“Look, no hands” — Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Uganda declines to offer support for electoral reforms (updated)

In an interview in today’s edition of Uganda’s state owned New Vision, retiring U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi addressed the current Ugandan campaign for the 2016 elections. In response to a question about civil society concerns about narrowing of the democratic space in Uganda, DeLisi declined to weigh in and went so far as to volunteer a position on behalf of the United States that he would leave the issue of electoral reforms for Ugandans to “discuss among themselves”.  Translated from diplospeak, discussion among Ugandans here means that prospective voters can mutter, murmur or swear and Museveni can decide as he will without consequence.

In his most recent re-election in 2011, Museveni stiffed the United States by keeping control of the appointment of Uganda’s electoral commission. See “High level U.S. delegation carries requests to Museveni on fair elections and Iran sanctions” and “Plenty of reason to be concerned about Uganda election” along with linked related posts. This time, the Obama Administration, fresh off dancing with Kenyatta literally and with Hailemariam figuratively, seems to have given up on any aspiration for pro-reform influence well in advance.

From the interview:

You have always asserted that the US mission will not get entangled in local politics. But as an ambassador, what advice would you give to players in the impending elections?

We never said we will not get involved in politics. Just as citizens of this country, we have invested in this country. Do we want this country to be a success with a strong and vibrant democracy? Yes.
If caring about this means getting involved in politics, then we will do. As for which candidate or party to support, that is for people of Uganda to decide.

We talk to leaders of all political parties – NRM, FDC, DP, UPC. Name them, we talk to them. We tell them that there should be a constructive electoral process in which people’s views are respected, where people engage each other respectively, where there is no room for violence.

So that, at the end of the day, no matter who wins the election, it is a credible result that services Uganda well and gives the new leader legitimacy to lead the country effectively and deal with the challenges that will emerge.

Do you share concerns by civil society that political space in Uganda is narrowing?

I don’t know whether it is narrowing down but I perfectly appreciate the challenges of civil society. But this is a constant dialogue we are always having with the Government to ensure that there is room for meaningful dialogue and engagement.

There is the NGO Bill currently before Parliament and during consultations; we have seen the NGO community, civil society engage with MPs in a robust dialogue that has brought significant changes to this piece of legislation. I don’t know what the final law will look like.

I know civil society would have liked to see the issue of electoral reforms addressed fully, but I leave that to Ugandans to debate among themselves about the need to strengthen the democratic process. We have seen in US that even after 250 years, we are still working to improve our democracy.

Update: To understand the context and significance of the Museveni government’s continued stonewalling, see today’s Daily Monitor: The Unresolved Question of  Electoral Reforms, What it Means for 2016.

Happy Saba Saba Day–and how is Kenya?

Happy Saba Saba Day–and how is Kenya?. (from July 7, 2012–would appreciate your comments here or by e-mail about what has and has not changed)

Kenya: 2007 and 2013 media bills bookend the demise of the “reform agenda” as Jubilee Government gets bad marks from public

I hope everyone has had a good Christmas. I am grateful for a comfortable time with family, while saddened by news that a friend in Kenya lost a family member to a shooting by the Police. All of us interested in East Africa are watching South Sudan with great concern.

On Kenya, beyond the steady heartache of one more in the steady stream of police killings, as another year ends, I am struck by one point of clear change from my initial arrival in Nairobi in 2007 to now. The passage of the draconian 2013 Media Bill was a major setback for democracy. The bill seemed clearly unconstitutional when it originally passed parliament. After both Kenyatta and Ruto assured that they would respect the Constitution and the spirit of a free press, Kenyatta sent the bill back with proposed changes making it on balance worse, after which it was passed and signed into law.

Back in 2007 a far less noxious media regulation bill passed parliament just after I moved to Nairobi in June. U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger along with most of the rest of the diplomatic community representing leading democracies spoke out strongly against the threatened intrusion on press freedom. Kibaki declined to sign the bill and it was much watered down. While there was a certain amount of self-censorship the press remained relatively vibrant during the 2007 election campaign. Now that a more troubling law has actually been enacted the diplomatic community including the United States has been largely silent. While there have been protests by journalists and civil society, the Government has predictably brushed these aside, but has not faced open diplomatic pressure from donors.

For some years after the 2007 election debacle the United States was consistently promoting what we called “the reform agenda”. While all the parameters of “reform” were not specified, I think it is fair to say that at its core it was about the continued shifting of power away from a traditionally dictatorial presidency to develop democratic institutions. The original post-Cold War reforms were Moi’s acceptance of changing the law to allow non-KANU parties and the imposition of term limits which led to Kibaki facing Uhuru instead of Moi in 2002. The NARC coalition from that 2002 election finally came completely apart over the executive power issue in the 2005 constitutional referendum on the “Wako Draft” in which the “no” campaign gave rise to the Orange Democratic Movement. “The next big thing” was another effort at constitutional change to disburse and devolve power after the 2007 fiasco at the ECK, where the tallies were changed to keep power with the incumbent president and the country erupted in what seemed to many to be a potential civil war before a deal supposed to deliver a “sharing” of executive power. After a reform constitution was finally passed in the 2010 referendum, the “reform agenda” emphasis has been, in theory, on “implementation”.

The new Media Bill not only repudiates basic constitutionally enshrined values of a free press, but the changes from first passage to final enactment shift power from Parliament to State House. This is only one of the most conspicuous of many areas where the Jubilee Government is moving to re-centralize power with the Executive. May the “Reform Agenda” rest in peace.

In the meantime, the latest Ipsos Synovate poll released this week finds absolute majorities of Kenyans nationwide and in each “province” but Central concluding that the country is moving “in the wrong direction” with a higher percentage of Kenyans trusting the media than any other institution.

“Peace,” “Truth” and American commentary in the wake of the election

“Peace versus Truth: A Story of Unnecessary Trade-Offs”.

“Indictee for President!”  Michella Wrong writes in the New York Times Latitude blog on how “being prosecuted by the ICC helped Uhuru Kenyatta’s chances in the Kenyan election.”  I would go a little further back and identify the ICC indictment as the impetus for Uhuru’s launching of his TNA party and his run for President in the first place, through his emergence as the dominant Kikuyu candidate.  In other words, absent the ICC factor, I doubt Kenyatta would have run, or at least run seriously, and if he had, I doubt he would have gotten very far early on.

Here is Jendayi Frazer’s solo interview on PBS NewsHour last night: “Western Allies Have ‘Muted’ Response to Kenya’s Presidential Election”:  

GWEN IFILL: After all the violence in 2007 and 2008 after the last presidential election, we were all bracing to see if the same thing would happen this time. And so far it has not. Why do you think that is?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Right.

Well, I think the Kenyans learned lessons from 2007. And the civil society very much was guarding their country and guarding against future violence.

They also had this election under entirely new institutions. There’s a brand-new constitution. There’s a de-evolution of power from the center, from the presidency, to governors of 47 counties. There’s county assemblies. And so I think the diffusion of power, the expectations about their new institutions and the lessons learned from 2007 account for the lack of violence this time.

Frazer is right in identifying why the situation in 2013 was different and “the same thing” that happened in 2007-08 was not going to happen this year.  There is an irony, however, for her to invoke the work of Kenyan civil society, and the reforms of the new Constitution, in the context of her advocacy now in regard to this election when William Ruto was the leader of the “reds” who campaigned against the Constitution and  Uhuru Kenyatta was seen as a “watermelon”, nominally “green” or pro-Constitution on the surface, but “red” in substance.  The “Uhuruto” Jubillee Coalition took the position pre-election that it wished to restrict civil society if it took power.

Otherwise, there is much that is very telling in this solo interview about how the American media covers politics in the “developing world” and Africa in particular, and much that is telling about America’s official and unofficial interaction with foreign politicians and leaders.

It should be noted that for someone that served only a short time in the State Department, Frazier has positioned herself as a dominant figure in the Washington media in commenting on this election.  A plausible reason for this relates to the fact that she has deeper roots in the Kenyan scene than her service as Ambassador to South Africa and then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Bush Administration.  These roots, however, are not discussed publicly in the context of her commentary on this Kenyan election.  By reputation in Kenya, Frazer is identified widely but privately as a close family friend of the Kenyattas,  Read the following exchange in this context:

GWEN IFILL: Uhuru Kenyatta, you have met him. You know something of him. What do we know about him, other than he’s the son of a very famous leader of the country, a very wealthy man and now is under this cloud?

JENDAYI FRAZER: Well, he’s also very much a person who respects the West. He was educated in the United States. He’s been pro-Western in his outlook.

He’s been the minister of finance before and the deputy prime minister. He’s always had strong relations with the United States. Now, the case against him is problematic. And as it was stated, it’s falling apart. The co-conspirators have all — that were charged with him are charged with attending a particular meeting at statehouse and in that meeting planning reprisals against the violence that was being meted out against the Kikuyus.

But the key eyewitness has now said that he lied and he’s been changing his testimony and has — and even said that he’s taken bribes. And so the case is falling apart.

There is much that is unsaid that may be of vital import.  One question is simply whether Dr. Frazer, especially as a private citizen engaging with this is in a position to be objective about Kenyatta personally beyond describing the basic relationship to the U.S.  Second, and relatedly, there is much more involved here than just the actual status of ICC prosecution’s case: there is also the bigger moral question of whether or not Kenyatta, and his running mate Ruto, are in fact innocent of being directly involved in deliberate killing of innocent Kenyans on the basis of their ethnicity for instrumental political reasons.

From a standpoint of pragmatic realpolitik, as well as for Western private and business interests, it might be convenient now for the ICC cases, especially the case against Kenyatta, to “go away” to protect the ability to do “business as usual”.  Frazer is right that Kenyatta has had ties in the U.S.–he would have been a favorite of some others in the U.S. but for the post-election violence in 2008.  But I do not believe that there are very many Kenyans at all–whether Kenyatta voters or not–who do believe that both Kenyatta and Ruto did not in fact do in essence, if not in exact detail that can be proven in court now, what they are accused of doing in terms of engaging in leadership of “militia” killings.  Kenyatta’s appeal in fact relates to the notion that the use of the Mungiki to kill in the eastern Rift Valley was in some notion “defensive” of Kikuyu killed by members of other tribes in other places further west in the Rift Valley (what Ruto is accused of being involved in).

Part of what is happening here is that by attacking the shortcomings of the ICC and the Western media among others, some are seeking to relieve themselves of some of the moral tension associated with the haunting question of whether “peace” is being bought by the (possible) election of “killers”.

In this context, here is a link to Dr. Frazer’s aggressive interview with Michelle Martin on NPR’s “Tell Me More” this afternoon.

U.S. Partisan Crossfire in Kenyan Politics Ratchets Up a Notch

Please read this lead story from the Standard: “US legislator claims Obama funding “Yes” campaigns”.

Kenyans deserve much better from their “friends” in the U.S. The least they deserve is to be left alone if we as Americans can’t behave in a more responsible manner.

Obama deserves criticism here for twice now extending the term of an Ambassador who has demonstrated that he is “constitutionally” incapable of neutrality and transparency on any issue of importance. The sad fact is that both the Democrats and the Republicans seem to be at least in part factually correct in their criticisms regarding funding going into both the “No” and “Yes” campaigns.

As I have written before, I think the criticisms from the U.S. Right of the draft constitution on the Khadi’s courts and abortion issue are grossly overblown and misleading and reflect a lack of understanding of the unique and specific situation in Kenya. Nonetheless, these are real issues that Kenyans need to weigh and balance and decide on for themselves. And it also should be recognized that there are two (and really more) sides playing “global culture war”–there are in fact a variety of groups from outside Kenya that conduct seminars and other programs that do seem to promote various cultural agendas involving issues that are well outside the mainstream of existing social norms in the United States and in some cases even in Europe, much less Kenya–so when Kenyan clergy hook up with rightwing activists in the U.S. there can be some grain of truth to the notion that they are playing on the same terms.

From my perspective, having recently lived in Kenya for a year and worked directly with a whole range of Kenyan politicians as well as Ranneberger, I do not believe that the controversial social or religious issues are at all the primary drivers for the “yes” versus “no” campaigns.

Githongo to Speak at CSIS Friday: “Prospects for Political Reform”

The African Center for Security Studies and the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies will host “Prospects for Political Reform in Kenya: A Discussion with John Githongo, Kenyan anti-corruption campaigner, Moderated by William M. Bellamy, Director of ACSS and former Ambassador to Kenya”

Friday 10:30am-12:00pm at CSIS

Public Event, but RSVP to CSIS Africa Program at africa@csis.org

Space is Limited!

Worth reading Githongo’s June speech in Senegal upon receiving ACCS’s  “African Visionary Award”  here.