Kenya: How will the Trump Administration’s support for the Uhuru-Raila handshake play out in 2020?

Since I asked this same question in January 2019 we have seen finally publication of the initial Building Bridges Initiative report delivered to President Kenyatta and released to the public, as I have discussed in a few posts, but the overall question on how things play out in 2020 remain essentially the same. Ambassador McCarter has made clear that the United States remains committed to the Building Bridges Initiative even if he did not personally agree with a few things in the report.

Here it is:

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

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.

Good news and bad news on the effectiveness of American “democracy assistance”: we spent most of the money where war precluded meaningful opportunity

The conjunction of war and democracy assistance has been brought back to the fore for me the publication by The Washington Post of its “Afghanistan Papers” series.

The bottom line on the Afghanistan war for me is that those who warned that we were risking losing Afghanistan to invade Iraq (who seemed persuasive to me at the time) turned out to be right:

Drawing partly on the interviews but largely on other government documents, SIGAR [the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction] published two Lessons Learned reports in 2017 and 2019 that highlighted an array of problems with the Afghan security forces. The reports followed several SIGAR audits and investigations that had pinpointed similar troubles with the Afghan army and police. 

But the Lessons Learned reports omitted the names of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project, as well as their most biting critiques. The Post obtained notes and transcripts of the interviews under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after a three-year legal battle. 

“We got the [Afghan forces] we deserve,” Douglas Lute, an Army lieutenant general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. 

If the U.S. government had ramped up training between 2002 and 2006, “when the Taliban was weak and disorganized, things may have been different,” Lute added. “Instead, we went to Iraq. If we committed money deliberately and sooner, we could have a different outcome.”

It may be that we never really had a chance to achieve a desirable outcome but we made an alternative choice that appears to have precluded what chance there was.

Of course I cannot truly be surprised by pervasive “spin” about Afghanistan because of my experience in Kenya in 2007-2008 and the lack of response from the government and the official democracy assistance fraternity to the my disclosure of dishonesty in how we (the U.S. Government) addressed election fraud in Kenya and how we handled the inconvenient exit poll showing an opposition win and some of the inconvenient things we witnessed as election observers at the polls. [Not to mention what we all knew about Iraq by 2007.]

Even though most “name brand” experts and U.S. Government funded institutions seem to agree that globally democracy is in some form of recession, it is hard to know whether serious and purposeful United States-funded democracy assistance programming might have potential benefits because most of the money and effort has gone to war adjunct “nation building” as in Afghanistan where it turns out that nearly everyone has “privately” been admitting that we do not know what we are doing or should be doing and thus have no real chance of genuine success.

During my time with the International Republican Institute in the late Bush Administration the dominant “democracy promotion” or “democracy assistance” programs were Iraq followed by Sudan. Shortly after I finished my time in the barrel in Kenya in mid-2008 the venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies convened a blue ribbon panel to look at the reputation problem of the term “democracy promotion” due to the association with experimental “expeditionary warfare” in Iraq. Thus the pivot from “democracy promotion” to “democracy assistance”.

By the later Obama years Afghanistan, followed by Iraq and newly severed but but failing South Sudan were getting most of the democracy assistance dollars.

A Government Accountability Office report on Democracy Assistance, GAO-18-136, notes “Total USAID democracy assistance funding for projects in Afghanistan was greater than for any other country, amounting to almost 39 percent of USAID’s total democracy assistance obligations during fiscal years 2012 through 2015.” Here are the totals for the top fourteen USAID democracy assistance FY 2012-16 “places of performance”:

Afghanistan 1,650M

Iraq 238M

Regional/Global 201M

South Sudan 159M

Mexico 102M

Columbia 86M

Honduras 81M

Pakistan 79M

Bangladesh 76M

Haiti 73M

Liberia 68M

Egypt 65M

Kenya 60M

Indonesia 60M

*Note this is just USAID and does not encompass the separate Department of Defense and State programs, and much smaller amounts from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Back in 2007 in Kenya, a country on the brink of crisis, but supposedly of vital interest to the United States, most of the democracy assistance money being spent in the country was the “back office” operations for the vast (as measured in dollars anyway) pre-independence Southern Sudan operation.

People in Washington paid so little attention to democratization in Kenya in 2007 as to fail to realize or at least act on the risks of having the Ambassador “looking and pointing the other way” as Kibaki rather openly stole re-election (even though the opposition was also pro-Western and friendly to the United States so there was no bona fide nation interest served by those Americans who subverted our own meagre democracy assistance program).

In 2013, even after the disaster of 2007, we deliberately chose the path of non-transparency when our funded purchasing of the Results Transmission System for the election was botched and the system failed to work. Kenya’s Supreme Court shut down a partial recount that showed serious problems and affirmed the questionable tally of the Electoral Commission (litigating with undisclosed American-funded assistance) to avoiding by a whisker the runoff that the pre-election polls predicted. The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the procurement fraud cases, but the Kenyan executive authorities simply ignored the order. My FOIA research so far documents discussion among the donors involved in the UNDP “basket fund” including the United States, whether to cooperate with a subsequent investigation by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, but I do not know the outcome as I continue awaiting processing of remaining documents from my 2015 request to USAID.

In hindsight, I should have read more into the decision of my late friend Joel Barkan to stay home and “watch” that election from Washington. By 2017, the incumbent Kenyan government was clearly not committed to providing a level playing field and I stayed home myself. No incumbent Kenyan president has been found by a Kenyan election commission to have failed to “win” his re-election. The misfeasance on the technology for 2017 was blatant enough in that instance for the Supreme Court to annul the presidential vote, in spite of diplomatic and observer support for the announced outcome. The environment was too fraught with mistrust at that point to provide a mutually acceptable platform for a re-vote and Kenyatta was re-inaugurated after an opposition boycott.

Kenya’s political class is now focussed primarily on the 2022 campaign. The joint “Building Bridges Initiative” report released this month proposes that the remants of the Electoral Commission of Kenya from the 2017 vote be “bought out” and a new commission constituted, as was done following the problems in 2007 and 2013, but no action to implement this is yet pending.

In the meantime, much our policy in Somalia has been a variable secretive melange of counterterrorism, war and nation building with a sprinkling of democracy assistance. There is no Special Inspector General for the war in Somalia so we will not have created the kind of record that the Washington Post has been able to obtain on Afghanistan, but perhaps someday we will all know more. By May 2006 the Post did report: “U.S. Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia” and by that December we secretly supported the Ethiopian military invasion to re-instate the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the picture below I am visiting with the leadership of the Kulmiye Party on behalf of our USAID-funded IRI program in November 2007. Chairman “Silyano” is to the far right and I am next to him. Silanyo served as President of Somaliland from 2010-2017.

With Silanyo and Kulmiye leaders in his office

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

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

I am not sure whether Somaliland has been better off or worse off over these intervening years for not being formally recognized while agreeing sentimentally with the desire that the Somalilanders’ achievement of defacto independence be “blessed” legally.

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

Somaliland Hargeisa Foreign Minister Puntland 2007

As fate would have it a month before Mayor Pete’s op-ed on Somaliland ran in The New York Times on July 31, 2008 a Times investigative reporter contacted me at my office in Mississippi about the unreleased IRI exit poll showing an opposition win against Kibaki in that December 2007 election in Kenya. I gave the interview and initial follow-up that contributed my input into the investigation that the Times eventually reported on on the front page, after the Obama inauguration, on January 30, 2009: “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll.

Important Kenya BBI reads, and my comments

Patrick Gathara, Al Jazeera English: “Kenya’s BBI is the political elites’s attempt to rewrite history

Waihiga Mwaura, BBC: “Letter from Africa: Is Kenya building bridges to nowhere?

Gov. Anyang’ Nyong’o, Star: “We need honest and patriotic debate on the handshake report

US Embassy: Ambassador Godec’s Remarks for National Dialogue Conference, September 11, 2018

Star news report, Nov. 28: US Ambassador McCarter hails BBI report as key to unity

My comment: I have read much of the report in some detail, but still working through some sections. When Ambassador McCarter hails the report and suggests that Kenyans should not comment until they have read it, he does let us know that it is intended to be an elite consensus to be handed down into Kenya’s democratic politics such as it is.

Figures on internet penetration in Kenya are, inevitably, as inconsistent as figures on Kenya’s population. Some assert that more than 85% of Kenyans have internet access, but so much of that is strictly mobile and expensive for data that reading the full report while suspending comment is quite a big ask. The Ambassador obviously is a very quick reader based on the timing of the release and his comments to The Star.

On substance, I find Kenya’s elites to be smart, well educated and well spoken, so it is no surprise that within the details of the report I find a lot of exposition that is appealing to me. How seriously is it to be taken? One has to compare the track record of these elites to past performance, which while giving no guaranty of the future, is the most tangible thing to go on in trying to guess whether they are serious. That part does not weigh in favor of getting too excited about the document one way or the other.

As an example, look at the recent US attack on Senator Amos Wako for his alleged corruption as Kenya’s attorney general during the Moi and first and second Kibaki Administrations at the same time he was a key member of the BBI effort. So what does my government really think about the BBI process?

Beyond that, what I would need to know myself, and what I would think Kenyans would need to know is how the specific decisions reflected in the report were made. The report is very ambitions, and arguably internally contradictory, in making profound recommendations for the shape of Kenya for generations to come. How did the BBI team decide to stress on one hand the idea of going back to try a “nation building” exercise of coming up with some type of “national ethos” for Kenya,while also committing to doubling down on and even expediting the notion of regionally confederating and then federating in an East African state? Are either of these goals realistic and if both are, are they compatible?

What was the process for deciding that industrial manufacturing for a regional market was the best way to address the employment crisis? And so on.

[Update: I have completed my “close reading” of the full document. What I will add is that there are a lot of worthwhile specific items included in the recommendations toward making Kenya’s government more effective/efficient/ fair. These represent collectively a substantial amount of thought and effort and I do not take that lightly; collectively they could if fully implemented quickly accomplish very significant incremental improvements, but do not seem to me to suggest something profoundly transformational. Aside from the issues I mentioned above, the gaping hole is the failure to address at all the unfulfilled parts of Kenya’s National Accord from the 2008 “peace deal” following the stolen 2007 election, especially the truncated and “shelved” Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report.]

Nairobi’s Star publishes extraordinary story using SECRET 2009 Cable about Amos Wako corruption issues published by Wikileaks in 2010 to explain U.S. visa ban and designation

Read here from The Star: “What Ranneberger told Washington about Wako on corruption”.

Update Nov. 19, see the follow-up: “10 big names join Wako on US travel ban“.

When Wikileaks first published the mass of stolen State Department cables in late 2010 while Michael Ranneberger was Ambassador to Kenya The Star to my recollection did not write any stories from them–including about this 2009 cable, classified SECRET, on the Amos Wako issues. Of course it was more timely then and Wako was still serving as Attorney General.

The Star and The Standard both stayed away from direct coverage of material from the leaked cables, while The Nation did a small number of Kenya stories–not including this Wako subject matter–before quickly backing off.

The most topical of those for me back in 2011 was a Nation story revealing that in early 2008 the US had issued undisclosed (and unknown to me) visa bans against three members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on substantial evidence of bribery. The State Department has never to this day acknowledged knowing about the bribery at the ECK in the 2007 election and the publication of such stories in the Nation quickly dried up. (I was told of ECK bribery by another diplomatic source in January 2008.)

Back in the States in my job in the defense industry (with my security clearance) I was told by a friend in the Kenyan media that I had been “sweetly vindicated” on my public contradictions with the Ambassador in the New York Times and otherwise about the 2007 election but the “Wikileaked” cables were not available to me due to the obligations of my security clearance. Readers of this blog will know that I started the process of requesting related information through the Freedom of Information Act in 2009, more than a year before Wikileaks hit, and that I have received released versions of some of the same Cables that Wikileaks published unredacted.

I learned in real time that Ranneberger expressed active displeasure with The Star for publishing a story in February 2008 on the leaked USAID/International Republican Institute exit poll showing an opposition (Odinga) win in the December 2007 election, so I always assumed that it was likely that the Kenyan newspapers received diplomatic encouragement not to publish independently from the stolen cables.

Clearly the Trump Administration has had quite a very different approach with Wikileaks than the Obama Administration did back in 2010 and Ranneberger is now retired from Government himself and working as a consultant and lobbyist looking, among other things, to influence the Trump Administration. So lots of things have changed aside from Wako moving to the Senate from the Attorney General’s office and having a leading role in the current Building Bridges Initiative.

[I will add links to my previous posts, but wanted to go ahead and get this up.]

See “Part Seven — one last FOIA Cable on the 2007 exit poll“:

. . . .

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 [Feb 18] 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 bargain–but we brushed aside the issue of the fraud in the election.

Kenya election vote counting Westlands Nairobi

US response to South Sudan corruption: a shoe drops

New action today on South Sudan corruption today, offering hope on the question from my last post “How quickly will the United States Government act in “analysis, evaluation and investigation” of The Sentry report on South Sudan?

Statement from The Sentry: “US Sanctions Al-Cardinal, Tycoon Named in Reports of The Sentry“:

October 11, 2019 (Washington D.C.) — Today, the United States placed sanctions on Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali, widely known as Al-Cardinal, a tycoon with ties to the U.S., UK, and UAE.

Today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) target Al-Cardinal and his network of businesses, and come in the wake of two recent investigative reports by The Sentry “The Taking of South Sudan” and “Al-Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch,” that detailed the business activities of Al-Cardinal, among others, and urged governments to sanction him and his networks.

. . . .

Joshua White, Director of Policy and Analysis at The Sentry, said: “The Sentry applauds today’s action by the Department of the Treasury, which should serve as a warning to the financial facilitators and commercial enablers of corrupt South Sudanese elites that they will lose access to the dollar unless they cease doing business that funds violence in the country. The United Kingdom and other European countries, as well as those in the region, should follow suit . . .

. . . .

The Sentry’s investigation found that Al-Cardinal has exploited opaque procurement processes, weak oversight institutions, and cozy relationships with South Sudan’s most powerful politicians to line his own pockets.

“A major enabler of corruption and violence for President Salva Kiir’s government,” according to the The Sentry’s reporting, Al-Cardinal has been embroiled in major procurement scandals, set up private businesses with ruthless military generals, imported military equipment during a bloody civil war and landed lucrative contracts linked to the implementation of the peace deal in South Sudan.

Read the full report “Al Cardinal: South Sudan’s Original Oligarch”: https://eno.ug/al-
Read the full report “The Taking of South Sudan”: https://eno.ug/

Reuters: “US imposes sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen for fraud, bribery“:

The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two South Sudanese businessmen, Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal and Kur Ajing Ater, for their involvement in bribery, kickbacks and procurement fraud with senior government officials, the Treasury Department said on Friday.

After the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Benjamin Bol Mel, a key adviser to the South Sudanese president, in 2017, Mel used an account in the name of the companies of Al-Cardinal to evade sanctions and store personal funds, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

In early 2019, the South Sudanese government paid millions of dollars to a company owned by Al-Cardinal ostensibly for food, but that in fact was routed to senior South Sudanese government officials, the Treasury Department said. . . .

How quickly will the United States Government act in “analysis, evaluation and investigation” of The Sentry report on South Sudan?

On October 2, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy, the top U.S. diplomat assigned to Africa, conducted a post-UN General Assembly telephonic press briefing and availability for journalists in various Embassies on the continent. Read the full transcript here.

There were a striking number of questions about Sudan and South Sudan, but I thought this was most pertinent:

QUESTION: Okay, I can talk? All right, my name is Emmanuel from Eye Radio in Juba. I believe Mr. Tibor, you have come across the recent report that was released recently by The Sentry about implicating some South Sudanese top government officials and actually come out with recommendations to the U.S. government, so what is your current recommendations?

ASST. SEC. TIBOR NAGY: Thanks very much for raising that. Because I know the people involved in The Sentry very well. As a matter of fact, one of the key people John Prendergast, I have known and respected for a very long time. Our Department of State, U.S. government, we welcome the Sentry’s efforts to bring light to corrupt practices in South Sudan. We know for a long time that there’s been quite a relationship between corruption and conflict, unfortunately. Innocent people have suffered. The United States will very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations in The Sentry report and as you all know, the United States of America maintains the right to use all of the tools available whether diplomatic or whether financial or anything else to respond.

Right now there are allegations, they’re very serious allegations but they do require some careful analysis, evaluation and investigation. Thank you very much, over and out.

Here is the link to The Sentry report, “The Taking of South Sudan“.

So before the “over and out” Asst. Sec. Nagy does commit the US to “very carefully review the material presented and the recommendations” but it is a bit ambiguous as to whether he is committing the US to the next step of “investigation” that he says is “required” since he characterizes the report’s findings as “allegations”.

My gut reaction is to think of Asst. Sec. Nagy as someone who would like us to conduct ourselves well when it comes to underwriting the type of conduct outlined in The Sentry report (although I don’t know him at all nor was I familiar before he was tapped for this job from retirement). At the same time, you don’t make a life as a diplomat without learning to carefully say very little and make it sound like it is more for those who want something enough to hear it. So, how quickly will we do our review/analysis/evaluation? What will we do next? How quickly will we investigate? Will we send the FBI? Career Justice Department prosectors? Alternatively, the Attorney General?

Remembering Dr. Joyce Laboso and Jerry Okungu and Rift Valley Rural Women Empowermen

Kenya Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment NetworkRift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network – Jerry Okungu seated in front row, far right, Dr. Joyce Laboso standing in second row, in white ball cap, 2nd from right

Dr. Joyce Laboso, who died in July while serving as Governor of Kenya’s Bomet County, and Jerry Okungu, the late journalist, columnist, media consultant and publisher, were favorites from working with them through the International Republican Institute in 2007 before that years’ election. Sadly they have both been lost to cancer at much too early an age.

Jerry worked with us as a consultant doing media and communications training and I travelled with him to conduct multiday programs at Edgerton University in the Rift Valley and Garissa in then North Eastern Province. My next post will be a more involved tribute to Jerry who died in January 2014. In the meantime, see his obituary from Citizen TV. Jerry and I kept up in later years and I have always regretted that we missed getting together again in person as we had hoped.

During the months leading up to the 2007 election, we at the IRI East Africa office were on a relative shoestring. Our primary Kenya work was our National Endowment for Democracy country program which was focused on training women and minority members who aspired to run for parliament. So we latched onto the invitation to work with the UN-supported Rift Valley Rural Women Empowerment Network to provide training and encouragement. We engaged Jerry to provide media and communications training.

At the time, Dr. Laboso’s sister Lorna was running for parliament in Sotik and was nominated by ODM and elected. I got to spend time with Joyce who was especially helpful to me as a newcomer in understanding the “bad old days” (my term not hers) when she spent years as a student and graduate student in England, but at home could not safely even mention in public the name of the then-President. She also helped me understand a bit about “intra-Kalenjin” politics (she was Kipsigis). An ODM wave was coming in the Rift Valley that year and a number of women candidates were part of the perceived post-Moi “change”.

Sadly, Joyce’s entry into elective politics herself later in 2008 came about from two untimely deaths.

The first was on the morning of January 31, 2008 (during the post election violence). David Too of Ainimoi Constituency became the second ODM Member of Parliament to be shot dead since the election. Too was shot by a policeman who also shot and killed a policewoman Too was with in a car. During that time the strategy of Kibaki’s PNU during the post election violence period was to consolidate power by drawing away (or down) the ODM margin in Parliament that allowed the narrow election of ODM’s Kenneth Marende as Speaker (and Marende’s elevation cost ODM one seat). Kibaki had appointed third-place candidate ODM-Kenya’s Kalonzo Musyoka as Vice President (according to Joe Khamisi part of a pre-election deal he negotiated with Stanley Murage representing Kibaki), and KANU’s Uhuru Kenyatta as Minister of Local Affairs. Kenyatta and “Retired President” Moi had endorsed Kibaki by August and aligned KANU with Kibaki’s new PNU when it was formed in September, even though Uhuru remained “the leader of the Official Opposition”. (This sticks in my mind in part because I met with new Speaker Marende at his request that morning and the news of Too’s killing hit shortly before I arrived.)

(In October 2009, Judge David Maraga, elevated to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2016, found the killer guilty of reduced charges of manslaughter in the killings of both the policewoman and MP Too. Maraga found the downgrade from murder to manslaughter warranted by the lack of intent indicated by “provocations” of both jealousy and self-defense.)

Unfortunately, on February 1, the day after Too’s killing and my meeting with Speaker Marende, I was told that IRI back in Washington had made the decision not to release the exit poll contradicting the presidential totals announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya shortly before Kibaki’s swearing in on December 30 (per our agreement with USAID release of the results for this exit poll, the third in a series, was to involve consultations with the Nairobi mission that included diplomatic considerations, although there have been some claims that these did not occur for unexplained reasons.) Following that news I was constrained in my ability to interact freely with Kenyan politicians—and on Speaker Marende’s request that I meet with Kofi Annan to encourage the mediation process—since I was not willing to go along with telling anyone the exit poll was “invalid” per the “official line”.  I ended up going home in May when my temporary duty with IRI was up without initiating goodbyes to Joyce or most of the others that I might have.

Raila and Kibaki agreed to their “peace deal” for power sharing on February 28 and it held in spite of the lack of support from some leaders and on the back benches on Kibaki’s PNU side who still wanted to try to wrangle a working majority in parliament, engineer a vote of “no confidence” against the new Prime Minister and re-take full control of government.

Tragically, in June 2008, Joyce’s sister, the Hon. Lorna Laboso, along with her colleague Kipkalia Kones, in his fifth term from Bomet and serving as Roads Minister, were killed when their light plane from Nairobi crashed on a trip to campaign for the ODM candidate in the special election to replace David Too in Ainimoi Constituency. Lorna was remembered as a a pioneer of women in politics and for campaigning against the cultural practice of female genital mutilation among the Kipsigis . (Both she and Kones were mentioned for allegations of backing politically related violence in PEV period but of course there were never any legal proceedings; that part of the February 28 “peace deal” ultimately failed and we are left with the muddle of mass informal immunity among the living, and questions about others, for the mass violence.)

It was this sequence that led Joyce to step up as a candidate in the special election that September to fill Lorna’s Sotik seat. I sent condolences on her sister’s death and congratulations on her special election, and but we never interacted again so I am left with appreciating her as a pre-political leader and not knowing what she thought about the various twists and turns of her own career in politics, sadly cut short by cancer as too many others.

How on earth did USAID in Kenya end up helping to finance Michuki’s imperial Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club? (revised)

(The end of this post has been revised to reflect skepticism about an allegation by Kenya’s Minister of Natural Resources in 1998 that land for Windsor was irregularly allocated to Michuki from Karura Forest based on the geographic separation between Windsor and the Forest.  Not a central issue, but I want to be as fair as possible.)

This very interesting piece of diplomatic and development history is noted in a recent oral history interview by a former USAID official, Kiertisak Toh, which I have introduced and excerpted below. I have not found reference in the Kenyan or U.S. media to the USAID role in this high profile development started in 1988.

For John Michuki, the Kenyan baron of the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club and Kibaki’s Interior Minister during my time in Kenya, please see my post on the occasion of his passing in 2012: “The Michuki Rule, and personal memories: Independence Day, snakes and freedom” and “Don’t forget about the Standard raid“. See “Trust and Accountability: Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peaceful election” with thoughts about his impact on the post election violence. More expansively, for a politico/business biography with an eye to multiplicity of controversies over the years, see “Who is John ‘Kimeedero’ Michuki?” at The Kenya-Stockholm Blog. “Death of an old guardsman” from The Economist:

But as the country’s internal security minister, his hands were covered in blood. He was implicated in mass extrajudicial killings in 2007, in which hundreds of young Kenyan men were shot in the back of the head or bludgeoned to death for their alleged involvement in the Mungiki organised crime gang. And in 2006 Mr Michuki made a fool of himself by bringing to Kenya a pair of Armenian gangsters to shut down newspapers and television critical of the government. Since then, the country’s media have operated more or less freely.

To many Mr Michuki was a bridge to an older Africa. The space between tribal traditions and the palatial Windsor Golf Club, which Mr Michuki built at the north end of Nairobi, can be measured in his life span. He was born in 1932 into a large polygamous Kikuyu family. Orphaned as a child, Mr Michuki left his rural home for Nairobi. He found work in a uniform shop sewing on buttons before battling his way through primary and secondary school. He was loyal to the crown in its bloody hammering of the Mau Mau insurgency. Choosing the British over his countrymen set him at odds with the founding myth of Kenya, but Mr Michuki was too intelligent and “no nonsense” to let it hinder his career. He won a scholarship to Oxford, and became a district commissioner. He was put in charge of newly independent Kenya’s treasury. He ran the Kenya Commercial Bank and got involved in politics. Like the then attorney-general, Charles Njonjo, Mr Michuki had an Anglophile sense of things “being done properly.”

To Mr Michuku, that meant keeping his buttons polished and being on time, but it did not mean transparency. He was part of the cabal of Kikuyu and Meru politicians, intelligence officers and businessmen who ran a state within a state and turned a blind eye to dodgy land and business dealings. President Mwai Kibaki yesterday called Mr Michuki a “true family friend and a dependable ally.” The shame was that his acuity and vigour were not more often put at the service of the common man. . . .

The Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club is explicitly neocolonial. No one’s heart is going to bleed for the British Royal Family over the cultural appropriation but as an American taxpayer, I feel a bit wretched on learning my “assistance dollars” were used directly instead of just indirectly to subsidize Kenya’s oligarchs in this way. (Disclosure: I have been a member of a private golf club myself, years ago, although I gave it up when I had children. But I am also aware of a variety of laws and regulations in the United States designed to keep governmental development and tax subsidies away from underwriting golf courses, even those that are far less exclusively targeted to the rich than Michuki’s Windsor.) [And, yes, I understand we are spending millions on President Trump’s golf resorts, and I object to that accordingly; that is straightforward self-dealing by our chief executive himself, rather than a misallocation of meagre development resources from poor to rich.]

I highly recommend reading the full Toh oral history interview for anyone interested in understanding the course of relations between Kenya and the United States from the mid-1980s through 2005, as well as one insider’s perspective on the tension between democratization and economic development assistance goals (Toh is an economist by background and initially worked in that capacity for USAID before rising into administration):

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Foreign Assistance Series KIERTISAK TOH Interviewed by: Carol Peasley Initial interview date: February 9, 2018 Copyright 2018 ADST (funded by USAID Cooperative Agreement).

Toh’s positions in Kenya:

USAID/Kenya – Program Economist 1986-1989

USAID/Washington – Program Economist, Africa Bureau/East Africa 1991-1992

USAID/Kenya – Mission Director 2001-2005

. . . .

Q: Well, why don’t you talk- So, this was- you’re in Kenya in 1986 to 1989, so at that point was it a pretty good size program in Kenya, was it one of our premiere programs?

TOH: Yes, it was a high profile and one of the largest programs in Africa with big ESF [Economic Support Funds] money and CIP, Commodity Import Program. We were in the Cold War era. Kenya was considered our geopolitical and strategic partner in the region.

Q: Oh, there was a Commodity Input Program there. Oh, I didn’t realize that.

TOH: And a large- I guess we tried to make the CIP as part of the private sector development program. Kenya at the time had foreign exchange controls which were a barrier to private business to import.

Q: Ah. So, it was a large ESF program. Was that because the U.S. military was using the Port of Mombasa?

TOH: I think so. Q: Yes, okay, so there was a military link to that. So, a large ESF and that was mostly Commodity Import Program?

TOH: Yes, mostly tied to Commodity Import Program. The foreign exchange part of the CIP program provided the balance-of-payments support and the counterpart local currency served as budget support mostly tied to USAID project.

Q: Private sector development. Was the- would imports tied to any sector or anything or were they just broad- do you recall?

TOH: It was broad until 1989 when we turned part (or most, not sure) of the ESF into targeted support for fertilizer imports.

Q: Well, the importers would have been providing the local currency, right? They would have been buying the- in essence buying the dollars?

TOH: In general, we provided the dollars to the Central Bank. The idea was for the government to make it easier for importers to get import licenses and through Central Bank the foreign exchange to pay for imports. The private sector bought the foreign exchange with the local currency, Kenyan shillings, which was deposited in the special accounts at the Central Bank. The local currency legally belonged to the government. But we agreed to program these funds jointly. A big portion of the local currency went to support USAID projects and other private sector development activities..

Q: Right, okay. So, it really was to liberalize then the whole foreign exchange regime?

TOH: Right.

Q: With the local currency used for private enterprise development, did some of that go into credit programs to the banks, or do you recall? Or some of it budget support to ministries. How would it have been used, do you recall?

TOH: Part of these shillings might have been used to support microenterprise credit and loans to businesses. I remember one of the loans went to an influential Kenyan government official to help finance the Windsor Golf Club. When I went back to Kenya the third time (2001) we tried to clean up the outstanding default loan. I am not sure whether we were able to recover the loan. Our private sector development program, except for the microcredit and the CIP programs, was not well targeted. We kind of followed the “thousand points of light” approach.

Q: Women-owned micro-enterprises, because Kenya had one of the big success stories of microenterprise for women, right? KREP?

TOH: Right, yes. We had a project, I think, that helped KREP, Kenya Rural Enterprise Project. And I still have an account with KREP.

. . . .

Fundamentally, diplomacy and development, though can be complementary, are inherently different in their missions, targets, how success is measured. Diplomacy is about maintaining favorable economic and political relationships abroad; it tends to be short-term orientated and transactional. The mission of development is about saving lives and support for long-term equitable growth and poverty reduction; it tends to be concerned with long-term transformative and sustainable changes. The targets for diplomacy are political leaders and citizens where geostrategic and foreign policy interests are most significant. The targets for development are populations where potential impact on poverty, human suffering, and human development is greatest. The success of diplomacy is measured by the strength of the relationship with the U.S. and support for U.S. political priorities. The success of development is measured by the progress in terms of saving lives, reducing poverty, and enhancing equitable, broad-based economic growth.

There are a lot of interesting items to follow up on here: 1) has the Windsor loan balance been collected or not?; 2) why was this project selected and approved, how much money was involved, etc.? 3) in 1998 Minster of Natural Resources claimed in Parliament that Michuki’s Windsor Golf Hotel and the Belgian Embassy had been irregularly allocated land from Karura Forest, but the Windsor club is not adjacent to the Forest so the allegation does not seem to make sense in that way, but it would be interesting to understand the acquisition of the land. [Note: I have revised this to express skepticism about Lotado’s allegation based on the geography as raised by readers.]

Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]