Having apologized for having gotten our shoes in the way of the vomit, donors to Kenya’s government are now finally alarmed again about the (ongoing) corruption

Here is the latest from Kenya’s Journalists for Justice on the corrupt involvement of personnel in the Kenya Defense Forces in the charcoal and sugar smuggling trade.

It’s not so much that I’m jaded, it’s just that I have watched this movie before–and even been an “extra” of sorts in one of the previous remakes.

Yes, corruption is obviously getting even worse within this Kenyan administration than within the last.  But that was also true when I lived in Kenya during the end of the first Kibaki administration and into the beginning of the second.

There are several readily apparent reasons.  For instance, when I lived in Kenya I made the acquaintance of a Western expat whose spouse was in the tourism business. Prior to the 2007 vote count corruption and violence, the tourism business was booming.  But corruption was up as a cost of doing business as it was explained to me because to operate you had to pay off a second generation, too–the kids of the senior politicians.  Presumably this generational expansion has continued.  Why wouldn’t it?

The year before I moved to Kenya the UK and US envoys had been outspokenly opposed to the corruption, in the context of the Anglo Leasing revelations by John Githongo of massive corruption involving national security procurements, touching our own security interests aside from our sensibilities about criminal behavior, along with the outrageous shenanigans involving the Artur Brothers, and the Standard media raid, among others.  The British envoy even offered the memorably colorful “vomit on our (the donors’) shoes” metaphor about the extent of the gluttonous “eating”.

But by the time I arrived in mid-2007 things were different.  New personnel led the diplomatic missions.  On the US side we apparently helped Moi and Kibaki get back together, and hosted Interior Minister John Michuki, of “rattling the snake” fame, who had taken credit for the Standard raid, on a security tour of the U.S.  Michuki represented Kibaki at our Embassy’s Fourth of July party, where Moi unofficially planted himself to catch the receiving line.

And then we looked the other way at the corruption of the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  Ambassador Ranneberger made sure to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed from our IRI Election Observation Mission on the basis that he was “perceived as anti-government”.  Bellamy had spoken out on the corruption, in particular the Standard raid.  The week before the vote, Ranneberger noted for the Kenyan public that Kenya was “on track” in fighting the vice of corruption, that  we had had Enron in the U.S., that prosecutions for Anglo Leasing and Goldenburg could take time, and that the World Bank had given the Kibaki administration an award for procurement reform (of all things) and that he expected a “free and fair” election.  And then we tried at first to sell the ECK’s election “count” even though we knew full well that it was bogus.  When that didn’t fly, we supported “power sharing” so long as there was no new election before Kibaki’s full second term was up.  According to a news report from Nairobi years later from stolen cables from “Wikileaks” we issued a couple of “travel bans” based on alleged evidence of bribery against two of the ECK commissioners, but we never disclosed this action or the evidence, why we singled out these two or anything else about the matter.

During the post election violence a diplomat explained to me that the reason many of the younger pols in Kibaki’s PNU coalition were against a power sharing settlement was that they didn’t want to share the secondary ministry appointments.  Ultimately by adding opposition politicians into the second Kibaki administration through “power sharing” with extra ministries you further expanded the multigenerational set of stomachs to let eat.  One way to look at the settlement naturally has been that Kibaki and Raila were willing to stop the fighting (so long as Kibaki retained with further ambiguity the full second term Presidency which the ECK had delivered to him) and the rest were bribed to acquiesce.

So you cannot tell me with a straight face that the diplomatic position of the United States in 2007-08 was to “oppose” corruption as a high rather than a subordinated priority.

After being stung by criticism from the election debacle, Ranneberger was reborn as an outspoken “reform agenda” campaigner for his extended tour on through the passage of a new constitution.  He compiled dossiers on money laundering and drug smuggling through politico/business interests and encouraged action, albeit to no avail. His successors quietly moved on, however, and we helped sell a new badly handled election in 2013 by a new, but probably more pervasively corrupted electoral authority.  We helped pay for expensive technology that was doomed by procurement fraud but kept quiet.  The British Serious Fraud Office successfully prosecuted one of their companies and its owners for bribes on other election procurements, but the Kenyan administration has taken no action to follow up and we have kept our silence.

With time, we have come again to affectionately embrace our usual suspect “partners”, with new programs headquartered in our favorite African city of Nairobi.  A photo op in the Oval Office with POTUS and FLOTUS for the Kenyan President and First Lady last year, followed this summer by a glowing official Presidential visit to Nairobi with a telegenic dance party at State House.   Never mind what we said before; please can we give you more?  Some eloquent speech about the cost of corruption, safely abstract from the burgeoning accumulation of years of specific cases on the impunity docket.  Yes we can dance with this new set of shoes without even looking down at the vomit.

Surely then it can be no surprise that things have gotten that much worse.  With a new report by Kenyan journalists on the longstanding implication of Kenyan Defense Forces which we help underwrite in Jubaland in the sugar and charcoal smuggling rackets, and fresh levels of embarrassment from the international press from the National Youth Service, irregular handling of bond proceeds amid rising debt levels, more land grabbing and another looted bank, all with a new election cycle approaching, the season has turned again and it is the time for furrowed brows.  Time for the U.S. to lead a donor group to call on the current version of the anti-corruption authority.  To talk again of “visa bans” and offers again to assist in “asset recovery”.

Instead of another remake, could this be a sequel offering a surprise ending, with say, even a few villains in jail, or at least less rich, as a cautionary tale for some and a bit of hope and inspiration for others? Or is this just another iteration of “the formula” in which the sheriff rides into town, frowns at the drunken brawl, then passes along to enjoy the cinematic scenery on the way home?

Only time will tell.  I do think we genuinely would prefer to be against the corruption rather than aligned with it.  We just lose our nerve and get distracted by other priorities that seem more immediate.  Making a dent in Kenya’s entrenched culture of impunity would take a long hard slog, in the face of bitter opposition formal and informal.  It would be messy and likely involve putting up with a bit of embarrassment–it could involve some risk and actual cost.  In any event  it would take a good while for us to convince the players that we had become serious.

An insider’s explanation of the difference between a “free and fair” election and a “will of the people” election–Kriegler deputy’s memoir

Air Show

 

In his book Birth: the Conspiracy to Stop the ’94 Election, Peter Harris, a South African lawyer who was in charge of the “election-monitoring division” of that country’s Independent Electoral Commission in 1994 (under Johann Kriegler, later appointed by President Kibaki to head Kenya’s 2008 IREC or “Kriegler Commission”, charged under Kenya’s 2008 post-election settlement with, inter alia, investigating the failed presidential vote) elaborates:

“Why would anyone want to run a free and fair election that will remove them from power? . . . Enter the election-monitoring division, whose primary job is to ensure that the election is free and fair. . . .
What constitutes a free and fair is a major issue for us.  The high level of violence can have a major effect.  In short, the tense situation in Bophuthatswana can jeopardize everything.
Declaring an election free and fair depends on a number of considerations, but chief among them is the ‘freedom of voters to vote in secret, free from violence and coercion’, and ‘access to secure voting stations’.
Since his appointment, Steven Friedman and his information and analysis department have been monitoring the situation closely.  Their final talks will be to produce a report that will help the commissioners make a finding on whether the election was free and fair and a reflection of the will of the people.
I rather like the ‘will of the people’ bit; it reminds me of one of those classic legal catch-all clauses that provide an escape route if all else fails.  It is a bit like ‘sufficient consensus,’ that famous methodology for reaching agreement at constitutional negotiations.  In real terms this means if the ANC and the National Party agree there was ‘sufficient consensus’, then bugger the rest.  The real reason I like ‘the will of the people’ is because, as we hurtle closer to this election, it is clear to me that there is a lot that can, and probably will, go wrong.

Under Kenyan law under the 2010 Constitution, as in effect for the last election in 2013, this issue of potential circumlocution about election shortcomings is solved: the Constitution mandates a “free and fair” minimum standard.  I have written previously that I had picked up on discussion in Washington ahead of the 2013 Kenyan election harking back to the “will of the people” hedging language used by Westerners in reference to Moi’s re-elections in the 1990’s.

I ended up in an indirect disagreement through the pages of Africa in Fact magazine with the spokesmen for the Western government-funded election observation missions (the Carter Center from the US and the EU mission) about the significance of the conspicuous absence of reference to the higher (and legally mandated) standard in their Preliminary Statements following the voting.

The titular conspiracy that the Harris memoir discloses, but does not explain in detail, is that hackers penetrated the electoral commission ICT systems and changed vote tallies in progress.  And that the fraud was discovered by the embedded IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems) team funded by the U.S., addressed internally within the Electoral Commission and not disclosed at the time.

The hackers were adding votes for third parties apparently not to disrupt the ANC’s win, but rather to manipulate the overall percentage seemingly to avoid letting the ANC have the parliamentary margin to change the new constitution.

The South African Electoral Commission suspended the vote tally without explaining about the infiltration of the system.  A technology work around was created but the overall control system for handling the count broke down.  Through heroic logistical efforts, intricate private political negotiations and with the grace of fortunate “communications” efforts, the election process was “saved” to the extent of being accepted as a rough approximation of the “will of the people” in the context of moving from majority rule in an electorate of 22 million from the existing system of rule determined by competition among no more than a 3 million voter privileged minority.  Close enough for “horseshoes or hand grenades” as we say.  Close enough to an actual count of each individual’s vote for a “free and fair” election? Not so much.

In South Africa in 1994 there was an understood consensus that the purpose of the first broadly democratic election was to transfer power from the minority National Party the majority ANC while containing conflict from other factions “white” and “black”.  The time allocated and resources available made a free and fair election as such wholly beyond the potential of the endeavor.

Thus the situation in South Africa in 1994 was radically different than the electoral management task presented to the Kenya’s ECK and IEBC (and IFES) in 2007 and 2013.

In 2013 Judge Kriegler was back in Kenya some and was a frequent public commentor on contentious matters involving politics and the electoral commission.  It would seem easy to argue that his approach and expectations in Kenya leaned too heavily on the very dissimilar task he faced in his electoral commission experience in South Africa.

The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading

The War for History, part fourteen: dare we learn from 2007-08 in Kenya or is it still too soon to reckon with the whole story?

Kenya’s security situation continues to deteriorate as Kenya’s political leaders move on to focus to the next elections.  Challenges abound on succession and election issues in Burundi, Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda, along with the crises in governance in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia.  Surely this would be a good time to peel back the onion on how the U.S. handled the Kibaki succession/re-election crisis in 2007-08 to learn what we can rather than letting more murky water flow under the bridge?

Knowns and Unknowns, Plausible and Otherwise

Further to the question I raised in Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we – “The War for History” part thirteen, I have certainly confirmed my awareness that, as I have put it, we “actively looked the other way” as the Kenyan election was stolen and thereafter.  I am also am forced to acknowledge that we (meaning my country, the United States, through our empowered government officials, who took the opportunities presented to assert what became our de facto policy, whether or not it was formally planned, vetted, approved, etc.) not only “looked” the other way, but also “pointed” the other way, too.  In other words, the initial approach from the State Department was to divert attention from the known and witnessed election fraud to induce acceptance of the fraudulent “result”.

How much more is there to the story in terms of our intentions before the election?  Did “we” affirmatively wish Kibaki to win, or Odinga to lose, or some combination of the two–and if so, why?  Everyone is, of course, entitled to his or her own opinions and/or preferences regarding a democratic election (although for me as an American I considered it to be none of my business who Kenyans ultimately voted for, both in concept and in any event regarding the specific choice among Raila, Kibaki and Kalonzo, each of whom had long, high profile track records in Kenyan politics and government, and with American diplomats).  The real question becomes, in light of what happened in the election and how we handled it, whether we were in some way culpable beyond the “looking and pointing the other way”?  How much did we know beforehand about the intentions of the Kibaki administration to retain power regardless of the actual vote?  In private, if we knew something, did we secretly object, stay silent, quietly nod, affirmatively recognize, or something else?

It seems important to account for the fact that, as best I knew, Kibaki never said publicly during the campaign that he would countenance the potential to lose the election and turn over power. And further, that to the best of my knowledge and attentive observation at the time, neither the Ambassador nor anyone else in the State Department publicly called Kibaki on this. (Eventually, Moses Wetangula, the Foreign Minister at the time, made a statement regarding Kibaki’s willingneess to “lose,” presumably directed more to his diplomatic counterparts than to Kenyans.)  Compare and contrast Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for re-election in Nigeria this year, wherein American officials up to and including the Secretary of State himself flew to Nigeria ahead of the election to openly warn Jonathan to accept an adverse vote even though he was already stating his willingness to do so.

As an American, especially one who was working at taxpayer expense to support the democratic process, I certainly want to believe the best about all of our conduct in regard to the election.  Unfortunately there are some other facts and questions that remain undigestable for me so far and leave the quesy feeling that there may be more to the story.  For example:

* When the Ambassador told me at the residence on December 15 that “people were saying” that Odinga might lose his Langata constituency and thus be disqualified from taking office even if he won the presidential vote, and that this could be “explosive”, why did his cables to Washington not report this matter until nine days later, just three days before the election (and, perhaps incidentally, after I had written to USAID to complain about the Ambassador’s conduct regarding the IRI election observation, and also let the Ambassador know that I had commissioned a Langata poll in response)?

* Why did the Ambassador want to take Connie Newman–whom he had effectively chosen to be IRI’s lead Election Observation delegate–to meet privately with Stanley Murage the day before the election (I described Murage as by reputation “Kibaki’s Karl Rove” in my reporting to IRI Washington that day, and I have since heard him described by a diplomatic source as “Kibaki’s bag man”)?  Why had the Ambassador ahead of time wanted Connie to stay at his residence or at the Serena Hotel separate from the rest of the Observation Mission at the Mayfair? Why did Connie mislead me about her separate time at the embassy residence when it had been understood among myself and IRI’s top executives that Connie was to be fully briefed to avoid this type of situation with the Ambassador (and my notes from the time show that I was told she was in fact briefed and “on board” before her arrival in Nairobi)? Did the private Murage meeting end up taking place?

* How did Connie know by Saturday evening December 29th, at the Mayfair, that Kibaki would be the announced winner when the ECK’s process at the KICC was still very much ongoing as represented publicly?  She was in regular contact with the Ambassador by cellphone throughout–was he her source?  Is there any other plausible explanation?

* Was then the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington describing what he witnessed and his own actions at the ECK’s headquarters at the KICC fully ingenuous in describing the Ambassador unsuccessfully offering ECK Chairman Kivuitu encouragement not to give in to pressure to announce a manipulated result? Note that this cable was written on the sixth day after the election and the third day after Kivuitu preemptively declared the vote for Kibaki and delivered the certificate of election to him at State House for his Sunday afternoon swearing in, and during the worst of the post-election violence and the time of maximum uncertainty for Kenya’s newish democracy and its longstanding stability. How does the Ambassador’s after-the-fact write up square with Kivuitu unsuccessfully seeking Ambassador’s Ranneberger’s help before the election?

* Why did Connie assert herself so strongly to object to making any public statement about the USAID IRI exit poll when she had no involvement whatsoever in that polling program and had no prior discussion with any of us who were involved?  (Note the Ambassador’s admission in his interview by Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times that he had discussed the exit poll with Connie or “another Institute official”.) My immediate superior, the regional director for Africa, told me contemporaneously that I had made a mistake in bringing up the exit poll in front of Connie as she should not be involved, which I had recognized immediately when Connie jumped in to object.

* Given that the State Department released to me under FOIA redacted versions of a variety of classified cables, why did they withhold in full the documentation about Secretary of State Rice’s January 3, 2008 discussion with EU Foreign Minsiter Javier Solana about the election on the basis of its classification?  What was so sensitive?

* Did Ambassador Ranneberger intervene with Johann Kreigler to steer the Commission of Inquiry into the 2007 Elections–the “Kreigler Commission”–away from an examination of the ECK’s presidential vote tally?  A reliable source reported to me on this, but on second hand information as best I could tell so I don’t know.

*  Why did the Ambassador get involved in brokering the rapprochement between Kibaki and Moi in the summer of 2007?  Why was I told nothing about this by State or USAID, or anyone from IRI?  Did anyone from IRI know before I reported this to Washington in the fall of 2007?  Did this rapprochement lead to Uhuru Kenyatta as KANU Chairman and Leader of the Official Opposition crossing the aisle with KANU to pull out of ODM and support Kibaki?  Did this lead Kibaki and his circle to overestimate his electoral position in the Rift Valley?  Similarly, did this underlie the Ambassador’s overestimation of Kibaki’s strength as a candidate–or otherwise support the assessment that Kibaki would not be seriously challenged for reelection as of that summer? Did our support for a Moi-Kibaki rapprochement lead to our backing down on anticorruption issues in 2007, in spite of John Githongo’s brave revelations about Anglo Leasing? Did all of this lock in Kibaki’s support for Uhuru as his successor, ultimately fulfilling Moi’s original intentions from 2002?

*  Did dealings with Kibaki (and Uhuru) in the 2007 election that the State Department was not willing to disclose tie the hands of the United States in the 2013 election, supporting the policy choice to promote the credibility of the IEBC irrespective of the procurement fraud, failure to deploy and implement essential technology and failure to tally the votes fully?  Or, alternatively, was our policy driven strictly by immediate concerns about stability and the threat of violence, regardless of any such potential overhang from 2007?  Any relation to our striking silence now about the proven corruption at the IEBC in the wake of the British convictions for Smith & Ouzman bribes in Kenya?

* Why would USAID withhold in 2014, under an April 2013 FOIA request, their copies of (unclassified) documents already produced to me in March 2013 by the State Department under a 2009 FOIA request, showing State and USAID  personnel coordinating on the misrepresentation of the USAID IRI  exit poll as an IRI “training exercise” in talking points for the media in 2008 and 2009?  (And given that I requested the documents from the State Department in 2009, and they were cleared for release in October 2012, why were they not mailed to me until March 12, 2013, just after the next Kenyan election?)   People are still being squirrelly after all these years.

Hats off to Connie

Like others who have had an occasion to work with her over recent years I am sure, I found Connie Newman to be a charming and very effective lobbyist (and I am sure she was a charming and effective diplomat during her eleven months at the State Department even though my eleven months at IRI did not overlap with her in that role).  I can appreciate why Ambassador Ranneberger would identify her as his “great friend and mentor” to the media in Nairobi on a visit to Nairobi in 2009.

IRI identified Connie to the Weekly Standard in 2009 as the primary decisionmaker on spiking the exit poll while serving as lead Election Observation delegate, as I did in my 2008 interviews with the New York Times, as well as in my contemporaneous emails to Joel Barkan which I included in this “War for History” series.  So we agreed on that part anyway.

It is easy to see why Nigeria’s Bayelsa State would have Connie and her firm lobby Sidney Blumenthal (“former Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton”), the State Department’s Regional Security Office and Senator Inhofe on their behalf immediately following Obama’s inauguration in 2009, between her unpaid service observing the Kenyan and Nigerian elections for IRI. It is also easy to see, after what happened in Kenya in 2007, why IRI would have a senior staff member placed as co-lead delegate with Connie for Nigeria’s 2015 State Department funded IRI Election Observation Mission. Connie got most of what she wanted in Kenya in 2007, but I never detected that she had any deep personal background in Kenya’s politics (and she has not been registered as a lobbyist in Washington for any of the Kenyan governmental entities) and it was never my sense that she had any separate irons in the fire other than reflecting the Ambassador’s wishes.  So for me the question is what the Ambassador was trying to accomplish and why.  And then, was it successful or not and what have been the costs to whom?

Kenya 2007 election- Ambassador Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polls

Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we? – “The War for History” part thirteen

[The previous posts from this series are here.]

In June 2007, newly “on the ground” in Nairobi as the resident Director for East Africa for the International Republican Institute, I was told that one of the President’s senior ministers wanted to meet me for breakfast at the Norfolk Hotel.

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process.  I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.  He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”

The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide.

When it was all said and done, after the vote tallies were changed to give President Kibaki a second term through corruption of the  ECK, and almost 1500 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and I finished my leave to work for IRI and was back at home in the United States, at my job as a lawyer in the defense industry, I eventually submitted “hotline” complaints to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID about what I considered improper interference by the American Ambassador with my work as an NGO employee administering the USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission as well as the Exit Poll.

As an exhibit to these complaints, in addition to the statement that I had written for The New York Times after they had called to interview me in July 2008, I prepared a Supplemental Statement to the State Department’s Inspector General.  Seven years after the ill-fated election, having eventually gotten what I could from a round of FOIA requests to State and two rounds to USAID, I am still left with unanswered but concerning questions about what the “agenda” was and was not on the part of the Ambassador, whether it was successful or not, and how it infected my work and the election.  I have no doubt that if we “hadn’t even been there,” to paraphrase the Ambassador, the election would have been stolen anyway, but we were there.  In memory of Peter Oriare and Joel Barkan to whom I dedicated this series for their efforts for a free and fair election and transparent process in 2007, and in respect to my newer Kenyan friends who have been left to continue the work in the aftermath, with courage and determination in the face of increasing repression and threat, here it is:

Supplemental Statement for State Department OIG 2-09

[I have redacted a few names and inserted some sections from my prior New York Times statement for context.]

Election Observers

 

The “War for History” Series to date

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

♠Part Two of “The War for History”: my e-mails to Joel Barkan of January 2, 2008

♠Part Three of “The War for “History”: continuing my e-mail reports to Joel Barkan

♠Part Four of “The War for History”: “yes, the exit poll discriminated against dead voters”

♠Part Five of “The War for History”: “sitting on” the exit poll in January and February 2008

♠(Part Six): Why “The War for History” matters now–authoritarian momentum in East Africa

♠”The War for History” part seven: what, specifically, happened with Kenyans’ votes?

♠”The War for History” part eight: “the way not forward; lessons not learned” from Kenya’s failed 2007 election assistance

♠”The War for History” part nine: from FOIA, a readout of new Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte

♠”The War for History” part ten: what was going on in the State Department on Kenya’s failed election; recognizing change at IRI and how the 2007 exit poll controversy turned into a boon for IRI in Kenya

♠”The War for History” part eleven: what did I mean in “part ten” in referring to Ranneberger “trying to quash” poll results showing Odinga taking the lead in the presidential race in September 2007?

♠”The War for History” part twelve: why did Ranneberger and Lambsdorf react so differently to the election fraud they witnessed together?

Any questions?  There is plenty more I can elaborate on details but I think the general picture is clear that the election was stolen.  Such ambiguity as has existed has been generated by people who have known better.  In an upcoming post I will explain why, as opposed to just how, as I was told, the election was stolen–and why the success of the fraud has preempted reform in Kenya.

 

“The War for History” part eleven–what did I mean in Part Ten in referring to Ranneberger “trying to quash” poll results showing Odinga taking the lead in the presidential race in September 2007?

In response to a reader inquiry, I want to make a clarification of an incident in September 2007 I referred to as background in Part Ten of this War for History series and addressed in more detail in an e-mail that I quoted at length in Part Three. The issue for me was that the Ambassador was expressing an active rather than merely passive favoritism in the Kenyan presidential race for the first time and trying to get me involved in it.

Here is what The New York Times reported in their January 30, 2009 investigative report:

. . . .

Mr. Flottman said he was surprised when, before the election, Mr. Ranneberger made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing Kenyan corruption.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Flottman recalled, the ambassador was even more direct. A few months before the election, Mr. Ranneberger proposed releasing a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga, according to Mr. Flottman, who said he witnessed the episode during a meeting at the ambassador’s office. The suggestion was dropped, he said, after the embassy learned that the pro-Odinga results were already out.

In a meeting in the Ambassador’s office after I was called in to discuss the International Republican Institute’s September 2007 public opinion survey results, which were not yet released, the Ambassador expressed pleasure that our question on preference in the presidential race (which we had an established procedure of not releasing) continued to show a lead for Kibaki as we had in the last survey in March, whereas results from other firms published in the Nairobi papers were showing Odinga as having taken a lead after securing the ODM party nomination. He pressed me to depart from our practice and release our presidential numbers and instructed a member of his staff in attendance to get another firm to not to release their forthcoming presidential numbers. During the meeting the staff member got a message that the other firm had already published their report showing Odinga leading.

So as far as the other polling firm (Steadman, now Synovate) it was “a dog that didn’t bark”; the Ambassador was too late to try to quash their release, no call was made, and I had no reason to think that anyone at the Steadman firm ever knew about the incident and the Ambassador’s instruction to his assistant.

Here is what I quoted in Part Three of this series from a January 2008 e-mail:

In Sept. we did our last general public opinion survey in a series dating back to 2005 (and really a continuation of polling that we had done with Strategic with AID funding since 1999 or earlier).  We had always made a limited public release of general data, privately shown the parties and candidates their own standing and released “horserace” numbers to no one.  By this time all the other polls were being published showing Railia having overtaken Kibaki and building a lead.  Our poll had basically the same results for Kibaki that our March poll had had and showed him ahead.

When the Ambassador got this from AID I was called in and he was all excited about how we had to release our figures and stop Steadman from making a contradictory release the same day.  While we were meeting, [redacted] got an e-mail that Steadman had come out.  [Redacted] agreed with me that changing our policy on this last poll before the election would be transparently and blatantly seen as political, and she told me [redacted] agreed and would work it.  I laid low and never heard back. . .

Telling thing Ambassador said was to the effect that our poll would vindicate what he had been telling Washington, and that if he had misread presidential race “we might as well not even be here”.

And my narrative from Part Ten:

Part of what has troubled me is my conversation with the USAID CTO on the phone from a polling place on the afternoon of the vote on December 27.  It had been agreed internally within IRI that we should not allow any report of our preliminary presidential numbers to leave IRI until after the polls closed at 5:00pm.  We knew that USAID wanted to get the preliminary results that afternoon, and Peter Oriare had estimated that they could be available at 3:00pm.  Within IRI we did not want to be responsible for any situation where the numbers leaked to either the Kibaki or Odinga campaigns before the poll closing, or got out in the media while people were still voting.  This was clearly “best practice”.

More specifically to our particular situation in Nairobi, we were very concerned since we had already been pressured by the Ambassador to depart from precedent to release the numbers he liked from our September poll while he sought to quash the Steadman numbers he didn’t like.  Further, when Ranneberger expressed to me in our meeting at his residence on December 15, 2007 that he wanted to take our lead delegate Connie Newman to meet privately with Kibaki aide Stanley Murage the day before the election major alarm bells had gone off in the IRI front office and it was stressed that such an improper meeting “must not happen”.  We did not know what the Ambassador was up to but knew we needed not to be involved in it.  In this context the desire not to let exit poll numbers get out while voting was still open very much included having them go to the Ambassador in particular.  We had no contractual obligation at all to get USAID an early disclosure on election day.

So observing at a polling place where we were going to close the voting day late that afternoon I got a call from the CTO looking for the preliminary numbers and I put her off.  I had numbers by text message from Peter Oriare but had not been able to study them in detail and go through them carefully with Peter and I tried to put her off.  She got frustrated and said that she would never have had us do the election observation if she thought we could not handle getting her the preliminary exit poll numbers at the same time we were observing and that “the whole reason” they did the exit poll was for “early intelligence of the Ambassador”.  I’m not against intelligence in concept, and I was working for IRI on leave from my job with a defense contractor that does intelligence work, but my purpose and job in Kenya was to support democracy and I did not appreciate being told at that late hour that there was an underlying unexpressed ulterior motive to the polling agreement all along–and such a thing was explicitly contrary to formal IRI policy as well as our USAID agreement. Why was it so important that the Ambassador have the numbers right then–“early”–instead of an hour and a half or so later when the polls closed?  No explanation of that was given.  The USAID officer ended up calling Peter Oriare, our subcontractor, and extracted the numbers directly from him.  Who did the Ambassador share them with and when?  I have no way to know.

I also want to stress that I had confidence in both Strategic Public Relations and Research which did our public opinion surveys and our exit polls for the 2002 and 2007 general elections and 2005 constitutional referendum, and in Steadman, which I hired in December 2007 to do a last minute pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency after the Ambassador had surprisingly suggested that “people were saying” that Raila Odinga might lose his parliamentary seat there to Stanley Livando and thus loses his eligibility to be elected president. The Ambassador’s expressed but unfulfilled desire to try to quash Steadman’s previous report caused me concern about the Ambassador, not about the polling firm.

Ocampo, the Donors and “The Presumption of Arrogance”; a story of babes in the woods of Mt. Kenya?

Let me be clear that I have always supported the pursuit of the ICC cases for the 2007-08 post election killings in Kenya.  Not because the ICC was necessarily a good option but because it was that or nothing.  My country, the United States, officially as a matter of foreign policy articulated by the State Department, always supported prosecution of the post election violence by a “local tribunal” in Kenya.  Which is quite exactly like being in favor of Santa Claus bringing a cure for Ebola in Sierra Leone.  In no way am I against either, but there are obviously more challenging questions begged by the devastating facts presented in these situations. (See “Christmas Shopping–For Sale: Brooklyn Bridge, Ocean Front Property in Arizona, Local Tribunal in Kenya”)

In the context of the “don’t be vague, go to The Hague” vote by Kenya’s Parliament, our U.S. position has been inevitably opaque.  We are not and have never been a member state of the International Criminal Court.  As a general proposition under U.S. law our officials are not to be involved in supporting ICC prosecutions, subject to certain potential exceptions.  Nonetheless, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council the diplomatic strategy of the Kenyan government in the second Kibaki administration put us to a decision as to whether or not to support Security Council intervention to interrupt the ICC prosecutions in the two Kenyan cases.  We declined to do so, to our credit in my opinion.

How to understand what has happened with the pre-trial decisions by Prosecutor Bensouda to drop the charges against the two defendants in the Government/PNU case, Muthaura (on 11 March 2013) and Kenyatta (on 5 December 2014), while the trial in the Opposition/ODM case proceeds?

Almost seven years after the post election violence we are left with complete impunity on the side of those who initiated the conflict by stealing the election and employed two of the three types of large scale killings at issue in the charges of “crimes against humanity”.  ICC Prosecutor Ocampo’s Government/PNU case originally included Kibaki’s Commissioner of Police, Major General Hussein Ali, but the Pre-Trial Chamber declined to confirm the charges against Ali, as it declined to confirm the charges against Henry Kosgey on the Opposition/ODM side.  The greatest cause of death as identified by the Waki Commission report was gunshot wound – understood to be primarily administered by the General Service Unit, Administrative Police and Kenya Police Service forces under Ali’s command.  The “body count” of those who were identifiable by tribe as reported by the Waki Commission was greatest among the Luo–those targeted primarily by the Government side rather than by the militias associated with the Opposition.

So whatever happens with the Ruto and Sang case, the winners of the post election conflict–those on the side of those who stole the election in the first place and who killed to keep and enforce power–remain comfortably immune from any negative consequences, as well as with the benefit of what they have “eaten”.  No more than two individuals face any charges of the many people involved in raising and facilitating the ethnic militias in the Rift Valley that killed innocent Kikuyu in revenge for Kibaki’s election theft and to some extent for leverage in a post election political dispensation, as well as to remove future Kikuyu votes and occupy land as in 1992 and 1997 (when Kenyatta and Ruto were partnered in KANU as now in Jubilee).

Post-election IDP camp at Naivasha, Kenya, 2008

Post-election IDP camp at Naivasha, Kenya, 2008

I do not necessarily blame Ocampo for having tried and failed. He took on what was perhaps inevitably a nearly impossible task given his lack of actual power. I do very much fault him for raising expectations and seeming to believe as well as play to his own press, and then quitting before the end. I am inclined to think that he simply had no realistic understanding of what he was getting into in going after Kibaki’s closest lieutenants on their own turf and was tone deaf to learning.  He seems to have believed that the perceived global stature of the International Criminal Court and his office meant a lot more than it actually did in the warrens of power in Nairobi, no matter how many painted his face on the side of a matatu or a duka. It is hard to imagine how he could have failed to seriously pursue Kenyatta’s telephone and bank records before he left the prosecutor’s office in July 2012. Or how he could have seriously convinced himself that he or his successor would somehow get the records through some notion of “cooperation” from the second Kibaki Administration in which Kenyatta was a key Minister throughout, from his initial appointment during the post election violence on January 8, 2008, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister from April 2008.  Did he pursue evidentiary assistance formally from the United States under those potential legal exceptions I mentioned?

For details on the cases, as I wrote in a post in October ahead of the ICC Status Conference, “Susanne Mueller’s article from the Journal of East African Studies earlier this year, “Kenya and the International Criminal Court (ICC): politics, the election and the law”, perhaps gives the clearest account of how the game has been played so far.”

I do not doubt that Ocampo showed personal courage in the prosecutions of Argentina’s ex-generals and compatriots in establishing the credential that led to his appointment as the ICC’s first prosecutor. Nonetheless, the key distinction in that case was a change in government that made such prosecutions feasible. That did not happen in Kenya because the stolen election was allowed to stand, with an eventual settlement that if anything made the situation harder by adding the perpetrators on the Opposition side into that Government as more junior parties, helping to maintain unity for impunity.

As for my country, we tried to have it both ways by supporting impunity for the theft of the election–having at the very best “actively looked the other way” while it was happening– then notionally supporting “justice” for the killings that followed. Not an idea that was ever likely to fit down a real chimney in Kenya.

And yes, I do have more stories for “the war for history” series.  For instance, yes, the State Department did know before the vote in 2007 that the Kibaki Administration had dispatched the Administrative Police to opposition strongholds in support of the Kibaki re-election effort.  Of course if the “AP” hadn’t gotten caught by those Kenyan television journalists it wouldn’t have been such a problem; certainly we Americans did not say anything publicly.  Now that Kenyatta’s grasp on power is that much firmer with the ICC case over, I don’t doubt that he will further ramp up his efforts to formally and informally undermine the new Constitution and shift power back to the Presidency and away from the media, civil society and the citizenry at large to avoid such inconveniences going forward.

This week I got an email from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor with a Request for Proposals for “Countering Closing Civic Space in Kenya and Uganda”.  It’s a nice idea to support those trying to hold on to the freedoms they have won, and the amount of money–as much as $841,000.00 for a regional program for the two countries–would not have been trivial if it weren’t for the many millions we spent on the Kenyan IEBC during its 2012-13 “#Chickengate” binge, and on helping to sell its incomplete at best results to the public in the last election, for instance, among many other examples of the things we keep doing to contradict ourselves on support for rights, reform and democracy.  And of course our much deeper overall long term “partnerships” with the Museveni and Kenyatta governments.

I may be the one showing naivete now, but I do actually believe that by and large most people in my government, as with the other Donors, do wish for better for Kenyans in terms of justice versus impunity, and for the protection of rights and the establishment of a meaningful democracy where voters have agency.  All other things being equal, they would like Kenya to be a country in which powerful killers go to jail and votes count.  It’s just that they can’t bring themselves to make the hard choices or take the risks required.

“The War for History” part six: USAID ended up saying exit poll “disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner” in 2007 Kenya election

From USAID’s Frontlines magazine for August 2008:

Kenya’s President Lost Disputed Election, Poll Shows
NAIROBI, Kenya—An exit poll carried out with a grant from USAID in Kenya after elections six months ago that unleashed a wave of political and ethic killings, disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner.

President Mwai Kibaki, whom official results credited with a two-point margin of victory in the December vote, finished nearly 6 points behind in the exit poll, which was released in July by researchers from the University of
California, San Diego.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga scored “a clear win outside the margin of error” according to surveys of voters as they left polling places on Election Day, the poll’s author said.

The exit poll was first reported on by the McClatchy news agency. It was financed by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan democracy-building organization, with a grant from USAID.

Amid post-election violence, IRI decided not to release the poll. But the poll’s authors and the former head of the institute’s program in Kenya stand by the research, which the authors presented July 8 in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the exit poll, Odinga had 46.07 percent of the vote and Kibaki had 40.17
percent.

Part Four of “The War for History”: yes, the exit poll discriminated against dead voters

Had I known before late afternoon on election day, 27 December, that “the whole reason” for the USAID-IRI exit poll was “early intelligence for the Ambassador” rather than as a tool to deter and detect potential fraud (as our consultant from UCSD and I were explicitly told some weeks before) I might have made more note of the fact that the exit poll by design generally excluded non-living voters as it was based on live interviews of people who had personally come to the polling place and cast ballots.

Admittedly if the purpose of the exit poll was to predict who the ECK would determine to be the winner, as opposed to simply how living Kenyans voted, this was a serious limitation.

One specific idiosyncrasy that afternoon that was immediately salient was the issue of release to the Ambassador of preliminary numbers reported and collated as of two hours before the polls were to generally close.  I have no statistical reference or otherwise scientific and peer reviewed material to cite for this observation, but it would have been my seat-of-the-pants judgment as the “person on the ground” with some practical experience in campaigns and elections and even with “machine politics” that deceased voters have a pronounced tendency to vote last in sequence among the various voting blocs.

For those wishing to observe the voting process rather than influence it, there are two related reasons why you will not want exit poll numbers to “get out” to actors in the process before the polls close.  One is that potential voters supporting the candidate who is “behind” are perceived to be subject to being discouraged.  Even if this is not a big enough factor to “matter” in the primary race at issue, it has been seen to impact the outcome of other races on the same ballot.  Another is that some voters who might not otherwise elect to turn out may be spurred to action by the perception that their candidate is trailing.  The dead voters are one identifiable bloc that may be particularly susceptible to an appeal of this type.

At the time, I didn’t have any numbers or details to go on that would support a specific adjustment for dead voters in the exit poll.  Some months later the Kreigler Commission estimated a figure of 1.2M decedents who were registered to vote on election day; in January 2010 as discussed in a previous post, Undersecretary of State Maria Otero was headlined in the Kenyan press on a visit saying “we are aware that more than two million dead people voted in 2007”. 

Had these types of numbers been available to me on election day I would have understood the stakes that much better.  Even though this type of voting in the United States peaked before I was born, we can easily see empirical evidence in history of a pronounced tendency of the dead voter bloc to support the party which controls the electoral mechanism, in this case in Nairobi, the ECK.  With the kinds of numbers on the voting role, if ODM/Odinga had roughly six percent more live votes as reflected in the exit poll, the percentage of the deceased who needed to be inspired to cast ballots would be much lower than the overall turnout figures.

In corresponding with a diplomat from an allied country (one with which the U.S. has a mutual defense treaty) before the ECK decision I was told that his expectation was that Odinga would win by roughly five percent.  I replied that this was interesting as I had decided that roughly five percent was probably the minimum threshold for a margin for Odinga that would result in him being accepted as the winner by the ECK.  In hindsight I was probably “drinking the KoolAid” of democratization a bit myself.