Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas for the third time from the AfriCommons Blog.  Sorry for the light posting–I’ve slowed down for the holidays.  I didn’t take note earlier this month of the second anniversary of the blog and have also been taking some extra time to read and take stock of where the blog should go next year with the Kenyan election campaign and so much else going on in the region at the same time.

The latest “birther” lawsuit was thrown out by a federal court today–hope that will die and that people involved in the U.S. campaigns can leave Kenya out of our races here.

I have received a couple of Christmas presents from the State Department this week:  first, I finally got the first installment of cables from my outstanding FOIA request from October 2009 about the Embassy’s 2007 election observation (albeit with pretty extensive redaction on several of them).

Second, the Secretary rose to the occasion and made a strong statement criticizing the cursory approval by Kabila’s Supreme Court of his asserted re-election:

Secretary Clinton’s statement:

The United States is deeply disappointed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the electoral commission’s provisional results without fully evaluating widespread reports of irregularities. We believe that the management and technical execution of these elections were seriously flawed, lacked transparency and did not measure up to the democratic gains we have seen in recent African elections. However, it is still not clear whether the irregularities were sufficient to change the outcome of the election.

We believe that a review of the electoral process by the Congolese authorities and outside experts may shed additional light on the cause of the irregularities, identify ways to provide more credible results, and offer guidance for the ongoing election results and for future elections. We strongly urge all Congolese political leaders and their supporters to act responsibly, renounce violence, and resolve any disagreements through peaceful, constructive dialogue.

We have called on Congolese authorities to investigate and prevent election related human rights violations and we urge security forces to show restraint in maintaining order. The United States continues to offer our assistance and we stand with the Congolese people in their quest for greater peace and democracy at home and throughout the region.

A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki–getting the F-5s, safaris and slums

A priceless bit of diplomatic history, from October 1, 1975, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meets with Kenyan Foreign Minister Waiyaki  at the U.S. United Nations Mission in New York.  You just have to read it:

The Secretary: It is good to see you here.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: We are enjoying ourselves very much.

The Secretary: I was in Nairobi before your independence. I went to see the animals. I was there in June. It was very pleasant. How long are you staying here?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I hope to leave tomorrow. I have been here a long time.

The Secretary: You were here for the Special Session of the UN?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Yes.

The Secretary: How did you get into your present job? Were you a career officer in the Foreign Ministry?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: No, I am a member of Parliament. I was formerly Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.

The Secretary: The only way I could get into the State Department was to be appointed Secretary of State. I was told that I don’t have the qualifications for entry into the Foreign Service.

The Secretary: What are the major problems in our relations?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Our relations are good.

The Secretary: I can’t understand Foreign Ministers saying that our relations are good. Normally everyone says they are lousy.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Relations are good.

The Secretary: I agree with you. Our relations are good. It is pleasant to hear this. Usually I am told that everything we are doing is wrong. You have a very constructive policy and our intention is to support you within the limits the Congress will go along with.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I hope Congress will understand the requests which we make.

The Secretary: Congress does not go along with the requests I make, but we are going to get them under control soon.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I am in the strange position where I am a congressman myself, but I still get pushed around by other congressmen.

The Secretary: You have a parliamentary system?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Yes.

The Secretary: You have only one party?

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: Yes, but I am questioned by backbenchers and also by assistant ministers sometimes.

The Secretary: We have had some talks on arms. We are trying to put together a military assistance package for Kenya.

Foreign Minister Waiyaki: I hope you can move quickly.

The Secretary: What is holding things up?

Mr. Coote: We thought we had some F5A aircraft lined up for Kenya. They would have been available immediately at a low cost. This was the big advantage of that package. However, it did not work out.

The Secretary: Why didn’t it work out?

Continue reading

Happy Birthday to USAID and Walter Cronkite

USAID turned 50 today.  The agency began in the first year of the Kennedy Presidency and has been an important part of his legacy and a symbol perhaps of American optimism and hopeful leadership in development.  It was a product of those years between Sputnik and Vietnam when America felt challenged, but seems to have retained a certain expectation of effectiveness, and faith in the ability to set and achieve goals as a country.  1961 was the independence era in Africa, and the time of the  “airlift” of students including Wangari Maathai and President Obama’s father to the United States.  It was also in the rising time of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and its is clear in hindsight that we were not yet fully prepared psychologically for complete African sovereignty in the context of the Cold War–but at least it was a beginning.

Walter Cronkite, a worldly man of Middle America, turned 45 on USAID’s first day.  As part of a generation born during one World War and in his 20s in the next, Cronkite I expect would have approved.  The next year he became the anchor of the CBS Evening News and soon “The Most Trusted Man in America”.  (This was before the Rupert Murdoch era in the United States . . .)

In 2011, the Cold War is long over.  Osama bin Laden is dead.  Democracy is stirring in the most unlikely places and the world is far more prosperous than it was 50 years ago.  We have been learning a lot about development.  We are starting to feel challenged again by a rising China–perhaps this will provide the inspiration and motivation for a renewed ability to look hopefully beyond the next election cycle into a future in which we have helped to solve some of the world’s problems.

From the official history at the USAID website:

On September 4, 1961, the Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act, which reorganized the U.S. foreign assistance programs including separating military and non-military aid. The Act mandated the creation of an agency to administer economic assistance programs, and on November 3, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID became the first U.S. foreign assistance organization whose primary emphasis was on long-range economic and social development assistance efforts. Freed from political and military functions that plagued its predecessor organizations, USAID was able to offer direct support to the developing nations of the world.  (emphasis added)

Exciting Opportunity for American Somali and Swahili speakers

A reader called my attention to a  government program that might be a real benefit to some of you:

Do any readers speak Balochi, Dari, Pashto, Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Arabic, Mandarin, Swahili, Somali, Igbo, Hausa, or Turkish?  If so, the US government offers a great opportunity.

English for Heritage Language Speakers is government scholarship, like the Fulbright or the Boren, but specifically for Americans whose native language is not English.

The goal is to help advanced English learners become fluent enough to work for the U.S. Government.  The scholarship pays for a year of English courses at Georgetown University (complete with a stipend, laptop and health insurance) and helps you find a government job afterward.  Working for the government provides not only a secure job in a tough economy, but also a fulfilling, exciting way to contribute to society.  You can find more information at http://ehls.georgetown.edu/ or http://www.cal.org/ehls/, or just Google “English for Heritage Language Speakers.”

I’ve looked at the websites and this really does appear to be a great program that could provide the right person a major professional breakthrough.  Good luck!

U.S. not participating in Kenyan offensive in Somalia, says State Department

Contradicting the previous reports from Kenyan military spokesmen, the U.S. responded yesterday as reported by the Voice of America:

The United States has denied taking part in Kenya’s operation against al-Shabab militants in southern Somalia.

A U.S. State Department release said Tuesday that the U.S. has helped Kenya build its border defense capacity for years, but added, “The United States is not participating in Kenya’s current operation in Somalia.”

A Kenyan army spokesman said Sunday that so-called “partners” had launched airstrikes against al-Shabab, and indicated that one of those partners was the United States.

The Kenyan army spokesman also said the French Navy had shelled the al-Shabab stronghold of Kismayo.  The French navy denied that claim on Monday.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia this month in pursuit of al-Shabab militants, which it blames for a series of cross-border kidnappings.

Somalia’s president said Monday that he opposes the Kenyan intervention.  President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said only African Union troops can operate legally in Somalia.

That drew a sharp response from a top Kenyan lawmaker, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Farah Moallim, who told VOA Somali Service Tuesday that Kenya has a right to defend itself.

.  .  .  .

As reported by the BBC, France, on the other hand, has said that it will provide logistical support to the Kenyan forces–while denying reports that its Navy was involved in shelling Al-Shabaab positions.

Will Kenyan Military Engagement in Southern Somalia Disrupt Kenyan Reforms?

Readers will undoubtedly be following the news of the Kenyan military moving to challenge al-Shabaab well across the border in southern Somalia.  I don’t feel that I have anything particularly profound to add to what is readily available on the direct events, but I did want to suggest some questions that need to be considered as to how this military action will interact with democracy and governance at a critical time in Kenya.

In Nairobi, three names have now been passed to the President and Prime Minister for consideration for nomination to chair a new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.  Preparations for the next election are running behind as is the overall “reform agenda” including other key aspects of implementing the new Constitution.  There is progress in some areas, “backsliding” in others, and time is short.

The threat of terrorism by Islamist extremists has been a part of the fabric of Kenyan governance and international relations for a long time now, especially since the 1998 Embassy bombings.  Al-Shabaab has been willing to starve civilians and commit a variety of atrocities on Somalis, and engaged in external terrorism in Kampala last year.  Kenya has a right to be concerned and a right and obligation to protect its citizens and territory.  At the same time, it would be naive not to recognize the potential for this new military action to distract and divert resources from other critical work that needs to be done within the Kenyan government.

Likewise, this new environment will present a big challenge to the United States, and perhaps to the UK and EU in supporting the reform process.  We went through this before in 2006 and 2007.  Compare U.S. criticism of corruption in the Kenyan government before and after the Ethiopians invaded Somalia in December 2006.  (I have no evidence of any correlation between the dramatic change in tone on corruption and events in and relating to Somalia–and no one has ever suggested one to me.  But then, no one has really offered any other clear explanation either, so I have had to wonder about this.)  Heightened military interaction with Kenyan forces could in theory make it harder for the U.S. to push consistently for reforms in Kenyan governance or lower reforms on the list of U.S. priorities.  To me, reform is the best medicine to fight the threat of terrorism and regional instability, and terrorists will always have access to Kenya as long as key pieces of the Kenyan governance structure can be purchased.  But sometimes it is hard for us to keep our eye on that ball when there are challenges from immediate disruptions.

An then there is the upcoming election itself.  If it was ultimately “best not to know” who won in 2007, how much risk can be tolerated to try for a freer and fairer Kenyan election in 2012?

Famine Aid for Somalia/Horn of Africa this morning

This morning at church, on a beautiful, sunny, cool day in coastal Mississippi, we had a “packing event” for international food aid for Somalia through the group “Stop Hunger Now”.  We also donated $5,000 through special offerings collected by our youth.  We have done these events before, but our minister was aware of this crisis now and called to say that we wanted to respond.

Stop Hunger Now is an international hunger relief agency that has been fulfilling its commitment to end hunger for more than 12 years. Since 1998, the organization has coordinated the distribution of food and other lifesaving aid to children and families in countries all over the world.

Stop Hunger Now has provided more than $70 million dollars worth of direct aid and 34 million meals to 72 countries worldwide.

Stop Hunger Now created its meal packaging program, in 2005. The program perfected the assembly process that combines rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix including 21 essential vitamins and minerals into small meal packets. Each meal costs only 25 cents. The food stores easily, has a shelf-life of five years and transports quickly.

Stop Hunger Now works with international partners that ship and distribute the meals in-country. Stop Hunger Now primarily ships its meals to support school feeding programs, but also provides meals to our in-country partners for crisis relief.

The packaging operation is mobile, (i.e. it can go wherever volunteers are located), and can be adapted to accommodate as few as 25 and as many as 500 volunteers at a time. One SHN packaging event can result in the packaging of more than 1,000,000 meals or product servings. The use of volunteers for product packaging has resulted in an extremely cost-effective operation while, at the same time, increasing awareness of global hunger and food insecurity issues across a broad cross-section of the US population.

Here is more information about the work of Stop Hunger Now in Somalia and Kenya.

Will Kenyan ICC defendants ever become “too hot to touch” for the U.S. and other Western players in Kenya? If so, when?

With the second round of “confirmation” hearings underway in the Hague for the charges against “the Ocampo Six” this week and next, the U.S. and other Western “donors” and supporters of Kenya’s Grand Coalition Government are confronted with the spectacle of Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister in the dock facing charges of egregious crimes of international significance. Of the six, five either have significant current jobs in the Kenyan government or are Members of Parliament (or both in the case of the Deputy Prime Minister/Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta).

The current Grand Coalition Government was formed as the preferred donor approach to the 2007 Kenyan election debacle–the U.S. quickly asserted that it was impossible to conduct any sort of remedial activity about the election, that both sides “needed each other” and should cut a deal to share power. The Europeans soon fell in line. The current Kenyan government, as represented in the Hague trials, is not a creation of the Kenyan voting public, but rather of the political elites on “both sides” along with the “international community” led by key players in Kenya, most especially the United States. The U.S. is said to have insisted that the coalition not be temporary but remain in place a full five years as if ordinarily elected.  In playing this role, did we not take on some responsibilities besides promoting conceptual reforms that might or might not bear fruit in the future?

I was in Kenya as these crimes were happening. Who really believes that Ocampo is making these things up?

Irrespective of whether Ocampo, or more likely his successor, ultimately wins convictions eventually, what is it that we need to know that we don’t know now to decide whether or not the defendants are ordinary political leaders of an allied country which we support and with whom we conduct “business as usual” or are ordinary defendants charged with crimes against humanity directed at their own people, and while facing trial worthy of some decent level of distance and disapproval?

Make no mistake about the defendants continued reliance on attempts to rally tribal solidarity.  Take note of  Uhuru Kenyatta’s approach to the charges that he was a primary mover in unleashing the Mungiki to murder Luos in the eastern Rift Valley as a political counterbalance to Kalenjin militia attacks on Kikuyu further west, from today’s Standard:

A lawyer representing 233 victims of post-election violence accused Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta of uttering inflammatory statements on the eve of his appearance at The Hague.

The lawyer, Mr Morris Anyah, used press reports carried on September 19 in which the minister was allegedly quoted saying, “we are going to The Hague and we know justice will prevail, because we did nothing wrong and all we did was to support our people”.

He claimed that the statement had tribal connotations and was intended to justify retaliatory attacks that are subject of charges against Uhuru before the ICC.

On Wednesday, the lawyer said the statement, which seems to proclaim Uhuru’s innocence holds a deadly meaning in the tribal context of the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

If the defendants at the Hague this week had wanted to “support” any of the Kenyan people, or otherwise defend Kikuyu farmers and villagers in the Rift Valley, they could have used the government security forces at their disposal to secure “hot spots” in the Rift Valley rather than Uhuru Park in Nairobi, and could have more generally used the security forces for security instead of for the election effort.  What Ocampo is laying bare on both sides is tactical mass murder for politics–this was never war, it was politics by Kenyan means.

Part Seven–One last FOIA cable on the 2007 Exit Poll

See the previous posts in this series:  Part One, Two , Three , Four, Five, and Six.

The last of the five State Department cables released to me last month regarding the USAID Kenyan exit poll is from February 21, 2008.  This is the cable with some redaction.  I suppose all of this may be out on the internet anyway via Wikileaks, but as I have noted previously I am not able to use that material and am only working with unclassified information provided through regular lawful means and published news.

The subject matter of this cable is “Secretary Rices’s February 18, 2008 visit with Kenyan business and civil society leaders.”  The names of the Kenyans are redacted.  On the U.S. side of the conversation were Secretary Rice, Ambassador Ranneberger and Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, along with the spokesman for the National Security Council and a notetaker.  Here is the exit poll discussion:

______________ stressed the need for accountability–so that Kenyans who turned out in record numbers for the December election learn what happened to their votes, and the leaders behind vigilantism and state violence be held to account.  Constitutional reform, [s/he] said, is necessary to address two great problems:  gross partiality by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and excessive power held by the executive branch of government.  Noting that Kenya’s Diaspora in the UK reportedly are mobilizing funds to support ethnic militias, ____ asked the Secretary to make sure that the same is not happening in the United States. [ S/he] then questioned why a survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) was not released that suggested that ODM candidate Odinga may have won the December elections.  IRI says the survey was in training analysis and has methodological errors calling into question its reliability.

Secretary Rice clarified that the IRI is wholly independent of the US government and that its views, analysis and conclusions should not be confused with USG policy.  Assistant Secretary Frazer underscored this by relaying that she was asked about the IRI survey by members of the United States Congress, and affirmed that she had no information about why the survey was not released and had no position on whether it should be released or not.

The cable, which was sent over Rice’s name and “from” the Secretary’s delegation, does not provide any information about the source of its statement that “IRI says the survey was in training analysis and has methodological errors calling into question its reliability”.  I never heard the “training exercise” justification for not releasing the poll within IRI, although I did see it from the Ambassador in his “web chat” Q & A a few weeks later in March, as I have noted.  Likewise, there were no bona fide issues with the methodology of the poll as conducted on December 27, as IRI later acknowledged in publishing the results in August.

Again, the “training exercise” notion is specifically contradictory to what Ranneberger wrote in his previous cables–as well as what I was explicitly told by USAID, as well as the purposes of the program set out in the USAID funding agreement to IRI.  Secretary Rice was right about IRI being independent, and the specifics of what she said are unexceptionable–however, the implication that the exit poll in Kenya that the Kenyan civil society leaders were asking for was somehow IRI “private property” is completely wrong as has been explained.  USAID initiated the poll and funded it with tax dollars–“for early intelligence for the Ambassador” as I was told on election day or as a check on potential election fraud as the Ambassador wrote in his cables to Washington before the election–and the US Government owned the rights to the data (not to say that Kenyans didn’t also have rights to it as well).

Ultimately, this only became complicated because certain people involved could not bring themselves, for whatever reason or reasons, to address the facts in a clear and forthright manner.

The quest for accountability to Kenyan voters has remained unanswered sadly.  A news story in the Daily Nation in 2011, in the final item on my chronology of links to coverage of the Kenyan election, reports from an alleged leaked cable that ten days before this February 18, 2008 meeting at the Ambassador’s residence, the State Department issued “visa bans” against ECK members based on evidence regarding bribery–but did not disclose this circumstance, or the evidence, at this meeting (I checked with a participant).  We, the United States, made clear that we were willing to step up financial and rhetorical support for reforms in Kenya–such as the new constitution–under a deal in which the new Kibaki administration shared power with the opposition under an Kofi Annan-brokered deal–but we brushed aside the issue of the fraud in the election.

[Note on the exit poll methodology and funding:  In preparing for the 2007 exit poll I had looked back at the 2002 and 2005 exit polls conducted under the same USAID program by IRI and Strategic Public Relations and Research–although everyone had been satisfied at the time, the USCD experts and I felt that we needed a lot more from this poll.  The election was expected to be much closer than the 2002 election and 2005 referendum and the outcome could come down to the 25% in 5 provinces requirement–the previous polls were less reliable at the provincial as opposed to national level.  I successfully pushed the polling firm, Strategic, hard to agree to do much more work for very little more money, since the funding that was added extend the polling program was comparable to that for the previous polls.  We had a small amount of additional funding through UCSD, but there was never any “private” IRI funding available to me in the East Africa office for our Kenya programming so I had no choice but to drive a hard bargain.  In a time of very high inflation in Kenya, of course, Strategic’s actual costs would be significantly higher in 2007 than on the 2002 or 2005 exit polls.  After the failure to release the poll on a more timely basis ended up in the New York Times in 2009, IRI pulled out a lot of irrelevant material from pre-contract negotiations with Strategic.  This had nothing to do with waiting for several months to release the poll under the methodolgy that was ultimately agreed to by IRI and UCSD, and Strategic, with the implicit blessing of USAID, shortly before the election.]