Remembering Dr. Joyce Laboso and Jerry Okungu and Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment

Kenya Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment NetworkRift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network – Jerry Okungu seated in front row, far right, Dr. Joyce Laboso standing in second row, in white ball cap, 2nd from right

Dr. Joyce Laboso, who died in July while serving as Governor of Kenya’s Bomet County, and Jerry Okungu, the late journalist, columnist, media consultant and publisher, were favorites from working with them through the International Republican Institute in 2007 before that years’ election. Sadly they have both been lost to cancer at much too early an age.

Jerry worked with us as a consultant doing media and communications training and I travelled with him to conduct multiday programs at Edgerton University in the Rift Valley and Garissa in then North Eastern Province. My next post will be a more involved tribute to Jerry who died in January 2014. In the meantime, see his obituary from Citizen TV. Jerry and I kept up in later years and I have always regretted that we missed getting together again in person as we had hoped.

During the months leading up to the 2007 election, we at the IRI East Africa office were on a relative shoestring. Our primary Kenya work was our National Endowment for Democracy country program which was focused on training women and minority members who aspired to run for parliament. So we latched onto the invitation to work with the UN-supported Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network to provide training and encouragement. We engaged Jerry to provide media and communications training.

At the time, Dr. Laboso’s sister Lorna was running for parliament in Sotik and was nominated by ODM and elected. I got to spend time with Joyce who was especially helpful to me as a newcomer in understanding the “bad old days” (my term not hers) when she spent years as a student and graduate student in England, but at home could not safely even mention in public the name of the then-President. She also helped me understand a bit about “intra-Kalenjin” politics (she was Kipsigis). An ODM wave was coming in the Rift Valley that year and a number of women candidates were part of the perceived post-Moi “change”.

Sadly, Joyce’s entry into elective politics herself later in 2008 came about from two untimely deaths.

The first was on the morning of January 31, 2008 (during the post election violence). David Too of Ainimoi Constituency became the second ODM Member of Parliament to be shot dead since the election. Too was shot by a policeman who also shot and killed a policewoman Too was with in a car. During that time the strategy of Kibaki’s PNU during the post election violence period was to consolidate power by drawing away (or down) the ODM margin in Parliament that allowed the narrow election of ODM’s Kenneth Marende as Speaker (and Marende’s elevation cost ODM one seat). Kibaki had appointed third-place candidate ODM-Kenya’s Kalonzo Musyoka as Vice President (according to Joe Khamisi part of a pre-election deal he negotiated with Stanley Murage representing Kibaki), and KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta as Minister of Local Affairs. Kenyatta and “Retired President” Moi had endorsed Kibaki by August and aligned KANU with Kibaki’s new PNU when it was formed in September, even though Uhuru remained “the leader of the Official Opposition”. (This sticks in my mind in part because I met with new Speaker Marende at his request that morning and the news of Too’s killing hit shortly before I arrived.)

(In October 2009, Judge David Maraga, elevated to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2016, found the killer guilty of reduced charges of manslaughter in the killings of both the policewoman and MP Too. Maraga found the downgrade from murder to manslaughter warranted by the lack of intent indicated by “provocations” of both jealousy and self-defense.)

Unfortunately, on February 1, the day after Too’s killing and my meeting with Speaker Marende, I was told that IRI back in Washington had made the decision not to release the exit poll contradicting the presidential totals announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya shortly before Kibaki’s swearing in on December 30 (per our agreement with USAID release of the results for this exit poll, the third in a series, was to involve consultations with the Nairobi mission that included diplomatic considerations, although there have been some claims that these did not occur for unexplained reasons.) Following that news I was constrained in my ability to interact freely with Kenyan politicians—and on Speaker Marende’s request that I meet with Kofi Annan to encourage the mediation process—since I was not willing to go along with telling anyone the exit poll was “invalid” per the “official line”.  I ended up going home in May when my temporary duty with IRI was up without initiating goodbyes to Joyce or most of the others that I might have.

Raila and Kibaki agreed to their “peace deal” for power sharing on February 28 and it held in spite of the lack of support from some leaders and on the back benches on Kibaki’s PNU side who still wanted to try to wrangle a working majority in parliament, engineer a vote of “no confidence” against the new Prime Minister and re-take full control of government.

Tragically, in June 2008, Joyce’s sister, the Hon. Lorna Laboso, along with her colleague Kipkalia Kones, in his fifth term from Bomet and serving as Roads Minister, were killed when their light plane from Nairobi crashed on a trip to campaign for the ODM candidate in the special election to replace David Too in Ainimoi Constituency. Lorna was remembered as a a pioneer of women in politics and for campaigning against the cultural practice of female genital mutilation among the Kipsigis . (Both she and Kones were mentioned for allegations of backing politically related violence in PEV period but of course there were never any legal proceedings; that part of the February 28 “peace deal” ultimately failed and we are left with the muddle of mass informal immunity among the living, and questions about others, for the mass violence.)

It was this sequence that led Joyce to step up as a candidate in the special election that September to fill Lorna’s Sotik seat. I sent condolences on her sister’s death and congratulations on her special election, and but we never interacted again so I am left with appreciating her as a pre-political leader and not knowing what she thought about the various twists and turns of her own career in politics, sadly cut short by cancer as too many others.

As Kenya Turns: Kalenjin radio features return of former ICC-indictee Sang at Kenyatta and Ruto-owned station

Ruto Hires Former ICC Co-Suspect Sang For His Kalenjin Radio Station, Kenyan Report, June 5, 2019

“Former Kass FM presenter Joshua Sang is set to make a comeback to the airwaves after landing a job at Emoo FM, a station owned by Mediamax Network Ltd.

Even though both the Kenyatta family and Ruto hold substantial stakes in the DMS Place-headquartered Mediamax Network – sources claim Ruto is the hitherto biggest shareholder even as he aims to consolidate media support around his 2022 ambitions.”

Could “corruption” play the role in Kenya’s 2022 election that “crimes against humanity” played in 2013?

Instead of “the coalition of the killing” a “coalition of the stealing”?

Let us review the 2013 campaign, the next presidential election campaign after Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga shook hands on February 28, 2008 to end the 2007 election crisis and the related violence.

In the later part of the lead up to that 2013 “open” presidential campaign, with Mwai Kibaki completing has second and final term, the political dynamics of how to treat the 2007-08 murder and mayhem of the Post Election Violence were dramatically turned.

The 2007-08 election fraud and Post Election Violence had triggered from the February 28 “peace agreement” the compilation of a coalition administration for Kibaki’s second term (the so-called “Government of National Unity”) with Raila Odinga getting a temporary Prime Minister post with a contested but limited role, and Musalia Mudavidi and Uhuru Kenyatta representing the ruling PNU and opposition ODM parties as Deputy PMs. William Ruto, the Kalenjin member of the ODM “Pentagon” got the Agriculture Ministry, an important post for his Rift Vally region.

The 2007-08 debacle also generated on the American side focus on a “reform agenda” that included a revival of U.S. attention to corruption issues (we had taken umbrage at the Anglo Leasing scandal starting in 2004, and the Arturo/Armenian Brothers, the Standard raid and such embarrassments back before the war kicked up in Somalia with the Ethiopians in December 2006) and culminated in support for a revival of the constitutional reform process including regional “devolution”, a persistent issue throughout Kenyan political history. A basic framework for the “reform agenda” efforts was the National Accord and Reconciliation Act that was passed by Kenya’s new ODM-majority parliament in early 2008 to effectuate the post-election settlement. Critical parts of the deal have ultimately been repudiated by Kenya’s current government, most conspicuously the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission process, and some parts were sadly constricted within the first months of implementation (In particular, investigation of the presidential election by the so-called “Kreigler Commission” was truncated in spite of intelligence revealing bribery at the ECK and secret “visa bans” by the U.S. against election commissioners revealed by published leaks in 2010).

Most importantly, no one of any stature or clout was ever prosecuted by Kenyan authorities for the 1000+ deaths and displacement of 600,000, and the the rape and arson and the rest. Put in proper perspective from where things stood on February 28, 2008, the end result has been a nightmare of impunity really.

In hindsight maybe the “real deal” on February 28 was always “everybody gets away with everything” but that was very much not what we were told and led to believe at that time and for some years after, by either side in Kenya or by the donor diplomats. When Parliament voted to duck its responsibilities to try suspects in the Kenyan court system and defer to the International Criminal Court, rallying with the slogan “don’t be vague, go to The Hague,” the presented spin was that the Government would actually substantively cooperate with ICC prosecutions. In hindsight that probably did not merit any credibility in the first place.

By the time all but two of the cases against the suspects identified by the Office of the Prosecutor as “most responsible” had fallen by the wayside, the two left were the longtime KANU mates, Kenyatta and Ruto. In the run up to the ill fated 2007 election, they were KANU leaders in opposition together. KANU had been part of the “No” or “Orange” campaign on Kibaki’s 2005 constitutional referendum and both were seen as potential opposition presidential candidates by 2007. When Uhuru as KANU Party leader and Leader of the Official Opposition took the unprecedented step of “crossing” to support Kibaki’s re-election (along with KANU’s Godfather, “retired” President Moi) and taking the party with him, Ruto broke to stay in opposition and join ODM to contest the nomination, ending up in “the Pentagon” with the others.

In the common unique predicament of facing ICC charges from the Post Election Violence, as longtime partners and as claimants to Kikuyu and Kalenjin leadership– and thus representing the most powerful voting groups who had always held the presidency and most recently clashed over it–Kenyatta and Ruto were an obvious pair for 2013. See “When did Uhuru and Ruto fight and why is their partnership allegedly so surprising?”.

With Ruto and Kenyatta as “victims” Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka as the opposition CORD campaign were back-footed and never found a consistent voice to address the challenge.

Kalonzo was arguably the major politician least tainted by suspicion of involvement with the underlying violence but was compromised by allowing himself to be used as its international diplomatic apologist starting even in Washington by early February 2008 as Kibaki’s new second term Vice President while the killing continued (see “‘The War for History’ part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte“) and continuing on with seeking support at the U.N. Security Council to stop the ICC process as well as in countries around the African Union. Raila himself never seemed to be able to settle on a clear or consistent position or message on prosecution of the violence either as a matter of law and policy, or morally.

Strictly from a stability standpoint the Western donors, especially those who helped support negotiation of an end to the violence in 2008, a Kikuyu/Kalenjin pairing was obviously the least risk option, which presumably would mean Ruto as URP leader and Kenyatta for TNA after the tragic helicopter crash that killed TNA Interior Minister George Saitoti.

Under the circumstances the flawed 2013 election itself was a happy success for the donors because “Kenya didn’t burn” and the opposition did not further resist after the controversial court decision. It does not seem credible to argue that the IEBC’s Count was anywhere near complete enough in the absence of the Results Transmission System which was said to have failed but was never going to work to warrant a 50.07% margin for the candidates favored by the incumbent president over the opposition, but it was quite plausible to argue that the Uhuruto ticket did have a plurality and it was safer not to have a runoff since having the election over was the most important thing. (See “Choosing Peace Over Democracy“) It might have been a bit awkward at first to have Kenya’s leaders charged with the political bloodletting but it did not seriously impede relationships and eventually, sure enough, the cases “went away” and the circle of impunity was unbroken.

Given this history, knowing how Kenyans and Westerners handled pending charges for the Post Election Violence the last time an incumbent Kenyan president was “retiring” due to term limits, what do you think the impact of corruption charges might be on the 2022 race? Another coalition of “targets”, more mass prayer rallies for the victim/candidates who might be guilty but should not be “singled out” when they are representatives and champions of their tribes? And again, from a risk mitigation standpoint, surely it would be safer for the donors to let the most dangerous people have their way?


So who “went native”? The Ex-Ambassadors’ greatest hit: “Sweet Home Kenya” [updated]

Could one make a case that perhaps it was not me after all, but more the Ambassador and/or others at the State Department who “went native” in Kenya over the 2007 election controversy (and in other situations)?

Interesting to think about as things have played out.

My memory was most recently jogged in seeing that James Swan, a distinguished diplomat who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and signed off on some of the materials related to the 2007-08 Kenyan election controversy that I have obtained through FOIA and written about here over the years, has retired to a Nairobi post with the Albright Stonebridge Group business/investment advisory. (Albright Stonebright Group offers “commercial diplomacy” and advisory services and owns a substantial part of the equity of Albright Capital Management which in turn runs private equity funds out of the Cayman Islands which have investments in other funds and businesses with interests in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries in the region. The Albright is former Secretary of State Madeleine, the NDI chair.)

Also one of those strange articles in The Daily Nation this past week, drawing on a particular bit of older Kenyan political history: the article notes that Ambassador Kyle McCarter will soon take up his post in Kenya for the United States, and that the first American Ambassador to Kenya, William Attwood, had acquired property in Kenya and wanted to retire there, but was banned from staying or returning to the country by Jomo Kenyatta who was angered by his act of publishing his memoir, The Reds and the Blacks. Without explaining specifically what Kenyatta was offended by, the article cites some of Attwood’s material about his perception of Cold War tied machinations involving the competition between Oginga Odinga and Kenyatta and allegations of Odinga’s separate East-bloc arms imports. It then notes Ambassador Ranneberger’s re-marriage to a Kenyan and his vacation home on the Coast at Malindi. (Interesting is the omission of any reference to Ambassador Smith Hempstone and his memoir, Rogue Ambassador, which details his interaction with “the second liberation” and his impressions of Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.)

Maybe Ambassador McCarter is being reminded not to step too hard on certain toes so that the Government of Kenya remains cooperative with his family’s longstanding mission work in Tharaka Nithi?

The topic of “going native” came up for me in early 2010 when my security clearance was up for renewal for my job as a lawyer for Navy shipbuilding contracts where I had returned after my leave of absence to work in Kenya for the International Republican Institute in 2007-08. I filled out the detailed paperwork listing my foreign contacts over the previous years, including my work for IRI in Kenya, Somaliland and Sudan (later to be apparently stolen by Chinese hacking from the Office of Personnel Management) and had my interview with a retired military officer who had served in Somalia in the early 1990’s and thus knew the region.

I did not know how to initiate an explanation in my interview that I had gotten into a “he said/he said” with Ambassador Ranneberger about the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times but I expected it to come up in some form. After the interview, I got a follow up: was I sure that I had been loyal to the United States as opposed to acting on conflicting loyalties to Kenya–had I had gone native? I answered clearly and unequivocally. Essentially I asserted the lawyerly equivalent of the courtroom objection: “asked and answered”. “I already told you I was a loyal American before someone fussed — I have nothing to change.” Apparently this was satisfactory as I did not lose my clearance (and thus my job).

Jendayi Frazer, Asst. Sec. of State for African Affairs during the second G. W. Bush Administration and Swan’s superior during the 2007-08 Kenyan election imbroglio, maintains a home in Nairobi as I understand, and was the primary international spokesman, informally, for the “Uhuruto” campaign in 2013, accusing then Asst. Sec. State Johnnie Carson of “interfering” in the campaign by suggesting that the election of crimes against humanity suspects could have “consequences” in trying to tamp down the use by the Uhuruto campaign of a statement by President Obama that was asserted to bolster a claim that the U.S. had no concerns about the issue. Frazer has business interests in Kenya and with the Kenyan government, through the the Kigali domiciled but Kenya based East Africa Exchange commodity platform arising out of a partnership between Swiss trader Nicholas Berggruen’s Berggruen Holdings and the East African Community. See my previous post here. Frazer and a Berggruen representative are also on the board of the Mastercard Foundation based in Toronto which has extensive programs in the region. Frazier is an Advisor for Rice Hadley Gates, the international consulting firm of of her colleagues from the Bush Administration (Robert Gates also stayed on as Obama’s Secretary of Defense; Hadley was Rice’s Deputy National Security Advisor during the inception of the Iraq War and took over after she went to State where she brought over Frazer; Hadley also turned his experience to the chairmanship of the United States Institute of Peace. Carson has since retired from the State Department and is also affiliated with the Albright Stonebridge Group as well as the United States Institute of Peace and NDI.)

The cases of Attwood, Frazer, Swan and Ranneberger, if nothing else, are examples of the “Nairobi Curse”, demonstrating the advantages that accrue to Uhuruto in controlling access to permission to live and work in Nairobi.

Another famous case showing the “flipside” is British High Commissioner Edward Clay who complained of the milder-than-now corruption in 2004 that senior officials of Kibaki’s first Administration were eating as “gluttons” and “vomiting on [the] shoes” of donors who had stepped up to attempt to alleviate poverty and sickness among Kenyans. After his term ended in 2005 he continued to speak of corruption and was informed by then Kibaki Justice Minister Martha Karua during a BBC appearance during the early 2008 Post Election Violence in the wake of the stolen election that he had been declared persona non grata and banned from returning by the Government of Kenya in retaliation.

And of course there is the purge of the IFES Country Director during the 2017 Uhuruto re-election campaign.

[Update: to be clear, my point here is about the relationships and dependencies of individual Americans to the Government of the day in Kenya and Kenyan politicians in power, not to get into the merits or demerits of specific investment activity. I think it is good for Americans to be in Kenya and Kenyans to be in America. In concept, Frazer’s East African Exchange, for example, seems to offer potential benefit to small farmers, although the authorities in Rwanda and Kenya have a track record of contradictory priorities, so it is hard to know what to expect. As far as ASG and the associated private equity funds, I would think Nairobi is heavily served on the consultancy side but there is always a need for private direct investment in the region in the abstract, through the Caribbean or elsewhere, with the devil in the details of particular investments.]

The New York Times on Kenya: working through my reaction to the mess they have made on the photograph of terror victims at a time of grief

1. I cannot and have not defended New York Times’ use of the particular photograph of victims that has angered Kenyans.

Using that photo, especially while the attack was ongoing, was bad judgment in a number of respects that have been well explained by others.

2. My personal inclination from my own circumstances is usually to be somewhat defensive of the Times when they get attacked . . .

. . . as they frequently do, not because they are not regularly frustrating and imperfect but because they have been and continue to be a critical part of the wider media firmament in the United States. And newspaper journalism in the United States is suffering to our detriment and all professional news reporting is contested in our Trump era. (More about this later).

3. But, apologies are easy.

I understand that if the Times turned over editorial judgment to social media responders they would quickly be lost in the internet sea and cease to exist or be snatched up by a hedge fund and/or an ideologically motivated billionaire and/or have to publish listicles and soft porn to survive. Likewise they can never willingly let themselves be bullied by authoritarian governments so the grandstanding demands and threats from the Media Council of Kenya make the situation harder to address constructively and are not in well considered good faith in my opinion.  But apologies are still easy. (And surely taking down or swapping out the one photograph would be a “correction” not some actual editorial diversion.)

4. Thus, I come around to seeing and feeling a humility and empathy problem.

Especially as time has gone by. The Times is not the Daily Mail nor The Sun and does not deserve to be the poster child for historical imperialism/colonialism devaluing black and brown bodies even if it has its own limitations and faults. But the Times made a mistake here and it was unforced and not anyone else’s fault. The tone deaf lack of responsiveness makes me more appreciative of the perspectives that I have picked up from friends in academia and journalism and other fields over the years that are more critical of the Times.

5. The individual reporter did nothing substantively professionally wrong.

The complaint is with the photo placed by the editors in New York not with the reporter’s story. The photo was by a Kenyan photographer through the Associated Press. So it is simply not her fault. In the moment of anguish with the attack it seems that she received a lot of the grief associated with this situation which was not her doing or in control. Having arrived at an understanding of the facts, there is apparently still a broad sentiment among many Kenyans, including many that I admire and respect, to deport her for being insensitive and seemingly a bit flip in responding. In other words, to me more of a moral question as to whether we think from Twitter that she has the personal traits we approve of as opposed to her actual writing.

Keep in mind that she is a corporate employee presumably. Without knowing the details of her individual situation with the Times, in general terms most American employees are subject to being fired at will, for any reason or no reason, without any legal right to severance as in Kenya, much less “due process”. I am a corporate lawyer [my experience in the world of Kenyan media and politics (and especially the New York Times) that has been the basis for this blog was “on leave” from that corporate career] so I know something about how things work. For a remote employee to say unilaterally to the public on social media that her bosses back in New York screwed up something that is in their job description and discretion and not hers is problematic.

The reporter/correspondent is supposed to say “I am sorry but I personally think my bosses have made a terrible mistake with the company product back in New York”? I do not know what I would have done in her shoes, and I can sit back at home and imagine doing better but realistically she was in a losing position.

I had a slightly analogous situation as an NGO employee in Kenya when my bosses back in Washington put out a press statement that the exit poll I supervised in the 2007 election showing an opposition win was “invalid”. I was in a lose/lose situation on my own in Nairobi. My threading of the needle in dealing with that situation has never been fully satisfactory to anyone so far as I know but not fully “toeing the line” has been life changing in some respects. I objected strenuously in private. In public when I was pressed by a reporter for Nairobi’s Star on whether the statement from Washington “reflected my personal opinion” I explained that “it was’t intended to reflect my personal opinion”–no surprise that the reporting when it hit the paper was that I had said that it “did not reflect” my own opinion. When it was faxed to Washington the president of my organization “hit the roof” per a phone call from my boss who had heard it from him. After I explained the exact choice of words, she ran interference for me and got him “calmed down” on the basis that I had been “misquoted”. Of course I knew when the reporter called me that I was likely to get get fired for diverging from my superiors and I did not have an opportunity to go ask my wife and kids.

I did some things privately during the interval to keep the exit poll from “going away” before it was ultimately released publicly in July but that was closely held and I have never written about that part of the story yet.

It was only post-employment that I felt that I could publicly express my own opinions related to my work.  Ultimately I was quoted from published interviews in The Nation magazine and The New York Times itself (and written about by Kenyan media and and The Weekly Standard and RedState.com without being contaced or interviewed).

Fortunately, my temporary duty in NGO-world was ending in a few weeks anyway. My law job was waiting for me at home. I decided not to resign to keep the office together and I did not get fired. But I was on a short leash until my return to the States and I avoided being out and about or meeting politicians so I would not have to be chose between being openly insubordinate or dishonest. I am grateful that I had some room to maneuver in that pre-social media era.

7. Where do my Kenyan friends want this to end up?

Is “the Kenya we want” one in which foreign reporters for foreign newspapers get deported because they are perceived to be insensitive on social media? What are the ramifications of that? Just reporters? Etc.

Remember that the Times of London correspondent was detained at the airport and expelled by all appearances because he was investigating the Eurobond mysteries. No one filled those shoes. You are still on the hook for the debt and it turns out there seems to have been a secret problem with the SGR financing from 2014 that you are just reading about now.

This deserves to be reflected on and discussed–perhaps mediated–offline and in person, with a little space from the anguish of this attack, and this photo.

6. The peak of this for me is someone on Twitter who wanted to deport the photographer.

Fortunately the Courts in Kenya have now clearly and explicitly ruled against the Executive Branch’s power to deport a Kenyan in the Miguna Miguna cases. We all know the application of the law to the actions of Executive Branch is difficult and often contested as a matter of power rather than right–here in the United States also–so I think Kenyans would be wise to think carefully on this.

A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret US Exit Poll in New York Times

My writing on my experience with the birth of “Birtherism” and Trump’s foreign policy

Birtherism is back in the news with statements by Jerome Corsi, author of The Obama Nation and Where’s the Birth Certificate?, that he expects to be indicted by the Grand Jury in the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference in the American presidential election. News stories this week on Corsi’s role in the current investigation used photos from Corsi at Kenya Immigration in 2008 when he was expelled while investigating Obama while I was Regional Director for the International Republican Institute.

Update: Voice of America, Nov 23, “Roger Stone Associate in Plea Talks with Mueller“.

FILE – Jerome Corsi, center, who wrote “The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, follows an immigration department officer holding his passport.

Likewise, Michelle Obama made news in pre-tour snippets from her new memoir “Becoming” that she most especially found birtherism from Trump unforgivable on a personal basis because of “his loud and reckless innuendos putting my family’s safety at risk.” See “In Her New Book, Michelle Obama Denounces Trump’s Sexism and His Promotion of the ‘Birther’ Conspiracy” from The New York Times.

A few weeks ago I had a piece in The Elephant which ran with the title “From Birther to More of the Same: American foreign policy in the Age of Trump and it’s impact on Kenya.” Salim Lone, former Raila Odinga spokesman, commented: “As always, a very interesting and objective look at our elections and the role the U.S. has played here from Ken Flottman. He is on the dot for pointing out the continuity in Kenya of the Bush Obama Trump arc, but on matters election, I’d give Bush an upper hand.” (I would appreciate any thoughts or observations you might have.)

I wrote about Corsi more specifically and his role in the 2008 United States presidential campaign between the late International Republican Institute Chairman Senator John McCain and then Senator Barack Obama back in 20014 here:

“A few thoughts about ethnic polarization in Kenya as we wait on the ICC”

An important thing for outsiders to realize is how complex, and deliberately obscured, these things are in Kenyan politics–and how much of what is said in popular fora in the United States is at least misleading if not flatly wrong factually and in some cases deliberately malicious. (I have finally just now brought myself to read the whole Chapter 4 on “Kenya, Odinga, Communism and Islam” in Jerome Corsi’s book The Obama Nation which was published shortly after I returned from Kenya in the summer of 2008 during the American presidential campaign.  It was a major bestseller and thousands of Americans may have read more about Kenyan politics in that chapter than they have ever read elsewhere over their lifetimes.  Corsi . . . paints a picture of the Kenyan election and the post election violence that is very much at odds with my understanding and experience, as well as anything I heard expressed internally at the International Republican Institute, or through my family’s church in Kenya or from our missionary friends or at my children’s missionary supported school.  In other words, malicious.)

One of the most important and interesting things that I have learned (so far) from my Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department relating to observation of the 2007 Kenyan election was that the Ambassador’s staff reported to him and up the chain during the campaign that while there was hate speech showing up on both sides of the ODM/Odinga and PNU/Kibaki contest, the greater weight of it was directed against Odinga.  This surprised me because I had relatively limited separate interaction with anyone else at the State Department besides the Ambassador and his personal approach and attitude in my dealings with him certainly gave no hint of this background from his staff in the context of his tactics in addressing the Kenyan campaign.

Barack Obama image New Orleans

“Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” (FOIA Update): Ranneberger April 2007 cable shows shift in US approach to upcoming Kenya election to “build capital with the government”

Kenya 2007 Election campaign posters “Kalonzo Musyoka for President” on duka Eastern KenyaA breakthrough on unraveling the story of Kenya’s stolen 2007 election:

This is from my original 2009 Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department for documents related to the 2007 Kenya exit poll I managed as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute’s USAID funded polling program.

Just after the next election in Kenya, in March 2013, the State Department made its original release of documents to me on this 2009 request, as I discussed in my post here at the time: Africa Bureau under Frazer coordinated “recharacterization” of 2007 Kenya exit poll showing Odinga win (New documents: FOIA Series No. 12)

At that time State withheld one document in full on the basis of “predecisional privilege”; I eventually got that document released on appeal, and heard no more.

Yesterday, I checked in with the State Department FOIA web library to see if there was anything new on Kenya from other requesters and my search showed that an additional document had been published online in 2017, unbeknownst to me, in response to my 2009 request. It is an April 24, 2007 cable titled “Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” over the signature of Ambassador Ranneberger to the Secretary of State for the Africa Bureau and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in Washington. “Sensitive But Unclassified” and released with no redaction. No explanation as to why this document, which pre-dates all of the others released or identified to me in 2013, was published online on April 18, 2017; if it was mailed to me at some point I did not receive it. Nonetheless, I am glad to finally have it (although I wish I had known about it when I published my June 2017 summary story on “The Debacle of 2007 for The Elephant).

The big significance of the cable for me is that it documents that the State Department had in fact changed its approach toward Kibaki and toward the opposition between 2005 and April 2007. This was my perception “on the ground” during the campaign, but I had no explicit documentation until now. It also confirms that as of April, the plan was for a diplomatic observation of the election by State Department personnel only and not an International Observation Mission by the Carter Center as recommended by a 2006 USAID evaluation (referenced in the cable) or by IRI as initiated at the behest of the Ambassador that summer.

Likewise, the cable includes one more recitation that the purpose of the exit poll, formally, was to deter and oppose election fraud through an “independent verification of election results”, not to be “a training exercise never intended to be released” as asserted by Ambassador Ranneberger on a State Department webchat in March 2008 after the quashed but leaked poll had become a “hot potato”, and supported in State Department talking points prepared and circulated in response to media reporting in 2008 and 2009.

Unfortunately for me, when I took over the USAID polling program for IRI in June 2007, the program was operating under a Cooperative Agreement from 2005 that expressed the old policy of being disappointed in the corruption and underperformance within the Kenyan government as reflected in the Anglo Leasing security procurement frauds, the Standard Raid and Artur Brothers, etc. No one at USAID or IRI intimated that the State Department had changed policy and I had to figure it out for myself on the fly.

Here are key excerpts from the cable as published:

3. (SBU) Positioning: Some civil society leaders and opposition members of Parliament have complained recently that the U.S. mission is not close enough to the opposition. In fact, we have close contacts with the opposition from the top levels through the Ambassador to to all levels. However, the opposition longs for the days in 2005 when Foreign Minister Tuju publicly condemned the U.S. mission for supposedly desiring “regime change” in Kenya. They also cite the period in the 1990s when the U.S. mission openly sided against the Moi administration in favor of the multiparty democracy movement. However, the present government, for all its flaws, was elected under conditions widely considered free and fair. As for its indulgence of corrupt members of the political class, we note that the opposition has taken no disciplinary action against notoriously corrupt members within its own ranks. Corruption plagues the entire political class. We will continue to publicly condemn it as a major impediment to Kenya’s progress. We will continue to work closely with the Kibaki administration to achieve USG goals, but we will continue to assert ourselves as completely neutral concerning the election itself. Our strategy is to build capital with the government to be spent as needed over the course of the campaign to address critical electoral issues. We started that process through emphasis on the U.S.-Kenya partnership (reftel B). While we will be strictly neutral among the contending political parties, we will be fiercely partisan in support of the democratic process.

. . . .

8. (SBU) Electoral Reform: As reported in reftel B, electoral reform continues to be a hotly debated topic in Kenya. There is a consensus among all political parties and civil society that reform is required. There are no prominent defenders of the status quo. However, there is no consensus on the scope of reforms and the particulars of those reforms. Since the 2002 general election and the 2005 referendum on the draft constitution were both held under the present electoral system and were deemed free and fair, and since Kenyan society is adequately debating electoral reform, we see no reason for the USG to enter the fray. However, we have urged on all parties a spirit of compromise and an emphasis on the longterm best interests of the nation rather than short term electoral advantage. An opposition leader recently threatened a boycott of elections if his party’s electoral reform demands are not met. We made it clear to him that such intemperate language is not constructive and that boycotts are not acceptable. He stopped issuing boycott threats.

. . . .

– Public Opinion Polling: The International Republican Institute began implementing a public opinion program in 2005. The program seeks to achieve two results: increasing the availability of objective and reliable polling data; and providing an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls. These results make an important contribution to elections and political processes. First, genuine free and fair elections require that citizens make informed choices. The polling data adds to the objective data available to citizens on key electoral issues. Second, the exit polls provide an independent assessment of the accuracy of the official electoral results, thereby supporting the assessment of the credibility of Kenyan electoral processes.

This program also enhances democratic political parties by enhancing the likelihood that candidates base their platforms on the key issues and concerns of their constituents, evidenced in the polling data, rather than the traditional focus on ethnicity and personalized political wrangling.

2007 Kenya election Kibaki billboard

I will discuss the context and layers of meaning in this “new old” cable more in the near future.

“Michael & Me” – retrospective thoughts on tying up with Amb. Ranneberger and separating “foreign policy” from “personality”

With a new political appointment announced for the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, Raila Odinga’s criticism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on his last U.S. visit of the role of the U.S. and U.K. envoys in supporting Kenyan elections for favoring immediate stability over democracy raises the underlying question of how much of the issue has to do with specific envoys and how much is pre-determined policy handed down from Washington or London.

Thus some overdue consideration of my interactions with Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in 2007-08 in that context:

I have written about the actions of the Ambassador as “the point of the spear” that I dealt with in Nairobi with a desire to be cautious to speak to direct knowledge, along with such documents as I have obtained from FOIA, and other direct sources. Addressing specific interactions with the Ambassador and comparing those with his now-disclosed reporting to Washington raises some questions, but does not provide clear answers, as to how responsibility should fall as to decisions about how the State Department played Kenya’s 2007 election during Ranneberger’s tenure.

Obviously I got along fine with Ranneberger for a period of months before we “crossed up” over specifics of my job with the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the month of the election; where I did not agree with his approach, it not lead me to personally dislike him, nor did I feel I was informed adequately or was otherwise in a position to challenge how he was doing his job as Ambassador. Rather my obligation as I saw it was to stand my ground to be able to do my own job. At some level the problem was simply institutional in that Ranneberger felt that his job encompassed managing my work in managing the IRI Election Observation Mission and I did not (nor did IRI as I was told without exception).

When Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other about issues from our interactions during the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times in a story published in January 2009, soon after the Obama inauguration, Ranneberger was quoted as reacting by claiming that he was being falsely accused by people who were out to get him.

By the time the Times story ran I had been back at my job in the States as a lawyer for defense contractor Northrop Grumman for a year-and-a-half. It was potentially consequential to be called a liar in the New York Times by the serving American Ambassador to a country in which my company at the time had business for the U.S. as a national security contractor.

Fortunately I was treated very well by my client/employer (as when they held my job open for me to take “public service leave” to support democracy in Kenya in the first place). When my security clearance came up for renewal a year later I seemed to draw some flack from somewhere leading to a follow up along the lines of whether I had in some sense let my loyalties “go native” to which I re-iterated my loyally clean conscience. Since my clearance was renewed I did not lose my job. (Likewise, I assumed that it was understood that I had not been lying in my interviews with The Times.)

It was well after the Times story ran that it was mentioned to me in passing that there were efforts from Kenyans to persuade Washington to replace Ranneberger. I was never involved in such efforts and did not know anything about the topic when I was interviewed by the Times July 2008 or in a follow up after the U.S. election that November. The decision to accept the interview request from the Times was strictly mine and I did not consult with anyone about whether to agree or what to say. As I have written here, I requested a meeting with IRI with no reply that October (2008) and had a discussion with the IRI Press Secretary that November but again IRI never followed up with me.

I can say this: I was surprised that the Obama Administration continued to be represented by Ranneberger for more than half of Obama’s first term after the election debacle. I would have assumed that Obama’s message from the campaign of a changed foreign policy approach along with the personal factors of being identified with Kenya through his father and having visited Kenya I believe three times by then, would have given extra assurance that Obama would want to get a fresh start after the previous mess sooner rather than later. But just for these “macro” reasons, not because of any details of the election saga I filled in for investigating reporters.

At some point subsequently I made an extracurricular call on a staffer to Sen. Feingold to inquire as to what response the Asst. Secretary of State and the Asst. Administrator for USAID had provided to the Senator’s demand for answers as to why the USAID/IRI exit poll was being embargoed at his hearing on February 8, 2008 Subcommittee Hearing on the Kenyan elections. I got nothing in the way of cooperation on my inquiry, but did get out of the blue and to my surprise what may have been a less than ingenuous question that “since it seems like we are going to need a new Ambassador” if I had any recommendations. Perhaps this reflected in some fashion Ranneberger’s conspiratorial notion of my motives? [no way to know, it just seems strange; I had no relationship with that office or stature that would warrant the question, especially in the context of being stonewalled on the small actual request for information that prompted the visit]

Here is how I viewed things at the time of Ranneberger’s departure from the Embassy in September 2011 (from a draft I did not post then):

Ambassador Ranneberger has been giving “exit interviews” and traveling to say his goodbyes to return to Washington.  He has indicated that he loves Kenya in particular of his postings and would like to settle in Kenya (although he says he has not acquired property) and he has introduced the woman that he has described as the “Queen” to his “King”, with hints of a future wedding.

The British Royal wedding was a big hit in Kenya, and now we have the “changing of the guard” at the U.S. embassy as well.  Swapping U.S. ambassadors is an unusually high profile public event in Kenya right now because, aside from the U.S. being “the sole superpower” and Kenya being a tourist destination and Nairobi being a big regional haven for “the international community” and being important in the regional economy, Ranneberger himself plays so large in Kenyan media and politics.  Ironically, he is just a bit like Prime Minister Raila Odinga in this way.

Ranneberger has somewhat reinvented his public persona in Kenya the last couple of years, in that he now openly criticizes and challenges Kenyan politicians and is outspoken against corruption.  Readers of this blog will know that I agree with him on corruption and that corruption is nothing new.

His style of saying a great deal in public and taking a high profile was there before, and is largely a matter of taste.  Some people like it, some people dislike it.  I am in between personally.  My ultimate disagreement with him while I was IRI East Africa Director in Kenya was over content and underlying substance during the election, not over style and I have never borne him any personal ill will.

A key difference between Raila and Ranneberger is that Raila is in reality “the second man” in the Kenyan government and power structure behind the President who is extraordinarily quiet in the way that he conducts business and exercises that power while Raila takes a more public role both in Kenya and internationally.  Ranneberger, on the other hand, is in most cases the only American present with a significant public profile.

The recent position as anti-corruption critic is clearly a departure from Ranneberger’s stance during my time with IRI in Kenya during the 2007 election campaign and the aftermath of the vote.

Nine days before the 2007 election Ranneberger appeared in the Standard newspaper in a big full page “exclusive interview” with his official photo. He announced that he was confident that the election would be “free and fair”.

“Q: What are your views on corruption?

A: Lots of people look at Kenya and say lots of big cases have not been resolved because of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg. I always point out that we have lots of corruption even in the US. These cases take a lot of time to bring to justice. We had the famous Enron case. It took over four years to resolve in a system that works efficiently, yet only a couple of people were convicted. These things take a long time.

There has been substantial effort to fight corruption in Kenya and the award the country won for Civil Service reform [from the World Bank] is a pointer to that effect. The fact that the Civil Service is more professional than ever before is progress as are the new procurement laws recently put in place and the freedom of the Press to investigate and expose corruption. More, of course, needs to be done.

The economy has grown by 7 per cent. How much of that has actually trickled down to the people will again be determined by time.

A career diplomat, Ranneberger has been in Kenya for close to one-and-a-half years, and has served in Europe, Latin America and Africa.”

During previous days The Standard had been running new revelations about corruption in the Kibaki administration from documents from exiled former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission chairman John Githongo.  Githongo’s personal adventure trying to address corruption in the Kibaki administration is the subject of Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat.

It may be that Kenyans benefited from a re-born zeal for the post-debacle “Reform Agenda” from Ranneberger, given a second chance of sorts under a new U.S. administration. Likewise, Ranneberger’s aggressive behind the scenes style may have been valuable in helping “deliver” finally a reformed Kenyan constitution through the 2010 referendum. At the same time, the bleed over of millions of dollars from officially neutral process support for the referendum into the “Yes” campaign suggests that the “new” Ranneberger was not quite so different–just as the new administration was not quite as different as many expected either.

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polling station Nairobi

Challenges to the constitutional role of the Kenyan Courts by the Executive Branch did not start this week

[Update: see new editorial from the New York Times: “Kenya on the brink again.

And Gathara’s World: “Kenya’s Future Increasingly Looks Like Its Past”;

Kenya has basically regressed 50 years in the last 7 months and the 2010 constitution’s promise of a democratic renewal is fast fading. If extinguished, history suggests Kenyans may be in for decades of brutal and kleptocratic rule. It will be a steep price for the country to pay for not learning from its past.

The role of the Courts in Kenya is under most conspicuous assault with the Kenyatta government flouting orders to allow the main private television networks back on the air, and ignoring orders to release a high profile political detainee.

In fact, the decision of the Supreme Court to rule against the incumbent President to annul his re-election was unprecedented and extraordinary. It has never warranted complacency.

That one Supreme Court ruling was not a bona fide moment of “Mission Accomplished” any more than the winning of the “yes” vote backed by the United States in the 2010 referendum to approve the new constitution was “Mission Accomplished” for “the reform agenda” that we talked about back in those first years of this decade.

Kenyans will remember the beginning of the Obama Administration when Ambassador Ranneberger was a born-again reformer after getting caught out selling Kenyans on accepting the ECK’s alleged “results” as announced (and subsequently disowned) by Samuel Kivuitu in December 2007. As I learned through the Freedom of Information Act later, Ranneberger had informed Washington in his pre-election cables that the Kenyan courts at that time were not credible.

See quotes from Ranneberger’s cable of December 24, 2007 from my post “Lessons from the 2007 Elections and the new FOIA cables–part two“:

There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable.  The courts are both inefficient and corrupt.

(For my summary of the 2007 election, see The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen With US Connivance” in The Elephant from June.)

After those December 30, 2007 announced “results” were questioned by other observers and not accepted we withdrew our pre-mature congratulations to Kibaki and shifted to support “power sharing.” We helped support negotiations that “settled” the violence among the pols and created openings for ODM politicians within Kibaki’s second administration, along with providing for the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and the revival of the stalled constitutional reform promised voters by NARC in 2002.

After that experience of 2007-08, when the absence of credible independent courts was so sorely felt, the court system was a recognized need for the new constitution.

The new constitution eventually passed in the 2010 referendum against a spirited campaign led by William Ruto created a new Supreme Court and spurred new hope for a cleaner, stronger judiciary that could perhaps stand up to the cartels and politicians and maybe even a president.

But the “reform agenda” held our focus for only so long, and I don’t think we converted many unfaithful politicians. I never got the impression we were too enthused about the TJRC process, but one way or the other we certainly seem to have completely forgotten about that part of the 2008 National Accord since the Uhuruto regime came in power and made it clear that nothing is to come of the (expurgated) gathered evidence of the wrongs of recent decades.

From the “reform agenda” days, which corrupt Kenyan politician ever got prosecuted by the Kenyan authorities based on Ranneberger’s dossiers? Which corrupt institutions were liquidated to benefit the public? Impunity has proved untouchable and, thus corruption has only gotten worse. The new innovation is that if you get caught and pushed out of the Executive Branch you might get lucky enough to be sponsored in a governor’s race. The dossiers pile up and up.

Meanwhile, the notion of an independent judiciary in Kenya is a fledgling work-in-process. Since September 1 signs have been more negative than positive. Starting with the infamous wakora slurs from the President himself against the Judges, culminating with the inability of the Supreme Court to muster a quorum to hear the challenge to the IEBC holding the “fresh election” on October 26 (after the shooting of the Deputy Chief Justice’s driver in her car), there are questions whether September 1 was a “one off” event. Not one the ruling party intends to see metastasize into an inflection point toward reform and away from Kenya’s historical norms under “Kenyatta and Moi’s KANU especially–the “home” of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto together for most of their years.

Kenya elections: State Dept declassifies memo of Jan 3, 2008 telecon between Secretary Rice and H.R. Javier Solana on “power sharing”

I originally sought this document in a separate FOIA in 2009 because it seemed to me in Nairobi in real time as Chief of Party for the USAID-funded exit poll and election observation programs that this Rice/Solana conversation marked a key  point for Kibaki in locking down a second term. Up until that time, as best I could tell, the EU supported remediation of the bad election (stolen through bribery as I was told by a diplomatic source later that January during the continued violence as I have written) whereas US Ambassador Ranneberger moved to support “power sharing” as soon as the initial U.S. congratulations to Kibaki were withdrawn.  That same day the Kenyan Attorney General called for an investigation of the alleged election results (such an investigation never in substance happened, although it was a key proviso of the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki on behalf of PNU and Odinga on behalf of ODM and the legislation entering the deal into Kenyan law).

The document was withheld in full on national security grounds in the original 2010 FOIA response and again on appeal, then again in 2016 on a follow up Mandatory Declassification Review request after the requisite two year wait.  Today’s mail was the favorable response to my September 2016 appeal..

See from my page with a chronology of links for the election (in particular BBC’s January 3 “Tic-Toc”):

A CHRONOLOGY IN LINKS:

EA Standard–”Envoy predicts free and fair election” (and praises Kenyan administration on corruption), Dec 18 07

Daily Nation–”Local Firm Conducted Exit Poll Expected to Give Provisional Presidential Results”, Dec 28 07

Somaliland Times–”Kenya: Preliminary Findings of IRI’s International Election Observation Mission” Dec 28 ’07

IRI–“Reuters cites IRI Opinion on Kenyan election” Dec. 28 ’07 

EU Election Observation–Statement on Announcement of Presidential Results, Dec 30 ’07

VOA–”US Congratulates Kenya Presidential Vote Winner, EU Monitors Question Results” Dec 30, ’07

Global Voices–“Is Kenya turning into a police state?” Dec 31 07

Telegraph-“Kenya could be facing it’s greatest crisis” Dec 31 07

VOA–”Britain Expresses Concern About Kenyan Election Results” Dec 31 07

EU Election Observation–Preliminary Statement, Jan 1 08

NY Times–”Fighting Intensifies After Election in Kenya” Jan 1, ’08

Telegraph–EU calls for inquiry into Kenya election Jan 1 ’08

Slate–”What’s Really Going on in Kenya?” Jan 2, ’08

USAToday- “Kenyan official calls for vote probe” Jan 3, ’08

BBC- “At a glance: Kenya unrest” Jan 3, ’08

CBS/National Review Online–”Inside Kenya’s Clumsily Rigged Election” Jan 4, ’08

IFES–“Kenya at the crossroads” Jan 4, ’08