“Freedom Under Threat”: New report on the spread of laws restricting NGOs in Africa from Freedom House

The new report “Freedom Under Threat: the Spread of Anti-NGO Measures in Africa was released today. It provides a valuable review of recent developments in counter-democracy push back from governments in power in numerous countries.

In Kenya, here is a good, straightforward recitation of the approach taken after the “UhuRuto” election of 2013 with a Jubilee Party platform calling for a crackdown on independent NGOs said to be modeled after post 2005 repressive measures established by the Meles Zenawi government in Ethiopia (see “Attacks on Kenyan civil society prefigured in Jubilee ‘manifesto’“) and the legal “pitched battle” since:

In Kenya, meanwhile, the new government elected in 2013 made six successive attempts to modify the PBO Act—a progressive law passed by Parliament and signed by the outgoing president just months prior to the elections.49 All of the attempts were loudly opposed by NGOs and the political opposition, and the High Court ordered the government on October 31, 2016, to publish the original PBO Act in the official gazette to bring it into operation.50 The government refused to comply, prompting NGOs to request that two cabinet secretaries—overseeing the Ministry of Devolution and Planning and the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government—be held in contempt of court.51 The court ruled in the NGOs’ favor on May 12, 2017. Rather than implement the court order, however, the government continues to apply the outdated NGO Act of 1990, and it is unclear how the situation will be resolved. The broad-based Civil Society Reference Group, an alliance of over 1,500 leaders of national and international NGOs that ran a multiyear campaign for the adoption of the PBO Act,52 continues to insist on its implementation. Indeed, Kenya represents an interesting case study of the pitched battles that have characterized the struggle between governments on the continent that seek to narrow democratic space on the one hand and civil society sectors that seek to preserve democratic gains on the other.

The moves by African rulers appear related to or inspired by authoritarian trends elsewhere:

Although no attempt is made in this report to analyze laws outside Africa, there are parallels between anti-NGO measures adopted across the continent since 2006 and those adopted in Russia and China—two influential global actors that have forged close ties with African governments. Sudan’s anti-NGO law coincided with the first of several Russian laws,6 closely followed by Rwanda’s measure in 2008. Russia’s second wave of legal restrictions coincided with those of several African countries—notably Ethiopia, Zambia, and Mozambique—while China’s 2016 and 2018 regulations came alongside measures by several other African governments surveyed in this report. It is difficult to establish specific links between the African laws and those adopted by the two global powers, but the close relationships built in Africa since 2000—particularly by China—support a modeling hypothesis.

Could “corruption” play the role in Kenya’s 2022 election that “crimes against humanity” played in 2013?

Instead of “the coalition of the killing” a “coalition of the stealing”?

Let us review the 2013 campaign, the next presidential election campaign after Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga shook hands on February 28, 2008 to end the 2007 election crisis and the related violence.

In the later part of the lead up to that 2013 “open” presidential campaign, with Mwai Kibaki completing has second and final term, the political dynamics of how to treat the 2007-08 murder and mayhem of the Post Election Violence were dramatically turned.

The 2007-08 election fraud and Post Election Violence had triggered from the February 28 “peace agreement” the compilation of a coalition administration for Kibaki’s second term (the so-called “Government of National Unity”) with Raila Odinga getting a temporary Prime Minister post with a contested but limited role, and Musalia Mudavidi and Uhuru Kenyatta representing the ruling PNU and opposition ODM parties as Deputy PMs. William Ruto, the Kalenjin member of the ODM “Pentagon” got the Agriculture Ministry, an important post for his Rift Vally region.

The 2007-08 debacle also generated on the American side focus on a “reform agenda” that included a revival of U.S. attention to corruption issues (we had taken umbrage at the Anglo Leasing scandal starting in 2004, and the Arturo/Armenian Brothers, the Standard raid and such embarrassments back before the war kicked up in Somalia with the Ethiopians in December 2006) and culminated in support for a revival of the constitutional reform process including regional “devolution”, a persistent issue throughout Kenyan political history. A basic framework for the “reform agenda” efforts was the National Accord and Reconciliation Act that was passed by Kenya’s new ODM-majority parliament in early 2008 to effectuate the post-election settlement. Critical parts of the deal have ultimately been repudiated by Kenya’s current government, most conspicuously the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission process, and some parts were sadly constricted within the first months of implementation (In particular, investigation of the presidential election by the so-called “Kreigler Commission” was truncated in spite of intelligence revealing bribery at the ECK and secret “visa bans” by the U.S. against election commissioners revealed by published leaks in 2010).

Most importantly, no one of any stature or clout was ever prosecuted by Kenyan authorities for the 1000+ deaths and displacement of 600,000, and the the rape and arson and the rest. Put in proper perspective from where things stood on February 28, 2008, the end result has been a nightmare of impunity really.

In hindsight maybe the “real deal” on February 28 was always “everybody gets away with everything” but that was very much not what we were told and led to believe at that time and for some years after, by either side in Kenya or by the donor diplomats. When Parliament voted to duck its responsibilities to try suspects in the Kenyan court system and defer to the International Criminal Court, rallying with the slogan “don’t be vague, go to The Hague,” the presented spin was that the Government would actually substantively cooperate with ICC prosecutions. In hindsight that probably did not merit any credibility in the first place.

By the time all but two of the cases against the suspects identified by the Office of the Prosecutor as “most responsible” had fallen by the wayside, the two left were the longtime KANU mates, Kenyatta and Ruto. In the run up to the ill fated 2007 election, they were KANU leaders in opposition together. KANU had been part of the “No” or “Orange” campaign on Kibaki’s 2005 constitutional referendum and both were seen as potential opposition presidential candidates by 2007. When Uhuru as KANU Party leader and Leader of the Official Opposition took the unprecedented step of “crossing” to support Kibaki’s re-election (along with KANU’s Godfather, “retired” President Moi) and taking the party with him, Ruto broke to stay in opposition and join ODM to contest the nomination, ending up in “the Pentagon” with the others.

In the common unique predicament of facing ICC charges from the Post Election Violence, as longtime partners and as claimants to Kikuyu and Kalenjin leadership– and thus representing the most powerful voting groups who had always held the presidency and most recently clashed over it–Kenyatta and Ruto were an obvious pair for 2013. See “When did Uhuru and Ruto fight and why is their partnership allegedly so surprising?”.

With Ruto and Kenyatta as “victims” Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka as the opposition CORD campaign were back-footed and never found a consistent voice to address the challenge.

Kalonzo was arguably the major politician least tainted by suspicion of involvement with the underlying violence but was compromised by allowing himself to be used as its international diplomatic apologist starting even in Washington by early February 2008 as Kibaki’s new second term Vice President while the killing continued (see “‘The War for History’ part nine: from FOIA, a new readout of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s February 2008 meeting with John Negroponte“) and continuing on with seeking support at the U.N. Security Council to stop the ICC process as well as in countries around the African Union. Raila himself never seemed to be able to settle on a clear or consistent position or message on prosecution of the violence either as a matter of law and policy, or morally.

Strictly from a stability standpoint the Western donors, especially those who helped support negotiation of an end to the violence in 2008, a Kikuyu/Kalenjin pairing was obviously the least risk option, which presumably would mean Ruto as URP leader and Kenyatta for TNA after the tragic helicopter crash that killed TNA Interior Minister George Saitoti.

Under the circumstances the flawed 2013 election itself was a happy success for the donors because “Kenya didn’t burn” and the opposition did not further resist after the controversial court decision. It does not seem credible to argue that the IEBC’s Count was anywhere near complete enough in the absence of the Results Transmission System which was said to have failed but was never going to work to warrant a 50.07% margin for the candidates favored by the incumbent president over the opposition, but it was quite plausible to argue that the Uhuruto ticket did have a plurality and it was safer not to have a runoff since having the election over was the most important thing. (See “Choosing Peace Over Democracy“) It might have been a bit awkward at first to have Kenya’s leaders charged with the political bloodletting but it did not seriously impede relationships and eventually, sure enough, the cases “went away” and the circle of impunity was unbroken.

Given this history, knowing how Kenyans and Westerners handled pending charges for the Post Election Violence the last time an incumbent Kenyan president was “retiring” due to term limits, what do you think the impact of corruption charges might be on the 2022 race? Another coalition of “targets”, more mass prayer rallies for the victim/candidates who might be guilty but should not be “singled out” when they are representatives and champions of their tribes? And again, from a risk mitigation standpoint, surely it would be safer for the donors to let the most dangerous people have their way?


So who “went native”? The Ex-Ambassadors’ greatest hit: “Sweet Home Kenya” [updated]

Could one make a case that perhaps it was not me after all, but more the Ambassador and/or others at the State Department who “went native” in Kenya over the 2007 election controversy (and in other situations)?

Interesting to think about as things have played out.

My memory was most recently jogged in seeing that James Swan, a distinguished diplomat who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and signed off on some of the materials related to the 2007-08 Kenyan election controversy that I have obtained through FOIA and written about here over the years, has retired to a Nairobi post with the Albright Stonebridge Group business/investment advisory. (Albright Stonebright Group offers “commercial diplomacy” and advisory services and owns a substantial part of the equity of Albright Capital Management which in turn runs private equity funds out of the Cayman Islands which have investments in other funds and businesses with interests in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries in the region. The Albright is former Secretary of State Madeleine, the NDI chair.)

Also one of those strange articles in The Daily Nation this past week, drawing on a particular bit of older Kenyan political history: the article notes that Ambassador Kyle McCarter will soon take up his post in Kenya for the United States, and that the first American Ambassador to Kenya, William Attwood, had acquired property in Kenya and wanted to retire there, but was banned from staying or returning to the country by Jomo Kenyatta who was angered by his act of publishing his memoir, The Reds and the Blacks. Without explaining specifically what Kenyatta was offended by, the article cites some of Attwood’s material about his perception of Cold War tied machinations involving the competition between Oginga Odinga and Kenyatta and allegations of Odinga’s separate East-bloc arms imports. It then notes Ambassador Ranneberger’s re-marriage to a Kenyan and his vacation home on the Coast at Malindi. (Interesting is the omission of any reference to Ambassador Smith Hempstone and his memoir, Rogue Ambassador, which details his interaction with “the second liberation” and his impressions of Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.)

Maybe Ambassador McCarter is being reminded not to step too hard on certain toes so that the Government of Kenya remains cooperative with his family’s longstanding mission work in Tharaka Nithi?

The topic of “going native” came up for me in early 2010 when my security clearance was up for renewal for my job as a lawyer for Navy shipbuilding contracts where I had returned after my leave of absence to work in Kenya for the International Republican Institute in 2007-08. I filled out the detailed paperwork listing my foreign contacts over the previous years, including my work for IRI in Kenya, Somaliland and Sudan (later to be apparently stolen by Chinese hacking from the Office of Personnel Management) and had my interview with a retired military officer who had served in Somalia in the early 1990’s and thus knew the region.

I did not know how to initiate an explanation in my interview that I had gotten into a “he said/he said” with Ambassador Ranneberger about the 2007 Kenyan election on the front page of the New York Times but I expected it to come up in some form. After the interview, I got a follow up: was I sure that I had been loyal to the United States as opposed to acting on conflicting loyalties to Kenya–had I had gone native? I answered clearly and unequivocally. Essentially I asserted the lawyerly equivalent of the courtroom objection: “asked and answered”. “I already told you I was a loyal American before someone fussed — I have nothing to change.” Apparently this was satisfactory as I did not lose my clearance (and thus my job).

Jendayi Frazer, Asst. Sec. of State for African Affairs during the second G. W. Bush Administration and Swan’s superior during the 2007-08 Kenyan election imbroglio, maintains a home in Nairobi as I understand, and was the primary international spokesman, informally, for the “Uhuruto” campaign in 2013, accusing then Asst. Sec. State Johnnie Carson of “interfering” in the campaign by suggesting that the election of crimes against humanity suspects could have “consequences” in trying to tamp down the use by the Uhuruto campaign of a statement by President Obama that was asserted to bolster a claim that the U.S. had no concerns about the issue. Frazer has business interests in Kenya and with the Kenyan government, through the the Kigali domiciled but Kenya based East Africa Exchange commodity platform arising out of a partnership between Swiss trader Nicholas Berggruen’s Berggruen Holdings and the East African Community. See my previous post here. Frazer and a Berggruen representative are also on the board of the Mastercard Foundation based in Toronto which has extensive programs in the region. Frazier is an Advisor for Rice Hadley Gates, the international consulting firm of of her colleagues from the Bush Administration (Robert Gates also stayed on as Obama’s Secretary of Defense; Hadley was Rice’s Deputy National Security Advisor during the inception of the Iraq War and took over after she went to State where she brought over Frazer; Hadley also turned his experience to the chairmanship of the United States Institute of Peace. Carson has since retired from the State Department and is also affiliated with the Albright Stonebridge Group as well as the United States Institute of Peace and NDI.)

The cases of Attwood, Frazer, Swan and Ranneberger, if nothing else, are examples of the “Nairobi Curse”, demonstrating the advantages that accrue to Uhuruto in controlling access to permission to live and work in Nairobi.

Another famous case showing the “flipside” is British High Commissioner Edward Clay who complained of the milder-than-now corruption in 2004 that senior officials of Kibaki’s first Administration were eating as “gluttons” and “vomiting on [the] shoes” of donors who had stepped up to attempt to alleviate poverty and sickness among Kenyans. After his term ended in 2005 he continued to speak of corruption and was informed by then Kibaki Justice Minister Martha Karua during a BBC appearance during the early 2008 Post Election Violence in the wake of the stolen election that he had been declared persona non grata and banned from returning by the Government of Kenya in retaliation.

And of course there is the purge of the IFES Country Director during the 2017 Uhuruto re-election campaign.

[Update: to be clear, my point here is about the relationships and dependencies of individual Americans to the Government of the day in Kenya and Kenyan politicians in power, not to get into the merits or demerits of specific investment activity. I think it is good for Americans to be in Kenya and Kenyans to be in America. In concept, Frazer’s East African Exchange, for example, seems to offer potential benefit to small farmers, although the authorities in Rwanda and Kenya have a track record of contradictory priorities, so it is hard to know what to expect. As far as ASG and the associated private equity funds, I would think Nairobi is heavily served on the consultancy side but there is always a need for private direct investment in the region in the abstract, through the Caribbean or elsewhere, with the devil in the details of particular investments.]

As U.S. Mission in Kenya passes from Godec to McCarter, Africa Confidential explains how Kenyan politics is still “frozen” in 2005-07 “time warp”

Africa Confidential ‘s free January Kenya article is a must read for anyone in Washington charged with engagement on Kenya over the next three years.

“Three’s a crowd”

Kenya’s political landscape in 2019 will be dominated by two-way competition between Deputy President William Ruto of the ruling Jubilee Party and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), as each man positions himself for the presidential election of 2022. Each will be trying to cobble together a winning coalition by buttressing his ethnic stronghold and winning over the ‘swing’ votes in regions such as Maasailand, Kisii, Luhyaland and the Coast.

President Uhuru Kenyatta‘s mantra is that the time for party politics is over and that all leaders should concentrate on economic development, based on his signature ‘Big Four Agenda’ (food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare), and reconciliation, based on the ‘Building Bridges Initiative’ agreed between him and Odinga last March. He will continue to state this line, arguing that he wants a legacy of an ethnically united Kenya, and will continue to reach out to former opposition leader Odinga and his Luo people.

Both Odinga and Ruto will on the surface claim they support the Big Four and Building Bridges even as they continue their individual campaigns and trade acerbic barbs. Many Kenyan pundits say the only person who has not grasped the new reality is Kenyatta, as he continues to insist on a politics-free country until 2022. . . .

Relatedly a friend got me a copy from Kenya of John Onyando’s recently published “Kenya: The Failed Quest for Electoral Justice” which I am reading with great interest. (Hoping this will be published internationally soon.) Most significantly so far I finally have an insider’s account of one of the key mysteries from the current, post-2002 era in Kenyan politics: what happened to cause the dropping of the Prime Ministry in the final maneuvering for the 2010 Constitutional referendum? Preserving an exceptionally powerful unitary executive Presidency was the key issue in Kibaki’s dumping of his MOU with Raila, et al, and the defeat of the “Wako Draft” constitution at the 2005 Referendum by what became the “Orange Democratic Movement”. Thus it was a bit of a shock to see Raila and ODM leading the “Yes” campaign along with Kibaki in 2010 for a new draft constitution where even the weak Prime Minister position that Odinga then held was completely excised.

[Here is my blog post from March 13, 2010 showing what I knew about the jockeying at the time: the ODM side wanted to go forward with Parliamentary approval of the draft as it was, while PNU (and Ruto) wanted to retreat to Naivasha to consider “amendments” with “retired President” Moi saying he would oppose the referendum without amendment. Ultimately the Naivasha retreat happened and the private vote Onyando’s book describes was facilitated.]

Any explanation of why the Prime Ministry “went away,” as it was put, was one of the more conspicuous gaps in Raila’s autobiography “The Flame of Freedom“.

On paper the 2010 Constitution as passed at the referendum in July of that year does have a variety of intricate mechanisms of reductions of individual power for His Excellency the President at the national government level, but since they are not self-executing and there is no Prime Minister or other potentially independent power center, once the 2013 election was decided for the Uhuruto ticket, Kenyatta has as one would expect largely worked around them, if not explicitly eviserated them legislatively using his control of Parliament.

According to Onyando, by the time of the final politicians’ cut on the 2010 draft constitution arising from the February 2008 National Accord to settle the Post Election Violence, the Opposition/ODM/Raila side had already lost Ruto to Kibaki/Kenyatta to the point that the President’s side gained three votes aligned with Ruto among those allocated to the Opposition among the group. Thus the Kibaki/Kenyatta side was able to write out any direct sharing of executive power under the new dispensation to follow the Government of National Unity. Raila went along on the basis that there was enough reform with partial devolution to 47 new counties and other provisions to warrant a “yes” versus a “no”.

It is noteworthy that even Africa Confidential is offering their current 2019 assessment without reference to specific terms of the Uhuru-Raila “handshake” of March 2018. I am not comfortable doing any real handicapping of the 2022 race myself or saying too much about current Kenya politics without being privy to the actual details of the deal.

Along these lines, this week saw on Wednesday both the first anniversary of Raila’s mock swearing in at Uhuru Park and the tenth anniversary of publication of the New York Times piece, “A Chaotic Kenyan Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll“.

Looking back on my personal experience it is notable to me that Ambassador Ranneberger and I contradicted each other on at least three separate points of fact in our respective interviews with The Times on the 2007 Kenyan election controversy (mine with Mike McIntire in the U.S. and his with Jeffrey Gettleman in Kenya) but I did not lose my security clearance, and had it renewed the next year when it came up so I was able to continue my career as an attorney working on U.S. Navy shipbuilding programs. I suspect I might have had some difficulty if it were not recognized that I had in fact been honest. Had I been a Kenyan (or Chinese for example) citizen it would have been unthinkable to hope to “get away” with being truthful in contradiction to a senior public official in this way without expecting to loose my job and likely go to jail or be killed.

All this is to say that my experience with Kenyan politics over these last many years has richened my gratitude for the freedom and security my family and I have experienced as Americans and my wish for the same someday for Kenyans. (In case you are new to the blog, here is my piece from The Elephant that they headlined “The Debacle of 2007: How an Election Was Stolen, and Kenyan Politics Frozen, With U.S. Connivance“).

In Sudan, is the International Criminal Court an impediment to progress toward democracy and/or human rights now?

I am no expert on Sudan and the International Criminal Court practice, such as it is, is not my field in law.

But I am an observer of various related neighborhoods and did a bit of work in Sudan back in 2007-08. Also, over the years I have never quite seen answers develop to some of the conceptual uncertainties I looked at about the idea of an international criminal court while in law school. And, of course, there is my experience with the multifaceted failure of the ICC’s attempt to prosecute a few symbolic “most responsible” members of Kenya’s political elite for the instrumental murder and mayhem that was part of the competition for power in Kenya in December 2007-February 2008.

Thus, some questions:

1) Does the ICC indictment against Bashir hinder the prospects for Sudanese to get Bashir out of power through popular protest?

2) Are we all agreed that the ICC is not ready to prosecute a case against Bashir even though the facts of the case are many years old and the charges themselves have been pending for almost ten years? If so, is this not hugely important to weighing the practical value of the Bashir case to the Sudanese people today?

You can watch the discussion from a March 2009 event from the Overseas Development Institute and the Royal African Society on the ICC’s decision here.

3) How many Member States have declined to act on the Bashir warrant when he was in their jurisdiction? How many have attempted to act? How many Member States have honored the spirit of the case against Bashir during its pendency?

4) What diplomatic efforts have the Prosecutors been making during the pendency of the Bashir case? Is diplomacy by a Prosecutor a form of informal pleas bargaining? Is it really the case that the ICC cannot plea bargain? Is it in the larger interests of justice for a jurisdiction to have a prosecuting authority that cannot plea bargain? What about pardon authority?

5) What are the lessons from the failed cases against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto? And more broadly from the overall success of the perpetrators of political violence in Kenya in avoiding prosecution, avoiding other penalties or sanctions, keeping the political gains achieved through violence and obtaining further support from Member State governments and other governments which notionally supported accountability?

I recognize that this is a very tough time for human rights and humanitarianism as reflected in this post on counter-humanitarianism, 2019’s biggest challenge: the humanitarian sell-out” from Christina Bennett at the Overseas Development Institute. All the more reason those of us who care about people in the hands of angry rulers need to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Update: The International Crisis Group has a new report out titled “Prospects for a peaceful transition in Sudan improving” (h/t The Official blog of David Shinn) which notes the ICC issue and discusses the idea of bargaining through the UN Security Council’s deferral process:

The UN Security Council might also offer to request the ICC defer investigation or prosecution of Bashir’s case for one year, pursuant to the Rome Statute’s Article 16, were he to resign or to leave office in 2020; the deferral could be extended provided Bashir stayed out of – and did not interfere in any way with – Sudanese politics. The downsides to deferring his case would be enormous, but without a pledge along these lines, Bashir is unlikely to step down.

One problem with this is that 3 of the Permanent Members of the Security Council are Non-Members of the ICC. China and Russia are hardly advocates of human rights, rule of law or democracy and the present United States administration expresses opposition to the existence of the ICC as such, escalating the complications associated with U.S. diplomacy involving ICC cases. What are the interests of the CCP here? Reports indicate that the Bashir regime has brought in Russian “Wagner Group” mercenaries.

Of course in the Kenyan cases, unsuccessfully pursuing a Security Council deferral was the major diplomatic priority for Kenya’s Government for a period of years, as well as attacks on the Court though the African Union, IGAD and whatever other fora could be found. The diplomacy failed, but the Prosecution failed anyway, with loss of life and other large costs left to the witnesses and victims.

Update Jan 16: World Politcs Review has a new piece from Richard Downey of CSIS.

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

Happy 2019!

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.

[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.

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.

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

Kenya EACC at Integrity Centre NairobiBack in 2015 I submitted a Freedom of Information request for USAID records relating to the election assistance through IFES for Kenya’s IEBC (the election commission).

Several hundred pages were sent from the Mission in Kenya to the USAID FOIA office more than 30 months ago. A year ago I finally got the first release, simply a heavily redacted copy of the Cooperative Agreement itself funding the program.

I have just recently gotten the second release, the first substantive tranche of redacted copies of the underlying documents. From this I am starting to learn some information about the procurement of the failed Results Transmission System, but that matter remains somewhat sketchy so far.

Sadly I did see that IFES staff reported to USAID in the aftermath of the vote that they were busy working on the defense of the Supreme Court petition which impacted their availability to address questions about the systems issues.

I also learned that the election assistance donors were discussing amongst themselves the extent to which the UNDP, which administered “basket funding” for the election should cooperate with an investigative inquiry regarding procurements from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

Kenya High Court Nairobi AFRICOG lawyer Harun Ndubi press conference 2013 election

I did learn that one prospective bidder for one Results Transmission System procurement reported to the USAID Mission December 2012 that the allowed time for proposals was insufficient, to no avail as USAID said the impending election date did not allow delay.

When I consulted with AfriCOG, the Kenyan civil society organization, on election observation, and court petitions were filed seeking first to enjoin the IEBC from proceeding with an informal/irregular alleged vote tally when the Results Transmission System failed, and then after the IEBC went ahead, to challenge the alleged results, I did not know the Results Transmission System was a U.S. Government procurement under the Agreement, nor of direct involvement of IFES in supporting the other side in the litigation.

At this point, I am fairly well done with this blog as a format after all these years, but will continue to report on these matters of unfinished business as I learn more.

Barack Obama, son of American anthropologist, retired President USA, stops in Kenya on way to South Africa after safari

Ten years after 2008 campaign, the “Birthers” have won for now in the U.S., but Obama remains a positive symbol with time for another act:

Former President Obama stopped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, his third visit to Kenya since arriving on the national political scene in the United States in 2004 as an Illinois state legislator through a speech at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry to challenge the re-election of George W. Bush.

It is now ten years since I returned to the United States with my family from our year-long East Africa democracy assistance sojourn in Nairobi in the wake of the failed 2007 election, the post-election violence, and February 28 “peace deal”. The day we flew out of JKIA for Amsterdam en route to Atlanta on the way home to Mississippi I was first exposed to the “birther” conspiracy theory through a front page story in the Daily Nation.

Many may not remember fully now, but recognize that in its inception the “birther” conspiracy theory was not just the idea that then-Senator Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and secretly smuggled into the United States as an infant, and thus not technically eligible to be elected President. It also fit into the context of the claims that Obama was involved as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2007 in a conspiracy with Raila Odinga to steal Kenya’s election on behalf of Muslims, with killing of Christians and embellished from there into a narrative that rather than a loyal American Obama was essentially on the side of al-Queda and the global jihad to establish a sharia-enforcing caliphate. That Obama was in essence on the other side of the war being fought by Americans in the “surge” led by Bush and General Petraeus in Iraq as well as the fundamental underlying values of our democratic republic and Western democracy in general.

The conspiracy theories about the 2007 Kenyan election faded somewhat over time–partly because of the peace deal that put Odinga in Kibaki’s government as Prime Minister where he continued to be friendly to the West and partly because it became clearer that the election was stolen by Kibaki’s side which controlled the ECK (and not by the opposition which didn’t). Reports at the time from the American right at the Heritage Foundation think tank and National Review magazine (“Inside Kenya’s clumsily rigged election” Jan 4, 2008 National Review Online) noting the theft of the election helped American conservatives who cared about facts avoid getting sucked into nonsense about a Luo jihad involving “tribesman” Obama and “cousin” Raila.

While there remain a few holdouts who claim that “we can’t know” who won in Kenya’s 2007 election, they seem to be pretty well limited to personally interested parties at this point with the release of the State Department cables showing that our Ambassador Ranneberger himself saw tallies being changed at the ECK and claimed to have encouraged the late ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu to withstand the pressure to declare Kibaki the winner anyway, even though Ranneberger knew that the Chairman had no way to control the Committee which was thoroughly stacked by Kibaki in the weeks and months before the election.

Once it is recognized that the vote tallies were actually changed at the ECK, Americans–most especially rock-ribbed traditional stalwarts attracted to “the Tea Party” and/or Donald Trump’s “neopatriotism”–will understand that Kenyans had a duty not just a right to protest the 2007 election. Americans would not trust biometric voter registration (or tolerate secret voter lists) but most certainly the traditional American narrative would demand that we march on our county courthouses if our votes were simply changed by our election officials. Ranneberger’s pre-election cables to Washington made clear that as of that time, the Kenyan courts were not independent and would provide no recourse so that voters would be forced to go to the streets if there was fraud that became known.

Once you legitimize protesting the actions of the ECK, and recognize that the largest category of deaths in the Post Election Violence, per the Waki Commission, were those shot by Kibaki’s security forces, and the largest number that were identifiable by tribe were Luo, then the whole notion of some extraneous evil conspiracy somehow involving Obama and the global jihad as the reason for the post election violence becomes that much more irrational. The portion of violence in the Rift Valley that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer insisted on calling “ethnic cleansing” in a January 2008 visit (a label not adopted in Washington) was conducted by Kalenjin militia in the pattern employed by KANU in 1992 and 1997. KANU was a religiously diverse secular party that sought to maintain single-party hegemony through compliant cadres among all major tribes and religious groupings in accordance with its political needs. No suggestion that Moi, who personally identified as a Protestant Christian, was a secret Muslim jihadi even though the victims may have been mostly Christians.

The International Republican Institute/University of California, San Diego exit poll funded by USAID (the one showing an Odinga presidential win by roughly six points that was embargoed for six months) gave more evidence in the details that the 2007 election contest was driven, as normal in Kenyan, by tribal rather than religious alignment with Odinga shown as winning a majority of self-identified Christians and of Muslims (although the margin was greater among Muslims). On the other hand, there was a “gender gap” with women favoring Kibaki and men Odinga.

It may also seem hard to remember now but by January 2009 Obama was sworn in to a wave of good feeling with high approval numbers. He had campaigned as a pragmatic moderate Democrat who was against dumb wars and only for smart ones, a Christian who grew up with limited religion who was popular with the irreligious left, the Christian left and made some real inroads courting what we call “Evangelicals” who were not part of the more politicized harder “Religious Right”. The inaugural celebrations seemed to suggest some real healing from the cultural rifts from “the Sixties” and “Vietnam” that featured so prominently in presidential campaigns throughout my lifetime, as well as a milestone to show that we had come so far in overcoming racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era that black/white racial issues were no longer much a part of those cultural rifts. Maybe we had more in common than our political leaders had been telling us since the rise of Fox News and the Bill Clinton impeachment saga; maybe this president could be a “uniter not a divider” where his predecessor had failed. In part this failure was because the Bush political operation ended up pulling a “bait-and-switch” by mobilizing gullible church networks to support the invasion of Iraq for regime change using a claimed causus belli of active chemical/biological and nuclear weapons programs then firing up the culture wars further to drive turnout to get re-elected over John Kerry. This was a bad error of moral judgment that has continued to reverberate through American politics.

Kerry was certainly a Yankee patrician from “central casting” — as Kenyans well know from the 2017 election — but was unquestionably accurate in pointing out in debate with Bush that we had gotten “stuck in Iraq”. Of course Kerry was too polite, patrician and/or patriotic to go for the jugular and trash Bush for Iraq the the way Donald Trump did in his 2016 campaign.

For saying that we were “stuck in Iraq” Kerry got pilloried as “unpatriotic” aside from the “Swift Boat” sliming he got over his military service in Vietnam–conveniently not a problem for Clinton, Bush, Cheney or Trump who all managed in various ways not to get sent, and unlike Kerry, did not volunteer to actually go to Vietnam. Nonetheless, the unhealed cultural wounds were still such almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon that Vietnam was a winner for Bush over Kerry in spite of Iraq.

Part of the reason that Obama took office with a waive of good feeling and better numbers than he had during the election was that McCain declined to play along with trashing Obama in the darker ways and treated him as a legitimate political adversary. It was good for the country and gave Obama a fair start in office.

“Birtherism,” though, in spite of McCain’s choice, became an enduring American movement which has had a profound effect on our politics and transformed the Republican Party with which I had been involved for much of my life.

Ultimately, the Birther Movement became a tool for Donald Trump as an outsider to gain “free media” and attention and admiration with those who were otherwise profoundly afraid of or opposed to the Obama presidency.

People like John McCain and George W. Bush or his family members in politics, whatever their faults and mistakes on policy choices (even the really big one, invading Iraq, which McCain acknowledges in his latest book, The Restless Wave) were too experienced, too educated, and too well advised to believe craziness about Obama being secretly smuggled into the U.S. as a Kenyan child (although the McCain campaign did check it out to make sure as did the McClatchy newspaper chain) and were morally constrained, in my judgment at least, from deliberately lying about it to hurt Obama. If you cannot buy that it was morals, at least we can agree that they were restrained by a judgment that it was better politics to stay out of that gutter. Hillary Clinton also stayed away (even if one credits the report that her adviser Sidney Blumenthal triggered the McClatchy review to make sure their was nothing to it).

Donald Trump was not similarly constrained and his hectoring of Obama put him in the front row of politics in America. He shared headlines with Obama even as Osama bin-Laden was being killed by the Navy under Obama’s command. Not one to accept defeat in an argument by being proven factually wrong, in this case by the release of Obama’s long form Hawaii birth certificate, Trump bided his time and cranked the Movement back up for his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, discarding it once he had seized the agenda and the Republican Party and the specific “birther” claim was no longer useful to him.

It has been a bit surreal for me to see this happen. Educated middle class Americans of my generation (Obama’s essentially) have a lot to answer for in our complacency I am afraid. Our democratic republic requires more attention and effort than we have delivered in recent years whatever our party or policy preferences.

Fortunately, just as Obama himself has, we hope, time for other acts in his public life as an American after elective politics, the Trump presidency too shall pass and the Birther Movement will be a strange chapter in political history books. It will leave scars and I expect that Trump will be willing to use other lies for domestic advantage that will manipulate gullible people and torque emotions on difficult and divisive social matters. But in the longer term I think we will rise to the occasion and get to a better range of equilibrium. We have significant long term challenges on poverty, education, healthcare and economic mobility and government debt that have been building up during our protracted wartime, but I think Americans getting more engaged and rolling up our sleeves to work on solutions.

Trump as an individual is something of a fluke. Most of the people who voted for him have little in common with him really. I know this because they are my peers, my extended family and friends to a great extent. He lost the national popular vote in a low turnout election. Trump won in large part because neither Obama nor the Clintons succeeded in building a Democratic Party that was seriously competitive in much of the country.

The big difference as of now is that Trump as president in our system still has far less power than the president in any of the East African countries. He will leave office at by the end of his lawful first term or his second if re-elected.

On balance, I think that we will see American policy in its relations with Kenya in the Trump years to continue to be largely a continuation of that under Obama, as reflected in the American approach to supporting both the 2013 election with John Kerry as Secretary of State and 2017 with Kerry as chief election observer and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with Bob Godec as “our man in Kenya” throughout. Just as Obama’s relationship with Kenya in its policy aspects was primarily a continuation of the approach under George W. Bush.

There have been a few major inflection points in the American/Kenyan relationship in the last twenty years, but most have not been specific to whoever was president in either Washington or Nairobi.

The first,of course, was the al-Queda Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, kicking off the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Kenya against various Islamist “violent extremists”. As reflected in the Mombasa rocket attack, the USS Cole bombing, the bombing in Kampala, the various attacks in Kenya, most notoriously the Westgate Mall and Garissa University killings, a persistent understood risk of terrorist incidents have been a regional “fact of life” since. For most Kenyans who are not well secured in their daily bread, and face many bigger daily risks of violent death, terrorism is not quite so central as is to Americans, but has still inevitably shaped both sides of the relationship over the last two decades. And in this context, after 9/11 and our ensuing land wars in South Asia, with the establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti Kenya resumed its regional security role along the lines established in the 1970s and 80s when the United States was fighting the Cold War and Kenyatta and Moi wanted protection from Idi Amin and Siad Barre and the kind of relationship that would be useful to them in avoiding disruption to their domestic rule.

The next inflection point, albeit of lesser magnitude from an American standpoint, was the retirement of Moi and the transition to NARC and Kibaki.

Next was the demise of NARC and the failure of constitutional reform with the 2005 referendum. Relatedly the Anglo Leasing scandal showed security and counter-terrorism were for sale at high levels along with the baseline of corruption in the police and security services that let terrorists move about and in and out of the country. The Artur Brothers and the Standard flamboyantly highlighted the rot.

Next and finally was the start of the war in Somalia to save and reinstate the Transitional Federal Government and oust the ICU in December 2006.

Since that time the United States Government has continued to have and support all our other existing priorities in Kenya such as lifesaving humanitarian health support through PEPFAR and other lower profile programs, food assistance and small farm agricultural support, along with supporting all sorts of philanthropic type programs and the somewhat more controversial “big development” initiatives like Power Africa, frequently in cooperation with other donors.

In recent years we also started devoted more governmental focus to promoting international private financial investment, such as the 2015 U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation investment in the Dubai-based Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, L.P., that has been active in the Nairobi private healthcare market prior to recently entering liquidation under circumstances being investigated.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have been at war in a country with a huge border with Kenya. A country during during much of these last 11 1/2 years which has been too dangerous to support a full diplomatic and aid presence and has thus had those parts of the effort supported from Kenya, as well as a smaller role for Kenya as a host for some U.S. defense forces in addition to those at our base in Djibouti. And from reading the newspapers back in the day and a few books it is apparent that Kenya provided some military support for the invasion by the Ethiopian military at the time to contain potential spread of terrorism.

And in 2011, during Kibaki’s second term, with the support of Prime Minister Odinga, Kenya entered the war directly and formally in its own right.

Roughly nine months later the Kenya Defense Forces were admitted into the AU’s AMISOM peacekeeping collaboration, allowing for financial reimbursement through the Western donors, and eventually drove al-Shabaab, now formally asserting affiliation with al Queda, out of their previous position of direct control of the port at Kismayo (not to say that al Shabaab did not continue to apparently benefit from the illicit charcoal and sugar trade through the port).

A few months before the Ethiopians were invited to restore the TFG in Mogadishu, our Ambassador Bellamy finished his service and Ambassador Ranneberger was similarly appointed by President Bush from the Foreign Service. Within a few months after the start of the war Ranneberger sent a cable to Washington explaining that his approach for “achieving U.S. objectives in Kenya’s elections” was to stay quiet on the debates on constitutional reform and election reform and “build capital” with the incumbent. With the perturbation of the 2008 crisis and the intervention for constitutional reform up through 2010, this has remained the baseline beat of our relationship over the years.

Will the recent moves by Kenya’s dominant new Jubilee Party to align with Communist Party of China structures and philosophy to accompany its huge borrowings from the Chinese State cause any serious rethink in Washington? I have no idea, but it certainly does not seem to have captured any particular place in the priorities of either the retired President Obama or current President Trump.