State Department announces sanctions on head of DRC election commission and constitutional court for “significant corruption”

Good. Let me appreciate this action by the State Department to address a corrupt voting process and pull back from previous language that skipped over what seems to be the reality of what happened.

Here is the statement.

It would seem that collectively we (the U.S.) want to recognize Tshisekedi as fait accompli and “not Kabila”, and make the most of the opportunity for a better relationship and progress while still holding a small flame against election fraud for the future and not be “complicit” in covering it up. I very much approve of not being complicit in a cover up even if we are just trying to make the best of the situation with good intentions.

In Kenya in 2008 we issued private travel sanctions against two members of the election commission, the then ECK, for suspected bribery, but said nothing publicly. In that case there was violence from the election fraud and we had withdrawn our initial congratulations. We never disclosed the sanctions or the issue or evidence regarding the bribery but I learned of the matter from a Daily Nation story from a stolen cable from Wikileaks:

The Daily Nation– “What the cables say” (Feb ’08 US visa warning letters sent to ECK commissioners suspected of accepting bribes to fix vote tally) Mar 2 ’11 The link is apparently dead now; for discussion of the story please see Part Seven of my series on the page “The Story of the ’07 Election Through FOIA” under “The War for History Series: was Kenya’s election stolen?.

The public sanctions now, to me, are a step forward in responding to election corruption and I appreciate that we are taking this step. I also appreciate the many people influential in Washington who have spoken out publicly on the problem and laid the groundwork for this, noting Amb. Michelle Gavin at CFR and Joshua Meservey at Heritage. And of course Nic Cheeseman of Democracy in Africa and the University of Birmingham has been a ubiquitous friendly voice for the democratic process throughout.

As discussed in my previous post “Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote” we learned a good bit about the intergovernmental back and forth on the U.S. side on these issues from the work of Robbie Gramer and Jeffcoate O’Donnell. (As I wrote I know there was some of this in Kenya 2007 but no one seems to have been willing to write about it yet and I only have pieces.)

So, what’s next?

Foreign Policy article gives insight on disagreements within Trump administration on backing off on criticism of flawed DRC vote

Foreign Policy has published a piece reporting significant internal dissent from the reversal of the U.S. position from significantly negative to largely positive on the recent DRC election:

. . . .

In a series of preliminary statements crafted by the team and released by the State Department on Jan. 3, 10, and 16—before confirmation of the final results—the United States sharply condemned reports of election-related interference and violence. The Jan. 3 statement included a threat that people involved “may find themselves not welcome in the United States and cut off from the U.S. financial system.”

With the Constitutional Court’s decision to confirm the election later in the month and with news of widespread election fraud, the group drafted a new U.S. response on Jan. 23. It noted the election results rather than welcoming them—a diplomatic way of signaling displeasure—and condemned the “deeply flawed and troubling” election, according to a draft reviewed by FP. It also stated that Congo’s electoral commission “failed to live up to the responsibility” it had to carry out elections fairly and ivowed that the United States would “hold accountable” any figures engaged in election fixing or violent crackdowns on any ensuing protests.

But none of this language made it into the final statement. Instead, Washington welcomed the results and declared itself committed to working with Tshisekedi. The revised statement made only passing mention to “electoral irregularities.”

Michael Hammer, the U.S. ambassador to Congo, along with Michael McKinley, a senior career diplomat advising Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, pushed for the revised statement, according to three U.S. officials. The department’s third-ranking official, David Hale, ultimately signed off on it, the officials said.

Senior U.S. officials in other agencies and some State Department officials—including the special envoy for the region, Pham—were kept out of the final decision entirely and did not know that a shift in policy was in the works, officials told FP. They said some officials found out about the shift in policy only once the statement came out. It left some of them fuming.

“If we said we’ll hold the government accountable … and five days later we congratulate a bunch of thieves, what good are our threats?” one senior U.S. official said.

One former State Department official familiar with the process said the implications went beyond Congo. “It was just a stupid decision to release that statement, a statement that has much bigger bearing on U.S. government democracy promotion in Africa,” the former official said.

The State Department, USAID, and NSC all declined to comment for this story. A State Department spokesperson also did not respond to a request to interview the senior diplomats who FP was told were involved in the process. . . . .

This is the kind of thing I always had hoped to see about Kenya 2007 where the U.S. initially relied on what my FOIA research indicates was a pre-determined blessing of Kibaki’s alleged re-election even after Ambassador Ranneberger witnessed vote totals being changed by the Kibaki-controlled Electoral Commission of Kenya and reported some pre-knowledge of unlawful rigging plans and conduct. In the face of violence the initial congratulations were withdrawn and the State Department pivoted to support a negotiation to include the opposition in a sharing of power with Kibaki. I know that there were differing internal opinions but I have never seen this level of public reporting on the internal debate.

Some of this may reflect differences in the internal environment and reporters’ expectations and aspirations during the Bush and Trump administrations as well as “the times” more generally. Regardless, I am glad to know more about how my government made this decision and encouraged that the problems with the positive statement final statement on the were recognized by some of those involved.

On the Congressional side, here is the January 18 Statement from the incoming Republican Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee:

Washington D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) released the following statement on the fraudulent election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“After eighteen years of the Kabila regime, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had a historic opportunity to give its people a voice by holding free and fair elections. Millions of Congolese bravely went to the polls to cast their vote amid long lines, intimidation and violence. Unfortunately, the fraudulent vote count does not demonstrate the will of the people. 

“I commend the African Union’s call for transparency and credible election results. All parties must refrain from violence as this process continues. It’s imperative for the United States and the rest of the world to stand with the Congolese people to demand an accurate vote tally and I urge Secretary Pompeo to fully engage at this pivotal moment. All individuals who impede this democratic process must be held accountable.”

I would also like to know more about slightly more gradual process of walking back the substance of our objections to Kabila’s 2011 re-election vote during the Obama administration.

Lake Edward into Congo

 

 

Dr. Peter Pham gets new post-midterm Trump diplomatic appointment as Great Lakes Special Envoy [Updated]

Ahead of the long-overdue elections scheduled for next month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the State Department announced the nomination of Dr. Peter Pham, Africa Director at the Atlantic Council, to be Trump’s special envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.

U.S. names new envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes. (AFP)

Pham has a long background in academics and national security related policy/”think work” on Africa from the Right, which is a fairly limited universe. I became aware of Dr. Pham’s work initially as a “friend of IRI” in relation to my work on Somaliland as IRI country director in 2007-08. He was involved in publicly advising the Trump transition on Africa-related issues and was often identified as the frontrunner to be the nominee as Assistant Secretary of State. See “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017, by Helene Cooper.

Pham and his deputy at the Atlantic Council, Bronwyn Bruton, have been prominent critics/skeptics of the initial 2006 invasion of Somalia and aspects of the subsequent “nation building” process there, and Pham has been seen as an advocate for Somaliland. Beyond that, I’m not as familiar with his background on the numerous various immediate issues in the Great Lakes, or how the election results and retirements will re-shape Congressional interests.

I will endeavor to read up.

In the meantime, I have not heard any public comment about any likely impact on a vote on the stalled nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter to replace Ambassador Godec in Kenya.

Update: I had forgotten Pham’s controversial advocacy from November 2012 in the New York Times: To save Congo, let it fall apart“. A view that could be seen as very pro-Kagame/RPF and that is certainly at odds with many considered opinions and perhaps a tough starting point for a new diplomatic posting.

See also, from Foreign Policy: Pompeo to appoint new envoy for troubled central Africa region.”

Update II: Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society on Pham last year in African Arguments:

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasized security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

With DRC’s Kabila backing substitute candidate this year, time to review international observation experience from 2011 vote

[Updated Aug 9]

The Democratic Republic of Congo stands out as a wealthy country with mostly very poor voters, a fairly poor government, extremely poor governance, high corruption, pervasive political violence, a current humanitarian crisis on a Yemani scale and as a “honeypot” for some of the worst people in the world.

The announcement, at the filing deadline, that term-limited incumbent president Joseph Kabila would not be his faction’s candidate in the upcoming national elections (legally due last year) has generated some relief. See “Joseph Kabila, Congo strongman, will step down after 17 years in power” in the New York Times.

In Congress, Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he approved of Mr. Kabila’s decision — “after 17 dark and bloody years” — to step down.

“Now, deadly government crackdowns must stop so the Congolese people can choose their next president in free, fair and transparent elections,” Mr. Royce said. “Any credible election will allow opposition candidates to run campaigns free from legal harassment, intimidation and physical harm.”

A decent election in December would be a huge “win” for Congolese and for international democracy advocates but sobriety is in order as to whether that becomes a realistic possiblity as the much-delayed date approaches.

At the time of the last election in 2011, Africa democratizers were buoyed by an understood success story in Ghana, the hope of an “Arab Spring”, the lull of violence in Iraq and more generally encouraging environment. As explained in my posts from that time, the U.S.- funded International Observation Mission (conducted by the Carter Center) found the election to fall short of adequacy by the applicable international standards and said so explicitly.

Initially standing up to Kabila over the failures of his alleged re-election and pushing for them to be addressed appeared to be U.S. policy.  If so, we apparently changed our mind for some reason.  Tolerating a bad election then leaves us in a more difficult position with seven years of water under that bridge.  The U.S. has stepped up recently to pressure Kabila to schedule the election, allow opposition and stand down himself.

In this vein, we need to be careful, and transparent, as things proceed to continue to evaluate realistically what is feasible and where we are really able and willing to assist.  In particular, the decision to initiate and fund one or more Election Observation Missions for a vote in these circumstances should involve serious soul-searching at the State Department (and/or USAID).

On the last election:

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring piece is madness.”

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

U.S. and other Weatern donors support review of election irregularities in DRC — offer technical assistance

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

State Department to Kabila on DRC Presidential Election: “Nevermind”?

The State Department issued a Valentines evening statement on the “ongoing” electoral “process” in the DRC.  Hard to know what the point of this is.  Perhaps it is simply an example of the maxim “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  Maybe it means:  “since we are looking the other way on the presidential election, we do expect that surely you can do a bit of something on some of these parliamentary races, please.”  I’ll have to defer to the “Congo Watchers” and be interested to hear more from the various election observations over time.

Ongoing Electoral Process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Press Statement

Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
February 14, 2012

The United States continues to closely monitor the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the hundreds of legal disputes against some legislative election results. We urge Congolese authorities to conduct a full, thorough, and transparent investigation into these disputes, and to release vote tabulation and other records related to the elections and their outcome.

We remain deeply concerned about multiple allegations of human rights abuses by security forces, including illegal and arbitrary detentions throughout the electoral process. The Congolese government should fully investigate such reports, hold anyone found responsible fully accountable, and take concrete steps to ensure that security forces exercise restraint and respect people’s rights of assembly and of peaceful protest. We call on all Congolese leaders and their supporters to act responsibly and to publicly renounce violence.

Despite these concerns, we encourage all political parties to participate fully when the National Assembly is seated in order to preserve and protect the basic democratic principle of representative government in the Congo. The United States remains steadfast in its support of the Congolese people as they work to build a brighter, more democratic future for the DRC.

PRN: 2012/220

 

Related:  U.S. and other Western donors support review of election irregularities in DRC–offer technical assistance

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

DRC: “We have to debunk the idea that it is peace versus transparent elections. The idea that lousy elections are going to bring peace is madness.”

 

Carter Center calls it as they see it in DRC

Release from Carter Center: DRC Presidential Election Results Lack Credibility

The Carter Center finds the provisional presidential election results announced by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) on Dec. 9 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to lack credibility. CENI results point to the re-election of incumbent President Joseph Kabila with 49 percent of the vote followed by Etienne Tshisekedi with 32 percent and Vital Kamerhe with 7.7 percent.  Voter turnout was 58 percent.

Carter Center observers reported that the quality and integrity of the vote tabulation process has varied across the country, ranging from the proper application of procedures to serious irregularities, including the loss of nearly 2,000 polling station results in Kinshasa.  .  .  .

.  .  .  .  The Carter Center is therefore unable to provide independent verification of the accuracy of the overall results or the degree to which they reflect the will of the Congolese people.