Did the competing election crisis triggered by Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on the morning of Kenya’s 2007 vote contribute to initial missteps in US response to fraud?

I decided to write this post to follow up an exchange on this topic on Twitter triggered by the 14th anniversary of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned as opposition leader in Pakistan.  I struck a nerve with some Kenyans. The point is not to create excuses but rather as I have always done, to try to understand why things happened as they did so that mistakes become learning tools.

The question is one that was always in the back of my mind but no one has ever raised it with me, nor have I heard it discussed.  I have known over the years, and it should have been obvious to any acute outside observer, that there were differences of opinion within the State Department as to the proper policy response to Kenya’s 2007 election and it seems that different officials at different levels and times took different approaches.

Kenya election State Department declassified cable Condeleeza Rice Javier Solana power sharing Mwai Kibaki Rail

Kenya election State Department declassified cable Condeleeza Rice Javier Solana power sharing Mwai Kibaki Rail

Kenya election State Department declassified cable Condeleeza Rice Javier Solana power sharing Mwai Kibaki Rail

Remember the chronology:

December 18 – Published interview with Ranneberger says he anticipates “free and fair” election (in spite of knowing that US-funded Results Transmission computers had been shelved by Electoral Commission of Kenya and describing in a December 24 cable “credible reports” of efforts to orchestrate rigging in Odinga’s Langata Constituency which would eliminate him as a presidential candidate, having told me on December 15 that “people were saying” that Raila could be defeated in Langata.).

December 27 – Kenya votes; the International Republican Institute front office team in Kenya for the Election Observation Mission were due to fly on from Kenya to Pakistan to observe the election planned for January 8; we learn the news of the Benazir Bhutto assassination on the way to “open” the polls in Nairobi.

December 28 – Ranneberger cable says election went well, although fraud could arise in tally.  He had opined in the December 24 cable that “the outside chance that widespread fraud would force us to call into question the result would be enormously damaging” to U.S. interests, although both the leading candidates were “friendly to the US”.

December 28 – 30 – Fraud arises in tally at ECK headquarters, witnessed by Ranneberger along with EU Chief Observer.

December 30 – ECK resumes suspended count and holds restricted announcement of Kibaki win, followed quickly by twilight swearing in at State House; Ranneberger publicly encourages Kenyans to accept ECK results; live broadcasting suspended, congratulations to Kibaki also issued by spokesman for Main State Department/US while UK and EU question results.

December 31 – (Monday morning) State Department spokesman in Washington withdraws congratulations.

January 2 – Ranneberger’s cable to Washington documents that Ambassador witnessed fraud in the tally: “much can happen between the casting of votes and the final tabulation of ballots and it did” (and that between the December 28 and January 2 cables, Ranneberger held daily conversations with Assistant Secretary Frazer and December 29 and 31 conference calls with the National Security Council and Frazer).

January 3 – Secretary of State Rice, along with Ranneberger, is publicly calling for negotiated power sharing between Kibaki and Odinga. EU joins, following UK, having previously called for remedial action for election fraud (see declassified Rice cable above).

[“Peace deal” is eventually signed on February 28, 2008 which results in limited power sharing with Odinga as Prime Minister and ODM getting some cabinet portfolios and support by Kibaki and Odinga for new constitution that establishes county governments and devolves some powers, while eliminating Prime Minister position; impunity for election fraud and post election violence enshrined on de facto basis. Exit poll funded by USAID as “vote verification” tool showing Odinga win is released by UCSD in July and by IRI in August.]

Given the context of potential turmoil in nuclear armed Pakistan, bordering the escalating war in Afghanistan, during the Iraq “surge”, it could be imagined that those with responsibility for the whole of CENTCOM’s Area of Operations which included Kenya at the time, or even the entire globe in the case of the State Department, might have been initially more reliant on the Ambassador and the Africa Bureau and a little slower to realize that the election had in fact fallen to fraud such that we were “forced to question” the ECK’s “results” [which never were even published].

As preparations for Kenya’s elections lag once again, cut the fog of time and remember what happened in 2007

Polling Station Olympic School Kibera

Flashback to the night of Kibaki’s twilight swearing in . . .

“Kenya could be facing its greatest crisis”, The Telegraph

Analysis

Five years ago yesterday, close to a million people watched as Mwai Kibaki was inaugurated as President of Kenya in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.

Daniel Arap Moi, the authoritarian strongman who had ruled for a quarter of a century, was gone, his hand-picked successor roundly defeated.

A nation rejoiced. Already one of Africa’s most stable countries, Kenya could also now claim to be among its most democratic.

Last night, Mr Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in before a few hundred loyalists at a tawdry ceremony held in the gardens of the official presidential residence.

The contrast could not have been more stark.

As he lumbered towards the podium, Kenya’s cities and towns were erupting in chaos and ethnically motivated bloodshed, a predictable response after the most dubious election since the one-party era ended in 1992.

It is no exaggeration to say that Kenya is potentially facing its most serious crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1963.

The prospect for serious violence between the country’s two most traditionally antagonistic tribes, Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu and the Luo, led by his challenger Raila Odinga, is worryingly high.

Luos, marginalised since independence, have reason to feel aggrieved. Thanks to an alliance that Mr Odinga built with other tribes, they felt that this was their best and possibly last chance of taking power.

The farcical nature of the vote will only heighten their disappointment. The electoral commission initially claimed that roughly a quarter of returning officers disappeared for 36 hours without announcing results and had switched off their mobile phones.

When results did finally emerge, Mr Odinga saw a one million vote lead overturned.

Opinion polls showed that the contest was always going to be close, but if the official results are correct, Kenyans voted in an inexplicably bizarre manner.

After turfing out 20 of Mr Kibaki’s cabinet ministers and reducing his party to a rump in the simultaneous parliamentary poll, they apparently voted in an entirely different manner in the presidential race.

Apart from an unusually high turn-out in some of Mr Kibaki’s strongholds (sometimes more than 100 per cent ), the president then appeared to have won many more votes in some constituencies than first reported.

If it all seems depressingly familiar, it need not have been.

Mr Kibaki had lost a lot of the enormous goodwill that he enjoyed following the 2002 election after a cabal of Kikuyu cronies was accused of corruption. He also reneged on a promise to introduce a new constitution that would have returned many of his overarching powers to parliament.

On the other hand, he allowed a free press to thrive and respected the results of a 2005 referendum that went against him. Many expected he would do the same if he lost last Thursday’s election.

Instead of setting an example to the rest of the continent, Mr Kibaki’s opponents say that he has joined the unholy pantheon of African presidents who have refused to surrender power.

If he has chosen instead to squander his country’s stability and its fragile ethnic harmony it is a tragedy not just for Kenya but for all of Africa.

To be clear, State Department records show Department did flatly misrepresent the Kenya Exit Poll in 2008 to avoid pressure to release it

From a 2017 release in response to my 2009 Freedom of Information Act request on the Exit Poll showing an Opposition win in Kenya’s 2007 Presidential election:

R 170924Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 9024

FOR AF/E AND INR/AA

SUBJECT: ACHIEVING USG GOALS IN KENYA’S ELECTION

12. (U) Ongoing Assistance: USAID/Kenya has ongoing support
in the areas of electoral administration, public opinion
polling and political party strengthening. Program
activities include the following:

. . .

– Public Opinion Polling: The International Republican
Institute began implementing a public opinion program in
2005. The program seeks to achieve two results: increasing
the availability of objective and reliable polling data; and
providing an independent source of verification of electoral
outcomes via exit polls. These results make an important
contribution to elections and political processes. First,
genuine free and fair elections require that citizens make
informed choices. The polling data adds to the objective data
available to citizens on key electoral issues. Second, the
exit polls provide an independent assessment of the accuracy
of the official electoral results, thereby supporting the
assessment of the credibility of Kenyan electoral processes.
This program also enhances democratic political parties by
enhancing the likelihood that candidates base their platforms
on the key issues and concerns of their constituents,
evidenced in the polling data, rather than the traditional
focus on ethnicity and personalized political wrangling.

Read the whole April 2007 Ranneberger cable at the State Department FOIA site.

Yet, after the election, the State Department developed “talking points to deal with press questions if they came” that told a contradictory story, that the exit poll was a “training exercise” rather than an “independent verification of outcomes” and “assessment of credibility of the Kenyan electoral process”:

IRI Exit poll Q&A

Q — Why isn’t the Embassy pressuring to release its exit poll conducted in conjunction with the December general elections?

 

A — As explained on their website, IRI did not conduct the Opinion poll themselves and have real concerns over its validity. Moreover, the poll was conducted as a capacity building or training exercise. We should not Pressure’ firms to bring a product to market that they don’t believe in, whether it is a defective automobile, or a defective opinion poll.

 

Q — Strategic Public Relations ind Research Limited (SPRR), the firm IRI contracted to Conduct the poll, stands by their results and refutes IRI’s statement.
They said they were “shocked and disappointed” at IRI’s decision. What is your reaction to that?

 

A This is a highly technical dispute between private parties over raw data that no one
else has even seen. We understand that IRI is examining the disputed data to see if any of it is usable, which sound’s reasonable under the circumstances.

 

Q — In his recent testimony before Congress and in an editorial that he co-wrote, Maina Kiai, Chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights,
urged Congress to pressure IRI to release the exit poll. In the op-ed, he said it was important to release the exit poll because there are “Suspicions that the institute has
suppressed its results not because they were flawed but because they showed that Mr. Odinga won.” These suspicions, he said, have fueled mistrust. What is your
position?

 

A Again, we should not pressure IRI to release information gathered in a training 
exercise, especially when they lack confidence in its validity.

Additional “AF (Africa Bureau) Press Guidance” with the same misrepresentations were issued on July 9, 2008 after the Exit Poll was finally released in Washington by the University of California, San Diego researchers and it was covered in the McClatchy newspapers.

For further discussion, see “Should there by an international Code of Conduct for Exit Polls and Parallel Vote Tabulations?“:

. . . .

The US Government ultimately had rights to our data as a matter of government contracts law and USAID had arguably and ambiguously constrained our ability to release the Exit Poll results to the public in the Amendment to the Cooperative Agreement funding the Exit Poll by providing for “consultation” with the Embassy on “diplomatic or other” considerations. The Cooperative Agreement for the Program was neither classified nor available publicly until I had it released under the Freedom of Information Act years later. The Exit Poll from the 2005 Referendum had been released.

 

Fortunately we have not seen another disaster quite like Kenya 2007-08, but the questions about transparency and release and reporting of information from election verification and anti-fraud tools are still there. For instance in the most recent elections in the DRC and Malawi, as well as the controversy in Kenya in 2013. This could be addressed by pre-established standards or codes if donors, host governments and democracy assistance organizations or implementers are willing to give up some of their case-by-case flexibility and frankly some of the power of controlling information.

 

Should there be an international Code of Conduct for Exit Polls and Parallel Vote Tabulations?

[As the year winds down and things crank up in Kenya’s 2022 presidential campaign and BBI referendum I am going through some of my old unpublished drafts – this is an idea that could matter that the parties involved do not have an incentive to bring forward.]

To me, the answer to the headline question is clearly “yes”.

Very specifically to my experience as in Kenya in 2007 as International Republican Institute Resident East Africa Director, I was able to explain to the USAID Kenya Mission that we at IRI were bound as a party to a published International Code of Conduct in conducting an International Election Observation that required us to maintain independence from the Ambassador.

(Readers may recall that then-Ambassador Ranneberger had pushed for a USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission for Kenya’s 2007 election which USAID had decided not to conduct in their ordinary planning process for the election and that IRI did not seek to undertake.)

We on the IRI staff were able to push back on Ambassador Ranneberger’s desire to select Election Observation Mission delegates, although we ended up informally going along with Ranneberger’s choice of Connie Newman and Chester Crocker as lead delegates (Crocker was not available to travel on the dates required).

The rest of the delegates were our choices rather than the Ambassador’s and we resisted Ranneberger’s expressed desire to remove his predecessor Amb. Mark Bellamy from the Observation until Ranneberger “laid down a marker” as he put it.

Likewise, we invited against Ranneberger’s wishes Bellamy’s predecessor as Ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, who was then the Africa lead at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and later Assistant Secretary of State under Obama (Carson was not cleared to participate–I was privately relieved for two reasons: it got me off the hook on a potential conflict with Ranneberger and while Carson seemed like a real asset for the Observation I thought the optics of having a high ranking Executive Branch employee and particularly one directly in an Intelligence Community job would not be great from an independence standpoint. In hindsight it might have done some real good to have him there.).

Unfortunately, on the now perhaps infamous Exit Poll, I was more or less naked in dealing with USAID and the Ambassador. The polling program was under a separate Cooperative Agreement between the CEPPS (IRI, NDI and IFES) and USAID which had started with the Exit Poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum. (The defeat of the proposed “Wako Draft” Constitution gave rise to the Orange Democratic Party which led Kenya’s opposition in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections, culminating in the March 2018 “handshake” and the present “Building Bridges Initiative” referendum campaign).

The 2005-07 polling program was scheduled to end with a public opinion survey in September 2007, well ahead of the general election, the date of which was not set until weeks later. USAID amended the Agreement to add the general election Exit Poll at the end. It was only after I initially reported a few days before the election that we were going to have to cancel the Exit Poll due to the objection of Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu that I was told by USAID that the Exit Poll as a higher priority for the Ambassador than the Election Observation itself. Kivuitu’s acquiescence was achieved.

On the late afternoon of Election Day as I was dragging my feet on releasing preliminary numbers before the polls closed I was told that “the whole reason” for doing the Exit Poll was for “early intelligence” for the Ambassador and USAID went to our subcontracted polling firm to get the figures. [Remember that I covered all this in complaints to the Inspectors General at USAID and State.]

IRI had no established backstop to protect itself from interference on the Exit Poll because unlike on the Election Observation Mission there was no published Code or Agreement that I could use to push back to preserve our independence.

We had agreed internally at IRI that we should not report any Exit Poll numbers externally including to USAID or the Embassy until the polls closed, and it was quite clear that we had no contractual obligation to make a report during the vote. But given that USAID was willing to go underneath us to the pollster it was out of our hands literally and there were no clear standards beyond that.

The US Government ultimately had rights to our data as a matter of government contracts law and USAID had arguably and ambiguously constrained our ability to release the Exit Poll results to the public in the Amendment to the Cooperative Agreement funding the Exit Poll by providing for “consultation” with the Embassy on “diplomatic or other” considerations. The Cooperative Agreement for the Program was neither classified nor available publicly until I had it released under the Freedom of Information Act years later. The Exit Poll from the 2005 Referendum had been released.

Fortunately we have not seen another disaster quite like Kenya 2007-08, but the questions about transparency and release and reporting of information from election verification and anti-fraud tools are still there. For instance in the most recent elections in the DRC and Malawi, as well as the controversy in Kenya in 2013. This could be addressed by pre-established standards or codes if donors, host governments and democracy assistance organizations or implementers are willing to give up some of their case-by-case flexibility and frankly some of the power of controlling information.

Kenya USAID IRI poll release press conference
Kenya USAID IRI poll release press conference

American national security officials decided the time was ripe to talk to “UK Declassified” about CIA/GSU counterterrorism operations in Kenya (updated 9-6)

On the record Americans in Washington and a key American who is not identified by name or specific agency tell most of the story about the development of the US-Kenyan counterterrorism relationship since the 1998 embassy bombing in a two part series from “UK Declassified”.

Particular focus is on the establishment and operation by the Kenyan police paramilitary General Services Unit (GSU) of a special previously secret CIA-supported unit dedicated to capture and render, if not kill in some situations, high value terrorist targets.

This unit was set up under the Kibaki Administration in 2004 and been kept out of the open source media since.

Here is the story (Part One) published in The Daily Maverick through their partnership with “UK Declassified”. And Part Two.

I cannot imagine that the substance of the story is especially surprising to anyone. In a way it’s a story of the interlocking of two bureaucracies and the making of “alphabet soup”. Whereas most Americans paying attention from outside specific national security roles and most Kenyans would have assumed that the counterterrorism operations discussed involved the ATPU (Anti-Terrorism Police Unit) branch of the Kenya Police Service, as discussed, it turns out they involved the GSU branch. On the American side the bureaucratic distinction is that we have been using in this GSU-support role the CIA, a stand alone branch of the Intelligence Community, rather than one of the units under the military command structure.

The fact that some mistakes would be made and “collateral damage” (such as raiding the wrong house and killing the wrong person) incurred in any Kenya Police Service paramilitary operation is hardly surprising. To the contrary it would be foolish not to expect it and my guess would be that the seeming lower volume or rate of errors in these operations compared to what we see from the GSU and the Kenyan Police Service overall has something to do with the involvement of the CIA.

More generally, however, the thing that I was aware of and concerned about as a temporary duty democracy assistance American NGO worker during the 2007 Kenyan election cycle was that these type of counterterrorism tactics–regardless of the letters in the “alphabet soup” or which utensil used to eat it–caused genuine fear among Kenyan citizens and potential voters.

The highest profile use by the Kibaki Administration of the GSU during my time with the International Republican Institute was the deployment of paramilitary troops to form a perimeter sealing off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in the early weeks of 2008 to prevent protests against Kibaki’s disputed swearing in for a second term from accessing the symbolically important venue. (Contra events ten years later for Raila Odinga’s “people’s president” mock swearing in.). See “Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s ‘People’s President’ swearing in?“, January 31, 2018.

It seems conventional that you would have some general comment from former Ambassadors Bellamy and Ranneberger for the article on counterterrorism but unusual to have the amount of discussion from the CIA side. I have thoughts about why people spoke up now but they are speculative so I will keep them to myself for the time being. Regardless, it is vitally important that Americans and Kenyans learn from experience, including trial-and-error in facing the challenges of terrorism in the context of laws and policies that place hope in democracy, democratization and the rule of law. So I appreciate the move towards increasing public information both from press and those interviewed.

Conspicuously absent though is any reference to the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with US support to displace the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu and restore the Transitional Federal Government with related operations by the Kenyan military. This kicked-off the current round of the ongoing war in Somalia, gave rise to the separation of al-Shabaab as an al-Queda affiliate operating a territory-controlling jihadist insurgency in Somalia as well as operator of persistent regional terrorist attacks over the years.

See my post from June, 2018 and articles and posts discussed therein for U.S. support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion, Kenyan engagement, and the consequences:

More context: what happened between Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 that might have changed State Department priorities on democratic reform in Kenya and Kibaki’s re-election?

Kenya USAID documents show policy shift on Kibaki from 2006 to 2007 election

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt

“Fraud”, “Rigging” and “Falsifying” are the words for Kenya’s 2007 presidential election, as opposed to “disputed“

Kenya election vote counting Westlands Nairobi

How to describe Kenya’s 2007 presidential vote in concise language more than a dozen years later for comparative purposes?

Here, from the Executive Summary of the USAID-funded International Election Observation Mission report from the International Republican Institute, published and released in July 2008:

Following the transfer of the ballot boxes, it was reported that in some areas constituency-level officials from the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) turned off their cells phones, and many suspected these officials of manipulating the results of the presidential poll. In addition, the ECK in Nairobi refused to allow observers into tallying areas throughout the final process, and the government instituted a media blackout until the sudden announcement of President Kibaki as the winner of the poll, which furthered suspicions of malfeasance.

Although IRI’s observation mission consisted of only short-term observers who were unable to be present through all of the vote- tallying at the constituency level, IRI has reason to believe that electoral fraud took place and condemns that fraud. The rigging and falsifying of official documentation constitutes a betrayal of the majority of the Kenyan people who peacefully and patiently waited in long lines to vote on December 27.

The Institute also condemns the tragic loss of life and property that characterized the post-election period. It has been estimated that the violence claimed more than 1,500 lives, displaced close to 600,000 people and caused millions of dollars in property destruction and lost revenue and wages.1 At the time of printing this report the mediation efforts have led to a tentative power- sharing deal, but it remains to be seen if the government will in fact honor the agreement signed by President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga on February 28, 2008 (emphasis added).

See “The War for History: Was Kenya’s 2007 election stolen or only “perceived to be” stolen?”:

8. I think it is important to look at the exit poll situation in the context of IRI’s Election Observation Mission Final Report which has now been published as a printed booklet (they FedEx’d me a copy with a cover letter from Lorne in mid-July). The report, which I had the opportunity to provide input on, working with my staff in Nairobi on early drafting and through later editorial input on into April when I was doing follow-up work such as the internal exit poll memo of 4-20 that I sent you, is very explicit that IRI found that “after the polls closed and individual polling stations turned over their results to constituency-level returning centers, the electoral process ceased to be credible”. Likewise, the report states that “To date, there has been no explanation from the ECK as to exactly how or when it determined the final election totals, or how and when that determination was conveyed to President Kibaki to prepare for the inauguration.” The report also notes “. . . the obvious fraud that took place during the tallying of the presidential race . . . ” The Executive Summary states: ” . . . IRI has reason to believe that electoral fraud took place and condemns that fraud. The rigging and falsifying of official documentation constitutes a betrayal of the majority of the Kenyan people who peacefully and patiently waited in long lines to vote on December 27.”

Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dais were Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]

USAID is using a model for Kenya election assistance contracting that creates unnecessary conflicts of interest between organizations supporting election observation, voter education and embedded support to the Election Commission

Kenya challenged vote Kenya election 2007 ECK Presiding Officer holding ballot with disputed marking

USAID has used the multiyear year cooperative agreements with CEPPS, the “consortium” of IRI, NDI and IFES, since the 1990s as a vehicle to award democracy assistance work. There are a variety of internal practical advantages to this in terms of bureaucratic speed and convenience.

In 2007 when I was East Africa Director at IRI in Nairobi, IRI’s public opinion polling program was conducted as a separate 2005 “follow” agreement under a overall master CEPPS “leader” agreement. All the work was done separately by IRI. When Ambassador Ranneberger wanted an exit poll for election day, USAID just issued a modification to our agreement to add on the additional work.

When the Ambassador wanted IRI to conduct an International Election Observation things were more involved because USAID had already decided not to do an Observation and IRI was not anxious to do one either. And there was no agreement in place as the only work we were doing for USAID was the polling program. Nonetheless, USAID was ultimately prepared to “move heaven and earth” to meet the Ambassador’s wish as they told me, and allocated a small amount of Economic Support Funds to support a new “follow” agreement for an Election Observation Mission. A Request For Proposals was issued to CEPPS, but it was written on a basis that excluded NDI as conflicted out due to its work with the political parties and IFES was conflicted out based on its work with the Electoral Commission of Kenya, so that IRI was the only available CEPPS entity to conduct the Observation Mission.

We conducted the Election Observation Mission and the Exit Poll, and reported on them to USAID, without being entangled with the separate work that IFES was doing with the Election Commission (ECK). I did not know any inside details of the ECK’s decision not to use the laptop computers purchased for them by USAID through IFES to do Results Transmission; likewise, no one at IFES (or NDI) had input or involvement in the Exit Poll or International Election Observation.

For the 2013 election, however, USAID’s FOIA response discussed in my previous post shows that the package of election assistance from early 2011 was bundled together in one “follow” agreement with CEPPS including the embedded technical support from IFES, including advice on the BVR and Poll Book acquisitions and the acquisition and development of the Results Transmission System handled by IFES, party and domestic observation support handled by NDI (too much is redacted to be specific on this part of the work) and voter education handled by IRI.

Appropriately, the International Election Observation Mission was funded separately through the Carter Center (and there is nothing about that in my FOIA request).

In 2017, the consolidated approach was ramped up a notch. USAID issued a published invitation for proposals (a good step for transparency and development of fresh thinking) but they wanted one entity to be in overall management of the work. Thus when they selected a team of IFES, NDI and IRI along the lines of 2013, IFES was in a supervisory position for the work, which this time included an International Observation Mission by NDI along with NDI’s domestic observation support and other normal work.

As it turns out, NDI’s International Observation took place and did preliminary reporting (as well as a pre-election assessment) but never issued a final report. At some point before the election USAID accepted an unsolicited proposal from the Carter Center to do an International Observation Mission separate from NDI’s work under the overall IFES-led Kenya Election Assistance Program. This was the delegation led by former Secretary of State John Kerry who had been in office during the 2013 election.

This is all more confusing and opaque than it needs to be! Aside from the inevitable conflicts associated with “observing” your own work and with maintaining trust where you know of critical risks and problems that your recipient government partners” are choosing not to disclose to their own public.

Good news and bad news on the effectiveness of American “democracy assistance”: we spent most of the money where war precluded meaningful opportunity

The conjunction of war and democracy assistance has been brought back to the fore for me the publication by The Washington Post of its “Afghanistan Papers” series.

The bottom line on the Afghanistan war for me is that those who warned that we were risking losing Afghanistan to invade Iraq (who seemed persuasive to me at the time) turned out to be right:

Drawing partly on the interviews but largely on other government documents, SIGAR [the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction] published two Lessons Learned reports in 2017 and 2019 that highlighted an array of problems with the Afghan security forces. The reports followed several SIGAR audits and investigations that had pinpointed similar troubles with the Afghan army and police. 

But the Lessons Learned reports omitted the names of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project, as well as their most biting critiques. The Post obtained notes and transcripts of the interviews under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after a three-year legal battle. 

“We got the [Afghan forces] we deserve,” Douglas Lute, an Army lieutenant general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. 

If the U.S. government had ramped up training between 2002 and 2006, “when the Taliban was weak and disorganized, things may have been different,” Lute added. “Instead, we went to Iraq. If we committed money deliberately and sooner, we could have a different outcome.”

It may be that we never really had much chance to achieve a desirable outcome but we made an alternative choice that appears to have precluded what chance there was.

I cannot truly be surprised by pervasive “spin” about Afghanistan because of my experience in Kenya in 2007-2008 and the lack of response from the government and the official democracy assistance fraternity to the my disclosure of dishonesty in how we (the U.S. Government) addressed election fraud in Kenya and how we handled the inconvenient exit poll showing an opposition win and some of the inconvenient things we witnessed as election observers at the polls. [Not to mention what we all knew about Iraq by 2007.]

Even though most “name brand” experts and U.S. Government-funded institutions seem to agree that globally democracy is in some form of recession, it is hard to know whether serious and purposeful United States-funded democracy assistance programming might have potential benefits because most of the money and effort has gone to war adjunct “nation building” as in Afghanistan where it turns out that nearly everyone has “privately” been admitting that we do not know what we are doing or should be doing and thus have no real chance of genuine success.

During my time with the International Republican Institute in the late Bush Administration the dominant “democracy promotion” or “democracy assistance” programs were Iraq followed by Sudan. Shortly after I finished my time in the barrel in Kenya in mid-2008 the venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies convened a blue ribbon panel to look at the reputation problem of the term “democracy promotion” due to the association with experimental “expeditionary warfare” in Iraq. Thus the pivot from “democracy promotion” to “democracy assistance” for doing the same things in substance.

By the later Obama years Afghanistan, Iraq and the newly severed but failing South Sudan were getting most of the democracy assistance dollars.

A Government Accountability Office report on Democracy Assistance, GAO-18-136, notes “Total USAID democracy assistance funding for projects in Afghanistan was greater than for any other country, amounting to almost 39 percent of USAID’s total democracy assistance obligations during fiscal years 2012 through 2015.” Here are the totals for the top fourteen USAID democracy assistance FY 2012-16 “places of performance”:

Afghanistan 1,650M

Iraq 238M

Regional/Global 201M

South Sudan 159M

Mexico 102M

Columbia 86M

Honduras 81M

Pakistan 79M

Bangladesh 76M

Haiti 73M

Liberia 68M

Egypt 65M

Kenya 60M

Indonesia 60M

*Note this is just USAID and does not encompass the separate Department of Defense and State programs, and much smaller amounts from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Back in 2007 in Kenya, a country on the brink of crisis, but supposedly of vital interest to the United States, most of the democracy assistance money being spent in the country was for the “back office” operations for the vast (as measured in dollars anyway) pre-independence Southern Sudan operation.

People in Washington paid so little attention to democratization in Kenya in 2007 as to fail to realize or at least act on the risks of having the Ambassador “looking and pointing the other way” as Kibaki rather openly stole re-election (even though the opposition was also pro-Western and friendly to the United States so there was no bona fide nation interest served by those Americans who subverted our own meager democracy assistance program).

In 2013, even after the disaster of 2007, we deliberately chose the path of non-transparency when our funded purchasing of the Results Transmission System for the election was botched and the system failed to work. Kenya’s Supreme Court shut down a partial recount that showed serious problems and affirmed the questionable tally of the Electoral Commission (litigating with undisclosed American-funded assistance) to avoiding by a whisker the runoff that the pre-election polls predicted. The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the procurement fraud cases, but the Kenyan executive authorities simply ignored the order. My FOIA research so far documents discussion among the donors involved in the UNDP “basket fund” including the United States, whether to cooperate with a subsequent investigation by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, but I do not know the outcome as I continue awaiting processing of remaining documents from my 2015 request to USAID.

In hindsight, I should have read more into the decision of my late friend Joel Barkan to stay home and “watch” that election from Washington. By 2017, the incumbent Kenyan government was clearly not committed to providing a level playing field and I stayed home myself. No incumbent Kenyan president has been found by a Kenyan election commission to have failed to “win” his re-election. The misfeasance on the technology for 2017 was blatant enough in that instance for the Supreme Court to annul the presidential vote, in spite of diplomatic and observer support for the announced outcome. The environment was too fraught with mistrust at that point to provide a mutually acceptable platform for a re-vote and Kenyatta was re-inaugurated after an opposition boycott.

Kenya’s political class is now focused primarily on the 2022 campaign. The joint “Building Bridges Initiative” report released this month proposes that the remnants of the Electoral Commission of Kenya from the 2017 vote be “bought out” and a new commission constituted, as was done following the problems in 2007 and 2013, but no action to implement this is yet pending.

In the meantime, much of our policy in Somalia has been a variable secretive melange of counter-terrorism, war and nation building with a sprinkling of democracy assistance. There is no Special Inspector General for the war in Somalia so we will not have created the kind of record that the Washington Post has been able to obtain on Afghanistan, but perhaps someday we will all know more. By May 2006 the Post did report: “U.S. Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia” and by that December we secretly supported the Ethiopian military invasion to re-instate the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

Nairobi’s Star publishes extraordinary story using SECRET 2009 Cable about Amos Wako corruption issues published by Wikileaks in 2010 to explain U.S. visa ban and designation

Read here from The Star: “What Ranneberger told Washington about Wako on corruption”.

Update Nov. 19, see the follow-up: “10 big names join Wako on US travel ban“.

When Wikileaks first published the mass of stolen State Department cables in late 2010 while Michael Ranneberger was Ambassador to Kenya The Star to my recollection did not write any stories from them–including about this 2009 cable, classified SECRET, on the Amos Wako issues. Of course it was more timely then and Wako was still serving as Attorney General.

The Star and The Standard both stayed away from direct coverage of material from the leaked cables, while The Nation did a small number of Kenya stories–not including this Wako subject matter–before quickly backing off.

The most topical of those for me back in 2011 was a Nation story revealing that in early 2008 the US had issued undisclosed (and unknown to me) visa bans against three members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on substantial evidence of bribery. The State Department has never to this day acknowledged knowing about the bribery at the ECK in the 2007 election and the publication of such stories in the Nation quickly dried up. (I was told of ECK bribery by another diplomatic source in January 2008.)

Back in the States in my job in the defense industry (with my security clearance) I was told by a friend in the Kenyan media that I had been “sweetly vindicated” on my public contradictions with the Ambassador in the New York Times and otherwise about the 2007 election but the “Wikileaked” cables were not available to me due to the obligations of my security clearance. Readers of this blog will know that I started the process of requesting related information through the Freedom of Information Act in 2009, more than a year before Wikileaks hit, and that I have received released versions of some of the same Cables that Wikileaks published unredacted.

I learned in real time that Ranneberger expressed active displeasure with The Star for publishing a story in February 2008 on the leaked USAID/International Republican Institute exit poll showing an opposition (Odinga) win in the December 2007 election, so I always assumed that it was likely that the Kenyan newspapers received diplomatic encouragement not to publish independently from the stolen cables.

Clearly the Trump Administration has had quite a very different approach with Wikileaks than the Obama Administration did back in 2010 and Ranneberger is now retired from Government himself and working as a consultant and lobbyist looking, among other things, to influence the Trump Administration. So lots of things have changed aside from Wako moving to the Senate from the Attorney General’s office and having a leading role in the current Building Bridges Initiative.

[I will add links to my previous posts, but wanted to go ahead and get this up.]

See “Part Seven — one last FOIA Cable on the 2007 exit poll“:

. . . .

The quest for accountability to Kenyan voters has remained unanswered sadly.  A news story in the Daily Nation in 2011, in the final item on my chronology of links to coverage of the Kenyan election, reports from an alleged leaked cable that ten days before this February 18, 2008 meeting at the Ambassador’s residence, the State Department issued “visa bans” against ECK members based on evidence regarding bribery–but did not disclose this circumstance, or the evidence, at this [Feb 18] meeting (I checked with a participant).  We, the United States, made clear that we were willing to step up financial and rhetorical support for reforms in Kenya–such as the new constitution–under a deal in which the new Kibaki administration shared power with the opposition under an Kofi Annan-brokered bargain–but we brushed aside the issue of the fraud in the election.

Kenya election vote counting Westlands Nairobi