Kenya: How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

Since I asked this same question in January 2019 we have seen finally publication of the initial Building Bridges Initiative report delivered to President Kenyatta and released to the public, as I have discussed in a few posts, but the overall question on how things play out in 2020 remain essentially the same. Ambassador McCarter has made clear that the United States remains committed to the Building Bridges Initiative even if he did not personally agree with a few things in the report.

Here it is:

Kenya: How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2019? – AFRICOMMONS:

What will 2019 hold for the relations between the United States and Kenya, particularly the Trump-Pence and Kenyatta-Ruto Administrations?

Kyle McCarter, just confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Trump’s man in Kenya, after a delay since last spring, will shortly replace Robert Godec who shepherded U.S. interests as defined by the Obama and Trump Administrations, respectively, during the UhuRuto election in 2013 and re-election in 2017. The 2020 American presidential race is kicking off now a year ahead of the party primaries so it does not seem likely that McCarter’s efforts in Kenya will command a high place in the U.S. President’s personal attention soon. (If Trump is re-elected it would seem a fairly safe bet that McCarter would stay on for Kenya’s 2022 election, but as a political appointee he would likely be replaced in 2021 if the White House changes hands.)

It has been interesting to see a higher public profile recently from the U.S. administration on efforts to combat narcotics trafficking networks operating in and through Kenya, along with anti-addiction programs. McCarter has a voluntary service background in this challenge at home in Illinois in addition to his family missionary work in Kenya, so this might be a place where his talents would especially dovetail with diplomatic priorities. Here is a summary of the work of the State Departments’s Bureau of Narcotics and International Law Enforcement in Kenya.

We have also seen an encouraging new development with the recent and current prosecutions by the U.S. of cases involving bribery of high government officials in Uganda and Mozambique (going along with the U.S. extradition and prosecution of members of the Kenya-based Akasha narcotics trafficking syndicate). See the Amabhungane story on the Mozambique cases here.

The U.S. has been quietly supporting capacity building for Kenyan prosecutors; some people, including some Kenyans, think that the Director of Public Prosecution is now closer to “the real deal” than his predecessors and that President Kenyatta is actually now waging a form of a genuine if limited “war on corruption”. (We shall see.)

On the Kenyan side, with the end of 2018 we reached the end of the first year of the Second UhuRuto Administration and the first year of “Uhuru’s Big Four Agenda”.

In late 2017 we witnessed the opposition-boycotted “fresh” presidential election conducted by the highly controversial (and at least to some extent corrupt we now know) IEBC, followed by an international diplomatic circling of the wagons to close out Kenya’s political season on that basis.

Uhuru’s Jamhuri Day speech in December 2017, a month after his second inauguration, announced the UNDP (United Nations Development Program)-supported “Big Four Agenda”.

“On reflection, I came up with four responses to your concerns. I call them the Big Four: food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare for all. During the next 5 years, I will dedicate the energy, time and resources of my Administration to the Big Four.”

Fulfilling these development targets would be the prospective reward to ordinary Kenyan citizens for their role, such as it was, in the re-election drama, and serve as Uhuru Kenyatta’s “legacy”, to cement his place within Kenya’s First Family and presumably secure the status of yet another generation of Kenya’s post-colonial pre-democratic elite.

I was struck by the fact that the Jubilee/UhuRuto election campaign did not offer the “Big Four” as its electoral platform. Needless to say, it is a bit incongruous to see the Jubilee Government and its international supporters (the same ones funding Kenya’s serially corrupt electoral management bodies) not offer a serious nod toward seeking a direct democratic mandate for such an ambitious and aggressive program to define a Kenyan president’s term in office.

I am fully in support of the concepts of “the Big Four” in having the Government of Kenya actually prioritize the common welfare of Kenya’s citizens. It is just that this type of service provision is frankly head-spinningly counterintuitive coming from Kenya’s existing political class. Anyone who has been blessed to live in Kenya and follows its politics must have asked at the inception a year ago if this “Big Four” was not just the another expression of foreign ambitions projected on Kenya and indulged by Kenya’s elite for their paramount purpose: looking out for themselves.

Now that a year has gone by, the attention of Kenya’s governmental leaders draws more and more tightly around their next election in three-and-a-half years while the reality of the debt load from the most recent pre-election period bears down. It would seem that skepticism was well warranted.

The United States reportedly took a key “leading from behind” role in late 2017 and early 2018 in bringing Raila into some form of post-election accommodation with the Kenyatta’s while taking both a publicly and privately assertive position against the “People’s Presidency” inauguration gambit last January. Since that time we have a new Secretary of State, a permanent Assistant Secretary for the Africa Bureau, and now a new Ambassador, but no open discontinuities in Trump Administration policy on Kenya. Dr. Jendayi Frazer who was the Assistant Secretary in 2007-08 is still around in the same various private capacities as she was in during 2013 and 17 (as far as I know). She was most recently in the Kenyan media visiting with Mombasa County Governor Joho, reportedly discussing “violent extremism” before a Mastercard Foundation event. Most of the other people who were involved in Kenya diplomacy and policy at a senior level in the Obama years are in quasi-official related positions and/or the Albright Stonebridge Group, awaiting a change in administration if not retired.

With the “handshake” between Uhuru and Raila it seems that Kenya’s opposition has been left with less power in parliament than at any time within the past twenty years.

Certainly Daniel arap Moi must rest easy knowing that the rumors of his political demise were greatly exaggerated. His succession project from 2002 has more-or-less succeeded. Kenyans are freer as a matter of civil liberties now than they were during the days of his rule as recorded in history and as described to me by politicians who were in opposition back in 2007 but have circled back in the years since. At the same time, extra-judicial killing remains a constant threat to the poor and to anyone whose exercise of those liberties might seem to present a real challenge to the political status quo. The killings by State security forces in support of the 2017 elections were significantly escalated from 2013 and after ten years it is now safe and necessary to say that the post-election violence of 2007-08 has been effectively ratified by the State as the violence of 1992 and 1997 under Moi was. And Kenya may be even more pervasively corrupt than ever. Elections arguably peaked in the 2002 landslide.

The “international community” as it identifies itself has accepted and moved on from its abject defeat by Kenya’s political elite (and by its own vanity and lack of substantive commitment) on the issue of “justice” for the politically instrumental murder and mayhem of 2007-08.

Trump’s “New Africa Policy” as per National Security Advisor John Bolton suggests that we should not expect any separate new “flagship” initiatives for development or assistance from the U.S., nor other major changes emanating from the White House. The “New Africa Policy” could be seen as raising questions of how far the U.S. will be willing to financially underwrite the “Big Four” approach on development assistance. Bolton himself was both the intellectual and political leader of the campaign to keep the ICC as far from any interaction with U.S. policy as possible and is a career U.N. skeptic. There are elements of the approach talked about for “the Big Four” that fit up with what we hear from USAID in the Trump era, in particular a heavier focus on creating opportunities for private foreign investment coupled with reduced direct assistance spending. At the same time, the sexiest sector for investment under the Big Four, under Universal Health Coverage, is predicated on the rejection of the Republican approaches to healthcare in the United States, so the rationale for U.S. Government support under a Trump Administration is fuzzy at best.

Just as most of Kenya’s major politicians have history as cooperators in some fashion with Kenya’s single party KANU regimes, some of those around Trump worked for Moi directly (Paul Manafort and Roger Stone most conspicuously) and Americans of longevity in the Foreign Service have background with the USG-GOK alliance under Moi. It will be interesting to see where Ambassador McCarter fits into this history.

On one hand, McCarter is a Trump political appointee from Republican politics; on the other his background with Kenya as a missionary makes him a somewhat anomalous figure in the world of Black, Manafort and Stone, Cambridge Analytica and other Trump-connected international operatives and lobbyists, and with Donald Trump and his Organization, the global hotel/gambling developer and brand broker.

McCarter has been around Kenya independently and will have is own pre-existing relationships and his own impressions on Kenya’s politics not tied to the Trump family.

McCarter’s religious background as an Oral Roberts University graduate and missionary in itself, and political background as an elected official from a less urbanized portion of the American Midwest may give the new Ambassador some head start in relating to ordinary Kenyans over someone from a more typical background for a professional diplomat.

Will McCarter tuck comfortably into the pre-existing Bush/Obama/Trump policy for Kenya of accentuating the positives about those in power and how we can keep things quietly spinning without risk of disruption? Or might he be more plainspoken? How will he see his role in the “handshake” and “Building Bridges” endeavor as Kenya’s pols move more quickly on to jockeying for advantage for the next dispensation from 2022? Can McCarter find a way to contribute something lasting on corruption and law enforcement even if the “Big Four” is “overcome by events” as politics moves on?

Kenya visit by IFES President Bill Sweeney March 2017 An earlier Handshake: IFES president Bill Sweeney calls on Jubilee Speaker of National Assembly Justin Muturi on visit coinciding with IEBC’s announcement of sole source deal with Safran Morpho to acquire Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) in March 2017. Sweeney also brought the new IFES country director for its USAID election support program who was hired to replace the director who had been purged following criticism from the Jubilee Party and the Kenyatta Administration.

Good news and bad news on the effectiveness of American “democracy assistance”: we spent most of the money where war precluded meaningful opportunity

The conjunction of war and democracy assistance has been brought back to the fore for me the publication by The Washington Post of its “Afghanistan Papers” series.

The bottom line on the Afghanistan war for me is that those who warned that we were risking losing Afghanistan to invade Iraq (who seemed persuasive to me at the time) turned out to be right:

Drawing partly on the interviews but largely on other government documents, SIGAR [the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction] published two Lessons Learned reports in 2017 and 2019 that highlighted an array of problems with the Afghan security forces. The reports followed several SIGAR audits and investigations that had pinpointed similar troubles with the Afghan army and police. 

But the Lessons Learned reports omitted the names of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project, as well as their most biting critiques. The Post obtained notes and transcripts of the interviews under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after a three-year legal battle. 

“We got the [Afghan forces] we deserve,” Douglas Lute, an Army lieutenant general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. 

If the U.S. government had ramped up training between 2002 and 2006, “when the Taliban was weak and disorganized, things may have been different,” Lute added. “Instead, we went to Iraq. If we committed money deliberately and sooner, we could have a different outcome.”

It may be that we never really had a chance to achieve a desirable outcome but we made an alternative choice that appears to have precluded what chance there was.

Of course I cannot truly be surprised by pervasive “spin” about Afghanistan because of my experience in Kenya in 2007-2008 and the lack of response from the government and the official democracy assistance fraternity to the my disclosure of dishonesty in how we (the U.S. Government) addressed election fraud in Kenya and how we handled the inconvenient exit poll showing an opposition win and some of the inconvenient things we witnessed as election observers at the polls. [Not to mention what we all knew about Iraq by 2007.]

Even though most “name brand” experts and U.S. Government funded institutions seem to agree that globally democracy is in some form of recession, it is hard to know whether serious and purposeful United States-funded democracy assistance programming might have potential benefits because most of the money and effort has gone to war adjunct “nation building” as in Afghanistan where it turns out that nearly everyone has “privately” been admitting that we do not know what we are doing or should be doing and thus have no real chance of genuine success.

During my time with the International Republican Institute in the late Bush Administration the dominant “democracy promotion” or “democracy assistance” programs were Iraq followed by Sudan. Shortly after I finished my time in the barrel in Kenya in mid-2008 the venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies convened a blue ribbon panel to look at the reputation problem of the term “democracy promotion” due to the association with experimental “expeditionary warfare” in Iraq. Thus the pivot from “democracy promotion” to “democracy assistance”.

By the later Obama years Afghanistan, followed by Iraq and newly severed but but failing South Sudan were getting most of the democracy assistance dollars.

A Government Accountability Office report on Democracy Assistance, GAO-18-136, notes “Total USAID democracy assistance funding for projects in Afghanistan was greater than for any other country, amounting to almost 39 percent of USAID’s total democracy assistance obligations during fiscal years 2012 through 2015.” Here are the totals for the top fourteen USAID democracy assistance FY 2012-16 “places of performance”:

Afghanistan 1,650M

Iraq 238M

Regional/Global 201M

South Sudan 159M

Mexico 102M

Columbia 86M

Honduras 81M

Pakistan 79M

Bangladesh 76M

Haiti 73M

Liberia 68M

Egypt 65M

Kenya 60M

Indonesia 60M

*Note this is just USAID and does not encompass the separate Department of Defense and State programs, and much smaller amounts from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Back in 2007 in Kenya, a country on the brink of crisis, but supposedly of vital interest to the United States, most of the democracy assistance money being spent in the country was the “back office” operations for the vast (as measured in dollars anyway) pre-independence Southern Sudan operation.

People in Washington paid so little attention to democratization in Kenya in 2007 as to fail to realize or at least act on the risks of having the Ambassador “looking and pointing the other way” as Kibaki rather openly stole re-election (even though the opposition was also pro-Western and friendly to the United States so there was no bona fide nation interest served by those Americans who subverted our own meagre democracy assistance program).

In 2013, even after the disaster of 2007, we deliberately chose the path of non-transparency when our funded purchasing of the Results Transmission System for the election was botched and the system failed to work. Kenya’s Supreme Court shut down a partial recount that showed serious problems and affirmed the questionable tally of the Electoral Commission (litigating with undisclosed American-funded assistance) to avoiding by a whisker the runoff that the pre-election polls predicted. The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the procurement fraud cases, but the Kenyan executive authorities simply ignored the order. My FOIA research so far documents discussion among the donors involved in the UNDP “basket fund” including the United States, whether to cooperate with a subsequent investigation by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, but I do not know the outcome as I continue awaiting processing of remaining documents from my 2015 request to USAID.

In hindsight, I should have read more into the decision of my late friend Joel Barkan to stay home and “watch” that election from Washington. By 2017, the incumbent Kenyan government was clearly not committed to providing a level playing field and I stayed home myself. No incumbent Kenyan president has been found by a Kenyan election commission to have failed to “win” his re-election. The misfeasance on the technology for 2017 was blatant enough in that instance for the Supreme Court to annul the presidential vote, in spite of diplomatic and observer support for the announced outcome. The environment was too fraught with mistrust at that point to provide a mutually acceptable platform for a re-vote and Kenyatta was re-inaugurated after an opposition boycott.

Kenya’s political class is now focussed primarily on the 2022 campaign. The joint “Building Bridges Initiative” report released this month proposes that the remants of the Electoral Commission of Kenya from the 2017 vote be “bought out” and a new commission constituted, as was done following the problems in 2007 and 2013, but no action to implement this is yet pending.

In the meantime, much our policy in Somalia has been a variable secretive melange of counterterrorism, war and nation building with a sprinkling of democracy assistance. There is no Special Inspector General for the war in Somalia so we will not have created the kind of record that the Washington Post has been able to obtain on Afghanistan, but perhaps someday we will all know more. By May 2006 the Post did report: “U.S. Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia” and by that December we secretly supported the Ethiopian military invasion to re-instate the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

Kenya’s long awaited “Building Bridges Initiative” report published on-line

Following the post-election negotiations between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during December 2017 – March 2018, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 “handshake” between the two, Kenyans have witnessed a prolonged period of political stasis in which Kenyatta has run the Government as he sees fit without opposition and former Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President Ruto and their factions have carried on their 2022 campaigns.

We now have a 150+ page published report from the Government of Kenya representing the work product of a dual team of insiders for the two “sides” (Raila/ODM and Uhuru) making various recommendations for political governance issues as are always “on the table” in “post-Colonial” Kenya.

Formally, this has been called the “Building Bridges Initiative” implemented by the “Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce” and has incorporated the usual process of donor supported public “input” sessions around the country to “popularize” the process, the teams of insiders and what they will agree on and eventually announce.

The adjustments proposed from the public comments and news so far appear to be relatively nondramatic and reflect what one would expect for an elite consensus process where the primary issue is the adjustment of interests among those at the table.

Here is the official website for the Building Bridges Initiative.

For background, here is my post from December 7, 2017, “Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi, public statements adjusted to call for ‘national conversation’ as substitute for ‘national dialogue’“:

I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.

In the latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.

Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

Nairobi’s Star publishes extraordinary story using SECRET 2009 Cable about Amos Wako corruption issues published by Wikileaks in 2010 to explain U.S. visa ban and designation

Read here from The Star: “What Ranneberger told Washington about Wako on corruption”.

Update Nov. 19, see the follow-up: “10 big names join Wako on US travel ban“.

When Wikileaks first published the mass of stolen State Department cables in late 2010 while Michael Ranneberger was Ambassador to Kenya The Star to my recollection did not write any stories from them–including about this 2009 cable, classified SECRET, on the Amos Wako issues. Of course it was more timely then and Wako was still serving as Attorney General.

The Star and The Standard both stayed away from direct coverage of material from the leaked cables, while The Nation did a small number of Kenya stories–not including this Wako subject matter–before quickly backing off.

The most topical of those for me back in 2011 was a Nation story revealing that in early 2008 the US had issued undisclosed (and unknown to me) visa bans against three members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on substantial evidence of bribery. The State Department has never to this day acknowledged knowing about the bribery at the ECK in the 2007 election and the publication of such stories in the Nation quickly dried up. (I was told of ECK bribery by another diplomatic source in January 2008.)

Back in the States in my job in the defense industry (with my security clearance) I was told by a friend in the Kenyan media that I had been “sweetly vindicated” on my public contradictions with the Ambassador in the New York Times and otherwise about the 2007 election but the “Wikileaked” cables were not available to me due to the obligations of my security clearance. Readers of this blog will know that I started the process of requesting related information through the Freedom of Information Act in 2009, more than a year before Wikileaks hit, and that I have received released versions of some of the same Cables that Wikileaks published unredacted.

I learned in real time that Ranneberger expressed active displeasure with The Star for publishing a story in February 2008 on the leaked USAID/International Republican Institute exit poll showing an opposition (Odinga) win in the December 2007 election, so I always assumed that it was likely that the Kenyan newspapers received diplomatic encouragement not to publish independently from the stolen cables.

Clearly the Trump Administration has had quite a very different approach with Wikileaks than the Obama Administration did back in 2010 and Ranneberger is now retired from Government himself and working as a consultant and lobbyist looking, among other things, to influence the Trump Administration. So lots of things have changed aside from Wako moving to the Senate from the Attorney General’s office and having a leading role in the current Building Bridges Initiative.

[I will add links to my previous posts, but wanted to go ahead and get this up.]

See “Part Seven — one last FOIA Cable on the 2007 exit poll“:

. . . .

The quest for accountability to Kenyan voters has remained unanswered sadly.  A news story in the Daily Nation in 2011, in the final item on my chronology of links to coverage of the Kenyan election, reports from an alleged leaked cable that ten days before this February 18, 2008 meeting at the Ambassador’s residence, the State Department issued “visa bans” against ECK members based on evidence regarding bribery–but did not disclose this circumstance, or the evidence, at this [Feb 18] meeting (I checked with a participant).  We, the United States, made clear that we were willing to step up financial and rhetorical support for reforms in Kenya–such as the new constitution–under a deal in which the new Kibaki administration shared power with the opposition under an Kofi Annan-brokered bargain–but we brushed aside the issue of the fraud in the election.

Kenya election vote counting Westlands Nairobi

Kenya Senator Amos Wako, former longtime Attorney General under Moi and Kibaki, gets US “public designation” for involvement in corruption and a second US “visa ban”

Secretary of State Pompeo released a press statement today announcing a “public designation” by the United States of former Attorney General Amos Wako, along with his wife and son, for evidence of involvement in significant corruption, seemingly from his time as Attorney General. Wako served during both the Goldenburg and Anglo Leasing corruption scandals.

Recent news finds the successful Goldenburg scam architect Kamlish Pattni obtaining a court judgement for additional funds from the Government relating to incompetent prosecution endeavors against him. Also we read this week that more than Switzerland has been holding frozen funds related to the Anglo Leasing scandal which have not

The previous visa ban on Wako under U.S. Presidential Proclamation 7750 of 2004, was legally confidential, but was announced by then-Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in a Tweet in November 2009. Wako publicly acknowledged the ban for alleged failure to cooperate with reforms in the wake of the Post Election Violance following the 2007 election and announced he would sue to have it lifted. It is unclear when that ban was lifted, although it must have been a some point. As of December 2015 then-Ambassador Robert Godec told The Standard that there were several Kenyans barred from the US under Presidential Proclamation 7750.

In early 2008, according to a Daily Nation report said to be from Wikileaks, the US banned three Kenyan member of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on evidence of bribery, but the US has never made any type of disclosure of that action or the underlying Election Commission bribery issue although I was told separately of ECK bribery by non-US diplomatic sources in the course of my work for the International Republican Institute during the Post Election Violence.

Reviewing the 1992 Election Observation Report from the International Republican Institute for my last post I noted that Attorney General Wako was accused by IRI of being “responsible for egregious pre-election irregularities related to the election framework” along with many of the District Commissioners.

Bechtel Mombasa-Nairobi Expressway project background

Ambassador McCarter has been engaging with Kenyans on Twitter following an Embassy media release on US support for the proposed Mombassa-Nairobi expressway.

For background:

U.S. withholds funding for Sh. 300 billion Mombasa-Nairobi expressway. This was the news on May 27, 2019, as reported from A1Autoservice,Ltd.com:

Nairobi-Mombasa expressway funds stalled 

The US Government has temporarily shelved funding for the proposed Sh. 300 billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway over cost implications. The construction of the 485-kilometre road to ease perennial traffic snarl-ups was to be done by American engineering firm Bechtel after Kenya and US struck a deal during last year’s meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House. The US ambassador Kyle McCarter, said the US was scrutinising the proposal to establish whether Kenyans would get value for their money. He said the cost was in question at a time when the country is struggling with piling debt. 

Responding to queries whether Bechtel had lost the contract to China, McCarter said: “Bechtel did not lose the deal, we are still working on the finance. Kenya has a challenge of debt and we are wary of burdening Kenyans”. “We did not want to sign onto a project whose cost would turn out to be three to four times higher than the actual. We want to ensure there is an honest return on investment for Kenyans before we break ground.” 

In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) — in a feasibility report — indicated that the costly project was viable.McCarter said US zero tolerance for corruption forced them back to the drawing board and would only embark on the project once they are satisfied it guarantees value for money for Kenyans and will not sink the country deeper into debt. 

The envoy affirmed US support for the war against corruption and termed the plunder of public coffers an act of outright thievery. “Calling it corruption makes it mystical, like those behind it share the proceeds with the nation. But the truth is that it is simply taking what is not yours and that is thievery,” he said. 

The proposed road will be a dual-carriage motorway with four lanes to ease congestion and cut travel time between the two cities from the current 10 to about four hours.It will run parallel to the current Nairobi-Mombasa highway and will help promote trade and movement in Kenya and the neighbouring countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and South Sudan. 

Working documents on the project show that it is expected to start any time after the June budget release.Bechtel estimates that construction of the expressway will create 500 jobs and involve local businesses supplying up to 100,000 tonnes of cement and 40,000 tonnes of steel.

Here is a digest of stories on the project from July 2017 to July 2018:

The battle for road tenders hots up as U.S. giant opens Nairobi office, Construction Kenya, July 11, 2017:

. . .

As a starting point, the US construction giant has already expressed its interest in the forthcoming expansion of the 485-kilometre Mombasa-Nairobi highway into a six-lane dual carriageway.

The US Export Import Bank is strongly pushing Bechtel to secure the contract in an arrangement similar to that of the China Export Import Bank where the Asian bank funds projects contracted to Chinese firms.

“With the support of the US government agencies such as Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Export-Import Bank, we can provide solutions to move this critical project forward quickly with a high standard of quality,” Mr Patterson added.

The entry of Bechtel – along with its financial backing by the US Exim Bank – will complicate matters for Chinese multinationals who have been winning all tenders for projects financed by the China Exim Bank. . . .

U.S. firm wins deal to build Kenya’s first high speed highway, Construction Kenya, Aug 17, 2017:

US-based engineering firm Bechtel International Inc. has signed a Sh230 billion commercial agreement with the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) for construction of a 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa high-speed expressway.

KeNHA director general Peter Mundinia said the signing of the deal has paved the way for the next stage of mobilisation of financing from export credit agencies in the United States of America.

. . .

It is expected that agencies such as the US Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will finance the project.

“It is projected under the proposed commercial contract that the 473km highway will be completed in ten sections within the next six years,” Mr Mundinia said.

The first section, from the junction with Namanga Road near Kitengela will have an interchange near Konza ICT City and a spur road to Kyumvi (Machakos Turnoff) on Mombasa Road. This section is anticipated to open to traffic in October 2019. . . .

U.S. rejects Kenyan press criticism of $3B Bechtel roads deal, Global Construction Review, Sept. 25, 2017:

The US embassy in Kenya has rejected a newspaper’s criticism over a $3bn road contract awarded to Bechtel without competitive bidding.

The embassy said the Nairobi-to-Mombasa expressway had been under discussion for two years, and had been evaluated to ensure Kenyans receive value for their money. 

It also rejected press claims that the award was a “thank you” to the US for its political support of the Uhuru Kenyatta government. 

On 13 September, the day after the article appeared, the embassy tweeted: “US private firms (bound by US anti-corruption laws) investing in Kenya’s future bring jobs, tech transfer and development. This expressway has been under development for two years to bring best value. The US embassy does not and will not give political favours for commercial deals. On Kenyan election 2017, we’ve been and will continue to be strictly neutral.”

Kenyan government officials also defended the Bechtel deal. Peter Mundinia, director general of the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), said on 18 September that Bechtel was selected because of its experience of handling large infrastructure projects “over 119 years”.

He added that the Kenyan government had entered into an agreement with the US government in July 2015 whereby US companies would develop key infrastructure projects with US funding.

The US and Kenyan authorities were responding to an article in Kenya’s Financial Standard newspaper that questioned the way the project was announced and quoted from a Ministry of Transport briefing, carried out before the contract award, which argued the project should be put out to tender as a public–private partnership (PPP).

The Standard highlighted the fact that contract for the 473km A8 expressway between Mombasa and Nairobi was announced three days before the 8 August general election, and broke with established practice by being made without a Ministry of Transport press conference or an announcement from the president’s office. 

Instead, the announcement was made on a Saturday afternoon when government departments are usually closed, and made no mention of the project’s estimated price. 

The newspaper drew a comparison with the way the government had awarded the country’s standard gauge railway (SGR) scheme to Chinese contractors before the 2013 general election. In both cases the winner was appointed without putting the work out to competitive tender. 

In the SGR case, the choice was determined by the fact that China was making the funding available for the line; in the case of the motorway, the motive was to thank America for an “unspecified service” that the US had done for Kenya, according to unnamed “government insiders” quoted by the Standard.

According to the Standard there are now concerns within the Kenyan government over the amount of debt the country is taking on. The combined cost of the rail and road link between the country’s main port and the capital is likely to be at least $6.7bn, or almost 10% of the country’s GDP.

The controversy comes at a sensitive time in Kenya after the results of the 8 August election, which recorded a victory for the country’s incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, were annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court on 1 September. 

The court cited irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results and ordered the election to be held again within 60 days. It is due to take place on 26 October. Kenya has a history of serious post-election violence.

Nairobi-Mombasa expressway project dogged by serious concerns, Construction Kenya, July 4, 2018

Almost a year after Kenya signed a deal with US engineering firm Bechtel for construction of a Sh300 billion high-speed expressway between Nairobi and Mombasa, the two parties are yet to agree on how to finance the project despite a series of extremely high-level talks.

On the one hand, the Kenyan government wants the 473-kilometre Nairobi-Mombasa expressway to be completed through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model where private investors will build and operate the facility for up to 25 years – charging toll fees – to recoup their investments and margins.

On the other hand, Bechtel International is opposed to the PPP model which it says will cost the Kenyan taxpayer Sh540 billion over next 25 years.

The company has therefore urged Kenya to undertake the project under an engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) contract.

Under the EPCC model, a contractor is obliged to deliver a complete facility to a developer who needs only to turn a key to start operating the facility; hence such deals are sometimes referred to as turnkey construction contracts.

But the government, which is concerned about the fast rising public debt, has made its stand clear. . . .

“We will commence detailed discussion on how the financing approach will be undertaken under that project. We will be discussing modalities, financing structuring and the details for us to be clear on how to undertake this project,” Treasury secretary Henry Rotich said on Tuesday.

US response to South Sudan corruption: a shoe drops

New action today on South Sudan corruption today, offering hope on the question from my last post “How quickly will the United States Government act in “analysis, evaluation and investigation” of The Sentry report on South Sudan?

Statement from The Sentry: “US Sanctions Al-Cardinal, Tycoon Named in Reports of The Sentry“:

October 11, 2019 (Washington D.C.) — Today, the United States placed sanctions on Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali, widely known as Al-Cardinal, a tycoon with ties to the U.S., UK, and UAE.

Today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) target Al-Cardinal and his network of businesses, and come in the wake of two recent investigative reports by The Sentry “The Taking of South Sudan” and “Al-Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch,” that detailed the business activities of Al-Cardinal, among others, and urged governments to sanction him and his networks.

. . . .

Joshua White, Director of Policy and Analysis at The Sentry, said: “The Sentry applauds today’s action by the Department of the Treasury, which should serve as a warning to the financial facilitators and commercial enablers of corrupt South Sudanese elites that they will lose access to the dollar unless they cease doing business that funds violence in the country. The United Kingdom and other European countries, as well as those in the region, should follow suit . . .

. . . .

The Sentry’s investigation found that Al-Cardinal has exploited opaque procurement processes, weak oversight institutions, and cozy relationships with South Sudan’s most powerful politicians to line his own pockets.

“A major enabler of corruption and violence for President Salva Kiir’s government,” according to the The Sentry’s reporting, Al-Cardinal has been embroiled in major procurement scandals, set up private businesses with ruthless military generals, imported military equipment during a bloody civil war and landed lucrative contracts linked to the implementation of the peace deal in South Sudan.

Read the full report “Al Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch”: https://eno.ug/al-
Read the full report “The Taking of South Sudan”: https://eno.ug/

Reuters: “US imposes sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen for fraud, bribery“:

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen, Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal and Kur Ajing Ater, for their involvement in bribery, kickbacks and procurement fraud with senior government officials, the Treasury Department said on Friday.

After the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Benjamin Bol Mel, a key adviser to the South Sudanese president, in 2017, Mel used an account in the name of the companies of Al-Cardinal to evade sanctions and store personal funds, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

In early 2019, the South Sudanese government paid millions of dollars to a company owned by Al-Cardinal ostensibly for food, but that in fact was routed to senior South Sudanese government officials, the Treasury Department said. . . .

Barbaricum, another firm in which Sanitas International’s Christopher Harvin is partner/co-founder, is hiring Military Intelligence Advisors for the State Department’s Africa Bureau for Ethiopia, Chad, Tunisia and Nigeria

Gainful Solutions and Sanitas International lobbyists Michael Ranneberger, Constance Newman and Christopher Harvin meet with Salva Kiir in SouthSudan

And in South Sudan if Sanitas and Harvin can help Gainful Solutions get U.S. sanctions lifted on Salva Kiir’s regime and persuade the Trump Administration to spend more on counterterrorism through Kiir, perhaps there could be similar opportunities available in Juba advising the SPLA.

Here is Harvin’s bio from a SXSW presentation on doing business in Cuba from 2016:

With two decades of experience in the industry, Mr. Harvin has provided strategic communications solutions in over 60 countries. He is a founding Partner at Sanitas International, a global strategic communication, public affairs, digital media and political advisory firm based in Washington DC. Mr. Harvin is also a Partner at Barbaricum, a Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business and SBA certified HUBZone which provides advisory services to the US Government. 

Mr. Harvin, who was recognized as one of the top public relations practitioners under 40 by PRWeek in 2013, has served the White House and has held senior communications and public affairs positions with the Secretaries of Defense and Veteran Affairs, Members of Congress and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He has represented multiple Heads of State, corporations, and sovereign governments in emerging markets around the globe. 

Mr. Harvin serves as a Board Member and Advisers to the Washington Inter-Governmental Professional Group, a DC-based organization with over 3,000 members from the private sector, diplomatic community and staff members from Congress and the Federal Agencies. He is a Member of the Board of Advisers for the Department of Communications at Georgia Southern University, is a Member of the Board of Advisers for The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (“ARCH”) International, Inc. and is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America. Mr. Harvin is a native of South Carolina, he resides in Washington DC.

In 2013, Mr. Harvin presented as a panel expert on the influence of social media in the Middle East at SXSW during the presentation “I Overthrew My Government: Now What?”

The 2013 SXSW presentation pairing Harvin and political consultant Joe Trippi could be seen as prefiguring their 2016 partnership in the not-for-profit Vanguard Africa Foundation which has been most notable for its democratization support work in The Gambia. Vanguard has also been representing various candidates in other African countries in Washington as well as providing campaign consulting:

Founded in 2016, Vanguard Africa represents the synthesis of best practices in campaign management with the mission-driven focus of a pro-democracy organization. We have convened previously isolated networks — campaign consultants, government and public relations experts, business leaders and human rights advocates — to provide unrivaled access and strategic solutions for pro-democracy leaders.

Executive Director Jeffrey Smith is an experienced human rights and democracy in Africa hand. (Perhaps someday independent South Sudan will have its first elections and Vanguard can get involved.)

What happens to social media after a Twitter revolution?” Mashable.com, March 9, 2013:

Two years after the Arab Spring, questions still remain as to how much social media actually helped fuel and drive the uprisings that arose in Tunisia and swept across the region. But regardless of what happened during those Twitter-fueled revolutions, what’s happened afterward? 

That’s what social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon and Sanitas International wanted to find out when it decided to analyze tweets coming out of Egypt, Libya and even Syria, where there still is a war going on. The results of its 3-month study, which will be discussed in a panel at SXSW on Sunday, underscore the changes these countries are undergoing.

. . . .

Sanitas International - I overthrew my government, now what?

Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]

Follow-up: in which Amb. McCarter and I experience some downsides of “Twitter diplomacy”

In my last post, I explored the fact that Amb. Kyle McCarter is the United States’ first Ambassador to Kenya to come from a background in elective politics. Because he had just done what seemed to be a well-received television interview I added in introductory material to the original draft to reflect that.

In the aftermath of following the interview with an invitation for questions on Twitter, the Ambassador got drawn into the Kenyan controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power coal plant proposed for the Lamu area on the Coast. My sense is that he seemed to respond to a Kenyan political and legal controversy as a politician would in asserting his own opinion and judgment based on his own experience and positions–an easy thing to do on Twitter–in a quite different way than a diplomat would normally react.

In the context of following this discussion, I did a bit of quick updating on the internet of the status of the coal mining industry in Sen. McCarter’s former State Senate district in Illinois. By coincidence I spent some time visiting in the area as a young lawyer back in the 1990s and knew that at that time there was a perception of economic strain associated with a decline in local mining employment. I after going through some history of mining, I found a recent article in a local newspaper about a young mayor of a town in the area responding to the economic circumstances by promoting solar energy in his immediate community. I shared the article with the Ambassador and a Kenyan leader on the citizen fight against corruption in the power generation and resale businesses in Kenya (as opposed to an anti-coal activist or someone otherwise involved in the Lamu case).

The Ambassador responded tartly that coal provided 95% of the power in his region in Illinois, he knew the mines and plants, and that coal was the cleanest and cheapest approach to needed power in the context of the highest environmental standards in the world. Further, he was not inclined to be persuaded by “well paid activists” and that “facts are stubborn things.”

This furthered an impression–hopefully not intended–that the Ambassador was weighing in on the Kenyan legal and policy controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power deal.

The next day, the Kenyan court finally issued its ruling that the Amu permit for the Lamu plant had been improperly granted without a meaningful, legally adequate environmental review. From the outside, as a casual observer with a background in Kenyan policy making and the history of these large projects, along with awareness of the established record of corruption in the Kenyan power sector, this looked to me like a straightforward victory for the rule of law in Kenya. The sort of thing we say we want and that USAID and the State and Justice Departments and others have been spending our money on.

Likewise, this generated pushback form “Kenyans on Twitter” who felt patronized or insulted, as well as those who have a different view on “macro” issues relating to power generation and environmental issues than they interpreted the Ambassador to have Tweeted. As for me, I had just intended to share an interesting recent news article, without comment, and not to get under anyone’s skin, or debate the philosophy of coal economics in the global context.

Kenya Lama donkey and cannon on waterfront seawall on harbor

One thing is certain with active Twitter use: all of us who Tweet actively will “step in it” sometimes. The Ambassador well knows this because his ultimate voice vote confirmation in the Senate was held up for some months in apparent reaction to a few previous Tweets that generated push back and follow-up. The Ambassador is also representing the United States and has a professional communications staff of public servants to help him.