(Updated) Kenyan diaspora disenfranchised?; Kwamchetsi Makokha raises concern about Kenyan voter education; IFES seeks consultant

Update (Nov. 28):  IEBC Chair Isaac Hassan says that as an independent commission the IEBC will make its own decision about whether to cancel diaspora voting and is not bound by the Cabinet decision announced below.  He acknowledged that registration is not underway and that this part of the vote is in jeopardy.

“Kenyans in diaspora locked out of March election” Business Daily:

Kenyans in the diaspora will not vote in the March 4 General Election, the Cabinet decided last Thursday.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Eugene Wamalwa said the government decided that it will be impossible for Kenyans living abroad to vote owing to challenges facing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Mr Wamalwa said time and logistical constraints will not allow IEBC to register Kenyans in the diaspora. . . .

It’s been almost 2 1/2 years since the new constitution finally passed, providing for a right to vote for Kenyans living in the diaspora.  I am no big fan of the concept myself, but this is the law and I don’t see any unexpected challenges or difficulties in implementing it.

“Step up voter education, IEBC told” Daily Nation:

National Democracy Institute (NDI) consultant Kwamchetsi Makokha said on Tuesday the three months set for civic education was not enough to reach eligible voters.

“The period is not enough to reach the whole population. So many people know nothing about the devolved government and roles of the leaders,” he said. . . . during the launch of a sub-committee of the Political Parties Liaison Committee in Lamu.

I’ve heard elsewhere that there is significant lack of awareness by voters as to the nature of new positions up for election under devolved government under the new constitution.

In the meantime, IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, is advertising for an Election Administration Advisor for Kenya:

In preparation for the 2013 elections, IFES is implementing a capacity-building program in support of Kenya’s electoral process in the areas of election technical support, voter registration, voter education, and election dispute resolution among others.

Under this short-term assignment, IFES seeks to support the integration of activities of other government and non-government organizations, who play critical roles in the electoral process, including but not limited to the Registrar of Political Parties, Political Parties and Candidates, Security Agencies, the Judiciary, Civil Society Organization, Religious Organization, and the Media.

Saba Saba Day–twenty years later, how did U.S. lose the thread?–updated

7 July–Saba Saba Day

Democracy versus “realism” in support of other U.S. interests may have been an unavoidably difficult trade off during the Cold War. But it has been more than twenty years now since that excuse passed muster.

My recent post “A Blast From the Past” linked to a 1990 policy paper that seemed to attempt to justify support for Moi by the U.S. for tactical or “strategic” U.S. advantage in the region–post Cold War and pre 1998 embassy bombings and Global War on Terror. Fortunately, the U.S. Ambassador at the time, George H.W. Bush’s appointee, Smith Hempstone, was willing to stick his neck out to support those seeking liberty against Moi’s tyranny. And thus the U.S. is remembered and honored by Kenyans for that assistance as it celebrates its “Second Liberation”.

Now, however, we seemed to have changed. This is what Maina Kiai of the current generation of activists had to say in an interview with columnist Kwamchetsi Makokha last year about the most recent Kenyan election:

Kwamchetsi Makokha: The American ambassador endorsed the results at first. What do you think happened to change his view?

Maina Kiai: I think the way it blew up shocked a lot of people. For whatever reasons, not even the international human rights organisations had anticipated what came to happen. I think in a sense the country and the world had been lulled to sleep by the 2002 elections and the referendum in 2005. We did those fairly and peacefully but fell asleep and imagined that we would do the 2007 elections. But the signs were clear.

I was particularly pleased to see [American ambassador Michael] Ranneberger turning around because what he did was clearly unconscionable and wrong – more so because he was in possession of the exit poll results. He could at least have been equivocal, but in his case, he was very categorical. I am not sure if that was an agenda from him or from the US government. I think it still needs to be interrogated. The fact that as Kenyans we stood up to the American ambassador and said it does not matter – we will take you on – on principle, on what is right and wrong, that was very important.

How sad that where Kenya’s pro-democracy heroes found support from the U.S. through our Ambassador in the Saba Saba era, they are now in a position of speaking of having had to stand up to and “take on” the Ambassador on principle. We can do better.

Kiai, as a Kenyan democracy leader and Harvard-trained lawyer among many other credentials, was asking the same question in January 2009, that I was asking from December 2007 in my position as an American working as local leader for an “international NGO” being funded by USAID: was the agenda from the ambassador personally or from the U.S. government? I tend to think that it was some of both and something that was evolving in real time in the messy way that “foreign policy” gets “made” by our country–but ultimately I guess now one could conclude that by not “interrogating” these obvious questions that the Kenyan people as well as Americans have–and extending Ranneberger’s appointment once again–we have in a sense “ratified” or taken ownership of what went on before and made it “ours” now? I do still wonder what people in Washington knew in “real time” about what was going on on Nairobi.

*Worth noting: Larry Diamond, democracy scholar/advocate, speaks to AFRICOM headquarters on themes from his latest book.