International Crisis Group report on “Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis” calls on donors to show “complete transparency”; USAID is apparently not convinced yet

Counting-the original tally

Counting-the original tally

“Kenya: Avoiding Another Electoral Crisis”  March 2017 International Crisis Group paper by Murithi Mutiga

Political tensions are rising in Kenya ahead of elections in August for the presidency and other senior posts. Measures taken now can avert the risk of a repeat of electoral violence that killed hundreds of people in 2007-2008.

.  .  .  .

The equipment for transmitting results from polling places to the tallying centre is as important as the voter kits. Past elections were compromised by lack of transparency in tallying and transmitting. The installation of a transparent, efficient electoral management system would go a long way to assuaging public concerns. Unfortunately, rushed procurement, with little lead-time for testing, may set the IEBC up for failure. That would also deepen suspicions in a situation already marked by significant tension between parties. Government steps to limit the role of external partners, such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, that can offer valuable technical assistance, have not helped.

.  .  .  .

International partners should extend technical and financial help to the IEBC to help it better tackle the challenges. This should, however, be done with nuance, flexibility and complete transparency, in light of unfounded claims by the ruling party that external parties are seeking to influence the electoral outcome. International observers should be deployed in time to monitor crucial stages of the electoral process, such as verification of the vote register and procurement of electoral materials.

. . . .

Unfortunately, USAID is still stuck on maintaining minimal, at most, public disclosure, rather than adapt to the recommendations of the Crisis Group and the obvious lessons to be learned from the failure of 2007, especially, and 2013.

While USAID Kenya has confirmed for me that their original December 2015 Request for Agreement (“RFA”) for the $20M “Kenya Electoral Assistance Program 2017” remains a public document at http://www.grants.gov, the subsequent Agreement between USAID and IFES is not being treated as public.  Americans who want to understand our government’s approach to subsidizing the Government of Kenya’s election would be well advised to study the Request for Agreement (rfa-615-16-000001-keap-2017) closely to understand the basic structure, but will need to “ask around” informally to get any actual detail as the election now rapidly approaches.  Likewise, Kenyans who want to have input in the administration of their own election.

Meanwhile, still no documents whatsoever, from my October 2015 request for USAID documents relating to our support for the 2013 Kenya election (!).

See “IEBC must look us in the eye and say, ‘We aren’t ready for August'” by Tee Ngugi in The East African.

Solo 7 — Toi Market

When does the transparency start in Kenya’s election preparations?

With Kenya’s constitutionally set election only just more than six months away, Germany’s Deutsche Welle reports “Kenya’s voter registration rocked by fraud claims“. Even the Daily Nation has published an editorial noting serious questions about the integrity of the current voter registration process.

Gabrielle Lynch notes in her column in The East African, “Unrealistic timelines to blame for Kenya’s election shortcomings,” that the time to implement the gender balance rules of the Constitution under the previous Supreme Court opinion has been blown, and other deadlines are upon us.  Dr. Lynch goes through the various pre-election deadlines which were set in legislation and are now in some flux.  She raises the prospect of jetisoning some of the technology because what she refers to as compressed timelines.

To me, the issue is a lack of political will, which is independent of the time involved.  Legislation to implement the mandatory requirements of the Constitution on gender balance was not passed because the legislators in power, along with the President, didn’t feel like it.  They like the old way better than what is required by the “new” (seven year old) Constitution.  There has been plenty of time since 2013 to pass gender balance legislation, just as there was plenty of time to replace the fraudulently procured technology systems purchased with the assistance of the United States and other donors for the 2013 election.

Likewise there was plenty of time to legally address the procurement fraud issues as directed by Supreme Court’s decision of April 2013 on the election petitions.

This time the incumbent administration has attacked the donors who are providing an additional $85 million to defray the cost of the election in spite of all the obvious questions.  The donor group through its diplomats has pledged transparency this time, but very little specific information has been published on the details of the programming so far.

Unfortunately my October 2015 Freedom of Information Act request to USAID for contract documents from our support for the IEBC in 2013 has still resulted in zero

Kenya challenged vote

Kenya presidential ballot

 released documents (even though materials were sent from the Mission in Kenya to Washington more than a year ago.)

Carson finds best hope for U.S. Africa policy to be “benign neglect” outside security sector (update)

[Update: Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State today, with the votes of those Republicans who had raised questions about his commitmant to human rights and other issues related to his career long tenure at oil major Exxon.  He takes over a State Department where perhaps 1,000 officers and employees have signed a leaked “dissent” from President Trump’s immigration and refugee order impacting those of Somali, Sudanese and Libyan nationality, among seven countries.  Tillerson has said he was not consulted on the Executive Order.]

Former Obama administration Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson finds “Trump’s Africa policy unclear and uncertain” but expects a broad pulling back from existing bipartisan programs in a piece at African Arguments:

. . . .

Trump has exhibited no interest in Africa. Nor have any of his closest White House advisors. Except for some campaign comments about Libya and Benghazi, the new president has made very few remarks about the continent. And despite his global network of hotel, golf and tourist holdings, he appears to have no investments or business relationships in sub-Saharan Africa.

The one member of Trump’s inner circle that may have an interest in Africa is Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson. He has some experience of Africa because of his many years in the oil industry with ExxonMobil, most of whose successful dealings on the continent were with largely corrupt and authoritarian leaders.

If Tillerson appoints a moderate and experienced Africa expert to run the Africa Bureau – and there are a dozen Republicans who meet that definition – and if he is able to keep policy in the control of the State Department, African issues may not be pushed aside completely. But irrespective of who manages Trump’s Africa policy, there will be a major change from recent previous administrations.

President Obama pushed a strong democratic agenda and launched half a dozen new development programmes including Power Africa, Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative. Before him, Bush’s “compassionate” approach led to the establishment of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), two of America’s most widely-praised programmes on the continent.

But Trump’s view is more myopic . . .

Under Trump, any focus on Africa will likely be on military and security issues, not democracy, good governance or human rights.  These policies are likely to find greater favour with Africa’s autocrats than civil society or local business leaders.

. . . .  Photo from church of African-American freedmen from Cumberland Island, Georgia for Black History Month

Why has Uhuru Kenyatta’s government acted against USAID and IFES?

[Update: here is a Joint Statement by the heads of various donor country missions on international assistance for the Kenyan election.  And here is the text of the statement from U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec:

Nairobi, Kenya – The United States firmly rejects the recent unfounded allegations against the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program (KEAP) and its implementing partners.  The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is a well-respected organization with deep expertise and experience in supporting democratic elections around the world.  IFES is registered in Kenya under the Companies Act and has legal standing to conduct programs here.  USAID provides elections assistance under our Development Assistance Grant Agreement with the Government of Kenya, which allows for the issuance of work permits for implementing partner staff, including IFES.

We are disappointed by the attempt to discredit the United States’ efforts to assist Kenyans in the conduct of free, fair, peaceful, and credible elections in 2017.  Our assistance was requested by the Government of Kenya and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), adheres strictly to Kenyan law and regulations, and is provided under careful oversight by the Government of Kenya, IEBC, and USAID.   We do this important work transparently without favoring any party or candidate.

We call on everyone to focus on the issue at hand — ensuring that the voice of the Kenyan people is heard and respected in the upcoming elections.]

The Government of Kenya has announced action to terminate cooperation with the USAID Kenya Electoral Assistance Program being administered by the American INGO IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, claiming that the U.S. government is secretly seeking “regime change” and asserting as a weapon the notion that IFES, which has been working in Kenya since 2002, is “unregistered”.

Any reader of this blog will understand that my concerns about the role of IFES in Kenya’s 2007 and 2013 elections in supporting the ECK, IIEC and then IEBC are the opposite of those in Kenyatta’s attack.

While Kenyatta claims that assistance money is being used to support “regime change”, the reality has been entirely different:  the problem from 2007 and 2013 was that US tax dollars were spent in a way that ended up subsidizing corrupt electoral bodies who did not deliver sound elections–to the benefit of Kibaki (and Kenyatta) in 2007 and Kenyatta in 2013.   The problems were not disclosed publicly, putting us in the undesirable position of being “accessories” to the incumbent regime’s use of its existing power to shield itself from the risk of a fair vote.

Most recently I have been waiting for processing of documents for release under the Freedom of Information Act from USAID regarding our support of the IEBC’s technology systems in 2013.

I was in Washington this month at the African Studies Association and got a chance to catch up with people in and out of government who keep track of things in East Africa for a living.  I picked up on no indication that next year’s election in Kenya was yet high on anyone’s priority list for the U.S. government with all the immediate as opposed to future potential crises.  I also failed to detect a major policy shift for the U.S. to go from prioritizing first “stability” in Kenya as we have since 2007 (if not always since independence) as opposed to prioritizing “freedom” and/or “fairness” in the next election–much less a subversive agenda to oust Kenyatta through “regime change”.

The money we Americans spend on civic education in Kenya to bolster democracy is not inconsequential–you could do good things in civic education in one of our own states for $20M–but is only a small fraction of what we spend to assist Kenyans in the areas of health and food.  Security is our primary foreign policy priority in Kenya, and poverty-driven needs in health especially, and in food and agriculture, more traditional education and such are our main priority in assistance.

I am not sure how my government will react to being falsely accused in this situation.  Uhuru Kenyatta is personally ungrateful for our help in regard to civic education and otherwise for election assistance.  I suspect that he prefers to run his own re-election with as little attention paid to the process as possible.

Certainly the Government of Kenya, officially a middle income country, could do for its poor much of what we do if its politicians were willing.  We seem to have sentimental attachments to these programs in Kenya but I’m not sure that we ought not to focus more on places that are poorer and where governments are at least reasonably cooperative.

I will regret the loss of opportunity for Kenyans if the Government of Kenya does not change course.  Here is a statement from six Kenya civil society groups:

Jamhuri Day–Obama’s last year goes by as corruption thrives in Kenya

Last year for Jamhuri Day I assessed the status of the relatonship between my American government and Kenya’s.  I listed specific items that would show progress for the U.S. in getting back to supporting anti-corruption reforms in Kenya:

What about on the United States side? Does our government really want to change things now? 

 Here is what I would need to see to be persuaded that we have decided to change the game: 1) public follow up on the Goodyear bribes paid to public officials in Kenya [months have gone by now with no prosecutions in Kenya reported in the press after the parent company in the US turned itself in to the SEC and the Justice Department]; 2) public follow up on the bribery of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the 2013 election procurements [I finally submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request a few months ago to USAID on the procurements we paid for through IFES and for our dealings with the vendor Smith & Ouzman which was convicted in the UK of bribing the Kenyan IEBC–no documents or substantive response yet]; 3) public follow up on the issue of unnamed Kenyan officials being among those bribed by Chinese interests at the UN in New York resulting in U.S. indictments.

It has been credibly reported based on leaks that the new “visa bans” on travel to the US by Kenyan officials are quite extensive. Great. But we do this type of thing, if not quite to this extent, periodically. Over the years it obviously has not added up to any strategic progress even if there may (or may not) have been a few tactical successes here or there. 

Bottom line is that I don’t think you can really fight corruption with secrecy–you have to chose your priorities. And for my government to ignore the cases that have been publicly exposed in which we have some direct stake leaves me unconvinced that we have actually changed our priorities from 2007 and 2013 when I was in Kenya to see for myself.

One thing that we could do to make sure we are “practicing what we preach” on the governance side is for Congress to have oversight hearings about how we are carrying out the July 25 “Joint Agreement”.

Sadly, and tellingly, the year has gotten away from us with  no progress on any of this (including nothing from my FOIA request to USAID on the corrupt 2013 election technology procurements.)

As it was in 2007, is it now in 2016? “Too much corruption” in Kenya to risk a change in power at elections?

imageI wrote about my most important conversation from the 2007 campaign in Kenya here in installment 13 of my “War for History” series:

Fresh from my first meeting with the American Ambassador with his enthusiasm for the current political environment and his expressed desire to initiate an IRI observation of the upcoming election to showcase a positive example of African democracy, I commented to the Minister over breakfast in our poshly updated but colonially inflected surroundings on the seeming energy and enthusiasm among younger people in Nairobi for the political process. I suggested that the elections could be an occasion of long-awaited generational change.

He candidly explained that it was not yet the time for such change because “there has been too much corruption.”  The current establishment was too vulnerable from their thievery to risk handing over power.

Unfortunately I was much too new to Kenyan politics to appreciate the gravity and clarity of what I was being told, and it was only after the election, in hindsight, that I realized that this was the most important conversation I would have in Kenya and told me what I really needed to know behind and beyond all the superficialities of popular politics, process, law and diplomacy. Mea culpa.

After we ate, the minister naturally left me with the bill for his breakfast and that of his aide. . .  .

With the latest news of scandal from the Ministry of Health, following the National Youth Service and Devolution Ministry scandals, it would seem that we are on familiar ground. The Minister from my 2007 breakfast remains an interlocutor and leader of the formation of the “Jubilee Party” now as he was of the “Party of National Unity” as Kibaki’s 2007 re-election vehicle.  (Same person who explained later which bills he would use to bribe which voters based on poverty and gender.)

In the 2007 campaign, the local World Bank representative and US Ambassador Ranneberger provided significant public support for the Kibaki Administration on the corruption problem faced by the re-election campaign in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal and the revelations by John Githongo and others. See Part Five of my Freedom of Information Act Series.

(I understand that Ranneberger was outspoken against corruption later, after the disaster of the stolen 2007 election and the PEV; also that he was publicly against corruption in the very early part of his tenure in 2006, before the Kibaki re-election geared up and, perhaps coincidentally, before the the Ethiopians entered Somalia to restore the TFG and displace the ICU. I stand by my characterization of his public voice to Kenyans during the campaign.)

My government has been awfully quiet
about the burgeoning scandals in the Uhuruto administration. It’s interesting to remember that then-Senator Obama was noted for his “tough love” and blunt words on corruption during his 2006 visit to Kenya (again in the very early days of Ranneberger’s tenure). Part of this season’s “public diplomacy” has been a “partnership” agreement to fight corruption between the Obama and Kenyatta administrations from the President’s Nairobi visit last year, but we don’t seem to talk about it much publicly in terms of implementation.

It is none of my business who Kenyans vote for next year.  It may be that most Kenyans, like the majority of Americans, are likely to end up voting in ways that are fairly predictable “culturally” for the time being and will filter their perceptions of government performance accordingly.

But it does not have to be the case that my government tacitly enables corruption in Kenya’s government.

I don’t like to pay to replace Kenyan public services in vital areas like health that Kenya’s government could well afford but for greed and corruption. I don’t like to see sophisticated Kenyan elites take Westerners for useful idiots to enrich themselves and their personal networks while stealing from the poor and sick.  And even if we are not willing to seriously undertake the hard and potentially risky challenges to meaningfully and consistently support democratic reforms–because it seems dangerous while Kenya is again a “Front Line State” in a neighborhood where other places where we have looked away from corruption, like South Sudan and DRC, are worse off, or because its a nice place to live and have meetings and do small things to help poor people and animals at (American) taxpayer expense or for whatever reason–I want my government to find and uphold its own democratic integrity to rise above playing footsie with fakers in Kenya.

In the meantime, it has been more than a year now with no documents from my 2015 Freedom of Information Act request about our assistance through USAID for the corrupted IEBC procurement process for the 2013 election, but IFES is soliciting proposals from Kenyans for innovation grants for 2017 under the big new USAID program “KEAP” for 2017.  If we are not transparent, at a minimum, we cannot assist democracy or good governance.

We have all sorts of great, worthwhile assistance programs in Kenya, but in the big picture we work against ourselves and limit meaningful progress by supporting or coddling crooks and their offspring.

image

The simple truth of the allegedly “contested” Kenya 2007 exit poll–what IRI reported to USAID (FOIA series part 14, War for History series part 19)

Raila Odinga has a couple of times recently made conspicuous public mention of the Kenya 2007 IRI/USAID/UCSD exit poll results identifying him as the winning vote-getter, including in his speech at the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Orange Democratic Movement party a few days ago, as well as a significant discussion in his autobiography.

Even a year-and-a-half after the Kenyan election, in July 2009, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States Peter Ogego said at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington that it was important to get to the bottom of the situation with the U.S.-sponsored exit poll indicating an Odinga rather than a Kibaki win.  The late Congressman Donald Payne, then Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa said at the same event that the poll should have been published sooner and that not releasing it had been a mistake, although IRI, he thought, had a “good reason” for not releasing it initially.  This is the basic structure of what actually happened, contra what IRI claimed in a March 29, 2009 “rebuttal” to the New York Times investigation. (My point here is still not to berate IRI for continuing to publish this defamatory material worldwide, but I have sadly come to realize that many people seem to have been, surprisingly to me, actually misled by at least some of it.)

On Monday, January 14, 2008 the International Republican Institute’s Coalition for Electoral and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) manager submitted by email to USAID at 6:25pm our formal Quarterly Report on the Kenya polling program.  The program had begun with an exit poll for the 2005 constitutional referendum and was scheduled to end with our final pre-election public opinion survey in September 2007, but an amendment that September added the exit poll for the 2007 general election.

Here is this January 14, 2008 report as released under the Freedom of Information Act:

CEPPS IRI Kenya 8038_Oct-Dec 2007

In the report, we at IRI wrote:

Implementation of the December 2007 General Elections Exit Poll
IRI initiated discussions on the exit poll to be conducted during the December 2007 general elections. IRI reviewed the survey instruments, deployment plans, and schedules. Discussions between IRI, USAID, and the local polling firm, Strategic Public Relations and Implementation of the December 2007 General Elections Exit Poll
Research (“Strategic”), took place. Researchers from the University of California at San Diego also partnered with IRI to advise on the sample design, methodology, and data analysis, which they are using for independent studies on polling.

Training of Researchers
In consultation with IRI, Strategic conducted training sessions for the researchers collecting exit poll data. As with the previous polls, Strategic trained a number of researchers, who later deployed to the field as trainers of trainers (TOTs) to identify and train research assistants that would be used to collect data.

The training reviewed field resource management techniques, sampling, and interviewing techniques, as well as training to ensure that all staff had a good understanding of the questionnaire. The questionnaire was then pre-tested in various constituencies of Nairobi. The interviewers later met for a debrief and assessment of the pre-test before deploying nationally.

Data Collection

The poll was fielded on election day in Kenya, December 27, 2007.  A group of 2,887 researchers from Strategic deployed in teams to 175 of 210 constituencies, covering all eight provinces of Kenya.

The interviewers were expected to carry out interviews approximately 100 meters from polling stations.  The interviews were limited to people that had just voted, and the administration of the questionnaire varied from less than five to seven minutes.  To ensure the validity of the sample, between 15 to 25 interviews were conducted at selected polling stations, and only every fifth voter was asked to participate.  Strategic supervisors accompanied researchers to ensure the accuracy of reporting on a number of questionnaires.  Researchers relayed immediate results to their direct supervisors, who then called in to Strategic’s data processing center in Nairobi.

Challenges

During the implementation of the poll, researchers encountered certain challenges, such as the inaccessibility of some areas due to poor roads; poor network coverage; and hostility from polling officials and respondents.  In one instance, a researcher’s questionnaires were confiscated by a polling official.  However, these issues did not significantly affect the data collection exercise.  (emphasis added).

Data Analysis

As data was collected, it was immediately relayed to Strategic headquarters for compilation.  However, data analysis for the exit poll was still ongoing through the end of this quarter. (through December 31)

Earlier that Monday the McClatchy newspapers ran Shashank Bengali’s story “Kenyan president lost election according to U.S. exit poll”. 

Continue reading

I was amazed by what Amb. Ranneberger admitted and what he denied to the New York Times-the “War for History” part 18


To pick up from Part 17, when the New York Times finally published their story on January 30, 2009, “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll”, after they had interviewed me in July 2008 and again that November, the most significant substantive new information for me was that Ambassador Ranneberger admitted to discussing the USAID/IRI exit poll with Connie Newman, whose choice he had engineered as lead delegate for our Election Observation Mission.  While I had assumed that word from the Ambassador was realistically the only plausible explanation for Connie asserting herself to object to any public mention of the exit poll or its preliminary numbers by December 29 when she had no involvement with the polling program, she had not said anything of such conversation to me, and I had no way to know for sure and certainly no way to prove it.

At the same time, I was amazed that Ranneberger flatly denied his action in twisting my arm to get his predecessor, Ambassador Mark Bellamy, removed from the Election Observation delegation.  Contrary to his discussion of the exit poll with Connie, that was something that I knew other people in the State Department and USAID, as well as at IRI, knew about.  Both Ambassador Bellamy and Connie Newman declined to comment–which I would have expected Ranneberger to do.

Ranneberger’s claim that he had no part in removing Bellamy obviously raised the stakes that much more for me personally in that I was back at my job as senior counsel for a major defense contractor and I was being accused by our Ambassador to Kenya on the front page of the New York Times of fabricating the whole incident.  At the same time, it had the advantage of making it clear to people at the State Department and USAID, and at IRI (including the local staff that I had worked with in Nairobi who had helped me check out Ranneberger’s claim that Bellamy was “perceived as anti-government” but who had no involvement in the polling controversy) that I was telling the truth and Ranneberger was not.

At the time, I really did not know how much weight to give to Ranneberger’s removal of Bellamy from the Observation, but I emphasized it in my original interview with the Times in part because I knew that a much wider circle of people knew about it than knew about what had happened with the machinations on the issues of the pre-election and exit polls.

In retrospect, I see the removal of Bellamy as crucial to allowing Ranneberger to substantively control the Observation when it mattered most.  Eventually in July the final IRI observation report was issued pointing out that the election had been corrupted and the exit poll was released by IRI then finally in August, but by that time it was too late to make any difference.  In spite of the terms of the February 28, 2008 “peace deal” the changing of the vote tallies at the ECK headquarters as witnessed by Ranneberger was never investigated (or publicly revealed by the State Department until my FOIA request turned up the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable years later) and Kibaki’s re-election stood irrespective of the fraud in declaring him winner.

 

Just waiting on a FOIA–could legal action be pursued in the U.S. for Kenya IEBC procurement corruption?

IMG_7601

More than ten months after requesting documents from USAID on one part of our Kenya IEBC support program for the 2013 election I have been unable to get anything more than an assurance that my request “is being handled” for interim releases as soon as “possible” although USAID’s FOIA office got a CD of materials from the Nairobi mission at least six months ago.

Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry in Nairobi reiterated that my government intends to spend a new $25M on efforts for the election scheduled for a year from now, but supports the agreement between CORD and Jubilee to “buy out” the existing IEBC Commissioners (with at least informal immunity). I noted earlier this month that the Request For Proposals for a $20M election support effort released last December had been pulled off the internet without explanation.

Here is my FOIA request to USAID from last fall:

This FOIA request relates to Kenya Election and Political Process Strengthening Cooperative Agreement Number 623­LA­11­00007, under Leader Cooperative Agreement No. DFD­A­00­08­00350­00, with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

I am requesting the following:

1) All reports filed by IFES with USAID regarding the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.

2) All correspondence between the IFES and USAID relating to the above referenced Cooperative Agreement during the years 2011 through 2013.

3) The complete contract or cooperative agreement administration files of USAID relating to the above referenced cooperative agreement.

4) All other documents or records, including e­mails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID relating to procurements under the above referenced cooperative agreement, from the date of the agreement to the present.

5) All other documents or records, including e­mails or other electronic communications, created by, or received by, USAID reflecting, referring to or constituting communications between USAID and Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, including its members, officers, employees or agents, from January 1, 2011 to the present.

6) All documents related to Smith & Ouzman, Ltd. relating to business of that firm in Africa from 2010 to present.

The rest of the inside story of how IRI’s 2007 Election Observation (and Exit Poll) was subverted-The War for History part 17

I never thought of myself becoming a “whistleblower” in relation to my “democracy support” work on the failed 2007 Kenyan election as resident director for the International Republican Institute.  I worked internally to press for the release of the USAID-funded exit poll contradicting the “results” of the election announced on Sunday December 30, 2007 by the Electoral Commission of Kenya and worked internally to try to uphold what I saw as required for the integrity of the IRI Election Observation Mission, also funded by USAID as a separate program.

From mid-December 2007 I was actively resisting what I understood to be, and described to my superiors in IRI as “some agenda” by the U.S. Ambassador in relation to the election itself, with the understanding that we were in complete agreement within IRI of the need for such resistance to attempted interference with our independence.

My Contracting Technical Officer at USAID was caught in the middle between me (and IRI) and the Ambassador.  While she was directly answerable to USAID in Washington as I was to IRI in Washington, and the funding agreements for the programs were issued in Washington, as a practical matter, the Ambassador controlled the process.  The Election Observation was initiated by the Ambassador specifically contrary to the prior planning of USAID (which was changed to accommodate him).  The exit poll was added on to our polling program–contractually and as confirmed in our explicit conversations, as a check on potential election fraud–but really as she told me by phone on the afternoon of election day, as “early intelligence” for the Ambassador as to who was winning.  I know she agreed with some of my concerns and it was certainly my impression from my interactions with her in the aftermath of the election that she felt as badly about what happened as she could allow herself to show in the context of doing her job.  On balance I see her primarily as more a victim of rather than a willing participant in whatever the shenanigans were.

I complained internally about interference from the Ambassador by writing a long e-mail missive to the USAID CTO on Tuesday, December 18, 2007 following a phone conference with the senior IRI leadership in Washington in the wee hours of the morning Nairobi time.  I do not have a copy of that e-mail and USAID did not produce it, or any of the other e-mail correspondence regarding the agreements in response to my FOIA request.

The IRI leadership had called me that Monday afternoon (their time) to follow up on my e-mail report on my private meeting with the Ambassador at his residence that Saturday, December 15.  This was the e-mail noting the “some agenda” of the Ambassador and reporting that he had said “people were saying” that opposition candidate Odinga might, implausibly to my assessment, lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency and thus be disqualified from taking the presidency regardless of the outcome of the national vote, and the Ambassador’s desire to take our lead Election Observation delegate Connie Newman to meet with Stanley Murage, “President Kibaki’s Karl Rove,” on the day before the election to be followed by observing the election with the Ambassador and his staff rather than with our IRI delegation.  I had gone to the Ambassador’s residence based on a phone call that Friday afternoon from an unidentified caller who “worked for the Ambassador” having been told by IRI’s president at the time, Lorne Craner, from Thailand, that the Ambassador wanted to talk to talk with me.  As I have written, Craner had called Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport, as he related it, to “get her Ambassador under control”, then followed up with a call to Ambassador Ranneberger upon arriving in Thailand, after the Ambassador had twisted my arm hard on Thursday to get his predecessor Ambassador Bellamy removed as an Election Observation delegate.  My instructions from Mr. Craner were explicit: accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.

I had been in a quiet “push-pull” on behalf of IRI with the Ambassador and his staff and USAID for some period of time over the independence of our Election Observation Mission before things came to a head with the issue of removing Bellamy, the proposed Murage meeting, etc., leading to my complaint to USAID.

As I have written, after Ranneberger’s meeting with myself and my boss and the late Amb. Rich Williamson in August in which Ranneberger again expressed his desire to have IRI observe the election, USAID told me they would “move heaven and earth” to make the observation happen and they came up with $235,000 of “Economic Support Funds” at the end of the fiscal year in September for the mission.

Ranneberger wanted, as I was told later by the CTO, to select all of IRI’s Observation delegates.  She said that she explained to the Ambassador that this was not doable, but promised him as a minimum the approval of the “lead delegate”.

When she wrote up the Request For Proposals (“RFP”) for a Cooperative Agreement to conduct the Election Observation it was de facto directed to IRI, in accordance with the Ambassador’s previously expressed desire.  The RFP was issued on a non-competitive basis to the CEPPS (“Coalition for Political Parties and Process Strengthening”) comprised of IRI, NDI and IFES, thus eliminating the Carter Center and Democracy International.  Based on language in the RFP, NDI was in effect eliminated by their work with the competing political parties and IFES was eliminated by their role as “embedded” with the Electoral Commission of Kenya.  (After my return to the States I found that USAID had paid a consulting firm, MSI, in the spring of 2006 to study and advise on USAID’s preparations for the 2007 election.  After extensive interviews in Nairobi, including staff of all three CEPPS entities working on the USAID programs at the time, they recommended that USAID plan for and fund an election observation and that the Carter Center was the most appropriate entity to conduct it.)  In the RFP the CTO included descriptions of the credentials matching without naming the specific people that Ranneberger wanted as “lead delegates”, former Assistant Secretaries for Africa for whom Ranneberger had worked, Connie Newman and Chester Crocker.  The “lead delegate” was to be formally approved as USAID’s “substantial involvement” in the program.   For the rest of the delegates that Ranneberger had specified to me that he wanted IRI to invite, the RFP listed matching credential descriptions, but as examples without a contractual right of approval.

As I have written, IRI went along with inviting Newman and Crocker (Crocker declined as unavailable) while refusing to submit Newman’s name for formal approval as being an impermissible intrusion on IRI’s independence in conducting an international Election Observation Mission.  Of the other potential delegates that Ranneberger wanted IRI to invite as per his after hours cell phone calls to me, Joel Barkan was the only one included in the EOM as he had already been identified separately by IRI.  None of the others, of which well known former diplomat Frank Wisner, then at insurer AIG, stands out in my recollection, were invited by IRI.

The Ambassador took a keen interest in the lodging arrangements, in particular wanting Ms. Newman to stay at the embassy residence, or alternatively at the Serena hotel (near State House as well as closer to his residence and others in exclusive Muthaiga) rather than at the Holiday Inn Mayfair which we had selected for the delegation. We internally insisted on planning for Connie to stay with the rest of the delegation, even before the alarm bells went off from the Ambassador’s December 15 expression of desire to take her to meet with Stanley Murage the day before the vote.  Likewise, I nixed having our delegation travel in State Department cars with State Department drivers (I did go along with having interpreters for many of our teams).  I also declined to merge our observation headquarters operation into the Ambassador’s diplomatic command post at the Embassy in Gigiri, keeping our operation separate at the Mayfair, with a staff liaison to the Embassy and to the EU observation headquarters.

During that wee hours December 18 phone call from Washington (I was awoken at home) following my report on meeting with the Ambassador, I was given the opportunity by IRI’s number two official (filing in since Mr. Craner was in Thailand) to cancel the election observation on my say so based on the Ambassador’s interference.  This is one of the crucial things that has always made me believe, in accordance with what I was told directly, that everyone on the IRI staff was in accord that we were committed to “playing it straight” on the election itself and that all the “agenda” issues came from or through the Ambassador and not from within IRI.

Unfortunately, having to make a judgment call on the spot, in the context of our detailed discussion of our plans and logistics, I made the decision that we could go forward.  Mea culpa.  If I had to do it over again, with more foresight into what would come, of course I would have said we have to cancel.

In fairness, I have to say that my decision was based on counting on the fact that it was agreed that Connie Newman would be accompanied by and briefed by the other senior IRI officer on the call (who would be the senior official on the ground for the election observation) as to the interference problems and the need for Connie to keep her distance from the Ambassador.  I was given explicit assurance that Connie could be expected to understand and cooperate.  I simply did not appreciate the possibility that this agreed approach would either be abandoned without notice or explanation to me or simply fail through refusal by Connie to cooperate.

A key factor in my decision was that it seemed clear that abruptly cancelling the election observation days before the vote–without explaining why (or most especially if we did explain, which of course was totally unrealistic)–would be a disruptive factor in the last days leading up to the election, and potentially something of an “international incident”.  We were the only international non-governmental organization scheduled to observe and the observation had already been announced and publicized in Washington and Nairobi.  No one was publicly predicting violence or major problems and there was no obvious reason why we would suddenly just cancel.

Again, in a key sign that people on staff at IRI in Washington were trying to do the right thing, I got permission to do a last minute poll of Raila’s Langata constituency in response to my meeting with the Ambassador.  It seemed to me a clear way to telegraph that we would be “observing” seriously and were not going to go along with an obviously bogus result from Lanagata when, as confirmed by the poll, the race there was in no way remotely in doubt.  I told the Ambassador’s top aide on Christmas Eve that we had done the poll and conveyed the results to the Ambassador in person that evening as requested.

As it turned out, Connie and the Ambassador were obviously close and quite well coordinated.  When she visited Nairobi in 2009 he introduced her at the residence as “his great friend and mentor” and during the pre-election in 2007, even though she formally remained lodged at the Mayfair, she stayed behind at the embassy residence after our pre-election gathering there with the Ambassador when the rest of us boarded the bus to leave.  She told me she would be driven back to the Mayfair later, but I was told that the other delegates took notice of the fact that she didn’t end up returning.  I have no idea whether she ended up meeting or talking to Stanley Murage with the Ambassdor or not, one way or the other.  The issue was never mentioned after our internal agreement that it “must not” happen and I hope it didn’t.

On the evening of the vote, I learned from our liaison to the EU observation mission security team that the Ambassador had called his State Department observers in to Nairobi from “the field” that night due to concerns of violence, but no one else told me, including our liaison at the U.S. Embassy observation headquarters.  Our IRI teams stayed out as did the EU’s.

On the morning after the election, when Connie and I and my two IRI superiors from Washington convened as planned ahead of the vote to draft an IRI Preliminary Observation Statement, Connie and I took opposite angles–she steered to make the statement as positive as possible, I steered to keep it as reserved and as cognizant of obvious issues as possible, given that we did not really know much yet.  Through the Freedom of Information Act I learned several years later that the Ambassador had reflected in his cable to Washington that day that IRI was expected to release a “largely positive” statement that same day.  In the afternoon Connie presented the final “Preliminary Statement” to the media in a solo press conference with IRI staff and such other of our observers as were back from the field by that afternoon in the audience.

When the three senior IRI staff (myself included) and Connie met with the leadership of the EU delegation the next day, December 29, at the Serena Hotel, I learned that we were significantly criticized for releasing our Preliminary Statement before any of the other observation missions and while the vote tally was ongoing.  During the formal discussion between the two delegations, Connie asserted as an example of the positives from the vote the notion that the election officials had done a good job of consistently handling assistance to voters who needed it.  I spoke up and said that I had observed otherwise since Connie was obviously pulling that notion out of thin air. In fact, our Preliminary Statement itself the day before had said “As happens in many elections around the world, the ECK must address the issue of polling stations opening late, voting materials being delivered in a timely manner, and appropriately providing assistance to voters”.  I was sitting right beside Connie chatting along the back wall of the polling station when I took the photograph below of a voter beseiged by would be “assistants”:

Voter Assistance Nairobi 2007

Subsequently, I made the mistake of pressing for release of the exit poll results indicating an opposition win over Kibaki to my bosses from Washington in front of Connie.  Connie immediately spoke up to object to any release of these results.  My regional director, my immediate superior from DC, pulled me aside and pointed out that I had made a mistake raising the topic in front of Connie as it was not her place to be involved.  I acknowledged my error, but the bell was rung at that point as Connie was an IRI board member and the rest of the senior staff as career employees were not going to openly resist once she preemptively staked out her ground to quash the poll.  (And to be clear, there was no discussion or any claim whatsoever on Connie’s part at that time–or ever in my presence–of any confusion about the “validity” of the poll based on a misunderstanding about the performance of the polling firm, or the “methodology” or any other grounds offered from Washington in later weeks as scrutiny came to bear.)

To be continued . . .