“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

Merry Christmas

Merry Chrismas

My last post corresponded to the sixth anniversary of this blog, so this in the seventh time I’ve had the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful Festive Season.

I’ve been immersed in “real life” at home and catching up on my reading rather than writing; in the upcoming weeks I’ll be trying to follow the crises in Burundi and South Sudan and the election in Uganda in addition to the ongoing dramas in Kenya but will probably not offer much comment.

Let me reiterate what I said in this Christmas post last year:

This is going to be a challenging time for many Kenyans who will be legitimately concerned about being vulnerable to terrorists, and those who will be legitimately fearful of the forces of their own government. I trust that the spirit of the season will touch most Kenyans to continue to look out for each other regardless of the animus and contrary ambitions of a relative few.

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.
 

 

 

KPTJ Statement

Sharing the statement released by KPTJ this morning:

At this time of grief, we, Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, wish to express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have been lost or remain missing, and wish a swift recovery to all those who have been hurt. We applaud the contributions of our fellow Kenyans to support rescue and security work and medical care for victims, as well as the unity our nation has demonstrated throughout this crisis. We condemn this despicable attack and support all work to rescue those still trapped at Westgate, and to end the situation as soon as possible and without further loss of life.

African Great Lakes Initiative releases report on observation of Kenya elections

I have previously praised the grassroots observation approach and thoroughness of the AGLI in observing the referendum vote in 2010.

Here is their report on the March 4 general Kenya elections.  Basically they found widespread problems in the areas they observed and reported on in detail.  They did not aspire to cover the whole country and thus make no claims as to the total impact of the problems, but show clearly that there were multiple avenues and opportunities for widespread fraud.

In particular, they observed extra presidential ballots being given out by a polling clerk in one station.  The observer reported the matter and the clerk was arrested, but the polling station ended up with roughly 100 extra votes for president over the votes for the other races, and this was apparently reported on and included in the national totals.  This type of conduct would be one explanation for the huge overvote in the presidential race.  I have not seen other explanations . . .

The AGLI recommends a post election audit by the IEBC and an outside group now that the Supreme Court has ruled without delving into the details so that the process can be improved.

 

Who would have the outrageous moral audacity to go to court to question 4100 votes out of 12M rather than defer to “crimes against humanity” suspects?

A simple question of what Kenyans chose to expect of and hope for themselves really, for them to answer.

Everyone is tired, no question. Most Kenyans are poor, and the breakdown of the IEBC process caused loss in the economy which hurts poor Kenyans the most. At the same time, the short term value of sweeping another electoral commission fiasco under the rug would be balanced by a huge cost in terms of the dreams of democracy that seemed to have been achieved in the 2002 vote.

The situation regarding the vote is less clear than in 2007, but the meaningful ability to go to court exists this time, unlike in 2007. Should the legal process be shelved now that it is finally available–and if so, will it be available again?

News from the Quakers in Kenya

I have been remiss in reporting on the peacekeeping efforts of the Quakers in western Kenya, so here is the full text of a new release from them this afternoon. The old Western Province is especially important to national politicians in this election because it contains most of the supporters of Deputy Prime Minister Mudavadi and his Amani coalition, which is the only major vote block associated with a “third party” campaign. Amani polls around 5% of the national vote total, whereas the CORD and Jubilee coalitions consistently poll in the mid-40s. Thus Amani supporters could be key in determining the winner of the expected runoff–alternatively, they are the one identifiable group that could move the first round to one of the two “horses” if they moved in lockstep.

Mudavadi is himself a Quaker.

March 1, 2013

Local Kenyans mobilize for active nonviolence ahead of elections

As fears of violence grow ahead of Kenya’s election on Monday (March 4th), thousands of people in the country are mobilizing to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence that shook Kenya in 2007 and left 1,200 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In a coordinated, grassroots effort, Quakers from Kenya, the United States, and Britain have been equipping Kenyans to nonviolently demand justice and build a mass nonviolent witness for peaceful, transparent, free and fair elections. The three-pronged approach that combines civic education and dialogue, citizen reporting, and local peace building responses has resulted in numerous community-driven initiatives to defuse tensions, challenge hate speech and hold political aspirants to account.

Based on Quaker-initiatied programs called Turning the Tide, Alternatives to Violence, Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, and Transformative Mediation, this initiative does not avoid conflict but rather challenges the causes of violence and helps Kenyans to build a just and peaceful future from the grassroots.

This community-driven program is supported by Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in partnership with three Kenya based organizations, Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), Friends Church Peace Teams, and the African Great Lakes Initiative. Over 20,000 people in the country have received training in a massive “Know Your Rights’ campaign. At least 1,200 have become citizen reporters, raising the alarm when early warning signs of violence appear. Another 660 will serve as domestic election observers. A larger number has received voter education.

As a result, Kenyans are taking the initiative in their own communities. For example

* In Nairobi and Lugari, they have convinced candidates to participate in public debates – unusual in Kenya until now – and developed vetting mechanisms to hold local candidates to account. In Kenya, politics has been about ethnic affiliation, loyalty, bribery, poverty, inequality and intimidation. Now Kenyans are demanding that all candidates give clear policy commitments.
* In Langas (Eldoret), where pamphlets and hate speech were threatening inter-ethnic violence, women from different communities came together to organize a Women’s Peace Procession and made a public peace proclamation.
* In Mt. Elgon, when citizen reporters sent news that four people had been murdered there, and then a fifth was assassinated, community peace builders delivered a message of peace at the funeral of one of the victims and followed up with trauma healing and listening workshops in an ongoing effort to interrupt the cycle of revenge.

The work is based on Quakers’ trust in ordinary citizens to work out solutions and build peace for themselves. Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, have been promoting active nonviolence for three and a half centuries.

Benard L. Agona, Field Co-ordinator of Turning the Tide Programme in Kenya, said:
“We are seeing a new generation, a generation that are not sitting quietly any more, a generation who are coming together to resist injustice. We are also seeing a generation that wants to make informed decisions.”

Laura Shipler Chico, of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in Britain, said:
“These efforts are rooted in local communities. That is their strength. They are a long-term effort not only to prevent election violence but to challenge the systems and structures that give rise to violence to begin with. People have mobilized their own communities and the response has not come from outside but from deep within. This is a testimony to the Quaker notion that there is that of God in everyone; the answers lie within each of us.”

End

Notes to editor

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Kenya has the largest number of Quakers of any country in the world, with a total membership in the vicinity of 300,000. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.
See “KenyanElections2013.org”

President Obama releases message to Kenyans on election

President Obama’s Message to the People of Kenya
February 5, 2013

Habari yako. Over the years, I have been greatly moved by the warmth
and spirit – the strength and resolve – of the Kenyan people. And I’ve
been grateful for my connection to Kenya, and the way you’ve welcomed
me and my family to your beautiful country – from my father’s village
in Alego, to bustling Nairobi.

In my visits, I’ve seen your progress. Kenya has lifted people from
poverty, built an emerging democracy and civil society, and sustained
a spirit of hope in the face of great difficulty. After the turmoil of
five years ago, you’ve worked to rebuild communities, reform
institutions and pass a new constitution.

Now, Kenya must take the next step in March, with the first national
elections under your new constitution.

We all know what makes for successful elections. Kenya must reject
intimidation and violence, and allow a free and fair vote. Kenyans
must resolve disputes in the courts, not in the streets. Above all,
the people of Kenya must come together, before and after the election,
to carry on the work of building your country.

The choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people. The
United States does not endorse any candidate for office, but we do
support an election that is peaceful and reflects the will of the
people.

This election can be another milestone toward a truly democratic Kenya
defined by the rule of law and strong institutions. If you take that
step, and reject a path of violence and division, then Kenya can move
forward towards prosperity and opportunity that unleashes the
extraordinary talents of your people – especially young people. If you
continue to move forward, you can build a just Kenya that rejects
corruption, and respects the rights and dignity of all Kenyans.

This is a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of
tearing apart. If you do, you can show the world that you are not just
a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud
nation. I can’t imagine a better way to mark the 50th anniversary of
Kenyan independence. And I say to all of you who are willing to walk
this path of progress-you will continue to have a strong friend and
partner in the United States of America. Kwaheri

 

Jamhuri Day, Christmas and the Year Ahead

Happy Jamhuri Day to my friends and readers in Kenya (and Kenyans in the diaspora–even if you don’t get to vote this time!).

FRESH TEA
Fresh Tea

It has been a week since my last post, even though so much is happening on a day to day basis with the Kenyan election and lots of other news in the region–this reflects a few different things.  For one, perhaps what we could call a “Christmas armistice”.  I live in a peaceful place, and I am enjoying the “festive season” here with my family and am committed to a less digital Christmas.  We’ve survived another election here in the States (in spite of ourselves) and there are a several weeks left in the campaign in Kenya and this is a good time to step back a bit.  In particular, for my family, this is the last Christmas before my daughter goes off to college.  I took my son, our youngest, to get his driver’s license yesterday.  These are the things that can’t wait (and that are uniquely my responsibility).

For another, I have been at this blog steadily for three years.  It’s been through various evolutions and trends and this is an appropriate time for reflective recalibration about what I want it to be going forward.  And in the meantime, there are 601 posts out there for those interested.  And too many of those are just “news” and not real writing, and I do know that I want to get back to “better” rather than “more”.

A third is that I have both new freedom, and new constraints that I need to adjust to.  When I started this blog, and for the first two-and-a-half years, I was a lawyer in the defense industry.  For this reason, I always needed to keep a strong separation between my blog and my professional life.  When I attended the African Studies Association or participated in a “bloggers’ roundtable” at the Millennium Challenge Corporation I was on vacation from my job and generally didn’t talk about it much (both awkward and expensive).  When I was living in Kenya and working for the International Republican Institute I kept entirely away from the job from which I was on leave back home.  Now that I am an independent lawyer, I can synthesize what I know from my prior legal experience and otherwise what I do for a living with the blog to whatever extent I chose, so this is easier.  At the same time, I am also now available professionally as a consultant in matters involving East Africa and have accepted some work, so I need to avoid any conflicts arising out the transition from being purely an avocational commentator.

One thing I have reflected on this past week is the issue of how much is similar and how much is dissimilar between the 2007 campaign in Kenya and the 20012/13 campaign.  All of the major players are the same, although Kibaki will be transitioning from President to “retired President” as Moi is called, and is thus not a candidate himself.  I did get somewhat acquainted at that time and in that environment with Raila and Kalonzo and Mudavadi, and did meet Ruto although never sat down with him.  Uhuru and Dr. Willy Mutunga, who was then at the Ford Foundation and is now Chief Justice, were the only people that ever turned down a meeting request on my behalf when I was IRI Director (a nice symmetry in terms of KANU/Establishment versus Civil Society/Activist roles) so I do have some real sense of many of those involved.  On the other hand, a lot has changed in Kenya, for better and worse, since 2007/08.  So although I know much, much more about Kenya from what I have done from here since I moved back, I don’t want to fall into the trap of relying too much on past experience.

One thing this adds up to is that I do want to write more about “democracy promotion” or “assistance” as a subspecies of “foreign aid” in Africa beyond just the current and most recent past campaign in Kenya.  I also want to do more with East Africa as a region in interacting with the United States–I drafted a “year in review” summary regarding IGAD for a bar committee I am participating in which reminded me of interesting things to explore about how domestic politics in Kenya and in the U.S. will influence cooperation and integration among the East African and HOA states. And then there is Somaliland, which is near and dear to my heart, but I am very cautious in writing about.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few links:

“Uhuru Kenyatta did NOT donate 85 million to Mitt Romney’s campaign” says The Kenyan Daily Post.

Alex Thurston in the Sahel Blog: “Amb. Susan Rice as a Window into U.S. Africa Policy, 1993-Present”

Whither Somalia”–Mary Harper, Bronwen Bruton at USIP

Kenya’s Kibera slum overflows with street art — latimes.com–Solo 7

Kenya’s Kibera slum overflows with street art — latimes.com

Feature on Solomon Munyundo, a.k.a Solo 7

Solo 7 — Toi Market

Solo 7–Kibera