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“.

Turning Point in Kenya? Update on opposition to Kenyan anti-NGO and Media Bills

“Freedom of Expression is Your Right”–Subversive NGO Solganeering in Kenya’s Neighbor Uganda
"Freedom of expression is your right"

Opposition to controversial Kenya Media Bill heats up” Sabahi Online via AllAfrica.com

Cuts in foreign funding for NGOs intended to silence critics–Human Rights Watch” from Trust.org

William Ruto and his Ethiopian host had chilling message on media freedom” from Macharia Gaitho in The Daily Nation.

Kenya attempts to silence civil society“, Freedom House Spotlight on Freedom.

For perspective (not just to say I warned you so) see my post about Kenyatta and media freedom from December 2009:  “More Government of Kenya action to muzzle media”:

The Standard reports that it has been enjoined  from publishing stories regarding Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and the purchasing of government vehicles.  Uhuru sought the temporary injunction to protect his interests and reputation.  Seems like a classic case of a high gov’t official using prior restraint to avoid challenge to his job performance.

This is to me another example of fact that the media environment in Kenya is not quite as free as international commentators frequently suggest.  While there is quite a bit of reporting on corruption, the fact remains that it hasn’t dented impunity, and there is a great deal that is known but not reported, and many stories get started but never followed to conclusion.

After the paramilitary raid on the Standard Group in mid-2006, the US eventually made peace with impunity for this attack on the media.  By the summer of 2007, then-Internal Security Minister Michuki–who famously said of the Standard raid that the Standard, having “rattled a snake” should have expected “to get bitten” for its reporting–was the featured speaker at the Ambassador’s Fourth of July celebration, talking of his recent security cooperation tour in the US.  With this background for its critics in the Government, the press can’t help but wonder how far it can go.

And from March of this year: “Attacks on Kenyan Civil Society prefigured in Jubilee ‘manifesto'”

A Closer Look at Journalism and NGOs

Karen Rothmyer has a “terrific and necessary” piece in the Columbia Journalism Review headlined “Hiding the Real Africa; why NGOs prefer bad news” about stereotyped images of Africans in poverty in the U.S. media and the influence of NGOs working on aid projects on this coverage (with comments from Jina Moore and I so far).  Linked is the full research paper for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.

Also at CJR is a review of Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for DarfurPublic Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide.

In The Star Andrea Bohnstedt explains that “Kibera Slum is Now the face of Kenya Abroad.”

In “Good News is No News, and that’s Bad News”, Terrance Wood writes at the Development Policy Blog that the media cover aid failures and problems, rather than success stories, and that this gives a misleadingly negative impression about the effectiveness of aid.

“Social media and the Uganda election 2011”

Reviewing USAID Democracy and Governance Support in Egypt

 

Here is an audit report from the USAID Inspector General, reviewing USAID Eygpt’s Democracy and Governance expenditures as of October 2009. (h/t Pro Publica)

In fiscal year (FY) 2008, U.S. foreign economic assistance to Egypt was valued at $415 million, which included specific programs to promote democracy (valued at $55 million). On average, for the 10 years since 1999, USAID/Egypt has provided $24 million to implementers to conduct democracy and governance programs. Although the mission’s funding for democracy and governance programs averaged $24 million annually, USAID/Egypt’s funding spiraled upward as much as 97 percent in 2004, with a drastic increase in FYs 2006–2008. Since FY 2004, USAID/Egypt has designed democracy and governance programs valued at $181 million to be conducted until the end of FY 2012.

.  .  .  .

Based on the programs reviewed, the impact of USAID/Egypt’s democracy and governance activities was limited in strengthening democracy and governance in Egypt. Furthermore, in separate recently published reports, independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ranked Egypt unfavorably in indexes of media freedom, corruption, civil liberties, political rights, and democracy. Egypt’s ranking in these indexes remained unchanged or declined for the past 2 years. The overall impact of USAID/Egypt’s programs in democracy and governance was unnoticeable in indexes describing the country’s democratic environment.

A major contributing factor to the limited achievements for some of these programs resulted from a lack of support from the Government of Egypt. According to a mission official, the Government of Egypt has resisted USAID/Egypt’s democracy and governance program and has suspended the activities of many U.S. NGOs because Egyptian officials thought these organizations were too aggressive. Notwithstanding the Egyptian government’s negative actions, U.S. decisionmakers did not terminate the democracy and government program.

USAID/Egypt has used two types of instruments to administer its democracy and governance activities: a bilateral agreement and a direct grants program. Under the bilateral agreement, USAID and the Government of Egypt agreed to implement programs in the three major areas of rule of law and human rights, good governance, and civil society programs (Figure 3). Using the direct grants program, USAID/Egypt has awarded grants and cooperative agreements to NGOs and other civil society organizations without prior approval from the Egyptian government.

USAID/Egypt’s Office of Democracy and Governance developed programs with the objective of strengthening democracy and governance in rule of law and human rights, good governance, and civil society. Activities within the three major areas reviewed include commodities, technical assistance, training, or resource transfers designed to contribute to achieving the following objectives:

Rule of Law and Human Rights – strengthen the administration of justice and access to justice for women and disadvantaged groups.

Good Governance – promote a more accountable and responsive local government.

Civil Society – promote greater independence and professionalism in media and strengthen the organizational capabilities of civil society organizations while directly supporting their programs in areas such as political reform, elections monitoring, and civic education.

In the past, USAID/Egypt used a bilateral program with the Government of Egypt to conduct its democracy and governance programs. However, the mission modified its approach in 2005 to add a direct grants program after Congress allowed USAID/Egypt to have more control over its funding.

.  .  .  .

Although the Civil Society Direct Grants Program achieved its greatest success in conducting democracy and governance activities, the program had a limited impact on strengthening democracy and governance in Egypt. While the grantee programs reviewed achieved more than half of their planned activities, the impact of these activities was limited because of political circumstances, government resistance, and the grantees’ lack of experience. Some examples include the following:

A grantee received $1.2 million, in part to provide training on principles of democratic governance and civic participation to at least 600 teachers and 30,000 middle, high school, and university students in four regions of Egypt. However, the grantee managed to train only 330 teachers and about 2,000 students, less than 8 percent of the target.

Development Challenges: Ugandan Elections and Hunger in NE Kenya

Uganda ElectionsHere is an interesting report regarding the various NGO efforts to the potential violence that is a growing concern in relation to Uganda’s upcoming February 2011 elections. Concerns expressed include questions about excessively expensive or wasteful projects, the need to distinguish between important and effective groups and those “which are just parasitic”, and the degree to which donors should dictate the use of funds and the extent to which this may influence the political process.

One project singled out for scrutiny is a soccer tournament “to reconcile the warring political parties” organized by the Global Peace Festival Foundation, an organization launched by Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, the prime minister, on August 30.

In total, the two football competitions will cost GPFF Shs 610 million–enough money for a strong opposition party to run a successful compaign. Moreover, experts say that the majority of NGO funds are spent on workshops, furnished offices, and workers’ remuneration, leaving very little for the real projects.

According to the NGO registration board, there are over 8500 civil society organizations in Uganda and of these over 1000 are aimed at preventing violence or promoting election integrity.

Northeastern Kenya–high levels of child malnutrition continue to exist in spite of better rains recently according the the World Food Program. The previous drought reduced herds, so pastoralists continue to lack meat, milk and blood. Likewise, general underdevelopment from lack of health care facitlities, lack of roads and transportation, and lack of education (mothers’ illiteracy contributes to lack of knowledge about proper nutrition for children). A report today on IRIN entitled “Instability Without Borders” explains that the spillover effects from instability and al-Shabaab control of bordering areas of Somalia has driven some aid organizations out and greatly driven up costs for others, reducing the ability for service delivery to address these problems. While the border is porous to the flow of small arms and raids, it appears from the report that Kenya’s police high police presence has helped prevent major escalations on the Kenyan side of the border, the threat from previous cross-border kidnappings and raids, along with the general insecurity and prevalence of arms has resulted in a daily 12-hour curfew and a standard requirement that all travel include armed escort and has led many organizations to park their own vehicles and only travel in hired transport.

Democracy Arsenal challenges U.S. approach to democracy assistance

From Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution at “The Problem(s) with U.S. Democracy Assistance” at Democracy Arsenal:

In any case, the whole idea of “democracy assistance” is a bit odd and more than a bit hypocritical. We fund autocracies with billions of dollars of aid, then we fund some small NGOs so that they can oppose autocracy. Talk about mixed messages. Often, “democracy assistance” does not in fact assist democracy, since much of it goes to authoritarian governments themselves to help them govern more effectively. And a good chunk of NGO assistance goes to NGOs that are effectively GONGOs – government organized non-governmental organizations. GONGOs, needless to say, have nothing to do with democracy promotion. Even the money that does go to well-meaning NGOs is focused less on specifically democratic concerns and, as the Arabist notes, more on things like women’s empowerment, minority rights, etc., which are all important, but are not necessarily clearly linked to democratization – the movement, among other things, toward a political structure in which “alternation of power” is possible.

Certainly the imperative for democracy promotion organizations like IRI is to “follow the money” — to support overhead and bureaucratic and political heft by morphing to try to undertake whatever tasks the US government has funding for–regardless of core competencies and mission. I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say that the US “GONGOs” have “nothing to do with democracy promotion”, but any honest assessment does have to recognize the inherent contradictions. “GONGOs” do face inevitable occasions when those contradictions between democratic ideals and policy choices by some in key positions in the US government are not successfully managed–as in my experience at IRI in dealing with the U.S. Ambassador in regard to the last Kenyan election.

News from Hargeisa: Somaliland Presidential Election expected for sometime in June

Hargeysa, Somaliland, April 17, 2010 (SL Times) – The Chairman of Somaliland’s Election Commission Eng. Isse Yusuf Haji Muhammad revealed that they expect Somaliland’s presidential election to take place in June 2010. The Chairman gave this information in the context of elaborating on the election code of conduct that was recently signed by Somaliland’s political parties. He made these three points:

1- The electoral commission has done a lot in preparing for the election including opening offices throughout the country and selecting staff.

2- The voting cards will be distributed in the first two weeks of May.

3- The election is expected to be held in June, but the exact date has not been finalized yet.

See “Somaliland Finally Prepares for Presidential Polls” also from the Somaliland Times with additional background.

Somaliland Times editorial on delegation’s visit to White House

Former deputy chairman of parliament raises concern that NGO’s operating in Somaliland might participate in drafting constitution for Somalia in Nairobi and that this would in some way prejudice Somaliland which is not involved.