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. Continue reading →
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 Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. Surely this would be a good time to peel back the onion on how the U.S. handled the Kibaki succession/re-election crisis in 2007-08 to learn what we can rather than letting more murky water flow under the bridge?
Knowns and Unknowns, Plausible and Otherwise
Further to the question I raised in Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we – “The War for History” part thirteen, I have certainly confirmed my awareness that, as I have put it, we “actively looked the other way” as the Kenyan election was stolen and thereafter. I am also am forced to acknowledge that we (meaning my country, the United States, through our empowered government officials, who took the opportunities presented to assert what became our de facto policy, whether or not it was formally planned, vetted, approved, etc.) not only “looked” the other way, but also “pointed” the other way, too. In other words, the initial approach from the State Department was to divert attention from the known and witnessed election fraud to induce acceptance of the fraudulent “result”.
How much more is there to the story in terms of our intentions before the election? Did “we” affirmatively wish Kibaki to win, or Odinga to lose, or some combination of the two–and if so, why? Everyone is, of course, entitled to his or her own opinions and/or preferences regarding a democratic election (although for me as an American I considered it to be none of my business who Kenyans ultimately voted for, both in concept and in any event regarding the specific choice among Raila, Kibaki and Kalonzo, each of whom had long, high profile track records in Kenyan politics and government, and with American diplomats). The real question becomes, in light of what happened in the election and how we handled it, whether we were in some way culpable beyond the “looking and pointing the other way”? How much did we know beforehand about the intentions of the Kibaki administration to retain power regardless of the actual vote? In private, if we knew something, did we secretly object, stay silent, quietly nod, affirmatively recognize, or something else?
It seems important to account for the fact that, as best I knew, Kibaki never said publicly during the campaign that he would countenance the potential to lose the election and turn over power. And further, that to the best of my knowledge and attentive observation at the time, neither the Ambassador nor anyone else in the State Department publicly called Kibaki on this. (Eventually, Moses Wetangula, the Foreign Minister at the time, made a statement regarding Kibaki’s willingneess to “lose,” presumably directed more to his diplomatic counterparts than to Kenyans.) Compare and contrast Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for re-election in Nigeria this year, wherein American officials up to and including the Secretary of State himself flew to Nigeria ahead of the election to openly warn Jonathan to accept an adverse vote even though he was already stating his willingness to do so.
As an American, especially one who was working at taxpayer expense to support the democratic process, I certainly want to believe the best about all of our conduct in regard to the election. Unfortunately there are some other facts and questions that remain undigestable for me so far and leave the quesy feeling that there may be more to the story. For example:
* When the Ambassador told me at the residence on December 15 that “people were saying” that Odinga might lose his Langata constituency and thus be disqualified from taking office even if he won the presidential vote, and that this could be “explosive”, why did his cables to Washington not report this matter until nine days later, just three days before the election (and, perhaps incidentally, after I had written to USAID to complain about the Ambassador’s conduct regarding the IRI election observation, and also let the Ambassador know that I had commissioned a Langata poll in response)?
* Why did the Ambassador want to take Connie Newman–whom he had effectively chosen to be IRI’s lead Election Observation delegate–to meet privately with Stanley Murage the day before the election (I described Murage as by reputation “Kibaki’s Karl Rove” in my reporting to IRI Washington that day, and I have since heard him described by a diplomatic source as “Kibaki’s bag man”)? Why had the Ambassador ahead of time wanted Connie to stay at his residence or at the Serena Hotel separate from the rest of the Observation Mission at the Mayfair? Why did Connie mislead me about her separate time at the embassy residence when it had been understood among myself and IRI’s top executives that Connie was to be fully briefed to avoid this type of situation with the Ambassador (and my notes from the time show that I was told she was in fact briefed and “on board” before her arrival in Nairobi)? Did the private Murage meeting end up taking place?
* How did Connie know by Saturday evening December 29th, at the Mayfair, that Kibaki would be the announced winner when the ECK’s process at the KICC was still very much ongoing as represented publicly? She was in regular contact with the Ambassador by cellphone throughout–was he her source? Is there any other plausible explanation?
* Was then the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington describing what he witnessed and his own actions at the ECK’s headquarters at the KICC fully ingenuous in describing the Ambassador unsuccessfully offering ECK Chairman Kivuitu encouragement not to give in to pressure to announce a manipulated result? Note that this cable was written on the sixth day after the election and the third day after Kivuitu preemptively declared the vote for Kibaki and delivered the certificate of election to him at State House for his Sunday afternoon swearing in, and during the worst of the post-election violence and the time of maximum uncertainty for Kenya’s newish democracy and its longstanding stability. How does the Ambassador’s after-the-fact write up square with Kivuitu unsuccessfully seeking Ambassador’s Ranneberger’s help before the election?
* Why did Connie assert herself so strongly to object to making any public statement about the USAID IRI exit poll when she had no involvement whatsoever in that polling program and had no prior discussion with any of us who were involved? (Note the Ambassador’s admission in his interview by Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times that he had discussed the exit poll with Connie or “another Institute official”.) My immediate superior, the regional director for Africa, told me contemporaneously that I had made a mistake in bringing up the exit poll in front of Connie as she should not be involved, which I had recognized immediately when Connie jumped in to object.
* Given that the State Department released to me under FOIA redacted versions of a variety of classified cables, why did they withhold in full the documentation about Secretary of State Rice’s January 3, 2008 discussion with EU Foreign Minsiter Javier Solana about the election on the basis of its classification? What was so sensitive?
* Did Ambassador Ranneberger intervene with Johann Kreigler to steer the Commission of Inquiry into the 2007 Elections–the “Kreigler Commission”–away from an examination of the ECK’s presidential vote tally? A reliable source reported to me on this, but on second hand information as best I could tell so I don’t know.
* Why did the Ambassador get involved in brokering the rapprochement between Kibaki and Moi in the summer of 2007? Why was I told nothing about this by State or USAID, or anyone from IRI? Did anyone from IRI know before I reported this to Washington in the fall of 2007? Did this rapprochement lead to Uhuru Kenyatta as KANU Chairman and Leader of the Official Opposition crossing the aisle with KANU to pull out of ODM and support Kibaki? Did this lead Kibaki and his circle to overestimate his electoral position in the Rift Valley? Similarly, did this underlie the Ambassador’s overestimation of Kibaki’s strength as a candidate–or otherwise support the assessment that Kibaki would not be seriously challenged for reelection as of that summer? Did our support for a Moi-Kibaki rapprochement lead to our backing down on anticorruption issues in 2007, in spite of John Githongo’s brave revelations about Anglo Leasing? Did all of this lock in Kibaki’s support for Uhuru as his successor, ultimately fulfilling Moi’s original intentions from 2002?
* Did dealings with Kibaki (and Uhuru) in the 2007 election that the State Department was not willing to disclose tie the hands of the United States in the 2013 election, supporting the policy choice to promote the credibility of the IEBC irrespective of the procurement fraud, failure to deploy and implement essential technology and failure to tally the votes fully? Or, alternatively, was our policy driven strictly by immediate concerns about stability and the threat of violence, regardless of any such potential overhang from 2007? Any relation to our striking silence now about the proven corruption at the IEBC in the wake of the British convictions for Smith & Ouzman bribes in Kenya?
* Why would USAID withhold in 2014, under an April 2013 FOIA request, their copies of (unclassified) documents already produced to me in March 2013 by the State Department under a 2009 FOIA request, showing State and USAID personnel coordinating on the misrepresentation of the USAID IRI exit poll as an IRI “training exercise” in talking points for the media in 2008 and 2009? (And given that I requested the documents from the State Department in 2009, and they were cleared for release in October 2012, why were they not mailed to me until March 12, 2013, just after the next Kenyan election?) People are still being squirrelly after all these years.
Hats off to Connie
Like others who have had an occasion to work with her over recent years I am sure, I found Connie Newman to be a charming and very effective lobbyist (and I am sure she was a charming and effective diplomat during her eleven months at the State Department even though my eleven months at IRI did not overlap with her in that role). I can appreciate why Ambassador Ranneberger would identify her as his “great friend and mentor” to the media in Nairobi on a visit to Nairobi in 2009.
IRI identified Connie to the WeeklyStandard in 2009 as the primary decisionmaker on spiking the exit poll while serving as lead Election Observation delegate, as I did in my 2008 interviews with the New York Times, as well as in my contemporaneous emails to Joel Barkan which I included in this “War for History” series. So we agreed on that part anyway.
It is easy to see why Nigeria’s Bayelsa State would have Connie and her firm lobby Sidney Blumenthal (“former Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton”), the State Department’s Regional Security Office and Senator Inhofe on their behalf immediately following Obama’s inauguration in 2009, between her unpaid service observing the Kenyan and Nigerian elections for IRI. It is also easy to see, after what happened in Kenya in 2007, why IRI would have a senior staff member placed as co-lead delegate with Connie for Nigeria’s 2015 State Department funded IRI Election Observation Mission. Connie got most of what she wanted in Kenya in 2007, but I never detected that she had any deep personal background in Kenya’s politics (and she has not been registered as a lobbyist in Washington for any of the Kenyan governmental entities) and it was never my sense that she had any separate irons in the fire other than reflecting the Ambassador’s wishes. So for me the question is what the Ambassador was trying to accomplish and why. And then, was it successful or not and what have been the costs to whom?
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 to meet me for breakfast at the Norfolk Hotel.
Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process. I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change. He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”
The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.
Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.
After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide.
When it was all said and done, after the vote tallies were changed to give President Kibaki a second term through corruption of the ECK, and almost 1500 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and I finished my leave to work for IRI and was back at home in the United States, at my job as a lawyer in the defense industry, I eventually submitted “hotline” complaints to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID about what I considered improper interference by the American Ambassador with my work as an NGO employee administering the USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission as well as the Exit Poll.
As an exhibit to these complaints, in addition to the statement that I had written for The New York Times after they had called to interview me in July 2008, I prepared a Supplemental Statement to the State Department’s Inspector General. Seven years after the ill-fated election, having eventually gotten what I could from a round of FOIA requests to State and two rounds to USAID, I am still left with unanswered but concerning questions about what the “agenda” was and was not on the part of the Ambassador, whether it was successful or not, and how it infected my work and the election. I have no doubt that if we “hadn’t even been there,” to paraphrase the Ambassador, the election would have been stolen anyway, but we were there. In memory of Peter Oriare and Joel Barkan to whom I dedicated this series for their efforts for a free and fair election and transparent process in 2007, and in respect to my newer Kenyan friends who have been left to continue the work in the aftermath, with courage and determination in the face of increasing repression and threat, here it is:
Any questions? There is plenty more I can elaborate on details but I think the general picture is clear that the election was stolen. Such ambiguity as has existed has been generated by people who have known better. In an upcoming post I will explain why, as opposed to just how, as I was told, the election was stolen–and why the success of the fraud has preempted reform in Kenya.
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 that I quoted at length in Part Three. The issue for me was that the Ambassador was expressing an active rather than merely passive favoritism in the Kenyan presidential race for the first time and trying to get me involved in it.
Mr. Flottman said he was surprised when, before the election, Mr. Ranneberger made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing Kenyan corruption.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Flottman recalled, the ambassador was even more direct. A few months before the election, Mr. Ranneberger proposed releasing a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga, according to Mr. Flottman, who said he witnessed the episode during a meeting at the ambassador’s office. The suggestion was dropped, he said, after the embassy learned that the pro-Odinga results were already out.
In a meeting in the Ambassador’s office after I was called in to discuss the International Republican Institute’s September 2007 public opinion survey results, which were not yet released, the Ambassador expressed pleasure that our question on preference in the presidential race (which we had an established procedure of not releasing) continued to show a lead for Kibaki as we had in the last survey in March, whereas results from other firms published in the Nairobi papers were showing Odinga as having taken a lead after securing the ODM party nomination. He pressed me to depart from our practice and release our presidential numbers and instructed a member of his staff in attendance to get another firm to not to release their forthcoming presidential numbers. During the meeting the staff member got a message that the other firm had already published their report showing Odinga leading.
So as far as the other polling firm (Steadman, now Synovate) it was “a dog that didn’t bark”; the Ambassador was too late to try to quash their release, no call was made, and I had no reason to think that anyone at the Steadman firm ever knew about the incident and the Ambassador’s instruction to his assistant.
In Sept. we did our last general public opinion survey in a series dating back to 2005 (and really a continuation of polling that we had done with Strategic with AID funding since 1999 or earlier). We had always made a limited public release of general data, privately shown the parties and candidates their own standing and released “horserace” numbers to no one. By this time all the other polls were being published showing Railia having overtaken Kibaki and building a lead. Our poll had basically the same results for Kibaki that our March poll had had and showed him ahead.
When the Ambassador got this from AID I was called in and he was all excited about how we had to release our figures and stop Steadman from making a contradictory release the same day. While we were meeting, [redacted] got an e-mail that Steadman had come out. [Redacted] agreed with me that changing our policy on this last poll before the election would be transparently and blatantly seen as political, and she told me [redacted] agreed and would work it. I laid low and never heard back. . .
Telling thing Ambassador said was to the effect that our poll would vindicate what he had been telling Washington, and that if he had misread presidential race “we might as well not even be here”.
Part of what has troubled me is my conversation with the USAID CTO on the phone from a polling place on the afternoon of the vote on December 27. It had been agreed internally within IRI that we should not allow any report of our preliminary presidential numbers to leave IRI until after the polls closed at 5:00pm. We knew that USAID wanted to get the preliminary results that afternoon, and Peter Oriare had estimated that they could be available at 3:00pm. Within IRI we did not want to be responsible for any situation where the numbers leaked to either the Kibaki or Odinga campaigns before the poll closing, or got out in the media while people were still voting. This was clearly “best practice”.
More specifically to our particular situation in Nairobi, we were very concerned since we had already been pressured by the Ambassador to depart from precedent to release the numbers he liked from our September poll while he sought to quash the Steadman numbers he didn’t like. Further, when Ranneberger expressed to me in our meeting at his residence on December 15, 2007 that he wanted to take our lead delegate Connie Newman to meet privately with Kibaki aide Stanley Murage the day before the election major alarm bells had gone off in the IRI front office and it was stressed that such an improper meeting “must not happen”. We did not know what the Ambassador was up to but knew we needed not to be involved in it. In this context the desire not to let exit poll numbers get out while voting was still open very much included having them go to the Ambassador in particular. We had no contractual obligation at all to get USAID an early disclosure on election day.
So observing at a polling place where we were going to close the voting day late that afternoon I got a call from the CTO looking for the preliminary numbers and I put her off. I had numbers by text message from Peter Oriare but had not been able to study them in detail and go through them carefully with Peter and I tried to put her off. She got frustrated and said that she would never have had us do the election observation if she thought we could not handle getting her the preliminary exit poll numbers at the same time we were observing and that “the whole reason” they did the exit poll was for “early intelligence of the Ambassador”. I’m not against intelligence in concept, and I was working for IRI on leave from my job with a defense contractor that does intelligence work, but my purpose and job in Kenya was to support democracy and I did not appreciate being told at that late hour that there was an underlying unexpressed ulterior motive to the polling agreement all along–and such a thing was explicitly contrary to formal IRI policy as well as our USAID agreement. Why was it so important that the Ambassador have the numbers right then–“early”–instead of an hour and a half or so later when the polls closed? No explanation of that was given. The USAID officer ended up calling Peter Oriare, our subcontractor, and extracted the numbers directly from him. Who did the Ambassador share them with and when? I have no way to know.
I also want to stress that I had confidence in both Strategic Public Relations and Research which did our public opinion surveys and our exit polls for the 2002 and 2007 general elections and 2005 constitutional referendum, and in Steadman, which I hired in December 2007 to do a last minute pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency after the Ambassador had surprisingly suggested that “people were saying” that Raila Odinga might lose his parliamentary seat there to Stanley Livando and thus loses his eligibility to be elected president. The Ambassador’s expressed but unfulfilled desire to try to quash Steadman’s previous report caused me concern about the Ambassador, not about the polling firm.
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]
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: Continue reading →
Sometimes a Freedom of Information Act response from the State Department is “like a box of chocolates”–one of my 2009 requests eventually turned up a readout of a visit on February 7, 2008 by Kalonzo Musyoka, appointed Vice President by Kibaki in January, with John Negroponte, then Condelezza Rice’s Deputy Secretary of State. You may remember that in January Jendayi Frazer, in Kenya as Assistant Secretary of State heading the Africa Bureau, had applied the label of “ethnic cleansing” to the post election violence, a term disowned by “Main State” back in Washington.
The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)
From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:
Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.
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” will do or not do now in the face of the current retrenchment of hard won freedoms and democratic openness. Kenya is less free and less secure now than it was in 2007. When a few more years have gone by will 2002 still be a remembered as a turning point for democracy in Kenya or just a false “spring” producing only a temporary thaw in authoritarian governance?
Here is some good context from Freedom House from April of this year.
The broader phenomenon illustrated by Kenyatta’s actions [seeking restrictions on civil society and the press] is not just a matter of coincidence or independent imitation. Whether they are selling sophisticated technology to track down dissidents online or sharing legislative approaches that provide a patina of legitimacy for their crackdowns on political opponents, repressive governments are actively working together to push back against nonviolent movements for democratic change. Indeed, such authoritarian solidarity has arguably outpaced collaboration among the world’s democratic states, which are often feckless in mobilizing to defend their own values and assist likeminded activists under duress.
In East Africa, evidence of authoritarian contagion is growing. The governments of Uganda, once seen as a great hope for democracy, and South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance, are contemplating restrictive legislation targeting NGOs.
However, the true regional pioneer of this approach has been Ethiopia. Under longtime prime minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, the Ethiopian government issued laws on NGOs, the media, and terrorism that have collectively devastated the country’s political opposition and civil society. The most prominent democracy and human rights groups have been forced to abandon or radically scale back their work, and many of the leading activists have fled into exile.
Other leaders in East Africa and beyond no doubt observed with interest as the international community failed to mount any serious challenge to the Ethiopian government’s repressive actions. Donor countries declined to use their extensive development aid as leverage. Instead they meekly promised to monitor how the new laws were implemented. Whether out of consideration for Ethiopia’s role in combating terrorism in Somalia or fear that the country would turn to China as an alternative patron, the world’s wealthy democracies declined to challenge the Meles regime even after its legislation’s ruinous effects became apparent.
The citizens of Kenya, particularly those who opposed Kenyatta’s presidential candidacy or documented his role in fueling past ethnic violence, may now be paying the price for the international community’s hesitation to act on Ethiopia. It is certainly possible that Kenyatta—facing an international indictment—would have taken the same steps in the absence of a successful model for repression in the region. But his political allies might well have deserted him if they had reason to believe that Kenya would pay some meaningful price for antidemocratic initiatives.
One hopes that the United States and other democratic donor governments will draw their own lessons from these experiences, finally recognizing that the prioritization of security and macroeconomic concerns over democratic performance is a self-defeating strategy. In the long run, repressive states are less stable, less prosperous, and less friendly to democratic partners than open societies, and the spread of authoritarian practices can only damage the interests of Washington and its allies.
Subsequent to the election, I met privately with a highly placed diplomatic official who told me that the theft of the election by the incumbent administration had been carried out through bribery of Kenyan election officials in the field, in particular the Returning Officers at the constituency level. The source said that these officials received large payments which left them financially secure in return for turning off their cell phones and otherwise making themselves unavailable to allow the vote numbers in the presidential race to be inflated. The source stated that the government he worked for was unable to identify this method of rigging in time to do anything about it because it was carried out “at the last minute”, very shortly before the voting. [Months later a story was published in the Standard regarding the vote fraud which stated that the original plan had been for Kibaki’s re-election to be assured by declaring Langata Constituency for Livondo over Odinga, but that as it became clear that the ODM ticket was carrying large margins from Western and Rift Valley Provinces it was decided that this was not tenable and the approach was switched to inflating the votes from elsewhere.]
This discussion took place in January 2008, during the post election violence, with the exit poll issue “pending”. I found it credible and believed it then, as I do now. Nothing in any of the less fact specific analysis produced by diplomatic or social science sources that I have seen over the years is inconsistent or suggests a contradiction with this information. The Kriegler Commission elected explicitly to stay well away from the type of investigation that would have confronted the Commission with the existence of such facts. I promptly reported the conversation to IRI Washington as I consistently reported such conversations during the election campaign and immediate crisis.
FOIA Update: I timed this series based on information from the USAID FOIA office that I would be getting the complete response to my April 2013 request to them for the documents relating to the exit poll by October 17. They were kind enough to call and let me know that it would be delayed to last week and after checking back they sent me a lengthy heavily lawyered letter and some documents. We have broad areas of disagreement at this point and I have asked them to reconsider their approach in some respects. Pending that, I did finally establish by virtue of the letter from USAID that IRI never filed the final report on the 2005-2007 USAID Kenya polling program, covering the 2005 and 2007 exit polls. Likewise, I have an officially public copy of the IRI January 14, 2008 quarterly report where IRI reported to USAID that the poll had been successfully conducted in spite of the challenges presented.
Kenya’s PresidentLost DisputedElection, Poll Shows
NAIROBI, Kenya—An exit poll carried out with a grant from USAID in Kenya after elections six months ago that unleashed a wave of political and ethic killings, disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner.
President Mwai Kibaki, whom official results credited with a two-point margin of victory in the December vote, finished nearly 6 points behind in the exit poll, which was released in July by researchers from the University of
California, San Diego.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga scored “a clear win outside the margin of error” according to surveys of voters as they left polling places on Election Day, the poll’s author said.
The exit poll was first reported on by the McClatchy news agency. It was financed by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan democracy-building organization, with a grant from USAID.
Amid post-election violence, IRI decided not to release the poll. But the poll’s authors and the former head of the institute’s program in Kenya stand by the research, which the authors presented July 8 in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the exit poll, Odinga had 46.07 percent of the vote and Kibaki had 40.17