A must read and some thoughts on context as Kenyan presidential politics continues


  1. As a necessary corrective to fatalism, start with an important piece from Patrick Gathara in today’s Washington Post:

Raila Odinga and the surprising bright side to Kenya’s never ending election.

Events of the last few days are more twists, turns and wrenching associated with Kenya’s status as being stuck or frozen by the stolen election of 2007 and its aftermath, pending forward movement to truly realize a new system under the new constitution approved overwhelmingly in 2010, or back into a now-digitized/globalized version of a single party power structure based on elite-level tribal bargains.

Based on the 2013 election and Kenyan history, in the immediate run the continued retrenchment of democracy is surely likely, but we can hope otherwise.  And most importantly, Kenyans can keep their eyes on the horizon and recognize that much of the work of getting Kenya (back?) to the state of democratic openness that was preceived to have existed in the early times after the defeat of KANU at the polls in 2002 will remain regardless of who is president.

And the vital task of acheiving a transparent and trustwothy, bona fide independent electoral commission must not stop with the immediate “fresh election” regardless of when it is or whatever limited progress is obtained through current NASA demands for “irreducible minimums”.

ODM and Wiper and other parties made a mistake by waiting until early 2016 to focus on forcing reforms of the Issaak Hassan “Chickengate” IEBC of the badly administered 2013 election.  Even though agreement was obtained to replace the Commission with loss of life of protestors killed by police by mid-2016, the old Hassan Commission stayed in control until early this year, after budgets and plans (and some contracts apparently) were in place, assistance programs by the United States and others contracted–and apparently adjusted by demand of the incumbent ruling party.

The new Commission inherited Hassan’s staff and remains quite murky as to the extent that they are de facto independent enough to effectively manage and discipline that staff.  The selection process was messy and murky and the Vice Chair of the Commission turns out not to have resigned her job with the UNDP but rather taken “leave” of undisclosed terms while serving.  Are other Commissioners of uncertain independence from other players in administration of the elections? (I am not concluding that Dr. Akombe is not independent of the UNDP–just that there are unavoidable questions which neither the UNDP nor Dr. Akombe seem willing to address–nor Kenya’s media to take up.)

No incumbent president in Kenyan history has been found by Kenya’s election management body to have lost an election–certainly the opposition has always known it had an uphill battle to have real hope of winning, aside from the fact that the incumbents have strong support in their bases and were ahead by a few points in most polls as of late July.  In this environment, the failure to achieve deeper reform of the old IEBC by early 2017 was probably fatal to a real chance to win all other things being equal.

The surprising and gutsy decision of the Supreme Court of Kenya to rule that the IEBC’s conduct was just too far beyond the pale to pass legal muster gave everyone another chance, but of course it did not change any hearts and minds of people who were never willing to risk of losing office at the polls in a free and fair vote.

The United States and other donors attracted a lot of published advice from its own employees and through indirectly supported sources like the International Crisis Group stressing the importance of transparency for trust building but elected instead to continue to stay the course of underwriting the ECK-IIEC-IEBC and publicly promoting its output to Kenyans without re-consideration of the risks and costs of non-transparency and undisclosed failures with the electoral management process, such as the alleged bribery in 2007 that warranted undisclosed US “visa bans” and the subsequent “Chickengate” bribes and the bogus procurements of technology that left Kenyans exposed again in 2013.

This is not rocket science.  Kenyans who are increasingly divided by tribalism as their politicians offer and deliver less democracy and less other models of leadership, are more likely to accept and trust what they are openly shown and explained.

Trust and Accountability”-  Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peacefful  election.

I will be prepared to more substantively address the 2017 vote/s once I get the documents I am due and expecting from my 2015 FOIA request about the 2013 election.  Until then, we can still decide to do what we know can be most helpful to build trust if we want to.

Update: do not miss this – “Against second rate democracy in Kenya” from Aziz Rana in the Boston Review.

Western envoys in Kenya decry difficult pre-election environment, but say too late for substantial reforms, leaving no obvious way forward

[Update: Here is an Oct. 3 Daily Nation story on the status of negotiations and demands among Kenyan politicians and Western diplomats: “Envoys threaten travel bans to politicians derailing poll plans“.  The International Crisis Group meanwhile offers a good brief: “How to have a credible, peaceful presidential election in Kenya“.

The independent European Union Election Observation Mission issued a new 3 October statement saying “decisive improvements are still achevable if Kenyans come together in a constructive manner” while decrying excessive demands and proposed law changes and with confrontation from both sides.

And to refresh the memories of the envoys and candidates here are the September 14 recommendations of the European Union Election Observation Mission for reforms ahead of the election re-run.]

It is in fact very unfortunate that time has been running hard against the 60 day deadline for the “fresh election” necessitated by the failure of Kenya’s IEBC (significantly supported by the United States and, at least indirectly through the UNDP so-called “basket funding”, other donors) to conduct a lawful presidential election on August 8 as determined by the Supreme Court of Kenya.

With the passage of time things like the then-shocking torture/murder of acting IEBC ICT head on the eve of the election are no longer mentioned in such statements as today’s from the envoy group.  Too long ago that murder (passing 60 days) and with no sign of progress or serious effort to solve the case we should of course “accept and move on” that it was simply an unfortunate coincidence (or at most one of those political murders that happen periodically in Kenya that are agreed to be ignored so that we don’t have to face the darker realitity of how “democracy” really works in such a pretty country).  Of no relevance to the August 8 election or its rerun in the hands of the his suspened predecessor who got his job back when Msando was killed even though he had been earlier suspended as ICT director for refusing to cooperate in an audit.

Rather it is noted today that it is “too late” to replace staff hired under the removed Issack Hassan Chickengate regime or otherwise substantially reform the IEBC.

Longstanding CEO Ezra Chiloba doubled-down last week and signed (reportedly) a new (amendment??) with the controversially sole-sourced ICT vendor OT Morpho now owned by a US-based fund and a fund of the Government of France.  Pretty much an “in your face” gesture toward reformers if true. [Update 4/17: The IEBC twitter feed has reported that the OT Morpho contract will be released – I gather this is confirmation of the reported new agreement but we shall see.]

Either the donors have lost all significant influence, if they had any, toward transparency and trust building at the IEBC or they are really gambling hard on selling whatever the IEBC in existing form–without meaningful reform–will offer up on October 26 and the seven days thereafter.

As for me, I think this is a bad gamble, both in terms of odds and because the known character of the other players at the table.

As an American who was involved in the 2007 fiasco from part-way inside and witnessed 2013, I would like to see my Government cease to help underwrite this IEBC as a matter of our own integrity and of our long term ability to provide some future positive influence to the future development of independent democratic institutions in Kenya.

The American dollars supporting through USAID this IEBC would be much better spent on urgent humanitarian needs (see the UNDP’s call for additional funds of more than $100M for Kenya famine relief).

It may be that NASA will throw in the towel and agree to go along to run in a “not so fresh” election without IEBC reforms.  That is for NASA to decide.  I just do not want my Government to interfere in that decisionmaking process unless we are willing to provide some independent assurance of transparency and support for fairness to all Kenyans (not just NASA) that the Government of Kenya cannot be expected to agree to unless we are willing to stand up to them in a way that I have not seen from us in 2007 or 2013.

FREE, FAIR AND CREDIBLE? Turning The Spotlight On Election Observers in Kenya | The Elephant

Published today in The Elephant: FREE,FAIR AND CREDIBLE? Turning The Spotlight On Election Observers in Kenya | The Elephant by Ken Flottman.

A classic example of why Kenyans are frustrated with the mix of international Election Observers and Media

Kenya 2007 election Kibaki Tena Kazi iendelee re-election

Can John Kerry help stop Kenya from slipping into Post-Election Violence Again?“, Newsweek, 10 Aug 2017:

Beyond the “Western patrician savior” headline:

. . . .

I know what it’s like to lose an election. I lost by one state the presidency of the United States, and I had a lot of reasons to complain about what happened in Ohio or in other states. But you gotta get over it and move on,” said Kerry Thursday at a press conference in Nairobi, where he has headed up the election observation mission from the Carter Center. Kerry was likely referencing issues with the voting system in Ohio that led to a recount and reduced margin of victory for Bush.

 The result—and perhaps more significantly, the aftermath—of Kenya’s presidential election is not yet clear. With almost 99 percent of the votes counted, incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta is in front with 54 percent of the vote, ahead of opposition leader Raila Odinga at 45 percent. Kenya’s electoral commission has said the result will be confirmed on Friday.

But Odinga has signaled he will not accept the result quietly. Odinga stated on Thursday that unknown figures had hacked into the electronic systems of the electoral commission—using the identity of Chris Msando, the commission’s IT chief who was tortured and murdered less than two weeks before the vote—and swayed the vote in favor of Kenyatta. Odinga has called for calm but has also not ruled out summoning his supporters to the streets.

Such a move would have a dreadful familiarity in Kenya. After the 2007 election, which Odinga lost to incumbent Mwai Kibaki amid allegations of rigging, supporters of both candidates clashed over several months in an ethnically charged conflict that left more than 1,000 people dead.

Kerry has led the Carter Center’s observation mission in Kenya, which saw observers deployed at more than 400 polling stations across the country, as well as 36 tallying centers. The center said in a preliminary statement on Thursday that despite some problems in the transmission of results from polling stations to tallying centers, the vote had been conducted in a peaceful and calm atmosphere. It urged candidates to wait for the official results before commenting and to “use established legal channels” to resolve any disputes and “ensure that their supporters remain calm” before and after the results have been confirmed.

Kerry himself said the vote appeared to have proceeded in a free and fair manner. “The process that was put in place is proving its value thus far,” he said. “Kenya has made a remarkable statement to Africa and the world about its democracy and the character of that democracy. Don’t let anybody besmirch that.

Former President Barack Obama also has urged Kenyans and their leaders to reject “tribal and ethnic hatred” and to “work together no matter what the outcome.” (emphasis added)

Facile comparison to very dissimilar 2007 situation (see my The Debacle of 2007 in The Elephant here.)  Exaggerated time period for that violence ten years ago (most of the violence was within one month of the election and the settlement was reached at the end of the second month).  No mention that following new the constitution in 2010 as a result of the 2008 settlement, the Odinga v Uhuru dispute of 2013 resulted in no widespread violence and much smaller numbers of opposition supporters killed by State for protesting.  No mention that the country in August 2008 was basically locked down by a massive and oppressive state security deployment.

No substantive focus on the main electoral problem: failure of results transmission system, as in 2013 (and mirroring 2007) yet bare assertion that 99 percent of vote counted.

Advocacy by Kerry beyond written statement of his Carter Center Mission that the election appeared to meet standards and to achieve the (Western) goal of an African success story and “Don’t let anybody besmirch that”. Etc.

Kenya Election Trump White House congratulates Kenyatta on fair and transpaent re-election

Kenya’s Presidential Election in a nutshell:  1) widespread failure or non-use of purchased electonic Results Transmission System (as in 2007 and 2013); 2) lack of transparent or complete “complementary” substitute (as in 2007 and 2013)

The voting and counting, as I have previously noted, is the same this year as in the past.  The voter register remained messy again with likely more than one million dead voters and plenty of ineligibles, and was not fixed and locked down as required.  From outside appearances so far, however, the EVID system seems to have substantially worked this time which may have been a big improvement from 2007 and 2013 in limiting in person voting by ineligibles.

The RTS system which was to transmit from a unique registered and logged-in KIEMS device for each of the polling stations a scanned image of the finalized executed Form 34A simultaneously to the various tally centres, either was substantially misused or failed to work as advertised and/or some combination of the two.  The Jubilee majority in Parliament early this year, coincident with the turnover from the Hassan-chaired IEBC to the Chebukati-chaired IEBC passed over opposition objection the option of allowing a complementary substitute for the electronic system.  As far as I can tell the IEBC did not actually plan and establish such an alternative system, nor certainly did they effectuate it in any comprehensive, demonstrable, traceable way.

Nevertheless, rather than take the seven days alloted by law, Chebukati announced alleged final Presidential results roughly 72 hours after poll closing.

Is this “close enough for horseshoes and Kenyans” or is more required to successfully conduct and conclude a presidential election in Kenya in 2017?

Update: my email to a friend regarding the Court-ordered review of IEBC presidential election data:

I haven’t finished reviewing the Registrars report in detail, but it seems clear to me that the IEBC declined to provide, as directly ordered by the Court, the evidence that would verify or falsify alleged transmittal of scanned Forms 34A by KIEMS sets from Polling Stations to Tally Centres (Constituency, Cty, Nat’l).

Whatever the Court decides to do about the on the ruling petition as a whole, allowing the IEBC to flex its muscle over the Supreme Court openly in this way would probably pretty well tell us where things are headed on rule of law issues over the foreseeable future and whether there will be a serious challenge to Ruto in 2022-32.

See “Audit Report on IEBC Servers: login trails, Forms 34A and B not provided” in The Star.

It would be easier for Mr. Chebukati and Mr. Kerry to make their case to Mr. Odinga’s supporters with much greater transparency

There is a lot that Kenyan voters could be told that they have not been told about how their votes were represented to them by the IEBC over the last several days since they voted and all the ballots were counted Tuesday evening.  As assurances given to the voters in 2007 and again in 2013 in the immediate aftermath of voting those years did not in some substantial respects turn out to be factually sustainable, it is no suprise many Kenyans would want to verify rather than just trust now.

One would expect everyone involved this year to anticipate questions.  There were lots of prominently published warnings of the need for transparency (from the International Crisis Group among others).

Mr. Kerry was Secretary of State in 2013 and presumably has current clearances that would allow him as an individual, now post-government service, to make doublely sure he is fully briefed about the failed Results Transmission System of 2013, as well as other past problems, if he wasn’t before coming to Nairobi last weekend for the Carter Center.  Presumably he could also ask the current US and Kenyan governments to go through the details relating to procurement and use of KIEMS this year.  Then he could answer questions and demonstrate the kind of transparency that would build trust.

Alternatively Mr. Chebukati and the current U.S. government could answer questions irrespective of the Carter Center or other independent Election Obsevation Missions.

A thought about the International Crisis Group statement headined “Kenyans should come together” . . .

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Kenya election banner Kibaki Nakuru 2007

Yes, of course, they “should”.  As we Americans should also, for instance.  How is another question entirely.  Anyone who wants to “help” Kenyans should engage with them and see what they want and need toward that far off goal.

Needless to say, politics and these elections have not historically been involved in bringing Kenyans “together”.  Quite the opposite in fact.

“Shocking” news again from Kenya:  the more things don’t change the more they stay the same.  This election time is quite different than 2007 or 2013 in many ways and not in others.

In regard to post election mechanics (analog and digital), these change a lot each election.  Not as much as the law requires perhaps, but significantly.The process of voting by paper ballot, counting the paper ballots by hand and recording the vote by hand on paper on Form 34A and posting it on the door (or in some cases deciding not to) is fixed and well established, 2007, 2013, 2017.  Kenyans have and do “come together” over this process.  They always do it peacefully.

Not sure why people are seeming to find that to be a novelty.  A great and important thing yes–and it should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be misrepresented as “progress” or any form of “change” each time it is repeated.

So no, this peaceful turnout in long lines to vote by this same process in 2007, 2013 and again in 2017 is not, in fact, an act of faith at all as described by ICG.  It is an act of hope each time.  Arguably for many an act of love for country or subgroup.  Kenyans are broadly faithful, but not in the election process as a whole.

Here is the ICG statement.

Before Kenya’s vote, read Daniel Branch’s The Fire Next Time

If you missed it, amid all the international media scene setters, and very last minute diplomatic appeals, take 9 minutes for “The Fire Next Time: Why memories of the 2007-08 post election violence remain alive.” from Daniel Branch in The Elephant.

Much wisdom on why Kenya has remained stuck following “the debacle of 2007”.

“THE DEBACLE OF 2007” – my piece in The Elephant on how Kenya’s politics was frozen and an election stolen . . .

THE DEBACLE OF 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen with US Connivance | The Elephant

International Crisis Group report on “Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis” calls on donors to show “complete transparency”; USAID is apparently not convinced yet

Counting-the original tally

Counting-the original tally

“Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis”  March 2017 International Crisis Group paper by Murithi Mutiga

Political tensions are rising in Kenya ahead of elections in August for the presidency and other senior posts. Measures taken now can avert the risk of a repeat of electoral violence that killed hundreds of people in 2007-2008.

.  .  .  .

The equipment for transmitting results from polling places to the tallying centre is as important as the voter kits. Past elections were compromised by lack of transparency in tallying and transmitting. The installation of a transparent, efficient electoral management system would go a long way to assuaging public concerns. Unfortunately, rushed procurement, with little lead-time for testing, may set the IEBC up for failure. That would also deepen suspicions in a situation already marked by significant tension between parties. Government steps to limit the role of external partners, such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, that can offer valuable technical assistance, have not helped.

.  .  .  .

International partners should extend technical and financial help to the IEBC to help it better tackle the challenges. This should, however, be done with nuance, flexibility and complete transparency, in light of unfounded claims by the ruling party that external parties are seeking to influence the electoral outcome. International observers should be deployed in time to monitor crucial stages of the electoral process, such as verification of the vote register and procurement of electoral materials.

. . . .

Unfortunately, USAID is still stuck on maintaining minimal, at most, public disclosure, rather than adapt to the recommendations of the Crisis Group and the obvious lessons to be learned from the failure of 2007, especially, and 2013.

While USAID Kenya has confirmed for me that their original December 2015 Request for Agreement (“RFA”) for the $20M “Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017” remains a public document at www.grants.gov, the subsequent Agreement between USAID and IFES is not being treated as public.  Americans who want to understand our government’s approach to subsidizing the Government of Kenya’s election would be well advised to study the Request for Agreement (rfa-615-16-000001-keap-2017) closely to understand the basic structure, but will need to “ask around” informally to get any actual detail as the election now rapidly approaches.  Likewise, Kenyans who want to have input in the administration of their own election.

Meanwhile, still no documents whatsoever, from my October 2015 request for USAID documents relating to our support for the 2013 Kenya election (!).

See “IEBC must look us in the eye and say, ‘We aren’t ready for August'” by Tee Ngugi in The East African.

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