Bechtel Mombasa-Nairobi Expressway project background

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

For background:

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

Nairobi-Mombasa expressway funds stalled 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Livondo Tosha”? Akasha Brothers sentencing memo has “interesting” discussion about Stanley Livondo, Kibaki/PNU candidate to unseat Raila in Langata in ill-fated 2007 election

“Livondo Tosha”/”Make Peace” in Kibera, early 2008:

Kenya Kibera Post Election Violence Livondo Tosha Keep Peace

From the U.S. Attorney’s Memorandum to the U.S. District Court for the sentencing hearing for Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha, filed back on July 25. (Yesterday Baktash was sentenced to twenty five years, and The Star published a downloadable copy of the Memorandum. ) At page 23:

D. The Akashas’ Armed Confrontation with Stanley Livondo
Tensions escalated in the weeks after Ibrahim kidnapped Armstrong. Baktash began to receive threatening calls and text messages from a local politician associated with Armstrong— Stanley Livondo. Soon after, Livondo confronted Baktash at a shopping mall, and the two began to fight. Ibrahim intervened, drew his gun, and threatened to kill Livondo. The sight of Ibrahim’s gun caused panic in the shopping mall, and so Baktash, Ibrahim, Goswami, and Baktash’s bodyguard quickly fled. Before heading to the police station to ensure—with bribes—that there was no fallout from the incident, Baktash, Ibrahim, and Baktash’s bodyguard stashed their guns with Goswami. They retrieved the weapons later that day.

Armstrong as described in the Memorandum manufactured drugs in Congo and elsewhere and brought them into Kenya. He got into a relationship with the Akashas in this context from which he wanted out, leading to his kidnapping as discussed, and the threats to Baktash Akasha from Stanley Livondo.

Livondo was the candidate of Kibaki’s PNU in the December 2007 elections in Raila Odinga’s Langata Constituency who Amb. Ranneberger told me on December 15, 2007 “people were saying” might unseat Raila, which would disqualify Odinga for the presidency even if he beat Kibaki nationally in the presidential race.

See my discussion here from my post of July 2011, “Lessons from 2007 and new FOIA cables–Part Two”:

So on Saturday afternoon, December 15, 2007, I drove to the embassy residence in Muthaiga and was served tea . . .

. . . .

Ranneberger did let me know that he knew what Bellamy [his predecessor as U.S. Ambassador, Mark Bellamy] had been told as to why he had been dropped from the [International Republican Institute election observation] delegation.  In other words, he was letting me know, without taking responsibility for the situation himself, that he knew that “we” at IRI had lied to Bellamy.  This may not have put us in the best position to hold the “no more b.s.” line with Ranneberger going forward.   He didn’t say how he knew about the “story line” to Bellamy and I have no idea myself.  IRI was in a difficult situation not of our making on the Bellamy situation–would we cancel the Election Observation (as the only international NGO scheduled to observe, and raise lots of questions we couldn’t very well answer) or let the Ambassador interfere with the delegation? Regardless, once the directive from the top was given to lie to Bellamy about why he was off the list, IRI no longer had completely clean hands.

There are a variety of things from the more substantive part of the discussion that leave open questions in my mind now after what ultimately happened with the ECK and the election.  One in particular that stands out now in light of the FOIA disclosure.

The Ambassador told me that Saturday that “people are saying” that Raila Odinga, as the leading opposition candidate for president, ahead in the polls as the vote was nearing, might lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency (which under the existing system would disqualify him from becoming president even if he got the most votes nationally).  This was “out of the blue” for me because I certainly was not aware of anyone who thought that.  Odinga’s PNU opponent Stanley Livando had made a big splash and spent substantial money when he first announced, but he had not seemed to get obvious traction in the race.  Naturally, I wondered who the “people” Ranneberger was referring to were.  Ranneberger said that a Raila loss in Langata would be “explosive” and that he wanted to take Ms. Newman with him to observe voting there on election day.

Ranneberger also went on to say that he wanted to take Ms. Newman [lobbyist and former Asst. Sec. of State Constance Berry Newman, IRI’s lead delegate for our International Election Observation Mission at Ranneberger’s impetus, and his “great friend and mentor” and now lobbying associate at the firm Gainful Solutions] separately to meet with Kibaki’s State House advisor Stanley Murage on the day before the [Dec. 27] election with no explanation offered as to why.

After midnight Nairobi time I had a telephone call with the Africa director and the vice presidents in charge at IRI in Washington in the president’s absence.  I was given the option to “pull the plug” on the observation mission based on the concerns about Ranneberger’s approach following my meeting with him.   The Ambassador, rather than either IRI or USAID, had initiated the observation mission in the first place, and IRI was heavily occupied with other observations.  Nonetheless, based on assurances that Ms. Newman would be fully briefed on our agreement that she needed to steer clear of separate interaction with the Ambassador and that the Murage meeting must not happen, and my belief that it would be an “incident” in its own right to cancel the observation, we agreed to go forward with precautions.

I got the idea of commissioning a separate last-minute poll of the Langata parliamentary race.  I thought that the notion that Livondo might beat Raila in Langata seemed far fetched, but objective data from before the vote could prove important.  We hired the Steadman polling firm for this job, to spread the work.  Also Strategic was already heavily occupied with preparing for the exit poll, and  Steadman was the firm that Ranneberger had instructed his staff to call (too late as it happened) to quash the release of poll results that he knew  would show Raila leading back in October, so I thought that it was that much more likely that word would get back. Further, in the partisan sniping which I generally did not credit, Steadman was claimed by some in opposition to be more aligned with Kibaki so would be extra-credible to verify this race.  I also made sure that we scheduled an “oversample” for Langata for the national exit poll so that we would have a statistically valid measure of the actual election day results in the parliamentary race.

On to the new FOIA release:  On Tuesday, December 18, Ranneberger sent another cable to the Secretary of State entitled “Kenya Elections:  State of Play on Election”.  This cable says nothing about the “explosive” Langata parliamentary race issue that Ranneberger had raised with me on Saturday, three days earlier.  It concludes:  “Given the closeness of the election contest, the perceived legitimacy of the election outcome could determine whether the losing side accepts the results with minimal disturbances.  Our staff’s commendable response to the call for volunteers over the Christmas holiday allows us to deploy teams to all sections of the country, providing a representative view of the vote as a whole.  In addition, our decision to host the joint observation control room will provide much greater access to real-time information; allowing a more comprehensive analysis of the election process.”

Next, we have a cable from Christmas Eve, December 24, three days before the election.  The first thing that morning the IRI observation delegates were briefed on the election by a key Ranneberger aide.  I told him then that we had commissioned the separate Langata poll.  He said that the Ambassador would be very interested, and I agreed to bring results with me to the embassy residence that evening when the Ambassador hosted a reception for the delegation.  The results showed Odinga winning by more than two-to-one.

There are a number of noteworthy items that I will discuss later from this cable, but for today, let me note that  Ranneberger has added in this cable a discussion of the Langata race:

“11.  We have credible reports that some within the Kibaki camp could be trying to orchestrate a defeat of Odinga in his constituency of Langata, which includes the huge slum of Kibera.  This could involve some combination of causing disorder in order to disenfranchise some of his supporters and/or bringing in double-registered Kikuyu supporters of the PNU’s candidate from outside.  To be elected President a candidate must fulfill three conditions:  have a plurality of the popular vote; have at least 25 percent in 5 of the 8 provinces; and be an elected member of Parliament.  Thus, defeat of Odinga in his constituency is a tempting silver bullet.  The Ambassador, as well as the UK and German Ambassadors, will observe in the Langata constituency.  If Odinga were to lose Langata, Kibaki would become President if he has the next highest vote total and 25 percent in 5 provinces (both candidates will likely meet the 25 percent rule).

12.  The outside chance that widespread fraud in the election process could force us to call into question the result would be enormously damaging to U.S. interests.  We hold Kenya up as a democratic model not only for the continent, but for the developing world, and we have a vast partnership with this country on key issues ranging from efforts against HIV/AIDS, to collaboration on Somalia and Sudan, to priority anti-terrorism activities.

.  .  .

14.  As long as the electoral process is credible, the U.S.-Kenyan partnership will continue to grow and serve mutual interests regardless of who is elected.   While Kibaki has a proven track record with us, Odinga is also a friend of the U.S. . . .

15.  It is likely that the winner will schedule a quick inauguration (consistent with past practice) to bless the result and, potentially, to forestall any serious challenge to the results.  There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable.  The courts are both inefficient and corrupt.  Pronouncements by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission and observers, particularly from the U.S., will therefore have be [sic] crucial in helping shape the judgment of the Kenyan people.  With an 87% approval rating in Kenya, our statements are closely watched and respected.  I feel that we are well -prepared to meet this large responsibility and, in the process, to advance U.S. interests.”  END

None of this material was mentioned in the briefing to the observation delegation or to me that day.  Long after the election, the Standard newspaper reported that the original plan of the Kibaki camp had been to rig the Langata parliamentary race, but at the last minute a switch was made to change the votes at the central tally, supposedly on the basis of the strength of early returns for Odinga in Western and Rift Valley provinces.

To be continued .  .  .  .

For my entire series of posts from 2011-2012 see my page “The Story of the 2007 Election Through FOIA“. And my summary story in The Elephant: “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen With U.S. Connivance“.

Langata Ballot Specimens showing Kibaki versus Odinga for President and Livondo versus Odinga for Member of Parliament:

Is Washington finally losing patience with governance by UhuRuto? If so, what is seen as “the way forward”?

I touched a few bases while briefly in Washington recently. I was left with the impression of general “benign neglect” on Kenya, which would be expected given the overwhelming number of more immediate crisis situations around East Africa, such as the South Sudan “civil war/state failure” situation, escalating tensions between the Kagame and Museveni regimes, the uncontained Ebola crisis, etc. And always the war in Somalia.

Nonetheless, there are those who work or engage with Kenya more specifically on a less seasonal basis who will unavoidably have noticed how badly the Government of Kenya has been underperforming just as a factual matter regardless of the diplomatic angles of the day.

All this is to lay the groundwork for my great interest in a couple of news items today:

1). First was the report that Ambassador McCarter had said in Kisimu that the U.S. was putting on hold financing for the Bechtel Mombasa-Nairobi expressway due to concerns about corruption risk and debt levels escalating costs such that the intended value to the Kenyan people was not delivered. Here is the version from “Kenyans.co.ke” which has been running a bunch of pieces bringing up events from political inflection points from years past with no specific explanation of the timing, such as the piece I posted about last week taken off from my June 2017 piece in The Elephant on “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics was Frozen and a Election Stolen with U.S. Connivance“.

As a private American “friend of Kenya” and taxpayer I am quite gratified by this willingness to change policy to address current “facts on the ground” and to actually “walk the talk” on “anti-corruption” even if it involves possibly giving up a big subsidized project for a very big well-connected private business owned by a group of Americans.

I have been concerned about this project for the reasons identified by the Ambassador but have not wanted to say much without being close enough to have details and not wanting to be seen as an inveterate naysayer or unduly skeptical about things where I am not that well informed.

Maybe Ambassador McCarter can end up being a “breath of fresh air” and is actually serious in his talk of zero tolerance for corruption in a way that would be different from the ordinary diplomacy where we run hot-and-cold at best. If no one explained to him as a political appointee from outside Washington that “zero” among diplomats ends up as shorthand for a wide range of dollar values in varying circumstances explained in the addendums and codicils, as opposed to just “zero” as it might mean to a businessman in downstate Illinois, then maybe Kenyan cartel leaders need to be worried a bit after all?

And if people in Washington have their hands full or are not focused on the immediate situation in Kenya, and with what we read about how national security policy management is working in Washington these days, it may well be that McCarter has that much greater practical latitude “on the ground”? Likewise, usually an Ambassador in Kenya will have the potential distraction of career considerations not dissimilar to people working in the government in Washington; this would not seem to be a challenge for McCarter. (And maybe he isn’t looking to be a lobbyist for a neighboring warlord in a black hat, and an oil and gas consultant and an investor-broker in USAID-funded health business, for instance.)

There are obvious sociocultural and political barriers to how McCarter will be perceived in Washington and among Americans who typically engage with foreign policy on Kenya or are “Kenyanists” or “Africanists” with focus on Kenya, but open minds are warranted. And maybe that works both directions.

Part of what is so striking here is how much Uhuru Kenyatta has in the past seemed to be arguably “Donald Trump’s signature African leader”–not so much that they are seen to really know each other or have some personal rapport, but rather that in the face of general lack of signs of personal interest in Africa from Trump we still have Uhuru at least included in meetings and doing photo ops with Trump in Europe, Canada and Washington, if not yet Mar-a-Lago, during the first two years of the Administration. Even though he was such a favorite of some in the Bush-Obama years.

So surely putting the Bechtel deal on hold suggests that there is finally heightened willingness to openly acknowledge that governance is simply not now what it was cracked up to be from our previous public diplomacy in recent years.

2) Next is Macharia Gaitho in the Daily Nation publishing today’s column: “Either rebels in Jubilee ranks join opposition, or Uhuru steps down” calling out Jubilee’s divide:

The politicians who contrive to insert his name [Deputy President Ruto’s] into every issue do the DP no favours at all. It does not help his image or his 2022 presidential election prospects when his name is used to fly cover for disreputable leaders caught on the wrong side of the law.

. . . .

As an elected member in his own right, a Majority Leader [Sen. Kipchumba Murkomen] does owe a duty to his constituents. Where conflicted, however, he could consult internally within the government and party organs.If his concerns are not adequately addressed, then the honourable thing would be to relinquish the Majority Leader role so that he can, in good conscience, speak out for his people both inside and outside Parliament.

As it is, what we are seeing from Mr Murkomen’s now frequent outbursts are the hallmark of rebellion. This is rebellion not from one disaffected individual, but a powerful Ruto faction in Jubilee that is unhappy with the path pursued by President Kenyatta.

Jubilee cannot govern effectively when it has such a powerful opposition within; hence the rudderless, dysfunctional government seemingly sabotaging its own efforts.

This is not a healthy situation. Maybe, it would be best for Mr Ruto and his cohorts to resign and go officially into opposition or for President Kenyatta to throw up his hands in surrender and leave the burden of leadership to those more able.

Now I don’t know and haven’t asked, but there have been recent times when Gaitho has seemed to be carrying a message, such as the time when he explained that Raila’s fellowship at Yale was intended to be a perk to ease into a honorable retirement, not a springboard to run yet again in 2017. Different Kenyan columnists are in this role at different times it has seemed over the years. See “Six years an Ambassador: Godec’s Kenya valedictory with Macharia Gaitho”.

This background made me figuratively “perk up my ears” when I read the Gaitho blast after the news on the Bechtel expressway deal.

As a practical matter, there are certain ironies any time it is suggested that “regular order” of some type is suddenly warranted in Kenyan politics. Uhuru Kenyatta himself as KANU leader and Leader of the Opposition in 2007, crossed the aisle to support “Kibaki Tena” without resigning, when party godfather, retired President Moi who picked Uhuru from relative obscurity to nominate as his successor in 2002, realigned his fortunes, so to speak, to be with Kibaki while being appointed as Kibaki’s diplomatic representative for Southern Sudan. So I think Ruto might scoff at Gaithos’s advice now, and I doubt Uhuru’s mother would be good with him resigning at this point with all the family has going on at stake. Too much water under the bridge for too many years to expect anyone “in government” to go formally into “opposition” voluntarily–reform can happen but not nearly so easily or cheaply.

A necessary and complimentary read is the latest from Rasna Warah in the East African Review with what needed to be said on the most egregious act of contempt toward what we used to call “the reform agenda”: “In whose interest? Reflecting on the High Court judgment against John Githongo?”

Kenya 2007 election Kibaki Tena Kazi iendelee re-election

Battle over Kenyan election corruption has commenced with vote in Parliament to ban the French vendor OT-Morpho/IDEMIA

IDEMIA f/k/a OT-Morpho before a name change (and previously Safran Morpho before the French defense conglomerate sold this division to the French technology group Oburthur Technologies in a transaction closed shortly before August 2017 Kenyan election) has been a fixture of the past two Kenyan elections.

I have written about issues involving these procurements numerous times over the years and am continuing my engagement with the USAID Freedom Of Information office in their review and processing of public information from USAID support to the Kenyan IEBC in the 2013 election, from my request in 2015. (So far they have processed and released or withheld about half of the records sent from Nairobi to Washington by early 2016. They continue to assure me that they are working away at this.)

See: Kenya Election FOIA news: [heavily redacted] Election Assistance agreement shows U.S. paid for failed Results Transmission system.

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.

Nigeria example shows why U.S. and other donors should act now on election technology procurement fraud.

USAID Inspector General should take a hard look at Kenya’s election procurements supported by U.S. taxpayers

Last July IDEMIA dismissed without explanation a defamation suit it had filed against Raila Odinga and other NASA coalition leaders in April 2018 shortly after Raila’s “handshake” with Uhuru ended high level political contention over problematic KIEMS system IDEMIA had sold the IEBC in March 2017. The court records I reviewed indicted a unilateral dismissal rather than a settlement.

The judgment of the Supreme Court in the 2013 election petitions of AfriCOG and the opposition found that there was evidence of procurement fraud with the failed technology acquisitions, and ordered an investigation, but the IEBC, Kenyan prosecutors and donors all failed on that account. OT-Morpho, n/k/a IDEMIA once again was chosen in an opaque and controversial procurement process for the bigger 2017 “integrated” system. (I was told by the USAID press office that USAID did not finance the KIEMS purchase for the IEBC for 2017.)

But finally today, reports the Daily Nation, “For credible elections, MPs vote to block Huduma Namba firm“:

Members of the National Assembly voted on Wednesday to block technology firm IDEMIA Securities from doing business in Kenya for at least 10 years, citing violation of the Companies Act.

The move complicates the ongoing Huduma Namba registration, as the contract was awarded to the French firm at Sh6 billion.

. . . .

The MPs amended the report of the House Committee on Public Accounts on the audited accounts of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), to have the technology firm held accountable for irregular payments it received during the 2017 general elections.

[Updated] Something afoot in Kenya: Nation newspaper is running investigative reporting on IEBC procurement corruption in 2017

Democracy Assistance signage painted on rural building - URAIA . . . because Kenyans have rights

Great, must read reporting by the excellent Ken Opala.

17 Dec. 2018 Daily Nation “Impunity reigned at IEBC in tenders scam whose theft “was beyond the imaginable“.

16 Dec. 2018 Sunday Nation “IEBC: Anatomy of a cash cow with serial abortions and indiscretions“:

But more telling was the Secretariat’s response to a resolution to engage USAid’s International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) on the acquisition of the requisite Result Transmission System (RTS).

IFES, which procured the 2013 election servers, had made it known that this time it had earmarked Sh2 billion through its Kenya Electoral Assistance Programme (KEAP).

SUSPICIOUS FUNDING

The secretariat, as in the other cases, reportedly disregarded this decision. IEBC’s lack of enthusiasm can be explained. On Jamhuri Day 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta had, without divulging details, spoken out against what he termed foreign countries’ attempt to influence Kenya’s elections through suspicious funding.

Exactly a week later, the NGO Coordination Board, then headed by Mr Fazul Mohamed, declared IFES illegal in Kenya and asked Central Bank to freeze its bank accounts.

Instructively, the IFES funding was to be a grant. Instead, IEBC awarded Safran the Sh4.19 billion Kiems contract against a budget of Sh3.8 billion. The Auditor General would later indicate an overpayment, contrary to the law.

Intriguingly, IEBC further paid Safran for the same goods and services during the FPE. The comparative costs for the August 8, 2017 election and the subsequent poll indicate huge over-pricing for the latter, despite it being just one election against the six during the General Election.

INFLATED COST

The difference was a mere Sh1.672 billion yet the August Election involved acquisition of 45,000 KIEMS and their configuration, training and logistics while (FPE) entailed the purchase of just 15,000 KIEMS. 

But more disturbing, the cost of FPE election-day support of Sh443.8 million “was almost twice that of the General Election”, that’s Sh242.5 million, according to the audit. 

In defence, IEBC argued that there was an increase in Safran technical personnel, from 94 during the General Election to 292 in the FPE, a position the Auditor General found wanting. In fact, not all the technical staff were deployed during the FPE and “in any case, elections did not take place in 21 constituencies”.

Despite the inflated cost, the glitches in the General Election also littered the FPE. In fact, the October 26 Election was a replica of — if not worse — than the August 8 General Election.

However, Safran couldn’t be held liable for non-compliance, for the contract of September 28, 2017, was without guarantee of compensation in case of non-execution. This is because the firm flatly declined to provide performance security bond for the huge undertaking.

BOND FUNDING

It argued that such a bond and a Letter of Credit (which it had) “serve the same purpose”.

(A bond is a specified amount of money to ensure work is performed to the contract standards. If poor, the recipient can request bond funding to be released to hire someone else to complete the work. Letter of Credit promises that payments will be made; it covers payment for a project).

Later, it emerged that Chiloba had discussed with Safran about the issue of performance security and agreed with the company’s position. He reasoned that at the time the contract was signed, Safran “had performed more than 60 per cent of the contract” in what he termed as a “high risk” venture.

Against this background, it would appear Safran was the master here; IEBC merely complied. “Retaining one company over a long time puts the organisation at the risk of compromise,” says Dr Nyanjom.

15 Dec. 2018 Saturday Nation “Intrigues and secrets at IEBC doomed 2017 election“.

These articles provide the kinds of details of corrupt procurement that we need for the 2013 election as well. I have waited another five months for another release of documents from USAID from those found responsive to my 2015 Freedom of Information Act Request for records related to the IFES work with the IEBC in 2012-13. Here is my post from last July when I received the initial batch: Election Assistance FOIA Update: disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of 2013 election petition by civil society and opposition.

Certainly we have never seen this type of investigative reporting, yet, for the momentous election of 2007.

The exposure of the rejection of USAID’s allocated funding for purchase of the Results Transmission System (RTS) under the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017 (KEAP) is fascinating. This could explain a discrepancy I have been a bit concerned about. I was told that we (the United States) were funding the KIEMS system and had high confidence in it (this time), based on other implementations of the same system elsewhere. Then the USAID press office said after the election as I worked on a piece for The Elephant that we had not in fact paid for it. Perhaps the first report was not so much flatly wrong information as a good faith assumption that did not pan out when the planned assistance was rejected?

Unfortunately, I am left with concern about why USAID and IFES went ahead with the Kenyan Election Assistance Program, including IFES’ work directly with the IEBC and its management of the NDI and IRI components after the rejection of the RTS funding to proceed with Safran-Morpho. Especially since IFES had already been attacked by the Jubilee Party and the Government of Kenya and had to replace the highly qualified incumbent country director apparently to appease the incumbent. See “Why has Uhuru Kenyatta’s government acted against USAID and IFES?” from December 20, 2016. “State now expels American NGO’s boss, Genet MenelikStandard on Sunday, Jan 1, 2017.

The background for my reaction to this news includes the unexplained “shelving” by the ECK in 2007 of laptop computers purchased for it by USAID which facilitated the alteration of paper tally sheets at the ECK central headquarters in Nairobi to deliver the election to the incumbent and the “failure” of the RTS in 2013, which was attributed to a failed procurement by the president of IFES in subsequent U.S. Congressional testimony.

From March 17, 2017: “International Crisis Group report on Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis” calls for donors to show “complete transparency”; USAID is apparently not convinced yet.”

As I wrote back in October 2017, “Kenya cannot have a free and fair presidential election without consent of the President“.

An interesting twist is that we ended up with two USAID-funded Election Observation Missions, but only the Carter Center mission–funded under a separate agreement as I understand–has produced a final report, whereas the NDI mission, under the auspices of the IFES KEAP program, has not followed up their interim reporting. The technology procurement issues that IFES would have been working with the IEBC, in particular the rejected plan to purchase the RTS system, did not find their way to the Carter Center observers report.

See from August 27, 2017: IEBC having admitted in Supreme Court that Results Transmission System did not work as advertised, March 2017 contract for KIEMS acquisition should be tabled.

One could wonder if the Government of Kenya has opted not to lean on the Nation in this instance, tacitly permitting the expose to at least the current extent? One could wonder if the US Mission in Kenya and/or other donors are not seeking to step up on this in the relative tranquillity of the post-handshake, pre-referendum and/or full fledged 2022 campaign? Any of that would be speculation and I do not claim any insight as to what has caused a crack in the edifice. [Update: I have learned, and should have guessed, that underlying the reporting is research from AfriCOG/KPTJ, the Kenyan civil society free election sojourners.]

Regardless of the reason this news is seeing “the light of print” (and the World Wide Web), it would seem with hard work in follow up there might be an opening to start to “lance the boil” of corrupt election management in Kenya.

Kenya IEBC terminates Chief Election Officer over procurement irregularities

Kenya 2013 election IRI Electoral Commission voter education posterKenya, after three problematic general elections (2007, 2013, 2017), might finally be showing some initial stirrings of organic action to start to address fraud within the Election Commission. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has announced today the termination of Ezra Chiloba, Chief Election Officer, after a long suspension.

The last two elections were plagued by technology problems, with the 2017 vote annulled by the Supreme Court. The donors, including USAID which directly funded failed purchases in 2013, and funded a major embedded role with the IEBC for IFES throughout these years, have remained conspicuously mute on reforms and corruption issues involving the Electoral Commissions.

In the past, after opposition protests, the Commissioners from the 2007 and 2013 elections were given lucrative buyouts to pave the way for a new slate, and impunity for bribery and procurement fraud issues was the informal consensus policy among the Kenyan politicians and the Western donors supporting the election process.

After the buyout of the Commission led by Issack Hassan which had failings in the 2013 vote, Chief Election Officer Chiloba was carried over under the new Commission on through the 2017 vote. Since 2017 we have now seen three Commissioners resign in addition to Commissioner Akombe who fled country during the tensions following the Supreme Court’s annulment of the August presidential vote. The remaining Commissioners have now acted to fire Chiloba after internal audits and a report by Kenya’s Auditor General raised “charges . . . on major procurements.”

See today’s announcement:

The next step is to release to the public the audit reports indicating “charges” and refer the matters for legal proceedings.

In the meantime, several more months have gone by without any further release from the USAID FOIA office on my 2015 request for the documents from their support of the IEBC through IFES for the 2013 vote.

See “Election Assistance FOIA Update: Disappointed to see from USAID records that IFES was supporting Kenya IEBC/Kenyatta-Ruto defense of election petition by civil society and opposition“.

Carter Center releases final report on Kenya 2017 elections, finds “major setback in democratic development”, urges momentum on IEBC reform, transparent technology

Here is the link to the Carter Center press release and the full report at 172 pages is here.

I am still reviewing the full report, but in summary:

Kenya’s 2017 general electoral process was marred by incidents of unrest and violence throughout the extended electoral period and by harsh attacks by top political leaders on electoral and judicial authorities that seriously undermined the independence of the country’s democratic institutions and the rule of law. The confrontational tactics and actions of Kenya’s political leaders polarized the country and exposed the deep tribal and ethnic rifts that have long characterized its politics. Regrettably, the elections represent a major setback in Kenya’s democratic development.

As far as pre-election deficiencies the report notes the late appointment of the IEBC Commissioners leaving inadequate preparation time overall, as well as highlighting a voter register that was improved but still had major inadequacies.

The report, while noting the ELOG parallel sample results as consistent with the IEBC’s announced results, emphasizes the problems with post- voting results transmission and announcement (in the context of that confrontational rhetoric and polarized environment):

Unfortunately, for unexplained reasons, the IEBC did not utilize the full seven-day period provided by the law to consolidate and post all the official polling station results forms. Instead, the IEBC hastily declared the final presidential election results on Aug. 11, just three days after election day, based on the constituencylevel results forms, and prior to the receipt of all polling-station level results forms. Worse still, election authorities failed to ensure that parties had timely access to official polling-station level results in the days following the announcement of official results, which made it impossible for parties and observers to fully verify and cross-check the results against their internal data and reports in time to include any key evidence in court petitions.

In its press release the Carter Center recognizes the opportunity presented by the decrease in tension under the “handshake” but urges momentum on needed reforms and recommendations spelled out in the report. The existing IEBC was to host a “national stakeholders” conference this week with over 300 invitees with some of these areas touched on in the agenda, but I cannot imagine much bankable progress until there is a full commission and resolution of procurement fraud questions raised by a finalized internal audit report.

As the Center cautions:

Recent political posturing over the 2022 presidential election and the upcoming national census and boundary delimitation process raises concerns that an electoral reform process could be delayed.

To move electoral reform forward, parliament should move swiftly to ensure that the requisite number of IEBC commissioners are in place. Meaningful reform cannot be implemented without a fully functioning commission.

On Cambridge Analytica for Kenyatta, The Star reported arrival of a campaign team back in May – why no follow-up?

Below is a draft post I wrote but did not publish back on May 10, 2017:

Uhuruto re-election and Cambridge Analytica coverage in The Star: why now?

Today, the Star, Nairobi’s previously opposition-leaning third daily newspaper (a must read together with The Daily Nation and The Standard) ran a story announcing the arrival of a team from Cambridge Analytica for the Uhuruto/Jubilee re-election campaign.

Note the attribution to “well placed sources in the Office of the President.”

Generally speaking the Kenyan media declines to cover the foreign firms working the Kenyan election campaigns, especially for an incumbent president.  That type of thing is in the category of “we are a ‘free press’ but not free like that”.  For the “foreign correspondents” the Western campaign operatives are fellow habitues of the expat “circle of trust” or omertà or whatever you want to call it: sources not subjects of reporting.

So why this story today?  If I can put myself in the loafers of an Uhuruto campaign operative rather than just a bystanding fan of “truth, justice and the American way of life” I might want this for a couple of ressons that I can think of: 1) this could be what has been famously termed a “limited modified hang out” – if information is starting to leak you might want to seize control to misdirect attention by putting out a shaped half-truth version; 2) this could be a way for the Uhuruto campaign to “signal” the idea that it has powerful support in Washington and London in response to the black eye received in the form of the USAID suspension of Ministry of Health funding due to corruption which went public Monday.  Of course, this is all just hypothetical/conjectural “thinking out load” from someone who is not involved.

One of many fruitful questions for further review now is the extent to which these operations were run by Government of Kenya officials out of Government offices.

Was Cambridge Analytica given access to Government of Kenya data? On the pattern of use of State resources for the Jubilee campaign, beyond running the campaign through office holders and out of the Office of The President and State House, note this from The Star story;

Aspirants who won nominations in the just-concluded Jubilee primaries will be expected to campaign for Uhuru in their home areas.

A deal has been offered to nomination losers to stick with Jubilee and be rewarded with state jobs after the election.

Here is yesterday’s Reuters report with the first “on record” confirmation from Jubilee after the now-infamous Channel 4 undercover expose and leaks regarding Facebook that it used SCL/Cambridge Analytica in the campaign.

And please remember as well the role of the American firm Harris Media: “Don’t Mess From Texas: disturbing Privacy International report indicates Uhuruto re-election campaign bought Texas-based negative propaganda campaign.”

Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s “People’s President” swearing in?

[Update Feb. 2: Here is a good overview from Martina Stevis-Gridnef in the Wall Street Journal, Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens“; Fr. Gabriel Dolan explains how the Kenyatta government has popularized the “National Resistance Movement by banning it, with good historical context.]

Since I elected to stay away from the 2017 election in Kenya myself, I have tried to avoid offering a lot of derivative commentary from afar, but have continued to be interested and concerned with how my American government representatives approach this on behalf of the American people.

Privately, I shared the worry that perhaps Raila was not being a good steward of the lives of his supporters given the risk of threatened action by the Kenyan governments’ security forces (and my inability to decipher what he was really aiming to accomplish).

Nonetheless, I also decided that it was not my place to lecture for several reasons. First, any Kenyan who would be deciding to attend or not attend the rally knew full well and far better than I the risks of running afoul of the GSU (General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, known for use for high profile political missions, such as sealing off Uhuru Park in the weeks after the 2007 election to prevent opposition rallies) or other force at the disposal of the “Commander in Chief President”.

Second, we ourselves have passed on doing our part to forthrightly deal with the detritus of the stolen 2007 election and the substandard and opaque election process that put the current Uhuruto regime in power in 2013.

Third, in this election cycle we did not give visible public support to reasonable reforms of the IEBC process. I am not willing to be too critical from afar without knowing more (although I don’t know more because our approach is intentionally more opaque than I think is appropriate or prudent) but in watching as an American back home we certainly gave the impression over the last couple of years that while we wanted things to go smoothly and would support negotiation of the disputes surrounding the IEBC in areas where they were pushed to the forefront by the opposition, we remained in the mode of supporting the old “Chickengate” IEBC team and staff, even while the investigation of procurement fraud directed by the April 2013 Supreme Court ruling never happened. Even when the British secured criminal convictions for the Chickengate bribes and paid money over to the Government of Kenya, we were mute as Kenyans enjoyed the customary impunity for corruption–and when Uhuru used the funds to do a “photo op” for the purchase of ambulances as if it was a charitable donation.

We allowed the incumbent administration to attack and potentially interfere with our assistance to the IEBC through IFES in the critical months before the election (see “The hardest job in Kenya . . .”) without obvious penalty, and stayed silent on reforms called for by the EU Election Observation Mission and others–aside from the opposition–in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling striking the presidential election of August 8 because of the IEBC deficiencies.

As it turned out the incumbent administration acted extra-legally to shut down private broadcasters (except the President’s own) but had the security forces pull back and did not initiate the feared violence. If we had any influence on that decision then I am pleased that our long years of support to Kenya’s various police and security services and governments of the day may have borne some positive fruit in that instance.

As far as the notion that Raila would be likely to unilaterally instigate violence in this situation, people in the State Department would do well to remember the analysis of Ranneberger’s own staff pre-election in 2007 that while there was hate speech on both sides the largest share was directed against Raila rather than on behalf of his candidacy or the opposition.

Invoking the so-called “ooga booga factor” to scare Westerners about Raila has been more than a cottage industry in Kenya (and in London and Washington PR shops) along side the ethnic hate speech to rally other ethnic groups against him in Kenya. And Raila is unavoidably controversial in some respects and gives his critics ammunition. But at present Raila is in a relatively physically powerless position in opposition; the Government of Kenya security forces are in the hands of “Uhuruto”, controversially elected in the first place as a “coalition of the killing” from the violence that was taking place exactly ten years ago.

In this context the “black propaganda” operation on behalf of the Uhuruto re-election campaign through Harris Media of Texas, United States, was particularly pernicious and even worse than 2007.

Let’s remember that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer herself insisted that what was being done through the Kalenjin militias in the Rift Valley in early 2008 was “ethnic cleansing” and we all know the “revenge” attacks through the Mungiki against especially Luo and Luhya who had the misfortune of living and working in Naivasha and Nakuru were horrific. And that the largest share of the killing was done by the police and largest number of killed identified by ethnicity Luo per the Waki Commission. The ICC Prosecutor’s Office may have run a sloppy legal operation, but did they really get “the wrong guys” factually in the six indictments? Will O.J. someday find the real killers? (Do Raila and Kibaki–Commander in Chief then–and many other politicians also bear some real moral responsibility, too–surely so; does Kalonzo Musyoka? I personally would not vote for either ticket if they were running in my country, but they weren’t, and left us with our own problems.)

Fair minded representatives of the United States in current circumstances have to recognize that the threat of violence on behalf of an incumbent “Uhuruto” regime in full control of all military, paramilitary and other police forces is much greater than that presented by an opposition rally or ceremony.

Old Party Office in Kibera

Who has done the best writing so far about the fake NGOs and “bots” in the Kenyan election campaign?

Asking for a friend.