Log rhythms on the Nile

In May 2008 my family spent two weeks traveling around Uganda after finishing my time as Resident Director for East Africa at IRI before I was due to back at my “day job” as a lawyer at home in the U.S. This photo is of our children at a “backpacker resort” on the Nile.

It was a bright change of pace after the failed December election and post election violence in Kenya and associated drama I have been writing about here. The sort of thing I can wish for anyone after the present pandemic.

Here is a 2012 New York Times article datelined Hairy Lemon Island where we stayed about this area of the Nile and the changes in the wake of the Bujugali Falls dam project, completed after our time there.

Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed

[See follow up post from Feb. 24, 2020 here: “Please note that Hargeisa, Somaliland in mid-2008 was safer and less repressive than Addis or Khartoum (re that Pete Buttigieg vacation trip“]

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate for president, is current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in the Great Lakes region and known primarily as the home of Notre Dame University. Notre Dame is famous here in the American South as one of the traditional Northern powers in American college football and for a period of years in the last century a rival to the University of Alabama.

In 2008 “Mayor Pete” was back in the United States as a McKinsey Consulting “whiz kid” based from the Chicago office after his Rhodes Scholarship at England’s Oxford University and had joined the Washington-based Truman National Security Project, but had not yet become an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. In other words, he was taking a normal prep course to run for president. His membership in the Truman Project distinguishes him as a Democrat.

In July 2008, Buttigieg and Nathaniel Myers, identified as a “political analyst” in Ethiopia, had published in the New York Times an op-ed under the understated headline “Tourists in Somaliland“. I have no clear idea why. The substance of the article is not about tourism but rather the argument that the United States was failing to adequately support Somaliland and should initiate formal recognition, but with very little real detail or heft. Myers was working as a World Bank consultant in Ethiopia at the time according to his a bio online at the Carnegie Endowment where he worked until recently. Myers also published two op-ed pieces in 2010 in Foreign Policy on the authoritarianism of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia and analogizing Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea”. My involvement in East Africa has been as a democracy advocate so I agree with the sentiments of Myers’s writings, even if I don’t think the “Tourists” piece with Buttigieg was really on point.

Where the “Tourists in Somaliland” piece misses the mark is failing to notice that USAID was supporting Somaliland, albeit in a constrained and unusual way. I am particularly aware of this because in the fall of 2007, as the resident director for East Africa based in Nairobi at the International Republican Institute, I was asked by IRI management to extend my unpaid leave from the law department at Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor, to stay past my scheduled January 2008 return to the States following Kenya’s December 2007 elections because of our new increased work for Somaliland. In particular we were tasked unexpectedly by USAID to open an office in Hargeisa and Somaliland parliamentary elections were scheduled for April 2008.

Northrop Grumman generously agreed to give me additional “public service leave” through June 1 so long as I promised to definitely be back at that time. As it turned out the April 2008 parliamentary elections were postponed, and sadly have faced serial postponements since, with the latest being challenged in court now. Somaliland presidential elections have continued successfully, however.

In the picture below I am visiting with the leadership of the Kulmiye Party on behalf of our USAID-funded IRI program in March 2008. Chairman “Silyano” is to the far right and I am next to him. Silanyo served as President of Somaliland from 2010-2017.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

As late at least as mid-2008, US Government civilians and direct contractors were not allowed to travel to Somaliland, which is perhaps one of the reasons USAID was keen for us at IRI to ramp up and open an office. Later Buttigieg did work visits to Iraq and Afghanistan under contract to an unidentified US department. As an employee or partner at McKinsey as a US Government contractor Buttigieg would not have been able to go to Somaliland on business under ordinary circumstances to the best of my understanding. As employees of a Government-funded NGO working under a Cooperative Agreement with USAID rather than a contract we at IRI were not subject to that restriction.

During our Election Observation Mission for the ill-fated Kenyan December 2007 election, we brought a group of observers from Somaliland under the Somaliland program. This was a successful endeavor for that program although their return was slightly delayed by the violence triggered by the Kenyan election fraud (see my piece “The Debacle of 2007” in The Elephant). Somaliland has continued to have peaceful presidential elections with incumbent parties accepting narrow defeats at the polls twice, including with Silanyo’s accession in 2010.

I am not sure whether Somaliland has been better off or worse off over theses intervening years for not being formally recognized. I have always agreed sentimentally with the desire that the Somalilander’s achievement of defacto independence be “blessed” legally even if I did not consider it “my place” to be an advocate on that specific issue.

One primary issue is the unsettled territory in the borderlands between Somalia’s Puntland state and Somaliland. See the latest in a new report from the Institute for Strategic Studies: “Overlapping Claims by Somaliland and Puntland: the case of Sool and Sonaag.” One of the key events in the history discussed was the takeover by Somaliland of Las Anod after the defection of Ahmed Abdi Haabsade, former Puntland Defense Minister in November 2007, whom I met when he arrived in Hargeisa.

As fate would have it a month before Mayor Pete’s op-ed on Somaliland ran in The New York Times on July 31, 2008 a Times investigative reporter contacted me at my office in Mississippi about the unreleased IRI exit poll showing an opposition win against Kibaki in that election in Kenya. I gave the interview and initial follow-up that contributed my input into the investigation that the Times eventually reported on on the front page, after the Obama inauguration, on January 30, 2009: “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll.

Expect US Africa policy to be led from Pentagon rather than State Department or White House, in near term if not for the next four years [updated]

(https://flic.kr/p/6fgHxc)

The President himself has never been to Africa and has shown no particular interest or inclination toward engagement on any of the various issues on his plate regarding the United States’ activities in and relationships with African countries.

In some respects this suggests a level of continuity through inertia that is unavailable in those areas to which Trump has some personal connection or exposure through his business organization or personal relationships (Russia on one hand and Mexico on the other, for instance).

Trump seems to be networked into the Safari Club and is politically very much indebted to Franklin Graham (the  American evangelist/missionary who has been especially engaged in Sudan and otherwise in Africa) but I don’t think that this will put much claim on Trump’s attention, as he already ordered a cutoff in U.S. funding to organizations that separately have connections to programs touching on abortion (a significantly broadened approach to the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations’ rules) as an early low cost “deliverable” to “pro-life” supporters on an issue he doesn’t personally have any particular feelings or opinions on. [Graham does not make specific candidate campaign endorsements–my perception of his influence for Trump is subjective from my vantage point as a white Southern American Protestant, who has been involved in congregational mission efforts that include support for one of Graham’s programs.]

Trump did not get where he is by building a reputation for paying his debts (any more than for forgiving his debtors), so I will be surprised, pleasantly, if Graham were to influence Trump on non-abortion related health issues that involved spending rather than cutting, like famine relief or other things that had some political purchase under “compassionate conservatism” in Africa during the G.W. Bush administration.

Trump is pretty clearly anti-conservation domestically and probably disinclined to have anything much to do with things involving wildlife or the environment in Africa other than to reduce funding for any direct or international programming in these areas, Safari Club notwithstanding.  Generally speaking my big game hunter friends are more concerned about wealth accumulation and tax cutting–Trump’s policies will leave them net ahead even with a likely loss of habit and species diversity (and better situated to buy private reserves).  Along with the expected big overall aid cuts, I would speculate that  conservation programs may be especially attractive targets to “zero out” to give Congress political bragging rights for some program “kills”.

So outside the military and Department of Defense we will probably see Trump to be as slow to fill key policy positions on Africa as Obama was, but with more turnover in the next tiers of the bureaucracy.

Because the Defense Department has already been the big repository of funding to maintain policy expertise in the U.S. on Africa (as elsewhere) during the Bush/Obama years, as funds and political bandwidth are reduced in other areas, we will be more dependent on those functions under the portfolio of Secretary Gen. Mattis at the Pentagon.  It is very fortunate that he stands out as unusually well-qualified and genuinely respected.

In the event any of the major players in the hospitality/tourism/”conferencing” business–say the Kenyatta family of Kenya–were to entice the Trump Organization into their market, certainly that would be expected to profoundly change everything I have observed here.

In that regard, perhaps we will see “The Scramble for Trump” as a new frame for engagement in the post-development era.

As tourism yields to terrorism, Kenyan government moves to pay Anglo Leasing “ghost companies” for security deals that never materialized, to clear way for more borrowing

Yesterday it was two explosions in the Nairobi’s crowded Gikomba market, one reportedly on a bus and another in a stall. Perhaps a dozen killed and 70 injured.

Two British companies loaded up roughly 400 tourists in Mombasa and flew them home early. U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec told the Associated Press that the American Embassy has increased security measures–more security personnel are being brought in and other staff reduced.

Since the Westgate attack in September, there have been a dozen of these bombings.

In the meantime, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta had directed to pay almost 💲17M to two sketchy entities for claims for financing bogus security acquisition contracts in the Anglo Leasing scam uncovered by John Githongo. After Githongo’s whistleblowing Kenyatta himself as leader of KANU as the official opposition identified the claims as bogus. Kenyatta now claims that the Attorney General dropped the ball and allowed these entities to successfully sue and take judgements in court in the UK. He has directed that payment be made to clear Kenya’s credit to undertake large new borrowings on through the “Eurobond” market. The Law Society of Kenya says that the Government is lying and did not lose in court but rather agreed to pay.

The UK and US criticized the corruption of Anglo Leasing back when it was revealed in 2005-06. Neither the whistleblowing, nor many millions of dollars spent on alleged “good governance” programs seem to have deflected the ultimate success of the scam. . . .

Good News: Kenya busts unlicensed tourist camps in Maasai Mara

The Government of Kenya has acted to shut down 13 of the unlicensed camps in the Maasai Mara, reports the Business Daily:

This follows an inspection of the reserve last month that established that 80 per cent of the 115 properties are licensed.

Thirteen were operating illegally while others are either being constructed or have been closed for renovation.

“These properties are denying the government revenue and tough action has to taken,” said Tourism minister Najib Balala as he presented the findings of the inspection team.

It was also established that poor governance by group ranches and conservancies, especially in land sub-divisions, had led to a high concentration of facilities in the Koiyiaka and Siana areas.

Most of the affected facilities were tented camps in Siana.

The report also noted that an advertisement put out in the media warning property owners of the impending inspection led to a rush for licences.