As the International Republican Institute Country Director in 2007-2008, I was an “insider” of sorts in the disastrous Kenyan election in December and its aftermath because I was a privileged outsider by virtue of my job. A middle class lawyer such as myself who was a Kenyan could have only hoped at best to have some real access to one side or the other. I was both bound by a written IRI code of conduct and my own ethics to protect the private conversations I had with politicians in the context of their seeking the benefits of our democracy assistance programing or otherwise communicating to me because of that role that I was in.
Since I have practiced law as my career except for my year of leave to work for IRI in Kenya, you could say that I keep people’s secrets for a living, so I do not find it hard or unusual, whatever the temptations.
Over the years in this blog I have written the stories of a few very important conversations I had in the pre- and post- election environment with leading Kenyan political figures, but I have always been careful to anonymize them so that the point can be shared for learning purposes without calling out the individual.
For separate but related reasons, I have also avoided using the names of my fellow IRI employees and employees at USAID and the State Department as best I can. The reason for that is so that I was not at risk of doing to anyone else what IRI did to me in response to my being interviewed by The New York Times about the failed election and our exit poll program: what you might call a “poisoning by Google”. This is why I try never to use the names, as opposed to occasionally the titles, of others involved except the Ambassador himself. Sort of a “turn the other cheek” thing, and also an attempt to do no more harm than necessary to honor the truth. This has helped me keep as many personal friendships as possible over the years even if the details of the kinds of things I have written about here about what happened with that election in Kenya have always remained completely off limits with my former colleagues and most everyone who was in my government.
In May 2007 I was getting ready to move and reading up on Kenyan politics and history, and talking to people associated currently or previously with the International Republican Institute who knew something about the practical aspects of living and working in Nairobi, which was not as common a thing for Americans then as now.
At my job as Senior Counsel with the big defense contractor Northrop Grumman I was working to close a “Gulf Opportunity Zone” bond issue for “facilities modernization” at The State (of Mississippi) Shipyard at Pascagoula which was under long term lease to the company with rent tied to bond debt. We were recovering and improving in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I was also Program Counsel for the Amphibious Assault Carrier program, in which we had a series of contracts for a low “ten figure” sum to build a Navy ship that carried a Marine Expeditionary Unit to wherever they might need to go, with a few helicopters, airplanes and landing vehicles, a hospital and such.
The idea of doing non-profit foreign assistance work was influenced by several things, most especially living through the Hurricane Katrina disaster. A few weeks before the hurricane hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast I had served as an Election Observer for IRI in Kyrgyzstan, and as the youngest and most expendable delegate I had had a grand adventure in Batken in the Ferghana Valley and found the experience of supporting a peaceful election in a troubled region as a counterpoint to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be inspiring. Spending some time in an area that was poor and economically regressing also gave me a different perspective on the context of the devastation we soon faced back home from Hurricane Katrina, where in spite of the initial failures we received billions of dollars in assistance. Even though it was all grossly inefficient, Washington turned on the spigot. More importantly people from around the country and even around the world came to help “on the ground”, sacrificially, and many of my friends, in particular in my church congregation, did wonders helping those in need while most of my impact involved my work at the shipyard. All told, I was primed to “do something” intended to be helpful and in particular in the “less rich” world.
It was in this context that I asked for “public service leave” to take the position of Resident Director for East Africa for IRI. I asked for 18-24 months of unpaid leave, with the expectation that I would have to hope that a spot was available somewhere within the company’s law department after concluding at IRI. I got 6 months of job-protected leave instead, extended at IRI’s request that fall to a full year.
If I had had the background and experience, I might have sought to work in some other area like agriculture. I had a background in practical party politics which had led to the opportunities to volunteer with IRI. There was another context for working in democracy assistance specifically though, which was the Iraq war. I was one of those that had not really been persuaded by the case to invade–it seemed like a “hail mary” so to speak that only made sense in the face of the kind of clear imminent threat that did not seem to be demonstrated. Likewise, the general “Bush Doctrine” did not seem to me to be consistent with the weight of decisions of war and peace that were required by my Christian values. By 2005 most Republicans from Washington could admit when they let their hair down overseas that we had made a mistake even if it would be another eleven years before they felt willing to say so publicly in response to Donald Trump’s campaign in the Republican primaries.
At some level, I thought we made the mistake on Iraq because too many of the people who really knew better in Washington in 2002 and 2003–the kind of people who had the experience and regional knowledge that I knew outside of Washington–“went along to go along” rather than exercise their best judgment.
So given my reasons for being in Kenya in the first place, and my own experience watching policy trainwrecks in Washington from the field, I was never going to be the guy to delegate my own responsibilities to do my own job to others, such as the Ambassador, who were not in my chain of command and had different roles to play and different perspectives about the Kenyan election. Nor was I going to willingly personally implicate myself in communicating things that I did not consider to be true when my job as Chief of Party for democracy assistance programs did not countenance “looking and pointing the other way” for extraneous reasons when confronted with election fraud.
I have found some agreement from a range of people in Washington with my observation that “the soft underbelly of American national security is careerism”. Since I wasn’t in Kenya for IRI because “it was the best job I could get in the Republican Party” or because I wanted to switch careers to try to climb the ladder in U.S. foreign policy in Washington, I did not have the same temptations that others might have had to let myself get steamrolled by the Ambassador or others who did not want to recognize inconvenient facts about the Kenyan election that I had a responsibility to deal with. Likewise, being an experienced middle aged lawyer used to dealing with government contracts made a great deal of difference, as did being the father of young children whom wanted to be able to explain myself to in years to come.
“Operation Enduring Witness” is my new name for what I am going to do with this AFRICOMMONS Blog going forward–basically sustain and expand my own witness about what I saw and heard and what happened around me in the Kenyan election in 2007 and its aftermath. To hold my ground in “The War for History“.
During my time as Resident Director for East Africa at the International Republican Institute, from mid-2007 to mid-2008, I was on unpaid “public service leave” from my job as an attorney for one of the major defense contractors where I worked on U.S. Navy surface ship construction contracts, to which I returned during the early years of this blog.
In response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Operation Enduring Freedom officially began 7 October 2001 with American and British bombing strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Initially, the Taliban was removed from power and al-Qaeda was seriously crippled, but forces continually dealt with a stubborn Taliban insurgency, infrastructure rebuilding and corruption among the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police.
On 2 May 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS launched a raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11th terrorist’s attacks (O’Rourke). Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended 28 December 2014, although coalition forces remain on the ground to assist with training Afghan security forces (Torreon).
The U.S. Navy had three Medal of Honor recipients during Operation Enduring Freedom, all Navy SEALS, Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers Jr. and Master Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski.
O’Rourke, Ronald. 2015. “Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (November 6): 1.
Torreon, Barbara. 2016. “U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts.” Congressional Research Report for Congress (September 29): 6–7.
Part of my inspiration to move my family overseas to work in peaceful (“non-kinetic”) democracy assistance was seeing the unfolding of the Iraq war (“Operation Iraqi Freedom”) from inside the defense community, followed by my experience as an Election Observer for IRI in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. Witnessing a stolen election unwind into violence “on my watch” in Kenya was, needless to say, a life changing experience.
At the same time, the egregiousness of the worst of the violence in the Rift Valley may have overshot the mark and undercut possible initial international support for an examination of the election fraud witnessed by diplomats at the ECK and the bribery identified by donor nations before the vote. (See my War for History series for the details of what happened.)
So even with total impunity and immediate and future political gains to be had, burning people alive in the church in Kiambaa in particular, was arguably counterproductive in the short term from a strictly amoral perspective. But that is just my best sense of it and others closer to the situation may disagree.
Now, after the two UhuRuto elections, with the “coalition of the killing” in 2013 and the combined Jubilee Party re-election in 2017, we are faced with another contest where Uhuru and Ruto are on opposite sides, which has only happened once before, in that 2007 fight. In 1992, 1997 (both marked by organized violence) and 2002 they were together just as they have been since early in Kibaki’s second administration until falling out in this race (When did Uhuru and Ruto fight? Why is the “Uhuruto” alliance allegedly so surprising?)
What will they decide on their terms of engagement this year?
I decided to write this post to follow up an exchange on this topic on Twitter triggered by the 14th anniversary of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned as opposition leader in Pakistan. I struck a nerve with some Kenyans. The point is not to create excuses but rather as I have always done, to try to understand why things happened as they did so that mistakes become learning tools.
The question is one that was always in the back of my mind but no one has ever raised it with me, nor have I heard it discussed. I have known over the years, and it should have been obvious to any acute outside observer, that there were differences of opinion within the State Department as to the proper policy response to Kenya’s 2007 election and it seems that different officials at different levels and times took different approaches.
Remember the chronology:
December 18 – Published interview with Ranneberger says he anticipates “free and fair” election (in spite of knowing that US-funded Results Transmission computers had been shelved by Electoral Commission of Kenya and describing in a December 24 cable “credible reports” of efforts to orchestrate rigging in Odinga’s Langata Constituency which would eliminate him as a presidential candidate, having told me on December 15 that “people were saying” that Raila could be defeated in Langata.).
December 27 – Kenya votes; the International Republican Institute front office team in Kenya for the Election Observation Mission were due to fly on from Kenya to Pakistan to observe the election planned for January 8; we learn the news of the Benazir Bhutto assassination on the way to “open” the polls in Nairobi.
January 3 – Secretary of State Rice, along with Ranneberger, is publicly calling for negotiated power sharing between Kibaki and Odinga. EU joins, following UK, having previously called for remedial action for election fraud (see declassified Rice cable above).
[“Peace deal” is eventually signed on February 28, 2008 which results in limited power sharing with Odinga as Prime Minister and ODM getting some cabinet portfolios and support by Kibaki and Odinga for new constitution that establishes county governments and devolves some powers, while eliminating Prime Minister position; impunity for election fraud and post election violence enshrined on de facto basis. Exit poll funded by USAID as “vote verification” tool showing Odinga win is released by UCSD in July and by IRI in August.]
Given the context of potential turmoil in nuclear armed Pakistan, bordering the escalating war in Afghanistan, during the Iraq “surge”, it could be imagined that those with responsibility for the whole of CENTCOM’s Area of Operations which included Kenya at the time, or even the entire globe in the case of the State Department, might have been initially more reliant on the Ambassador and the Africa Bureau and a little slower to realize that the election had in fact fallen to fraud such that we were “forced to question” the ECK’s “results” [which never were even published].
In my last post I discussed the late FOIA release of an April 2007 cable setting out U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s explanation of a policy of hands-off neutrality on election reform proposals, and a “plague on both their houses” view of corruption. Ranneberger’s approach was to “build capital” with incumbent Mwai Kibaki’s Kenyan government heading into his re-election campaign, while distancing the U.S. from dissenting opposition and civil society voices.
A very different take was set forth only a few months before in documents released to me by USAID in 2014 under a FOIA request relating to the exit and public opinion polling program I managed in that 2007 election cycle as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute. In memoranda from November 2006 to release a second round of $250,000 in funds for the polling program which had started with an exit poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum, USAID noted “a policy shift toward NGO and civil society partners in light of the weakening of Kenya’s Executive Branch as a reliable and willing partner in areas such as Democracy and Governance”.
Here are excerpts from the documents linked above:
Embassy Nairobi has requested that the funds be used to support activities to strengthen democracy and governance, environmental sustainability and economic development and trade. All the programs will be managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In FY 2006, the funds will be used as follows:
*Democracy and Governance ($2,570,000):
$2.25 million will be used to support domestic and international observations, including training for political party agents and independent observers, allowing them to assess whether the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 are non-violent, transparent, and competitive.
*The U.S. Government seeks to build a democratic and economically prosperous Kenya. This is addressed through five strategic objectives focusing on: reducing fertility and the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission; improving natural resource management; improving the balance of power among the institutions of governance; increasing rural household incomes; and supporting education for children of marginalized populations.
The Recipient [IRI] shall institute a program to improve and increase access to objective, reliable information on citizen views and reform priorities through public opinion polling. The Recipient’s activities aim to provide this information to the Kenyan public, Kenyan policymakers, and the diplomatic community and to improve the science and popular perception of opinion survey research in the country.
The degradation of political discourse and consensus-building in Kenya since the country’s landmark 2002 election has culminated in the stalemate over the constitutional reform process. Having ridden a wave of public optimism into power, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) followed through on several of its most important promises during its first year in power. Shortly after taking office, President Mwai Kibaki’s government instituted free primary education nationwide. It also made a strong start in attacking the problem of corruption, beginning with a purge of corrupt members of the judiciary. However, in many areas of concern the performance of the government has been disappointing. Despite its promise of a new constitution within 100 days of taking office, deep disagreements within the NARC government about the content of various drafts have kept this new constitution from Kenyans for nearly three years. Furthermore, NARC’s promises of 500,000 new jobs per year and a vastly reduced crime rate have not materialized. Most unfortunate has been the government’s lack of seriousness in dealing with the resurgence of corruption at high levels of the Kenyan government, resulting in severe criticism by donor countries and civil society groups. Poverty and unemployment remain high; electricity, water, and other services are provided on an irregular basis; and violent crime is prevalent and uncontrolled. Expectations among Kenyans were high that the new leadership would bring rapid relief, but most of the problems have worsened, remained unchanged, or been only marginally improved during NARC’s first three years in office.
. . . .
A chief obstacle for the political parties and other major stakeholders in Kenya has been the lack of reliable information on the concerns and opinions of ordinary Kenyans. Policy priorities are set by political elites who have almost no access to data regarding trends in public opinion and no means by which to gauge how popular or unpopular specific policies are with different segments of the population. In he first few years of this decade, a number of influential opinion polls were conducted that showed the deep satisfaction of the Kenyan public with the Moi government and their desire for a viable alternative to come out of the scattered opposition. These surveys, including one poll conducted by the Recipient [IRI] in 2002 that showed for the first time that a united opposition could beat the Kenya African National Union (KANU), gave strong impetus to the formation of the NARC coalition.
However, after 2002, opinion polling did not become a regular feature of the Kenyan political scene . . . Some major media houses . . . most of these polls have focused exclusively on the “horse race” issues most likely to sell newspapers . . . Moreover, the methods used in some of the most widely-reported polls have been fiercely criticized . . .
. . . .
The future of democracy in Kenya is now much more uncertain than it seemed amid the euphoria of the 2002 election . . . .
It needs to be noted as well that in seeking release of additional funding for the IRI polling in 2006 USAID noted the IRI’s successful performance to date, including the “accurate” 2005 exit poll with the completion of all items on the program work plan, which included the public release of the exit poll results.
(Thus I was taken aback by the objection to public release of the 2007 exit poll results under an extension of the same program, not having incorporated a new direction of “building capital” into the program.)
I had sent off overnight a briefing memo to IRI’s president as background for a private breakfast confab he was participating in Washington on the “Kenya crisis” in advance of the news of the “peace deal”. In the memo I explained my assessment of insights from the exit poll we had conducted on the presidential election that had been quashed from public release. For instance, that the poll showed the ODM party candidate Raila Odinga beating the incumbent (and declared winner) Kibaki among both Christians and Muslims, as well as in the overall totals.
One of the indelible memories from that day was watching the teargassing of Kenyans celebrating the agreement and expected end of the Post Election Violence. This conduct by the Police was an enduring legacy and prophetic symbol of continuity.
Uhuru Kenyatta at the time of the settlement had been serving since January as Kibaki’s Minister for Local Government and playing a leading role in city affairs in Nairobi in those days prior to devolution. He was to be appointed Deputy Prime Minister by Kibaki under the deal. In hindsight this appointment was his functional designation as Kibaki’s successor, although that was not so clear to many of us at the time. William Ruto, who had been leader of the ODM party’s negotiating team in the mediation process which had failed to close the gap to get to a final agreement, was on his way to serving as Minister of Agriculture as, originally, an ODM appointment in the coalition government, but later switching sides after Kibaki blocked Raila’s effort to suspend him over corruption allegations. Martha Karua was serving as Kibaki’s Justice Minister, having led the PNU/Government side in the mediation; she resigned in frustration soon thereafter. She has not found her place in electoral politics thereafter, but has long served as a member of IRI’s Global Advisory Board.
Today, I see news from Quartz Africa that PWC has issued its latest annual report of its Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey. Kenya has ranked #2 in the world (barely trailing South Africa, and solidly leading the rest of the Big Five: France, Russia and Uganda)! The biggest thing I’ve learned from these last ten years may be that in Kenya, you can get away with pretty much anything (from stealing an election to the vilest of mass murder, rape and mayhem in its aftermath, along with looting the public treasury while millions of Kenyans are parched and hungry).
I am appealing the decision to withhold in full all material identified in Case No. M-2016-04563.
Because all information was withheld in the response to my original FOIA request, FOIA Case No. F-2009-07810 and this Mandatory Declassification Review request, I have not been given much ability to evaluate and argue the details of the withholding on appeal. It is difficult to believe that every bit of information in the identified document responsive to my requests has been and continues to be necessarily kept secret in the interests of national defense or foreign policy.
In particular I note that I requested documentation on the telephone conversation between former Secretary Rice and former EU High Representative Javier Solana based on media reports containing public communications about that call, the subject matter of which was as I understand related to public diplomacy regarding the Kenyan election. Both our country and the E.U. had undertaken assistance programs to support democracy in Kenya, including neutral International Election Observation Missions and I was an NGO employee as Chief of Party for the USAID-funded observation on the U.S. side. It would seem that U.S. interests and law would counsel a tilt toward openness rather than secrecy in this specific context and I ask for your consideration in this regard.
Mistakes will be made when we are out and about involved in our way in the world. (Most conspicuously, per Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency, the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This recognition of error obtained consensus among at least the top dozen Republican candidates and the top four Democrats so it seems to be a rare “given” that we should not have to argue about now.)
We cannot undo the past but at the very least we have a moral responsibility to take cognizance of (very) recent history in Kenya involving many of the very same Kenyan ethnic/commercial/political leaders and a continuity of institutional and individual players and assumed interests of the United States as well. Our choices have consequences, too.
We are in denial if we pretend that we did not fail abjectly (to the extent we even tried really) to effectively foster any type of justice in Kenya for the 2008 Post Election Violence. If we can excuse our asserted complacency in 2007 on the argument that the full magnitude of the violence was unprecedented (in spite of the 1992 and 1997 “campaigns”) we certainly do not have that excuse this time.
You cannot but hear bitter strident speech about Kenya’s presidential election from Kenya’s politicians, and from Kenya’s journalists, lawyers, pundits, publishers, moguls, ranchers and hustlers (of whatever ethnic or national origin or income). Compared to 2007 it is more aggressive and open and it is coming in some key part directly from the President and even more so from those very close to him and from the Deputy President.
In 2007 Mwai Kibaki and Moody Awori were not using the “bully pupit” of the Presidency and Vice Presidency to openly disparage and ridicule those with less power (even though Kibaki was obviously not in hindsight of any mind to actually risk being found to have lost the election by the ECK).
Likewise, during that campaign Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, on opposite sides of the presidential campaign once “retired President” Moi realigned to support Kibaki mid-year, were far more restrained in their widely public statements as candidates Continue reading →
While emphasizing he personally and the United States favored no candidate or party among Kenyans’ choices, Godec stated:
Corruption is undermining the future of Kenya. It is creating huge problems and it is underming democracy., security and having a very bad effect and this needs to change.
We seem to be seeing a policy shift from the U.S. We were strongly opposed to government corruption off and on under Moi after the Cold War and we were also opposed to corruption in 2005-06 with the Anglo Leasing and other scandals.
After years now of being back on our heels for whatever reason, we have rediscovered the dignity required to speak up and now to take a “small dollar” but conspicuous and significant action in suspending a little over $20M in support for the looted Ministry of Health, and now open acknowledgement of that the magnitude of the problem has reached a point that it is a critical threat.