In his book Birth: the Conspiracy to Stop the '94 Election, Peter Harris, a South African lawyer who was in charge of the "election-monitoring division" of that country's Independent Electoral Commission in 1994 (under Johann Kriegler, later appointed by…
I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration. It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.
In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction. More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally. In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.
I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard. Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.
There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure. My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.
To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there. The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.
Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts. While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.
A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State. I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.
While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces. The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times. The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi. Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.
Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder. As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation. Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. (more…)
Kenya's security situation continues to deteriorate as Kenya's political leaders move on to focus to the next elections. Challenges abound on succession and election issues in Burundi, Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda, along with the crises in governance in the…
[The previous posts from this series are here.] In June 2007, newly "on the ground" in Nairobi as the resident Director for East Africa for the International Republican Institute, I was told that one of the President's senior ministers wanted…
♠The War for History: was Kenya's 2007 election stolen or only "perceived to be" stolen? ♠Part Two of "The War for History": my e-mails to Joel Barkan of January 2, 2008 ♠Part Three of "The War for "History": continuing my…
In response to a reader inquiry, I want to make a clarification of an incident in September 2007 I referred to as background in Part Ten of this War for History series and addressed in more detail in an e-mail…
The International Republican Institute’s New Leader and Kenya
The new president of the International Republican Institute (“IRI”) since January 2014, Mark Green, visited Kenya this past summer with a personal background in East Africa. He and his wife taught for a year in western Kenya in the 1980s and he came back to observe the election in 2002 as a Member of Congress from Wisconsin (he was elected in 1998). After unsuccessfully running for governor in 2006 he led the Washington office of Malaria No More and was appointed Ambassador to Tanzania by President Bush in August 2007.
Ironically, Green was appointed Ambassador in the wake of a controversy in which his predecessor, a political appointee who had been Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, was accused of interference with the intended independence of the Peace Corp operation in Tanzania. The Peace Corp headquarters defended their Country Director who was expelled from Tanzania by Green’s predecessor. The expulsion was enough of an issue that first Senator Dodd and then Senator Kerry put a “hold” on Green’s confirmation as replacement until the State Department issued an apology and Green gave assurances that his approach would be substantially different. Ambassador Green had significant support in moving through the controversy from Senator Feingold, the Democratic Chairman of the Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee–also from Wisconsin–who emphasized Green’s background with the region.
It was just a few months later that Senator Feingold, on February 7, 2008 grilled Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer and Assistant USAID Administrator Kathleen Almquist on why the USAID-funded exit poll conducted through IRI on the Kenyan election on December 27 had not been released. It was that evening that IRI released their statement that the poll was “invalid” which they did not reverse until six months later, the day before testimony about the exit poll in Nairobi before the Kreigler Commission. [To be precise, IRI did not retract their statement that the poll was “invalid”; they rather issued a new statement releasing the poll and thus in fact superseding their previous characterization.]
Diplomats on the ground: East Africa during the Kenyan crisis 2007-08
As Ambassador in Tanzania from 2007-09, Green hosted President Bush on the President’s February 2008 Africa visit. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rice flew to Nairobi to meet with the ODM and PNU leaders on February 18 and push for a power sharing deal that made space for the opposition in the second Kibaki Administration that had been inaugurated by Kibaki’s twilight swearing in on December 30.
Before Rice visited, the State Department had issued congratulations to Kibaki, then backed off, while Ambassador Ranneberger was initially encouraging Kenyans to accept the election results as announced by the ECK. Kibaki had appointed his core team of fifteen top ministers, including the new Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Uhuru Kenyatta in the Local Government portfolio with jurisdiction over Nairobi, on January 8, four days after Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer arrived to lead the State Department team in person in Nairobi. Frazer joined other Western diplomats in objecting to the new appointments but, as with Kibaki’s swearing in, the new appointments became fait accompli. See “Fury as Kenyan leader names ministers”. By his arrival in Africa on February 17, President Bush himself, however, was warning of consequences to a continuing failure to negotiate power sharing:
“We’ve been plenty active on these issues, and we’ll continue to be active on these issues because they’re important issues for the U.S. security and for our interests,” Bush said after landing in the tiny coastal country of Benin. He noted he will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya on Monday. “The key is that the leaders hear from her firsthand the U.S. desires to see that there be no violence and that there be a power-sharing agreement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties.”
A senior administration official later told reporters that the administration wants to use the Rice visit to pressure Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to compromise with his opposition. The official expressed frustration that Kibaki seems to assume unqualified U.S. support and said that Rice will tell him, “If you can’t make a deal, you’re not going to have good relations with and support of the United States.” The official added, “We’re not going to support a Kenya government that’s going on as business as usual.” [emphasis added]
“Bush, in Africa, issues warning to Kenya”, Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2008.
As Ambassador in Tanzania, Green received the cables from Ambassador Ranneberger in Kenya that I have discussed in my FOIA Series on this blog, including Ranneberger’s pre-election description of the planned exit poll: “The Mission is funding national public opinion polling to increase the availability of objective and reliable data and to provide an independent source of verification of electoral outcomes via exit polls. The implementing partner is IRI.” [emphasis added]. Likewise Ambassador Ranneberger’s January 2 cable describing personally witnessing the altered vote tallies received at the ECK headquarters prior to the announcement of Kibaki as winner on December 30. See Part Ten–FOIA Documents From Kenya’s 2007 Election–Ranneberger at ECK: “[M]uch can happen between the casting of votes and the tabulation of ballots, and it did”.
I was in Somaliland for IRI the day Secretary Rice spent in Nairobi. She also met that day with some other Kenyans at the embassy residence and a cable over her name regarding “Secretary Rice’s February 18, 2008 visit with Kenyan business and civil society leaders” was sent on February 21 from “USDEL SECRETARY KENYA” to Washington “IMMEDIATE” and to “AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM PRIORITY” along with other interested posts. Under a section of the cable labeled “Worries about Hardliners, Militias, and Accountability” are three paragraphs: (more…)
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…
Efforts to retroactively legitimize the 2007 Kenyan election and turn away from the questions of why election fraud was allowed to stand also help divert attention from the current questions of what the United States and Kenya's other diplomatic "partners"…
I am only aware of one specifically articulated explanation of the "much [that] can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots" as Ambassador Ranneberger described it to Washington on January 2, 2008. Here it is,…