New reporting on paramilitary police unit in secret US Kenya counterterrorism operations

Revised September 6

Americans in Washington on the record, and a key American who is not identified by name or specific agency, tell much of the story of the development of the Kenya counterterrorism relationship with the US since the 1998 al-Queda embassy bombing in a two part series from “UK Declassified”.

Particular focus is on the establishment and operation by the Kenyan police paramilitary General Services Unit (GSU) of a special previously secret CIA-supported unit dedicated to capture and render, if not kill in some situations, high value terrorist targets.

This unit was set up under the Kibaki Administration in 2004 and been kept out of the open source media since.

Here is the story (Part One) published in The Daily Maverick through their partnership with “UK Declassified”. And Part Two.

I cannot imagine that the substance of the story is especially surprising to anyone. In a way it’s a story of the interlocking of two bureaucracies and the making of “alphabet soup”. Whereas most Americans paying attention from outside of specific national security roles and most Kenyans would have assumed that the Kenya counterterrorism operations discussed involved the ATPU (Anti-Terrorism Police Unit) branch of the Kenya Police Service, as revealed in the articles, it turns out they involved the GSU branch. On the American side the bureaucratic distinction is that we have been using the CIA in this GSU-support role.  The CIA is a stand alone branch of the Intelligence Community, rather than one of the units under the military command structure.

The fact that some mistakes would be made and “collateral damage” (such as raiding the wrong house and killing the wrong person) incurred in any Kenya Police Service paramilitary operation is hardly surprising. To the contrary it would be foolish not to expect mistakes and my guess would be that the seeming lower volume or rate of errors in these operations compared to what we see from the GSU and the Kenyan Police Service overall has something to do with the involvement of the CIA (as well as the support of the British overseas intelligence organization MI6).

More generally, however, what I was aware of and concerned about as an American democracy assistance NGO worker during the 2007 Kenyan election cycle was that these type of counterterrorism tactics–regardless of the letters in the “alphabet soup” or which utensil is used to eat it–caused genuine fear among Kenyan citizens and potential voters who were members of the Muslim minority.  People we specifically sought to encourage to participate in the democratization process through the election.

The highest profile public use of the GSU by President Kibaki during my time with the International Republican Institute was the deployment of the paramilitary troops to form a perimeter sealing off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in the early weeks of 2008 to prevent protests against his (Kibaki’s) disputed swearing in for a second term from accessing the symbolically important venue for public assembly. (Contra events ten years later for Raila Odinga’s “people’s president” mock swearing in.). See “Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s ‘People’s President’ swearing in?“, January 31, 2018.

It is important to recognize that in Kenya the Police Service, including the GSU and the ATPU, is under the command of the President as are the Kenya Defense Forces.  Even under the new Constitution approved in 2010 as a part of the February 28, 2008 post-election “peace deal” and National Accord which devolved some core government functions, and even a portion of revenue, to 47 newly created Counties, the entire range of “policing” stays with the national executive.

It seems normal that an article about counterterrorism cooperation would have general comment from former Ambassadors Bellamy and Ranneberger but unusual to have the amount of discussion from the CIA side. I have thoughts about why people spoke up now but they are speculative so I will keep them to myself for the time being. Regardless, it is vitally important that Americans and Kenyans learn from experience, including trial-and-error in facing the challenges of terrorism in the context of laws and policies that place hope in democracy, democratization and the rule of law. So I appreciate the move towards increasing public information both from the press and those interviewed.

Conspicuously absent from the articles is any reference to the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with US support to displace the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu and restore the Transitional Federal Government with related operations by the Kenyan military. This kicked-off the current round of the ongoing war in Somalia.  It also separated out al-Shabaab as an al-Queda affiliate operating a territory-controlling jihadist insurgency in Somalia and operator of persistent regional terrorist attacks over the years.

See my post from June, 2018 below and articles and posts discussed therein for U.S. support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion, Kenyan engagement, and the consequences:

More context: what happened between Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 that might have changed State Department priorities on democratic reform in Kenya and Kibaki’s re-election?

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirtKenyans going for water

Kalonzo-Kibaki deal and Kenya’s stolen 2007 election as explained by insider Joe Khamisi’s “Politics of Betrayal”

The Politics of Betrayal; Diary of a Kenyan Legislator by former journalist and MP Joe Khamisi was published early in 2011 and made a big stir in Nairobi with portions being serialized in The Nation.  Khamisi is definitely not your average politician in that he got a journalism degree from the University of Maryland, worked for years as a journalist, and became managing director of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and worked in the foreign service before being elected to parliament from Bahari on the Coast in 2002.

Khamisi was part of the LDP, the Liberal Democratic Party, and in 2007 became an ODM-K insider with Kalonzo.  While there is inherent subjectivity in a political memoir from one particular actor, Khamisi’s background in journalism serves him well.  While I cannot vouch for his accounts of specific incidents that I do not have any direct knowledge of, and I do not necessarily agree with his perspective on some things and people, he seems to try to be fair and there is much that he writes that rings true to me from my own interactions and observations in the 2007 campaign.

From his chapter on “The Final Moments” of the 2007 race, at page 223:

It needs to be said at this point that Kalonzo’s appointment as Vice President was neither an afterthought by Kibaki, nor a patriotic move by Kalonzo to save the country from chaos.  It was not a miracle either.  It was a deliberate, calculated, and planned affair meant to stop the ODM from winning the presidency.  It was conceived, discussed and sealed more than two months before the elections.  It was purely a strategic political move; a sort of pre-election pact between two major political players.  It was a survival technique meant to save Kibaki and Kalonzo from possible humiliation.

In our secret discussions with Kibaki, we did not go beyond the issue of the Vice Presidency and the need for an alliance between ODM-Kenya and PNU.  We, for example, did not discuss the elections themselves; the mechanisms to be used to stop Raila; nor did we discuss whether part of that mechanism was to be the manipulation of the elections.  It appeared though that PNU insiders had a far wider plan, and the plan, whatever it was, was executed with the full connivance of the ECK .  What happened at the KICC tallying centre–even without thinking about who won or lost–lack transparency and appeared to be a serious case of collusion involving the ECK and officials at the highest levels of government.  It was not a coincidence that the lights went off at the very crucial moment when the results were about to be announced; nor was it necessary for the para-military units to intervene in what was purely an administrative matter.  The entire performance of ECK Chairman Kivuitu and some of the Commissioners was also suspect and without doubt contributed to the violence that followed.

One of Kenya’s business tycoons has recently written an autobiography in which he tells of heroically returning early from a family vacation when he hears of the outbreak of post election violence and then hosting a dinner getting Kibaki and Kalonzo together leading to Kalonzo’s appointment as Vice President along with rest of Kibaki’s unilateral cabinet appointments in early January 2008 during the early stages of the violent post-election standoff. That version of the story does not make a lot of sense to me relative to what Joe Khamisi as an insider wrote and published back in 2011, years closer to the fateful events.

As I wrote early this year:

If you have not yet read Joe Khamisi’s Kenya: Looters and Grabbers; 54 Years of Corruption and Plunder by the Elite, 1963-2017 (Jodey Pres 2018) you must. It sets the stage in the colonial era and proceeds from independence like a jackhammer through scandal, after scandal after scandal upon scandal.

Read a great review by Tom Odhiambo of the University of Nairobi in the Daily Nation here.

Both of these books, and Khamisi’s other works are available at Jodeybooks.com.

Election Assistance FOIA update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting Kenya IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition

Kenya EACC at Integrity Centre NairobiBack in 2015 I submitted a Freedom of Information request for USAID records relating to the election assistance through IFES for Kenya’s IEBC (the election commission).

The Mission in Kenya sent several hundred pages to the USAID FOIA office more than 30 months ago. A year ago I finally got the first release, simply a heavily redacted copy of the Cooperative Agreement itself funding the program.

I have just recently gotten the second release, the first substantive group of redacted copies of the underlying documents. From this I am starting to learn some information about the procurement of the failed Results Transmission System, but that matter remains somewhat sketchy so far.

Sadly I did see that IFES staff reported to USAID in the aftermath of the vote that they were busy working on the defense of the Supreme Court petition which impacted their availability to address questions about the systems issues.

I also learned that the election assistance donors were discussing amongst themselves the extent to which the UNDP, which administered “basket funding” for the election should cooperate with an investigative inquiry regarding procurements from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

Kenya High Court Nairobi AFRICOG lawyer Harun Ndubi press conference 2013 election

I did learn that one prospective bidder for one Results Transmission System procurement reported to the USAID Mission December 2012 that the allowed time for proposals was insufficient, to no avail as USAID said the impending election date did not allow delay.

When I consulted with AfriCOG, the Kenyan civil society organization, on election observation, and court petitions were filed seeking first to enjoin the IEBC from proceeding with an informal/irregular alleged vote tally when the Results Transmission System failed, and then after the IEBC went ahead, to challenge the alleged results, I did not know the Results Transmission System was a U.S. Government procurement under the Agreement, nor of direct involvement of IFES in supporting the other side in the litigation.

Kenya’s presidential election petition – it was clear IEBC did not follow the law, even before Supreme Court Registrar showed serious skulldugery with ICT

Discussing Kenyan elections can get tense, even among friends who are not Kenyans and try to be relatively dispassionately analytical. I have copied here one of my emails from an ongoing exchange in late August during the pendency of the Presidential Petition in the Supreme Court. My friend with whom I was corresponding is a Westerner who knows far more about Kenya (and lots of other relevant things) than I do and is someone I greatly respect (he is also a layman as far the legal profession goes). My friend was much more sanguine than I about the IEBC’s implementation and use of the KIEMS Results Transmission System, both in terms of facts and law. This explains how I saw things (and still do):

Uploading an alleged Form 34A offline after the election and reporting of results reflects a failure of the use of the RTS by its terms as consistently represented by IEBC and IFES until well after the election.

It is simply not the same thing at all in my opinion.

Even ELOGs sample in their PVT found 13.5% of Polling Stations did not publicly post Form 34A. If it wasn’t scanned and transmitted in real time, or at least scanned with delayed transmission upon being moved into a coverage area contemporaneously, and it also wasn’t publicly posted, then it cannot credibly treated as if it was reliable without explanation and evidence.

Your figure of 29,000 and the IEBC tweet claiming all but just over 1000 leaves a huge gap in a very short time period. (Further, I understand you to refer to some “backlog in uploading them” which apparently refers to something other than KIEMS transmission, so I am not sure at all that I am really understanding your argument.)

I also disagree with your characterization of “clear rules” of Kenyan election law implementing the Maina Kiai court decision against the IEBC. IFES advised to the contrary in their last pre-election publication on the process that I am aware of, the July 20 FAQ that also explained how KIEMS was to work.

People may have gambled that Chebukati could use the Court of Appeals ruling to announce on day 3 of 7 “final results” from most but not all alleged Form 34Bs without the 34As having been demonstrably transmitted to the Constituencies to generate the Form 34Bs. This tactic might very well win the Supreme Court of Kenya, legitimately or illegitimately, but I don’t find it persuasive myself, nor do I find that provides any justification for the assertive lack of basic transparency.

Kenyan lawyer Nelson Havi’s piece in The Elephant from about the same time gives a good summary of the issues in the Presidential Petition and the Petitiiners basic case: “KENYA ON TRIAL: Truth, Justice and the Supreme Court.”

Best overall international piece so far on Kenya Supreme Court decision

Lots of good journalism out today, but this story from Peter Fabricus in my evening Daily Maverick Weekend Thing strikes me as hitting many of the right notes: “Kenya’s courts step up to electoral plate.”

One of the most important lessons from today is how cowed Kenya’s media really is by the Government.  This decision did not have to come as quite such a suprise if Kenya’s media had felt free–or been brave enough–to just cover the polling stations and constituency tally centres.  But we went through this in 2007 (when results were broadcast then taken down), and 2013 when self-censorship was the order of the day.

Today, Kenya took a big step forward on the rule of law — a sign that perhaps the press can become in the future in fact as free as the Constitution provides and the West pretends.

For Kenyan must reads, start with Nanjala Nyabola, “Why I’m proud to be an African today,” at IRINnews.com.

Must read on election tensions in Kenya: “A Silent Panic”

ELECTION 2017: A Silent Panic in Kenya by Dauti Kahura in The Elephant.

A series of backstories of building tensions with the latest election approaching on the layers of accumulated grief and injustice.  This is the stuff you don’t hear if you don’t have a practiced ear to the ground in Kenya and may be glossed over in the usual discussion in foreign capitals and international press.  And material that is too topical for the traditional Kenyan media with political power at stake. 

Congratulations to The Elephant for “speaking truth to power”.

“The War for History” part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte

Sometimes a Freedom of Information Act response from the State Department is “like a box of chocolates”–one of my 2009 requests eventually turned up a readout of a visit on February 7, 2008 by Kalonzo Musyoka, appointed Vice President by Kibaki in January, with John Negroponte, then Condelezza Rice’s Deputy Secretary of State. You may remember that in January Jendayi Frazer, in Kenya as Assistant Secretary of State heading the Africa Bureau, had applied the label of “ethnic cleansing” to the post election violence, a term disowned by “Main State” back in Washington.

The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)

From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:

Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.

Kalonzo Duka

 

Political ‘wedding day’ in Nairobi

Ballot for President with the Nine Nominees
PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT FROM 2007

Today was the deadline for filing of pre-election agreements between and among Kenya’s political parties. No big surprises in terms of the basic shape of the Odinga-led versus the Kenyatta-led groupings. As this is a non-partisan blog, and I don’t vote in Kenya as an American, I will not be suggesting how Kenyans should vote or endorsing anyone, but I’ll share a few quick thoughts “from where I sit”.

The agreement of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka to be Raila’s running mate seems to have come down to the wire, although it is a bit hard for me to see how this would be too much of a surprise to people paying close attention.

Ostensible ODM Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, Raila’s running mate last time, joined Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA grouping at the last minute, but he has been out of ODM and on to UDF for a long time and has long been seen as the potential “compromise” candidate to substitute for Uhuru and/or Ruto in the event the Kenyan courts were to ultimately disqualify either or both of them due to the ICC cases or some related complication. It would be risky for Uhuru and Ruto not to have someone suitable in that role.

On the Odinga side, the new CORD grouping has picked up Charity Ngilu and NARC along with Kalonzo which means he has picked up both sides of a division within “Eastern” politics and added a woman of longstanding political stature. With both Kalonzo and Moses Wetangula, CORD has two former Foreign Ministers, with Kalonzo in particular having been around a long time in diplomatic circles. He is someone with whom those in foreign capitals who are concerned with Kenya’s stability as a perceived regional anchor will be used to and comfortable with.

Absent the ICC situation, Uhuru and Ruto would be potentially attractive to some in the West as representing the notion of a mini “grand coalition” appeasing the elite of the combatants in the violence related to land and political boundaries in the Rift Valley that has normally coincided with Kenyan elections post-Cold War and they will be well funded to try to sell that pitch irrespective of the pending charges. I have a hard time seeing them get any traction, but I have been wrong before.

No disrespect intended to the other candidates–another post for later. The whole thing will be fascinating to watch, but scary due to the real dangers.

Good piece in today’s Financial Times from Katrina Manson in Nairobi.

Key current events and questions in the Kenyan Presidential election

Waiting for the Hurricane Isaac to visit us here on the Gulf Coast I have been drafting a long post/essay on the potential impact on the Kenyan election of the outcome of the U.S. elections and corresponding with a friend who is getting ready to go to Kenya.

Before polishing that up, I wanted to catch up on the Kenyan presidential race itself.

Under the new Constitution we are seeing the first Kenyan election under a “run-off for majority” rather than a “first past the post” system. Under this new system, any candidate who dominates the Kikuyu vote is almost guaranteed a spot in a run-off as long as there is more than one other candidate of any significance at all in the first round.

For months the polls have continued to reflect a race dominated by Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. Odinga has a significant lead but less than an outright majority and Kenyatta has a large margin for second place, or the spot in a runoff as the prevailing Kikuyu, anti-Odinga or non-Luo alternative. Among claimants to be the choice of the Kikuyu/Central Province “old guard” establishment, Kenyatta alone shows strongly in the public opinion polls. In this regard the race has remained relatively stable for weeks.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka both have significant support, but do not rival Uhuru in the polling. MP William Ruto running as a fellow ICC “victim” and champion of Kalenjin Rift Valley interests is not getting much national traction and none of the alternative Kikuyu candidates has shown themselves as a threat in the polls so far.

Details of “parties” and alliances and alignments shift weekly if not daily, but the main specific potential “game changer” of the past few months seems to have remained the untimely death in a helicopter crash of Internal Security Minister George Saitoti. Saitoti, on one hand, could be seen as one more candidate among the pack with Kalonzo and Mudavadi–I would see him, however, as a much stronger contender against Uhuru specifically. If I had been advising Uhuru’s campaign (for the record I don’t know who he is using in this capacity outside Kenya this time) I would have been much more focused on Saitoti than the others.

Saitoti was a Kikuyu-speaker of mixed ethnicity representing a near-Nairobi Rift Valley district, with a strong background in the Moi administration, within which he had gotten rich. As Kibaki‘s Internal Security Minister he had a more substantive portfolio and was more of an insider than the Vice President. Kalonzo had run separately in 2007 under the ODM-Kenya splinter and did not publicly endorse Kibaki until after the election. He provided crucial service in the pinch to the Kibaki campaign in that role, but assuming the truth to what then-MP and Kalonzo associate Joe Khamisi wrote in his book The Politics of Betrayal–that Kalonzo cut a pre-election deal with Kibaki through Stanley Murage–it’s hard to see that he would have earned himself a lot of respect. And of course Mudavadi had been against Kibaki (and thus for Uhuru with Moi) in 2002, and then been a member of Raila’s Pentagon against Kibaki in 2007. So its difficult to see that simply abandoning Raila and ODM in 2012 would be enough to give Mudavadi a serious claim on Kibaki’s affections to the point of the President throwing him Uhuru’s base with Uhuru still in the race.

Saitoti, running under the same PNU (“Party of National Unity“) label under which Kibaki claimed re-election, seems to me to have been in a different category of potential even if he had not yet moved out in the polls. Another interesting factor for Saitoti would have been his role as Minister of Internal Security in dealing with the major outside players such as the Western powers and Museveni. PNU was a bit illusive in 2007 as some hybrid of “party”, “coalition” and “committee to re-elect the president”, but nonetheless elected a section of MPs in its own name. With Saitoti dead there have been purported “PNU” endorsements of Uhuru already.

Obviously the prospect of electing a new president of Kenya on the eve of his trial for crimes against humanity by the ICC is disturbing/offensive to Kenya’s ally the United States and the European powers and many of Kenya’s other friends. An article in the Daily Nation yesterday highlights the seemingly difficult spot that Kibaki is in with the competing claims to his support in the context of the ICC indictment against Uhuru.

Kibaki plays his cards close and I doubt most of us will ever know much of what he ends up doing in regard to the 2013 election. I would encourage interested observers to make sure to remember that the Kenyan administration hosted Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir–under indictment from the ICC and with well-established pariah status to celebrate the new Kenyan Constitution and inaugurate the “new era” two years ago.

As for Kalonzo and Mudavadi, assuming that Uhuru stays in the race they are potentially in a position of serving as important “placeholders” to assure Uhuru a spot in a run-off against Raila. But then in the run-off, would they stay lock-step in the anti-Raila position, or could they be peeled away? Obviously it would be very hard personally for Kalonzo to support Raila after 2007 but Mudavadi has supported Raila once. Would their first round voters follow them in a run-off regardless?

And of course the biggest question of all. The stakes are higher in the presidential race than in 2007. Will the IEBC come through with a credibly complete and accurate count of the votes and what will happen if not?

THE Book on Recent Kenyan Politics to Read in 2011

The Politics of Betrayal; Diary of a Kenyan Legislator by former journalist and MP Joe Khamisi was published early this year and made a big stir in Nairobi with portions being serialized in The Nation.  Khamisi is definitely not your average politician in that he got a journalism degree from the University of Maryland, worked for years as a journalist, and became managing director of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and worked in the foreign service before being elected to parliament from Bahari on the Coast in 2002.

Khamisi was part of the LDP, the Liberal Democratic Party, and in 2007 became an ODM-K insider with Kalonzo.  While there is inherent subjectivity in a political memoir from one particular actor, Khamisi’s background in journalism serves him well.  While I cannot vouch for his accounts of specific incidents that I do not have any direct knowledge of, and I do not necessarily agree with his perspective on some things and people, he seems to try to be fair and there is much that he writes that rings true to me from my own interactions and observations in the 2007 campaign.

From his chapter on “The Final Moments” of the 2007 race, at page 223:

It needs to be said at this point that Kalonzo’s appointment as Vice President was neither an afterthought by Kibaki, nor a patriotic move by Kalonzo to save the country from chaos.  It was not a miracle either.  It was a deliberate, calculated, and planned affair meant to stop the ODM from winning the presidency.  It was conceived, discussed and sealed more than two months before the elections.  It was purely a strategic political move; a sort of pre-election pact between two major political players.  It was s survival technique meant to save Kibaki and Kalonzo from possible humiliation.

In our secret discussions with Kibaki, we did not go beyond the issue of the Vice Presidency and the need for an alliance between ODM-Kenya and PNU.  We, for example, did not discuss the elections themselves; the mechanisms to be used to stop Raila; nor did we discuss whether part of that mechanism was to be the manipulation of the elections.  It appeared though that PNU insiders had a far wider plan, and the plan, whatever it was, was executed with the full connivance of the ECK .  What happened at the KICC tallying centre–even without thinking about who won or lost–lack transparency and appeared to be a serious case of collusion involving the ECK and officials at the highest levels of government.  It was not a coincidence that the lights went off at the very crucial moment when the results were about to be announced; nor was it necessary for the para-military units to intervene in what was purely an administrative matter.  The entire performance of ECK Chairman Kivuitu and some of the Commissioners was also suspect and without doubt contributed to the violence that followed.