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.
Kenya’s security situation continues to deteriorate as Kenya’s political leaders move on to focus to the next elections. Challenges abound on succession and election issues in Burundi, Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda, along with the crises in governance in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. Surely this would be a good time to peel back the onion on how the U.S. handled the Kibaki succession/re-election crisis in 2007-08 to learn what we can rather than letting more murky water flow under the bridge?
Knowns and Unknowns, Plausible and Otherwise
Further to the question I raised in Kenya 2007 Election – How bad were we – “The War for History” part thirteen, I have certainly confirmed my awareness that, as I have put it, we “actively looked the other way” as the Kenyan election was stolen and thereafter. I am also am forced to acknowledge that we (meaning my country, the United States, through our empowered government officials, who took the opportunities presented to assert what became our de facto policy, whether or not it was formally planned, vetted, approved, etc.) not only “looked” the other way, but also “pointed” the other way, too. In other words, the initial approach from the State Department was to divert attention from the known and witnessed election fraud to induce acceptance of the fraudulent “result”.
How much more is there to the story in terms of our intentions before the election? Did “we” affirmatively wish Kibaki to win, or Odinga to lose, or some combination of the two–and if so, why? Everyone is, of course, entitled to his or her own opinions and/or preferences regarding a democratic election (although for me as an American I considered it to be none of my business who Kenyans ultimately voted for, both in concept and in any event regarding the specific choice among Raila, Kibaki and Kalonzo, each of whom had long, high profile track records in Kenyan politics and government, and with American diplomats). The real question becomes, in light of what happened in the election and how we handled it, whether we were in some way culpable beyond the “looking and pointing the other way”? How much did we know beforehand about the intentions of the Kibaki administration to retain power regardless of the actual vote? In private, if we knew something, did we secretly object, stay silent, quietly nod, affirmatively recognize, or something else?
It seems important to account for the fact that, as best I knew, Kibaki never said publicly during the campaign that he would countenance the potential to lose the election and turn over power. And further, that to the best of my knowledge and attentive observation at the time, neither the Ambassador nor anyone else in the State Department publicly called Kibaki on this. (Eventually, Moses Wetangula, the Foreign Minister at the time, made a statement regarding Kibaki’s willingneess to “lose,” presumably directed more to his diplomatic counterparts than to Kenyans.) Compare and contrast Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign for re-election in Nigeria this year, wherein American officials up to and including the Secretary of State himself flew to Nigeria ahead of the election to openly warn Jonathan to accept an adverse vote even though he was already stating his willingness to do so.
As an American, especially one who was working at taxpayer expense to support the democratic process, I certainly want to believe the best about all of our conduct in regard to the election. Unfortunately there are some other facts and questions that remain undigestable for me so far and leave the quesy feeling that there may be more to the story. For example:
* When the Ambassador told me at the residence on December 15 that “people were saying” that Odinga might lose his Langata constituency and thus be disqualified from taking office even if he won the presidential vote, and that this could be “explosive”, why did his cables to Washington not report this matter until nine days later, just three days before the election (and, perhaps incidentally, after I had written to USAID to complain about the Ambassador’s conduct regarding the IRI election observation, and also let the Ambassador know that I had commissioned a Langata poll in response)?
* Why did the Ambassador want to take Connie Newman–whom he had effectively chosen to be IRI’s lead Election Observation delegate–to meet privately with Stanley Murage the day before the election (I described Murage as by reputation “Kibaki’s Karl Rove” in my reporting to IRI Washington that day, and I have since heard him described by a diplomatic source as “Kibaki’s bag man”)? Why had the Ambassador ahead of time wanted Connie to stay at his residence or at the Serena Hotel separate from the rest of the Observation Mission at the Mayfair? Why did Connie mislead me about her separate time at the embassy residence when it had been understood among myself and IRI’s top executives that Connie was to be fully briefed to avoid this type of situation with the Ambassador (and my notes from the time show that I was told she was in fact briefed and “on board” before her arrival in Nairobi)? Did the private Murage meeting end up taking place?
* How did Connie know by Saturday evening December 29th, at the Mayfair, that Kibaki would be the announced winner when the ECK’s process at the KICC was still very much ongoing as represented publicly? She was in regular contact with the Ambassador by cellphone throughout–was he her source? Is there any other plausible explanation?
* Was then the Ambassador’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington describing what he witnessed and his own actions at the ECK’s headquarters at the KICC fully ingenuous in describing the Ambassador unsuccessfully offering ECK Chairman Kivuitu encouragement not to give in to pressure to announce a manipulated result? Note that this cable was written on the sixth day after the election and the third day after Kivuitu preemptively declared the vote for Kibaki and delivered the certificate of election to him at State House for his Sunday afternoon swearing in, and during the worst of the post-election violence and the time of maximum uncertainty for Kenya’s newish democracy and its longstanding stability. How does the Ambassador’s after-the-fact write up square with Kivuitu unsuccessfully seeking Ambassador’s Ranneberger’s help before the election?
* Why did Connie assert herself so strongly to object to making any public statement about the USAID IRI exit poll when she had no involvement whatsoever in that polling program and had no prior discussion with any of us who were involved? (Note the Ambassador’s admission in his interview by Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times that he had discussed the exit poll with Connie or “another Institute official”.) My immediate superior, the regional director for Africa, told me contemporaneously that I had made a mistake in bringing up the exit poll in front of Connie as she should not be involved, which I had recognized immediately when Connie jumped in to object.
* Given that the State Department released to me under FOIA redacted versions of a variety of classified cables, why did they withhold in full the documentation about Secretary of State Rice’s January 3, 2008 discussion with EU Foreign Minsiter Javier Solana about the election on the basis of its classification? What was so sensitive?
* Did Ambassador Ranneberger intervene with Johann Kreigler to steer the Commission of Inquiry into the 2007 Elections–the “Kreigler Commission”–away from an examination of the ECK’s presidential vote tally? A reliable source reported to me on this, but on second hand information as best I could tell so I don’t know.
* Why did the Ambassador get involved in brokering the rapprochement between Kibaki and Moi in the summer of 2007? Why was I told nothing about this by State or USAID, or anyone from IRI? Did anyone from IRI know before I reported this to Washington in the fall of 2007? Did this rapprochement lead to Uhuru Kenyatta as KANU Chairman and Leader of the Official Opposition crossing the aisle with KANU to pull out of ODM and support Kibaki? Did this lead Kibaki and his circle to overestimate his electoral position in the Rift Valley? Similarly, did this underlie the Ambassador’s overestimation of Kibaki’s strength as a candidate–or otherwise support the assessment that Kibaki would not be seriously challenged for reelection as of that summer? Did our support for a Moi-Kibaki rapprochement lead to our backing down on anticorruption issues in 2007, in spite of John Githongo’s brave revelations about Anglo Leasing? Did all of this lock in Kibaki’s support for Uhuru as his successor, ultimately fulfilling Moi’s original intentions from 2002?
* Did dealings with Kibaki (and Uhuru) in the 2007 election that the State Department was not willing to disclose tie the hands of the United States in the 2013 election, supporting the policy choice to promote the credibility of the IEBC irrespective of the procurement fraud, failure to deploy and implement essential technology and failure to tally the votes fully? Or, alternatively, was our policy driven strictly by immediate concerns about stability and the threat of violence, regardless of any such potential overhang from 2007? Any relation to our striking silence now about the proven corruption at the IEBC in the wake of the British convictions for Smith & Ouzman bribes in Kenya?
* Why would USAID withhold in 2014, under an April 2013 FOIA request, their copies of (unclassified) documents already produced to me in March 2013 by the State Department under a 2009 FOIA request, showing State and USAID personnel coordinating on the misrepresentation of the USAID IRI exit poll as an IRI “training exercise” in talking points for the media in 2008 and 2009? (And given that I requested the documents from the State Department in 2009, and they were cleared for release in October 2012, why were they not mailed to me until March 12, 2013, just after the next Kenyan election?) People are still being squirrelly after all these years.
Hats off to Connie
Like others who have had an occasion to work with her over recent years I am sure, I found Connie Newman to be a charming and very effective lobbyist (and I am sure she was a charming and effective diplomat during her eleven months at the State Department even though my eleven months at IRI did not overlap with her in that role). I can appreciate why Ambassador Ranneberger would identify her as his “great friend and mentor” to the media in Nairobi on a visit to Nairobi in 2009.
IRI identified Connie to the WeeklyStandard in 2009 as the primary decisionmaker on spiking the exit poll while serving as lead Election Observation delegate, as I did in my 2008 interviews with the New York Times, as well as in my contemporaneous emails to Joel Barkan which I included in this “War for History” series. So we agreed on that part anyway.
It is easy to see why Nigeria’s Bayelsa State would have Connie and her firm lobby Sidney Blumenthal (“former Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton”), the State Department’s Regional Security Office and Senator Inhofe on their behalf immediately following Obama’s inauguration in 2009, between her unpaid service observing the Kenyan and Nigerian elections for IRI. It is also easy to see, after what happened in Kenya in 2007, why IRI would have a senior staff member placed as co-lead delegate with Connie for Nigeria’s 2015 State Department funded IRI Election Observation Mission. Connie got most of what she wanted in Kenya in 2007, but I never detected that she had any deep personal background in Kenya’s politics (and she has not been registered as a lobbyist in Washington for any of the Kenyan governmental entities) and it was never my sense that she had any separate irons in the fire other than reflecting the Ambassador’s wishes. So for me the question is what the Ambassador was trying to accomplish and why. And then, was it successful or not and what have been the costs to whom?
In June 2007, newly “on the ground” in Nairobi as the resident Director for East Africa for the International Republican Institute, I was told that one of the President’s senior ministers wanted to meet me for breakfast at the Norfolk Hotel.
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.
When it was all said and done, after the vote tallies were changed to give President Kibaki a second term through corruption of the ECK, and almost 1500 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and I finished my leave to work for IRI and was back at home in the United States, at my job as a lawyer in the defense industry, I eventually submitted “hotline” complaints to the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID about what I considered improper interference by the American Ambassador with my work as an NGO employee administering the USAID-funded IRI Election Observation Mission as well as the Exit Poll.
As an exhibit to these complaints, in addition to the statement that I had written for The New York Times after they had called to interview me in July 2008, I prepared a Supplemental Statement to the State Department’s Inspector General. Seven years after the ill-fated election, having eventually gotten what I could from a round of FOIA requests to State and two rounds to USAID, I am still left with unanswered but concerning questions about what the “agenda” was and was not on the part of the Ambassador, whether it was successful or not, and how it infected my work and the election. I have no doubt that if we “hadn’t even been there,” to paraphrase the Ambassador, the election would have been stolen anyway, but we were there. In memory of Peter Oriare and Joel Barkan to whom I dedicated this series for their efforts for a free and fair election and transparent process in 2007, and in respect to my newer Kenyan friends who have been left to continue the work in the aftermath, with courage and determination in the face of increasing repression and threat, here it is:
Any questions? There is plenty more I can elaborate on details but I think the general picture is clear that the election was stolen. Such ambiguity as has existed has been generated by people who have known better. In an upcoming post I will explain why, as opposed to just how, as I was told, the election was stolen–and why the success of the fraud has preempted reform in Kenya.
Kenya’s PresidentLost DisputedElection, Poll Shows
NAIROBI, Kenya—An exit poll carried out with a grant from USAID in Kenya after elections six months ago that unleashed a wave of political and ethic killings, disclosed that the wrong candidate was declared the winner.
President Mwai Kibaki, whom official results credited with a two-point margin of victory in the December vote, finished nearly 6 points behind in the exit poll, which was released in July by researchers from the University of
California, San Diego.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga scored “a clear win outside the margin of error” according to surveys of voters as they left polling places on Election Day, the poll’s author said.
The exit poll was first reported on by the McClatchy news agency. It was financed by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan democracy-building organization, with a grant from USAID.
Amid post-election violence, IRI decided not to release the poll. But the poll’s authors and the former head of the institute’s program in Kenya stand by the research, which the authors presented July 8 in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In the exit poll, Odinga had 46.07 percent of the vote and Kibaki had 40.17
Had I known before late afternoon on election day, 27 December, that “the whole reason” for the USAID-IRI exit poll was “early intelligence for the Ambassador” rather than as a tool to deter and detect potential fraud (as our consultant from UCSD and I were explicitly told some weeks before) I might have made more note of the fact that the exit poll by design generally excluded non-living voters as it was based on live interviews of people who had personally come to the polling place and cast ballots.
Admittedly if the purpose of the exit poll was to predict who the ECK would determine to be the winner, as opposed to simply how living Kenyans voted, this was a serious limitation.
One specific idiosyncrasy that afternoon that was immediately salient was the issue of release to the Ambassador of preliminary numbers reported and collated as of two hours before the polls were to generally close. I have no statistical reference or otherwise scientific and peer reviewed material to cite for this observation, but it would have been my seat-of-the-pants judgment as the “person on the ground” with some practical experience in campaigns and elections and even with “machine politics” that deceased voters have a pronounced tendency to vote last in sequence among the various voting blocs.
For those wishing to observe the voting process rather than influence it, there are two related reasons why you will not want exit poll numbers to “get out” to actors in the process before the polls close. One is that potential voters supporting the candidate who is “behind” are perceived to be subject to being discouraged. Even if this is not a big enough factor to “matter” in the primary race at issue, it has been seen to impact the outcome of other races on the same ballot. Another is that some voters who might not otherwise elect to turn out may be spurred to action by the perception that their candidate is trailing. The dead voters are one identifiable bloc that may be particularly susceptible to an appeal of this type.
Had these types of numbers been available to me on election day I would have understood the stakes that much better. Even though this type of voting in the United States peaked before I was born, we can easily see empirical evidence in history of a pronounced tendency of the dead voter bloc to support the party which controls the electoral mechanism, in this case in Nairobi, the ECK. With the kinds of numbers on the voting role, if ODM/Odinga had roughly six percent more live votes as reflected in the exit poll, the percentage of the deceased who needed to be inspired to cast ballots would be much lower than the overall turnout figures.
In corresponding with a diplomat from an allied country (one with which the U.S. has a mutual defense treaty) before the ECK decision I was told that his expectation was that Odinga would win by roughly five percent. I replied that this was interesting as I had decided that roughly five percent was probably the minimum threshold for a margin for Odinga that would result in him being accepted as the winner by the ECK. In hindsight I was probably “drinking the KoolAid” of democratization a bit myself.
Here is their report on the March 4 general Kenya elections. Basically they found widespread problems in the areas they observed and reported on in detail. They did not aspire to cover the whole country and thus make no claims as to the total impact of the problems, but show clearly that there were multiple avenues and opportunities for widespread fraud.
In particular, they observed extra presidential ballots being given out by a polling clerk in one station. The observer reported the matter and the clerk was arrested, but the polling station ended up with roughly 100 extra votes for president over the votes for the other races, and this was apparently reported on and included in the national totals. This type of conduct would be one explanation for the huge overvote in the presidential race. I have not seen other explanations . . .
The AGLI recommends a post election audit by the IEBC and an outside group now that the Supreme Court has ruled without delving into the details so that the process can be improved.
The “media zombie” awakes with a recitation of damning basic questions about the systems employed by the IEBC.
AfriCOG and other Kenyan civil society groups were left as lonely voices before the election while the public relations of the IEBC and the rest of the Kenyan Government, propped up as best I can see so far by the “western donors” (with money from taxpayers like me) and the “aid industry” peddled false assurance. I will have to admit that the situation is significantly worse than I had realized.
And then beyond the systems that were not even seriously in place, we have the specifics of bogus numbers coming out with election challenge petitions by AfriCOG and by the CORD campaign filed today. So much like 2007 only worse in terms of a mass “overvote” in the presidential race.
The case is sure to be a test of Kenya’s recently overhauled judiciary. It is now much more widely respected, but some analysts have questioned whether all six Supreme Court justices will be able to withstand the pressure of refereeing such a high stakes contest for power. Even before the election, the chief justice received death threats, and analysts have raised questions about the independence of some of the other justices.