American national security officials decided the time was ripe to talk to “UK Declassified” about CIA/GSU counterterrorism operations in Kenya (updated 9-6)

On the record Americans in Washington and a key American who is not identified by name or specific agency tell most of the story about the development of the US-Kenyan counterterrorism relationship since the 1998 embassy bombing in a two part series from “UK Declassified”.

Particular focus is on the establishment and operation by the Kenyan police paramilitary General Services Unit (GSU) of a special previously secret CIA-supported unit dedicated to capture and render, if not kill in some situations, high value terrorist targets.

This unit was set up under the Kibaki Administration in 2004 and been kept out of the open source media since.

Here is the story (Part One) published in The Daily Maverick through their partnership with “UK Declassified”. And Part Two.

I cannot imagine that the substance of the story is especially surprising to anyone. In a way it’s a story of the interlocking of two bureaucracies and the making of “alphabet soup”. Whereas most Americans paying attention from outside specific national security roles and most Kenyans would have assumed that the counterterrorism operations discussed involved the ATPU (Anti-Terrorism Police Unit) branch of the Kenya Police Service, as discussed, it turns out they involved the GSU branch. On the American side the bureaucratic distinction is that we have been using in this GSU-support role the CIA, a stand alone branch of the Intelligence Community, rather than one of the units under the military command structure.

The fact that some mistakes would be made and “collateral damage” (such as raiding the wrong house and killing the wrong person) incurred in any Kenya Police Service paramilitary operation is hardly surprising. To the contrary it would be foolish not to expect it and my guess would be that the seeming lower volume or rate of errors in these operations compared to what we see from the GSU and the Kenyan Police Service overall has something to do with the involvement of the CIA.

More generally, however, the thing that I was aware of and concerned about as a temporary duty democracy assistance American NGO worker during the 2007 Kenyan election cycle was that these type of counterterrorism tactics–regardless of the letters in the “alphabet soup” or which utensil used to eat it–caused genuine fear among Kenyan citizens and potential voters.

The highest profile use by the Kibaki Administration of the GSU during my time with the International Republican Institute was the deployment of paramilitary troops to form a perimeter sealing off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in the early weeks of 2008 to prevent protests against Kibaki’s disputed swearing in for a second term from accessing the symbolically important venue. (Contra events ten years later for Raila Odinga’s “people’s president” mock swearing in.). See “Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s ‘People’s President’ swearing in?“, January 31, 2018.

It seems conventional that you would have some general comment from former Ambassadors Bellamy and Ranneberger for the article on counterterrorism but unusual to have the amount of discussion from the CIA side. I have thoughts about why people spoke up now but they are speculative so I will keep them to myself for the time being. Regardless, it is vitally important that Americans and Kenyans learn from experience, including trial-and-error in facing the challenges of terrorism in the context of laws and policies that place hope in democracy, democratization and the rule of law. So I appreciate the move towards increasing public information both from press and those interviewed.

Conspicuously absent though is any reference to the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with US support to displace the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu and restore the Transitional Federal Government with related operations by the Kenyan military. This kicked-off the current round of the ongoing war in Somalia, gave rise to the separation of al-Shabaab as an al-Queda affiliate operating a territory-controlling jihadist insurgency in Somalia as well as operator of persistent regional terrorist attacks over the years.

See my post from June, 2018 and articles and posts discussed therein for U.S. support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion, Kenyan engagement, and the consequences:

More context: what happened between Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 that might have changed State Department priorities on democratic reform in Kenya and Kibaki’s re-election?

Kenya USAID documents show policy shift on Kibaki from 2006 to 2007 election

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt

Kenya Election Preparation: Standing aside on 2013 investigation to raise alarm for 2022

I feel obligated to raise the alarm about Kenyan election preparation with 2022 fast approaching and a potential contentious constitutional referendum even sooner.

Why worry? The track record.

Blatant fraud in the 2007 presidential election led to extensive violence, followed by “herd impunity” for the politicians involved in both the fraud and the violence. According to a later press report the US issued undisclosed sanctions against some members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on evidence of bribery but made no public disclosure or known follow up.

A murky 2013 election process gave power to primary figures understood by public reputation and ICC charge to be among the most responsible for the 2007-08 violence. Procurement fraud prosecutions from 2013 linger in Kenya’s courts and IEBC recipients of “Chickengate” bribes from a British election vendor have never been prosecuted (the British payers of the bribes have completed their jail time). The IEBC was replaced at the expense of some loss of life to protestors at the hands of the Government.

And of course we all know that Kenya’s 2017 presidential election was legally deficient to the point of being annulled by the Supreme Court, leading to the 2018 “handshake” under which Kenya’s is presently operating. The IEBC has lost a majority of its members–one fleeing the country. The CEO who was hired by and held over from the removed 2013 “Chickengate” group was fired, but there has been no prosecution for the election eve abduction, torture and murder of Chris Msando, the acting ICT Director.

To summarize where I am going to leave my Freedom of Information Act investigation of the failures to properly administer Kenya’s 2013 election:

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to USAID in 2015 for their records on support of the IEBC for 2013. The records were sent to Washington from Nairobi in late 2015 and released gradually between April 2017 and May 2020.

Kenya Election FOIA News: Election Assistance Agreement shows US paid for failed “Results Transmission System” April 13, 2017.

USAID eventually has provided a fair bit of material about their Kenya Electoral Party and Process Strengthening Program, but redacted the basic reporting and evaluation of what went wrong with the failed procurement of a Results Transmission System and the rest of the technology and other failures at the IEBC. To me, the redactions based on the assertion that this material is exempt from FOIA as proprietary commercial information of the not-for-profit International Foundation for Election Systems, IFES, were not plausibly legally justified. At this point, I am disappointed as an American that USAID was unwilling to be more transparent, because I think the continued failure to have an open accounting of the problems in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 election assistance programs leaves us in an unnecessarily poor position to hope to do better in 2022.

USAID finally sent me a heavily redacted version of the last 2032 pages of their 2013 “Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening” program file from my 2015 FOIA request May 6, 2020.

Kenya 2013: Redacted reports to USAID suggest the problems with the IEBC acquisition of the Biometric Voter Registration system and the electronic Poll Books fed into the ultimate failure of the USAID-funded IFES Results Transmission System May 14, 2020.

For some Americans the 2013 election in Kenya was a big success because Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto took over from Mwai Kibaki, Kalonzo Musyoka and PM Raila Odinga without the level of violence associated with the preceding 2007 election. For others of us, and for many Kenyans, the failure of the Results Transmission System and the lack of a credible total vote tally mattered quite a lot. How people actually vote matters. The failure compounded the bad precedents that played out with more election technology procurement and other problems in 2017 and are still “on deck” today.

At this point I am going to leave IFES and USAID to decide what their consciences and legal standards require about the problems from 2013 rather than try to pry more information out through “pro bono” legal work. Three years has gone by since the annulled 2017 vote without even bringing the Kenyan procurement fraud prosecution from 2013 to trial, let alone taking any major steps forward to fix things for 2022 or a pre-election referendum. This is wrong, as well as dangerous, and I think we Americans could help this time if we are willing to (after attending to our own challenges in preparing for our own elections).

I will include one new document to show the nature of the problem: an email between USAID and IFES from the afternoon of March 7, 2013, three days after the vote at a time when the Results Transmission System had failed. IEBC Chairman Issack Hassan had announced that the Commission had shut down the system and I was at the High Court with my AfriCOG friends seeking an injunction to prevent the IEBC from announcing a “winner” without the full results.

The EU Election Observers attended the court hearing but I don’t know if anyone from the USAID-funded international or domestic Election Observation teams did, or what they knew at the time about the procurement failure on the Results Transmission System. Regardless, I think transparency was needed in real time, and I certainly do not see the values served by keeping the substantive reporting on what went wrong under wraps seven years later (aside from the question of FOIA compliance).

Kenya 2013 election Results Transmission System FOIA IFES USAID

See Election Assistance FOIA update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting Kenya IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition, July 18, 2018.

So where are we now? Under the gun again:

Big worries about electoral body and 2022 polls“, Sunday Nation, August 9, 2020:

We’re two years to the next poll if August still holds as the election date, which means the window for reforms is slowly closing, and if we don’t start pushing and getting some of these policies, rules, regulations and structures in place, we risk repeating the same mistakes we made in 2013 and 2017 and even earlier,” warned Ms Regina Opondo, the chairperson of the Election Observation Group (ELOG) steering committee.

Mr Ndung’u Wainaina, the executive director of International Centre for Policy and Conflict, told the Nation that the IEBC needs to be given financial autonomy and to devolve its resources down to the polling stations.

“IEBC should be reformed to restore public confidence, credibility and integrity. The problem is not the Constitution, but how the IEBC Act and recruitment of personnel is designed, which allows gross political interference,” Mr Wainaina said in an email to the Nation.

Here is my page with blog posts from the 2013 election cycle as seen from a public view outside of the Kenyan or donor governments.

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 dais were 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]

In March 2017, before USAID started releases on my FOIA request on 2013 Kenya election, I called job of new IFES Country Director “the hardest in Kenya” and “probably impossible”

Read the whole post here:  The hardest job in Kenya . . .

. . . .

Realistically, the job looks impossible as structured, even if there had been adequate preparation time because of the conflicts of interest that USAID has built into the the role.  Compounding the problems from 2007 and 2013, USAID chose to select one entity to manage the inside technical support for the IEBC as per the IFES role since 2001 with the ECK/IIEC/IEBC, to provide voter education and also to lead election observation.  Thus IFES is wearing both “insider” and “outsider” hats at the same time, when the contradictory responsibilities of working with and observing the IEBC are both hugely challenging and vitally important.

”USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers” – from 2015 ahead of my FOIA request

Kenya election 2007 ECK Presiding Officer holding ballot with disputed marking

The successful prosecution of Smith & Ouzman, Ltd. and two of its officers by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office for paying bribes to Kenyan election officials to obtain contracts with Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) should be a wake-up call in Washington.  Smith & Ouzman Chairman Christopher John Smith and Sales and Marketing Director Nicholas Charles Smith were sentenced last week and sentencing of the corporation is upcoming.

Ironically, perhaps, “capacity building” and procurement systems, along with the subsequently abandoned electronic results transmission system, were touted by U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger as features of the U.S. pre-election support in Kenya in 2007:

* “Developing the capacity of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) lies at the  heart of our strategy.  The USG funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) has been providing support to the ECK since late 2001.  Activities focus on providing appropriate technology for more efficient and transparent elections administration while improving the skills of the ECK technical staff.  This support additionally includes capacity building and technical assistance to support election administration.  Technical assistance includes computerization of the Procurement and Supplies Department, which is responsible for printing and distributing election materials.  Assistance will also support implementation of the ECK’s restructuring plan, strengthening logistics capacity, and accelerating the transmission and display of results.”

From “Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 elections from the truth trickling out about 2007-New Cables From FOIA (Part One)” quoting a December 14, 2007 Ranneberger cable describing U.S. preparations for the Kenyan election.

For the 2013 election, I have a copy of one last minute USAID procurement through IFES for the Kenyan IEBC related to the failed electronic results transmission system; I would assume there were other USAID procurements involved for the IEBC.  Notably, the Supreme Court of Kenya found that the main cause of the failure of the electronic results transmission system and the electronic voter identification system appeared to be procurement “squabbles” among IEBC members. “It is, indeed, likely, that the acquisition process was marked by competing interests involving impropriety, or even criminality: and we recommend that this matter be entrusted to the relevant State agency, for further investigation and possible prosecution.”   “Thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court opinion” April 13, 2013.  See also, “Why would we trust the IEBC vote tally when they engaged on fraudulent procurement processes for key technology?”, March 24, 2013.

For a detailed narrative and links on the U.K. Serious Fraud Office case, see Corruption Watch-UK/Trial Monitoring: “Chickens come home to roost: the Smith and Ouzman African bribery case”:

The most serious allegations relate to 7 contracts with the IIEC in Kenya between 2009-2010, worth £1.37 million, where S&O made unusually high commission payments of between 27% and 37% of the contract price. Part of prosecution’s case was that the commission of £380,859 over 18 months paid to the agent, Trevy James Oyombra, was exorbitant, and clearly designed to include payments for officials.

The contracts in Kenya included ballot papers and voter ID cards for By-Elections, 18 million voter registration cards, Referendum ballot papers, and other products relating to elections, such as card pouches, OMR forms, ultraviolet lights. It was a feature of several of these contracts that the S&O subcontracted out the printing work to other companies, in one case to a Chinese company that delivered the goods for less than half the cost of the contract price.

This raises questions about whether S&O were compliant with procurement rules and whether it compromised the security and integrity of the electoral process by subcontracting.

Additionally, on several contracts, S&O delivered significantly less papers than they were contracted to do raising the question of whether the integrity of the electoral process was compromised. It was also a feature of some of these contracts that prices were inflated significantly after award of contract. In all the contracts, the alleged bribes were paid for by the Kenyan tax payers, as the cost of commission was reflected in the contract price.

The specific contracts were as follows:

  • June 2009 – Shinyalu and Bomachoge By-Election. S&O were to provide voter ID cards, and ballot papers – although in the end they provided only 142,000 papers against the 200,000 ordered.
  • January 2010 – 18 million voter registration cards. Once S&O had been awarded the contract they subcontracted the production of half the forms to another company.
  • March 2010 – contract for electors’ card pouches which S&O subcontracted to a Chinese company who delivered them for less than half of the contract price.
  • May-July 2010 – three different By-Election ballot paper contracts (South Mugirango, Matuga and Civil By-Elections) – where the contract price in each case was increased substantially (sometimes by 50%) after award of contract to permit bribes to be paid. The agent advised S&O against providing “chicken” to visitors to their factory in 2010 as there were other officials not from the IIEC who he said they shouldn’t give “the wrong picture” – undermining the defence’s argument that the company was just doing things the “African way”.  Significantly the company again delivered less quantities of ballot papers than were required in each of these three contracts – in the case of the Civic By-Elections some 40,000 less than ordered.
  • July 2010 – a contract to provide 14.6 million Referendum Ballot Papers in which S&O worked out an uplift per ballot paper to factor in the bribery.
  • July 2010 – 1.5 million OMR correction forms and 1000 nomination forms in May.
  • July-December 2010 – ultra violet lights and other Parliamentary and Civil Ballot Papers.

Electoral officials at the IIEC were on several occasions described by the agent, Trevy, as trying to make money before they left the IIEC and went back into government. The agent described the officials at on stage as anxious and “broke”, and “they are desperate for the chicken”. The agent also said that officials told him that S&O needed to “be discrete since all peoples eyes and the government intelligence are watching their every move even on the phone to ensure transparency”.

The Kenyan officials named in court as recipients of payments were as follows: IIEC: Kenneth Karani (chief procurement officer); David Chirchir (IIEC Commissioner); James Oswago (IIEC Chief Electoral Officer); Dena; Kennedy Nyaundi (Commissioner); Gladys Boss Shollei (Deputy CEO); Issack Hassan; Hamida, Tororey and Sang.

Several of these officials are still in government: David Chirchir is current Energy Minister in government, and Issack Hassan is the current Chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) which took over from the IIEC.

The scope of the successfully prosecuted bribes to Kenyan officials, in particular the Kenyan Interim Independent Electoral Commission, now Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, was such as to suggest the corruption was not unique by time or geography.

Although USAID, as referenced in the State Department cable quoted above, has provided millions for the operations of the Electoral Commission of Kenya and its successors on a regularized basis since embedding IFES in the Electoral Commission of Kenya, ECK,  in 2001, I do not know whether there was any direct U.S. funding, or U.S. funding through a “basket” administered through UNDP or otherwise, implicated in the specific acquisitions involved in the prosecution.  At the least, given the level of U.S. funding for the Kenyan elections through this time period, the U.S. indirectly underwrote the ability of the Kenyan election officials to corruptly overpay for those things the U.S. was not helping to pay for.

The time period during which the offenses at issue in this U.K. prosecution occurred was 1 November 2006 through 31 December 2010.  Also during this time, for instance, IFES awarded  a more than $3.4M competitive procurement for USAID to Smith & Ouzman for polling booths for Sudan’s National Election Commission for 2010 elections.  Although there may be nothing at all irregular, it is worth noting that Smith & Ouzman has generally been identified as a “printing company” and its election related products and services marketed on that basis.

From a 2008 IFES election materials “buyer’s guide”:

Smith & Ouzman, Limited

Brampton Road
Eastbourne, Sussex BN22 9AH
UNITED KINGDOM
 
Contact: Christopher Smith, Managing Director
 
Tel: +44 1323-52-4000
Toll Free: 0800-298-2911 (UK only)
Fax: +44 1323-52-4024
elections@smith-ouzman.com

Providing the Ballot — Supporting Democracy Worldwide Smith & Ouzman, Limited, has been established for more than 60 years and is the globally trusted name in security printing, providing tailored secure ballot solutions to electoral commissions and authorities from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and many places in between. Our team of professional staff has considerable experience in election projects and ensures that ballot papers incorporate devices to protect against electoral fraud and are packed for distribution directly to polling stations. Smith & Ouzman, Limited is the company that provides you with security, integrity and reliability. ● Election Experience Afghanistan, ballot papers; Benin, indelible ink; Botswana, ballot papers; European Union, ballot papers, postal ballots; Ghana, equipment; Kenya, ballot papers, registration forms, voters cards; Kosovo, ballot papers, registration forms, postal ballots; Malawi, ballot papers, UV lamps; Mauritania, ballot papers; Namibia, ballot papers; Nigeria, ballot papers; Somaliland, ballot papers, indelible ink; Tanzania, indelible ink, security envelopes; Uganda, ballot papers, indelible ink; United Kingdom, ballot papers, poll cards, registration forms, postal ballots; Zambia, ballot papers, indelible ink; Zimbabwe, ballot papers.

According to the  IFES 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports, Smith & Ouzman was a corporate donor to IFES.

USAID is using a model for Kenya election assistance contracting that creates unnecessary conflicts of interest between organizations supporting election observation, voter education and embedded support to the Election Commission

Kenya challenged vote Kenya election 2007 ECK Presiding Officer holding ballot with disputed marking

USAID has used the multiyear year cooperative agreements with CEPPS, the “consortium” of IRI, NDI and IFES, since the 1990s as a vehicle to award democracy assistance work. There are a variety of internal practical advantages to this in terms of bureaucratic speed and convenience.

In 2007 when I was East Africa Director at IRI in Nairobi, IRI’s public opinion polling program was conducted as a separate 2005 “follow” agreement under a overall master CEPPS “leader” agreement. All the work was done separately by IRI. When Ambassador Ranneberger wanted an exit poll for election day, USAID just issued a modification to our agreement to add on the additional work.

When the Ambassador wanted IRI to conduct an International Election Observation things were more involved because USAID had already decided not to do an Observation and IRI was not anxious to do one either. And there was no agreement in place as the only work we were doing for USAID was the polling program. Nonetheless, USAID was ultimately prepared to “move heaven and earth” to meet the Ambassador’s wish as they told me, and allocated a small amount of Economic Support Funds to support a new “follow” agreement for an Election Observation Mission. A Request For Proposals was issued to CEPPS, but it was written on a basis that excluded NDI as conflicted out due to its work with the political parties and IFES was conflicted out based on its work with the Electoral Commission of Kenya, so that IRI was the only available CEPPS entity to conduct the Observation Mission.

We conducted the Election Observation Mission and the Exit Poll, and reported on them to USAID, without being entangled with the separate work that IFES was doing with the Election Commission (ECK). I did not know any inside details of the ECK’s decision not to use the laptop computers purchased for them by USAID through IFES to do Results Transmission; likewise, no one at IFES (or NDI) had input or involvement in the Exit Poll or International Election Observation.

For the 2013 election, however, USAID’s FOIA response discussed in my previous post shows that the package of election assistance from early 2011 was bundled together in one “follow” agreement with CEPPS including the embedded technical support from IFES, including advice on the BVR and Poll Book acquisitions and the acquisition and development of the Results Transmission System handled by IFES, party and domestic observation support handled by NDI (too much is redacted to be specific on this part of the work) and voter education handled by IRI.

Appropriately, the International Election Observation Mission was funded separately through the Carter Center (and there is nothing about that in my FOIA request).

In 2017, the consolidated approach was ramped up a notch. USAID issued a published invitation for proposals (a good step for transparency and development of fresh thinking) but they wanted one entity to be in overall management of the work. Thus when they selected a team of IFES, NDI and IRI along the lines of 2013, IFES was in a supervisory position for the work, which this time included an International Observation Mission by NDI along with NDI’s domestic observation support and other normal work.

As it turns out, NDI’s International Observation took place and did preliminary reporting (as well as a pre-election assessment) but never issued a final report. At some point before the election USAID accepted an unsolicited proposal from the Carter Center to do an International Observation Mission separate from NDI’s work under the overall IFES-led Kenya Election Assistance Program. This was the delegation led by former Secretary of State John Kerry who had been in office during the 2013 election.

This is all more confusing and opaque than it needs to be! Aside from the inevitable conflicts associated with “observing” your own work and with maintaining trust where you know of critical risks and problems that your recipient government partners” are choosing not to disclose to their own public.

Malawi 2019 Election – with Court annulment, a look back at USAID’s version of post election “Lessons Learned”

Update: the latest on the annulment of the election from Quartz Africa. And from The Guardian: “Malawi court annuls 2019 election results and calls for new vote.”

Here is what USAID has had to say as of June 27, 2019 on “Lessons From Malawi’s 2019 Elections”:

. . . .

In part due to considerable programmatic support – including USAID assistance – monitors observed commendable improvements in the MEC’s electoral preparation, voting process and results transmission system compared to previous elections.  Notably, as shown above, the MEC’s final result closely tracked with the USAID-supported non-partisan parallel vote tabulation, implemented by the Malawi Election Support Network (MESN) and National Democratic Institute (NDI).  

In addition, despite pre-electoral intimidation and violence against female candidates, 44 of Malawi’s 193 new parliamentarians are women, up from just 32 in 2014. 

Nevertheless, many voters have raised questions about the integrity of the process and Malawian opposition parties have petitioned to the courts to annul the results. While USAID/Malawi’s Democracy, Rights and Governance (DRG) team played a significant role in supporting the MEC to deliver a credible election, as well as civil society’s oversight of the process, more work remains to be done. USAID will continue to provide post election support, through NDI and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), to build confidence in Malawi’s political processes and improve citizen-state relations.

 

USAID Supported a Stronger Electoral Process…

 

In 2018, USAID joined DFID, European Union, Norway, Irish Aid, and UNDP by investing $1 million in the UNDP’s “Election Basket Fund,” which was established to pool international donor resources in support of the MEC’s election strategy, preparation, management, and tabulation. UNDP led the donor community in helping the MEC with critical institutional reforms and electoral preparations, registered 6.8 million voters through newly-issued biometric ID cards, engaged with political parties in preparation for the elections, supported women’s participation in the electoral process, strengthened the capacity of the Malawi Police Services to mitigate electoral violence, and supported election-day logistics and results transmission.

To complement the UNDP Basket Fund efforts, USAID and DFID jointly provided $4 million to the National Democratic Institute(link is external) (NDI) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems(link is external)(IFES) to improve civil society and political party oversight and engagement. NDI and its partner MESN coordinated with the MEC on civic and voter education initiatives and mobilized long term observers.  Working with with Democracy Works Foundation, MISA Malawi and broad group of local actors, NDI produced three televised presidential debates and trained political party monitors for election day oversight.

Given the highly competitive race for president, strengthening citizen confidence in the results management process was critical.  On election day, MESN and NDI deployed over 900 observers to monitor all day and conduct a parallel vote tabulation to try to give Malawians greater confidence that the tally of ballots was transparent and accurate. NDI’s partner Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi tracked and reported on media bias and established a fact-checker to combat fake news(link is external) on social media.

IFES helped the MEC to train judges on electoral dispute resolution, established an online election Early Warning/Early Response (EWER)(link is external) system to track and mitigate electoral violence, and  provided technical assistance on strategic communications in the lead-up to the elections, and throughout the voting and tabulation processes. 

In addition to these measures, USAID’s DRG team coordinated the US Government observer effort on election day. More than 80 observers from the US, UK, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Canada travelled together to visit polling and tabulation stations in 13 of Malawi’s 28 districts and submitted 240 observer reports.

But Challenges Remain …

. . . .

Through these and other efforts, the MEC and electoral stakeholders addressed many critical challenges from the 2014 election.  While observers noted a few logistical and organizational problems in some of the more than 5000 polling stations throughout Malawi, the consensus of the observer missions are reflected in the African Union’s Election Observer Mission preliminary statement, which concludes that:

 …the 2019 Tripartite Elections have provided Malawians with the opportunity to choose their leaders at various layers of government in accordance with the legal framework for elections in Malawi, and in accordance with the principles espoused in the various instruments of the AU. The elections took place in a peaceful environment and at the time of this statement, the mission had not notes any serious concerns with the process, either witnessed or observed.

Despite these efforts and a generally well conducted election, the public reaction post-election has been largely negative highlighting remaining gaps as well as a concerning level of mistrust between the public towards its democratic institutions and political actors.  Neither improved electoral transparency and preparations, election-day operations nor an independent PVT has assuaged the public’s concerns over election rigging.  Since the results were announced, Malawi has seen continued protests – some marred by violence – calling for the annulment of the results and resignation of MEC Commissioners.  Once again Malawi’s electoral outcome is in the hands of the courts.  

Implications for Future

Clearly, we need to do additional work to support both Malawi’s election management and to increase the citizenry’s trust in democratic institutions.  The trust issue is critical.  Afrobarometer’s recent study(link is external) underscores these issues in its June 2019 paper that shows that in 2017 only 57% of Malawians “agree” or “agree very strongly” that leaders should be chosen through regular, open, and honest elections. This means out of 34 African countries surveyed, Malawi’s trust in democratic systems is 3rd from the bottom – a concerning position for a democracy that has just completed its sixth election.

 

I hope this can be an occasion for a deeper and more open discussion about the learning opportunities than has happened from the problems over the years in Kenya.

Like George W. Bush in 2007, Donald Trump is more popular in Kenya than he is at home

While Donald Trump is not as unpopular in the United States right now as George W. Bush was during the time of my service as East Africa Resident Director for the International Republican Institute in Nairobi, Trump is more popular in Kenya than at home, as Bush was then (Bush was conspicuously popular in the early aftermath of 9-11, won re-election in 2004 and was not highly unpopular until on into his second term; Trump is steadily, but not extremely unpopular in terms of raw approval numbers, per his apparent strategy tied to our Electoral College system, although a slight overall majority would like the Senate to remove him from office in the current impeachment trial).

See: Trump Ratings Remain Low Around Globe, While Views of US Stay Mostly Favorable; Trump foreign policies receive little support” from the Pew Center for Research.

Update: At the same time, we have to note a similar situation with China’s Xi Jinping:

Publics in most of the countries surveyed lack confidence in Xi Jinping. His highest ratings come mostly from countries in Africa and the Middle East, including 61% in Nigeria, 58% in Kenya, 52% in South Africa, 44% in Tunisia and 41% in Lebanon. Filipinos and Russians generally voice confidence in the Chinese president as well.

Some thoughts:

1) the United States has been generally popular in Kenya in part because we have kept closely linked in our policy positions at the Government to Government level while also getting credit for moral support for “the Second Liberation” once the Cold War ended. We have shown a level of diplomatic finesse at a “10,000 foot level” in achieving what we have wanted from the relationship. There are always issues and problems, such as overhang from the perception that we tried to sell a bad election in 2017 and have been too supportive of the Jubilee Administration in the context of bad economic performance, but we manage.

2) the bottom line. We spend a greatly disproportionate amount of foreign assistance dollars in Kenya relative to poorer, less advantaged countries within Africa in the context of poverty relief. We do a lot to help alleviate some of the worst consequences of extreme inequality, corruption and bad policy priorities from Kenya’s governments. Some of this is for obvious foreign policy reasons as part of our diplomacy, some of it is because people prefer to live in Nairobi to Blantyre, say. Some of it is because as a more developed country with a well educated albeit small middle class and some real infrastructure, along with a lot of poverty and other challenges, Kenya is one of the most logistically easy places to do a lot of things within the “assistance” field.

As a brutal example of the role of US assistance in providing for basic needs that Kenya’s government is unwilling to meet, see Max Bearak in the Washington Post: Kenya’s blood banks go dry after US ended aid.

3) Trump solves a couple of things that were tricky for President Obama during his time: because he has not visited Kenya himself and has no obvious personal connection to the region beyond the ubiquitous “friends trying to get rich” he is more generically “American” as opposed to the son of a “Luo tribesman” as propagandists in the US described Obama. Obama faced certain misunderstandings and disappointed expectations, and maybe overcompensated in certain areas. On the “culture war” issues, Trump has returned on abortion to the strong “no” position under Bush and then some, and seems to calibrate mixed messages on sexual minorities rights which was a particular area where my sense is that Obama unsuccessfully “spent” some personal political capital in Kenya in his second term. Trump has emphasized in his campaigns and general messaging his relationships with Americans who are involved with these issues in Kenya such as his impeachment defense counsel Jay Sekulow of the East African Centre for Law and Justice. See “American Center for Law and Justice opens Nairobi branch, campaigning against draft Constitution” from May 2010.

4) Trump has tried numerous times to make large, draconian cuts in foreign assistance, but he has failed in Congress (and Kenya has not experienced any extraordinary and arguably illegal blocks like Ukraine did earlier this year) but all this is “inside baseball”–as long as the money comes the President gets credit symbolically.

5) The Trump Administration has promoted a high degree of personal Trump-Kenyatta interaction both in Washington and at the G-7 and other non-African venues. Kenyatta is very wealthy and comes from family wealth like Trump, and similarly graduated from an private American Northeastern college. Kenyatta is no Zelensky, left to twist for a meeting. Kenyatta may not be exceptionally popular as an individual right now in Kenya, but the obvious benefits to Trump’s image in the minds of Kenyans are not dependent on that kind of specifics.

6) Without getting too “deep in the weeds” I think Trump got a break and the US has benefited from having former Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter as Trump’s political appointment for Ambassador. Having a career civil servant and experienced diplomat in the position would lead to Trump keeping his distance presumably, but McCarter has little in common with Trump in background, style or personality (nor are his politics as a former elected official from the “Tea Party” wing of the Republican Party all that much like Trump’s unless he has changed his mind about quite a few things). At the same time, his missionary background and status with Trump and the GOP and other organizations give him entre beyond conventional diplomacy. So arguably McCarter is in a unique role to broker between Washington and Kenya and not typical of the type of political appointments we have seen from Trump in other Embassies.

Kenya-USA Bilateral Trade Talks: Ambassador McCarter confirms “cat is out of the bag” on Bloomberg scoop on negotiations for Free Trade Agreement

U.S., Kenya to start trade talks seen as template for Africa

Key takeaway is that Bloomberg reports that trade talks have been underway between the United States and Kenya, with the Kenyan officials confirming progress and the US expecting to publicize status in conjunction with Uhuru Kenyatta visit to Washington next week.

The East African nation’s cabinet will probably approve discussions with the U.S. this week, Kamau [Permanent Secretary] said.

Kenya is America’s 11th largest trading partner on the continent and the sixth biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, with total trade between the two countries at $1.17 billion in 2018.

The U.S. currently has one free-trade agreement on the African continent — with Morocco. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy said in August that the nation was pursuing a trade deal with an unidentified country in sub-Saharan Africa, adding that it would be used as a model for others when AGOA expires.

The Trump Administration wants to use an agreement with Kenya as a template for other bilateral agreements in region, as opposed to the African Union’s expressed preference for a multilateral pact in the context of the new African Continental Free Trade Area. It is also somewhat unclear as to how this would integrate with the longstanding US support for the federation process among the members of the East African Community.

Update:

Uganda: Retiring US Ambassador “stings Museveni for overstaying in power” but emphasizes support for Uganda’s role n regional stability

Outgoing US Ambassador Malec stings Museveni on overstaying in power as she bids farewell Nile Post, Jan 23:

The outgoing US Ambassador Deborah Malac, has aimed a dig at President Museveni and his NRM government for staying long in power saying it might lead to problems in the future.

Having served in Uganda for four years, Malac will late this month leave the country as US Ambassador but also retire to private work after spending 39 years doing US public service, mainly in Africa.

Speaking at her last press briefing on Thursday, Malac said the long stay in power and failure to have a peaceful transition will at one time lead to problems for the country.

. . . .

Speaking on Thursday, Malac however said because Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence people have a number of concerns over the same.

“I know it becomes difficult in countries like Uganda to talk about succession and transition and not sound political in the sense that you must be against or for a particular group but the issue is figuring out the other voices so they are heard and issues discussed,” she said.

The outgoing US Ambassador who has been in Uganda for four years, has been very vocal on issues of human rights and democracy and has on several occasions been accused of interfering in local politics after being viewed as being pro-opposition but speaking about the same, she said she does not care about what many think of her.

. . . .

Uganda remains a cornerstone of stability in the region says outgoing US Ambassador MalacNile Post, Jan 24:

. . . .

In 2007, Uganda was the first country to deploy troops in Somalia under the AMISOM and turned around what had for long been termed as a “mission dead on arrival.”

The Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector One in Benadir,(has 16 districts) Banadir, and Lower Shabelle regions having pushed Al Shabaab militants for over 200km away from Mogadishu city for normalcy to return to the capital where the militants roamed freely.

. . . .

She said that in her time, the US has supported the training, equipping and deployment of nearly 25000 Uganda military personnel to Somalia to help in improving regional security and stability.

Uganda has been at the forefront of fighting Allied Democratic Forces that have made life difficult in the volatile Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where they roam freely and have killed thousands of locals.

Uganda has also played an important role in brokering peace in the continent’s newest country, South Sudan.

. . . .

The Kampala government has also been influential in ensuring peace in Burundi and Central African Republic.

The outgoing US Ambassador said her government will continue supporting Uganda’s efforts to ensure stability in the region.

. . . .

See also “US Ambassador bids Museveni farewell“, Daily Monitor, Jan 17.

Uganda campaign flyer on tree says vote NRM Yoweri Museveni for peace, unity and transformation for prosperity