“No shame, and thus immune from embarrassment” – it’s primary election time again in Kenya 

We have seen this before, in 2007 and 2013, but here is the best description I have read. A few details are unique but in general terms this is the same scene from a different year.

Courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request, here is a November 20, 2007 State Department email which is a headquarters “readout” of a video conference held “with Post to discuss the experiences of Post’s first-ever observation of the political primary process in Kenya.”:

The Observation Effort:

*21 teams (total about 60 people) deployed to the field. This is our first time observing the primaries. We expect to deploy about 50 (100+ people) teams to the general elections as part of the larger international observer effort. The EU plans to deploy 150 people.

*These will be Kenya’s 4th multiparty elections but only the second “free and fair”.

Negatives Observed:

*The process was very poorly organized. We would say the the parties embarrassed themselves, except most of the party leaders have no shame and are thus immune from embarrassment. General feeling is that apparent total lack of organization is not an accident, but reflects efforts to rig/manipulate the outcomes.

*There were obvious deals between the incumbents and local party operatives.

*The process was well-run and by the book only in areas where parties had no hope of winning in that area anyway. Where there were real stakes, manipulation was rampant and obvious.

*Ballots were delayed for many hours in many locations; some politicians felt this was intentional and especially disenfranchised women voters, who either couldn’t wait all day or had to go home before dark for safety reasons.

*Hate literature observed to date is overwhelmingly generated by PNU supporters.

Positives Observed:

*Turnout was surprisingly good. People were very determined to vote. Many waited from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later for ballots to arrive. In some cases where ballots were delayed, people agreed amongst themselves to vote on whatever pieces of paper and honored the results.

*Dozens of outgoing MPs (including some we are very happy to see go, i.e. [REDACTED] were eliminated at this stage, which suggests that you can’t always manipulate the results.

*Our sample was biased as we purposely went to areas where trouble was expected and/or stakes were high, so we likely observed a disproportionate amount of rigging, etc.

*With the recent passage of the Political Parties Bill, this is the last time that the party nomination process will be run by the parties themselves. In the future, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) will run it (at least, for all parties who want public money). PNU contracted with the ECK to run their primary this time, but it didn’t happen in practice–party leaders took over and wouldn’t let ECK do its job.

After the Primaries:
*We expect a lot of horse trading. Some winners were DQed on appeal and even without an appeal. There were also many “directed nominations,” which led to the resuscitation and handpicking of many old dinosaurs/unpopular incumbents notwithstanding voter opposition.

*There may be blowback with an impact on turnout for Dec. 27. There were widespread feelings of bitterness and disappointment, especially among ODM supporters, who expected to participate in a “new beginning.” Many people complained that, populist image notwithstanding, ODM is run like a dictatorship and that the way of doing things is no different than KANU used to do in the past. The positive difference is that the electorate is much more vocal and active in demanding transparency and participation in the electoral process. The howls of protest regarding some of the directed nominations show the electorate’s increasing maturity and lack of interest in this kind of politics.

*Many unsuccessful candidates have jumped to smaller/marginal parties. There is a cottage industry of sorts selling nominations.

Possible Impact on Main Parties:

*The disappointment and frustration with the nominating process was greatest among ODM supporters. Will this experience sap the energy of ODM supporters, or can ODM redeem itself? Will people continue to be willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity?

*Fear/stability is a powerful motivating factor in Kibaki’s reelection prospects. The contest between ODM and PNU can be characterized as “hope vs. fear.”

*PNU has much less internal discipline and message consistency. Virtually all PNU parties are fielding their own candidates for Parliamentary seats, so not much of a real coalition.

Political Violence

*Two possible types. One, aspirant (often incumbent) MPs use paid gangsters (and sometimes local police officials) to intimidate or disrupt the polling process (trash polling stations, threaten voters waiting in line and/or election officials). Two, spontaneous voter uprisings, where voters feel they are being disenfranchised and attach the presiding officers. If the ECK runs an efficient process as expected, this should lessen the possibility of voter violence. —–END—–

As I wrote in including this content in my 2012 post titled “Part Eight, new documents from FOIA: Diplomacy versus Assistance Revisited–why observe elections if we don’t tell people what we see?“:

For context, this November 20, 2007 summary of what was observed during the primary elections was roughly a month after the Ambassador’s intervention in the public opinion polling as described in previous documents and a month before the Ambassador’s public statement predicting a “free and fair” election the week before the general election. Nairobi is the State Department’s biggest Sub-Saharan post; it was staffed with smart and observant people and obviously well funded–the problem was not what the State Department did not know, rather it was what it would not say.

Election Violence threat in Kenya — my thoughts on NDI’s new warning 


1. NDI is right to warn of a risk of violence, highlighting the unprecedented level of division and tension in Kenya related to the competition for power in this election scheduled for August.

2.  Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.

3.  Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved.  Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust.  No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.

4.  The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over.  There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others.  I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).

5.  Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

6.  Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007.  Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab.  In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi —  is really failing.  Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood.  Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.

7.  It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year).  It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning.  Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.

8.  Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time.  Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.

9.  I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war.  In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction.  The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted.  On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.

Update: 13 April — See Muthoni Wanyeki’s latest column in The East African, Polls: the heat is rising, mayhem escalating,” for a look at the current temperature official behavior around the country.

 

The hardest job in Kenya . . .

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The new Kenya IFES country director has arrived in time to learn her way around for the August election, just as Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (“IEBC”) has thrown in the towel, again, on a crucial technology acquisition–and once again going with a “sole source” procurement with Safran/Morpho (as with the BVR kits in 2013) to save time since they are already late.

The technology problems will be all too familiar, of course, to Kenyans and others who were involved or closely observed the 2007 and 2013 elections, or were involved in writing up any of the many commission papers, evaluation reports, etc. associated with those misadventures.

Sadly, it may be that the die has already been cast for this year in that the IEBC Commissioners were not replaced until too late to have the requisite time on the job to adequately prepare for the election (a key recommendation from the 2008 “Kreigler Commission”). For the most part they have inherited the work of their predecessors and the staff they hired who made crucial decisions like planning a huge expansion of the number of polling places, while failing to address the corruption in the failed technology procurements or make adequate progress on replacements.

With the new Commissioners taking office, officials from President Kenyatta’s party launched a public attack on the U.S. election assistance effort which is being run by IFES, and singling out long time IFES country director Mike Yard, who seems to have been the one person with both the most longevity and the best reputation involved in process.  And then there were visa problems and other Government of Kenya directed disruptions.  I am sure its a coincidence but Mr. Yard took on a new challenge earlier this year as Country Director for Libya.  Thus, a new director arriving less than five months before the scheduled vote. (I arrived in Kenya roughly six months before the 2007 election and am still learning on a continuing basis things no one told me that I should have known about that election.)

Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role.  Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to provide the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation.  Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.

Of course this is all based on what is public to me as an interested American taxpayer–maybe USAID changed its mind and ended up restructuring all this on a non-public basis?

One other factor is that IFES does have some separate funding for 2014-18 work from the Canadian International Development Agency this time.

No incumbent president has been recognized by a Kenyan election management body as having lost a re-election bid.  Presumably the immediate foreign policy priorities of the United States in Kenya in August will be weighted to the stability of our long time “partner” Kenya.  As the State Department continues the process of consolidation of control of USAID as we have seen over the previous U.S. administrations in moving from the 2007 to 2013 now to 2017 election, it will be that much harder to for people handling democracy assistance at USAID to stand firm for the long term interests, and statutory and legal priority of the U.S. to support democracy in the face of competing claims from the diplomatic and defense constituencies within our government which will presumably have incentives to placate the incumbent.

Election observation has always been controversial in Kenya.  In the first multi-party presidential election in 1992, Ambassador Smith Hempstone, according to his memoir, recommended having NDI observe the election, anticipating an incoming Clinton administration.  President Moi, who used the Republican consulting firm Black, Manafort and Stone, refused to entertain NDI, writes Hempstone, but agreed to IRI.  In 1997 and 2002, the observation agreement went to the Carter Center, then to IRI in 2007 (that year USAID did not want to do an observation, as I have written, but Ambassador Ranneberger instigated having IRI observe), then back to the Carter Center in 2013.  Observers inevitably get criticized for being too critical or too lenient towards the Kenyan process, which has always been messy.

In my year 2007, the EU and the domestic donor-funded observers stood up initially to the ECK’s obvious irregularities, while IRI was initially neutered.  Eventually IRI released both its exit poll indicating an opposition win (August 2008) and a highly critical final report (July 2008).

In 2013, the domestic observation, ELOG, initially “verified” the incomplete “final results” announced by the IEBC but eventually released a significantly critical final report.  Similarly, the Carter Center provided key initial bolstering of the IEBC’s position in their preliminary report but issued a much more critical final report months later. See Carter Center quietly published strikingly critical Final Report from Kenya Election Observation.

In both those 2007 and 2013 elections, as in 2002, IFES worked inside the IEBC to provide technical support and did not have an “observation” role.  Bill Press, the IFES President, later testified to Congress that the 2013 election was a great success from the IFES standpoint because Kenya “did not burn”.  The terminology of the Kenyan constitution for a successful election is “free and fair” as opposed to “did not burn”.   Maybe I am just too much of a lawyer in how I look at these things, but I do not think we should have USAID help underwrite elections to a “do not burn” rather than “free and fair” standard to the the tune of $25M when people are literally starving to death in the neighborhood and aid budgets are being cut.

I do not want Kenya to burn, and I hope and pray that this year’s election is less violent than 1992, 1997 or 2007–and even 2013 when “only” 400-500 people were killed in politically driven violence in the pre-election months and only a few protesters were killed by police after the vote.  In general terms the reason that people die over elections in Kenya is because they are governed by killers, not because Kenyans aspire to actually have their votes counted honestly and openly.

See: It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington [with link to video] June 13, 2013

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Counting in Nairobi suburb

 

Observers find candor in Uganda and condemn elections on basis of pre-existing conditions

Which raises the question: “why observe?”.

Uganda’s elections again fall short of democratic benchmarks” says the Commonwealth Observation Mission.  In spite of my sarcasm about an observation being co-chaired by Kenya’s Moi-era Attorney General, the Commonwealth Mission was willing to issue a “preliminary report” laying out the deficiencies in the Museveni-controlled process:

2016 general elections were marked by a lack of a level electoral playing field, an increased prevalence of money in politics, alleged misuse of state resources, inequitable media coverage, and question marks over the secrecy of the ballot and the competence of the Electoral Commission to manage the process, according to an independent group of Commonwealth election observers.

The US State Department made similar comments without funding a formal international observation mission separate from the funding through NDI for the domestic observation group CEON-U which found “Uganda’s hope for free and fair elections dashed.”

To eliminate redundancy with constrained budgets and growing demand: Is it time to merge IRI and NDI?

Donkey

Mara Herd

This is a post I started a few years ago and let sit.  I usually avoid writing about things that directly mention the International Republican Institute other than as specifically necessary in regard to the 2007 election in Kenya and some advocacy for people arrested in Egypt.   It’s awkward for a lot of reasons to write about IRI,  the most personally important of which is my deep affection for people that work there.  And to the extent I have criticisms it would be my desire that they become better rather than that they be harmed.

Nonetheless, I think the structure of democracy assistance is something we need to think about and almost everyone who is in a position to be engaged is also in a position to feel constrained from speaking freely or has an unavoidable conflict of interest.  And its is an especially challenging time for the effort to share or support democracy so I am going to suck it up and proceed:

—————–

In an era of hyperpartisanship in the U.S. we are also faced with a divided government and a real question about our collective ability to do the basic business of governance in terms of passing budgets, for instance.

More specific to democracy support, the old notion that “politics stops at the water’s edge” is long dead. Every issue anywhere is contested space between Democrats and Republicans in grappling for power. [The attack on the U.S. government facility in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 being perhaps the most conspicuous example.] There are profound divisions in a few areas of policy and culture between the Republican and Democratic base voters.  Nonetheless, it is also clear, ironically perhaps, that in the present moment there is not any clearly identified and coherent policy difference between the parties on foreign affairs as such. Now in the early stages of the 2013-16 presidential campaign, Republican Senator Rand Paul appears to be his party’s front runner for the nomination. The traditional Republican foreign policy establishment has less disagreement on specific points of foreign policy with the Obama Administration than with Senator Paul. And much of its membership would presumably in private vote for a Democrat seen as somewhat more hawkish and interventionist than Obama, such as for instance Hillary Clinton, than for Paul. Some piece of the base of the Democratic Party might well feel obligated to vote for Paul over Clinton in a general election if it came to it.

Referencing the policies of the most recent Republican Administration, which was in office when I worked for IRI in East Africa, there is no reason to think that Jeb Bush, for instance, believes in the “Bush Doctrine” and certainly Ron Paul doesn’t.  Foreign policy was important in the 2008 Democratic primaries and in the 2008 general election and there was at that time a sharp perceived difference between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin over the aspects of foreign policy that were important to most voters and that difference was essential to Obama’s election.  Not so much in 2012 in either the Republican primaries or in the general election.  All presidential elections matter with great intensity for Washington foreign policy people because they decide who gets what jobs (like do you go to the State Department or stay at IRI or NDI or some think tank) and in general everyone is either Democrat or Republican and either wins completely or loses completely, heads or tails, each time.  For most American voters the relationship of parties and elections to foreign affairs is completely different.

The traditions of the Democratic and Republican foreign policy establishment in Washington are based on the Cold War, like the structure of the National Endowment of Democracy itself, with IRI and NDI along with the overseas arms of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO as its “core” “private” institutes. Relatedly this tradition and structure is also critically Eurocentric. Going on a quarter century after the fall of the Soviet Union the terms of the contest between a democratic Washington and an authoritarian Moscow are very different in Europe itself today–and much less of immediate relevance in, say, Africa. The old days of the American Democrats supporting the democratic left in Europe and the American Republicans supporting the right–both as a pro-American alternative to Soviet-aligned Communists–are interesting history that we should learn more from, but they are history.  And we are not nearly so Eurocentric now in our policies and relationships in Africa, Asia and Latin America, so we have different types of opportunities to support democracy and its related values in those regions rather than dividing everyone up as pro-Western Bloc versus pro-Eastern Bloc.

In practice today, I don’t see the Democratic Party in power in Washington really aligned with the “democratic left” in other countries, given the lack of need to shore up against Marxist/Communist forces (among other reasons) nor much particular interest in the Republican Party in supporting more rightist or conservative parties abroad per se.  Generally Republican and Democrat campaign and media consultants, like lobbyists, seem to work for whoever they come to terms with commercially in any given emerging or frontier market rather than on the basis of some coherent party related framework.

Formally, IRI and NDI are completely overlapping as they are both non-partisan.  Occasionally they are said to be “affiliated” with their respective parties, but more frequently they are said to have “no connection” to parties.  Ultimately this is simply confusing and unclear–and not really consistent with the principles that the organizations are trying to teach to others.  In Germany where the government funds overseas institutes of the parties, the law is different and the government provides funding for the parties themselves in a way that would presumably be unconstitutional in the United States.  So you don’t have a counterpart to this strange melange of “nonpartisan Republican” or “nonpartisan Democratic” even though the German organizations are said to be a model for setting up IRI and NDI back in the early 1980s.

In my personal experience, I had the clear impression that IRI was quite serious about being legally compliant in terms of the 501(c)(3) nonpartisan formalities [and this was noteworthy in an  a organization that did not have an overall compliance component at that time–I am not going to be a whistleblower or even a public critic on this but have noted that they have gotten in at least a little difficulty with the government for ignoring cost accounting regulations that I told them they shouldn’t ignore when I worked for them].  I have no reason to assume that NDI is not equally serious.  In the case of IRI, with the chairman running for president two different times during his tenure, they know that the Democrats have had incentive to catch them if they were to get tangled with a Republican campaign; and of course everything is potentially tit-for-tat in that regard for the other side.

At the same time, both parties have an incentive to make as much use of “their” respective unaffiliates as permissible on a mutally backscratching basis.  While there are certain cultural and stylistic differences in how this plays out–as any observer of the current American political scene can well imagine–I don’t think this warrants the whole separate infrastructure of two duplicate organizations.  For instance, unaffliliated Republicans could still do programming at the Republican National Convention and unaffiliated Democrats could still do programming at the Democratic National Convention even if it was under the umbrella of one unaffiliated nonpartisan organization instead of two separate unaffiliated nonpartisan organizations. And the unaffiliated Republicans could apply a conservative orientation to have programming that is solid, on-message stuff supporting the party line; and the unaffiliated Democrats could be liberal-minded and have a “soft power” approach that involves people on both sides at the convention of their side.

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Updated: Burgeoning South Sudan crisis will increase Kenya’s leverage over donors, NGOs, international media

The news from South Sudan seems quite serious and disturbing. This is an area of special responsibility for the United States, and needless to say, I hope we are able to help.

Nairobi’s role for many years as the “back office” for international assistance to South Sudan has always given the Government of Kenya extra leverage through control of visas and work permits. My twitter feed indicates that the U.S. is recommending that Americans evacuate South Sudan as the current crisis swells with reports indicating 400-500 people may have been killed.

This brings to bear what I have called “the Nairobi curse” for Kenyans seeking political space, democracy and civil liberties of their own and hope for support from the international community. The thing you always hear, but never read, from internationals working in Kenya is “what if I can’t renew my work permit” because of some offense taken by someone in the Kenyan government.

Back in 2007-08 when I was East Africa director for IRI in Nairobi, we shared space with our separate Sudan program, which was much, much bigger than our Kenya program (and was IRI’s second largest program worldwide I was told, after Iraq). Under my East Africa office, our Somaliland program also got more funding than Kenya. Obviously there would have been repercussions from soured relations with the Kenyan administration. The same situation would pertain for NDI or other international organizations with large permanent regional operations based in Nairobi.

In my case, I arrived in Nairobi on the job in June 2007 expecting my work permit to come through within perhaps a few weeks of ordinary bureaucracy. With no explanation, it was not forthcoming until February 2008 during the late stages of the post election violence period. Thus, I did not have my permit issued yet when I was dealing with our controversial election observation and the issues about whether or not to release the exit poll that showed the opposition ODM winning the presidential race rather than the ECK’s official choice of Kibaki.
At some point that month I was summoned to an Immigration office at Nyayo House (where political prisoners where tortured in the basement during the Moi era) for no readily apparent reason and received the permit shortly thereafter. Of course Nairobi was a much more easy going place before the 2007 election than it is now. Nothing was ever said to connect any of this delay to anything to do with politics or the election and it may have been strictly a coincidence.

Fortunately for me, I was on leave from my job as a lawyer back in the United States, so being denied a permit and thus losing my job in Kenya and having to move my family back precipitously would not have been consequential for me in the way that it would have been for the typical young NGO worker. Everyone has their own story I am sure.

Earlier this year the Kenyan government announced, for instance, that it would start enforcing work permit rules for academic researchers on short assignments. Lots of room to maneuver for creatively repressive politicians.

By the way, Uhuru did end up signing that Media Bill.

Update: See the editorial in today’s Star: Work Permit Crackdown Is Counter-Productive. And the news story, “Rules on Work Permits Tighten“.

Ironies in Open Government: Was the Kenya PVT a “Parallel Vote Tabulation” or “Private Vote Tabulation”?

Kenya Pre-election Poll

So now we have results of both a “Parallel Vote Tabulation” and an Exit Poll for the March 4, 2013 Kenyan election.

The irony here is that the Exit Poll was privately funded, yet we have, courtesy of the video of the initial university presentation by the researchers Dr. Clark Gibson, Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Dr. James Long, visiting scholar at Harvard and appointed as Asst. Professor at the University of Washington, quite a bit more detail about the Exit Poll data than we do about the PVT.  The PVT, however, was funded at least in substantial part, apparently, by yours truly and the rest of the American taxpayers through USAID through NDI. (This is the best information available to me–please correct me if I am wrong.)

I mean no disrespect to any of the people involved at NDI or ELOG–or at USAID for that matter.  I am sure everyone did their best on the PVT.  But when do we see the details instead of just a conclusion?  

After all the controversy about the delay in the release of the USAID-funded IRI Exit Poll in 2007-08, I am just very much surprised that everyone involved this time did not chose to try to get in front of any problems and controversies by being more transparent.

I do not want to weigh in to any of the back and forth as to “which is better” between an Exit Poll and a PVT–in fairness they have their relative strengths and weaknesses–it is best to have both.  So let’s get the data out on the table for study and see what we can learn.

AfriCOG’s Seema Shah asks in Foreign Policy: “Are U.S. election watchdogs enabling bad behavior in Kenya?”

UPDATE: See Dr. Shah’s article “Kenya: Supreme Court’s Disappointing Judgement” from Think Africa Press via allAfrica.com.

Stanley Livondo for Senator

From Transitions–the Democracy Lab Blog at Foreign Policy.com:  “Are U.S. election watchdogs enabling bad behavior in Kenya?”:

In recent testimony to Congress, three American non-profit electoral assistance organizations, all of whom worked on Kenya’s general election in March — the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI) — reported that last month’s presidential vote was “credible,” thereby negating the still-increasing amounts of evidence that the electoral process was fundamentally flawed. Their view was based largely on a recent ruling by Kenya’s Supreme Court, which upheld the presidential election result. The three groups also cited the “acceptance” of the Court’s decision by presidential runner-up Raila Odinga.

And that’s just where the problems begin.

The Kenyan Supreme Court’s detailed judgment reveals numerous problems. Legal scholars have decried its reliance on questionable outside sources and its lack of academic rigor while civil society groups have lambasted it for its refusal to engage with the vast array of evidence presented. These criticisms cast doubt on the Court’s independence, thereby threatening public confidence in the judiciary.  .  .  .

Meanwhile, Odinga’s call for peace in the aftermath of the ruling is hardly an acceptance of the veracity of the Court’s statement. Rather, he made it clear that he did not understand how the Court could have looked at the “massive malpractices” documented by his team and still deliver its ruling. In fact, he said, “In the end, Kenyans lost their right to know what indeed happened.” His call for Kenyans to move forward should not be confused with a conclusion that the election was free and fair. His recent statement that the IEBC cannot be trusted to run another election says it all.

As part of its testimony, IFES also somewhat condescendingly said, “ultimately, the new Kenyan president, Mr. Kenyatta, was elected by a margin of 8,000 votes, or 7/100ths of a percent of the total votes cast, making it inevitable that the result would be challenged.” This statement implies that a legal challenge was inevitable, presumably because Odinga would have challenged any close result, even one set in the context of an open, verifiable, and transparent electoral process. The fact remains, though, that the lack of transparency set itself up to be challenged. In fact, the petition against the veracity of the results was brought by civil society groups, (a fact not even mentioned to the U.S. Congress), and focused on the myriad discrepancies, errors, omissions, and inexplicable alterations noted throughout the electoral process.

.  .  .  .

These organizations go on to claim that the main problem with the management of the election was the failure of the electronic voter identification and results transmission systems, which IFES describes as “a failure of project management.” IFES in fact claims that it was “the paper register and paper ballots [which] ultimately…ensured the integrity of the Kenyan election.” What these statements leave out is that both the electronic systems were specifically put in place as critical checks on the manual process. They were meant to prevent instances of multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of the manual forms as happened in 2007. Indeed, the alteration of manual forms was at the heart of the problem in this election as well. These issues seem to go well beyond problems of “project management.”

.  .  .  .

IFES even credits the election commission with ensuring that this election “was not a repeat of the 2007 vote.” Such statements wrongly imply that the default in Kenya is violence. And while it is true that there was very little conflict this time around, the problems with the process were very much a repeat of the last election, minus the politicians’ calls for violence. Instead of praising the election commission, these organizations should have called on them to answer the unresolved questions about the process, especially those related to the voter registry.

Would these sorts of problems be tolerated in the United States? It seems doubtful. Why is Kenya being held to such a low standard? Given the context of Kenyan electoral history and the country’s efforts to reform the electoral system, it is even more important to point such weaknesses out. Endorsement of this election by the United States as credible makes it seem as if the problems that transpired during this election are negligible, when in fact many Kenyans are still wondering whether their votes were actually counted at all.

To their credit, NDI and IFES have emphasized the need to take stock of the election and focus on lessons learned. It will be interesting to see what those exercises find. In the end, though, Congress has barely heard enough to truly know if the election was in fact free, fair and credible. The 2013 election was not free and fair, and it was not truly different from the one in 2007. A look beyond this testimony is critical for them — and anyone — interested in the entire story behind the Kenyan election.

Dr. Seema Shah is a public policy researcher for the Africa Center for Open Governance in Kenya. Her focus is on elections and ethnic violence.

Some thoughts that I would add from my perspective as the former IRI country director from 2007-08:  As in the past national elections, IFES was not in a “watchdog” role at all, but rather was on the inside working directly with the IEBC as they had previously worked with the ECK in 2002 and 2007.  They did not speak out at all in 2007 about the problems so I think its fair to say that they have not seen that as within their role.  NDI was also not a watchdog as they did polling which was not released and worked internally with ELOG, intended to be a new Nairobi-based permanent African observation group. IRI did various voter education programs.  The three organizations accounted together for an “8 figure” U.S. tax dollar expenditure on their respective efforts but the actual Election Observation function was awarded by USAID to the Carter Center–which amazingly enough was not testifying at the hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Africa, Global Health and International Organizations.

Nor were there any other witnesses!

As a practical matter I think what that tells us is that the hearing was not really so much about Kenya or this particular election, but rather an opportunity to pitch a “success story” in the context of the current U.S. foreign affairs budget process.  In 2008 there were serious hearings in both the House and Senate about the Kenyan election–presumably because of the ongoing violence.  Without the violence, the Kenyan election process itself apparently did not warrant focus from Congress even though we spent so much more money this time.  Unfortunately, I do think that  part of the end result of this sort of sales pitch in Congress is collateral damage, in fact, “enabling bad behavior in Kenya.”

New material is now uploaded at AfriCOG and InformAction’s “The Peoples Court” website.

Kenya needs a better election review process next time . . . as respondents argue that IEBC has done “so much” that presidential election announcement should stand as good enough

So we are down to the hearing of the challenge to the presidential election involving some ten to twelve million voters in a country of over forty million. All of the voting was done by paper ballot and counting by hand. At the time of the hearing there is no list available to the petitioners or the court of who did and did not vote, nor one defined list of who was eligible as a voter.

Even with the breakdown of the intended election technology across the board, the IEBC announced a final vote count on the evening of March 8, just over three days after completion of the voting, in spite of having seven days available for the process, then formalized the result the next day, March 9.

It now comes down to one day of oral argument on each side in an adversarial proceeding between the IEBC represented by government counsel and AfriCOG and CORD for the Supreme Court to decide whether to let the IEBC pronouncement stand, or not.

There has been no administrative process or review, there has been no neutral body involved prior to the Supreme Court. The IEBC has been in an adversarial mode in defending its decision since the decision was made. The Court has determined that there is no time for detailed discovery of evidence sought by petitioners.

The Court will ultimately have to decide this case on the basis of generalities–either recognizing the standards required by the Constitution for voting were not met systemically:

Article 86:

At every election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission shall ensure that—

(a) whatever voting method is used, the system is simple,
accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent;
(b) the votes cast are counted, tabulated and the results
announced promptly by the presiding officer at each polling station;
(c) the results from the polling stations are openly and
accurately collated and promptly announced by the
returning officer; and
(d) appropriate structures and mechanisms to eliminate
electoral malpractice are put in place, including the
safekeeping of election materials.

or, alternatively, the Court will defer to the the IEBC on the basis that its decision is unimpeachable except to the extent that it can be disproven vote by vote in detail through admissible evidence in adversarial litigation in one day.

[Updated] International Crisis Group releases key up-to-date guide to Kenyan election preparations

Toi Market-Nairobi

Update– the Associate Press reports “Analysts: Political Party Polls in Kenya a Failure”:

Political party primaries to select candidates for Kenya’s March national elections have been fraught with irregularities, disorganization and disgruntled losers, increasing the chances of conflict during the upcoming vote, analysts said Friday.

That’s bad news for those trying to avoid a repeat of what happened after Kenya’s 2007 elections, when a dispute over who won the presidency led to weeks of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. The primary voting this week did little to instill confidence that officials are ready for another national vote.

.  .  .  .

Kennedy Masine, an official of the local Election Observer Group, described Thursday’s attempt to hold nominations as a “phenomenal failure.” . . .]

I’ve now finished an initial reading of the ICG report released yesterday entitled “Kenya’s 2013 Elections.”  It’s an important resource for two key reasons: 1) it is strikingly up to date for this kind of thing, with lots of new information, including footnote references for events even this week; 2) it is relatively comprehensive, covering a lot of ground in substantial detail.  It gives fair, sober assessment of the status of the major areas of reforms that were identified as needed in the wake of the disaster in 2007-08.  I hope it will be updated quickly once things shake out further with the primaries over the next few days.

In fact, you could take this report and prepare a “grade card” for implementation of the “reform agenda” over the course of the Government of National Unity.  Without being cynical or fatalistic, it would simply have to be quite low so far.  Regardless, by gathering a lot of the information that a lot of us have been thinking about in various areas in one place, the report could also be used as a road map to realistically “play to strengths” in the terms of the existing Kenyan institutions and develop last minute contingency plans and “gap fillers” in those areas where reforms and preparation are clearly going to be getting an “incomplete”, such as policing.  Surely it is clear by now that there need to be plans in place for how to provide extraneous security support beyond the Kenya Police Service in the event of a crisis triggered by major failure of the election itself.

Here is the Executive Summary with a list of recommendations.

An interesting point of reference is the NDI Kenya Pre-Election Mission of May 2012, to see what has been accomplished and not accomplished in the meantime.