What Will Jendayi Do? Reading “tea leaves” on Kenya’s next presidential race (revised)

[This post is revised to reflect a correction and revision from the East African.]

The East African made an editorial slap at Michael Ranneberger and Jendayi Frazer in its “Cry havoc, and let slip the U.S. ex-diplomats” last Saturday to which I added a link in my last post regarding ex-Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s deal with Salva Kiir:

Michael Ranneberger, whose controversial tenure as United States ambassador to Kenya is well remembered, is the managing partner at Gainful Solutions.

Comparing his posture back then, his flip from the high priest of justice and human rights, to the devil’s advocate cannot escape attention.

Former assistant secretary for African affairs Jendayi Frazer, is another US top gun diplomat who is well known for her consultancy services across East and Central Africa since leaving US government service.

At issue here is whether American diplomacy, as represented by Frazer and Ranneberger, subscribes to any universal values at all. It is obvious that the duo are exploiting the networks made during their career, to make hay today.

In an ideal world, the stakes in South Sudan are so high, that they should be adequate incentive for anybody to think beyond the short-term gains an individual could make out of the situation.

Ultimately, however, external interference cannot be discussed without examining the role of the African politician who has been a willing accomplice by shunting aside the national interest in favour of self-preservation. [this is EA revised text]

Dr. Frazer usually makes appearance in the media in Nairobi for business dealings related to the Jubilee Administration, along with one appearance a few months ago meeting with controversial Mombasa Governor Joho identified as a discussion on “countering violent extremism” on a MasterCard Foundation trip.

REVISION NOTE:

[(East African) EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been corrected to remove the association earlier made between big infrastructure projects in Uganda and Ms Jendayi Frazer. Ms Frazer has not been involved in any infrastructure deals in Uganda and her name was inadvertently mentioned in that segment of the leader. We regret the error.]

See also.

Editorial criticism of Ranneberger and Frazer of this type is not the East African’s usual approach, as reflected in the defection of many of their Nation Media Group opinion columnists to The Elephant’s East African Review, as well as to The Standard, in the wake of the handling of coverage of the Uhuruto re-election fiasco in 2017-18 and Jubilee crackdowns on the media. Some years ago the East African passed up a friend’s offer to put together my experience and investigation from this blog on how Ranneberger and to some extent Frazer played the 2007 Kenyan election while they were in the State Department from my “War for History” series.

So kudos to the East African now for calling this issue out editorially, even if the news departments have not been covering these developments in the past. Maybe that can change.

One of my questions in looking at the current Kenyan presidential race has been how Dr. Frazer will play it, especially given that there is no way to know now who will be in power then in Washington. Assuming that the current “handshake” holds and that Frazer’s first relationship is with the Kenyattas, would she affirmatively step up for Raila in the face of a serious challenge from Ruto in a competitive “two-horse” presidential race? Or would she approach this differently? (She was firm in her position that what was done in the Rift Valley in the wake of the 2007 election fraud was “ethnic cleansing” even though “Main State” would not adopt her terminology, so it would arguably seem pretty awkward for her to support Ruto, wholly aside from the current corruption situation with Ruto). She was vital to the Uhuruto ticket in the 2013 race and to its perception and reception in Washington in the Obama years thereafter to my way of thinking. Getting called out publicly in the East African and not just having dealings with Uhuru and Kagame is a wild card.

When The Star had me write some columns in the spring of 2013, they headlined the one dated March 23 challenging Dr. Frazer’s support of the Uhuruto defense in the Supreme Court of the IEBC’s questionable numbers to avoid a runoff after “failure” of the Results Transmission System in the election petition by civil society and the opposition as “Jendayi Frazer lacks moral authority“. Read the whole piece if you are interested in Kenyan elections or U.S. democracy assistance, but I concluded:

The thing that is most striking to me about this now, in light of the current litigation about the manual vote tally by the IEBC in this election, is that Jendayi Frazer was the head of the Africa Bureau at the State Department during 2007-08 when the previous Exit Poll was withheld and the misleading “press guidance” put out [by the Africa Bureau as I had just learned from FOIA]. Today, as a private citizen, Dr. Frazer is aggressively arguing in the Kenyan press and in the press back in Washington to once again uphold the disputed work of the Kenyan election officials against the concerns raised by the opposition. I cannot justify how this was handled when she was in charge in 2007 and 2008.

When I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Frazer the first time later I did apologize to the extent of noting that the phrasing of the headline itself was not something that I myself would personally have written, although I stand by the content of what I did write. When I published “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen with U.S. Connivance(again, the headline is not mine) in The Elephant in June 2017, I focused primarily on my direct dealings with Ranneberger. Frazer’s exact role as his superior and the intentions of any formal policy beyond the law as such have never been made fully clear. Ranneberger’s cables as provided under FOIA from before and immediately after the election leave gaps and questions as to what was reported to Washington before Frazer and later Rice were dispatched to Nairobi starting several days after the vote during the post-election violence (although it would be unfair to Ranneberger to make assumptions from that circumstance alone, and various facts were misrepresented in Washington after the vote regardless.)

More broadly, I have agreed with some of Dr. Frazer’s many policy approaches and disagreed with some. What I would think about her personal integrity regarding the 2007 election would depend on whether she was acting per instructions of policy or making it herself. In 2013, I did not appreciate her public role and have not qualified my reaction based on anything I seen since.

At the same time, Frazer seems to have been a primary architect of some policy approaches in Africa that were quite positive and that left the U.S. in better stead in the G.W. Bush years in Africa than elsewhere, in spite of conspicuous controversy regarding Somalia. Arguably with PEPFAR and other initiatives there was some actual “compassionate conservatism” undertaken in SubSaharan Africa even as the anti-compassionate forces reflecting the Vice President’s approach changed the direction of the Bush Administration foreign policy elsewhere in the wake of 9-11. Post-Bush Administration she is relatively ubiquitous in elite U.S. institutions associated with Africa, especially as an African-American as well as her various “Afrocapitalism” engagements. So in that regard she earned respect and a willingness on my part not to assume the worst even if there are some things that look bad.

Ultimately, in spite of the fact that she tends to be quite assertive in her positions, I find her to be a bit of an enigma really. Regardless, anyone as involved in as many things in as many places as she is is going to be wrong some of the time. As a diplomat that involvement may not always be optional absent resigning, but it is a choice for a private citizen.

Could “corruption” play the role in Kenya’s 2022 election that “crimes against humanity” played in 2013?

Instead of “the coalition of the killing” a “coalition of the stealing”?

Let us review the 2013 campaign, the next presidential election campaign after Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga shook hands on February 28, 2008 to end the 2007 election crisis and the related violence.

In the later part of the lead up to that 2013 “open” presidential campaign, with Mwai Kibaki completing has second and final term, the political dynamics of how to treat the 2007-08 murder and mayhem of the Post Election Violence were dramatically turned.

The 2007-08 election fraud and Post Election Violence had triggered from the February 28 “peace agreement” the compilation of a coalition administration for Kibaki’s second term (the so-called “Government of National Unity”) with Raila Odinga getting a temporary Prime Minister post with a contested but limited role, and Musalia Mudavidi and Uhuru Kenyatta representing the ruling PNU and opposition ODM parties as Deputy PMs. William Ruto, the Kalenjin member of the ODM “Pentagon” got the Agriculture Ministry, an important post for his Rift Vally region.

The 2007-08 debacle also generated on the American side focus on a “reform agenda” that included a revival of U.S. attention to corruption issues (we had taken umbrage at the Anglo Leasing scandal starting in 2004, and the Arturo/Armenian Brothers, the Standard raid and such embarrassments back before the war kicked up in Somalia with the Ethiopians in December 2006) and culminated in support for a revival of the constitutional reform process including regional “devolution”, a persistent issue throughout Kenyan political history. A basic framework for the “reform agenda” efforts was the National Accord and Reconciliation Act that was passed by Kenya’s new ODM-majority parliament in early 2008 to effectuate the post-election settlement. Critical parts of the deal have ultimately been repudiated by Kenya’s current government, most conspicuously the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission process, and some parts were sadly constricted within the first months of implementation (In particular, investigation of the presidential election by the so-called “Kreigler Commission” was truncated in spite of intelligence revealing bribery at the ECK and secret “visa bans” by the U.S. against election commissioners revealed by published leaks in 2010).

Most importantly, no one of any stature or clout was ever prosecuted by Kenyan authorities for the 1000+ deaths and displacement of 600,000, and the the rape and arson and the rest. Put in proper perspective from where things stood on February 28, 2008, the end result has been a nightmare of impunity really.

In hindsight maybe the “real deal” on February 28 was always “everybody gets away with everything” but that was very much not what we were told and led to believe at that time and for some years after, by either side in Kenya or by the donor diplomats. When Parliament voted to duck its responsibilities to try suspects in the Kenyan court system and defer to the International Criminal Court, rallying with the slogan “don’t be vague, go to The Hague,” the presented spin was that the Government would actually substantively cooperate with ICC prosecutions. In hindsight that probably did not merit any credibility in the first place.

By the time all but two of the cases against the suspects identified by the Office of the Prosecutor as “most responsible” had fallen by the wayside, the two left were the longtime KANU mates, Kenyatta and Ruto. In the run up to the ill fated 2007 election, they were KANU leaders in opposition together. KANU had been part of the “No” or “Orange” campaign on Kibaki’s 2005 constitutional referendum and both were seen as potential opposition presidential candidates by 2007. When Uhuru as KANU Party leader and Leader of the Official Opposition took the unprecedented step of “crossing” to support Kibaki’s re-election (along with KANU’s Godfather, “retired” President Moi) and taking the party with him, Ruto broke to stay in opposition and join ODM to contest the nomination, ending up in “the Pentagon” with the others.

In the common unique predicament of facing ICC charges from the Post Election Violence, as longtime partners and as claimants to Kikuyu and Kalenjin leadership– and thus representing the most powerful voting groups who had always held the presidency and most recently clashed over it–Kenyatta and Ruto were an obvious pair for 2013. See “When did Uhuru and Ruto fight and why is their partnership allegedly so surprising?”.

With Ruto and Kenyatta as “victims” Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka as the opposition CORD campaign were back-footed and never found a consistent voice to address the challenge.

Kalonzo was arguably the major politician least tainted by suspicion of involvement with the underlying violence but was compromised by allowing himself to be used as its international diplomatic apologist starting even in Washington by early February 2008 as Kibaki’s new second term Vice President while the killing continued (see “‘The War for History’ part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte“) and continuing on with seeking support at the U.N. Security Council to stop the ICC process as well as in countries around the African Union. Raila himself never seemed to be able to settle on a clear or consistent position or message on prosecution of the violence either as a matter of law and policy, or morally.

Strictly from a stability standpoint the Western donors, especially those who helped support negotiation of an end to the violence in 2008, a Kikuyu/Kalenjin pairing was obviously the least risk option, which presumably would mean Ruto as URP leader and Kenyatta for TNA after the tragic helicopter crash that killed TNA Interior Minister George Saitoti.

Under the circumstances the flawed 2013 election itself was a happy success for the donors because “Kenya didn’t burn” and the opposition did not further resist after the controversial court decision. It does not seem credible to argue that the IEBC’s Count was anywhere near complete enough in the absence of the Results Transmission System which was said to have failed but was never going to work to warrant a 50.07% margin for the candidates favored by the incumbent president over the opposition, but it was quite plausible to argue that the Uhuruto ticket did have a plurality and it was safer not to have a runoff since having the election over was the most important thing. (See “Choosing Peace Over Democracy“) It might have been a bit awkward at first to have Kenya’s leaders charged with the political bloodletting but it did not seriously impede relationships and eventually, sure enough, the cases “went away” and the circle of impunity was unbroken.

Given this history, knowing how Kenyans and Westerners handled pending charges for the Post Election Violence the last time an incumbent Kenyan president was “retiring” due to term limits, what do you think the impact of corruption charges might be on the 2022 race? Another coalition of “targets”, more mass prayer rallies for the victim/candidates who might be guilty but should not be “singled out” when they are representatives and champions of their tribes? And again, from a risk mitigation standpoint, surely it would be safer for the donors to let the most dangerous people have their way?


Ramping up air strikes after 12 years, does the Trump Administration have a new strategy for the war in Somalia or is this escalation “mission creep”?

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

The Trump Administration’s escalation of the air power part of the war in Somalia in recent months has caught the attention of American journalists. See recent reporting in The New York Times and Amanda Sperber’s investigative reporting in The Nation. A recent Amnesty International report that U.S. air strikes have caused 14 civilian casualties since 2017 had enough salience now to draw a formal AFRICOM denial in response. Al-Shabaab has maintained a recent high rate of suicide bombings causing mass civilian casualties as well as targeting government officials.

[Update 2: On April 5, AFRICOM released this statement regarding civilian air strike casualties, indicating that records had been discovered showing two civilians killed in April 2018 with further review to be conducted.]

[Update: See April 3 from the Council on Foreign Relations, “Controversy over U.S. Strikes in Somalia“,]

Meanwhile, Kenyan forces under AMISOM are reportedly continuing to pull back into more defensive position and thus leaving previously secured villages.

In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.

See “David Axe on ‘America’s Somalia Experiment’ provides a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08“.

Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).

There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.

In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.  In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.

Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers.  In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.

Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing.  Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.

For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate.  This strikes me as quite irresponsible.  Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.

Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same.  Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?

Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria.  Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.

Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits. 

The Trump Administration has announced that it is re-orienting American National Defense Strategy toward defending against major power competitors (i.e. Russia and China) rather than the “violent extremists”.  The timing may seem worrying to African defense leaders since the “violent extremist” problem is significantly worse in many areas now than when AFRICOM started in 2008, just as a recent CSIS report has documented what we all know casually: the situation has worsened globally (“Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.“)

In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”.  (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.)  Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.

Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts?  Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise?  Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable?  These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.

Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been.  The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it.  We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.

I have always wondered to what extent the war effort on Somalia, and the decision not to talk about it, hamstrung Ambassador Ranneberger and others who were supervising our democracy assistance and election preparation in Kenya. And once I eventually saw recently through FOIA that by April 2017 the Ambassador was describing a new approach of “building capital” with Kibaki rather than pushing reforms as per the older USAID program I would inherit within a few weeks, I am left with the heightened collaboration with Kenya during those initial months after the Ethiopian invasion as the most obvious change in facts that could explain the Kenya policy change. Was our failure in election assistance in Kenya with its devastating consequences facilitated by an unwillingness to discuss and account for Ethiopia and Somalia policy overlaps? If so, are we facing this kind of risk again as we escalate an air campaign without discussing why?

I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:

The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.

See “At War: This New Generation of Weapons Could Mean More Covert Airstikes Around the World”, March 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine.

 See “Somalia and the Limits of U.S. Bombing“, a prescient warning from Jon Temin, now of Freedom House, early in the Trump administration.

For the KDF role, see “Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive“, Andrew J. Franklin, Business Daily Africa, Dec. 7, 2011.

For background please start with Kenyan writer Rasna Warah’s “War Crimes: How Warlords, Politicians, Foreign Governments and Aid Agencies Conspired to Create a Failed State in Somalia” and the recent “Inside al-Shabaab; The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” by Haron Maruf and Dan Joseph, reviewed here in Hiiran Online.

So who “went native”? The Ex-Ambassadors’ greatest hit: “Sweet Home Kenya” [updated]

Could one make a case that perhaps it was not me after all, but more the Ambassador and/or others at the State Department who “went native” in Kenya over the 2007 election controversy (and in other situations)?

Interesting to think about as things have played out.

My memory was most recently jogged in seeing that James Swan, a distinguished diplomat who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and signed off on some of the materials related to the 2007-08 Kenyan election controversy that I have obtained through FOIA and written about here over the years, has retired to a Nairobi post with the Albright Stonebridge Group business/investment advisory. (Albright Stonebright Group offers “commercial diplomacy” and advisory services and owns a substantial part of the equity of Albright Capital Management which in turn runs private equity funds out of the Cayman Islands which have investments in other funds and businesses with interests in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries in the region. The Albright is former Secretary of State Madeleine, the NDI chair.)

Also one of those strange articles in The Daily Nation this past week, drawing on a particular bit of older Kenyan political history: the article notes that Ambassador Kyle McCarter will soon take up his post in Kenya for the United States, and that the first American Ambassador to Kenya, William Attwood, had acquired property in Kenya and wanted to retire there, but was banned from staying or returning to the country by Jomo Kenyatta who was angered by his act of publishing his memoir, The Reds and the Blacks. Without explaining specifically what Kenyatta was offended by, the article cites some of Attwood’s material about his perception of Cold War tied machinations involving the competition between Oginga Odinga and Kenyatta and allegations of Odinga’s separate East-bloc arms imports. It then notes Ambassador Ranneberger’s re-marriage to a Kenyan and his vacation home on the Coast at Malindi. (Interesting is the omission of any reference to Ambassador Smith Hempstone and his memoir, Rogue Ambassador, which details his interaction with “the second liberation” and his impressions of Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.)

Maybe Ambassador McCarter is being reminded not to step too hard on certain toes so that the Government of Kenya remains cooperative with his family’s longstanding mission work in Tharaka Nithi?

The topic of “going native” came up for me in early 2010 when my security clearance was up for renewal for my job as a lawyer for Navy shipbuilding contracts where I had returned after my leave of absence to work in Kenya for the International Republican Institute in 2007-08. I filled out the detailed paperwork listing my foreign contacts over the previous years, including my work for IRI in Kenya, Somaliland and Sudan (later to be apparently stolen by Chinese hacking from the Office of Personnel Management) and had my interview with a retired military officer who had served in Somalia in the early 1990’s and thus knew the region.

I did not know how to initiate an explanation in my interview that I had gotten into a “he said/he said” with Ambassador Ranneberger about the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times but I expected it to come up in some form. After the interview, I got a follow up: was I sure that I had been loyal to the United States as opposed to acting on conflicting loyalties to Kenya–had I had gone native? I answered clearly and unequivocally. Essentially I asserted the lawyerly equivalent of the courtroom objection: “asked and answered”. “I already told you I was a loyal American before someone fussed — I have nothing to change.” Apparently this was satisfactory as I did not lose my clearance (and thus my job).

Jendayi Frazer, Asst. Sec. of State for African Affairs during the second G. W. Bush Administration and Swan’s superior during the 2007-08 Kenyan election imbroglio, maintains a home in Nairobi as I understand, and was the primary international spokesman, informally, for the “Uhuruto” campaign in 2013, accusing then Asst. Sec. State Johnnie Carson of “interfering” in the campaign by suggesting that the election of crimes against humanity suspects could have “consequences” in trying to tamp down the use by the Uhuruto campaign of a statement by President Obama that was asserted to bolster a claim that the U.S. had no concerns about the issue. Frazer has business interests in Kenya and with the Kenyan government, through the the Kigali domiciled but Kenya based East Africa Exchange commodity platform arising out of a partnership between Swiss trader Nicholas Berggruen’s Berggruen Holdings and the East African Community. See my previous post here. Frazer and a Berggruen representative are also on the board of the Mastercard Foundation based in Toronto which has extensive programs in the region. Frazier is an Advisor for Rice Hadley Gates, the international consulting firm of of her colleagues from the Bush Administration (Robert Gates also stayed on as Obama’s Secretary of Defense; Hadley was Rice’s Deputy National Security Advisor during the inception of the Iraq War and took over after she went to State where she brought over Frazer; Hadley also turned his experience to the chairmanship of the United States Institute of Peace. Carson has since retired from the State Department and is also affiliated with the Albright Stonebridge Group as well as the United States Institute of Peace and NDI.)

The cases of Attwood, Frazer, Swan and Ranneberger, if nothing else, are examples of the “Nairobi Curse”, demonstrating the advantages that accrue to Uhuruto in controlling access to permission to live and work in Nairobi.

Another famous case showing the “flipside” is British High Commissioner Edward Clay who complained of the milder-than-now corruption in 2004 that senior officials of Kibaki’s first Administration were eating as “gluttons” and “vomiting on [the] shoes” of donors who had stepped up to attempt to alleviate poverty and sickness among Kenyans. After his term ended in 2005 he continued to speak of corruption and was informed by then Kibaki Justice Minister Martha Karua during a BBC appearance during the early 2008 Post Election Violence in the wake of the stolen election that he had been declared persona non grata and banned from returning by the Government of Kenya in retaliation.

And of course there is the purge of the IFES Country Director during the 2017 Uhuruto re-election campaign.

[Update: to be clear, my point here is about the relationships and dependencies of individual Americans to the Government of the day in Kenya and Kenyan politicians in power, not to get into the merits or demerits of specific investment activity. I think it is good for Americans to be in Kenya and Kenyans to be in America. In concept, Frazer’s East African Exchange, for example, seems to offer potential benefit to small farmers, although the authorities in Rwanda and Kenya have a track record of contradictory priorities, so it is hard to know what to expect. As far as ASG and the associated private equity funds, I would think Nairobi is heavily served on the consultancy side but there is always a need for private direct investment in the region in the abstract, through the Caribbean or elsewhere, with the devil in the details of particular investments.]

Barack Obama, son of American anthropologist, retired President USA, stops in Kenya on way to South Africa after safari

Ten years after 2008 campaign, the “Birthers” have won for now in the U.S., but Obama remains a positive symbol with time for another act:

Former President Obama stopped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, his third visit to Kenya since arriving on the national political scene in the United States in 2004 as an Illinois state legislator through a speech at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry to challenge the re-election of George W. Bush.

It is now ten years since I returned to the United States with my family from our year-long East Africa democracy assistance sojourn in Nairobi in the wake of the failed 2007 election, the post-election violence, and February 28 “peace deal”. The day we flew out of JKIA for Amsterdam en route to Atlanta on the way home to Mississippi I was first exposed to the “birther” conspiracy theory through a front page story in the Daily Nation.

Many may not remember fully now, but recognize that in its inception the “birther” conspiracy theory was not just the idea that then-Senator Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and secretly smuggled into the United States as an infant, and thus not technically eligible to be elected President. It also fit into the context of the claims that Obama was involved as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2007 in a conspiracy with Raila Odinga to steal Kenya’s election on behalf of Muslims, with killing of Christians and embellished from there into a narrative that rather than a loyal American Obama was essentially on the side of al-Queda and the global jihad to establish a sharia-enforcing caliphate. That Obama was in essence on the other side of the war being fought by Americans in the “surge” led by Bush and General Petraeus in Iraq as well as the fundamental underlying values of our democratic republic and Western democracy in general.

The conspiracy theories about the 2007 Kenyan election faded somewhat over time–partly because of the peace deal that put Odinga in Kibaki’s government as Prime Minister where he continued to be friendly to the West and partly because it became clearer that the election was stolen by Kibaki’s side which controlled the ECK (and not by the opposition which didn’t). Reports at the time from the American right at the Heritage Foundation think tank and National Review magazine (“Inside Kenya’s clumsily rigged election” Jan 4, 2008 National Review Online) noting the theft of the election helped American conservatives who cared about facts avoid getting sucked into nonsense about a Luo jihad involving “tribesman” Obama and “cousin” Raila.

While there remain a few holdouts who claim that “we can’t know” who won in Kenya’s 2007 election, they seem to be pretty well limited to personally interested parties at this point with the release of the State Department cables showing that our Ambassador Ranneberger himself saw tallies being changed at the ECK and claimed to have encouraged the late ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu to withstand the pressure to declare Kibaki the winner anyway, even though Ranneberger knew that the Chairman had no way to control the Committee which was thoroughly stacked by Kibaki in the weeks and months before the election.

Once it is recognized that the vote tallies were actually changed at the ECK, Americans–most especially rock-ribbed traditional stalwarts attracted to “the Tea Party” and/or Donald Trump’s “neopatriotism”–will understand that Kenyans had a duty not just a right to protest the 2007 election. Americans would not trust biometric voter registration (or tolerate secret voter lists) but most certainly the traditional American narrative would demand that we march on our county courthouses if our votes were simply changed by our election officials. Ranneberger’s pre-election cables to Washington made clear that as of that time, the Kenyan courts were not independent and would provide no recourse so that voters would be forced to go to the streets if there was fraud that became known.

Once you legitimize protesting the actions of the ECK, and recognize that the largest category of deaths in the Post Election Violence, per the Waki Commission, were those shot by Kibaki’s security forces, and the largest number that were identifiable by tribe were Luo, then the whole notion of some extraneous evil conspiracy somehow involving Obama and the global jihad as the reason for the post election violence becomes that much more irrational. The portion of violence in the Rift Valley that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer insisted on calling “ethnic cleansing” in a January 2008 visit (a label not adopted in Washington) was conducted by Kalenjin militia in the pattern employed by KANU in 1992 and 1997. KANU was a religiously diverse secular party that sought to maintain single-party hegemony through compliant cadres among all major tribes and religious groupings in accordance with its political needs. No suggestion that Moi, who personally identified as a Protestant Christian, was a secret Muslim jihadi even though the victims may have been mostly Christians.

The International Republican Institute/University of California, San Diego exit poll funded by USAID (the one showing an Odinga presidential win by roughly six points that was embargoed for six months) gave more evidence in the details that the 2007 election contest was driven, as normal in Kenyan, by tribal rather than religious alignment with Odinga shown as winning a majority of self-identified Christians and of Muslims (although the margin was greater among Muslims). On the other hand, there was a “gender gap” with women favoring Kibaki and men Odinga.

It may also seem hard to remember now but by January 2009 Obama was sworn in to a wave of good feeling with high approval numbers. He had campaigned as a pragmatic moderate Democrat who was against dumb wars and only for smart ones, a Christian who grew up with limited religion who was popular with the irreligious left, the Christian left and made some real inroads courting what we call “Evangelicals” who were not part of the more politicized harder “Religious Right”. The inaugural celebrations seemed to suggest some real healing from the cultural rifts from “the Sixties” and “Vietnam” that featured so prominently in presidential campaigns throughout my lifetime, as well as a milestone to show that we had come so far in overcoming racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era that black/white racial issues were no longer much a part of those cultural rifts. Maybe we had more in common than our political leaders had been telling us since the rise of Fox News and the Bill Clinton impeachment saga; maybe this president could be a “uniter not a divider” where his predecessor had failed. In part this failure was because the Bush political operation ended up pulling a “bait-and-switch” by mobilizing gullible church networks to support the invasion of Iraq for regime change using a claimed causus belli of active chemical/biological and nuclear weapons programs then firing up the culture wars further to drive turnout to get re-elected over John Kerry. This was a bad error of moral judgment that has continued to reverberate through American politics.

Kerry was certainly a Yankee patrician from “central casting” — as Kenyans well know from the 2017 election — but was unquestionably accurate in pointing out in debate with Bush that we had gotten “stuck in Iraq”. Of course Kerry was too polite, patrician and/or patriotic to go for the jugular and trash Bush for Iraq the the way Donald Trump did in his 2016 campaign.

For saying that we were “stuck in Iraq” Kerry got pilloried as “unpatriotic” aside from the “Swift Boat” sliming he got over his military service in Vietnam–conveniently not a problem for Clinton, Bush, Cheney or Trump who all managed in various ways not to get sent, and unlike Kerry, did not volunteer to actually go to Vietnam. Nonetheless, the unhealed cultural wounds were still such almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon that Vietnam was a winner for Bush over Kerry in spite of Iraq.

Part of the reason that Obama took office with a waive of good feeling and better numbers than he had during the election was that McCain declined to play along with trashing Obama in the darker ways and treated him as a legitimate political adversary. It was good for the country and gave Obama a fair start in office.

“Birtherism,” though, in spite of McCain’s choice, became an enduring American movement which has had a profound effect on our politics and transformed the Republican Party with which I had been involved for much of my life.

Ultimately, the Birther Movement became a tool for Donald Trump as an outsider to gain “free media” and attention and admiration with those who were otherwise profoundly afraid of or opposed to the Obama presidency.

People like John McCain and George W. Bush or his family members in politics, whatever their faults and mistakes on policy choices (even the really big one, invading Iraq, which McCain acknowledges in his latest book, The Restless Wave) were too experienced, too educated, and too well advised to believe craziness about Obama being secretly smuggled into the U.S. as a Kenyan child (although the McCain campaign did check it out to make sure as did the McClatchy newspaper chain) and were morally constrained, in my judgment at least, from deliberately lying about it to hurt Obama. If you cannot buy that it was morals, at least we can agree that they were restrained by a judgment that it was better politics to stay out of that gutter. Hillary Clinton also stayed away (even if one credits the report that her adviser Sidney Blumenthal triggered the McClatchy review to make sure their was nothing to it).

Donald Trump was not similarly constrained and his hectoring of Obama put him in the front row of politics in America. He shared headlines with Obama even as Osama bin-Laden was being killed by the Navy under Obama’s command. Not one to accept defeat in an argument by being proven factually wrong, in this case by the release of Obama’s long form Hawaii birth certificate, Trump bided his time and cranked the Movement back up for his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, discarding it once he had seized the agenda and the Republican Party and the specific “birther” claim was no longer useful to him.

It has been a bit surreal for me to see this happen. Educated middle class Americans of my generation (Obama’s essentially) have a lot to answer for in our complacency I am afraid. Our democratic republic requires more attention and effort than we have delivered in recent years whatever our party or policy preferences.

Fortunately, just as Obama himself has, we hope, time for other acts in his public life as an American after elective politics, the Trump presidency too shall pass and the Birther Movement will be a strange chapter in political history books. It will leave scars and I expect that Trump will be willing to use other lies for domestic advantage that will manipulate gullible people and torque emotions on difficult and divisive social matters. But in the longer term I think we will rise to the occasion and get to a better range of equilibrium. We have significant long term challenges on poverty, education, healthcare and economic mobility and government debt that have been building up during our protracted wartime, but I think Americans getting more engaged and rolling up our sleeves to work on solutions.

Trump as an individual is something of a fluke. Most of the people who voted for him have little in common with him really. I know this because they are my peers, my extended family and friends to a great extent. He lost the national popular vote in a low turnout election. Trump won in large part because neither Obama nor the Clintons succeeded in building a Democratic Party that was seriously competitive in much of the country.

The big difference as of now is that Trump as president in our system still has far less power than the president in any of the East African countries. He will leave office at by the end of his lawful first term or his second if re-elected.

On balance, I think that we will see American policy in its relations with Kenya in the Trump years to continue to be largely a continuation of that under Obama, as reflected in the American approach to supporting both the 2013 election with John Kerry as Secretary of State and 2017 with Kerry as chief election observer and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with Bob Godec as “our man in Kenya” throughout. Just as Obama’s relationship with Kenya in its policy aspects was primarily a continuation of the approach under George W. Bush.

There have been a few major inflection points in the American/Kenyan relationship in the last twenty years, but most have not been specific to whoever was president in either Washington or Nairobi.

The first,of course, was the al-Queda Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, kicking off the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Kenya against various Islamist “violent extremists”. As reflected in the Mombasa rocket attack, the USS Cole bombing, the bombing in Kampala, the various attacks in Kenya, most notoriously the Westgate Mall and Garissa University killings, a persistent understood risk of terrorist incidents have been a regional “fact of life” since. For most Kenyans who are not well secured in their daily bread, and face many bigger daily risks of violent death, terrorism is not quite so central as is to Americans, but has still inevitably shaped both sides of the relationship over the last two decades. And in this context, after 9/11 and our ensuing land wars in South Asia, with the establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti Kenya resumed its regional security role along the lines established in the 1970s and 80s when the United States was fighting the Cold War and Kenyatta and Moi wanted protection from Idi Amin and Siad Barre and the kind of relationship that would be useful to them in avoiding disruption to their domestic rule.

The next inflection point, albeit of lesser magnitude from an American standpoint, was the retirement of Moi and the transition to NARC and Kibaki.

Next was the demise of NARC and the failure of constitutional reform with the 2005 referendum. Relatedly the Anglo Leasing scandal showed security and counter-terrorism were for sale at high levels along with the baseline of corruption in the police and security services that let terrorists move about and in and out of the country. The Artur Brothers and the Standard flamboyantly highlighted the rot.

Next and finally was the start of the war in Somalia to save and reinstate the Transitional Federal Government and oust the ICU in December 2006.

Since that time the United States Government has continued to have and support all our other existing priorities in Kenya such as lifesaving humanitarian health support through PEPFAR and other lower profile programs, food assistance and small farm agricultural support, along with supporting all sorts of philanthropic type programs and the somewhat more controversial “big development” initiatives like Power Africa, frequently in cooperation with other donors.

In recent years we also started devoted more governmental focus to promoting international private financial investment, such as the 2015 U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation investment in the Dubai-based Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, L.P., that has been active in the Nairobi private healthcare market prior to recently entering liquidation under circumstances being investigated.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have been at war in a country with a huge border with Kenya. A country during during much of these last 11 1/2 years which has been too dangerous to support a full diplomatic and aid presence and has thus had those parts of the effort supported from Kenya, as well as a smaller role for Kenya as a host for some U.S. defense forces in addition to those at our base in Djibouti. And from reading the newspapers back in the day and a few books it is apparent that Kenya provided some military support for the invasion by the Ethiopian military at the time to contain potential spread of terrorism.

And in 2011, during Kibaki’s second term, with the support of Prime Minister Odinga, Kenya entered the war directly and formally in its own right.

Roughly nine months later the Kenya Defense Forces were admitted into the AU’s AMISOM peacekeeping collaboration, allowing for financial reimbursement through the Western donors, and eventually drove al-Shabaab, now formally asserting affiliation with al Queda, out of their previous position of direct control of the port at Kismayo (not to say that al Shabaab did not continue to apparently benefit from the illicit charcoal and sugar trade through the port).

A few months before the Ethiopians were invited to restore the TFG in Mogadishu, our Ambassador Bellamy finished his service and Ambassador Ranneberger was similarly appointed by President Bush from the Foreign Service. Within a few months after the start of the war Ranneberger sent a cable to Washington explaining that his approach for “achieving U.S. objectives in Kenya’s elections” was to stay quiet on the debates on constitutional reform and election reform and “build capital” with the incumbent. With the perturbation of the 2008 crisis and the intervention for constitutional reform up through 2010, this has remained the baseline beat of our relationship over the years.

Will the recent moves by Kenya’s dominant new Jubilee Party to align with Communist Party of China structures and philosophy to accompany its huge borrowings from the Chinese State cause any serious rethink in Washington? I have no idea, but it certainly does not seem to have captured any particular place in the priorities of either the retired President Obama or current President Trump.

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?

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

Kenyans going for water

One key event: the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006.

See my post from September 2011: David Axe on “America’s Somalia Experiment”–a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08. Quoting Axe in The Diplomat:

The ICU didn’t explicitly advocate terrorism, and there were probably only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in Somalia at the time. But that nuance was lost on the George W. Bush Administration. Washington pledged support for the Ethiopian attack, including ‘intelligence sharing, arms aid and training,’ according to USA Today.

With this backing, plus air cover provided by US AC-130 gunships and carrier-based fighters and assistance on the ground by US Special Forces, the Ethiopian army launched a Blitzkrieg-style assault on Somalia in December 2006.

Ethiopian tanks quickly routed the ICU’s lightly armed fighters. ‘The Somalia job was fantastic,’ Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan told then-US Central Commander boss Gen. John Abizaid in 2007.

The Bush Administration agreed with that assessment, at least initially. And the proxy approach to African security challenges quickly became central to Washington’s policy for the continent. . . .

And here is Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies) and Daniel Twombly on America’s 4-prong strategy for Somalia” in The Atlantic from October 2011:

American national security planners have viewed Somalia as strategically significant for some time. In 1999, for example, staffers on the National Security Council suggested that Osama bin Laden’s most likely destination was Somalia if he lost the Taliban’s protection in Afghanistan. But U.S. interest in the country has appeared to grow dramatically since 2006, when an Islamist group known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) captured the capital of Mogadishu and soon after made a number of strategic gains. Late that year, the U.S. backed an Ethiopian invasion designed to push back the ICU. Though Ethiopia rapidly reversed much of the ICU’s geographic gains, it wasn’t able to prevent a powerful insurgency from taking root.

Al-Shabaab emerged as a force distinct from the ICU during the course of the insurgency; not only was this new group more hardline in ideology, but a number of its leaders openly declared their support for al-Qaeda. As Ethiopia withdrew and was replaced by troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), al-Shabaab emerged as the country’s dominant insurgent force. It soon took control of significant swathes of territory in southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab even established governorates in some of the areas where it was dominant. During much of this period, the U.S. lacked a real plan for the region. America tried to help AMISOM protect Somalia’s UN-recognized transitional federal government from being wiped out by al-Shabaab, but otherwise lacked a strategy to reverse the jihadi group’s gains.

In 2006-2008, the Bush Administration disclaimed significant involvement in the Ethiopian invasion to the American public and others interested. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer even asserted that we told the Ethiopians not to do it. Over time the work of journalists and scholars (and document leaks) led to an established conventional wisdom that what we were told in that regard was not actually true, as reflected in the Axe and Gartenstein-Ross, Twombly pieces from 2011.

Update: For further specific discussion, see Ronan Farrow’s new book, The War on Peace; The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, Chapter 19, “The White Beast”.

At the time of the quoted pieces in 2011 Kenya, during Kibaki’s second term and with support of his then-“Government of National Unity” partner Prime Minister Raila Odinga, invaded the Jubaland region of Somalia and joined the ongoing war approaching its fifth year. The next year, 2012, the Kenya Defense Forces were formally incorporated under AMISOM for donor cost reimbursement.

Today the war continues, and the third American administration involved has increased direct U.S. strikes and added some more support troops. There has been significant progress in some respects in terms of stability and we can certainly hope that some day down the road the new Somali Federal Government will be self-sustainable. It is a formally Islamist government but it aspires to aspects of democratization that would see an eventual status quo that would differ from the old ICU or other regional governments in Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Qatar, for example.

See this from Saferworld, an NGO supporting democratization in Somalia and Somaliland.

As for Kenya, its politics were frozen by the openly stolen election in 2007 as I wrote last year in The Elephant. The leading figures now were the leading figures during the murder and mayhem ten years ago. The backsliding has not led to complete reversion to the “faux multipartism” of Moi’s last decade in office, but the ruling Jubilee Party is consolidating hegemony nationally. Odinga, having raised a ruckus about the lack of electoral reforms, boycotting the presidential re-run after his Supreme Court victory nullified the August 2017 election, eventually conceded through a “handshake” with Uhuru Kenyatta and “got right” with Kenya’s donors, led by the U.S., who were publicly most focused on economic matters (and presumably maintained the foremost underlying concern with war?).

“Correlation does not prove causation.” The circumstantial evidence suggesting that the invasion to displace the ICU in Somalia–with an accompanying increase in military cooperation and access from Kenya–might explain the pivot in U.S. policy to “building capital” with Kibaki, as Amb. Ranneberger described it in an April 2007 cable, and away from fighting corruption and reforming the election process might not be explanatory. But it seems to make sense in the context of the time, place and people involved.

USAID documents show profound U.S. policy shift in Kenya from disappointment on reforms and corruption in 2005-06 to Ranneberger’s April 2007 “building capital” with Kibaki

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polling station Nairobi

In my last post I discussed the late FOIA release of an April 2007 cable setting out U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s explanation of a policy of hands-off neutrality on election reform proposals, and a “plague on both their houses” view of corruption. Ranneberger’s approach was to “build capital” with incumbent Mwai Kibaki’s Kenyan government heading into his re-election campaign, while distancing the U.S. from dissenting opposition and civil society voices.

A very different take was set forth only a few months before in documents released to me by USAID in 2014 under a FOIA request relating to the exit and public opinion polling program I managed in that 2007 election cycle as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute. In memoranda from November 2006 to release a second round of $250,000 in funds for the polling program which had started with an exit poll for the 2005 Constitutional Referendum, USAID noted “a policy shift toward NGO and civil society partners in light of the weakening of Kenya’s Executive Branch as a reliable and willing partner in areas such as Democracy and Governance”.

Here are excerpts from the documents linked above:

PROGRAM BACKGROUND

Embassy Nairobi has requested that the funds be used to support activities to strengthen democracy and governance, environmental sustainability and economic development and trade. All the programs will be managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In FY 2006, the funds will be used as follows:

*Democracy and Governance ($2,570,000):

$2.25 million will be used to support domestic and international observations, including training for political party agents and independent observers, allowing them to assess whether the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 are non-violent, transparent, and competitive.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

*The U.S. Government seeks to build a democratic and economically prosperous Kenya. This is addressed through five strategic objectives focusing on: reducing fertility and the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission; improving natural resource management; improving the balance of power among the institutions of governance; increasing rural household incomes; and supporting education for children of marginalized populations.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

I. SUMMARY

The Recipient [IRI] shall institute a program to improve and increase access to objective, reliable information on citizen views and reform priorities through public opinion polling. The Recipient’s activities aim to provide this information to the Kenyan public, Kenyan policymakers, and the diplomatic community and to improve the science and popular perception of opinion survey research in the country.

II. BACKGROUND

The degradation of political discourse and consensus-building in Kenya since the country’s landmark 2002 election has culminated in the stalemate over the constitutional reform process. Having ridden a wave of public optimism into power, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) followed through on several of its most important promises during its first year in power. Shortly after taking office, President Mwai Kibaki’s government instituted free primary education nationwide. It also made a strong start in attacking the problem of corruption, beginning with a purge of corrupt members of the judiciary. However, in many areas of concern the performance of the government has been disappointing. Despite its promise of a new constitution within 100 days of taking office, deep disagreements within the NARC government about the content of various drafts have kept this new constitution from Kenyans for nearly three years. Furthermore, NARC’s promises of 500,000 new jobs per year and a vastly reduced crime rate have not materialized. Most unfortunate has been the government’s lack of seriousness in dealing with the resurgence of corruption at high levels of the Kenyan government, resulting in severe criticism by donor countries and civil society groups. Poverty and unemployment remain high; electricity, water, and other services are provided on an irregular basis; and violent crime is prevalent and uncontrolled. Expectations among Kenyans were high that the new leadership would bring rapid relief, but most of the problems have worsened, remained unchanged, or been only marginally improved during NARC’s first three years in office.

. . . .

A chief obstacle for the political parties and other major stakeholders in Kenya has been the lack of reliable information on the concerns and opinions of ordinary Kenyans. Policy priorities are set by political elites who have almost no access to data regarding trends in public opinion and no means by which to gauge how popular or unpopular specific policies are with different segments of the population. In he first few years of this decade, a number of influential opinion polls were conducted that showed the deep satisfaction of the Kenyan public with the Moi government and their desire for a viable alternative to come out of the scattered opposition. These surveys, including one poll conducted by the Recipient [IRI] in 2002 that showed for the first time that a united opposition could beat the Kenya African National Union (KANU), gave strong impetus to the formation of the NARC coalition.

However, after 2002, opinion polling did not become a regular feature of the Kenyan political scene . . . Some major media houses . . . most of these polls have focused exclusively on the “horse race” issues most likely to sell newspapers . . . Moreover, the methods used in some of the most widely-reported polls have been fiercely criticized . . .

. . . .

The future of democracy in Kenya is now much more uncertain than it seemed amid the euphoria of the 2002 election . . . .

It needs to be noted as well that in seeking release of additional funding for the IRI polling in 2006 USAID noted the IRI’s successful performance to date, including the “accurate” 2005 exit poll with the completion of all items on the program work plan, which included the public release of the exit poll results.

(Thus I was taken aback by the objection to public release of the 2007 exit poll results under an extension of the same program, not having incorporated a new direction of “building capital” into the program.)

“Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” (FOIA Update): Ranneberger April 2007 cable shows shift in US approach to upcoming Kenya election to “build capital with the government”

Kenya 2007 Election campaign posters “Kalonzo Musyoka for President” on duka Eastern KenyaA breakthrough on unraveling the story of Kenya’s stolen 2007 election:

This is from my original 2009 Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department for documents related to the 2007 Kenya exit poll I managed as Chief of Party for the International Republican Institute’s USAID funded polling program.

Just after the next election in Kenya, in March 2013, the State Department made its original release of documents to me on this 2009 request, as I discussed in my post here at the time: Africa Bureau under Frazer coordinated “recharacterization” of 2007 Kenya exit poll showing Odinga win (New documents: FOIA Series No. 12)

At that time State withheld one document in full on the basis of “predecisional privilege”; I eventually got that document released on appeal, and heard no more.

Yesterday, I checked in with the State Department FOIA web library to see if there was anything new on Kenya from other requesters and my search showed that an additional document had been published online in 2017, unbeknownst to me, in response to my 2009 request. It is an April 24, 2007 cable titled “Achieving USG Goals in Kenya’s Election” over the signature of Ambassador Ranneberger to the Secretary of State for the Africa Bureau and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in Washington. “Sensitive But Unclassified” and released with no redaction. No explanation as to why this document, which pre-dates all of the others released or identified to me in 2013, was published online on April 18, 2017; if it was mailed to me at some point I did not receive it. Nonetheless, I am glad to finally have it (although I wish I had known about it when I published my June 2017 summary story on “The Debacle of 2007 for The Elephant).

The big significance of the cable for me is that it documents that the State Department had in fact changed its approach toward Kibaki and toward the opposition between 2005 and April 2007. This was my perception “on the ground” during the campaign, but I had no explicit documentation until now. It also confirms that as of April, the plan was for a diplomatic observation of the election by State Department personnel only and not an International Observation Mission by the Carter Center as recommended by a 2006 USAID evaluation (referenced in the cable) or by IRI as initiated at the behest of the Ambassador that summer.

Likewise, the cable includes one more recitation that the purpose of the exit poll, formally, was to deter and oppose election fraud through an “independent verification of election results”, not to be “a training exercise never intended to be released” as asserted by Ambassador Ranneberger on a State Department webchat in March 2008 after the quashed but leaked poll had become a “hot potato”, and supported in State Department talking points prepared and circulated in response to media reporting in 2008 and 2009.

Unfortunately for me, when I took over the USAID polling program for IRI in June 2007, the program was operating under a Cooperative Agreement from 2005 that expressed the old policy of being disappointed in the corruption and underperformance within the Kenyan government as reflected in the Anglo Leasing security procurement frauds, the Standard Raid and Artur Brothers, etc. No one at USAID or IRI intimated that the State Department had changed policy and I had to figure it out for myself on the fly.

Here are key excerpts from the cable as published:

3. (SBU) Positioning: Some civil society leaders and opposition members of Parliament have complained recently that the U.S. mission is not close enough to the opposition. In fact, we have close contacts with the opposition from the top levels through the Ambassador to to all levels. However, the opposition longs for the days in 2005 when Foreign Minister Tuju publicly condemned the U.S. mission for supposedly desiring “regime change” in Kenya. They also cite the period in the 1990s when the U.S. mission openly sided against the Moi administration in favor of the multiparty democracy movement. However, the present government, for all its flaws, was elected under conditions widely considered free and fair. As for its indulgence of corrupt members of the political class, we note that the opposition has taken no disciplinary action against notoriously corrupt members within its own ranks. Corruption plagues the entire political class. We will continue to publicly condemn it as a major impediment to Kenya’s progress. We will continue to work closely with the Kibaki administration to achieve USG goals, but we will continue to assert ourselves as completely neutral concerning the election itself. Our strategy is to build capital with the government to be spent as needed over the course of the campaign to address critical electoral issues. We started that process through emphasis on the U.S.-Kenya partnership (reftel B). While we will be strictly neutral among the contending political parties, we will be fiercely partisan in support of the democratic process.

. . . .

8. (SBU) Electoral Reform: As reported in reftel B, electoral reform continues to be a hotly debated topic in Kenya. There is a consensus among all political parties and civil society that reform is required. There are no prominent defenders of the status quo. However, there is no consensus on the scope of reforms and the particulars of those reforms. Since the 2002 general election and the 2005 referendum on the draft constitution were both held under the present electoral system and were deemed free and fair, and since Kenyan society is adequately debating electoral reform, we see no reason for the USG to enter the fray. However, we have urged on all parties a spirit of compromise and an emphasis on the longterm best interests of the nation rather than short term electoral advantage. An opposition leader recently threatened a boycott of elections if his party’s electoral reform demands are not met. We made it clear to him that such intemperate language is not constructive and that boycotts are not acceptable. He stopped issuing boycott threats.

. . . .

– 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.

2007 Kenya election Kibaki billboard

I will discuss the context and layers of meaning in this “new old” cable more in the near future.

“Michael & Me” – retrospective thoughts on tying up with Amb. Ranneberger and separating “foreign policy” from “personality”

With a new political appointment announced for the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, Raila Odinga’s criticism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on his last U.S. visit of the role of the U.S. and U.K. envoys in supporting Kenyan elections for favoring immediate stability over democracy raises the underlying question of how much of the issue has to do with specific envoys and how much is pre-determined policy handed down from Washington or London.

Thus some overdue consideration of my interactions with Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in 2007-08 in that context:

I have written about the actions of the Ambassador as “the point of the spear” that I dealt with in Nairobi with a desire to be cautious to speak to direct knowledge, along with such documents as I have obtained from FOIA, and other direct sources. Addressing specific interactions with the Ambassador and comparing those with his now-disclosed reporting to Washington raises some questions, but does not provide clear answers, as to how responsibility should fall as to decisions about how the State Department played Kenya’s 2007 election during Ranneberger’s tenure.

Obviously I got along fine with Ranneberger for a period of months before we “crossed up” over specifics of my job with the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the month of the election; where I did not agree with his approach, it not lead me to personally dislike him, nor did I feel I was informed adequately or was otherwise in a position to challenge how he was doing his job as Ambassador. Rather my obligation as I saw it was to stand my ground to be able to do my own job. At some level the problem was simply institutional in that Ranneberger felt that his job encompassed managing my work in managing the IRI Election Observation Mission and I did not (nor did IRI as I was told without exception).

When Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other about issues from our interactions during the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times in a story published in January 2009, soon after the Obama inauguration, Ranneberger was quoted as reacting by claiming that he was being falsely accused by people who were out to get him.

By the time the Times story ran I had been back at my job in the States as a lawyer for defense contractor Northrop Grumman for a year-and-a-half. It was potentially consequential to be called a liar in the New York Times by the serving American Ambassador to a country in which my company at the time had business for the U.S. as a national security contractor.

Fortunately I was treated very well by my client/employer (as when they held my job open for me to take “public service leave” to support democracy in Kenya in the first place). When my security clearance came up for renewal a year later I seemed to draw some flack from somewhere leading to a follow up along the lines of whether I had in some sense let my loyalties “go native” to which I re-iterated my loyally clean conscience. Since my clearance was renewed I did not lose my job. (Likewise, I assumed that it was understood that I had not been lying in my interviews with The Times.)

It was well after the Times story ran that it was mentioned to me in passing that there were efforts from Kenyans to persuade Washington to replace Ranneberger. I was never involved in such efforts and did not know anything about the topic when I was interviewed by the Times July 2008 or in a follow up after the U.S. election that November. The decision to accept the interview request from the Times was strictly mine and I did not consult with anyone about whether to agree or what to say. As I have written here, I requested a meeting with IRI with no reply that October (2008) and had a discussion with the IRI Press Secretary that November but again IRI never followed up with me.

I can say this: I was surprised that the Obama Administration continued to be represented by Ranneberger for more than half of Obama’s first term after the election debacle. I would have assumed that Obama’s message from the campaign of a changed foreign policy approach along with the personal factors of being identified with Kenya through his father and having visited Kenya I believe three times by then, would have given extra assurance that Obama would want to get a fresh start after the previous mess sooner rather than later. But just for these “macro” reasons, not because of any details of the election saga I filled in for investigating reporters.

At some point subsequently I made an extracurricular call on a staffer to Sen. Feingold to inquire as to what response the Asst. Secretary of State and the Asst. Administrator for USAID had provided to the Senator’s demand for answers as to why the USAID/IRI exit poll was being embargoed at his hearing on February 8, 2008 Subcommittee Hearing on the Kenyan elections. I got nothing in the way of cooperation on my inquiry, but did get out of the blue and to my surprise what may have been a less than ingenuous question that “since it seems like we are going to need a new Ambassador” if I had any recommendations. Perhaps this reflected in some fashion Ranneberger’s conspiratorial notion of my motives? [no way to know, it just seems strange; I had no relationship with that office or stature that would warrant the question, especially in the context of being stonewalled on the small actual request for information that prompted the visit]

Here is how I viewed things at the time of Ranneberger’s departure from the Embassy in September 2011 (from a draft I did not post then):

Ambassador Ranneberger has been giving “exit interviews” and traveling to say his goodbyes to return to Washington.  He has indicated that he loves Kenya in particular of his postings and would like to settle in Kenya (although he says he has not acquired property) and he has introduced the woman that he has described as the “Queen” to his “King”, with hints of a future wedding.

The British Royal wedding was a big hit in Kenya, and now we have the “changing of the guard” at the U.S. embassy as well.  Swapping U.S. ambassadors is an unusually high profile public event in Kenya right now because, aside from the U.S. being “the sole superpower” and Kenya being a tourist destination and Nairobi being a big regional haven for “the international community” and being important in the regional economy, Ranneberger himself plays so large in Kenyan media and politics.  Ironically, he is just a bit like Prime Minister Raila Odinga in this way.

Ranneberger has somewhat reinvented his public persona in Kenya the last couple of years, in that he now openly criticizes and challenges Kenyan politicians and is outspoken against corruption.  Readers of this blog will know that I agree with him on corruption and that corruption is nothing new.

His style of saying a great deal in public and taking a high profile was there before, and is largely a matter of taste.  Some people like it, some people dislike it.  I am in between personally.  My ultimate disagreement with him while I was IRI East Africa Director in Kenya was over content and underlying substance during the election, not over style and I have never borne him any personal ill will.

A key difference between Raila and Ranneberger is that Raila is in reality “the second man” in the Kenyan government and power structure behind the President who is extraordinarily quiet in the way that he conducts business and exercises that power while Raila takes a more public role both in Kenya and internationally.  Ranneberger, on the other hand, is in most cases the only American present with a significant public profile.

The recent position as anti-corruption critic is clearly a departure from Ranneberger’s stance during my time with IRI in Kenya during the 2007 election campaign and the aftermath of the vote.

Nine days before the 2007 election Ranneberger appeared in the Standard newspaper in a big full page “exclusive interview” with his official photo. He announced that he was confident that the election would be “free and fair”.

“Q: What are your views on corruption?

A: Lots of people look at Kenya and say lots of big cases have not been resolved because of Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg. I always point out that we have lots of corruption even in the US. These cases take a lot of time to bring to justice. We had the famous Enron case. It took over four years to resolve in a system that works efficiently, yet only a couple of people were convicted. These things take a long time.

There has been substantial effort to fight corruption in Kenya and the award the country won for Civil Service reform [from the World Bank] is a pointer to that effect. The fact that the Civil Service is more professional than ever before is progress as are the new procurement laws recently put in place and the freedom of the Press to investigate and expose corruption. More, of course, needs to be done.

The economy has grown by 7 per cent. How much of that has actually trickled down to the people will again be determined by time.

A career diplomat, Ranneberger has been in Kenya for close to one-and-a-half years, and has served in Europe, Latin America and Africa.”

During previous days The Standard had been running new revelations about corruption in the Kibaki administration from documents from exiled former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission chairman John Githongo.  Githongo’s personal adventure trying to address corruption in the Kibaki administration is the subject of Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat.

It may be that Kenyans benefited from a re-born zeal for the post-debacle “Reform Agenda” from Ranneberger, given a second chance of sorts under a new U.S. administration. Likewise, Ranneberger’s aggressive behind the scenes style may have been valuable in helping “deliver” finally a reformed Kenyan constitution through the 2010 referendum. At the same time, the bleed over of millions of dollars from officially neutral process support for the referendum into the “Yes” campaign suggests that the “new” Ranneberger was not quite so different–just as the new administration was not quite as different as many expected either.

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polling station Nairobi

Ten years after 2008 post election “peace deal” Kenya is a world leader in crime and impunity

Kenya IDP Camp Post Election Violence Naivasha

Ten years ago today I watched television coverage of the “peace deal” signed by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga in the IRI office in Nairobi, on the new K24 television station (owned by the Kenyatta family as I later learned).

I had sent off overnight a briefing memo to IRI’s president as background for a private breakfast confab he was participating in Washington on the “Kenya crisis” in advance of the news of the “peace deal”.  In the memo I explained my assessment of insights from the exit poll we had conducted on the presidential election that had been quashed from public release. For instance, that the poll showed the ODM party candidate Raila Odinga beating the incumbent (and declared winner) Kibaki among both Christians and Muslims, as well as in the overall totals.

One of the indelible memories from that day was watching the teargassing of Kenyans celebrating the agreement and expected end of the Post Election Violence. This conduct by the Police was an enduring legacy and prophetic symbol of continuity.

Uhuru Kenyatta at the time of the settlement had been serving since January as Kibaki’s Minister for Local Government and playing a leading role in city affairs in Nairobi in those days prior to devolution. He was to be appointed Deputy Prime Minister by Kibaki under the deal.  In hindsight this appointment was his functional designation as Kibaki’s successor, although that was not so clear to many of us at the time.  William Ruto, who had been leader of the ODM party’s negotiating team in the mediation process which had failed to close the gap to get to a final agreement, was on his way to serving as Minister of Agriculture as, originally, an ODM appointment in the coalition government, but later switching sides after Kibaki blocked Raila’s effort to suspend him over corruption allegations.  Martha Karua was serving as Kibaki’s Justice Minister, having led the PNU/Government side in the mediation; she resigned in frustration soon thereafter.  She has not found her place in electoral politics thereafter, but has long served as a member of IRI’s Global Advisory Board.

Today, I see news from Quartz Africa that PWC has issued its latest annual report of its Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey. Kenya has ranked #2 in the world (barely trailing South Africa, and solidly leading the rest of the Big Five: France, Russia and Uganda)! The biggest thing I’ve learned from these last ten years may be that in Kenya, you can get away with pretty much anything (from stealing an election to the vilest of mass murder, rape and mayhem in its aftermath, along with looting the public treasury while millions of Kenyans are parched and hungry).