Election Litigation in Kenya: What is status of preservation and sharing of forensic evidence from KIEMS on Results Transmission?


Short answer is people involved are extremely quiet on this front.

On my end I had my periodic status call today on my 2015 FOIA request to USAID about records relating to our support for the IEBC in 2013, including the failed Results Transmission System. Nothing new since April.

This is part of what I wrote July 3:

According to the EU and Carter Center election observation missions from the 2007 and 2013 elections, perhaps one-quarter to one-third of election officials at individual polling stations did not post the Form 34 showing the presidential vote count as required, so there has been ample room in each of these elections for numbers to change between the count of ballots and sealing of the ballot box at the polling station and the reported “tally” by which the president was named in Nairobi.

Unfortunately, a fair understanding of what happened in 2013 gets worse, in that it turns out that it would surely seem that the IEBC and the donors should have know ahead of time that the electronic reporting system was not going to work–but elected to project what must have been false confidence, followed by “surprise” at its failure. The president of IFES testified to the U.S. Congress in 2013 after the election that the failure was caused by a botched procurement. What was unsaid was that this was not just a procurement failure by the IEBC which IFES would have been expected to know about from its role as “embedded” within the IEBC to provide technical assistance, but that this was apparently also a botched United States government procurement from USAID through IFES, from what I eventually learned recently from my 2015 FOIA request as discussed in my post here from April:

“Kenya Election FOIA news: [heavily redacted] Election Assistance agreement shows US paid for failed 2013 “Results Transmission System”

From the Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening (KEPPS) Program from USAID for the last Kenyan election:

“Considering the role that results transmission played in the 2007 election violence, IFES will build on its recent work with Kenya’s results transmission system to further enhance it and ensure its sustainability. IFES will ensure this system is fully installed, tested and operational for the 2012 election. Furthermore, IFES will fund essential upgrades and adjustments to this results transmission system.” 

[p.28 of the Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening 2012 Program – Cooperative Agreement between USAID and CEPPS (coalition of NDI, IFES and IRI)]

This USAID Agreement with the consortium of IFES, NDI and IRI makes up the first 236 pages of what I was told were approximately 1800 pages of documents and attachments provided by the USAID Mission in Kenya to the Washington FOIA office by January 2016 in response to my FOIA request of October 2015.

Unfortunately, I have still not gotten any of the rest of these pages covering contract files and correspondence, as well as USAID transactions with Smith & Ouzman, Ltd., the British firm that was convicted of bribing Kenyan election and education officials to buy their products in the infamous “Chickengate” scandal.

In spite of persistent follow up over these many months, I don’t have any further information as to whether I am likely to get more of these documents released in time for the new election (under the current Kenya Electoral Assistance Program awarded to IFES last year).

The 2017 Kenyan Supreme Court petitions are under a final seven day deadline of today.  [Update: NASA has filed a challenge Friday night in Nairobi, to my understanding joined by The Thirdway Alliance.  Do not know of others.]

“Preliminary Findings” released by Kenyan civil society coalition on election

Following the unlawful raid on AfriCOG in Nairobi yesterday, today the Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu election monitoring program which has been engaged since long before any of the International Election Observation Missions were constituted, released its Preliminary Findings.

Please read for yourself (especially if you have commented publicly so far on Kenya’s election).

It would be easier for Mr. Chebukati and Mr. Kerry to make their case to Mr. Odinga’s supporters with much greater transparency

There is a lot that Kenyan voters could be told that they have not been told about how their votes were represented to them by the IEBC over the last several days since they voted and all the ballots were counted Tursday evening.  As assurances given to the voters in 2007 and again in 2013 in the immediate aftermath of voting those years did not in some substantial respects turn out to be factually sustainable, it is no suprise many Kenyans would want to verify rather than just trust now.

One would expect everyone involved this year to anticipate questions.  There were lots of prominently published warnings of the need for transparency (from the International Crisis Group among others).

Mr. Kerry was Secretary of State in 2013 and presumably has current clearances that would allow him as an individual, now post-government service, to make doublely sure he is fully briefed about the failed Results Transmission System of 2013, as well as other past problems, if he wasn’t before coming to Nairobi last weekend for the Carter Center.  Presumably he could also ask the current US and Kenyan governments to go through the details relating to procurement and use of KIEMS this year.  Then he could answer questions and demonstrate the kind of transparency that would build trust.

Alternatively Mr. Chebukati and the current U.S. government could answer questions irrespective of the Carter Center or other independent Election Obsevation Missions.

Kenyan election – amid uncertainty, unfortunate there was no Kalonzo v. Ruto debate [updated 7 Aug]

Today [Sunday 6 Aug.] the IEBC announced for the first time that over 25% of its more than 40,000 polling stations do not have network coverage.  Satellite phones have only been provided, apparently, to the 290 constituency tally centres.

So with a very messy voter register again–see AfriCOG report here–the election is entirely dependent on the KIEMS system.   The procurement of the system remains deliberately shrouded, the techical director murdered–with offers of assistance from the FBI and Scotland Yard spurned.  And now the connectivity bombshell.

Along with the deployment by the Kenyatta administration of twice the security personnell as Kibaki deployed in 2013 in the wake of 2007.

So no need to pretend that this is a normal election in which voters could have standard expectations.  Still, the contrast between the coalitions and the generational consequences at issue might have been best captured by a debate between Kalonzo and Ruto.

Update Monday 7 Aug: seemingly keen to signal that there has been no end to the use of the assets of the Government of Kenya for the Uhuruto re-election campaign, the official website of the Office of the Presidency today features this piece dated Saturday to  correspond with the end of the campaign:  “President Kenyatta: I served Kenya diligently–vote for me again“.  Last year Kenyatta and Ruto launched the Jubilee Party as their re-election vehicle at State House in a telling contrast from Kibaki’s 2007 launch of his PNU re-election vehicle at his private Silver Spring Hotel in Nairobi.

The unwillingness or inability of Kenya’s other institutions, including the media, to stand up to the “re-KANUization” of the State by the Executive’s Party is one of the most troubling indicators of the deteriorization of democratic health from the seeming breakthough of the 2003-05 with the NARC coalition defeat of KANU.

Update: here is a VOA overview.

Mocking democracy: Government of Kenya announces “Kenyan Asian community backs President Kenyatta’s re-election”

Democracy Assistance

“URAIA Because Kenyans Have Rights”  — Democracy Assistance facade?


[Update: The Daily Nation, State Officials on the campaign trail“:  “The Jubilee administration has deployed civil servants and key government officials on vote hunting missions across the country in contravention of the law.”]

Let it not be said that there is any serious pretense that the Government of Kenya is neutral in the contest for political allegiance of potential “swing” ethnic groupings, rich in votes or money, in the current election, a contest for power between the Uhuruto ticket representing the current generation of the original KANU establishment led by the Kenyatta family and an opposition coalition led by Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka.

Here is the “latest news” from the Government of Kenya, Office of the President (www.president.go.ke): “Kenyan Asian community backs President Kenyatta’s re-election”.

This years’ “Jubilee Party” was literally formed at State House as the Uhuruto re-election vehicle, formally merging Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA and Ruto’s URP, just as this meeting of State Officials and “Asian” Kenyan businesspeople and politicians for the re-election campaign was convened at State House.

Conduct of this sort, aside from being a clear form of corruption per se as a misappropriation of public resources for private gain, is explicitly against the mandatory Code of Conduct for the Kenyan political parties.  (On paper the campaign, in full swing for months, is not even to start until May 28.)

Will the Registrar of Political Parties and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission take action?  The IFES led consortium of US based organizations both facilitating and underwriting the cost of the election, while also coordinating its “observation” at the expense of American (and in parts Canadian) taxpayers?  What about ELOG, the donor supported Kenyan observation group?

IFES has already beeen attacked by the Kenyan Government and ELOG is charged with continuing to do business in Nairobi on a permanent basis, so it would be a huge act of institutional courage for it to seriously challenge the conduct of the Office of the Presidency.  We have been in the mode of continuous institutionalized democracy promotion in Kenya for 15 years (!) now.  No matter how many  capacity building seminars we hold for the little people in the cities or the politicians in the resorts in the Rift Valley or at the beaches, if we let ourselves simply be mocked and pretend that this is working we will surely risk moral injury to our own democracy.

Read the whole campaign piece here:

The Asian community in Kenya has endorsed the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Leaders of the community said they have taken the decision to rally behind the President because of his commitment to creating an enabling environment of business and development.

The leaders, who visited President Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, said policies implemented by the Jubilee Government have enabled more business to thrive and made Kenya a preferred destination for investors.

At the meeting which was also attended by Deputy President William Ruto, representatives of the community assured the President that they would rally behind him to ensure the country’s development tempo is sustained.

“What we have seen in the last four years needs no magnification and my words can be supported by facts that can be seen and quantified, “said businessman Iqbal Rashid.

The businessman cited the upgrading of the old railway system with the Standard Gauge Railway, the upgrading of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and continuous improvement of the infrastructure connecting cities and towns.

He said the continued flow of investments into Kenya from all corners of the globe was as a result of the confidence in the leadership of President Kenyatta.

Women leaders Parveen Adam, Shamsha Fadhil and Farah Mannzoor thanked the President for championing an agenda that fosters inclusiveness as well as the prosperity and unity of all Kenyans.

They said women appreciate his efforts to spearhead the campaign to have the two third gender rule passed by the National Assembly.

Businessman Bismiahirahman Nirrahim said the Asian community has witnessed the transformative leadership of President Kenyatta which has helped in creating conducive environment for investments.

He cited the increased ease of doing business resulting from President Kenyatta’s policies including the policy to reduce the time it takes to register a new business.

Nirrahim said the youth and women empowerment program implemented by President Kenyatta’s Administration has also been a transformational policy that deserves praise.

President Kenyatta thanked the leaders for their support and assured them that he would continue working tirelessly to make Kenya a more prosperous country with shared prosperity.

He said the Asian community has been keen in developing Kenya saying the community has always been in the forefront championing the interests of the nation since the days of independence struggle.

“Like all of us you were part and parcel of the Kenyan struggle for Independence, the role you played cannot be ignored,” said President Kenyatta.

The President said he is a believer in an inclusive society adding that he would want to see the Asian community participate more in both social and economic development of the country.

“This is the government that believes in encouraging partnership and working together. Your success is our success,” said President Kenyatta.

Also present were the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua among other senior government officials.

Author

Gok

Update May 26:  See “Asian Kenyans seek to be declared a ‘tribe’ of their own” in today’s New York Times.

“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 . . .

IMG_7601

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

img_0434

 

20130305-001831.jpg

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.

Continue reading