Election Violence threat in Kenya — my thoughts on NDI’s new warning 


1. NDI is right to warn of a risk of violence, highlighting the unprecedented level of division and tension in Kenya related to the competition for power in this election scheduled for August.

2.  Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.

3.  Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved.  Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust.  No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.

4.  The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over.  There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others.  I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).

5.  Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

6.  Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007.  Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab.  In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi —  is really failing.  Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood.  Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.

7.  It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year).  It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning.  Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.

8.  Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time.  Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.

9.  I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war.  In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction.  The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted.  On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.

Update: 13 April — See Muthoni Wanyeki’s latest column in The East African, Polls: the heat is rising, mayhem escalating,” for a look at the current temperature official behavior around the country.

 

The rest of the inside story of how IRI’s 2007 Election Observation (and Exit Poll) was subverted-The War for History part 17

I never thought of myself becoming a “whistleblower” in relation to my “democracy support” work on the failed 2007 Kenyan election as resident director for the International Republican Institute.  I worked internally to press for the release of the USAID-funded exit poll contradicting the “results” of the election announced on Sunday December 30, 2007 by the Electoral Commission of Kenya and worked internally to try to uphold what I saw as required for the integrity of the IRI Election Observation Mission, also funded by USAID as a separate program.

From mid-December 2007 I was actively resisting what I understood to be, and described to my superiors in IRI as “some agenda” by the U.S. Ambassador in relation to the election itself, with the understanding that we were in complete agreement within IRI of the need for such resistance to attempted interference with our independence.

My Contracting Technical Officer at USAID was caught in the middle between me (and IRI) and the Ambassador.  While she was directly answerable to USAID in Washington as I was to IRI in Washington, and the funding agreements for the programs were issued in Washington, as a practical matter, the Ambassador controlled the process.  The Election Observation was initiated by the Ambassador specifically contrary to the prior planning of USAID (which was changed to accommodate him).  The exit poll was added on to our polling program–contractually and as confirmed in our explicit conversations, as a check on potential election fraud–but really as she told me by phone on the afternoon of election day, as “early intelligence” for the Ambassador as to who was winning.  I know she agreed with some of my concerns and it was certainly my impression from my interactions with her in the aftermath of the election that she felt as badly about what happened as she could allow herself to show in the context of doing her job.  On balance I see her primarily as more a victim of rather than a willing participant in whatever the shenanigans were.

I complained internally about interference from the Ambassador by writing a long e-mail missive to the USAID CTO on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 following a phone conference with the senior IRI leadership in Washington in the wee hours of the morning Nairobi time.  I do not have a copy of that e-mail and USAID did not produce it, or any of the other e-mail correspondence regarding the agreements in response to my FOIA request.

The IRI leadership had called me that Monday afternoon (their time) to follow up on my e-mail report on my private meeting with the Ambassador at his residence that Saturday, December 15.  This was the e-mail noting the “some agenda” of the Ambassador and reporting that he had said “people were saying” that opposition candidate Odinga might, implausibly to my assessment, lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency and thus be disqualified from taking the presidency regardless of the outcome of the national vote, and the Ambassador’s desire to take our lead Election Observation delegate Connie Newman to meet with Stanley Murage, “President Kibaki’s Karl Rove,” on the day before the election to be followed by observing the election with the Ambassador and his staff rather than with our IRI delegation.  I had gone to the Ambassador’s residence based on a phone call that Friday afternoon from an unidentified caller who “worked for the Ambassador” having been told by IRI’s president at the time, Lorne Craner, from Thailand, that the Ambassador wanted to talk to talk with me.  As I have written, Craner had called Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport, as he related it, to “get her Ambassador under control”, then followed up with a call to Ambassador Ranneberger upon arriving in Thailand, after the Ambassador had twisted my arm hard on Thursday to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed as an Election Observation delegate.  My instructions from Mr. Craner were explicit: accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.

I had been in a quiet “push-pull” on behalf of IRI with the Ambassador and his staff and USAID for some period of time over the independence of our Election Observation Mission before things came to a head with the issue of removing Bellamy, the proposed Murage meeting, etc., leading to my complaint to USAID.

As I have written, after Ranneberger’s meeting with myself and my boss and the late Amb. Rich Williamson in August in which Ranneberger again expressed his desire to have IRI observe the election, USAID told me they would “move heaven and earth” to make the observation happen and they came up with $235,000 of “Economic Support Funds” at the end of the fiscal year in September for the mission.

Ranneberger wanted, as I was told later by the CTO, to select all of IRI’s Observation delegates.  She said that she explained to the Ambassador that this was not doable, but promised him as a minimum the approval of the “lead delegate”.

When she wrote up the Request For Proposals (“RFP”) for a Cooperative Agreement to conduct the Election Observation it was de facto directed to IRI, in accordance with the Ambassador’s previously expressed desire.  The RFP was issued on a non-competitive basis to the CEPPS (“Coalition for Political Parties and Process Strengthening”) comprised of IRI, NDI and IFES, thus eliminating the Carter Center and Democracy International.  Based on language in the RFP, NDI was in effect eliminated by their work with the competing political parties and IFES was eliminated by their role as “embedded” with the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  (After my return to the States I found that USAID had paid a consulting firm, MSI, in the spring of 2006 to study and advise on USAID’s preparations for the 2007 election.  After extensive interviews in Nairobi, including staff of all three CEPPS entities working on the USAID programs at the time, they recommended that USAID plan for and fund an election observation and that the Carter Center was the most appropriate entity to conduct it.)  In the RFP the CTO included descriptions of the credentials matching without naming the specific people that Ranneberger wanted as “lead delegates”, former Assistant Secretaries for Africa for whom Ranneberger had worked, Connie Newman and Chester Crocker.  The “lead delegate” was to be formally approved as USAID’s “substantial involvement” in the program.   For the rest of the delegates that Ranneberger had specified to me that he wanted IRI to invite, the RFP listed matching credential descriptions, but as examples without a contractual right of approval.

As I have written, IRI went along with inviting Newman and Crocker (Crocker declined as unavailable) while refusing to submit Newman’s name for formal approval as being an impermissible intrusion on IRI’s independence in conducting an international Election Observation Mission.  Of the other potential delegates that Ranneberger wanted IRI to invite as per his after hours cell phone calls to me, Joel Barkan was the only one included in the EOM as he had already been identified separately by IRI.  None of the others, of which well known former diplomat Frank Wisner, then at insurer AIG, stands out in my recollection, were invited by IRI.

The Ambassador took a keen interest in the lodging arrangements, in particular wanting Ms. Newman to stay at the embassy residence, or alternatively at the Serena hotel (near State House as well as closer to his residence and others in exclusive Muthaiga) rather than at the Holiday Inn Mayfair which we had selected for the delegation. We internally insisted on planning for Connie to stay with the rest of the delegation, even before the alarm bells went off from the Ambassador’s December 15 expression of desire to take her to meet with Stanley Murage the day before the vote.  Likewise, I nixed having our delegation travel in State Department cars with State Department drivers (I did go along with having interpreters for many of our teams).  I also declined to merge our observation headquarters operation into the Ambassador’s diplomatic command post at the Embassy in Gigiri, keeping our operation separate at the Mayfair, with a staff liaison to the Embassy and to the EU observation headquarters.

During that wee hours December 18 phone call from Washington (I was awoken at home) following my report on meeting with the Ambassador, I was given the opportunity by IRI’s number two official (filing in since Mr. Craner was in Thailand) to cancel the election observation on my say so based on the Ambassador’s interference.  This is one of the crucial things that has always made me believe, in accordance with what I was told directly, that everyone on the IRI staff was in accord that we were committed to “playing it straight” on the election itself and that all the “agenda” issues came from or through the Ambassador and not from within IRI.

Unfortunately, having to make a judgment call on the spot, in the context of our detailed discussion of our plans and logistics, I made the decision that we could go forward.  Mea culpa.  If I had to do it over again, with more foresight into what would come, of course I would have said we have to cancel.

In fairness, I have to say that my decision was based on counting on the fact that it was agreed that Connie Newman would be accompanied by and briefed by the other senior IRI officer on the call (who would be the senior official on the ground for the election observation) as to the interference problems and the need for Connie to keep her distance from the Ambassador.  I was given explicit assurance that Connie could be expected to understand and cooperate.  I simply did not appreciate the possibility that this agreed approach would either be abandoned without notice or explanation to me or simply fail through refusal by Connie to cooperate.

A key factor in my decision was that it seemed clear that abruptly cancelling the election observation days before the vote–without explaining why (or most especially if we did explain, which of course was totally unrealistic)–would be a disruptive factor in the last days leading up to the election, and potentially something of an “international incident”.  We were the only international non-governmental organization scheduled to observe and the observation had already been announced and publicized in Washington and Nairobi.  No one was publicly predicting violence or major problems and there was no obvious reason why we would suddenly just cancel.

Again, in a key sign that people on staff at IRI in Washington were trying to do the right thing, I got permission to do a last minute poll of Raila’s Langata constituency in response to my meeting with the Ambassador.  It seemed to me a clear way to telegraph that we would be “observing” seriously and were not going to go along with an obviously bogus result from Lanagata when, as confirmed by the poll, the race there was in no way remotely in doubt.  I told the Ambassador’s top aide on Christmas Eve that we had done the poll and conveyed the results to the Ambassador in person that evening as requested.

As it turned out, Connie and the Ambassador were obviously close and quite well coordinated.  When she visited Nairobi in 2009 he introduced her at the residence as “his great friend and mentor” and during the pre-election in 2007, even though she formally remained lodged at the Mayfair, she stayed behind at the embassy residence after our pre-election gathering there with the Ambassador when the rest of us boarded the bus to leave.  She told me she would be driven back to the Mayfair later, but I was told that the other delegates took notice of the fact that she didn’t end up returning.  I have no idea whether she ended up meeting or talking to Stanley Murage with the Ambassdor or not, one way or the other.  The issue was never mentioned after our internal agreement that it “must not” happen and I hope it didn’t.

On the evening of the vote, I learned from our liaison to the EU observation mission security team that the Ambassador had called his State Department observers in to Nairobi from “the field” that night due to concerns of violence, but no one else told me, including our liaison at the U.S. Embassy observation headquarters.  Our IRI teams stayed out as did the EU’s.

On the morning after the election, when Connie and I and my two IRI superiors from Washington convened as planned ahead of the vote to draft an IRI Preliminary Observation Statement, Connie and I took opposite angles–she steered to make the statement as positive as possible, I steered to keep it as reserved and as cognizant of obvious issues as possible, given that we did not really know much yet.  Through the Freedom of Information Act I learned several years later that the Ambassador had reflected in his cable to Washington that day that IRI was expected to release a “largely positive” statement that same day.  In the afternoon Connie presented the final “Preliminary Statement” to the media in a solo press conference with IRI staff and such other of our observers as were back from the field by that afternoon in the audience.

When the three senior IRI staff (myself included) and Connie met with the leadership of the EU delegation the next day, December 29, at the Serena Hotel, I learned that we were significantly criticized for releasing our Preliminary Statement before any of the other observation missions and while the vote tally was ongoing.  During the formal discussion between the two delegations, Connie asserted as an example of the positives from the vote the notion that the election officials had done a good job of consistently handling assistance to voters who needed it.  I spoke up and said that I had observed otherwise since Connie was obviously pulling that notion out of thin air. In fact, our Preliminary Statement itself the day before had said “As happens in many elections around the world, the ECK must address the issue of polling stations opening late, voting materials being delivered in a timely manner, and appropriately providing assistance to voters”.  I was sitting right beside Connie chatting along the back wall of the polling station when I took the photograph below of a voter beseiged by would be “assistants”:

Voter Assistance Nairobi 2007

Subsequently, I made the mistake of pressing for release of the exit poll results indicating an opposition win over Kibaki to my bosses from Washington in front of Connie.  Connie immediately spoke up to object to any release of these results.  My regional director, my immediate superior from DC, pulled me aside and pointed out that I had made a mistake raising the topic in front of Connie as it was not her place to be involved.  I acknowledged my error, but the bell was rung at that point as Connie was an IRI board member and the rest of the senior staff as career employees were not going to openly resist once she preemptively staked out her ground to quash the poll.  (And to be clear, there was no discussion or any claim whatsoever on Connie’s part at that time–or ever in my presence–of any confusion about the “validity” of the poll based on a misunderstanding about the performance of the polling firm, or the “methodology” or any other grounds offered from Washington in later weeks as scrutiny came to bear.)

To be continued . . .

 

 

 

Assessing Kenya’s election campaign

Best new current periodical article:

“Kenya’s elections: turbulence ahead” in New African.

This piece notes the dynamics from the recent by-elections in Malindi and Kericho in the context of the refusal to address the outstanding corruption matters with the IEBC from the most recent general elections, most notoriously the Smith & Ouzman convictions.

It can be no surprise in context to Kenya watchers to see the Uhuruto administration teargassing opposition protests of Hassan and company at the IEBC this week.

It would seem that we can safely say that the demise of any remedial action associated with the Post Election Violence has now brought to an unsuccessful close the notion of a post-2008 “reform agenda” with the exception of the fact of devolution.  De facto implementation of most of the promise of distributed and restrained powers of His Excellency Hon. C.g.h., President and Commander in Chief of the Defense Forces of the Republic of Kenya will await another political epoch.  Certainly the IEBC now lacks the credibility the ECK had in 2006-07.

The American Deputy Secretary of State will arrive soon for a “bonfire of the ivories” and regional confab about how to save what’s left of the African elephants from poaching, giving important visibility and associational credibility again to the messaging of the Kenyatta administration.  I assume that “we” think this will help the elephants in some fashion even if Kenyatta’s family doesn’t have to explain itself on the issue and corruption in other areas continues to burgeon.  Apparently diplomatic manners allow us to memorialize elephants cut down by violence if not so much the PEV victims and witnesses at this juncture.

Mudavadi offers wise response to Uhuruto victory rally on Post Election Violence

“Greatness is not attained by glorifying yourself in times of victory. It comes only when you handle victory in great humility,” he said.

The former Vice President said the Afraha rally was in bad faith particularly for the 2007-08 post-election violence victims who are still in tears and despair nine years later.

“Kenya’s healing lies not in holding a roadshow prayer rally. It lies in the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report which Jubilee, with her numbers, has deliberately failed to push for adoption in Parliament. The report offers better options for healing, compensation of PEV victims, cohesion and measures of dealing with ethnicity that has crippled our state,” he said.

Mudavadi dismisses Afraha rally as “roadshow”.

Mudavadi was Raila’s running mate in 2007 and presumably would have been in place to become Prime Minister under a new constitution if the Kibaki vote totals had not been marked up at the ECK to keep Kibaki in office and unleashing carnage.  In 2012, Mudavadi was the original choice of some more responsible, less jingoistic elements of the Kikuyu establishment over Uhuru, and had a signed deal for Uhuru’s support, for which Uhuru reneged.  Ultimately, Mudavadi seems to have proved to be too temperate, too sober for the times.

From this blog four years ago:

The political establishment in Kenya will not be easily moved in the 2012 elections, now most likely ending up to be in 2013 through a complicated series of legal wickets for which no one has claimed responsibility and for which there is no obvious popular support. I hope it is finally dawning of any doubters that the Government of Kenya as an institution is quite mobilized on balance to try to stop the ICC, as it has been–and not in favor of any substitute local justice mechanism.

Impunity consolidates power with “mistrial” for Ruto and Sang; congratulations to American friends and factors of UhuRuto administration

As I noted in my post at the time of the dismissal of the Uhuru Kenyatta charges in December 20014, Ocampo, the Donors and “The Presumption of Arrogance,” a story of babes in the woods of Mt. Kenya?,  the United States’ support for “local tribunals” for the murder and mayhem in the 2007-08 political contest connected to the failed December 27, 2007 general election was akin to support for Santa Claus to bring a cure for Ebola.  Local tribunals were never going to happen under any scenario after we helped divert attention from the falsification of the vote tallies in the presidential race to give Kibaki an unwarranted second term and a continued monopoly over state violence.

It was always the ICC or nothing; we have now gone from six cases to none, without even getting any of the perps to trial.  Eight years after the PEV, we can say conclusively that the violence worked in spite of the (temporary) grousing of some in the “international community” and the steadfast courage of Kenyan human rights and democracy advocates.

Presumably we will never see the evidence regarding the post election murders in the possession of the Kenyan Government, but someday perhaps we will know what evidence the United States Government gathered.

I was sad to see Kikuyu wananchi celebrating the demise of the Kenyatta prosecution on the notion that Kenyatta had effected the violence to protect his “tribesmen”.  Certainly I have always felt that his motivations were, to the contrary, to protect and advance his own power and privilege, and I see Ruto in the same light.

UhuRuto Campaign Ad Kenya 2013

UhuRuto billboard March 2013

Jamhuri Day no. 52–Secret “visa bans” are too little, too late from the USA to revive Kenya’s democratic spirit of 2002

Integrity Centre

US Secretary of State Kerry issued a short perfunctory statement of congratulations to Kenyans for Jumhuri Day, mentioning his visit to Kenya in May, but not President Obama’s visit in July.

I get tired of expressing my disappointment in my government’s approach to relations with Kenya’s government and informal power structure and I did not have much to say about Obama’s visit.  One particular item that got marginal attention in the Kenyan media and that I chose to ignore was an actual signed agreement between the Government of Kenya and the Government of the United States styled as a “Joint Commitment to Promote Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya“.  There is actually a fair bit of detail to this agreement in terms of process, meetings, communications, and such, aside from the platitudes suggesting that the same people with life-long track records of comfort with corruption in Kenya were suddenly born again  GooGoos (GooGoo being an old American slang term for “good government” types, referring to reformers who opposed corrupt urban political “machines” in large cities such as Chicago and my hometown of Kansas City).

In spite of the temporary boost to the UhuRuto administration from President Obama’s Nairobi visit, there has been a rising chorus of Kenyan grassroots umbrage to the extreme corruption levels as more and more scandals have emerged without, still, any actual sucessful prosecutions of major figures (meaning major players in either business or politics, or most likely both together) for any of the known thievery.

In the wake of the Pope’s visit, Uhuru–who has made conspicuous use of Roman Catholic photo props in his campaign and PR imagery since the contested 2013 vote–was said to have been moved or shamed to take some action, along the lines of the kinds of things that he had already agreed to do in his July agreement with the United States, to fight “graft”.  Perhaps.  “You just never know,” as some older conservative friends in Mississippi said when I tried to explain back in 2008 that everyone in Kenya knew that Barack Obama was born in the United States, not in Kenya.

What about on the United States side?  Does our government really want to change things now?  Here is what I would need to see to be persuaded that we have decided to change the game: 1) public follow up on the Goodyear bribes paid to public officials in Kenya [months have gone by now with no prosecutions in Kenya reported in the press after the parent company in the US turned itself in to the SEC and the Justice Department]; 2) public follow up on the bribery of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the 2013 election procurements [I finally submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request a few months ago to USAID on the procurements we paid for through IFES and for our dealings with the vendor Smith & Ouzman which was convicted in the UK of bribing the Kenyan IEBC–no documents or substantive response yet]; 3) public follow up on the issue of unnamed Kenyan officials being among those bribed by Chinese interests at the UN in New York resulting in U.S. indictments.

It has been credibly reported based on leaks that the new “visa bans” on travel to the US by Kenyan officials are quite extensive.  Great.  But we do this type of thing, if not quite to this extent, periodically.  Over the years it obviously has not added up to any strategic progress even if there may (or may not) have been a few tactical successes here or there. Bottom line is that I don’t think you can really fight corruption with secrecy–you have to chose your priorities.  And for my government to ignore the cases that have been publicly exposed in which we have some direct stake leaves me unconvinced that we have actually changed our priorities from 2007 and 2013 when I was in Kenya to see for myself.

One thing that we could do to make sure we are “practicing what we preach” on the governance side is for Congress to have oversight hearings about how we are carrying out the July 25 “Joint Agreement”.

The “War for History” part fifteen:  Why the conventional wisdom that Kenya was “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 is wrong

I must have read, or at least skimmed, dozens of Kenya articles, papers or policy briefs that include, usually near the beginning, reference to the alleged circumstance of Kenya being “on the brink of civil war” at the time of February 2008 post election “peace deal” brokered by Kofi Annan between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.  Invariably, this important assertion is without any type of citation or elaboration.  It has become self-referential conventional wisdom.

In the case of political science papers on narrower topics–those along the lines of “What can ‘big data’ tell us about gender disparity in boda-boda fares in rural Kisii eighteen months after Kenya’s Post Election Violence?”–the “brink of civil war” reference is boilerplate contextual introduction.  More significantly the “brink of civil war” phrase is standard in writings on issues of foreign policy, conflict avoidance and resolution, electoral violence specifically and the development of democracy more generally.  In these writings, the validity of this relatively untested characterization matters a great deal.

I don’t say this to be critical–the “brink of civil war” line is found in the writings of personal friends and people for whom I have the utmost regard.  Which in a way makes it all the more important to raise my concern that the terminology may unintentionally mislead those who don’t have personal knowledge of the ins-and-outs of what was happening in Kenya from December 27, 2007 to February 28, 2008 and may skew historical understanding.

There were several types of violence in various locations in the country triggered from the election failure.  My contention is that none of them were close precursors to any likely civil war.

To put it directly, the incumbent administration seized the opportunity to stay in power through the up-marking of vote tallies at the Electoral Commission of Kenya and the immediate delivery of the contested certificate of election to State House for the quick secretly pre-arranged swearing in of Kibaki for his second term before his gathered supporters there.  The incumbent President and Commander in Chief remained in effectively complete control of all of the instruments of state security–the Police Service and Administrative Police and General Service Unit paramilitary forces, along with the military forces and intelligence service–all of which were part of the unitary national executive.

Notably, the Administrative Police had been deployed pre-election to western areas of Kenya in aid of the President’s re-election effort as we in the International Republican Institute election observation were told in a briefing from the U.S. Embassy on December 24th and many Kenyans had seen on television news broadcasts.  While this initially led to disturbing incidences of pre-election violence against individual AP officers, by election day the vote proceeded peacefully with voters cooperating with deployed state police at the polls.

A civil war scenario would thus have involved an insurrection against the State.  I really do not think this was ever likely, most importantly because none of the major opposition leaders wanted it, nor a critical mass of the public without any pre-defined leadership.

While Kibaki’s official “victory” by roughly 200,000 votes rested on a reported 1.2m vote margin in Central Province, significant strongholds of the opposition were in parts of Nairobi and in the west overall, starting in the western/northern parts of the Rift Valley and including Western and Nyanza Provinces.  The violence on the Coast was not broad and extreme and eastern Kenya was not destabilized in the way that it has been in recent times.  The key ‘slum’ areas in Nairobi were fairly effectively sealed in on the eve of the vote as government security forces deployed in Nairobi.  Violence in the slums was no threat to overthrow the government and never broadened to seriously threaten areas where the political class (of whichever party affiliation that year) lived.

Solo 7--Kibera

Solo 7–Kibera

Palpable fear of a mass scale conflict between opposition civilians and state security in Nairobi largely ended when Raila cancelled the planned ODM rally for January 3, 2008 as the GSU continued to surround Uhuru Park shoulder to shoulder.  As best I could tell the EU at that point came around to support the U.S. position in favor of negotiated “power sharing” in lieu of a new election and/or recount or other remediation.  Acts of terrible violence continued to ebb and flow in specific places but Kibaki’s hold on power was not threatened as far as I can see. Continue reading

Washington sees that Uhuru’s security approach is counterproductive; Kenya’s democrats still must counter Uhuru’s DC lobbyists to hope for better U.S. policy by 2017

As Kenya’s politics shift into more focused attention on the 2017 presidential race, Kenya’s security environment has become so conspicuously bad that all sorts of people are noticing and commentating in Washington, with an unusually broad consensus that the Uhuruto administration is failing: draconian and corrupt crackdowns unnecessarily alienating Kenyans whose cooperation is needed; corrupt diversion of resources from national security needs as notoriously demonstrated in the successful Anglo Leasing scams; gross incompetence as reflected in the tragically late response to the Garissa University terrorist takeover.

For but one small sample, see today’s “DefenseOne” with headline “How Kenya’s Counterrerrorism Turned Counterproductive”.  You cannot get more mainstream DC than a Council of Foreign Relations post republished in Atlantic Media’s DefenseOne.

One might expect that a lot of people in Washington would be moved to take a hard look in the mirror under the circumstances, given the U.S. policy of, at best, actively looking the other way as Kibaki stole re-election in 2007, and the fact that the U.S. ended up doing far more to help than hurt the Uhuruto election effort that Kibaki supported for his succession in 2013.  But that won’t happen; domestic politics in the era of the “permanent campaign” stifles critical self-examination in our foreign policy establishment in Washington.  Thus it is incumbent on Kenyans who don’t want the U.S. to repeat its mistakes of 2007 and 2013 to engage with American policy now before it is too late for 2017.

Let me digress to make sure there is no confusion about the U.S. role in 2013 and the fact that the U.S. did more to help than hurt the Kenyatta and Ruto ascension in 2013.

Yes, I know, Jendayi Frazer vociferously accused the Obama administration of “interfering” in Kenya’s 2013 campaign, against Uhuruto, because her successor Johnnie Carson made a single reference in one statement that “choices have consequences”.  In reality, so far as I know, Carson’s statement was “damage control” from within the Obama Administration after Obama himself issued a statement to Kenyans on the election of fully vetted bureaucrateez, saying nothing.  Because Obama made an affirmative statement, saying nothing, he created, predictably, an opening for the Uhuruto public relations team to take to the media in Kenya with the assertion that Obama had made it clear that the U.S. had no concern about the election of those accused of prime roles in the 2008 post election violence.  The United States was thus embarrassed by the questions of whether it was being hypocritical on human rights atrocities and whether it was again, as under the first Kenyatta, and Moi, and Kibaki, sucking up to local powers-that-be in Kenya.  Carson’s attempted corrective, of course, made matters that much worse as it handed a tool to Frazer in the international, U.S. and Kenyan media, and to others within Kenya in the Kenyan media, to fire up Uhuru’s and Ruto’s supporters through a false (and profoundly ironic) victimization narrative.

Contrary to what I think were the honest expectations of some Kenyan human rights and democracy advocates, the consequences of the Uhuruto electoral success were nothing more nor less than those that followed directly from having these two particular individuals at the helm of state.  The United States, so far as I knew at the time, never had any intention whatsoever of any type of sanctions or penalty against either the two suspects or against the Kenyan government–and it seems to me that the way the U.S. handled its support of the IEBC and the immediate environment with the election controversy  definitively demonstrates that the U.S. had no desire or intention to impede Uhuru and Ruto from taking power even if we were not going to openly favor them.  Of course the knowledge of what had happened in the 2008 violence imposed some bit of color on the relationship after the Uhuruto inauguration but it didn’t have any major policy impact except to make the U.S. more circumspect, if anything, in any criticism of the Kenyan government and more ginger in avoiding anything seen as unduly supporting the old “reform agenda” from the first few years after the PEV so as not to offend those inflamed against the U.S. by the Uhuruto campaign rhetoric.

Substantively, the primary apparent U.S. role in the 2013 election was to spend many millions of dollars on a largely nontransparent basis to underwrite the IEBC, even though it turned out to be corrupt, and to facilitate sale and acceptance of the “results” it chose to announce. The “verification” of the margin of just a hair over the 50%+1 threshold without the actual tallying of all the votes.  In essence, the larger established pattern from 2007 if not the goriest of details from the backrooms.  While Ambassador Godec and his boss Carson did not embrace Uhuru in the way that Ambassador Ranneberger and presumably Frazer embraced Kibaki, the bottom line priority remained superficial “stability” over “deepening democracy”.

So where does that leave things now with the “chickens coming home to roost” on that superficiality as the ephemeral nature of the “stability agenda” becomes apparent?

Kenyan democrats must be more sophisticated in dealing with Washington–it is crucial that they engage to counter Uhuru’s new lobbyist teams from the Podesta Group (along with Uhuru’s hiring of Tony Blair and whatever other moves of this type have not be widely reported in the media).

In the wake of the 2013 mess at the IEBC, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa initiated a critical unanimous Senate Resolution; that resolution never saw the light of day on the House side.  Why?  Arizona Senator Jeff Flake co-sponsored that resolution and is now Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee.  New Jersey Representative Chris Smith on the House side, whose Subcommittee would not take action on the resolution, is ripe for appeal on these issues as he is supporting a globalized Magnitsky Act approach to broaden and make more consistent U.S. sanction against human rights abuse, and he doggedly and successfully pursued the investigation showing that USAID funding was improperly diverted for partisan ends in the 2010 Kenyan referendum during Ranneberger’s tenure.  In this context, Smith should have no sympathies for actors like Uhuru or Ruto as individuals and certainly should have grave concerns about the monkey business with U.S. assistance at the IEBC.

But given that powerful well-connected people are getting paid by the Kenyan taxpayer to grease the skids in Washington the other way, it is imperative that Kenyans get the truth directly to Washington or risk the consequences of more misguided U.S. policy.  Likewise, Kenyans need to engage directly with the Dutch who funded the NDI pre-election polling in 2013 and the other Western donors who plumped for the ECK/IEBC operations in 2007-13 both through the UNDP and otherwise in the U.S. coordinated basket funding.

+USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers.

UhuRuto Campaign Ad Kenya 2013

UhuRuto billboard March 2013

Again: Is Uhuru on his way to being the next East African authoritarian American darling?

Is Uhuru on his way to being the next East African authoritarian American darling? [originally I asked in April 2013; we are moving that much more quickly along the path with Secretary Kerry’s current visit ahead of Obama in July, as further allegedly necessitated by the Uhuruto administration’s conspicuous incompetence on “security”]

Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we? – “The War for History” part thirteen

[The previous posts from this series are here.]

In June 2007, newly “on the ground” in Nairobi as the resident Director for East Africa for the International Republican Institute, I was told that one of the President’s senior ministers wanted to meet me for breakfast at the Norfolk Hotel.

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process.  I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.  He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”

The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide.

When it was all said and done, after the vote tallies were changed to give President Kibaki a second term through corruption of the  ECK, and almost 1500 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and I finished my leave to work for IRI and was back at home in the United States, at my job as a lawyer in the defense industry, I eventually submitted “hotline” complaints to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID about what I considered improper interference by the American Ambassador with my work as an NGO employee administering the USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission as well as the Exit Poll.

As an exhibit to these complaints, in addition to the statement that I had written for The New York Times after they had called to interview me in July 2008, I prepared a Supplemental Statement to the State Department’s Inspector General.  Seven years after the ill-fated election, having eventually gotten what I could from a round of FOIA requests to State and two rounds to USAID, I am still left with unanswered but concerning questions about what the “agenda” was and was not on the part of the Ambassador, whether it was successful or not, and how it infected my work and the election.  I have no doubt that if we “hadn’t even been there,” to paraphrase the Ambassador, the election would have been stolen anyway, but we were there.  In memory of Peter Oriare and Joel Barkan to whom I dedicated this series for their efforts for a free and fair election and transparent process in 2007, and in respect to my newer Kenyan friends who have been left to continue the work in the aftermath, with courage and determination in the face of increasing repression and threat, here it is:

Supplemental Statement for State Department OIG 2-09

[I have redacted a few names and inserted some sections from my prior New York Times statement for context.]

Election Observers