The observation in my last post that diplomats in Nairobi and Western capitals were unusually quiet about the Azimio opposition protests and the Government response in Kenya has been somewhat overcome by events.
My sense is that with Ruto touring Western Europe and the Biden Administration running its Summit for Democracy and the Vice President Harris tour (Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia) and the U.S. hosting business investment promotions in Nairobi, there was a previously unusual desire to avoid getting sucked into Kenyan politics and rather to stay “on message”. The countries for whom democratization is somewhere in the mix diplomatically—in particular the United States—presumably hoped initially that opposition demonstrations would not generate a critical mass of disruption/instability to warrant official attention.
That did not turn out to be the case as neither the Kenya Kwanza Administration nor the Azimio opposition were willing to minimize provocation and escalation and were presumably playing to a global as well as local audience (as in the election last year and previous years). So now we have a variety of statements and comments from U.S. Ambassador Whitman and a formal joint statement from a raft of embassies of Western democracies in Nairobi as well as the dispatch of Delaware Senator Coons to engage the two Kenyan “sides” in “informal” diplomacy.
I am far removed at this point in my life from Washington diplomacy and bilateral international political engagement, so I will be uninformed about various things important within that circle, but I do not detect any deflection from the baseline U.S. Kenya policy as it was explained to me for the 2007 election after the fact: support the determination of the ECK/IIEC/IEBC.
In 2007 the “capture” at the ECK and accompanying malfeasance was too obvious and was called out after the voting by the EU and by other European democracies — and ECK Chairman Kivuitu publicly acknowledged his regret at being pressured to go along with certifying a Kibaki win. So the U.S. quickly pivoted withdraw congratulations to Kibaki, to declare the results as “unknowable” and to push a requirement for Kibaki to share power.
As I have explained here on this blog years ago and in The Elephant from my FOIA reviews, Ambassador Ranneberger’s cables to Washington before that 2007 election had argued that it would be “enormously damaging” for U.S. interests to “be forced” to acknowledge election fraud because of the magnitude of our relationship with Kenya, even though both Raila and Kibaki were “friends of the United States”. But part of the reason for the initial approach to “look and point the other way” at election fraud at the ECK was Ranneberger’s assessment (in his December 24, 2007 cable) the Courts were well understood to be corrupt:
The one thing Kenyans as a whole—as opposed to the successful politician perpetrators—got out of the 2008 Post Election Violence was a partially reform-oriented 2010 Constitution that created the Supreme Court that changed the equation to challenge presidential vote tallies.
This time after 2022 it is sort of the opposite extreme from 2007—a general diplomatic unanimity that in spite of the actual closeness of the vote and an overt power struggle within the IEBC the conduct of the voting and results reporting were in substance greatly improved as well as upheld by the Supreme Court. Thus zero sympathy for the notion that Azimio and Raila in particular have any entitlement to relitigate on the streets after months of what can be seen from the outside Kenya as political stability and positive diplomatic interaction with the new Government.
My sense in 2017 was that there was a certain grudging admiration for the Opposition in winning at the Supreme Court (in the first round; a quorum could not hold against Executive pressure on considering terms of the re-run) on the basis of the IEBC irregularities, accompanied by some resentment for Raila’s claim that he had “actually” won, which was widely seen as dishonest and without substance, or at least a serious attempt at proof.
I think that any diplomatic support the Opposition can muster from the U.S. or European democracies will be based strictly on pragmatic immediate stability interests—diplomatically “we” do not care about Ruto’s past record and now see Raila as having spent his capital on being “the People’s President” in 2008 and on to the Handshake with Uhuru. Of course “we” would presumably prefer all other things being equal that Ruto bring Raila in for the same reasons that “we” supported the Building Bridges Initiative at conception but I am skeptical that official Washington will see it as necessary to strongarm Ruto or otherwise spend our own political capital on this.
I really don’t think it has a lot to do with Raila personally, one way or the other—I think if he was President we would flatter him the way we flatter Ruto, having no genuine or sincere misapprehensions about the character or track record of either man. Just as Trump and Biden were big “fans” of Uhuru as President of Kenya, the same status would have been enjoyed by Raila had he been certified by the IEBC.
I can see why this would be hard to swallow for Raila and his close confidants—“how does Kenya end up in the hands of someone like Ruto with Riggy G instead of us when we won in 2007 in the old system and finally made a preemptive deal with Uhuru for 2022 after the 2017 mess?”.
My personal answer to Raila would be that you let BBI turn into such a fiasco that you let Ruto, of all people, run as if he were “the opposition” while you ran as in effect the defender of much you had been in opposition to in the past. Yet you and Uhuru still failed to actually get any of the original “fixes” envisioned for BBI passed. You let the IEBC sit open without quorum without real protest. You should have known well that Ruto was more energetic, more wily and more ruthless than both Kibaki and Uhuru, with each of whom he aligned in facing corruption and ICC charges from the early days of the 2nd Kibaki Administration. In spite of all that it was an extremely close election, but you had the opportunity to win convincingly with a few better choices it seems to me. Regardless of all this, when you did not follow up to closely examine in public what happened at the ECK in 2007, or after the Supreme Court rulings in 2013 or in 2017, what is it you expect now?