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.

Don’t Mess from Texas: disturbing Privacy International report indicates Uhuruto re-election campaign bought Texas-based negative propaganda campaign (updated)

Read the important report here: “Texas media company hired by Trump created Kenyan president’s viral ‘anonymous’ attack campaign against rival, new investigation reveals“.

I am a native Texan myself, so I do not think that Texans are less likely to understand the moral, spiritual or foreign relations repercussions of aggressive tribalist propaganda on behalf of William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta than Americans in Idaho or Arkansas, say.  The problem is that the operation seems to have been conducted by a United States-based firm, staffed by Americans, orchestrating a digitized propaganda campaign directed against both Kenyan voters and those Americans such as myself and other amateur or professional “Kenya watchers” or U.S. government personnel who would conduct internet activity touching on Kenya politics and government.

The firm in question, Harris Media, based on this report but also their associated social media, seems to have affinity for what I think of as the “White Right”–the National Front, AfD, UKIP, Roy Moore, etc., aside from Trump.  I have noted the Uhuruto government courting these folks in the United States over the years — I won’t elaborate here but it has always troubled me as an American Southerner.  Some of these people also use Christian symbolism as part of their personal branding which is that much more troubling for me.

Unfortunately the Americans involved as of this writing have not filed a Foreign Agent Registration Act registration and made the associated disclosures to the Justice Department and the American public.

The Privacy International report appears to to reveal that the American firm was an “agent for a foreign principle” in conducting a propaganda campaign for Kenyatta and Ruto’s re-election, in substantial part through generating fear and loathing of the opposition. I do know that some of my friends in Washington wrongly predicted violent behavior on the part of the opposition in the context of the botched August 8 election. Could they have been influenced by this propaganda campaign, and/or by others that have not yet been uncovered by outside investigation?

I am concerned that a move by the ICC to try Uhuru, Ruto and Sang “locally” would needlessly cost additional lives

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The Kenyan government, after years of lack of success in its various diplomatic efforts to block the ICC prosecutions of key figures in the political killings involved with the 2007-08 elections, achieved a potential breakthrough at the most recent AU meeting in Addis.  By getting a section of African strongmen and politicians to agree that the ICC shoe that they had promised to wear was pinching too tightly when it was not deferring to them as Heads of State as opposed to only pursuing lessor suspects out of power, the Government of Kenya raised the stakes for those nations that advocate a law-based international order and for the ICC as the only institution that remains with any potential to substantively express any tangible disapproval of the post-election murder and mayhem in Kenya in 2007-08.

It is in this context that the ICC will have to decide whether or not to accept a panel recommendation to move the trials from The Hague to Kenya or Tanzania.

Let me say that I am no fan of the decision to locate the ICC in The Hague in the first place.  Nothing against the Dutch and I do understand that The Hague has symbolism as a seat of the international law of nations.  Of course the criminal trials of individuals is something quite different and if anything in some ways undercut by the association.  We are confronted now with a situation in which the indictees have taken power in a member state–in a campaign initiated in the context of their defense to the ICC charges–and wish to avoid trial by mutating the individual criminal charges into a matter of the international relations of sovereign states.

So by all means move the Court to Botswana or Belize or some other more suitable location when it becomes logistically rational to do so, but these trials are supposed to be about the loss of life and limb in the “extra-electoral” context of the Kenyan fight for political power and it makes no sense to physically conduct the trial in such a way as to put more lives in the same type of jeopardy.

First, as a general proposition, witnesses against the President and Deputy President will never be able to live in safety in Kenya for any time in the foreseeable future after being identified and choosing to testify (they may wish to accept the danger of living in Kenya after testifying but this should not be asked or expected of them); this is the cold reality that should be readily evident to anyone who has paid attention to politics in Kenya over the years.  If it is understood that witnesses cannot testify in Kenya then why split up the trials over more than one location?  This process has already taken too long to no one’s benefit and supposedly the ICC has problems with resources and funding and a big backlog of cases already.

Second, estimates of the loss of life related to the most recent Kenyan elections with all priority on “peace” or stability over all else were still more than 500 people.  The police made extra-legal pronouncements restricting lawful civic expression and assembly; the country was basically shut down, the military was deployed and people were shot for breaking no law.  A trial in Kenya would be extremely expensive and quite dangerous by any informed reckoning.  The suspects on trial would be in charge of the “security” forces.  How many innocent lives will be lost for this?  No one can know ahead of time but it is grossly irresponsible not to count on some people who have no role in the trials dying for holding them in Kenya.

The whole point of the ICC is that it is “international”.  Thirty three other nations in Africa beside Kenya are members.  The reason for these cases being at the ICC was the tactical decision to vote in the “duly elected” Kenyan Parliament to “don’t be vague, go to The Hague.”  If “The Hague” no longer has the stomach for this, they should declare now that the task is too hard and walk away and make clear that Kenya, in spite of the work of the Waki Commission arising out of the AU-sponsored 2008 post-election settlement and the vote of its own parliament, is a zone of impunity, at least for suspects who arise above a political ceiling on potential accountability.  Otherwise, these trials need to be brought to fruition and be heard and appealed and done with purposeful speed and as few diversions as feasible.

We all know that the crimes alleged happened.  We saw them and heard them and see and feel their effects today.  Those of us who lived through this time in Kenya heard various bits and pieces of the details as these things were happening.  If the suspects or any of them are tried and acquitted then anyone who believes that they are in fact innocent of the roles alleged can celebrate that and all of us can finally mourn justice for these crimes along with the dead.

It’s mid-June: another month goes by without Kenya’s election results while Hassan goes to Washington [revised]

Form 34 Posted

Form 34 Posted

IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, hosted the latest round of its “IEBC goes to Washington” events with Chairman Hassan on June 12–this one purporting to discuss “lessons learned” from the March 4 election (link to webcast). A key lesson for the Kenyan government so far appears to be that if you sit on the election results long enough you can outlast the observers and the donors will pat themselves on the back anyway.

I didn’t make the trip to Washington for this event, in part because I don’t think the event should have taken place until after, at a minimum, the election results were released, if not other basic information we have all been waiting for. I did watch on-line. Here is my take:

My impression was that the objective of this event was indicated by the introduction and the conclusion. These were extravagant conclusory statements from IFES CEO Bill Press about what a great success the Kenyan election was and what a great job the IEBC and its chairman did (and by implication of course IFES). Otherwise, there was just nothing new here. IFES’s Country Director Michael Yard gave a sober reminder of all the many things associated with basic electoral reform, like campaign finance laws, gender balance,etc. that remain undone–as he cautioned back in April 2012 with Hassan in Washington about the challenges of trying to do too much in too little time in introducing technology. The Washington triumphalism is “tone from the top” stuff that I haven’t heard from Yard or anyone else at IFES and I don’t doubt that everyone involved in actually working on the programs in Kenya did their best to avoid the kind of mess that actually came to pass.

From Press’ argument, the reason this was all a great success–end of story–without even having results released three months later, is that “Kenya didn’t burn.” If I were a Kenyan I would be a bit offended by that. First of all “Kenya” didn’t “burn” last time–there was major violence in some places, including arson by militias, major sponsors of which, based on the confirmed ICC charges, got together this time. Kenyans of all tribes and persuasions were chastened by the post-election violence last time. Because of the experience, religious and community groups, civil society and the international community invested heavily in peacebuilding and conflict warning and resolution approaches. Threat of further ICC prosecutions hung over the key political actors that used violence last time. Thanks to a ruling by Speaker Kenneth Marende in Parliament and the High Court at the time, after passage of the new constitution in 2010, a new Chief Justice was appointed who was acceptable to the opposition as well as to the President, giving the opposition some hope in going to court after the IEBC ruling that the Uhuruto ticket had reached 50.07%. The Government of Kenya heavily deployed military, paramilitary and police force, especially in areas most supportive of the opposition, and the new Inspector General (chief) of police announced a ban of political assembly and peaceful protest, irrespective of the constitution–while gangs patrolled many of the slum areas. The biggest number of people killed last time were shot by the police, as reported by the Waki Commission. Last time the shoot to kill policy was unexpected; this time it was understood in advance. People stayed home after voting for many reasons that do not constitute an endorsement of the work and conduct of the IEBC.

Saying that the IEBC did a “great job” because “Kenya didn’t burn” is part of what I mean about having lower standards for elections in Africa–sorry if it’s impolite to notice.

The obvious question, of course, is that if Kenya not “burning” warrants so much public chest beating this time, should we include public discussion of “lessons learned” or any accounting or apologies for last time when so many people were killed and maimed?

Meanwhile back in Nairobi, the election results are being missed.

The Star: “Raila wants IEBC results released”:

“If indeed the IEBC conducted a free and fair poll, why is it delaying the computation of the election results three months later? They should announce so that we know what TNA, ODM, Wiper among other parties got,” Raila told the crowd at the Kabiro Primary School.

The Supreme Court on April 9 upheld the IEBC declaration of Uhuru as the winner after Raila’s Cord challenged the outcome of the presidential election.

The court ruled that the process was within the law and that Uhuru had been validly elected as the president.

Raila’s sentiments come against the backdrop of divisions within the IEBC over the computation of the results. An IEBC commissioner, who did not want his identity revealed, told the Star that the final figure was to be released before the end of last week but the disagreement among them had caused the delay.

The figures, according to the commissioner, were to be finalised before presentation of budget estimates to the parliamentary committee.

Whereas some commissioners want the the process finalised, others want the section of the Political Parties’ Act providing for the computation of results amended to give the commission more time. Those pushing for the amendment want the parties to share the monies on the basis of their representation in the Parliament and the county assemblies.

According to the commissioner, the variation of the results between the presidential and other positions was “irreconcilable”.

“The IEBC was to release the results before the end of the week but the huge variation between the presidential results announced on the 9th of March this year and the other positions combined is the source of the headache,” the source said.

As Vote Nears, Former Deputy Commander of Kenyan Administrative Police continues in hiding

As the Kenyan constitutional referendum approaches, most other aspects of the “reform agenda”, in particular accountability for wrongdoing in the last election, remain stymied. The Internal Security portfolio has passed from John “Rattle the Snake” Michuki, who continues in Cabinet as a key insider, to George Saitoti, another of those who seems a conspicuously odd choice of partners for anyone promoting reform in the security services.

From the Nairobi Star via All Africa.

Nairobi — GOVERNMENT is about to dismiss a key potential witness for the International Criminal Court.

It has written to Oku Kaunya to show cause why he should not be fired as Nyanza Deputy Provincial Commissioner.

In December 2007 he was the Deputy Commandant of the Administration Police and Commandant of the AP Training College in Embakasi. He had originally been scheduled to take over from AP Commandant Kinuthia Mbugua in 2008.

It has been alleged that the Administration Police was partly responsible for the mayhem that followed the December 2007 elections.

Kaunya left Kenya in April this year and has not returned. It has been rumoured that he will be a key witness for ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Government has taken Kaunya’s absence from work as desertion from duty which, according to the Civil Service regulations, is punishable by summary dismissal.

Sources in the Office of the President, to whom the Provincial Administration answers, told the Star that the letter was written in mid-June and sent through the Post Office.

Internal Security assistant minister Orwa Ojodeh confirmed yesterday that Kaunya had deserted duty and clarified that any communication sent to him was in line with government policy.

“If government officers desert duty as he did, then they have to give an explanation,” said Ojodeh.

The minister however said he could not confirm whether government had formally written Kaunya.

After receiving death threats from unknown people, Kaunya slipped out of Kenya in April claiming he needed medical treatment for a kidney problem. His whereabouts remain unknown but he is believed to be in Europe.

He may turn out to be a key witness should the International Criminal Court try the perpetrators of the post-election violence.

Kaunya headed the AP Training College which, according to the Waki Report, was a central link in the disruption of the December 2007 election.

The Waki Report said 1,600 officers were sent to the college for “special training” so they could act as election agents for the PNU.

“All officers deployed were dressed in plainclothes, easily identified as they were not from the local community and travelled in large groups by more than 30 chartered buses,” the report said.

“In addition, they received Sh21,000 each for their duties. The entire exercise was called off after some officers were killed and many more injured by citizens,” the Waki Report concluded.

Investigators from the office of ICC prosecutor Ocampo have been in Kenya and they are expected to finalise their investigations in October before Ocampo can ask for the ICC to issue arrest warrants for the key suspects.

As many as 20 witnesses whose testimony is considered crucial have been placed under protection. Several have been flown out of Kenya while others are being protected in safe houses in Kenya.

Yesterday Kaunya’s wife Millicent said the government was aware of her husband’s continued stay abroad and that she had not received any communication about his employment status.

“I have not heard anything so far but he (Kaunya) is out and the government knows why,” said the wife without revealing further details.

Ajaa Olubayi, Kaunya’s lawyer, said he last spoke with his client two months ago.

“I haven’t spoken with him for quite some time and I would not be in a position to say whether he has been asked to explain his absence from work,” said Ajaa

In April Kaunya’s wife said her husband had been feeling unwell and travelled to Germany for treatment from where he was to proceed to see their daughter in the USA.

In January 2004, while he was the Uasin Gishu DC, Kaunya called for the abolition of the Administration Police and the Provincial Administration.

He was supporting those delegates to the National Constitution Conference who wanted the Provincial Administration removed from the Draft Constitution that was finally defeated in the 2005 referendum.

Kaunya’s comments were surprising to the AP command, especially Commandant Kinuthia Mbugua who had waged a spirited battle to have the force retained.

In 2007 Kaunya was promoted to head the Administration Police Training College, a post that put him second only to Mbugua in the AP chain of command.

However in June 2008 Mbugua interdicted Kaunya for putting on the rank insignia of the AP Commandant, apparently in preparation for the departure of Mbugua.

He eventually returned to his post in December 2008 but that did not end his tribulations.

Seemingly to ensure he did not testify to the Waki Commission in early 2009, Kaunya was sent for an impromptu “holiday” in Thailand.

When he returned, he was given a scholarship to the Karen-based National Defence College from which he graduated last December.

Sure, we can hope for responsible behavior by the political powers that be in Kenya in the referendum–but to expect it under the circumstances would certainly be foolish.

Here is the link to “Divide and Rule: State-Sponsored Ethnic Violence in Kenya” by Human Rights Watch from 1993, featuring discussion of then-Vice President Saitoti, who was given the Internal Security portfolio by Kibaki in January 2008, during the post-election violence and before the mediation deal ushering in “the reform agenda”.