Kenya Election “must read” from Maina Kiai: Of suspect opinion polls and a false image of an efficient IEBC (Daily Nation)

“Of suspect opinion polls and a false image of an efficient IEBC”

Kiai has taken note of a transparently fake “NGO” that has been playing in this years’ campaign space to sell in advance whatever results are going to be announced.  As you would expect in Kenya this “group” does not even seriously try to be subtle enough to be plausible to sophisticated observers, but gets picked up in the Kenyan media in pari passu with bona five organizations without scrutiny (at least until Kiai’s column).

Let’s hope international reporters who “fly in” for Kenya’s election do their homework this time.

Here is Kiai on where things stand as time winds down for election preparation:

. . . .
IEBC’S CREDIBILITY

Something smells really fishy here, verging on being “fake news” meant to influence us with false information.

We clearly have not seen the end of that and we should all try to verify whatever is presented in the media.

And we have been here before. In the lead-up to the 2013 elections, the IEBC was polling as one of the top two institutions that Kenyans had confidence in, together with the Supreme Court, at the time led by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga.

But with all the shenanigans around procurement, gadget malfunctions, “server crashes” and a return to the discredited manual system for voter identification, tallying and transmission of results, the IEBC quickly lost its credibility.

The “chicken-gate” scandals involving the then chairman of the IEBC and the CEO further damaged the IEBC, even if the politicised Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission eventually “cleared” the chairman.

ELECTORAL MALPRACTICE

I am not holding my breath that this IEBC will deliver credible, free and fair elections with the way it is operating.

It blames the courts for its unpreparedness, but this is more than about competence.

Like 2013, there is an emerging sense of willfulness in the way it is making decisions, short-cutting steps that could mitigate some of the emerging worries.

Incredibly, many of the key staff members who were involved in the previous mangled elections are still in place!

I am baffled that despite the court ruling that declares results final in the polling stations, the IEBC has not yet announced plans to ensure that returning and presiding officers are not only recruited transparently, but are based outside their home areas, to reduce ballot stuffing, especially given that we will probably use the easy-to-manipulate manual identification.

Now more than ever, these officials on the ground will determine the veracity of the election.

RIGGING

Rigging of elections has three basic strands.

The first is ballot stuffing, which is done at the polling stations by all sides (which then effectively balances out); the second is the changes by returning officers of results from polling stations under the guise of tallying, verifying and confirming the votes; and the third and most significant, is the massaging of figures done at the National Tallying Centre in Nairobi.

Note that the Krieglar report refused to go into the rigging at the National Tallying Centre, claiming that the evidence of ballot stuffing from both sides was enough to conclude that the 2007 election was irretrievably flawed.

Privately, Judge Krieglar was afraid that investigating the tallying at the KICC would present a different result from that announced and he did not want to be held responsible for more tensions when different results emerged.

OFFICIALS WITH INTEGRITY

Second, the argument that the National Tallying Centre should be retained to “correct” anomalies from the ground is facile and disingenuous.

It falsely assumes that the commissioners and senior staff are the only ones competent and with integrity, and should be trusted with “rectifying” obvious mistakes like more votes than voters registered.

It is the responsibility of the IEBC to recruit competent persons of integrity at all levels, rather than hire people whose work would need “rectification”.

Every time there is “rectification”, we simply get more rigging.

It is not harder to count the votes in Kenya than in other countries . . . it is just that so much goes in to obscuring those counts, done only at each polling station, so that freedom of action remains at “the center” in Nairobi.

“No shame, and thus immune from embarrassment” – it’s primary election time again in Kenya 

We have seen this before, in 2007 and 2013, but here is the best description I have read. A few details are unique but in general terms this is the same scene from a different year.

Courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request, here is a November 20, 2007 State Department email which is a headquarters “readout” of a video conference held “with Post to discuss the experiences of Post’s first-ever observation of the political primary process in Kenya.”:

The Observation Effort:

*21 teams (total about 60 people) deployed to the field. This is our first time observing the primaries. We expect to deploy about 50 (100+ people) teams to the general elections as part of the larger international observer effort. The EU plans to deploy 150 people.

*These will be Kenya’s 4th multiparty elections but only the second “free and fair”.

Negatives Observed:

*The process was very poorly organized. We would say the the parties embarrassed themselves, except most of the party leaders have no shame and are thus immune from embarrassment. General feeling is that apparent total lack of organization is not an accident, but reflects efforts to rig/manipulate the outcomes.

*There were obvious deals between the incumbents and local party operatives.

*The process was well-run and by the book only in areas where parties had no hope of winning in that area anyway. Where there were real stakes, manipulation was rampant and obvious.

*Ballots were delayed for many hours in many locations; some politicians felt this was intentional and especially disenfranchised women voters, who either couldn’t wait all day or had to go home before dark for safety reasons.

*Hate literature observed to date is overwhelmingly generated by PNU supporters.

Positives Observed:

*Turnout was surprisingly good. People were very determined to vote. Many waited from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later for ballots to arrive. In some cases where ballots were delayed, people agreed amongst themselves to vote on whatever pieces of paper and honored the results.

*Dozens of outgoing MPs (including some we are very happy to see go, i.e. [REDACTED] were eliminated at this stage, which suggests that you can’t always manipulate the results.

*Our sample was biased as we purposely went to areas where trouble was expected and/or stakes were high, so we likely observed a disproportionate amount of rigging, etc.

*With the recent passage of the Political Parties Bill, this is the last time that the party nomination process will be run by the parties themselves. In the future, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will run it (at least, for all parties who want public money). PNU contracted with the ECK to run their primary this time, but it didn’t happen in practice–party leaders took over and wouldn’t let ECK do its job.

After the Primaries:
*We expect a lot of horse trading. Some winners were DQed on appeal and even without an appeal. There were also many “directed nominations,” which led to the resuscitation and handpicking of many old dinosaurs/unpopular incumbents notwithstanding voter opposition.

*There may be blowback with an impact on turnout for Dec. 27. There were widespread feelings of bitterness and disappointment, especially among ODM supporters, who expected to participate in a “new beginning.” Many people complained that, populist image notwithstanding, ODM is run like a dictatorship and that the way of doing things is no different than KANU used to do in the past. The positive difference is that the electorate is much more vocal and active in demanding transparency and participation in the electoral process. The howls of protest regarding some of the directed nominations show the electorate’s increasing maturity and lack of interest in this kind of politics.

*Many unsuccessful candidates have jumped to smaller/marginal parties. There is a cottage industry of sorts selling nominations.

Possible Impact on Main Parties:

*The disappointment and frustration with the nominating process was greatest among ODM supporters. Will this experience sap the energy of ODM supporters, or can ODM redeem itself? Will people continue to be willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity?

*Fear/stability is a powerful motivating factor in Kibaki’s reelection prospects. The contest between ODM and PNU can be characterized as “hope vs. fear.”

*PNU has much less internal discipline and message consistency. Virtually all PNU parties are fielding their own candidates for Parliamentary seats, so not much of a real coalition.

Political Violence

*Two possible types. One, aspirant (often incumbent) MPs use paid gangsters (and sometimes local police officials) to intimidate or disrupt the polling process (trash polling stations, threaten voters waiting in line and/or election officials). Two, spontaneous voter uprisings, where voters feel they are being disenfranchised and attach the presiding officers. If the ECK runs an efficient process as expected, this should lessen the possibility of voter violence. —–END—–

As I wrote in including this content in my 2012 post titled “Part Eight, new documents from FOIA: Diplomacy versus Assistance Revisited–why observe elections if we don’t tell people what we see?“:

For context, this November 20, 2007 summary of what was observed during the primary elections was roughly a month after the Ambassador’s intervention in the public opinion polling as described in previous documents and a month before the Ambassador’s public statement predicting a “free and fair” election the week before the general election. Nairobi is the State Department’s biggest Sub-Saharan post; it was staffed with smart and observant people and obviously well funded–the problem was not what the State Department did not know, rather it was what it would not say.

Kenya Election FOIA news: [heavily redacted] Election Assistance agreement shows US paid for failed 2013 “Results Transmission System”

From the Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening (KEPPS) Program from USAID for the last Kenyan election:

“Considering the role that results transmission played in the 2007 election violence, IFES will build on its recent work with Kenya’s results transmission system to further enhance it and ensure its sustainability.  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.” 

[p.28 of the Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening 2012 Program – Cooperative Agreement between USAID and CEPPS (coalition of NDI, IFES and IRI)]

The Agreement is heavily redacted and divided into four files for length;

(1 of 4) F-00034-16 1st Interim-Response Documents (4-4-2017)

(2 of 4) F-00034-16 1st Interim-Response Documents (4-4-2017)

(3 of 4) F-00034-16 1st Interim-Response Documents (4-4-2017)

(4 of 4) F-00034-16 1st Interim-Response Documents (4-4-2017)

Since I have been fussing periodically about how long it has been taking to get any documents released from my October 2015 FOIA request to USAID for documents about our funding for the IEBC in 2013 and related, I need to thank the USAID FOIA Office for getting this initial release out (and hope for the rest to be in time to be usable for process improvement for the impending next election).

As I wrote more than two years ago, as more information was being uncovered in the UK’s prosecution of Smith & Ouzman, Ltd. and its owners for bribing Kenyan election officials for favor on procurements:  USAID’s Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers.

Also see: “Thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court Opinion” from April 2013:

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.”

According to the Independent Review (“Kreigler”) Commission, in 2007 USAID through IFES paid for the purchase of computers for the planned results transmission system for the ECK.  Very late before the vote, according to the Commission, the ECK voted to shelve the system and not use it.  None of the actors, ECK, IFES, USAID nor the US Ambassador publicly disclosed the “shelving” decision. The Ambassador gave his subsequent pre-election Nairobi interview published as “Ambassador expects free and fair election” nonetheless.

The Kreigler Commission investigating sought the minutes of the ECK’s action; the ECK refused to release the minutes and the Commission went ahead and submitted its report to President Kibaki and disbanded, noting the missing evidence.  [Again, I was told by a diplomat involved in January 2008 that key Returning Officers at the last minute were bribed to turn off their cell phones and “go missing” so that vote tallies could then be “marked upwards” to give Kibaki the necessary margin at the national level; likewise, we learned from the Daily Nation that Wikileaks published cables showing that the U.S. issued “visa bans” against three ECK members based on evidence of alleged bribery.  The late decision by the ECK to shelve the U.S. purchased computer system would thus have been critical to allowing the bribery scheme to be effectuated.  See “The War for History part seven: What specifically happened to Kenyan’s votes?“.]

In 2007 we obviously knew that the system had been shelved and kept quiet about it. In 2013 we let on that we expected the system to work–even was in the process of working–until it was shut down early after the vote.  That is hard to understand given that IFES was to “ensure this system was fully installed, tested and operational” and make the necessary purchases.  I will hope that the rest of the requested documents will clarify all this and be released as soon as possible to benefit the planning for the upcoming 2017 election.

See also:  “Nigeria example shows U.S. and other donors should act now on Kenya IEBC technology procurement corruption“.

Election Violence threat in Kenya — my thoughts on NDI’s new warning 


1. NDI is right to warn of a risk of violence, highlighting the unprecedented level of division and tension in Kenya related to the competition for power in this election scheduled for August.

2.  Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.

3.  Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved.  Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust.  No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.

4.  The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over.  There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others.  I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).

5.  Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

6.  Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007.  Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab.  In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi —  is really failing.  Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood.  Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.

7.  It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year).  It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning.  Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.

8.  Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time.  Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.

9.  I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war.  In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction.  The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted.  On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.

Update: 13 April — See Muthoni Wanyeki’s latest column in The East African, Polls: the heat is rising, mayhem escalating,” for a look at the current temperature official behavior around the country.

 

New court ruling may reshape power over Kenya’s votes

Kenya challenged vote

Kenya election ballot

A Kenya High Court ruling has determined that the presidential election votes–which are counted only at each polling station–are to be treated as final when announced at the initial parliamentary constituency tally centre.  This means that any changes to the tally at the national level in Nairobi by the IEBC, the electoral management body, will have to come in the form of a court challenge.

This approach would have prevented the ECK and IEBC from taking the approach of 2007 and 2013, where national results relied on changed and missing vote counts.

The key thing to remember about Kenyan elections is that the votes are all hand marking of paper ballots, which are counted only at each polling station.  The results are recorded on Form 34 and–if law is followed–posted for the public on the door to the polling station.

The ballots and another exected copy of the results are sealed in the ballot box.

After that, it is all a power struggle and smoke and fog–high tech and low tech.  Arithmetic is done or not done in accordance with power and interests.

The court appears to have moved some power back toward the voters and away from central government.  We shall see.

I will follow up after I’ve read the opinion and caught up on some of the “moving pieces” on the election preparation.

Congratulations to Maina Kiai and his colleagues who brought the constitutional challenge.

The hardest job in Kenya . . .

IMG_7601

The new Kenya IFES country director has arrived in time to learn her way around for the August election, just as Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (“IEBC”) has thrown in the towel, again, on a crucial technology acquisition–and once again going with a “sole source” procurement with Safran/Morpho (as with the BVR kits in 2013) to save time since they are already late.

The technology problems will be all too familiar, of course, to Kenyans and others who were involved or closely observed the 2007 and 2013 elections, or were involved in writing up any of the many commission papers, evaluation reports, etc. associated with those misadventures.

Sadly, it may be that the die has already been cast for this year in that the IEBC Commissioners were not replaced until too late to have the requisite time on the job to adequately prepare for the election (a key recommendation from the 2008 “Kreigler Commission”). For the most part they have inherited the work of their predecessors and the staff they hired who made crucial decisions like planning a huge expansion of the number of polling places, while failing to address the corruption in the failed technology procurements or make adequate progress on replacements.

With the new Commissioners taking office, officials from President Kenyatta’s party launched a public attack on the U.S. election assistance effort which is being run by IFES, and singling out long time IFES country director Mike Yard, who seems to have been the one person with both the most longevity and the best reputation involved in process.  And then there were visa problems and other Government of Kenya directed disruptions.  I am sure its a coincidence but Mr. Yard took on a new challenge earlier this year as Country Director for Libya.  Thus, a new director arriving less than five months before the scheduled vote. (I arrived in Kenya roughly six months before the 2007 election and am still learning on a continuing basis things no one told me that I should have known about that election.)

Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role.  Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to provide the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation.  Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.

Of course this is all based on what is public to me as an interested American taxpayer–maybe USAID changed its mind and ended up restructuring all this on a non-public basis?

One other factor is that IFES does have some separate funding for 2014-18 work from the Canadian International Development Agency this time.

No incumbent president has been recognized by a Kenyan election management body as having lost a re-election bid.  Presumably the immediate foreign policy priorities of the United States in Kenya in August will be weighted to the stability of our long time “partner” Kenya.  As the State Department continues the process of consolidation of control of USAID as we have seen over the previous U.S. administrations in moving from the 2007 to 2013 now to 2017 election, it will be that much harder to for people handling democracy assistance at USAID to stand firm for the long term interests, and statutory and legal priority of the U.S. to support democracy in the face of competing claims from the diplomatic and defense constituencies within our government which will presumably have incentives to placate the incumbent.

Election observation has always been controversial in Kenya.  In the first multi-party presidential election in 1992, Ambassador Smith Hempstone, according to his memoir, recommended having NDI observe the election, anticipating an incoming Clinton administration.  President Moi, who used the Republican consulting firm Black, Manafort and Stone, refused to entertain NDI, writes Hempstone, but agreed to IRI.  In 1997 and 2002, the observation agreement went to the Carter Center, then to IRI in 2007 (that year USAID did not want to do an observation, as I have written, but Ambassador Ranneberger instigated having IRI observe), then back to the Carter Center in 2013.  Observers inevitably get criticized for being too critical or too lenient towards the Kenyan process, which has always been messy.

In my year 2007, the EU and the domestic donor-funded observers stood up initially to the ECK’s obvious irregularities, while IRI was initially neutered.  Eventually IRI released both its exit poll indicating an opposition win (August 2008) and a highly critical final report (July 2008).

In 2013, the domestic observation, ELOG, initially “verified” the incomplete “final results” announced by the IEBC but eventually released a significantly critical final report.  Similarly, the Carter Center provided key initial bolstering of the IEBC’s position in their preliminary report but issued a much more critical final report months later. See Carter Center quietly published strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

In both those 2007 and 2013 elections, as in 2002, IFES worked inside the IEBC to provide technical support and did not have an “observation” role.  Bill Press, the IFES President, later testified to Congress that the 2013 election was a great success from the IFES standpoint because Kenya “did not burn”.  The terminology of the Kenyan constitution for a successful election is “free and fair” as opposed to “did not burn”.   Maybe I am just too much of a lawyer in how I look at these things, but I do not think we should have USAID help underwrite elections to a “do not burn” rather than “free and fair” standard to the the tune of $25M when people are literally starving to death in the neighborhood and aid budgets are being cut.

I do not want Kenya to burn, and I hope and pray that this year’s election is less violent than 1992, 1997 or 2007–and even 2013 when “only” 400-500 people were killed in politically driven violence in the pre-election months and only a few protesters were killed by police after the vote.  In general terms the reason that people die over elections in Kenya is because they are governed by killers, not because Kenyans aspire to actually have their votes counted honestly and openly.

See: It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington [with link to video] June 13, 2013

img_0434

 

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Counting in Nairobi suburb

 

International Crisis Group report on “Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis” calls on donors to show “complete transparency”; USAID is apparently not convinced yet

Counting-the original tally

Counting-the original tally

“Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis”  March 2017 International Crisis Group paper by Murithi Mutiga

Political tensions are rising in Kenya ahead of elections in August for the presidency and other senior posts. Measures taken now can avert the risk of a repeat of electoral violence that killed hundreds of people in 2007-2008.

.  .  .  .

The equipment for transmitting results from polling places to the tallying centre is as important as the voter kits. Past elections were compromised by lack of transparency in tallying and transmitting. The installation of a transparent, efficient electoral management system would go a long way to assuaging public concerns. Unfortunately, rushed procurement, with little lead-time for testing, may set the IEBC up for failure. That would also deepen suspicions in a situation already marked by significant tension between parties. Government steps to limit the role of external partners, such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, that can offer valuable technical assistance, have not helped.

.  .  .  .

International partners should extend technical and financial help to the IEBC to help it better tackle the challenges. This should, however, be done with nuance, flexibility and complete transparency, in light of unfounded claims by the ruling party that external parties are seeking to influence the electoral outcome. International observers should be deployed in time to monitor crucial stages of the electoral process, such as verification of the vote register and procurement of electoral materials.

. . . .

Unfortunately, USAID is still stuck on maintaining minimal, at most, public disclosure, rather than adapt to the recommendations of the Crisis Group and the obvious lessons to be learned from the failure of 2007, especially, and 2013.

While USAID Kenya has confirmed for me that their original December 2015 Request for Agreement (“RFA”) for the $20M “Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017” remains a public document at http://www.grants.gov, the subsequent Agreement between USAID and IFES is not being treated as public.  Americans who want to understand our government’s approach to subsidizing the Government of Kenya’s election would be well advised to study the Request for Agreement (rfa-615-16-000001-keap-2017) closely to understand the basic structure, but will need to “ask around” informally to get any actual detail as the election now rapidly approaches.  Likewise, Kenyans who want to have input in the administration of their own election.

Meanwhile, still no documents whatsoever, from my October 2015 request for USAID documents relating to our support for the 2013 Kenya election (!).

See “IEBC must look us in the eye and say, ‘We aren’t ready for August'” by Tee Ngugi in The East African.

Solo 7 — Toi Market

Another year goes by: Eight years after Oscar Foundation murders, Kenya is a “place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity”

The fifth sixth eighth anniversary of the “gangland style” execution of Oscar Foundation head Oscar Kingara and his associate John Paul Oulu in their car near State House in Nairobi was this past Thursday Sunday.  From the New York Times report the next day:

“The United States is gravely concerned and urges the Kenyan government to launch an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation into this crime,” the American ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Ranneberger, said in a statement on Friday. It urged the authorities to “prevent Kenya from becoming a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.” (emphasis added)

The slain men, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, had been driving to a meeting of human rights activists when unidentified assailants opened fire. No arrests have been reported.

Last month, the two activists met with Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and provided him with “testimony on the issue of police killings in Nairobi and Central Province,” Mr. Alston said in a statement issued in New York on Thursday.

“It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” Mr. Alston said.

Mr. Alston visited Kenya last month and said in a previous statement that killings by the police were “systematic, widespread and carefully planned.”

.  .  .  .

Unfortunately, in these five years nothing has been done about the murders, and no action was taken on the underlying issue of widespread extrajudicial killings by the police.  Kenya in fact proved itself to be a place where human rights defenders can be murdered with impunity.  The government spokesman who made inflammatory (and baseless according to the embassy) attacks on the victims just before the killings is now a governor, and the Attorney General who stood out as an impediment to prosecuting extrajudicial killing (and was banned from travel to the U.S.) is a Senator. (See also the State Department’s Kenya Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2013)

Below is the March 19, 2009 statement to the Congressional Record by Senator Russ Feingold who is now the President’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the DRC, courtesy of the Mars Group:

Mr. President, two human rights defenders, Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu, were murdered in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya two weeks ago. I was deeply saddened to learn of these murders and join the call of U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger for an immediate, comprehensive and transparent investigation of this crime. At the same time, we cannot view these murders simply in isolation; these murders are part of a continuing pattern of extrajudicial killings with impunity in Kenya. The slain activists were outspoken on the participation of Kenya’s police in such killings and the continuing problem of corruption throughout Kenya’s security sector. If these and other underlying rule of law problems are not addressed, there is a very real potential for political instability and armed conflict to return to Kenya.

In December 2007, Kenya made international news headlines as violence erupted after its general elections. Over 1,000 people were killed, and the international community, under the leadership of Kofi Annan, rallied to broker a power-sharing agreement and stabilize the government. In the immediate term, this initiative stopped the violence from worsening and has since been hailed as an example of successful conflict resolution. But as too often happens, once the agreement was signed and the immediate threats receded, diplomatic engagement was scaled down. Now over a year later, while the power-sharing agreement remains intact, the fundamental problems that led to the violence in December 2007 remain unchanged. In some cases, they have even become worse.

Mr. President, last October, the independent Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence, known as the Waki Commission, issued its final report. The Commission called for the Kenyan government to establish a Special Tribunal to seek accountability for persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the violence after the elections. It also recommended immediate and comprehensive reform of Kenya’s police service. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, echoed that recommendation in his report, which was released last month. Alston found the police had been widely involved in the post-election violence and continue to carry out carefully planned extrajudicial killings. The Special Rapporteur also identified systematic shortcomings and the need for reform in the judiciary and Office of the Attorney General.

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“Let them drink bubbles . . .” The Nairobi Curse revisited in a time of hunger

Back in March 2010–well before the last widespread famine in 2011–I wrote a piece here called “The Nairobi Curse” suggesting an analogy between the role of Nairobi in Kenya’s overall political and economic development and “the resource curse” faced by those countries prized by outsiders for oil, for example.

With famine being reprised I was reminded of the “Nairobi Curse”  when I noticed on the “KenyaBuzz” Nairobi entertainment and happenings newsletter a charming little story, “Nairobi’s Newest Wine Shop Delivers In A Different Kind Of Way”, promoting “Wine and Bubbles”, a French couples’ couple of Nairobi stores selling French wine.  The expat Nairobian explained that he had hoped to grow vineyards in Kenya but learned on moving from France that the climate was not conducive so he was selling French wine instead.

The growth market of course is introducing wine tastes to what is invariably called the “Kenyan Middle Class”–basically the third tier wealthy Kenyan of the Nairobi professional/managerial class.  The sort of people who would be upper middle class in a much more broadly and deeply prosperous country where most people had enough to eat with a per capita income several times that of Kenya’s.

Here is my original post:

This is Kenya’s version of “the oil curse” or “the resource curse”.

 

Nairobi is the place to be in Sub-Saharan Africa (and outside of South Africa) for international meetings and conferences.  It is a relatively comfortable place to live for middle class or wealthy Westerners, or young aid workers.  An international city with a certain level of cosmopolitanism, yet of manageable size and scope relative to so many burgeoning cities of the less developed “South”.  A headquarters for two UN agencies.  A diplomatic critical mass, with lots of representation from all sorts of countries around the world that have little obvious presence in Africa, but also a crossroads for representation of everyone playing for a major piece of the pie (Iran, Libya, China, India, the Gulf States–as well as obviously the US and Europe).  And you can go on business, and then take a safari on the side.

 

From the US, soldiers go to Djibouti (the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, at Camp Lemonier) while diplomats go to Nairobi.  The US runs its Somali diplomacy from the Embassy to Kenya rather than Djibouti which would be the more obvious place on paper.  Likewise, Somali politicians tend to live much of the time in Nairobi.   Nairobi is the place to invest cash generated in Somalia.

Nairobi is the “back office”, and in some cases the only office, for much of relatively huge amount of US aid-related effort for Southern Sudan, as well as that from other countries.

 

Nairobi has something like 8% of the Kenyan population, and perhaps 60% of the GDP (don’t let anyone tell you they know any of these figures too precisely).  Perhaps 50-60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements (“slums”) whereas the other half lives as “the other half”.  Most national level Kenyan politicians holding office live primarily in Nairobi (although they may have homes in a constituency they represent in Parliament as well).

 

When I was the East Africa Director, based in Nairobi, for IRI (where our much bigger Sudan program was also  headquartered) as an American I felt that my government at that time (2007-2008) was falling into the trap of recreating a Cold War paradigm for our international relations by looking around through our “War on Terrorism” telescope.  And that in Kenya there were a lot of international interests that valued stability over reforms for reasons that related more to the current role of Nairobi than the long term interests of Kenyan development.

 

Certainly Nairobi is a resource that has great value–as does oil, for instance–it’s just a question of whether Kenyans can find a way to use it to the broad advantage of the nation or whether it will continue to be exploited to disproportionately benefit the most powerful.  Including being used to help keep them in power when more Kenyans want democratic change.

 

Just this past week Kenya hosted an IGAD meeting on Sudan–and flouted its obligations as a party to the Rome Treaty on the ICC by inviting President Bashir of Sudan while under indictment.  Meanwhile the ICC is considering whether to allow formal  investigation of key Kenyan leaders for the post-election violence from 2007-08.  But Nairobi is such a great place to have these conferences . . . and Sudan is so important (Khartoum is no Nairobi, but it has oil).