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.

Update on the Egypt NGO trials, and an appeciation of “the local staff” working for democracy

The Christian Science Monitor published an update today by Dan Murphy on the lingering situation of the trials of international NGO workers from the staffs of NDI, IRI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Egypt:

“Mostly forgotten, Egyptian trial of U.S. NGO workers drags on”

. . . .

The departure of most of the Americans took the air out of musings in Washington that Egypt’s US aid would be cut off in retaliation and in general press coverage of the case. Further easing concerns were the eventual charges, around the question of illegally receiving foreign funding for the NGOs, which carries jail time, but not a death sentence. Press coverage has dwindled to a trickle.

Civil society growth at stake

Yet the stakes of the ongoing trial, which is scheduled to resume on March 6, loom large for the future of the development of civil society in Egypt as much as they do for the 13 Egyptians, American, and German who have remained behind. “The government has successfully stigmatized the NGO world,” says Becker.” [The American NDI worker who stayed behind with the Egyptians.]

“It’s very lazy to to class this as an American-Egypt battle, or about the former regime versus the revolution,” says Halawa, who joined NDI in Cairo in July of 2011 and worked on training Egyptian political parties on grass-roots organization, poll-watching, and outreach. “It’s about civil society in this country and the ramifications are quite huge. You get the feeling that people are quite scared. We joined up with the revolution, to fight for free elections, most of us were election observer, and most of us weren’t planning to stay on much longer.”

Halawa and other defendants complain that Egypt’s NGO community has not rallied around them, frightened off by the early claims in the Egyptian press that they were spies or guilty of treason. That tactic was a staple of the Mubarak-era, and the meme was pushed hard by Mubarak holdover Fayza Aboul Naga, minister of international cooperation until earlier this year, who had long been at the sharp end of Mubarak-era efforts to prevent civil society from flourishing here.

[Update: see this excellent McClatchy story for Jan. 16, “Egyptians democracy workers still on trial for helping U.S. groups”]

I think this is the time for me to say something long overdue about the Kenyans (and one third-country national) who reported to me as “local staff” for the Kenya and Somaliland programs when I directed the East Africa office for IRI in Nairobi in 2007-08. The local staff made the programs run successfully and taught me most of what I learned about Kenya. I loved working with them. As the only American there, I got a disproportionate share of the recognition and appreciation, but we were all especially dependent on the local staff because IRI was short-handed for East Africa in Washington. When the New York Times called me in July 2008 after the embargoed IRI exit polI showing an Odinga win was released at by CSIS in Washington, I sent the Times a written statement following my interview. I included this, although it wasn’t “news” when the story finally ran the next January:

The local IRI staff in Kenya did an outstanding job with the hard work of the election observation and keeping the office and programming together under very trying circumstances. I am very proud of the job they did with all of our programming. The exit poll was primarily handled by Strategic and UCSD and myself—if it failed in its execution that would be my responsibility and not that of anyone else in the office. As far as the decisions regarding whether or not to disclose the results to the Kenyan public, those were made in Washington and were outside the control of the local staff.

I hope that IRI and NDI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation are able to be of substantial aid to those stuck facing trial in Egypt for simply working for democracy in their own county for these organizations. These people should not be forgotten.

(Updated) Kenyan diaspora disenfranchised?; Kwamchetsi Makokha raises concern about Kenyan voter education; IFES seeks consultant

Update (Nov. 28):  IEBC Chair Isaac Hassan says that as an independent commission the IEBC will make its own decision about whether to cancel diaspora voting and is not bound by the Cabinet decision announced below.  He acknowledged that registration is not underway and that this part of the vote is in jeopardy.

“Kenyans in diaspora locked out of March election” Business Daily:

Kenyans in the diaspora will not vote in the March 4 General Election, the Cabinet decided last Thursday.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Eugene Wamalwa said the government decided that it will be impossible for Kenyans living abroad to vote owing to challenges facing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Mr Wamalwa said time and logistical constraints will not allow IEBC to register Kenyans in the diaspora. . . .

It’s been almost 2 1/2 years since the new constitution finally passed, providing for a right to vote for Kenyans living in the diaspora.  I am no big fan of the concept myself, but this is the law and I don’t see any unexpected challenges or difficulties in implementing it.

“Step up voter education, IEBC told” Daily Nation:

National Democracy Institute (NDI) consultant Kwamchetsi Makokha said on Tuesday the three months set for civic education was not enough to reach eligible voters.

“The period is not enough to reach the whole population. So many people know nothing about the devolved government and roles of the leaders,” he said. . . . during the launch of a sub-committee of the Political Parties Liaison Committee in Lamu.

I’ve heard elsewhere that there is significant lack of awareness by voters as to the nature of new positions up for election under devolved government under the new constitution.

In the meantime, IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, is advertising for an Election Administration Advisor for Kenya:

In preparation for the 2013 elections, IFES is implementing a capacity-building program in support of Kenya’s electoral process in the areas of election technical support, voter registration, voter education, and election dispute resolution among others.

Under this short-term assignment, IFES seeks to support the integration of activities of other government and non-government organizations, who play critical roles in the electoral process, including but not limited to the Registrar of Political Parties, Political Parties and Candidates, Security Agencies, the Judiciary, Civil Society Organization, Religious Organization, and the Media.

Orange Democracy, Exit Polls and Egypt

Kansas City Star–Commentary:  Egypt’s Democracy Falters (special to the McClatchy papers):

.  .  .  .

But it is no surprise that hard line authoritarian rulers have suspicion and disdain for U.S.-backed democratic movements.

The Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 might never have taken place if not for U.S. aid. First, the former communists in control of the Kiev government declared their candidate won an election. Then, a U.S.-funded think tank tallied up exit polls that showed the government had lied and it really lost the election.

Next, a Ukranian TV newsman trained by a U.S. aid program broadcast the exit polls and set up its cameras on the main square for an all night vigil. Up to one million people came to join the vigil. Then the Supreme Court — which had been brought to visit U.S. courts in action — ruled the election was invalid and the government had to step down.

Furthermore, U.S. legal, legislative, journalism and other trainers taught judges, prosecutors, legislators and journalists how to do their jobs in a democratic system.

Russia was panicked by the success of these democracy aid teams, operated by the Congressionally funded National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, the U.S. Bar Association and other groups. It began clamping down on them in Russia. Other autocrats expelled the democracy trainers as well, fearing they aimed to help the opposition overthrow their regimes.

In a bitter irony, although U.S. aid did help democratic forces hold elections and win power in Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, and the Palestinian territories, these countries backslid into coups or else the old guard won back power.

Either the new democratic forces were incapable of managing their countries, or the old guard rapidly learned the techniques of advertising and marshalling political forces to win back control. In some cases, people turned from the chaos of democracy to the firm hand of strongmen like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

People don’t change. They may like the feeling of liberty but they also fear the lack of guidelines.

In Egypt and in many Middle East countries, there is a huge youth population lacking jobs, housing and opportunities. People fear the young will erupt into crime and violence — similar to the soccer riots in Port Said and Cairo, and the ongoing rock and tear gas fights at Tahrir Square. Because they fear the youth, people have long accepted the ruthless power of the secret police and the authority of the kings and strongmen from Rabat to Baghdad.

While I love my liberty and would like every other country to enjoy it as well, maybe it’s wise for us to accept that what other countries choose for their way of life is best for them to decide.

If someone comes into my house and tells me better ways to plant my yard and build my bookshelves and paint my walls and cook my meals, even if they are right I will resent it and probably ignore all they suggest. So what is happening in Egypt is no big surprise.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Ben Barber has written about the developing world since 1980 for Newsday, the London Observer, the Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Times and USA TODAY. From 2003 to August, 2010, he was senior writer at the U.S. foreign aid agency. His photojournalism book — GROUNDTRUTH: The Third World at Work at play and at war — is to be published in 2012 by de-MO.org. He can be reached at benbarber2@hotmail.com.

Egyptian Circus

From the Washington Post story reporting the announced intent to prosecute Americans working for IRI, NDI and Freedom House:

Pro-democracy groups have worked openly in Egypt for years, although the government has long refused to grant them operating licenses. The groups were buoyed last year when the government allowed them to monitor parliamentary election, the first time foreign monitors were allowed to observe polls in the country.

Hopes that Mubarak’s fall a year ago would be a boon for pro-democracy activists were dashed on Dec. 29 when Egyptian authorities raided the offices of 10 NGOs and seized files and computers. The current investigation, led by two investigative judges who were state prosecutors, is predicated on a 2002 law that bars organizations from accepting foreign funding if they are not licensed by the state.

Obviously the Egyptian Government could have expelled American and other foreign NGO democracy workers at any time, or not let the organizations operate to start with.  Prosecuting people now for doing what they were definitionally in the country to do and have been doing openly–using funding from the U.S., Germany, and or other democratic governments–is blatantly unfair to the individuals targeted as well as to the organizations.

This is not a criminal matter–Egypt has real crimes to address and these prosecutions are obviously a sideshow for ulterior motives.