Two things to read after the Westgate attack (updated)

Simon Allison in The Daily Maverick has a piece today entitled “Nairobi attack: Why Kenya and why now?”  that strikes me as solid and recommended priority reading.

As far as where things are in Somalia this is probably a good time to read, if you missed it, Matt Bryden’s report “Somalia Redux?: Assessing the new Somali federal government” for the Center for Strategic and International Affairs, which provides a sobering corrective to any notions that recent progress in Somalia is more than a set of limited early steps toward any long term formation of a stable state.

Add this on the Kenyan security situation: “Kenya mall al-shabaab attacks reveal security cracks” Africa Report.

Why Westgate? [updated 9-24]

I certainly claim no special insight into the minds of Al Shabaab, but by virtue of having been around long enough to have been marked in childhood by the memory of the “Black September” attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, it isn’t a surprise to read that “Westgate Shopping Mall is one of several Israeli-owned businesses in Kenya.” “Shopping mall in premier complex that is home to international brands”, Saturday Nation.

Likewise, Nairobi’s upscale malls are hubs for internationals and expats, as well as symbols of the prosperity and comfort that can be found by the affluent in Nairobi and a source of local pride. The psychological and economic impact from mass murder at such a place is entirely different than mass murder of a similar scale in some other town or village, or in the slums.

I have to say I don’t believe these people would be sated if they ruled all of Somalia without challenge.

[Update: This post was an early reaction to news of the attacks. With the crisis nearing an end after three days, we don’t seem to really know much yet about the attackers and the specifics of the operation. Variety of contradictory information and lots of opinions, some derived from some substantial amount of experience and knowledge, some from little.]

More impressions from observing voting in Nairobi

One big challenge is slowness of process–certainly no surprise at all which is why my civil society colleagues asked that the contingency plans for this be announced ahead of time by the IEBC (electoral commission). Poll openings at 8-10am appear common in Nairobi rather than scheduled 6am–again no surprise given the logistics involved. It certainly appears that in most cases a paper rather than electronic poll book is in use. Further it appears that complete absence of working electronic BVR for voter identification is common. Some polling streams never received hardware at all; others received too little or found it unusable for whatever reason.

Wholly manual voting then is normal, even though the voter registration was truncated to provide for the use of BVR. Given that the voting is inevitably slow and the turnout is huge, I heard from one fellow observer of polling station workers just taking down names of people who presented IDs and allowing them to vote because it would take too long to try to find and check off names on the paper lists.

The voters are being in general extremely patient with hours of pre-dawn queuing and waiting in hot sun. Ordinary Kenyans in Nairobi certainly are demonstrating both peace and a commitment to the voting process itself.

The unexpected problem, to me and people I have spoken with, is that the ballot boxes were getting close to full with only a relatively small percentage of voters having voted. Presiding officers indicated no backup capacity, but were shaking the boxes to settle the cast ballots..

First impressions–front and back

I covered the opening of a Nairobi polling centre this morning.

Loose general impressions in comparison with 2007: pre-opening lines seemed even bigger than 2007; large numbers of people got out to que in the pre-dawn; actual voting quite slow as should be expected with new and complicated process and six ballots versus three. There was some stream of periodic boisterousness from people waiting and concerned by bottlenecks–things were quiter in 2007.

One thing that annoyed me was to see that the ballot papers are all white paper except for the color on the front only to correspond with the specific race (i.e. “purple” for woman’s representative to National Assembly). This means when you fold the six ballots for secrecy and to drop them in the color-coded box they look the same. My civil society colleagues raised this issue, among many, with the IEBC. The IEBC reported to one member of the civil society coalition who then circulated the response, that the cheaper ballot papers colored only on one side were only for the “mock election” testing, and that today, voters would have the intended fully colored paper.

Apparently not so. Not that the problem in itself is of such magnitude perhaps, but the quality of the information and means of communication from the IEBC were lacking on this point. And of course it would be good to know, even though it will be too late, what happened in the procurement process to cause this.

Enjoyed meeting diplomatic observers from the Danish Embassy and the Eritrean Foreign Ministry.

Back to Nairobi (updated)

IMG_7525Now that I am back in Nairobi for the election, I am frantically learning as much as I can “on the ground”, but would love to hear from you. Feel free to drop me an e-mail. Asante.

I have had a lot to say here about Kenyan politics over the past three and a half years, so if you are new to the blog enjoy, but I am here to help quietly and listen for the most part so don’t expect a lot of commentary in this forum prior to the vote. It is interesting to hear so many people who know more than I do have strongly held contradictory opinions and expectations. I have no expectations, just hopes and prayers. Other than that, I will say that I think that fear is unhelpful but complacency is a killer. I am not persuaded by anyone who claims much certainty regarding how things will go.

More links for Kenya’s Election; Chief Justice’s “bombshell” press conference; Debate loses a “horse”

Kenya Voting: "Curriculum Cooking"

AllAfrica.com has put together a special feature page on the Kenyan elections that is a good source for the latest stories from the main Kenyan media sources:  “Kenya Decides: 2013 Elections”. (h/t @GeorgetownDG)

On Thursday, February 28, the Institute for Security Studies Nairobi office will host a “Seminar on Kenya’s 2013 Elections: issues, actors and scenarios.”  Register on-line through the link.

IRIN has published on on-line “multimedia documentary” entitled “No Ordinary Elections” which does a nice job of informing an international audience of the basic context of the upcoming Kenyan election and includes good interviews discussing humanitarian concerns and preparations in general terms.  A work of art in internet publishing.

In the latest developments, there is a lot of buzz in the human rights community regarding the announcement by Chief Justice Mutunga at a press conference today that he had received a letter threatening judges and others regarding any ruling against the candidacy of Uhuru Kenyatta purporting to be from a Mungiki-associated group, Further, as reported in the Star story “Chief Justice Raises Concern Over Threats to Judges”:

The CJ also revealed that he was asked by an immigration officer at the JKIA to seek travel clearance from the Head of Civil Service Francis Kimemia a day after the letter was posted.

“I was stopped at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) by an Immigration Officer, who insisted that I could not travel because I had not been cleared by Mr. Francis Kimemia, the Permanent Secretary, Head of the Public Service, and Secretary to the Cabinet.” Mutunga said.

The CJ further asked Inspector General of police David Kimaiyo to take the necessary steps to protect judges from threats and intimidation so as not to give constitutional rulings. “The Judiciary will not flinch from interpreting the constitution as required. The constitution must be guarded jealously,” He said.

From The Standard: CJ Mutunga bombshell”.

From the Daily Nation: “Chief Justice Speaks Out on Threatening Letter.”

Obviously a lot of difference among the media houses in how to report this.  Thus the need to read widely to put together the pieces in getting the facts and understand the interests.

While I would completely reserve judgement as to exactly what to make of the threatening letter, the “immigration” harassment is disturbing in light of Kenya’s short but unduly “colorful” history involving politics at these highest levels.  Certainly the President himself should address this if he wants to reassure the country at a time in which no one needs any more tension than can be helped.

This has overshadowed the other big political story of the day, that Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign has announced that he will drop out of the second presidential debate scheduled for Monday, complaining of the allegedly unfair amount of emphasis on the charges he faces from the International Criminal Court and “ganging up” by the other candidates on this point.

My sense of the political strategy here would be that Kenyatta feels he is in solid position to make a runoff, and not in striking distance to win in the first round, so there is nothing major to be gained from another debate, while there are risks from undesired questions and unscripted situations.  He has plenty of money and media access as a top candidate so he probably doesn’t feel a need to share the stage to  communicate whatever he wants to say in the last days of the campaign.  Likewise, part of his approach since the ICC charges have been confirmed has been to portray himself as a victim of other politicians and interests, so claiming that he was treated unfairly in the debate fits with that theme, too.

How is IGAD’s “diplomatic observation” regarding Kenya’s election process helpful?

Africa Review reports on the statement of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) from this week’s visit to Nairobi by executive secretary Mahboub Maalim (himself a Kenyan) and others from the Addis headquarters under the headline “IGAD confident of peaceful Kenya election”:

In his statement, Mr Maalim said: “Igad has come to the conclusion that Kenya’s election is not an event. It is a process and that March 4th is not the end; it is the beginning of a process that could last till June 2013. Kenyans must therefore brace themselves for the long haul.”

Mr Maalim said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the judiciary are crucial for the success of the polls.

“The efficiency of the IEBC during the voter registration process must be lauded. We expect that the same efficiency will apply to the March 4 poll. This is critical if Kenya is to avoid petitions arising from IEBC system failure. The efficiency and believability of the Supreme Court in dealing with the presidential election petitions is also critical. This will determine whether or not the transition is successful,” the Igad executive secretary said.

He said IEBC should be encouraged to conduct a systems dry-run with peer reviewers to seal any loopholes that would affect its efficiency.

Dr Kimani said the recent party nominations in Kenya were inclusive, open and transparent and that it was what the rest of the region had expected.

Igad brings together six countries in the Horn of Africa – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda – for development and drought control in their region

“Party nominations were inclusive, open and transparent”. Wow, that is certainly a unique perspective that contradicts the reporting in the Kenyan and international press, the reporting of Kenyan civil society umbrella KPTJ, and, for example, the reporting of the Center for Multi-Party Democracy-Kenya which is a well established and leading presence in Nairobi on these matters. So who is right here? Might it be relevant that IGAD is an organization of governments that are all far more “challenged” in terms of democratic practices in general, and elections specifically, than even Kenya in the wake of power-sharing and the debacle of 2007, along with the Government of Kenya itself?

I am all for whomever exhorting peace, although I am substantially skeptical that official pronouncements of this type have actual impact on ultimate behavior. Likewise, I am all for encouragement, hope and reasoned, well-grounded optimism in the context of pushing for the best election possible from where things really stand today. But this type of statement about the primaries is a “diplomatic” position rather than an observation or representation of fact. It undermines the credibility of whatever else is said in the same statement as being connected to the facts. At best it is unhelpful–it might be dangerous.

A few links to set the scene as we approach 30 days to Kenya’s vote . . .

Jay Naidoo of The Daily Maverick writes from “the Mukuru Kwa Reuben slum, one of the largest in Nairobi” with an unknown population size: “I have a right to a toilet–it’s human dignity”.

An update on the preparation for Kenya’s citizen digital “crowdsourced” monitoring/mapping effort, using the Ushahidi software: “Uchagazi Community Next Steps”.

H/t to the UN Dispatch blog for noting another official pre-election delegation in Nairobi: “Kenya: UN official stresses need for peaceful and transparent elections”:

“Kenya’s elections will be watched closely around the world,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said during a visit to Nairobi, the capital.

“Let me take this opportunity to appeal to all Kenyans to exercise their democratic right and participate actively – but peacefully – in the elections,” he said. “Let me also underscore the responsibility shared by leaders at all levels to abide by legal mechanisms and to send a clear message to supporters that violence of any kind would be unacceptable.”

Mr. Feltman, who oversees UN support to elections globally in his capacity as Focal Point for UN Electoral Assistance, commended the electoral authorities for their preparations and underscored the readiness of the UN to continue providing financial and technical assistance to the electoral process.

In the category of “open government initiatives,” and “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” the Project on Government Oversight (US) is asking citizens to push the White House to finally fill the vacancy for the the Inspector General for the State Department:

Inspectors general are independent watchdogs within federal agencies that are essential to a well-functioning government. They conduct audits and investigations that identify wasteful government practices, fraud by individuals and government contractors, and other sorts of government misconduct. Congress and the public rely on their reports to hold agencies and individuals accountable for wrongdoing, identify a need for legislation, and evaluate the effectiveness of government programs and policies.

Unfortunately, President Obama went his entire first term without nominating an inspector general for the State Department. At over five years, the State Department opening is the longest running vacancy among federal agencies.

 

Wycliffe Muga in The Star on “Why we should not dismiss foreigners”, with an example from his own experience in Kenya, but perhaps a universal lesson.

In the category of “it could be worse”: “Is a military coup Museveni’s last line of defense against NRM rebels?” asks Gaaki Kigambo in The East African.

 

“And the beat(ings) go on . . .”; as 2007 bleeds into 2013, what would it take for Human Rights Watch and others to make Kenyan politics less deadly?

The latest Kenya release from Human Rights Watch, dated yesterday, decries the terrible beating of Kenyan activist Okiya Omtatah Okoiti.

Omtatah, executive director of Kenyans for Justice and Development (KEJUDE) Trust, a local NGO that advocates for transparency and accountability, was attacked by two unidentified men in central Nairobi. He lost six teeth and suffered serious injuries to his face and the back of his head, which required surgery. Omtatah told Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 that the attackers demanded that he withdraw a lawsuit he filed to demand accountability in the procurement of biometric voter registration (BVR) kits because of corruption associated with the process.

“This vicious attack was clearly meant not just to intimidate Omtatah but to seriously injure him – and perhaps even to kill him,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The aim seems to be to stop his work on corruption in the procurement of biometric voter registration kits for the upcoming elections.”

Certainly this is a crucial and timely issue in working toward integrity in the upcoming Kenyan election and in protecting an activist who took a big risk in pursuing legal action against election-related corruption. So kudos to Human Rights Watch and Article 19 for calling attention to the attack. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine that anything will actually happen as a result of this statement that “[t]he Kenyan authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate a serious physical assault . . . and bring appropriate charges.” Of course, they should–that goes without saying; of course. they won’t.

Why won’t they? Are they confident they can wait it out and the outside actors and international players who care about Omtatah now will move on to the next outrage, the next victim, without really disrupting the vicious cycle?

Why would I suggest this? Not to be gratuitously critical of Human Rights Watch or any of the many organizations trying to support human rights defenders. Rather I say this on the basis of my own hard-earned experience with well-intentioned failure in dealing with election fraud and violence in Kenya in 2007/08. I moved my family to Kenya for a year to help support democracy in the last election cycle–we were able to take in a couple of displaced families for a few months after the election, and help a few others a bit, but nothing that I did in my NGO work really changed anything as far as upholding democracy. My organization, IRI, issued a report noting the election fraud, in July 2008, and in August 2008 released the exit poll showing that voters at the polls on election day reported favoring the opposition, before the mark-ups of the tallies for the incumbent at the Electoral Commission in Nairobi afterwards. But these reports were months too late to really matter. It is going to take more to make a difference in the brutal world of Kenyan politics.

So how does Human Rights Watch yesterday describe what happened with the 2007/08 election situation:
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