While Washington grapples with another Kenyan election mess, an update on my FOIA pursuit of our policy from 2007

Still no more documents from USAID from my 2015 request for material involving our support for the IEBC in the 2013 election, from which I finally learned in April of this year that USAID had tasked the American International Foundation for Electoral Systems with making sure the electronic Results Transmission System that failed worked:  “IFES will ensure this system is fully installed, tested and operational for the 2012 election.  Furthermore, IFES will fund essential upgrades and adjustments to this results transmission system.” 

In the meantime my Mandatory Declassification Review appeal relating to a document I originally requested from the State Department more than eight years ago relating to the January 3, 2008 post-election telephone conference between U.S. Secretary of State Rice and E.U. High Commissioner Javier Solano is now more than a year old:

September 15, 2016

Re: Case No. M-2016-04563

Dear Chairman:

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.

Thank you.

Assessing Kenya’s election campaign

Best new current periodical article:

“Kenya’s elections: turbulence ahead” in New African.

This piece notes the dynamics from the recent by-elections in Malindi and Kericho in the context of the refusal to address the outstanding corruption matters with the IEBC from the most recent general elections, most notoriously the Smith & Ouzman convictions.

It can be no surprise in context to Kenya watchers to see the Uhuruto administration teargassing opposition protests of Hassan and company at the IEBC this week.

It would seem that we can safely say that the demise of any remedial action associated with the Post Election Violence has now brought to an unsuccessful close the notion of a post-2008 “reform agenda” with the exception of the fact of devolution.  De facto implementation of most of the promise of distributed and restrained powers of His Excellency Hon. C.g.h., President and Commander in Chief of the Defense Forces of the Republic of Kenya will await another political epoch.  Certainly the IEBC now lacks the credibility the ECK had in 2006-07.

The American Deputy Secretary of State will arrive soon for a “bonfire of the ivories” and regional confab about how to save what’s left of the African elephants from poaching, giving important visibility and associational credibility again to the messaging of the Kenyatta administration.  I assume that “we” think this will help the elephants in some fashion even if Kenyatta’s family doesn’t have to explain itself on the issue and corruption in other areas continues to burgeon.  Apparently diplomatic manners allow us to memorialize elephants cut down by violence if not so much the PEV victims and witnesses at this juncture.

AfriCOG’s Seema Shah asks in Foreign Policy: “Are U.S. election watchdogs enabling bad behavior in Kenya?”

UPDATE: See Dr. Shah’s article “Kenya: Supreme Court’s Disappointing Judgement” from Think Africa Press via allAfrica.com.

Stanley Livondo for Senator

From Transitions–the Democracy Lab Blog at Foreign Policy.com:  “Are U.S. election watchdogs enabling bad behavior in Kenya?”:

In recent testimony to Congress, three American non-profit electoral assistance organizations, all of whom worked on Kenya’s general election in March — the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI) — reported that last month’s presidential vote was “credible,” thereby negating the still-increasing amounts of evidence that the electoral process was fundamentally flawed. Their view was based largely on a recent ruling by Kenya’s Supreme Court, which upheld the presidential election result. The three groups also cited the “acceptance” of the Court’s decision by presidential runner-up Raila Odinga.

And that’s just where the problems begin.

The Kenyan Supreme Court’s detailed judgment reveals numerous problems. Legal scholars have decried its reliance on questionable outside sources and its lack of academic rigor while civil society groups have lambasted it for its refusal to engage with the vast array of evidence presented. These criticisms cast doubt on the Court’s independence, thereby threatening public confidence in the judiciary.  .  .  .

Meanwhile, Odinga’s call for peace in the aftermath of the ruling is hardly an acceptance of the veracity of the Court’s statement. Rather, he made it clear that he did not understand how the Court could have looked at the “massive malpractices” documented by his team and still deliver its ruling. In fact, he said, “In the end, Kenyans lost their right to know what indeed happened.” His call for Kenyans to move forward should not be confused with a conclusion that the election was free and fair. His recent statement that the IEBC cannot be trusted to run another election says it all.

As part of its testimony, IFES also somewhat condescendingly said, “ultimately, the new Kenyan president, Mr. Kenyatta, was elected by a margin of 8,000 votes, or 7/100ths of a percent of the total votes cast, making it inevitable that the result would be challenged.” This statement implies that a legal challenge was inevitable, presumably because Odinga would have challenged any close result, even one set in the context of an open, verifiable, and transparent electoral process. The fact remains, though, that the lack of transparency set itself up to be challenged. In fact, the petition against the veracity of the results was brought by civil society groups, (a fact not even mentioned to the U.S. Congress), and focused on the myriad discrepancies, errors, omissions, and inexplicable alterations noted throughout the electoral process.

.  .  .  .

These organizations go on to claim that the main problem with the management of the election was the failure of the electronic voter identification and results transmission systems, which IFES describes as “a failure of project management.” IFES in fact claims that it was “the paper register and paper ballots [which] ultimately…ensured the integrity of the Kenyan election.” What these statements leave out is that both the electronic systems were specifically put in place as critical checks on the manual process. They were meant to prevent instances of multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of the manual forms as happened in 2007. Indeed, the alteration of manual forms was at the heart of the problem in this election as well. These issues seem to go well beyond problems of “project management.”

.  .  .  .

IFES even credits the election commission with ensuring that this election “was not a repeat of the 2007 vote.” Such statements wrongly imply that the default in Kenya is violence. And while it is true that there was very little conflict this time around, the problems with the process were very much a repeat of the last election, minus the politicians’ calls for violence. Instead of praising the election commission, these organizations should have called on them to answer the unresolved questions about the process, especially those related to the voter registry.

Would these sorts of problems be tolerated in the United States? It seems doubtful. Why is Kenya being held to such a low standard? Given the context of Kenyan electoral history and the country’s efforts to reform the electoral system, it is even more important to point such weaknesses out. Endorsement of this election by the United States as credible makes it seem as if the problems that transpired during this election are negligible, when in fact many Kenyans are still wondering whether their votes were actually counted at all.

To their credit, NDI and IFES have emphasized the need to take stock of the election and focus on lessons learned. It will be interesting to see what those exercises find. In the end, though, Congress has barely heard enough to truly know if the election was in fact free, fair and credible. The 2013 election was not free and fair, and it was not truly different from the one in 2007. A look beyond this testimony is critical for them — and anyone — interested in the entire story behind the Kenyan election.

Dr. Seema Shah is a public policy researcher for the Africa Center for Open Governance in Kenya. Her focus is on elections and ethnic violence.

Some thoughts that I would add from my perspective as the former IRI country director from 2007-08:  As in the past national elections, IFES was not in a “watchdog” role at all, but rather was on the inside working directly with the IEBC as they had previously worked with the ECK in 2002 and 2007.  They did not speak out at all in 2007 about the problems so I think its fair to say that they have not seen that as within their role.  NDI was also not a watchdog as they did polling which was not released and worked internally with ELOG, intended to be a new Nairobi-based permanent African observation group. IRI did various voter education programs.  The three organizations accounted together for an “8 figure” U.S. tax dollar expenditure on their respective efforts but the actual Election Observation function was awarded by USAID to the Carter Center–which amazingly enough was not testifying at the hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Africa, Global Health and International Organizations.

Nor were there any other witnesses!

As a practical matter I think what that tells us is that the hearing was not really so much about Kenya or this particular election, but rather an opportunity to pitch a “success story” in the context of the current U.S. foreign affairs budget process.  In 2008 there were serious hearings in both the House and Senate about the Kenyan election–presumably because of the ongoing violence.  Without the violence, the Kenyan election process itself apparently did not warrant focus from Congress even though we spent so much more money this time.  Unfortunately, I do think that  part of the end result of this sort of sales pitch in Congress is collateral damage, in fact, “enabling bad behavior in Kenya.”

New material is now uploaded at AfriCOG and InformAction’s “The Peoples Court” website.

NATO and Kenyan democracy

NATO “CIMIC”, the Civil-Military Fusion Center in Norfolk, Virginia releases a post-election report on “democracy and devolution” in Kenya.

The CIMICweb resource page on the Kenyan election is here. Kenya watching at this function of NATO is part of the “Mediterranean Basin” coverage.

This is a nice open source compilation of other open source material that I learned about through a conference last year at the University of Texas funded by the Defense Department related to climate change and conflict in Africa. It was a great event and I was sad to miss this year at the last minute. Obviously talking about climate change in Texas is a bit subversive but then it is part of our military and “national security” umbrella so it’s all good.

Ultimately, this is one of those examples of how many different people and functions American taxpayers support in addressing some aspect of our relationship and interaction with Kenya. The estimate of foreign assistance at approaching $1B a year is only one component.

Thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court opinion [Updated]

UPDATE–April 21: Read Kenyan lawyer Wachira Maina’s devastating critique of the Court’s opinion from the new East African. Or at the AfriCOG website here: “Verdict on Kenya’s presidential election petition: Five reasons the judgement fails the legal test”.

Here is the full Kenyan Supreme Court opinion released this morning. It’s 113 pages, but most all of it is taken up by accounts of some of the arguments presented by the various attorneys.

The Court elected to apply a standard of proof that would require “in the case of data specific electoral requirements” petitioner to prove irregularities “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Overall, the Supreme Court simply deferred to the IEBC to decide how to run the election. The Court justified its constrained rulings on allowing evidence on the basis of strict and very short deadlines which it asserts are justified by the importance of the Presidential election–thus leaving more detailed trials for the more than 180 other challenges filed so far in the Courts below for the other races.

The Court did not give rulings on the admission of evidence such as the videotapes presented by AfriCOG’s counsel of results being announced at the County level that differed substantially from those announced by the IEBC at its national tally centre in Nairobi, or otherwise grapple with any specifics of reported anomalies, including those among the sample of 22 polling stations that were to be re-tallied. Nor did it address the fact that its order to review all 33,000 Forms 34 and the Forms 36 from all constituencies was only slightly over half completed.

The Court declined to impose legal consequences in terms of the announced election outcome from the failure of the IEBC’s technology, but significantly did find that the main cause of the failures of the electronic voter identification system and the electronic results transmission system appeared to be procurement “squabbles” among IEBC members. “It is, indeed, likely, that the acquisition process was marked by competing interests involving impropriety, or even criminality: and we recommend that this matter be entrusted to the relevant State agency, for further investigation and possible prosecution.”

See my previous post asking why we should trust the IEBC in light of the procurement integrity failings.

In closing, I have to note that the Court gave itself an extra two weeks after the deadline for its ruling to make any kind of explanation for that ruling. Then gave itself an additional two days. Similar flexibility in considering the facts of the case itself could have allowed it to do a more credible and substantive job of actually reviewing the election.

Kenya needs a better election review process next time . . . as respondents argue that IEBC has done “so much” that presidential election announcement should stand as good enough

So we are down to the hearing of the challenge to the presidential election involving some ten to twelve million voters in a country of over forty million. All of the voting was done by paper ballot and counting by hand. At the time of the hearing there is no list available to the petitioners or the court of who did and did not vote, nor one defined list of who was eligible as a voter.

Even with the breakdown of the intended election technology across the board, the IEBC announced a final vote count on the evening of March 8, just over three days after completion of the voting, in spite of having seven days available for the process, then formalized the result the next day, March 9.

It now comes down to one day of oral argument on each side in an adversarial proceeding between the IEBC represented by government counsel and AfriCOG and CORD for the Supreme Court to decide whether to let the IEBC pronouncement stand, or not.

There has been no administrative process or review, there has been no neutral body involved prior to the Supreme Court. The IEBC has been in an adversarial mode in defending its decision since the decision was made. The Court has determined that there is no time for detailed discovery of evidence sought by petitioners.

The Court will ultimately have to decide this case on the basis of generalities–either recognizing the standards required by the Constitution for voting were not met systemically:

Article 86:

At every election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission shall ensure that—

(a) whatever voting method is used, the system is simple,
accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent;
(b) the votes cast are counted, tabulated and the results
announced promptly by the presiding officer at each polling station;
(c) the results from the polling stations are openly and
accurately collated and promptly announced by the
returning officer; and
(d) appropriate structures and mechanisms to eliminate
electoral malpractice are put in place, including the
safekeeping of election materials.

or, alternatively, the Court will defer to the the IEBC on the basis that its decision is unimpeachable except to the extent that it can be disproven vote by vote in detail through admissible evidence in adversarial litigation in one day.