While mourning, and One_dering . . .

A piece that you might have missed on the Westgate attack that touches more of the bases than most: The Real Reason al-Shabab Attacked a Mall in Kenya by Bronwyn Bruton at DefenseOne.com.
Also: “Terror Strikes Nairobi, Crossing Borders” from Lauren Hutton at the Netherlands Institute of International Affairs (Clingendael).

And if you missed a wise perspective on the human context, here is Karen Rothmyer in The Nation: “Reflections on the Kenya Terror Attack”

Other lessons so far: from Abdul Haji, son of the Garissa Senator and former Defense Minister, who drove from another shopping mall (Yaya Centre) and helped rescue many at Westgate after a cell call from his brother who was stranded by the attackers, we learn that real heroes drink Dormans (and pack a pistol), and leave notes for the owners of cars they back into while rushing to rescue their brothers.  The story of the Haji-on-the-spot collaboration with the Kenyan Red Cross, a handful of plainclothes police and a kitted out group of what we might call “neighborhood watchmen” is just so deeply “Kenyan”.

Ambassador David Shinn appropriately noted on his blog that his biggest surprise about the Westgate attack is that it hadn’t happened sooner.  People I touch base with expect more, and we have additional attacks in Mandera and Wajir.  In order to stay safe and protect each other, it seems to me that Kenyans need to calmly but firmly and persistently press to get as much truthful information as possible about what happened at Westgate and take responsibility for their neighborhoods and surroundings.

The #WeAreOne_dering hashtag on Twitter has brought people from all over the world into the conversation about what really has really happened with this attack.

The United States, in particular, has spent millions on an ongoing basis, through the State Department and the Defense Department directly and indirectly on  “capacity building”, training, etc. for Kenyan security.  Given the meager preparation for and response to an attack like Westgate, we need to quickly recalibrate to account for the present reality and the immediate threat.

Here is my post from 2009 “Corruption and Terrorism/Security”. And from 2010 “U.S.-Kenya Relations: A counterterrorism versus reform tradeoff?”

And to address the religious dimension, here is an important post from African Arguments via allAfrica.com: “Somalia: To Beat Al Shabaab Kenya Must Expel its Religious Leader “Sheikh Hassaan” From Nairobi”.  And the National Council of Churches of Kenya has posted this flyer from the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya announcing a “We Are One in Prayer” event on October 1.

KPTJ Statement

Sharing the statement released by KPTJ this morning:

At this time of grief, we, Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, wish to express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have been lost or remain missing, and wish a swift recovery to all those who have been hurt. We applaud the contributions of our fellow Kenyans to support rescue and security work and medical care for victims, as well as the unity our nation has demonstrated throughout this crisis. We condemn this despicable attack and support all work to rescue those still trapped at Westgate, and to end the situation as soon as possible and without further loss of life.

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.