Down the road in New Orleans we recently visited the expanded Bestoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA, the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. New additions since our last visit include Nairobi-born New York-based artist Wangechi Mutu.
The Bestoff is an expansive free sculpture garden on three sides of the NOMA in a great example of public art space.
The Seated series is four sculptures created for an exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As it turns out, NOMA is hosting a major Wangechi Mutu retrospective starting in January:
WANGECHI MUTU: INTERTWINED BRINGS TOGETHER NEARLY 100 WORKS BY THE ARTIST SPANNING HER ENTIRE CAREER
TWO WORKS BY MUTU ARE PERMANENTLY INSTALLED IN NOMA’S SYDNEY AND WALDA BESTHOFF SCULPTURE GARDEN
Struck me this week that 15 (!) years had gone by since the July and August release of the International Republican Institute Kenya 2007 Election Observation Mission final report and the Exit Poll following my family’s return to the US from my time in Kenya as Chief of Party on each of those USAID programs.
A quick catch up on-line generated a critical document that I had not noted previously. It is a report prepared by IFES for Open Society East Africa for submission to IREC, popularly known as the “Kreigler Commission” which was to investigate the failed election as a result of the February 28, 2008 “Peace Deal” and subsequent processes to implement the basic terms. The Commission reported privately to President Kibaki and then released a public report (see my key document links) that elided actual investigation of the ECK’s tally of the Presidential vote as such.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to infer that a well-orchestrated plan was implemented to ensure a predetermined election result:
a. President Kibaki’s decision to abrogate the IPPG agreement of 1997 on the formula for appointments to the Electoral Commission ensured that all of the Commissioners were appointed by him alone. The IPPG agreement had capped the maximum number of Commissioners to 22 and reserved 10 seats to be filled by persons appointed by the President after recommendations by opposition parliamentary parties.
b. The allegations of questionable procedure in the appointment of returning officers by Commissioners.
c. An offer from the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to install a computer program that would have enabled election officials in the constituencies to submit results electronically to Nairobi and then on to a giant screen available to the public, making it virtually impossible to change results, was rejected.
d. The use of ECK staff in the Verification and Tallying Center was abandoned in favor of casual staff recruited directly by the Commissioners.
e. The Commission refused to ensure that election officials in areas with large predictable majorities for any of the candidates came from different areas so as to reduce the likelihood of ballot stuffing.
Since opinion polls from the 2007 elections consistently indicated a very tight contest, the neutrality of the ECK was always paramount, particularly in the event of a thin margin and a too-close-to-call election. The new appointments made by President Kibaki to the ECK early in 2007 elicited protests from the opposition that he was fortifying the ECK with his supporters despite the need for the electoral body to be perceived as fair and independent, a perception crucial to political stability in a region where many political systems are unstable. Several actors appealed to President Kibaki to consult the opposition prior to making appointments to the Electoral Commission, with no perceptible effect.
These developments exacerbated problems within the ECK. Although the ECK had improved substantially since 2002 in its ability to manage elections, the commission still clung to many questionable practices. For example, votes were counted at the polling station without transportation to a central tallying center, a process prone to abuse and manipulation by the former regime. The unilateral appointments by the President meant that the ECK was now perceived as subject to control, direction, and manipulation by the government.
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 Elephantfrom 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?
Did we do this? I really have no idea factually. Back in 2009 when I attended my first annual meeting of the African Studies Association, in nearby New Orleans that year, I was left with the notion after sitting at the knee of an up-and-coming “scholar/actor” that diplomatic players in the U.S. and/or the U.K. and whomever else might fairly obviously be expected to try to broker a pre-election Kalenjin-Kikuyu coalition.
At the time, the idea of helping put together Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto would have seemed improbably Machiavellian.
Again, as I said, no idea. But if I were to resume taking a look-see into the 2013 election following my initial FOIA request about the IFES program at the IEBC I would be interested to get into the pre-election period as well.
The closeness of the election is somewhat obscured now by the “winner take all” nature of Kenya politics and the quick consolidation of power by Ruto, but it really was very tight under any view. No disrespect to Martha Karua intended because her choice did help revitalize Raila’s campaign when he had persistently trailed in the polls throughout and then moved ahead when she was tapped.
Nonetheless, all politics in Kenya is local/tribal and she was undoubtedly picked in part to try to offset Raila’s weakness versus Ruto in the core Kikuyu old Central Province, as well as a play for “good governance” support from the “international community” and civil society (which had adopted Karua for a variety of reasons in recent years in spite of her understood role as a Kibaki Kikuyu hardliner opposed to the peace deal and power sharing in the 2007-08 ECK and PEV crisis).
At the end of the day, I think Karua was respected but not highly popular, whereas Ngilu was less respected internationally, and perhaps among some parts of Kenya’s more intellectual class, but more popular as a politician.
One thing that I am guessing that happened is that Raila overestimated the practical value of going with a “Good Government” choice in terms of support from Washington and London, and otherwise from “the Western donors”, just as he overestimated the transferability of the support that Kenyatta had in those capitals to him. I think he just may have been behind the times on this: there were years when Ruto or a candidate with his profile would have drawn active criticism internationally for corruption but 2022 was just not such a year for a variety of reasons. Likewise people in Washington that considered Ruto “dangerous” as late as a couple of years ago because of his role in the PEV seem to have gotten over it once they saw him as the long-established frontrunner in the polls and BBI not catching on. I think many were unsure whether Kenyatta was really going to follow through on supporting Raila which made it that much easier to rationalize a Ruto presidency.
“On the ground” among Kenyan voters, Raila could not pull off running a traditional opposition anti-corruption oriented campaign after several years of the handshake and clearly counting on Kenyatta’s support. Too much cognitive dissonance, especially after getting beat in the Courts on a BBI that got larded up and bogged down to the point of becoming notably unpopular in its own right. On that front, the Karua pick seems to have proven too late and too out of step with the messaging from Raila’s other coalition heavyweights.
Given that he was behind in the polls and needed a spark, I do think choosing a woman made sense, but Ngilu as a more traditional Kenyan politician who was a current office holder and a long established vote getter from a “swing” region and ethnicity might have fit the bill quite a bit better. A more obvious choice to match up versus Mudavadi and Wetagula on Ruto’s side and a more congruous fit with the rest the established heavyweights on the Azimio team.
A Kenyan friend recently checked in to ask what I had written about the Kenyan election. I had to say “very little”. I have been committed to my more unique role as a witness to what went wrong in 2007-08 and tried to avoid the risk of being just another opinionated outsider missing the real conduct and motivations of the opaque competition for power through the election.
Nonetheless, I did send a private email memo to a few friends in Kenya and Washington back on May 15, 2022 (shortly before Raila and Ruto chose running mates) titled “A Few Thoughts on the Kenyan Election”:
1. First big election in Africa after the end of the Post-Cold War peace in Europe.
2. In this environment, the democratic Western players are less able to credibly claim to speak for a notional international community.
3. So on balance, not much reason to indulge Kenyatta now the way we did Kibaki in 2007. Unless we can be sure that the Kenyattas have a deal with Ruto to assure no major violence, why would we signal that we would be willing to look the other way if they steal it for Raila? Major violence would be riskier and more unpredictable now than back in 2007. On the other hand, if they do steal it, the last thing we would want to do is risk instabilty on behalf of a few votes for Wm. Ruto.
4. Obviously Obama and Trump and their administrations overestimated Uhuru for 15 years, but if we really cared about the details of Kenyan politics we would have gotten serious about injecting some competence into Kenyatta’s BBI fiasco.
5. There are still a few weeks left in a 4 1/2 year campaign so Raila could get it together, but who really thinks that’s highly likely? Under the circumstances, it isn’t that hard to see why ordinary Kenyans would be attracted to a candidate who is even more corrupt and more ruthlessly ambitious, but presents as having some basic discipline and competence, among the actual choices. Especially if you have lived through recent American elections.
6. The American humorist Will Rogers (from the era of my grandparents on the small family farm in Kansas during the Great Depression) was famous for the phrase: “I never met a man I didn’t like”. We have never met a President of Kenya we didn’t like.
Just my honest, private thoughts at the time, for what it is worth.
To me, Daniel arap Moi in person seemed more like Raila (and I am guessing Uhuru, whom I never met). A more relaxed demeanor reflecting longevity in the game presumably. At that time, in July 2007, Moi seemed to be trying to stay relevant politically. (Shortly after I met him the deal was cut whereby Moi and KANU, led nominally by Uhuru, crossed over from leading “the official opposition” to supporting Kibaki’s re-election and Moi was appointed by Kibaki as Envoy to Sudan).
Ruto was conspicuously more telegenic and articulate. Thus his natural role in squaring off against Kibaki’s Justice Minister Martha Karua at the Electoral Commission (ECK) Headquarters on television at the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) during the tally in the days following December 27, 2007 election (until the Kibaki Government through Interior Minister John Michuki shut off the live broadcasting). Even though Ruto wasn’t a lawyer.
The surprising thing to me when I introduced myself briefly to Ruto was how different he came across in person than on television. A person of much more intense physical presence than a typical politician like Moi or Raila, Kalonzo, Mudavadi or others I met.
This impression lends itself to a question: is Ruto a typical Kenyan politician, or is he a telegenic but more especially dangerous person who has simply been normalized by pundits and diplomats because he acquired power by virtue of a “coalition of accused kingpins of violence” with Uhuru Kenyatta during the failed ICC prosecutions for the 2007-08 Post Election Violence (PEV)?
Or was Ruto simply normal in his relation to political violence and wrongly tagged as more responsible than other Kalenjin politicians, such that the opportunistic political gain from being indicted by the ICC is just one more common facet of democratic competition. So that in the environment of total agreed impunity of the political class for the murder and mayhem of 2007-08 Ruto has simply the normal association with violence so that his qualities of telegenic articulation can be credited positively rather than treated with suspicion?
Or is it, to the contrary, plausible to see him as something something else entirely, a fresh candidate now, breaking the mold of Kenyan politics not by virtue of having been an especially dangerous protagonist of ethnic violence, but by becoming the first real reformist to win by moving Kenya beyond ethnicity on a platform of better economic policy? Or a fresh candidate breaking breaking the mold in some other way?
Some of this depends on whether one sees continuity between the actions and history of politicians from one campaign cycle to the next, or whether it is tacitly agreed that democracy means every candidate should get a clean slate to be whatever they want to be in each particular campaign.
(Note that none of these questions are intended to comment in any detail about other comparisons between Ruto and his rivals or examine the track record of those rivals, each of whom have their own controversies even if they are easier to group together more generally.)
Over the years carrying my torch as a witness to what happened on my watch in democracy assistance in Kenya in 2007-08, I have always tried to be mindful of the notion that it has not been my business who Kenyan voters chose, including how they voted in the subsequent 2013, 2017 and 2022 elections in which Raila has continued to be a leading candidate. Rather, my job in 2007-08, and my purpose since, has been to address the facts honestly and support the democratic process so that the choices actually made by Kenyan voters themselves would be honored.
Thus, keeping the 2007 Exit Poll from meeting an untimely demise because it was diplomatically inconvenient was not a matter of “supporting” Raila versus Kibaki as a candidate or politician, but rather doing my job to support the democratic process and “observe” the election with integrity.
There was a little bit more involved in preserving the hope that the Exit Poll would be released and published during the early months of 2008 when I was finishing out my “public service leave” as International Republican Institute Resident Director for East Africa than I have written about over the years. It is probably time to tell the story.
In summary, after the decision was made in Washington to my surprise and disappointment not to release the Exit Poll showing Raila winning by almost six points, there was still the notion that the original polling forms would be sent to Washington and the original data evaluated and re-entered in digital form to determine whether there were actual doubts or anomalies to justify the announcement that the poll was “invalid”. Initially, this was going to happen when staff from our Nairobi office traveled to Washington in March for IRI’s annual global meeting. The meeting was intended to be mandatory for me as a Country Director and I was asked on behalf of IRI’s President to prepare a presentation on the process of dealing with the Exit Poll and the release decision. I explained to my boss, the Africa Director, that this was a terrible idea since I emphatically objected to the decision to say the poll was “invalid” and not release it, but I did not want to get up in front of a bunch of young idealistic IRI employees working around the world and say that, nor surely did “the front office” want me to. I also had a major family conflict for the meeting which had been moved because someone in Washington had forgotten to make hotel reservations. Since my leave from my job in the States was up June 1 and I had to move back in May anyway, I was comfortable declining and was able to beg off.
The original survey forms, which were in locked storage at the Country Director residence near our office, were going to be delivered to Washington by the other staff members making the trip for the March meeting. But then those instructions were cancelled and there was no operative plan to re-enter the data or otherwise review the original forms in Washington or elsewhere. The researchers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) who were the critical consultants for the USAID-funded poll and had contributed additional funding supplementing that provided by USAID, wanted to do the data work, but IRI Washington did not want to let them without modifying their contract. IRI would pay $10,000 as compensation for the additional work, the same sum as the funding Dr. Clark Gibson of UCSD had provided pre-election, but UCSD would have to surrender the right to publish the results after a six month exclusive period for IRI that was provided in the original pre-election contract. Dr. Gibson, as he told the New York Times declined because he thought “they were trying to shut me up”.
Given the fact that there was no path forward to complete the polling program and answer the questions that had been raised back in Washington without reference to the original data, I had to make a choice as Chief of Party for the polling program between honoring the existing contract with Dr. Gibson of UCSD or breaching it to follow instructions from my IRI superiors. I elected to honor the program and the contract (and the election process itself as I saw it) and allowed the UCSD graduate student researcher to take possession of the survey forms (I had sent him, along with my wife, to retrieve them from the polling firm and bring them for safekeeping at the residence once things got “hot” when IRI announced from Washington that the poll was “invalid” and would not be released. (As but one example of what I was concerned about, the possibility of a re-count of the underlying vote in the December 27 election had been eliminated, allegedly, by a fire in the warehouse where the ECK stored the ballot boxes just after the vote.)
The personal drama was that in April when I was working from the residence (my successor was in place running the office by then but had not yet been approved by USAID as Chief of Party so I was still needed for public meetings and reports and such) when I got a call from my Africa Director in Washington that my successor had not been able to find the survey forms in the office. I explained that they had never been taken to the office, which seemed obviously less secure, so we had taken them to the residence. That was a satisfactory answer and nothing further was said. The fact that the forms were in San Diego at that moment was a “didn’t ask, didn’t tell”.
In May I was to turn over the residence to my successor. The UCSD researcher was bringing the survey forms back from San Diego with him and put the boxes in checked baggage which was tied up in a big delay at Heathrow in London, so he arrived without them as I was getting ready to vacate the residence. In the context of the tension between myself and the Ambassador and the non-release of the Exit Poll, I threw myself my own going away party with my family and the staff that reported to me, but I did get invited to a farewell dinner by the Serbian Ambassador and his wife who managed our IRI office for both the East Africa programs and Sudan. Starting out with a homemade Serbian aperitif I felt a bit woozy after a sip and excused myself. I woke up a few minutes later on the floor of the restroom with a bit of blood on the tile from striking the sink on the way down.
A cab was called to take me to Aga Khan hospital where I recovered for a few days while my wife and kids scrambled to finish getting everything out of the residence for turnover in my absence and I hoped that the boxes of survey forms would arrive in time to be back in the residence for my successor. After a few anxious days the boxes arrived in the nick of time and I was soon out of the hospital and off with the family for a couple of weeks in Uganda before going back to Mississippi and my job as a lawyer in the defense industry. Testing at the hospital indicated that I did not have malaria, just some similar but completely temporary symptoms of who-knows-what.
At some point, IRI ended up hiring a survey firm in Oklahoma to review the Exit Poll and released it themselves in August 2008 just before the UCSD researchers testified about it to the Kreigler Commission which was conceptually charged with investigating the dispute as to the facts of the vote for president. Raila wrote about how important the Exit Poll was to him in his autobiography, “The Flame of Freedom”. He got part of the story wrong, but since he has continued to be a candidate for president over the succeeding elections, it has been in his interest not to be overly fastidious about all the details, just as the important thing for current democracy assistance efforts is keep learning and adapting from the lessons that become available.
If Raila ends up being president this time, I hope he does a great job in the spirit that his most loyal friends and supporters, some of whom are also my friends, have always hoped. I also hope it is because he gets the most votes in a free and fair election that is not marred by violence or more corruption than we have already seen.
How many IGAD members are democracies? Well, Kenya has some genuine if flawed level of democracy, but Uganda has a president who took power by military force more than 35 years ago and the rest of the bunch are less advanced. IGAD has its value, but the idea of standing up for freedom and fairness at the polls would seem highly counterintuitive for IGAD diplomats.
. . . mandate is to promote good governance, democracy, human rights and rule of law in the region.”
“IGADEOM is composed of seven core staff and 24 short-term observers. The short-term observers include representatives of electoral bodies and other public institutions as well as diplomats drawn from six Igad member states of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.”
Are diplomats and public officials who are not committed to democracy in their own countries likely to prioritize free and fair elections for Kenyan voters?
Saskia Brechenmacher and Nanjira Sambuli have released an excellent pre-election report for the Carnegie Endowment’s Pivotal Elections in Africa series produced jointly by Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program and Africa Program.
Moreover, as other analysts have noted, a recurring pattern of dealmaking between political insiders also serves to protect the economic and political power of a narrow elite class, while undermining more meaningful forms of political accountability. Politicians have incentives to mobilize voters to secure their place in elite bargains; yet once those bargains are struck, the needs of communities tend to fall by the wayside at the expense of elite interests. This pattern helps explain why inequality in the country has spiraled: according to Oxfam, “the number of super-rich in Kenya is one of the fastest growing in the world,” with “less than 0.1 [percent] of the population . . . own[ing] more wealth than the bottom 99.9 [percent].”