The challenge for the West in Kenya’s 2012 election–and how we can learn and do better this time

Toi Market-Nairobi

I just returned from a few days at the annual conference of the African Studies Association, held in Washington this year.  This gave me the chance to hear presentations by and informally rub elbows with some of the most knowledgeable experts on Kenya and African democracy and governance from a variety of places and institutions around the world.  The summary overview is that as we approach four years from the last election, there is so much that is still “up in the air” about the next one that it is impossible to know much about how it will play out.

Here is my view of where things are:

1.  The election date remains in active dispute.  Much Kenyan opinion holds that the new Constitution mandates an election in August of 2012 which is fast approaching.  The members of the brand new electoral commission have said in the recent past that they cannot be ready by then.  The Cabinet has just withdrawn a bill in Parliament to amend the Constitution to move the date [update: the Speaker has ruled that the bill may be re-filed tomorrow and be heard] and the Supreme Court has ruled that the matter must come up through normal channels through the High Court rather than be determined by an advisory opinion.

2.  While it is positive that the new Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission has been formed in a process widely seen as appropriate, the time involved means that we do not yet even know the constituencies and boundaries for the new elections; further this new Commission is untested.

3.  The issue of implementing the gender balance in Parliament under the new Constitution remains unsettled.  A lot of seats and salaries are at stake on this issue.

4.  Candidates, parties and coalitions remain very much unsettled and can be expected to remain so.   There has been very little obvious progress in actually enforcing the laws governing political parties and elected officials in relation to parties.  The relationship between “parties” and “coalitions” remains elusive.

5.  Politics in Kenya certainly seems more openly ethnic now than at a similar time in the 2007 election cycle.  One could perhaps make the argument that it is better to have it more “on the table” rather than “under the table”, but I do not necessarily buy that.  Regardless, there is this time no basis for outsiders to underestimate it.  How this will play out in the campaigns is unknown.

6.  Like in 2007, we have high inflation rates for staples such that the wananchi are being squeezed on the basic cost of living–while the GDP growth rate in the region and in Kenya is much less robust than in 2006-07–all aside from the drought and food crisis in many regions.  Whether this will get better or worse as the election approaches is unknown.

7.  Corruption remains a huge issue.  Overall there may have been some small progress at the margins, but in reality the accumulation of exposed cases of major graft in which no one major has been prosecuted just continues to grow.  The corruption in the 2007 election specifically was swept under the rug.  No one has been held accountable and the facts have remained concealed enough that any politician or spokesman can say whatever they want about what happened last time.  It seems to me hard to argue that there is much deterrent in place to attempts to corrupt the 2012 elections.

8.  The threat from terrorism seems to be greater and this time Kenya itself rather than Ethiopia is at war in Somalia.

No one that I heard or talked to seemed to feel that we knew much more about how the next Kenyan election might play out now than we did when I attended the same conference in New Orleans in 2009.

And yet, I picked up on what I see as disturbing reports of a repetition of the complacency that we got burned by in 2007.  At the risk of sounding “preachy” I want to argue passionately that this is a mistake.

Okay, Kenya had a peaceful and well accepted referendum in 2010 when there were worries about violence.  Let me explain why I don’t think at means so much in regard to 2012.

First, the referendum was not a close election–just as the 2002 NARC election was not a close election.  The question in the referendum was how big the margin would be, not whether it would pass.  Since the outcome of the referendum was not in play it would not have been impacted by violence or protests one way or the other.  In 2007 the outcome was in play and disputed and violence served the interests of both sides to a point.

If there had been no protests regarding the election Odinga would never have become Prime Minister–and the incumbent government was clearly committed to not allowing protests, and clearly prioritized keeping power over security for the public.  At the same time, if there had not been a murderous mobilization of Kalenjin militias against Kikuyu in the Rift Valley to the point of what Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer controversially labeled “ethnic cleansing” there might have been some remedial action about the subversion of the election count itself.   This was the approach initially advocated by the EU and other Western countries.  I would like to think that if this militia violence in the Rift Valley had been less egregious that perhaps the higher levels of the U.S. government might have come around to some form of election remediation in spite of the U.S. Ambassador’s approach.  Obviously I have no way to know–but the point remains, I think, that even the violence against Kikuyu in the Rift Valley in a way indirectly helped keep for Kibaki the new five year term that the ECK awarded him.

The bottom line is that violence ended up “working” in a sense for certain political interests in 2007-08–and the price was paid only by the wananchi so far–whereas there was no political utility for such violence in 2010.

Further, the referendum was a national vote and the outcome at individual polling centres and in localities and regions did not directly matter–very unlike the simultaneous election of the President and MPs and local officials in Kenyan General Elections.

On balance, the 2010 Referendum seems to me to provide less reasonable assurance about a clean and safe General Election in 2012 than the2002 General Election and the 2005 Referendum would have provided in 2007.

There are Kenyans whose opinions I respect who think that the era of election violence is over in Kenya because of the actions of the ICC to date.  Perhaps.  I hope they are right, but I do not see that it makes sense to bet anyone’s life on it. Which presidential contender today is showing up in the polls as less popular because he was charged by the ICC prosecutor and named in various investigative reports about the post election violence?  Who knows what will happen with the ICC process or what impact it will ultimately have?

The key for Western donors is to be prepared for contingencies rather than guessing and gambling about what might or might not happen.  To have the political will to “call out” the electoral commission before the election if it abandons the practices and tools that are clearly necessary to have a transparent and reliable election.  To reserve judgment on the process until it is concluded.  To speak out, at least, if Kenya’s paramilitary  security forces are diverted for political purposes such as sealing off Kibera and defending Uhuru Park to keep it free of protestors.  To commit to transparency to assure trust.  And to decide now how to respond to violence if things go wrong later.

To close this, I am going to fulfill a personal request from someone from the West who was importantly involved in trying to help the process last time by linking to an account of a Kenyan investigative journalist to the Kriegler Commission about what was happening in Kibera in the last election.  I have to do this with a READER DISCRETION ADVISED WARNING–this is not “family-friendly” reading.  I have no personal knowledge of any of the specifics but this does come with the personal recommendation of someone very credible who knows the source well.  We all know that Kenyan politics can be murderous and there is no reason to be complacent.

(Updated 10-12) Ugandan Parliament Votes to Suspend Oil Deals on Corruption Charges

BBC News is reporting that the Ugandan parliament has asserted its independence by acting to freeze new oil agreements after bribery allegations are brought forward by an MP:

Uganda’s parliament has voted to suspend all new deals in the oil sector following claims that government ministers took multi-million dollar bribes.

MP Gerald Karuhanga said in parliament on Monday that UK-based Tullow Oil paid bribes to influence decisions.

Tullow said it rejected the “outrageous and wholly defamatory” allegations.

The vote is a big blow to President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, analysts say.

The BBC’s Joshua Mmali in the capital, Kampala, says it means the government will not be able to sign new oil deals until a petroleum law is enacted.

.  .  .  .

Update–from Wednesday’s Daily Monitor:

The British High Commission in Kampala yesterday said the country’s Metropolitan Police is at liberty to start investigations into allegations that Tullow, one of London’s 100 listed companies, paid bribes to senior Uganda government officials. “Bribery of foreign public officials is of course an offence under UK law, and it would therefore be for the British Police to decide whether to open an investigation into allegations made against a British company,” a spokesperson for the High Commission said in reply to our email enquiries.

UK’s 2010 Bribery Act imposes “strict liability” on UK corporations or business firms that fail to make “adequate processes” to prevent bribe payments. In yesterday’s statement, the High Commission said it was following the ongoing oil debate in Parliament “with interest”, but understand that “Tullow Oil totally rejects those allegations”.

The Company had by press time not replied to specific questions this newspaper raised based on allegations in Parliament that the firm between June 1 and July 16, 2010 paid out up to $100m (Shs280b) to “experts”, among them powerful ministers, for “professional services” from accounts with Bank of Valetta in Malta.

.  .  .  .

Kenyan Supreme Court to begin hearings to determine next election date; preparations lag

Although the Supreme Court is set to begin preliminary hearings Tuesday on the question of the interpretation of the new constitution to determine the proper date for the first general election, the Cabinet with substantial support among MPs will seek to move its bill in Parliament to amend the constitution to set elections in
December rather than August.  Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo says that it is already too late:  “As the minister of Justice and in charge of election matters, I cannot give you an election in August [2012].”

Anxiety is building in the august House over the date of the next polls with most of the MPs keen to stay in the House until the end of “their unexpired term” according to the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

While Cabinet ministers have vowed to push the Bill to amend the Constitution to alter the election date, some MPs among them Gatanga’s Peter Kenneth (left) and Gwassi’s John Mbadi have vowed that they will scuttle any plan to push for December elections.

On Monday, the Gwassi MP repeated the threats to oppose the Bill in the House, terming it as an “affront to the Judiciary”.

Unfortunately, the Independent Election and Boundaries Commission has not yet been established and potential members are being vetted, so there is clearly a lot of work remaining to get ready for the next election.

Kenyan Civil Society will need to play a key role in serving as a “watchdog” throughout the election preparations.  Resources will be available from international donors to support the process, as they were in 2007, but as we have seen, these resources do not help if they are not ulimately used.

U.S. Rachets Up Pressure on Kenyan “Drug Kingpins”

The White House released its designation of seven individuals, including two Kenyans, to Congress as appropriate for sanctions as “foreign drug kingpins”, including Kilome MP John Harun Mwau (Sultan Hamud, Eastern Province–on the way from Mombasa to Nairobi) and another Kenyan. This follows the delivery to Attorney General Wako earlier this year of a dossier supporting these charges.  So far, Kenyan authorities have indicated that they find no evidence on which to take legal action.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
June 01, 2011

Letter from the President on the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act

June 1, 2011

Dear Mr. Chairman:  (Dear Madam Chairman:)
(Dear Representative:) (Dear Senator:)

This report to the Congress, under section 804(a) of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, 21 U.S.C. 1901-1908 (the “Kingpin Act”), transmits my designations of the following seven foreign individuals as appropriate for sanctions under the Kingpin Act and reports my direction of sanctions against them under the Act:

Manuel Torres Felix (Mexico)
Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza (Mexico)
Haji Lal Jan Ishaqzai (Afghanistan)
Kamchybek Asanbekovich Kolbayev (Kyrgyzstan)
John Harun Mwau (Kenya)
Naima Mohamed Nyakiniywa (Kenya)
Javier Antonio Calle Serna (Colombia)

Sincerely,

BARACK OBAMA

Here is a link to “Narcotics:  What You Need to Know About U.S. Sanctions Against Drug Traffickers; an overview of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpins Designation Act . . .” published by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control:

The Kingpin Act blocks all property and interests in property,
subject to U.S. jurisdiction, owned or controlled by significant
foreign narcotics traffickers as identified by the President.  In
addition, the Kingpin Act blocks the property and interests in
property, subject to U.S. jurisdiction, of foreign persons
designated by the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the
Attorney General, the Director of Central Intelligence, the
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the
Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the
Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State, who are found to
be: (1) materially assisting in, or providing financial or
technological support for or to, or providing goods or services in
support of, the international narcotics trafficking activities of
a person designated pursuant to the Kingpin Act;  (2) owned,
controlled, or directed by, or acting for or on behalf of, a person
designated pursuant to the Kingpin Act; or  (3)  playing a
significant role in international narcotics trafficking.

Mwau filed suit against outgoing U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger in the Kenyan High Court in April in response allegations raised against him by the U.S. late last year:

Mwau says the diplomat has made false allegations of drug trafficking, contract killings and money laundering to the police. The diplomat on December 7, 2010, filed a criminal complaint with the Minister for Internal Security Prof George Saitoti and had the same complaint delivered to the Police Commissioner.

Mwau states that he has never been involved and has never contemplated or even dreamed of being involved in trafficking narcotic drugs and does not know any person who sells, buys or consumes narcotics of any nature.

He says he was shocked when his name was announced by Prof Saitoti in Parliament on December 22, 2010, as one of the people named in Ranneberger’s dossier. Mwau says the dossier had contents meant and calculated to injure his dignity and reputation.

The contents of the dossier, he adds, alleged that he has been linked to contract killings against law enforcement officials and that he is linked to a tonne of cocaine consignment seized by Kenya Police in 2004. Ranneberger also alleged he (Mwau) was a close family member of Akasha family in Mombasa.

Khalwale Re-takes His Seat in Ikolomani–Tribal and Presidential Implications?

“The Bull Fighter Dr. Bonny Khalwale gored his way to parliament after emerging victorious in the completed Ikolomani parliamentary by-election with provisional results indicating to have won by 13208 votes against his rival Benard Shinali 10702 and 293 votes for Kizito . . .” reports West FM.

Here is a Friday, May 30 editorial from West FM ahead of Monday’s vote, articulating a view of Luhya tribal interests in the by-election–well worth a read to appreciate a major strain of thought in Kenyan politics, even after the 2007-08 tragedy:

“The Ikolomani bye-election to determine whether the Luhya community has the self belief and courage to go for the presidency of Kenya in 2012

The new Constitution secures the right of all Constituencies in Kenya to receive equitable development regardless of which party the Constituency votes for.  The template of dangling development projects using tax payers’ resources as a bait for the electorate to vote for a party is unconstitutional and plain corruption and impunity.

The Ikolomani Constituency Bye-election to be held on 23/05/2011 is not about which of those competing candidates will or will not bring development to the Constituency.   Which development can whoever is elected deliver in the remaining twelve months before the next General Elections slated under the new Constitution for August 2012?  The Ikolomani Constituency Bye-election is being quietly watched for what its results will portend and give bearing as to how the 2012 Kibaki succession shapes up in the coming months.

.  .  .  .

A vote for the ODM Candidate will be a clear statement that Western Kenya is not interested in and has no confidence in itself to be a contender for the 2012 Presidential Race.  That will be as clear as daylight granted the ODM Presidential baton  for 2012 is irretrievably in the “safe” and hands of Hon. Raila Odinga and let nobody fool you that he will surrender it to anybody come rain come sunshine unless Hon. Raila leaves that party.

Yes the ODM vote will be the loudest confession by Western Kenya through the people of Ikolomani as a microcosm that the Luhya Community is happy and contended to play second, third or fourth fiddle going into the 2012 Presidential Race.

A vote for New Ford Kenya in the By-elections on the other hand will be the loudest statement that Western Kenya and the Luhya Community is in the race for the Presidency of Kenya in 2012 regardless of who will be its eventual flag bearer whether it be Hon. Musalia Mudavadi or Hon. Eugene Wamalwa.  A vote for New Ford Kenya will be the voice of the people of Western Kenya to their present crop of leaders that they must put their act together and present Western Kenya’s and the Luhya Community’s bid for the Presidency in 2012 just as the Kalenjin Community has Hon. William Ruto as representing their Presidential ambition and the Kikuyu Community has Hon. Martha Karua and Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kamba Community have Hon. Kalonzo Musyoka and the Luo Community has Hon. Raila Odinga.

The question at the moment is not whether or not Western Kenya’s Presidential contender will win or not in 2012 but that for Western Kenya to ever hope for the Presidency or anything else it must first be in the race or in the competition and put in an application for the job through a candidate.  And the people of Ikolomani Constituency know the name of the game through their colorful sport of bull fighting and where one cannot win a bull fight unless of course one has his bull in the contest, in the Arena, in Malinya Stadium.

The Ford People Candidate in the Ikolomani Constituency Bye-election is the only candidate whose candidature does not spill into the permutations of the 2012 Presidential Elections of Kenya and may be that one can say he should be judged without the blinkers of the 2012 Presidential race and therefore whether or not he has the ability to discharge the function of an MP.

Yes, all watchers of how the Presidential Race, jigsaw for 2012 will pan out are watching how Western Kenya’s dress rehearsal (through the Bye-election) of what role it will play, whether it will be a player or part of the cheering crowd, what political weight, value, price to assign Western Kenya in the political alliances, coalitions that will shape the 2012 Presidential Race.

The people of Ikolomani Constituency will on 23/05/2011 die the cast for Western Kenya and the Luhya Community as to whether the region has the ambition , gravitas and whether it will have its own veritable bull in Kenya’s 2012 Presidential Race or not.  In 1995 when Ikolomani Constituency held a similarly charged bye-election that Benjamin Magwaga won, it had the choice of the late Michael Wamalwa Kijana representing the Luhya Community’s urge for the Presidency on one side and President Moi on the other and the Ikolomani people chose President Moi. . . .

See the updated Wikipedia entry for quick analysis, and see Opalo’s Blog for the thoughts of a diaspora political science graduate student at Stanford.

Re-match in Ikolomani by-election Monday tests current state of Kenya’s politics (updated)

Party Office--New  Ford Kenya

Update–follow local coverage at West FM here.  With some exceptions, voting seems to have proceeded peacefully.

Monday’s by-election in Ikolomani, Western Province, will be a key test for both the election authorities and for law enforcement, as well as for future political stature in Western heading into the 2012 campaign.

“Security beefed up in Ikolomani”

Security officers have been directed to deal firmly with reported cases of bribery and voter intimidation as voters in Ikolomani pick their new MP on Monday.

The Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) said voters in the constituency should be left to pick their next MP freely.

Commissioner Hamara Ibrahim Aden said it would be up to officers on the ground to ensure those involved in violence and voter bribery were arrested.

There will be two police officers deployed at each polling station during voting.
. . . .
ODM and New Ford Kenya have been involved in intense campaigns for the Ikolomani seat.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi pitched camp at the constituency to ensure the ODM candidate emerged the winner.

Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa and Housing minister Soita Shitanda have been pushing for voters to re-elect Dr Khalwale.

A victory for the ODM candidate will be a big boost to Mr Mudavadi, who is trying to ward off competition from the Saboti MP for the region’s political supremacy.

Mr Wamalwa, who has declared he will vie for the presidency in the next general election, hopes to consolidate support in the region should Dr Khalwale be re-elected to complete his term.
. . . .
Presiding officers in Ikolomani have been equipped with laptops and mobile phones to transmit the results from respective polling stations after completing the tallying process.

Commissioner Aden said the officials had been trained on the use of the gadgets and no delays were expected in release of the results.
.  .  .  .
Dr Boni Khalwale was first elected to Parliament on a Narc ticket in 2002 and went in for a second term in 2007 on New Ford Kenya ticket.

But his term was cut short after the High Court nullified his election citing irregularities in the tallying of votes.

The petition was filed by Mr Shinali, who in the previous election, narrowly lost to Dr Khalwale.

In the meantime, the other big showdown, for the Kamukunji seat in Nairobi, has instead turned into a battle between the courts and the electoral commission. The IIEC acted wisely, in my opinion, in postponing the election to recognize a High Court injunction, although taking great umbrage at what the commission sees as interference with their prerogatives and in the face of encouragement from elected officials and party leaders to go ahead in spite of the court.

On Friday High Court judge Daniel Musinga temporarily halted the by-election scheduled for tomorrow until a petition filed by an aggrieved aspirant is heard and determined.

The applicant, Paul Waweru Mwangi of the National Vision Party challenged the legality of nominations conducted by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission and the returning officer Joseph Masindet on April 27 and 28.

Mr Mwangi complained that his nomination papers were rejected by the returning officer.

In his ruling Justice Musinga said the IIEC violated the aspirant’s constitutional right to be a candidate in the by-election.

From The Star, here is criticism of the Court decision from ODM, and here from NARC-Kenya.

“A reply to concerned commenters on the Ocampo charges” and preparing for 2012 in Kenya

This is something I prepared last December at the time the ICC prosecutor initiated his charges against “the Ocampo Six”.  Now that another four months has gone by, and we are many more months away from knowing whether any trials for the Kenyan post election violence will proceed, I thought it was worth revisiting:

With respect, it is hard for me to believe that anyone seriously thinks that [former ECK Chairman] Kivuitu himself was the primary manipulator of the election results. It happened on his watch, yes. He failed, but was not the primary instigator, nor beneficiary. I am very sad that the Kreigler Commission charged with investigating the election chose to fence off from review what happened with the presidential results–this is a great loss. Nonetheless, the charges of crimes against humanity sought by Ocampo as prosecutor before the ICC will stand or fall on their own merits. While Mr. Ocampo was not elected, he was appointed through a lawful process established by the countries, including Kenya, who are State Parties to the ICC convention. What prosecutors in Kenya are elected? Yes, there are more people who could be charged with more crimes–but the cold reality is that it is almost three years since the election, and it is the ICC or nothing and no one. This is less than it could have been, but far better than nothing.

Having lived with my family in Nairobi through the campaign, voting and violence, aside from my role in supporting the election process , the observation mission and exit poll, I fully appreciate the angst over the manipulation of the results after a peaceful vote, and over the role of the authorities in both the manipulation itself and in contributing to the violence by suppressing lawful protest and even murdering innocent citizens. To date no one has been prosecuted for any of this–Ocampo’s charges against Ali are a breakthrough in this regard. Ocampo is not seeking charges against anyone from the opposition for the chaos caused by the stolen election, but rather for crimes against humanity in the Rift Valley that are akin to the violence there in 3 of the last 4 elections. The judges will decide whether the indictments are issued, and if so, the trials will proceed with both sides presenting their evidence.

To say something further that I have not said publicly before, I do want to be clear that it is my personal belief that bribery of Kenyan election officials is “what happened” in the presidential election. I have not written or spoken publicly of this before because I claim no evidence or personal knowledge. In the first instance, it is what I was told by a senior diplomat (not U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger or anyone who worked for him) during that the post election period. It was explained to me that clear evidence had been identified. I accepted this as being explained to me not as gossip or a matter of personal interest, but as important information that I needed to know in the context of my job. There was no discussion of confidentiality, but it was what I will call a “private conversation in a public place”. Nothing clandestine, nothing that I was not to report back privately or act on but obviously not something I could “go public” with without being provided more detail and evidence which wasn’t offered.

Everything else I have learned since then is consistent with what I was told, and nothing is contradictory. I still have no personal knowledge or evidence, but it is what I do believe. This is one significant part of why I continued to be of the opinion that the exit poll indicating an opposition victory in the presidential race should be released.

Certainly the last election is very much “water under the bridge”, but now Parliament must grapple with constituting a new Election Commission for the current election season with campaigns already gearing up. Kenya very much needs better election officials this time than last time. The technical capacity to hold a clean election is certainly there–as we know from 2002, and the referendum in 2005 and in 2010. The moral capacity for tragedy and chaos is there, too, as we know from 2007.

Prime Minister dismisses Kenyan Parliament vote against ICC process

Radio France International has an exclusive interview with PM Raila Odinga on the nearly unanimous vote in Parliament calling for Kenya to withdraw from the ICC:

The motion was passed during a late night session – with some MPs  labeling the ICC as “colonial” and “anti-African”.

But Odinga told RFI that nobody should pay attention to the motion.

“It cannot help anybody because the process that has started cannot be stopped, even if the country were to decide to pull out of the ICC today,” Odinga said.

“This is part of our constitution which requires a referendum to change … A mere vote in parliament is just an expression of opinion and does not hold any legal weight.”

The Aid Bubble has burst–the West wants profits in Africa (a follow up)

To pick up on an earlier theme about the shift in "climate" for Western involvement in Africa, it is clear that there is a huge upswing in Western investor interest. I’ve been collecting some of the interesting stories and anecdotes and will share as time permits. Bloomberg is providing lots of coverage out of Nairobi now, and the Wall Street Journal has an Africa page that is well worthwhile. Clearly Western investors are playing "catch up" to the Chinese in some markets, but there remains a difference in the nature of Western private investment and Chinese operations. Likewise the Libyans, the Gulf States and and Iranians have moved more quickly than Western funds, but have some different objectives and approaches. See Nick Wadhams blog for some interesting observations on Chinese projects.

Newsweek has the other side of the coin in a new feature by Joshua Kurlantzick on "The Death of Generosity". This is the background for my thought that I should go so far as to label the Bono era as a "bubble". A lot of "promises" that will not be met and IOUs that will not be paid, in part because the rich nations are finding themselves less rich than they thought they were, in part because a certain amount of it was a political fad fueled by the finance/housing bubble and the political winds have changed. Some of it is an appropriate sobriety about what actually works and make sense.

One big obstacle to aid is the politics of spending money on other nations’ problems. President Bush enjoyed a Nixon-goes-to-China credibility with conservatives, who tend to be more skeptical of foreign aid. But Obama’s low popularity among conservative voters makes it nearly impossible for him to sell an aid program to them. Reaching out in this way might feed into American stereotypes that Republicans are tougher on national security while Democrats prefer soft power.

What’s more, Americans are not in a generous mood. In a poll released last December by the Pew research organization, nearly half the Americans surveyed said that the U.S. should “mind its own business” in the world. This figure was the highest level of support for isolationism in decades. And it is not just the U.S.; polls show that this isolationism is matched in many wealthy nations in Europe and Asia, including Japan, long one of the biggest donor nations.

It is not surprising that nations such as Italy, one of the weakest industrialized economies, have slashed their aid budgets by more than 30 percent, while France has not met promised commitments, and the Obama administration has presided over reductions in the budget of the Millennium Challenge Corporation from $3 billion requested for 2008 to $1.4 billion this year.

Recipient nations have not exactly helped themselves. In the early 2000s many developing countries eagerly pledged to improve governance in order to make aid more effective. In 2001 African nations agreed to a New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a continentwide compact to improve governance, promote equitable development, fight graft, and fulfill other aims favored by both Western donors and civil-society activists in most developing nations. In 2006 wealthy Sudanese communications entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim established a $5 million prize for the African leader who best focused on development, governance, and education. Yet the performance of these aid-recipient nations often has been woefully poor, a failure that only further alienates donors. Kenya, for one, vowed in 2002 to implement a tougher reform program, appointing prominent graft fighter John Githongo as anti-corruption czar. Within two years, Githongo had been forced out of real power, and he soon fled the country, his investigations having failed to change Kenya’s climate of corruption. Githongo has since returned to Kenya to launch a grassroots advocacy group, but little has changed, though there is some hope that the new Constitution, passed in Kenya this month, might curb some of the worst abuses. Still, Kenyan M.P.s recently voted themselves another salary increase, and now earn roughly $170,000 per year, nearly the same as members of the U.S. House of Representatives, though the average nominal annual income in Kenya is only about $900, compared with roughly $46,000 in the United States.

In rich nations, the growing demand for instant political gratification also undermines the long-term commitment to aid programs. For instance, India, fueled partly by foreign assistance, launched the agricultural-modernization program that would come to be known as the green revolution in the early 1960s, but most of the results were not seen until the 1970s and even later. After the devastating Haiti earthquake last January, governments and private citizens around the world rushed to contribute to the reconstruction effort, often pledging money through new tools such as mobile phones. But as the Haitian government, weak in the best of times, struggled to rebuild and resettle the homeless, many donors grew frustrated. Though it has been only seven months since the quake, only $506 million of the $5.3 billion pledged to the country has been disbursed. “Donors typically set unrealistic time frames for reconstruction, and the level of infrastructural and political damage inflicted in Haiti suggests that they must think in terms of years, if not decades,” notes a report by Oxfam Great Britain on the Haitian disaster.

This will present yet another challenge to Western diplomats and further tension between other diplomatic objectives and democracy support. One of the many hats worn by our Ambassadors, and the Ambassadors of the other nations comprising "the diplomatic community" in places like Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, is the promotion of the interests of investors from "home". Thus, one more area in which Western diplomats will be seeking cooperation from people like Kagame and Museveni, and Kibaki, while also asking them to behave better on political rights and civil liberties.

Kenyan MPs Focused on Own Pay at Critical Time for Country

The Parliamentary pay fiasco is a stark reminder of how out of touch Kenya’s political classes can be with the needs of the general public, the wananchi. Corporate CEOs may get “plus ups” in their compensation packages to pay for their taxes, but the notion that MPs in Kenya should be taxed fully on their compensation only if they get more pay, so as to make more than Members of Congress in the U.S. or almost any other legislators in the world, is guaranteed to be offensive to most Kenyans.

While Parliament as an institution does seem to have been making progress in its functioning, but it still has a long way to go. As I have written before, one of the problems is that there are a fair number of MPs who likely did not legitimately win their elections based on the problems shown by the Kreigler Report looking at the last election. And many of the people in the previous Parliament that had a record of serious public service and support for reform were defeated for re-election, in many cases at the party primary level.

We have heard rumors and discussion of bribery issues in parliament irrespective of the high pay–what are Kenyan taxpayers getting for their money?

A positive aspect to this is that it may help unite those who are frustrated by poor governance and selfishness by the political classes. The momentum from protesting this foolishness may help pass the constitutional referendum by prioritizing voters attention on the many positive aspects of the draft constitution instead of on the “contentious provisions” that have seemed to be attracting disproportionate energy.