U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (center) walks with Kenyan Minister of Agriculture William Ruto (left) and Kenyan environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai (right) during a tour of the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) near Nairobi, Kenya August 5, 2009. (State Department Photo) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One could get a certain sense of deja vu from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks in Nairobi this weekend about next year’s Kenya election. The theme, that Kenya has the opportunity to be a “model” for other countries in Africa in how it conducts it’s election is the same one that Ambassador Ranneberger was expressing for the State Department in the Bush Administration in 2007.
Realistically we all know that the Kenya election will not be a model. Kenya’s incumbent government took too long to pay off and disband the old ECK after the 2007 debacle (while covering up what actually happened at the ECK). And too long to pass a new constitution as promised by both sides in the 2007 campaign and to then create the new IEBC and too long to address enabling legislation needed for campaigns, voting and governance under the new system. It is only the extraordinary situation created by the extended term of the “Government of National Unity” beyond five years that has allowed the IEBC hope of being prepared for an adequate, as opposed to “model”, election next March.
Most of Kenya’s political class is concerned about winning, not about the conceptual quality of the process (hardly surprising–this is the nature of politics everywhere, and certainly in the United States; the difference in Kenya is the specific track record of most of the individual Kenyan politicians in the history of Kenya as a one-party authoritarian state that tortured its citizens for political reasons and has had major violence in all but one multi-party election since; and the uncertainty involving untested brand new institutions intended to keep the Kenyan executive branch from deciding its own election controversies). Kenyans in general thirst for a fair election, as they did when they went to the polls in record numbers in 2007. The problem was the disconnect between going to vote and having your vote counted.
Surely it is a bit patronizing to suggest that the chance to be extolled as a model to say Zimbabwe or, depending on how the wind blows, Uganda, is a relevant factor to Kenyans, given what they have at stake for themselves, in Kenya.
But if it is meaningless to Kenyans, isn’t the “model” meme harmless? Not necessarily.
Having lived through the disaster last time, I saw the desire for a “model” election morph into the denial of the hard but obvious reality of failure. Read Ambassador Ranneberger’s cable to Washington from the day after the 2007 vote, Part Six of my FOIA Series. We, the United States, through our Ambassador at least, wanted that “model” election badly enough that we were not willing to acknowledge that we didn’t get it until things got completely out of hand AND the EU had spoken out on fraud at the ECK.
Here are key quotes from Ranneberger’s December 28, 2007 cable to Washington:
The electoral process thus far deserves a strong statement of support, and clearly meets a high standard for credible, transparent, free and fair elections. I made an informal statement last night that was carried extensively on Kenyan television. It is, however, too early to make definitive pronouncements. The ECK will likely not announce final results until December 29. The EU and Kenyan domestic observation missions will make statements on the 29th. By COB Washington time on the 29th we will send a proposed draft for a statement by Washington. IRI will make a largely positive statement the afternoon of the 28th. (emphasis added).
. . . .
“Advancing U.S. Interests”
We will keep the Department closely informed as results become clearer. At this point, there are sound reasons to believe that this election process will be a very positive example for the continent and for the developing world, that it will represent a watershed in the consolidation of Kenyan democracy, and that it will, therefore, significantly advance U.S. interests. The Kenyan people will view the U.S. as having played an important and neutral role in encouraging a positive election process” [End]
So on December 30, after the ECK named Kibaki as the winner of the election, the State Department issued official congratulations to Kibaki and called for acceptance of the results, as Ranneberger was doing in Kenya. Ranneberger acknowledged in his own post-action cable of January 2, 2008 that he himself witnessed the failures at the ECK along with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission:
Other alleged irregularities, such as
announcing results that ECK personnel personally inflated should have been, could have been, but were not corrected. At one point Kivuitu told me that his concerns about the tabulation process were serious enough that “if it were up to me, I would not announce the results.” In the end, he participated with other commissioners in an announcement late on the 30th . . . . (emphasis added)
Either we wanted a “good” election badly enough to pretend that it had happened when in fact we knew better, or we wanted to support the outcome chosen by the ECK rather than a true count of the votes. I don’t know yet which it was, but as an American it would be more comforting for me to believe that we were sincere in our pre-election expression of hope for an honest election, even if I knew from my own personal interactions with the Ambassador that he was taking some steps consistent with his more favorable view of Kibaki over Raila, such as his intervention in the pre-election public opinion polling to lower the expectations of the opposition (see his own depiction to Washington on December 14, 2007 in Lessons for Kenya’s 2012 election from the truth trickling out about 2007–new cables from FOIA (Part One)) and the McIntire/Gettleman New York Times story “A Chaotic Kenya Vote and a Secret U.S. Exit Poll” and his praise in the Kenyan media of Kibaki’s record on corruption vis-a-vis the John Githongo critique just before the vote.
Secretary of State Clinton and Assistant Secretary Carson appear to be getting a pass on how to handle the next round of Kenyan voting due to the delay of the election into the tenure of the next American administration. A new Ambassador, reporting to a new Assistant Secretary, reporting to a new Secretary of State, whether appointed by Obama or by Romney, will have this early up on their collective watch. I hope they will all know as much as possible about exactly what happened last time so as to approach this with realistic sobriety.