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

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.