan campaign, vis-a-vis the statements of the European donors. There is really no precedent that fits the situation with the Kenyan election and the candidates facing ICC trial and I doubt anyone is very clear about what the consequences of electing an ICC indictee as president would be — but it doesn’t seem controvertible to me to note that there would certainly be some.

Kenyan politics: food prices to rise; more stories from 2008

There is lots of daily “news” in the Kenyan presidential race, naturally.  What of this will matter six months from now?  Obviously it is hard to know, but one current headline that is more likely to impact the day to day lives of most Kenyans is the drought in the United States and the accompanying huge drop in the U.S. corn/maize crop.  From the Financial Times, “Food crisis fears as U.S. corn soars”:

.  .  .  The US is crucial to supplying the world with food: the country is the largest exporter of corn, soyabeans and wheat, accounting for one in every three tonnes of the staple grains traded on the global market.

Prices for this year’s corn crop, deliverable in December, have jumped 44 per cent in a month, wheat has rallied 45 per cent, and soyabeans 17 per cent.

The rise in grain prices has inspired comparisons with 2007-08, when a price surge triggered a wave of food riots in more than 30 countries from Bangladesh to Haiti, and 2010, when Russia banned grain exports, setting off a price jump that some have argued helped to cause unrest across the Arab world last year. . . .

For the immediate present, the Kenyan headlines dwell on former Raila Odinga aide Miguna Miguna’s book launch, of Peeling Back the Maskwith sections being serialized in The Nation.  The basic notion seems to be the argument that at this stage of his career Raila is just another Kenyan politician who is not any more careful than the usual suspects about the company he keeps or the people he brings into public positions.  A large point may be that the book, published in London, was launched this weekend in Kenya itself.  This means that Kenya has come a long way on free speech in campaigns; it also means that the Prime Minister does not in fact have equal clout in government or chose not to use it if one compares the treatment of this book to others in recent years.

Initial serialization does include an interesting story of how ODM reached over Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer’s head to appeal to Secretary of State Rice through Sally Kosgei when Frazer was said to recommend formalizing a “qualified endorsement” of Kibaki’s claim to a second term in January 2008.  This is reportedly the background of Rice’s direct intervention to further push the “power sharing” negotiations in February 2008. Those in Nairobi at the time will remember that Ambassador Ranneberger was immediately advocating “power sharing” once the initial U.S. congratulations on Kibaki’s “victory” were withdrawn.

The challenge for the West in Kenya’s 2012 election–and how we can learn and do better this time

Toi Market-Nairobi

I just returned from a few days at the annual conference of the African Studies Association, held in Washington this year.  This gave me the chance to hear presentations by and informally rub elbows with some of the most knowledgeable experts on Kenya and African democracy and governance from a variety of places and institutions around the world.  The summary overview is that as we approach four years from the last election, there is so much that is still “up in the air” about the next one that it is impossible to know much about how it will play out.

Here is my view of where things are:

1.  The election date remains in active dispute.  Much Kenyan opinion holds that the new Constitution mandates an election in August of 2012 which is fast approaching.  The members of the brand new electoral commission have said in the recent past that they cannot be ready by then.  The Cabinet has just withdrawn a bill in Parliament to amend the Constitution to move the date [update: the Speaker has ruled that the bill may be re-filed tomorrow and be heard] and the Supreme Court has ruled that the matter must come up through normal channels through the High Court rather than be determined by an advisory opinion.

2.  While it is positive that the new Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission has been formed in a process widely seen as appropriate, the time involved means that we do not yet even know the constituencies and boundaries for the new elections; further this new Commission is untested.

3.  The issue of implementing the gender balance in Parliament under the new Constitution remains unsettled.  A lot of seats and salaries are at stake on this issue.

4.  Candidates, parties and coalitions remain very much unsettled and can be expected to remain so.   There has been very little obvious progress in actually enforcing the laws governing political parties and elected officials in relation to parties.  The relationship between “parties” and “coalitions” remains elusive.

5.  Politics in Kenya certainly seems more openly ethnic now than at a similar time in the 2007 election cycle.  One could perhaps make the argument that it is better to have it more “on the table” rather than “under the table”, but I do not necessarily buy that.  Regardless, there is this time no basis for outsiders to underestimate it.  How this will play out in the campaigns is unknown.

6.  Like in 2007, we have high inflation rates for staples such that the wananchi are being squeezed on the basic cost of living–while the GDP growth rate in the region and in Kenya is much less robust than in 2006-07–all aside from the drought and food crisis in many regions.  Whether this will get better or worse as the election approaches is unknown.

7.  Corruption remains a huge issue.  Overall there may have been some small progress at the margins, but in reality the accumulation of exposed cases of major graft in which no one major has been prosecuted just continues to grow.  The corruption in the 2007 election specifically was swept under the rug.  No one has been held accountable and the facts have remained concealed enough that any politician or spokesman can say whatever they want about what happened last time.  It seems to me hard to argue that there is much deterrent in place to attempts to corrupt the 2012 elections.

8.  The threat from terrorism seems to be greater and this time Kenya itself rather than Ethiopia is at war in Somalia.

No one that I heard or talked to seemed to feel that we knew much more about how the next Kenyan election might play out now than we did when I attended the same conference in New Orleans in 2009.

And yet, I picked up on what I see as disturbing reports of a repetition of the complacency that we got burned by in 2007.  At the risk of sounding “preachy” I want to argue passionately that this is a mistake.

Okay, Kenya had a peaceful and well accepted referendum in 2010 when there were worries about violence.  Let me explain why I don’t think at means so much in regard to 2012.

First, the referendum was not a close election–just as the 2002 NARC election was not a close election.  The question in the referendum was how big the margin would be, not whether it would pass.  Since the outcome of the referendum was not in play it would not have been impacted by violence or protests one way or the other.  In 2007 the outcome was in play and disputed and violence served the interests of both sides to a point.

If there had been no protests regarding the election Odinga would never have become Prime Minister–and the incumbent government was clearly committed to not allowing protests, and clearly prioritized keeping power over security for the public.  At the same time, if there had not been a murderous mobilization of Kalenjin militias against Kikuyu in the Rift Valley to the point of what Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer controversially labeled “ethnic cleansing” there might have been some remedial action about the subversion of the election count itself.   This was the approach initially advocated by the EU and other Western countries.  I would like to think that if this militia violence in the Rift Valley had been less egregious that perhaps the higher levels of the U.S. government might have come around to some form of election remediation in spite of the U.S. Ambassador’s approach.  Obviously I have no way to know–but the point remains, I think, that even the violence against Kikuyu in the Rift Valley in a way indirectly helped keep for Kibaki the new five year term that the ECK awarded him.

The bottom line is that violence ended up “working” in a sense for certain political interests in 2007-08–and the price was paid only by the wananchi so far–whereas there was no political utility for such violence in 2010.

Further, the referendum was a national vote and the outcome at individual polling centres and in localities and regions did not directly matter–very unlike the simultaneous election of the President and MPs and local officials in Kenyan General Elections.

On balance, the 2010 Referendum seems to me to provide less reasonable assurance about a clean and safe General Election in 2012 than the2002 General Election and the 2005 Referendum would have provided in 2007.

There are Kenyans whose opinions I respect who think that the era of election violence is over in Kenya because of the actions of the ICC to date.  Perhaps.  I hope they are right, but I do not see that it makes sense to bet anyone’s life on it. Which presidential contender today is showing up in the polls as less popular because he was charged by the ICC prosecutor and named in various investigative reports about the post election violence?  Who knows what will happen with the ICC process or what impact it will ultimately have?

The key for Western donors is to be prepared for contingencies rather than guessing and gambling about what might or might not happen.  To have the political will to “call out” the electoral commission before the election if it abandons the practices and tools that are clearly necessary to have a transparent and reliable election.  To reserve judgment on the process until it is concluded.  To speak out, at least, if Kenya’s paramilitary  security forces are diverted for political purposes such as sealing off Kibera and defending Uhuru Park to keep it free of protestors.  To commit to transparency to assure trust.  And to decide now how to respond to violence if things go wrong later.

To close this, I am going to fulfill a personal request from someone from the West who was importantly involved in trying to help the process last time by linking to an account of a Kenyan investigative journalist to the Kriegler Commission about what was happening in Kibera in the last election.  I have to do this with a READER DISCRETION ADVISED WARNING–this is not “family-friendly” reading.  I have no personal knowledge of any of the specifics but this does come with the personal recommendation of someone very credible who knows the source well.  We all know that Kenyan politics can be murderous and there is no reason to be complacent.