Ambassador Godec, as Acting Assistant Secretary of State, should articulate U.S. policy for Kenya’s election

Amb. Robert Godec and Sec. Gen. Kofi Annan handshake

Ambassador Robert Godec has served as the Biden Administration’s Acting Assistant Secretary of State since the inauguration.

Ambassador Godec served in Kenya from August 2012, as Chargé d’Affaires following Ambassador Gration’s ouster, becoming the Ambassador in January 2013 after November 2012 confirmation hearings ahead of Kenya’s March 2013 election.

Godec thus led U.S. engagement with both the later stages of the 2013 election and the ensuing litigation (both the presidential election petition at the Supreme Court and first five years of the on-going attempt to prosecute IEBC technology procurement fraud from that election).  He led during the formation of the Jubilee Party in 2016, the eventual replacement of the Issack Hassan-chaired IEBC following protests in which opposition supporters were killed, the attacks on the USAID-funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) by the Jubilee Party, President Kenyatta and Cabinet members, the change of U.S. Administrations from Obama to Trump, the acquisition of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) from Safran Morpho (n/k/a Idemia) shortly thereafter, the abduction and murder of IEBC acting ICT Director Chris Msando on the eve of the 2017 vote, the general election with two US-funded international observation missions and the successful Supreme Court petition annulling the presidential portion of the vote, the boycotted re-run, the announcement of the “Big 4 Agenda”, the post-election diplomatic negotiations, the “People’s President” swearing in, the “Handshake” and most of first year of the Building Bridges Initiative.

For the status of things in December 2018 as Ambassador Godec’s replacement, Ambassador McCarter was being confirmed see: “Something afoot in Kenya: Nation newspaper is running investigative reporting on IEBC procurement corruption in 2017” and “As U.S. Mission passes from Godec to McCarter, Africa Confidential explains how Kenyan politics is still ‘frozen’ in 2005-07 ‘time warp‘.

So at this point, Ambassador Godec is a seasoned veteran of Kenya’s post-2007 politics who knows the ground intimately from the last two election cycles.  (His prospective “permanent” replacement, Mary Catherine Phee, was nominated in April and got a favorable vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, but a confirmation vote by the full Senate is blocked along with dozens of other nominees.)

I was asked a few months ago to write an article about U.S. support for the BBI process, but I have been unable to do so because it is not clear to me what our policy has been or is now, and I have not found people involved willing to talk to me.  Given my role in telling the story of what went wrong in 2007 when I was involved myself it is no surprise that I might not be the one that some in Washington want to open up to now, but even people that I am used to talking to privately have not been as forthcoming as usual.  Nonetheless, Kenyans inevitably have questions, and those Americans who care may in the future.

Members of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance-USA have announced that they have sent Freedom of Information Requests to USAID about support for the Building Bridges Initiative and some Kenyans on social media and in a few cases in print have asserted suspicions or accusations that the U.S. Government was intending to back “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” in the form of the BBI referendum for some negative purpose.  Looking at the degree to which the Obama Administration backed the passage of the new 2010 Constitution as the terminal event of the post-2007 “Reform Agenda”–to the point of having millions of dollars bleed over from neutral democracy assistance programing into supporting the “Yes” campaign in the 2010 referendum during Ambassador Ranneberger’s tenure–I am having a bit of difficulty understanding why my representatives in Washington would be working in general terms to undermine the new Constitution we helped midwife in the first place.

At the same time it has openly been our policy under Ambassador Godec originally and then his predecessor Ambassador McCarter to support the Building Bridges Initiative in broad terms and we did provide some USAID funding for the conducting the consultative process itself.  I think it would be in the interests of the United States and of Kenyans for the State Department to get out front of the questions now, with the BBI referendum effort rejected both at trial court level and by the Court of Appeal, and with the Kenyan presidential race that has been going on since the Handshake entering into its later stages (the IEBC has just now been restored in preparation for 2022 after being without a majority of members since 2018, so critical decisions have been backlogged).

We remain Kenya’s largest aid donor, we have many relationships and support many government and private assistance programs of all sorts in Kenya. Americans have become the largest customer base for Kenya’s economically important tourist business and have other significant economic relationships, especially remittances from Kenyans working in the U.S.  Most Kenyans remain in economic need, and the U.S. continues to have the same issues regarding terrorism as during the past 25+ years (most especially since the 1998 embassy bombing). In general the geographic neighborhood is experiencing more specific crises and some overall erosion of peace, prosperity and governance.  While we may not be as influential in Kenya as we were prior to 2007, and anyone with money can play in Kenyan politics, we will be engaged and we will have influence in 2022.  So there is no time like the present to articulate what our policy is for the coming year.

Here is my take on the BBI report from December 2019: “Important Kenya BBI reads, and my comments“.

And from January 2020: “How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

And The Economist this week: “Kenya’s judges do their duty. A pity about its politicians” asserting that the BBI is “a cloak of respectability” needed to cover “a deal built on rank expediency”, that Raila is a four-time loser in running for president and that Ruto, the obvious political beneficiary of the demise of BBI “denies any wrongdoing” in amassing his fortune vis-a-vis the corrupt Kenyattaa and Odinga families.  Needless to say, The Economist is right to a point, but leaves out a hell of a lot and a lot of hell in terms of the election fraud and post-election violence of 2007-08.

Latest Kenya election remarks from Amb. Godec emphasize need for change; corruption undermining democracy

imageU.S. Ambassador Godec spoke out strongly on corruption in pre-election remarks to students at Maseno University on Wednesday as reported by CapitalFM: “Vote so as to bring change to Kenya says U.S. envoy.”

While emphasizing he personally and the United States favored no candidate or party among Kenyans’ choices, Godec stated:

Corruption is undermining the future of Kenya.  It is creating huge problems and it is underming democracy., security and having a very bad effect and this needs to change.

We seem to be seeing a policy shift from the U.S.  We were strongly opposed to government corruption off and on under Moi after the Cold War and we were also opposed to corruption in 2005-06 with the Anglo Leasing and other scandals.

After getting burned, perhaps, for changing positions in 2007 to become soft on corruption under Kibaki and looking the other way as he stole re-election, we were back to being “against” to some degree on a “go forward” basis after the formation of the “Government of National Unity” in Kibaki’s second Administration.  We preached “the reform agenda” through passage of the referendum to approve the new constitution in 2010 (noting that one pesky problem:  Daily Nation reports that USAID Inspector General has found that US funding did go specifically to encourage “Yes” vote on referendum.)

After years now of being back on our heels for whatever reason, we have rediscovered the dignity required to speak up and now to take a “small dollar” but conspicuous and significant action in suspending a little over $20M in support for the looted Ministry of Health, and now open acknowledgement of that the magnitude of the problem has reached a point that it is a critical threat.