Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, is current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the Great Lakes region and known primarily as the home of Notre Dame University. Notre Dame is famous here in the American South as one of the traditional Northern powers in American college football and for a period of years in the last century a rival to the University of Alabama.

In 2008 “Mayor Pete” was back in the United States as a McKinsey Consulting “whiz kid” based from the Chicago office after his Rhodes Scholarship at England’s Oxford University and had joined the Washington-based Truman National Security Project, but had not yet become an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. In other words, he was taking a normal prep course to run for president. His membership in the Truman Project distinguishes him as a Democrat.

In July 2008, Buttigieg and Nathaniel Myers, identified as a “political analyst” in Ethiopia, had published in the New York Times an op-ed under the understated headline “Tourists in Somaliland“. I have no clear idea why. The substance of the article is not about tourism but rather the argument that the United States was failing to adequately support Somaliland and should initiate formal recognition, but with very little real detail or heft. Myers was working as a World Bank consultant in Ethiopia at the time according to his a bio online at the Carnegie Endowment where he worked until recently. Myers also published two op-ed pieces in 2010 in Foreign Policy on the authoritarianism of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia and analogizing Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea”. My involvement in East Africa has been as a democracy advocate so I agree with the sentiments of Myers’s writings, even if I don’t think the “Tourists” piece with Buttigieg was really on point.

Where the “Tourists in Somaliland” piece misses the mark is failing to notice that USAID was supporting Somaliland, albeit in a constrained and unusual way. I am particularly aware of this because in the fall of 2007, as the resident director for East Africa based in Nairobi at the International Republican Institute, I was asked by IRI management to extend my unpaid leave from the law department at Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor, to stay past my scheduled January 2008 return to the States following Kenya’s December 2007 elections because of our new increased work for Somaliland. In particular we were tasked unexpectedly by USAID to open an office in Hargeisa and Somaliland parliamentary elections were scheduled for April 2008.

Northrop Grumman generously agreed to give me additional “public service leave” through June 1 so long as I promised to definitely be back at that time. As it turned out the April 2008 parliamentary elections were postponed, and sadly have faced serial postponements since, with the latest being challenged in court now. Somaliland presidential elections have continued successfully, however.

In the picture below I am visiting with the leadership of the Kulmiye Party on behalf of our USAID-funded IRI program in March 2008. Chairman “Silyano” is to the far right and I am next to him. Silanyo served as President of Somaliland from 2010-2017.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

As late at least as mid-2008, US Government civilians and direct contractors were not allowed to travel to Somaliland, which is perhaps one of the reasons USAID was keen for us at IRI to ramp up and open an office. Later Buttigieg did work visits to Iraq and Afghanistan under contract to an unidentified US department. As an employee or partner at McKinsey as a US Government contractor Buttigieg would not have been able to go to Somaliland on business under ordinary circumstances to the best of my understanding. As employees of a Government-funded NGO working under a Cooperative Agreement with USAID rather than a contract we at IRI were not subject to that restriction.

During our Election Observation Mission for the ill-fated Kenyan December 2007 election, we brought a group of observers from Somaliland under the Somaliland program. This was a successful endeavor for that program although their return was slightly delayed by the violence triggered by the Kenyan election fraud (see my piece “The Debacle of 2007” in The Elephant). Somaliland has continued to have peaceful presidential elections with incumbent parties accepting narrow defeats at the polls twice, including with Silanyo’s accession in 2010.

I am not sure whether Somaliland has been better off or worse off over theses intervening years for not being formally recognized. I have always agreed sentimentally with the desire that the Somalilander’s achievement of defacto independence be “blessed” legally even if I did not consider it “my place” to be an advocate on that specific issue.

As fate would have it a month before Mayor Pete’s op-ed on Somaliland ran in The New York Times on July 31, 2008 a Times investigative reporter contacted me at my office in Mississippi about the unreleased IRI exit poll allegedly showing an opposition win against Kibaki in that election in Kenya. I gave the interview and initial follow-up that contributed my input into the investigation that the Times eventually reported on on the front page, after the Obama inauguration, on January 30, 2009: “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll.

As U.S. Mission in Kenya passes from Godec to McCarter, Africa Confidential explains how Kenyan politics is still “frozen” in 2005-07 “time warp”

Africa Confidential ‘s free January Kenya article is a must read for anyone in Washington charged with engagement on Kenya over the next three years.

“Three’s a crowd”

Kenya’s political landscape in 2019 will be dominated by two-way competition between Deputy President William Ruto of the ruling Jubilee Party and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), as each man positions himself for the presidential election of 2022. Each will be trying to cobble together a winning coalition by buttressing his ethnic stronghold and winning over the ‘swing’ votes in regions such as Maasailand, Kisii, Luhyaland and the Coast.

President Uhuru Kenyatta‘s mantra is that the time for party politics is over and that all leaders should concentrate on economic development, based on his signature ‘Big Four Agenda’ (food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare), and reconciliation, based on the ‘Building Bridges Initiative’ agreed between him and Odinga last March. He will continue to state this line, arguing that he wants a legacy of an ethnically united Kenya, and will continue to reach out to former opposition leader Odinga and his Luo people.

Both Odinga and Ruto will on the surface claim they support the Big Four and Building Bridges even as they continue their individual campaigns and trade acerbic barbs. Many Kenyan pundits say the only person who has not grasped the new reality is Kenyatta, as he continues to insist on a politics-free country until 2022. . . .

Relatedly a friend got me a copy from Kenya of John Onyando’s recently published “Kenya: The Failed Quest for Electoral Justice” which I am reading with great interest. (Hoping this will be published internationally soon.) Most significantly so far I finally have an insider’s account of one of the key mysteries from the current, post-2002 era in Kenyan politics: what happened to cause the dropping of the Prime Ministry in the final maneuvering for the 2010 Constitutional referendum? Preserving an exceptionally powerful unitary executive Presidency was the key issue in Kibaki’s dumping of his MOU with Raila, et al, and the defeat of the “Wako Draft” constitution at the 2005 Referendum by what became the “Orange Democratic Movement”. Thus it was a bit of a shock to see Raila and ODM leading the “Yes” campaign along with Kibaki in 2010 for a new draft constitution where even the weak Prime Minister position that Odinga then held was completely excised.

[Here is my blog post from March 13, 2010 showing what I knew about the jockeying at the time: the ODM side wanted to go forward with Parliamentary approval of the draft as it was, while PNU (and Ruto) wanted to retreat to Naivasha to consider “amendments” with “retired President” Moi saying he would oppose the referendum without amendment. Ultimately the Naivasha retreat happened and the private vote Onyando’s book describes was facilitated.]

Any explanation of why the Prime Ministry “went away,” as it was put, was one of the more conspicuous gaps in Raila’s autobiography “The Flame of Freedom“.

On paper the 2010 Constitution as passed at the referendum in July of that year does have a variety of intricate mechanisms of reductions of individual power for His Excellency the President at the national government level, but since they are not self-executing and there is no Prime Minister or other potentially independent power center, once the 2013 election was decided for the Uhuruto ticket, Kenyatta has as one would expect largely worked around them, if not explicitly eviserated them legislatively using his control of Parliament.

According to Onyando, by the time of the final politicians’ cut on the 2010 draft constitution arising from the February 2008 National Accord to settle the Post Election Violence, the Opposition/ODM/Raila side had already lost Ruto to Kibaki/Kenyatta to the point that the President’s side gained three votes aligned with Ruto among those allocated to the Opposition among the group. Thus the Kibaki/Kenyatta side was able to write out any direct sharing of executive power under the new dispensation to follow the Government of National Unity. Raila went along on the basis that there was enough reform with partial devolution to 47 new counties and other provisions to warrant a “yes” versus a “no”.

It is noteworthy that even Africa Confidential is offering their current 2019 assessment without reference to specific terms of the Uhuru-Raila “handshake” of March 2018. I am not comfortable doing any real handicapping of the 2022 race myself or saying too much about current Kenya politics without being privy to the actual details of the deal.

Along these lines, this week saw on Wednesday both the first anniversary of Raila’s mock swearing in at Uhuru Park and the tenth anniversary of publication of the New York Times piece, “A Chaotic Kenyan Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll“.

Looking back on my personal experience it is notable to me that Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other on at least three separate points of fact in our respective interviews with The Times on the 2007 Kenyan election controversy (mine with Mike McIntire in the U.S. and his with Jeffrey Gettleman in Kenya) but I did not lose my security clearance, and had it renewed the next year when it came up so I was able to continue my career as an attorney working on U.S. Navy shipbuilding programs. I suspect I might have had some difficulty if it were not recognized that I had in fact been honest. Had I been a Kenyan (or Chinese for example) citizen it would have been unthinkable to hope to “get away” with being truthful in contradiction to a senior public official in this way without expecting to loose my job and likely go to jail or be killed.

All this is to say that my experience with Kenyan politics over these last many years has richened my gratitude for the freedom and security my family and I have experienced as Americans and my wish for the same someday for Kenyans. (In case you are new to the blog, here is my piece from The Elephant that they headlined “The Debacle of 2007: How an Election Was Stolen, and Kenyan Politics Frozen, With U.S. Connivance“).

The New York Times on Kenya: working through my reaction to the mess they have made on the photograph of terror victims at a time of grief

1. I cannot and have not defended New York Times’ use of the particular photograph of victims that has angered Kenyans.

Using that photo, especially while the attack was ongoing, was bad judgment in a number of respects that have been well explained by others.

2. My personal inclination from my own circumstances is usually to be somewhat defensive of the Times when they get attacked . . .

. . . as they frequently do, not because they are not regularly frustrating and imperfect but because they have been and continue to be a critical part of the wider media firmament in the United States. And newspaper journalism in the United States is suffering to our detriment and all professional news reporting is contested in our Trump era. (More about this later).

3. But, apologies are easy.

I understand that if the Times turned over editorial judgment to social media responders they would quickly be lost in the internet sea and cease to exist or be snatched up by a hedge fund and/or an ideologically motivated billionaire and/or have to publish listicles and soft porn to survive. Likewise they can never willingly let themselves be bullied by authoritarian governments so the grandstanding demands and threats from the Media Council of Kenya make the situation harder to address constructively and are not in well considered good faith in my opinion.  But apologies are still easy. (And surely taking down or swapping out the one photograph would be a “correction” not some actual editorial diversion.)

4. Thus, I come around to seeing and feeling a humility and empathy problem.

Especially as time has gone by. The Times is not the Daily Mail nor The Sun and does not deserve to be the poster child for historical imperialism/colonialism devaluing black and brown bodies even if it has its own limitations and faults. But the Times made a mistake here and it was unforced and not anyone else’s fault. The tone deaf lack of responsiveness makes me more appreciative of the perspectives that I have picked up from friends in academia and journalism and other fields over the years that are more critical of the Times.

5. The individual reporter did nothing substantively professionally wrong.

The complaint is with the photo placed by the editors in New York not with the reporter’s story. The photo was by a Kenyan photographer through the Associated Press. So it is simply not her fault. In the moment of anguish with the attack it seems that she received a lot of the grief associated with this situation which was not her doing or in control. Having arrived at an understanding of the facts, there is apparently still a broad sentiment among many Kenyans, including many that I admire and respect, to deport her for being insensitive and seemingly a bit flip in responding. In other words, to me more of a moral question as to whether we think from Twitter that she has the personal traits we approve of as opposed to her actual writing.

Keep in mind that she is a corporate employee presumably. Without knowing the details of her individual situation with the Times, in general terms most American employees are subject to being fired at will, for any reason or no reason, without any legal right to severance as in Kenya, much less “due process”. I am a corporate lawyer [my experience in the world of Kenyan media and politics (and especially the New York Times) that has been the basis for this blog was “on leave” from that corporate career] so I know something about how things work. For a remote employee to say unilaterally to the public on social media that her bosses back in New York screwed up something that is in their job description and discretion and not hers is problematic.

The reporter/correspondent is supposed to say “I am sorry but I personally think my bosses have made a terrible mistake with the company product back in New York”? I do not know what I would have done in her shoes, and I can sit back at home and imagine doing better but realistically she was in a losing position.

I had a slightly analogous situation as an NGO employee in Kenya when my bosses back in Washington put out a press statement that the exit poll I supervised in the 2007 election showing an opposition win was “invalid”. I was in a lose/lose situation on my own in Nairobi. My threading of the needle in dealing with that situation has never been fully satisfactory to anyone so far as I know but not fully “toeing the line” has been life changing in some respects. I objected strenuously in private. In public when I was pressed by a reporter for Nairobi’s Star on whether the statement from Washington “reflected my personal opinion” I explained that “it was’t intended to reflect my personal opinion”–no surprise that the reporting when it hit the paper was that I had said that it “did not reflect” my own opinion. When it was faxed to Washington the president of my organization “hit the roof” per a phone call from my boss who had heard it from him. After I explained the exact choice of words, she ran interference for me and got him “calmed down” on the basis that I had been “misquoted”. Of course I knew when the reporter called me that I was likely to get get fired for diverging from my superiors and I did not have an opportunity to go ask my wife and kids.

I did some things privately during the interval to keep the exit poll from “going away” before it was ultimately released publicly in July but that was closely held and I have never written about that part of the story yet.

It was only post-employment that I felt that I could publicly express my own opinions related to my work.  Ultimately I was quoted from published interviews in The Nation magazine and The New York Times itself (and written about by Kenyan media and and The Weekly Standard and RedState.com without being contaced or interviewed).

Fortunately, my temporary duty in NGO-world was ending in a few weeks anyway. My law job was waiting for me at home. I decided not to resign to keep the office together and I did not get fired. But I was on a short leash until my return to the States and I avoided being out and about or meeting politicians so I would not have to be chose between being openly insubordinate or dishonest. I am grateful that I had some room to maneuver in that pre-social media era.

7. Where do my Kenyan friends want this to end up?

Is “the Kenya we want” one in which foreign reporters for foreign newspapers get deported because they are perceived to be insensitive on social media? What are the ramifications of that? Just reporters? Etc.

Remember that the Times of London correspondent was detained at the airport and expelled by all appearances because he was investigating the Eurobond mysteries. No one filled those shoes. You are still on the hook for the debt and it turns out there seems to have been a secret problem with the SGR financing from 2014 that you are just reading about now.

This deserves to be reflected on and discussed–perhaps mediated–offline and in person, with a little space from the anguish of this attack, and this photo.

6. The peak of this for me is someone on Twitter who wanted to deport the photographer.

Fortunately the Courts in Kenya have now clearly and explicitly ruled against the Executive Branch’s power to deport a Kenyan in the Miguna Miguna cases. We all know the application of the law to the actions of Executive Branch is difficult and often contested as a matter of power rather than right–here in the United States also–so I think Kenyans would be wise to think carefully on this.

A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret US Exit Poll in New York Times

Kenya’s Debt-laden Railroad Blues falls off the playlist as brutal suicide attack hits Nairobi and AP photo on NYTimes online hits raw nerves

Nairobi Kenya Microsoft billboard

Twenty-and-a-half years after the al-Queda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, a small team of gunmen and a bomber hit a hotel and office complex in Westlands, reminiscent of the 2013 Westgate Mall attack. With the “known missing” fully accounted for now, the death toll stands at 21. Many more were injured and the trauma is compounded by the uncertainty of many who were trapped and/or missing.

There is so much news coverage now from Nairobi that I really have nothing to add, other than condolences. Here is a good straight news story from NPR’s Eyder Peralta on the photography/reporting imbroglio.

On Sunday and Monday a governance and economy controversy was escalating in Kenya after the Sunday Nation published an expose on “Hidden traps in SGR deal with China“. Sadly, unlike a terrorist attack, this is new bad news. If true it poses serious challenges to the credibility of those who have known the actual terms of the as yet undisclosed deal between the Kenyatta and Xi governments dating back to 2014, as well as to the viability of “Big Four Agenda”, “Vision 2030” and the overall public version of Kenya’s economic development aspirations.

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta meets with Chinese Communist Party leaders to on behalf of his Jubilee Party at Kenya’s State House

Update: I am not much of a consumer of television news, but I thought this online “print” story from CNN’s Sam Kiley was a good quick overview of the Westlands attack for general international audiences (as opposed to readers of this blog): “Nairobi attack shows attempts to neutralize Africa’s terror threat have failed“.

“Tribute to Dr. Peter Oriare: Media Scholar of Great Repute” and a friend to me, to the International Republican Institute, and to Americans who believe in democracy

Dr. Peter Oriare

“Tribute to Dr. Peter Oriare, Media Scholar of Great Repute”

“University of Nairobi mourns committed teacher”

My friend, Dr. Peter Oriare, was in his own way one of those who got hurt because of the election misconduct in 2007. I was very sad to hear on my return from Washington that while I was at the African Studies Association meeting, Peter died back in Nairobi.  At 45 he was too young, the proud father of young children.  I would greatly encourage anyone interested in Kenyan democracy to read the tribute and story linked above.

I am thankful to have known and worked with Peter.  I certainly relied on him in Kenya.   Along with the local staff at the International Republican Institute in Nairobi he was one of the people that made my year working in Kenya an experience that I will always treasure.  When I arrived in Nairobi in June of 2007, we had funded only our baseline National Endowment for Democracy programming working with parliamentary candidates and our ongoing USAID polling program for which I was approved as Chief of Party the week before.  The current polling program had been in place since an exit poll for the 2005 constitutional referendum,and had most recently included a public opinion survey from that spring which we were just then briefing to prospective presidential candidates.  Peter worked with Strategic Public Relations and Research and was our primary point of contact with the firm as well as teaching and working to finish his doctorate at the University of Nairobi.

When I took over as the fourth American to lead the IRI office under that 2005 polling program, my ability to do my job depended on Peter’s expertise and continuity. Peter had worked with everyone in the IRI office and had been our primary local polling expert partner since 2000, before the IRI office opened in 2002.  The polling program was touted as a major success story for both USAID and for the International Republican Institute in Kenya and Peter was the single most consistent element.  Peter had a strong relationship not only with IRI and the USAID Democracy and Governance program locally but with others in the international democracy community.  He led important work in media monitoring for the 2007 election that was crucial to the international understanding of the situation in Kenya.

Peter believed in transparency and he advocated internally for release of the presidential “horse race” figures from our September 2007 public opinion survey which showed Kibaki leading when most polls were showing Raila as having pulled ahead, and when our contract with USAID was amended to add the 2007 exit poll, he expected to release it as well.  The established policy reason that IRI did not release the “horse race” numbers comparing the presidential candidates in our pre-election public opinion surveys–that we wanted to support democracy by informing the public, policy makers and politicians with out having a direct impact on the race itself–obviously did not come into play on the exit poll when people would have already voted when it would be released.

I pushed Peter and Strategic hard in negotiating the contract for the exit poll in the fall of 2007.  We had a modest amount of additional funding from USAID, and some money from Dr. Clark Gibson at the University of California, San Diego–and we had overhead in Washington and Nairobi.  Because it was obviously a close race, we needed results that were methodologically sound and statistically valid at the provincial level and not just the national level, to be able to evaluate the presidential threshold of 25% of the vote in five provinces.   I needed substantially more work from Strategic than they had done in the 2002 and 2005 exit polls, which were universally accepted as successful, but in elections that were not as close.  Ultimately we agreed on the additional work for very little additional money given Kenya’s inflation, and the poll was well executed as millions of Kenyas voted peacefully.

The preliminary results called in by cellphone–which were  obtained by USAID and given to the Ambassador on election day–even though such reporting was entirely outside the scope of anything in the USAID agreement with IRI and I didn’t want anything to get out while the polls were still open–had Raila ahead by a margin of roughly 8 points.  When the actual surveys were obtained and coded and necessary adjustments made for situations such as the seizure of some questionnaires by police–some of which were recovered and some not–the final figure was roughly 6 points.  This was the number in Nairobi in mid-January, 2008 with all the surveys back and coded.  That  was the number on February 7 when someone “inside the Beltway” in Washington decided to throw Peter under the bus by publishing internationally a statement from IRI that poll was “invalid” after State Department and USAID officials were questioned about it by then Subcommittee Chairman Feingold at his hearing in the Senate.  That was the number when I turned over the original questionnaires to my successor in Nairobi in May 2008; the number when the results were released in July at CSIS in Washington by UCSD after IRI’s six month embargo; and the number soon thereafter when the New York Times called me working on their story and asked for an interview.   It was still the number when IRI released the results in August–reconfirmed by a firm in Oklahoma–the day before the UCSD testimony at the Kriegler Commission;  and it is still the number  today, when the poll has been used in published work from scholars in Asia and Europe, as well as in Africa and the United States.

Peter had every right to be proud of his work on this exit poll and it was rightly noted by Rosemary Okello in her tribute as a part of his positive legacy for Kenyan democracy, and for polling and scholarship everywhere.

This is what I wrote in recommending Peter on Linked-In in 2009:

Peter is a true professional, with a strong commitment to his work and high values. He is calm under pressure. He offers deep knowledge and experience and I would be very pleased to have the opportunity to work with him again in the future. July 6, 2009

Top qualities: Personable , Expert

Ken hired Peter in 2007, and hired him/her more than once.

_______________________________________________________________________

Part Four–Lessons from the 2007 Kenyan Election and new FOIA cables

See Part One, Two and Three of this series. And the full Freedom of Information Act Series.

Also see Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

The fourth cable I received last weekend under the Freedom of Information Act was a lengthy unclassified report from Monday, December 24 entitled “Kenya on the Eve of National Elections”.  The most noteworthy items are the Kibera issue discussed in my last post and, as also discussed there, Ranneberger’s very explicit position regarding what he considered U.S. interests to be in the whole matter–being able to treat the announced outcome as credible.  Otherwise, the cable is pretty much the kind of thing that I would have expected him to write based on my interactions with him personally and more generally with the Embassy, and as an observer of his very conspicuous role as a media figure in Kenya during the campaign.

Overall, Ranneberger was uniformly positive about Kibaki, even on the corruption issue.  He offered no real positives on Odinga other than, if it can be viewed in a positive light, noting that he was generally a more effective campaigner and speaker than Kibaki, but at the same time his criticisms of Odinga were in context fairly mild. Generally the view in the cable seems to be what I saw in muted form in Ranneberger’s statements to Kenyans through the media, and more strongly in his speech to the delegates of the IRI Election Observation at a reception at the Embassy residence that same Christmas Eve and in private conversation:  it certainly seems that Ranneberger preferred a Kibaki re-election, but in this writing to Washington he acknowledged Odinga as a “friend of the United States” like Kibaki and did not suggest at all that Odinga was seriously dangerous, threatening or sinister in some way along the lines of the some of the attacks from hardline Odinga critics in the U.S. or in Kenya.

Likewise, nothing about ideology;  whereas the New York Times picked up on concern back in Washington about Odinga’s background association on the left during the Cold War, going to college in East Germany and naming his son Fidel, I never talked to anyone with the U.S. government in Kenya that gave any indication that they found Odinga to present ideological or economic concerns to the U.S.  Ranneberger did make one derogatory comment about Odinga to me privately, but I would not let the Times use it when they interviewed me because I felt that it could be misleadingly inflammatory and was said only in private in his office in the context of doing legitimate business.

Another statement that he made to me separately in October in the context of the discussion about the pre-release Steadman poll showing Odinga leading Kibaki by a large margin was that “if we’ve been wrong about this all along” in what was reported to Washington about Kibaki’s standing “we might as well not even be here”.  I have no way of knowing what any of his previous reporting had been, but I was certainly struck when I first arrived in Kenya by how positive he seemed to be about the Kenyan administration and political climate in the context of what I had read in the my preparations for taking the post.  He said that he wanted to have an election observation with the notion of telling an African success story.

Under the heading “Messy, But Probably Credible Elections” Ranneberger wrote:

9.  Election day will almost certainly be messy, meaning some violent incidents, and a fair amount of allegations of interference with the voting process.  Both Kibaki and Odinga have senior people around them who are desperate to win, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.  While the potential for dangerous actions must be taken seriously, the track record of the well-run elections in 2002 and the national constitutional referendum in 2005 (which the government lost) bodes well.  The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Samuel Kivitu, is highly respected and determined to run a clean election.  Elaborate procedures are in place to assure a credible and transparent process.  The large number of international observers will also help to limit misconduct.  The EU has about 120 observers, the U.S. Mission is fielding almost 200 observers plus funding an observer mission of the International Republican Institute led by former A/A Connie Newman, and there will be over 17,000 Kenyan domestic observers.  Finally, as we have traveled the country, average Kenyans have emphasized their determination to participate in a free and fair election (even if this is mixed with underlying tribal sentiment).

10.  If Kabaki loses, Odinga supporters will be riotously happy.  At the same time, most of the Kikuyu elite, with their business interests, will want to work out accommodation with the with the new government (many have already launched feelers).  The greater danger is if Odinga loses.  He and his supporters will be very tempted – even if the Electoral Commission and observers deem the process credible — to declare the election fraudulent and to resort to violence.  In that case, there could be significant violence and several tense days while things calm down.  While there is no likely scenario that would lead to generalized instability, substantial violence along tribal lines would be a setback for Kenyan democracy.

Lessons from 2007 and New FOIA Cables–Part Two

Continued . . .

So on Saturday afternoon, December 15, 2007, I drove to the embassy residence in Muthaiga and was served tea by a woman from the house staff while waiting a few moments for the Ambassador.  I had understood from IRI’s president that Ranneberger was going to talk to me and my general impression or assumption was that he wanted to smooth things over after twisting my arm so hard toward getting Ambassador Bellamy, his predecessor, off the IRI Election Observation delegation.

As it turned out, the purpose of the meeting was more substantive.  I am not writing to “dish” on a private conversation and I won’t recount everything in general here, but this did involve public business of the U.S. as well as the Kenyan election, regardless of the fact that it took place without witnesses or records on a Saturday afternoon.  All circumstances considered I think I ought to explain a couple of salient points from this meeting that remain to me significant in trying to learn what happened with the election twelve days later.

To start, Ranneberger elaborated on the importance of removing Bellamy from the delegation because of the notion that he was perceived as “anti-government,” obviously meaning the Kibaki administration.  As mentioned in the New York Times story, what was new in this conversation is that he seemed to be saying that the objection had come from someone in the Kenyan government, although that was not completely explicit.  When Ranneberger had originally raised this objection to Bellamy earlier in the month, I had asked for input from our Kenyan program staff who indicated that they did not think that this was Bellamy’s general reputation in Kenya and IRI staff had checked this with State Department contacts in Washington and found no support for that view there either.

The Ambassador definitely did not apologize for giving me “the treatment”, but he was smoothly back to his usual more pleasant/diplomatic self and I certainly did not take the matter personally–I was just the guy on the ground who provided an available pressure point.

Ranneberger did let me know that he knew what Bellamy had been told as to why he had been dropped from the delegation.  In other words, he was letting me know, without taking responsibility for the situation himself, that he knew that “we” at IRI had lied to Bellamy.  This may not have put us in the best position to hold the “no more b.s.” line with Ranneberger going forward.   He didn’t say how he knew about the “story line” to Bellamy and I have no idea myself.  IRI was in a difficult situation not of our making on the Bellamy situation–would we cancel the Election Observation (as the only international NGO scheduled to observe, and raise lots of questions we couldn’t very well answer) or let the Ambassador interfere with the delegation? Regardless, once the directive from the top was given to lie to Bellamy about why he was off the list, IRI no longer had completely clean hands.

There are a variety of things from the more substantive part of the discussion that leave open questions in my mind now after what ultimately happened with the ECK and the election.  One in particular that stands out now in light of the FOIA disclosure.

The Ambassador told me that Saturday that “people are saying” that Raila Odinga, as the leading opposition candidate for president, ahead in the polls as the vote was nearing, might lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency (which under the existing system would disqualify him from becoming president even if he got the most votes nationally).  This was “out of the blue” for me because I certainly was not aware of anyone who thought that.  Odinga’s PNU opponent Stanley Livando had made a big splash and spent substantial money when he first announced, but he had not seemed to get obvious traction in the race.  Naturally, I wondered who the “people” Ranneberger was referring to were.  Ranneberger said that a Raila loss in Langata would be “explosive” and that he wanted to take Ms. Newman with him to observe voting there on election day.

Ranneberger also went on to say that he wanted to take Ms. Newman separately to meet with Kibaki’s State House advisor Stanley Murage on the day before the election with no explanation offered as to why.

After midnight Nairobi time I had a telephone call with the Africa director and the vice presidents in charge at IRI in Washington in the president’s absence.  I was given the option to “pull the plug” on the observation mission based on the concerns about Ranneberger’s approach following my meeting with him.   The Ambassador, rather than either IRI or USAID, had initiated the observation mission in the first place, and IRI was heavily occupied with other observations.  Nonetheless, based on assurances that Ms. Newman would be fully briefed on our agreement that she needed to steer clear of separate interaction with the Ambassador and that the Murage meeting must not happen, and my belief that it would be an “incident” in its own right to cancel the observation, we agreed to go forward with precautions.

I got the idea of commissioning a separate last-minute poll of the Langata parliamentary race.  I thought that the notion that Livondo might beat Raila in Langata seemed far fetched, but objective data from before the vote could prove important.  We hired the Steadman polling firm for this job, to spread the work.  Also Strategic was already heavily occupied with preparing for the exit poll, and  Steadman was the firm that Ranneberger had instructed his staff to call (too late as it happened) to quash the release of poll results that he knew  would show Raila leading back in October, so I thought that it was that much more likely that word would get back. Further, in the partisan sniping which I generally did not credit, Steadman was claimed by some in opposition to be more aligned with Kibaki so would be extra-credible to verify this race.  I also made sure that we scheduled an “oversample” for Langata for the national exit poll so that we would have a statistically valid measure of the actual election day results in the parliamentary race.

On to the new FOIA release:  On Tuesday, December 18, Ranneberger sent another cable to the Secretary of State entitled “Kenya Elections:  State of Play on Election”.  This cable says nothing about the “explosive” Langata parliamentary race issue that Ranneberger had raised with me on Saturday, three days earlier.  It concludes:  “Given the closeness of the election contest, the perceived legitimacy of the election outcome could determine whether the losing side accepts the results with minimal disturbances.  Our staff’s commendable response to the call for volunteers over the Christmas holiday allows us to deploy teams to all sections of the country, providing a representative view of the vote as a whole.  In addition, our decision to host the joint observation control room will provide much greater access to real-time information; allowing a more comprehensive analysis of the election process.”

Next, we have a cable from Christmas Eve, December 24, three days before the election.  The first thing that morning the IRI observation delegates were briefed on the election by a key Ranneberger aide.  I told him then that we had commissioned the separate Langata poll.  He said that the Ambassador would be very interested, and I agreed to bring results with me to the embassy residence that evening when the Ambassador hosted a reception for the delegation.  The results showed Odinga winning by more than two-to-one.

There are a number of noteworthy items that I will discuss later from this cable, but for today, let me note that  Ranneberger has added in this cable a discussion of the Langata race:

“11.  We have credible reports that some within the Kibaki camp could be trying to orchestrate a defeat of Odinga in his constituency of Langata, which includes the huge slum of Kibera.  This could involve some combination of causing disorder in order to disenfranchise some of his supporters and/or bringing in double-registered Kikuyu supporters of the PNU’s candidate from outside.  To be elected President a candidate must fulfill three conditions:  have a plurality of the popular vote; have at least 25 percent in 5 of the 8 provinces; and be an elected member of Parliament.  Thus, defeat of Odinga in his constituency is a tempting silver bullet.  The Ambassador, as well as the UK and German Ambassadors, will observe in the Langata constituency.  If Odinga were to lose Langata, Kibaki would become President if he has the next highest vote total and 25 percent in 5 provinces (both candidates will likely meet the 25 percent rule).

12.  The outside chance that widespread fraud in the election process could force us to call into question the result would be enormously damaging to U.S. interests.  We hold Kenya up as a democratic model not only for the continent, but for the developing world, and we have a vast partnership with this country on key issues ranging from efforts against HIV/AIDS, to collaboration on Somalia and Sudan, to priority anti-terrorism activities.

.  .  .

14.  As long as the electoral process is credible, the U.S.-Kenyan partnership will continue to grow and serve mutual interests regardless of who is elected.   While Kibaki has a proven track record with us, Odinga is also a friend of the U.S. . . .

15.  It is likely that the winner will schedule a quick inauguration (consistent with past practice) to bless the result and, potentially, to forestall any serious challenge to the results.  There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable.  The courts are both inefficient and corrupt.  Pronouncements by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and observers, particularly from the U.S., will therefore have be [sic] crucial in helping shape the judgment of the Kenyan people.  With an 87% approval rating in Kenya, our statements are closely watched and respected.  I feel that we are well -prepared to meet this large responsibility and, in the process, to advance U.S. interests.”  END

None of this material was mentioned in the briefing to the observation delegation or to me that day.  Long after the election, the Standard newspaper reported that the original plan of the Kibaki camp had been to rig the Langata parliamentary race, but at the last minute a switch was made to change the votes at the central tally, supposedly on the basis of the strength of early returns for Odinga in Western and Rift Valley provinces.

To be continued .  .  .  .