So at this point, Ambassador Godec is a seasoned veteran of Kenya’s post-2007 politics who knows the ground intimately from the last two election cycles. (His prospective “permanent” replacement, Mary Catherine Phee, was nominated in April and got a favorable vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this summer, but a confirmation vote by the full Senate is blocked along with dozens of other nominees.)
I was asked a few months ago to write an article about U.S. support for the BBI process, but I have been unable to do so because it is not clear to me what our policy has been or is now, and I have not found people involved willing to talk to me. Given my role in telling the story of what went wrong in 2007 when I was involved myself it is no surprise that I might not be the one that people in Washington want to open up to now, but even people that I am used to talking to privately have not been as forthcoming as usual. Nonetheless, Kenyans inevitably have questions, and those Americans who care may in the future.
Members of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance-USA have announced that they have sent Freedom of Information Requests to USAID and some Kenyans on social media and in a few cases in print have asserted suspicions or accusations that the U.S. Government was intending to back “unconstitutional constitutional amendments” in the form of the BBI referendum for some negative purpose. Looking at the degree to which the Obama Administration backed the passage of the new 2010 Constitution as the terminal event of the post-2007 “Reform Agenda”–to the point of having millions of dollars bleed over from neutral democracy assistance programing into supporting the “Yes” campaign in the 2010 referendum during Ambassador Ranneberger’s tenure–I am having a bit of difficulty understanding why my representatives in Washington would be working in general terms to undermine the new Constitution we helped midwife in the first place. At the same time it has openly been our policy under Ambassador Godec originally and then his predecessor Ambassador McCarter to support the Building Bridges Initiative and we did provide some USAID funding for the conducting the consultative process itself. I think it would be in the interests of the United States and of Kenyans for the State Department to get out front of the questions now, with the BBI referendum effort rejected both at trial court level and on appeal, and with the Kenyan presidential race that has been going on since the Handshake entering into its later stages.
We remain Kenya’s largest donor, we have many relationships and support many assistance programs of all sorts in Kenya. Most Kenyans remain in need, and we continue to have the same issues regarding terrorism as during the past 25 years (most especially since the 1998 embassy bombing). In general the geographic neighborhood is experiencing more specific crises and some overall erosion of peace, prosperity and governance. While we may not be as influential in Kenya as we were prior to 2007, and anyone with money can play in Kenyan politics, we will be engaged and we will have influence in 2022. So there is no time like the present to articulate what our policy is for the coming year.
Mama @IdaOdinga and I this morning hosted a farewell breakfast for the outgoing US Ambassador to Kenya @BobGodec who is leaving the country at the end of the month after six years in Nairobi. He promised continued support for the Building Bridges Initiative and war on corruption. pic.twitter.com/PdhXBsMF6j
Sunday saw two deaths associated with clashes allegedly between factions within the ruling Jubilee Party.
The Presidential campaign of Deputy President William Ruto did a Sunday morning church and politics foray in Murang’a in what would be seen as President Kenyatta’s backyard. See the story from The Daily Nation on arrest orders from the IG of Police and a very strong warning from the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
Circumstances are disputed between the supporters of the two politicians (Incumbent President Kenyatta and Incumbent Deputy President Ruto). It appears that government security forces were active and may have helped prevent worse violence—which could be encouraging—but that is just a superficial impression on my part from early reporting.
We are only 22 months away from a constitutionally mandated August 2022 General Election and violence in the campaign has been below what one would expect as the norm in the MultiParty Era. But the air seems pregnant with possibilities for both violence instigated by campaigns and for violent state repression. A constitutional crisis is afoot from the failure of the ruling party to effectuate the constitutional mandated gender balance in Parliament.
We are almost a year past the original release of a Building Bridges Initiative report. There is no clarity on exactly how long is to be allowed on what is now “overtime” on negotiating and agreeing on concrete steps to effectuate the changes to the basic bargain of governance in Kenya. The idea is to avoid the kind of competition we are seeing in the 2022 race as it stands now.
Germany is on social media as a lead on some of the civil society and domestic observation group preparation of the type that has been a staple but the U.S. and U.K. are unusually quiet in public about election specific issues now. There has been no public break at all in the partnership between Jubilee and the increasingly repressive Chinese Communist Party. Kenyatta has just signed a big debt and infrastructure deal with France as it becomes more apparent that the Jubilee Government grossly overpaid and thus over-borrowed on the Chinese Standard Gauge Railroad deal—which remains substantially secret.
The U.S. sent diplomats to facilitate post-election negotiations in late 2017 that culminated in the March 2018 “handshake” and we gave diplomatic support and National Democratic Institute facilitation to the BBI process.
As recently as April 2019 Ambassador McCarter tweeted with a picture of a visit from IEBC Chairman Chebukati that he hoped to see a 2022 election that did not involve a dispute or litigation. Without a investment in reform, which we have not seen, that would require either (1) a landslide of the sort that we saw with NARC in 2002 that gave rise to the 2003-05 democratic interregnum or (2) a recognition and consolidation of Jubilee as KANU successor.
Great discussion w/ IEBC Chairman @WChebukati We must work together today to ensure the wananchi have the ability to elect their leaders peacefully, without intimidation & the confidence their vote was counted. No court battles, no re-dos! pic.twitter.com/nt4N5Eb7jQ
In Washington the overwhelming public messaging is complacency. Kenya is very important to us because we are there in some real magnitude compared to the rest of the region and we are there because Kenya is important to us. But it is too early to talk about governance and elections and political violence, if for no other reason than the war against al-Shabaab is still going on as it was in the run up to the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections.
I feel obligated to raise the alarm about Kenyan election preparation with 2022 fast approaching and a potential contentious constitutional referendum even sooner.
Why worry? The track record.
Blatant fraud in the 2007 presidential election led to extensive violence, followed by “herd impunity” for the politicians involved in both the fraud and the violence. According to a later press report the US issued undisclosed sanctions against some members of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on evidence of bribery but made no public disclosure or known follow up.
A murky 2013 election process gave power to primary figures understood by public reputation and ICC charge to be among the most responsible for the 2007-08 violence. Procurement fraud prosecutions from 2013 linger in Kenya’s courts and IEBC recipients of “Chickengate” bribes from a British election vendor have never been prosecuted (the British payers of the bribes have completed their jail time). The IEBC was replaced at the expense of some loss of life to protestors at the hands of the Government.
And of course we all know that Kenya’s 2017 presidential election was legally deficient to the point of being annulled by the Supreme Court, leading to the 2018 “handshake” under which Kenya’s is presently operating. The IEBC has lost a majority of its members–one fleeing the country. The CEO who was hired by and held over from the removed 2013 “Chickengate” group was fired, but there has been no prosecution for the election eve abduction, torture and murder of Chris Msando, the acting ICT Director.
To summarize where I am going to leave my Freedom of Information Act investigation of the failures to properly administer Kenya’s 2013 election:
I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to USAID in 2015 for their records on support of the IEBC for 2013. The records were sent to Washington from Nairobi in late 2015 and released gradually between April 2017 and May 2020.
USAID eventually has provided a fair bit of material about their Kenya Electoral Party and Process Strengthening Program, but redacted the basic reporting and evaluation of what went wrong with the failed procurement of a Results Transmission System and the rest of the technology and other failures at the IEBC. To me, the redactions based on the assertion that this material is exempt from FOIA as proprietary commercial information of the not-for-profit International Foundation for Election Systems, IFES, were not plausibly legally justified. At this point, I am disappointed as an American that USAID was unwilling to be more transparent, because I think the continued failure to have an open accounting of the problems in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 election assistance programs leaves us in an unnecessarily poor position to hope to do better in 2022.
For some Americans the 2013 election in Kenya was a big success because Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto took over from Mwai Kibaki, Kalonzo Musyoka and PM Raila Odinga without the level of violence associated with the preceding 2007 election. For others of us, and for many Kenyans, the failure of the Results Transmission System and the lack of a credible total vote tally mattered quite a lot. How people actually vote matters. The failure compounded the bad precedents that played out with more election technology procurement and other problems in 2017 and are still “on deck” today.
At this point I am going to leave IFES and USAID to decide what their consciences and legal standards require about the problems from 2013 rather than try to pry more information out through “pro bono” legal work. Three years has gone by since the annulled 2017 vote without even bringing the Kenyan procurement fraud prosecution from 2013 to trial, let alone taking any major steps forward to fix things for 2022 or a pre-election referendum. This is wrong, as well as dangerous, and I think we Americans could help this time if we are willing to (after attending to our own challenges in preparing for our own elections).
I will include one new document to show the nature of the problem: an email between USAID and IFES from the afternoon of March 7, 2013, three days after the vote at a time when the Results Transmission System had failed. IEBC Chairman Issack Hassan had announced that the Commission had shut down the system and I was at the High Court with my AfriCOG friends seeking an injunction to prevent the IEBC from announcing a “winner” without the full results.
The EU Election Observers attended the court hearing but I don’t know if anyone from the USAID-funded international or domestic Election Observation teams did, or what they knew at the time about the procurement failure on the Results Transmission System. Regardless, I think transparency was needed in real time, and I certainly do not see the values served by keeping the substantive reporting on what went wrong under wraps seven years later (aside from the question of FOIA compliance).
We’re two years to the next poll if August still holds as the election date, which means the window for reforms is slowly closing, and if we don’t start pushing and getting some of these policies, rules, regulations and structures in place, we risk repeating the same mistakes we made in 2013 and 2017 and even earlier,” warned Ms Regina Opondo, the chairperson of the Election Observation Group (ELOG) steering committee.
Mr Ndung’u Wainaina, the executive director of International Centre for Policy and Conflict, told the Nation that the IEBC needs to be given financial autonomy and to devolve its resources down to the polling stations.
“IEBC should be reformed to restore public confidence, credibility and integrity. The problem is not the Constitution, but how the IEBC Act and recruitment of personnel is designed, which allows gross political interference,” Mr Wainaina said in an email to the Nation.
Here is my page with blog posts from the 2013 election cycle as seen from a public view outside of the Kenyan or donor governments.
[Revised June 26]: Here is an outline of my thinking on a potential Raila Odinga run for President of Kenya as the choice of what is still the informal coalition amongst ODM, Jubilee and most of the larger established “third parties” in 2022:
1) Two years in we still do not know the actual “deal” reflected in the 2018 Kenyatta-Odinga “handshake”. What we do know is that it was concluded very discretely between the two men and their closest personal associates to the exclusion of their “running mates”, parties and coalition partners.
2) The extraordinary discretion has remained intact to the point that as the informal 2022 campaign has proceeded and heated up, public speculation died off and attention shifted to the intermediate issues such of coalition formation, Uhuru’s consolidation of control of Parliament, the upcoming referendum (presumably to set up the execution of the handshake deal).
3) My personal opinion has been over the years that it was a big mistake that the position of Prime Minister “went away” in the “back room” at Lake Naivasha when the Kibaki/PNU and Odinga/ODM leaders set the final terms of the new Constitution to go to referendum in 2010. That was a key fault of the “Wako Draft” that was the raison d’etre for the Orange Democratic Movement from the 2005 referendum in the first place. If the position had not “gone away” Raila could have served his second term as Prime Minister in 2013-17 and the whole UhuRuto anti-ICC “coalition of the killing” scenario could been avoided (which perhaps explains why Kibaki would never let it happen). Hypothetically, if Kenyatta in early 2018 wanted to keep a hand in government and reduce risks to his interests after his term would end in 2022, it would seem relatively straightforward for Odinga to agree to cooperate in fixing that omission in the Constitution in return for support to finally get his turn in State House (even with more circumscribed power).
4) We have had two years to see that the Uhuru-Raila “friendship” is substantive and involves some real level of commitment between the two men. Both have shown uncharacteristic discipline and forbearance toward each other. Perhaps they have some knowledge in common that the rest of us are not directly in on?
5) Raila has been on his best statesman-like behavior, speaking to regional, continental and international issues and avoiding being embarrassed by old friends, like Tanzania’s Magufuli, who have fallen afoul of international opinion, even to the point of public criticism of Tanzania’s COVID response.
6) The main risk to the Kenyatta family “legacy”, the growing business empire, would be a single party strong president at odds with the Kenyattas. Whether or not there was actual intention back in 2012 to follow through on supporting Ruto in 2022-32 (which would only be known by the tightest insiders, the sort of who know the details of the superseding “handshake”) it is now abundantly clear that Ruto has been non-compliant in subordinating himself and would pose unacceptable risk.
7) None of the other candidates of national stature and recognition aside from Raila seem to compare favorably to Ruto as a popular campaigner. Most reached identifiable peaks some years ago and do not have clear command even of their own regions, especially in a devolved system where there are many more centres of patronage and exposure than in years past.
8) While Raila can be characterized as a “perennial candidate” he is widely understood as having actually won in 2007 (see my “War for History” page). He can point to his role as Prime Minister under Kibaki as an example of working in compromise with the dominant Kikuyu elite to secure some benefits for his own opposition constituents and as leading the most significant post-1964 reform effort in passing the 2010 New Constitution as an element of the “peace deal” and “National Accord” arising from his 2007 campaign (and bucking Kibaki to lead defeat of the 2005 “Wako Draft”). His other key “deliverable” was forcing “consultation” by Kibaki in 2011 after the President announced unilateral appointments for Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, leading ultimately to the selection for the Court of international civil society leader and “second liberationist” Willy Mutungu through the Judicial Service Commission in return for Kibaki’s Attorney General choice. While I think it is clear that there should have been a runoff in 2013, Raila accepted the Supreme Court’s controversial affirmation of the 50.07% determination of the then-IEBC. In 2017, he won a reversal at the Supreme Court and stuck to his guns to boycott a referendum without his criteria for reforms and held on through extreme diplomatic pressure to his “People’s President” swearing in while negotiating toward his ultimate deal.
9) Progressives who see a “BBI Referendum” as an elite pact to water down the new constitution (see my last post about the recent writings of Yash Ghai) will face a difficult situation of realpolitik if they align with Ruto to campaign for “No” on a referendum. Ruto was the leader of the “No” campaign against the whole of the reform constitution itself in 2010, and a victory in a “No” campaign in coming months would position him as the populist “giant killer” going into 2022. Much of the 2010 constitution’s “progressivism” has laid dormant for ten years already–do they really expect a better deal from a Ruto succession? Can they realistically hope to start from scratch without an existing voter base to elect some “third force” reformist quickly after a referendum?
10) My sense is that with Uhuru’s support through a consolidated Jubilee, Raila would be generally acceptable to the major external players, the United States and China, along with the UK and France, as well as the other democratic European development donors, Japan and South Korea along with the Gulf States and others. Ruto, on the other hand, seems to be seen as just too crudely corrupt for development donors to warm up to.
11) Commentators are already raising the notion of a risk of election violence for 2022. As in 2013 especially, the idea of affirmative “peace promotion” provides a tremendous advantage for whoever starts out with the most power and disincentivizes open questions about democratic niceties like failed Results Transmission System acquisitions leaving incomplete and contradictory tallies. Ruto has had ten years as Deputy President on the strength of his understood role as the champion of his side of the fighting in the Rift Valley in 2007-08. He has a great deal more to lose now than he did then and fewer, less powerful allies it would seem. The implied threat was a lot more valuable in 2013 when it coincided with the interest of the Kenyattas, also in the dock for the 2008 retribution. The violence worked very effectively for the leaders of both sides in the wake of the stolen election in 2007, so we have to acknowledge that background, but I think the “usual suspects” will have different interests in 2022 and I do not see the implied threat generating the clout for a Ruto presidency that it generated for him as deputy.
12) Conspicuously, I have said nothing about the critical problems faced by most Kenyans today. I have not changed my mind about the performance of the current government (nor are my thoughts here new–I just see possible confirmation as events play out). I am not addressing what should be or could have been as opposed to what I see.
Ironically, perhaps, “capacity building” and procurement systems, along with the subsequently abandoned electronic results transmission system, were touted by U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger as features of the U.S. pre-election support in Kenya in 2007:
* “Developing the capacity of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) lies at the heart of our strategy. The USG funded International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) has been providing support to the ECK since late 2001. Activities focus on providing appropriate technology for more efficient and transparent elections administration while improving the skills of the ECK technical staff. This support additionally includes capacity building and technical assistance to support election administration. Technical assistance includes computerization of the Procurement and Supplies Department, which is responsible for printing and distributing election materials. Assistance will also support implementation of the ECK’s restructuring plan, strengthening logistics capacity, and accelerating the transmission and display of results.”
For the 2013 election, I have a copy of one last minute USAID procurement through IFES for the Kenyan IEBC related to the failed electronic results transmission system; I would assume there were other USAID procurements involved for the IEBC. Notably, the Supreme Court of Kenya found that the main cause of the failure of the electronic results transmission system and the electronic voter identification system appeared to be procurement “squabbles” among IEBC members. “It is, indeed, likely, that the acquisition process was marked by competing interests involving impropriety, or even criminality: and we recommend that this matter be entrusted to the relevant State agency, for further investigation and possible prosecution.” “Thoughts on Kenya’s Supreme Court opinion” April 13, 2013. See also, “Why would we trust the IEBC vote tally when they engaged on fraudulent procurement processes for key technology?”, March 24, 2013.
The most serious allegations relate to 7 contracts with the IIEC in Kenya between 2009-2010, worth £1.37 million, where S&O made unusually high commission payments of between 27% and 37% of the contract price. Part of prosecution’s case was that the commission of £380,859 over 18 months paid to the agent, Trevy James Oyombra, was exorbitant, and clearly designed to include payments for officials.
The contracts in Kenya included ballot papers and voter ID cards for By-Elections, 18 million voter registration cards, Referendum ballot papers, and other products relating to elections, such as card pouches, OMR forms, ultraviolet lights. It was a feature of several of these contracts that the S&O subcontracted out the printing work to other companies, in one case to a Chinese company that delivered the goods for less than half the cost of the contract price.
This raises questions about whether S&O were compliant with procurement rules and whether it compromised the security and integrity of the electoral process by subcontracting.
Additionally, on several contracts, S&O delivered significantly less papers than they were contracted to do raising the question of whether the integrity of the electoral process was compromised. It was also a feature of some of these contracts that prices were inflated significantly after award of contract. In all the contracts, the alleged bribes were paid for by the Kenyan tax payers, as the cost of commission was reflected in the contract price.
The specific contracts were as follows:
June 2009 – Shinyalu and Bomachoge By-Election. S&O were to provide voter ID cards, and ballot papers – although in the end they provided only 142,000 papers against the 200,000 ordered.
January 2010 – 18 million voter registration cards. Once S&O had been awarded the contract they subcontracted the production of half the forms to another company.
March 2010 – contract for electors’ card pouches which S&O subcontracted to a Chinese company who delivered them for less than half of the contract price.
May-July 2010 – three different By-Election ballot paper contracts (South Mugirango, Matuga and Civil By-Elections) – where the contract price in each case was increased substantially (sometimes by 50%) after award of contract to permit bribes to be paid. The agent advised S&O against providing “chicken” to visitors to their factory in 2010 as there were other officials not from the IIEC who he said they shouldn’t give “the wrong picture” – undermining the defence’s argument that the company was just doing things the “African way”. Significantly the company again delivered less quantities of ballot papers than were required in each of these three contracts – in the case of the Civic By-Elections some 40,000 less than ordered.
July 2010 – a contract to provide 14.6 million Referendum Ballot Papers in which S&O worked out an uplift per ballot paper to factor in the bribery.
July 2010 – 1.5 million OMR correction forms and 1000 nomination forms in May.
July-December 2010 – ultra violet lights and other Parliamentary and Civil Ballot Papers.
Electoral officials at the IIEC were on several occasions described by the agent, Trevy, as trying to make money before they left the IIEC and went back into government. The agent described the officials at on stage as anxious and “broke”, and “they are desperate for the chicken”. The agent also said that officials told him that S&O needed to “be discrete since all peoples eyes and the government intelligence are watching their every move even on the phone to ensure transparency”.
The Kenyan officials named in court as recipients of payments were as follows: IIEC: Kenneth Karani (chief procurement officer); David Chirchir (IIEC Commissioner); James Oswago (IIEC Chief Electoral Officer); Dena; Kennedy Nyaundi (Commissioner); Gladys Boss Shollei (Deputy CEO); Issack Hassan; Hamida, Tororey and Sang.
Several of these officials are still in government: David Chirchir is current Energy Minister in government, and Issack Hassan is the current Chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) which took over from the IIEC.
The scope of the successfully prosecuted bribes to Kenyan officials, in particular the Kenyan Interim Independent Electoral Commission, now Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, was such as to suggest the corruption was not unique by time or geography.
Although USAID, as referenced in the State Department cable quoted above, has provided millions for the operations of the Electoral Commission of Kenya and its successors on a regularized basis since embedding IFES in the Electoral Commission of Kenya, ECK, in 2001, I do not know whether there was any direct U.S. funding, or U.S. funding through a “basket” administered through UNDP or otherwise, implicated in the specific acquisitions involved in the prosecution. At the least, given the level of U.S. funding for the Kenyan elections through this time period, the U.S. indirectly underwrote the ability of the Kenyan election officials to corruptly overpay for those things the U.S. was not helping to pay for.
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As Kenya’s 2022 presidential race continues in lower public gear due to the global pandemic, today’s Daily Nation has a story headlined “Uhuru Cabinet sweep targets DP Ruto allies” which also reports on competing messaging from the opposing Kenyatta/Odinga/BBI and Ruto camps that has been apparent for at least a few months.
I noticed last year current activity on a Twitter account, “@TheRealRaila”, previously active for less than 30 days in 2017 associated with the very dark propaganda videos of the same title used on behalf of the UhuRuto re-election campaign in 2017:
The account started Tweeting again back in June 2018 after silence from August 2017, and was now being used to promote the Building Bridges Initiative from the Uhuru-Raila “handshake” and “Uhuru’s Big 4 Agenda”. And to attack “evil society” for criticizing the Chinese Single Gauge Railroad deal, to attack Chief Justice David Maraga, and to attack Deputy President Ruto and his cadre.
See this concluding discussion of the latest campaign posture from today’s Daily Nation piece that leads with talk of upcoming Cabinet and Parliamentary purges:
The reports of the looming changes emerged as apocalyptic videos akin to those that ran against Mr Odinga in the 2017 campaign surfaced online, this time targeting the Number Two man.
The video that has all the hallmarks of the well-planned propaganda campaign that the former prime minister suffered in 2017, asks Kenyans to kick out dishonest leaders.
Images of the deputy president fill the video, although he is not mentioned.
On Sunday, Jubilee Deputy Secretary-General Caleb Kositany, who has become the de facto spokesman for the pro-Ruto camp, said his team was aware of the videos.
“We know who is producing them. It is a group of people supervised by a leading government official and their job description is to discredit William Ruto,” Mr Kositany, who is also the Soy MP, said.
The 2017 anti-Odinga videos and the divisive campaigns that started in 2013 but were escalated five years later were linked to British firm Cambridge Analytica and Harris Media, with the former said to have mined personal information from social media giant Facebook to craft and target personalised messages at voters.
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’” Mr Alexander Nix from the firm said in the undercover video by Channel 4 TV.
The Ruto team On Sunday castigated the move by the government to reopen restaurants and not churches.
Dr Ruto’s activities have stopped due to the directive to close churches. Mr Kositany said places of worship should open, and follow the Covid-19 guidelines.
“It’s not about DP stealing the show in churches, those in charge are more inclined to business, than Godliness,” Mr Kositany said.
Churches, he said, were the “last thing on their mind”. Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen questioned the government’s move “to open bars and not churches”.
Since I asked this same question in January 2019 we have seen finally publication of the initial Building Bridges Initiative report delivered to President Kenyatta and released to the public, as I have discussed in a few posts, but the overall question on how things play out in 2020 remain essentially the same. Ambassador McCarter has made clear that the United States remains committed to the Building Bridges Initiative even if he did not personally agree with a few things in the report.
What will 2019 hold for the relations between the United States and Kenya, particularly the Trump-Pence and Kenyatta-Ruto Administrations?
Kyle McCarter, just confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Trump’s man in Kenya, after a delay since last spring, will shortly replace Robert Godec who shepherded U.S. interests as defined by the Obama and Trump Administrations, respectively, during the UhuRuto election in 2013 and re-election in 2017. The 2020 American presidential race is kicking off now a year ahead of the party primaries so it does not seem likely that McCarter’s efforts in Kenya will command a high place in the U.S. President’s personal attention soon. (If Trump is re-elected it would seem a fairly safe bet that McCarter would stay on for Kenya’s 2022 election, but as a political appointee he would likely be replaced in 2021 if the White House changes hands.)
We have also seen an encouraging new development with the recent and current prosecutions by the U.S. of cases involving bribery of high government officials in Uganda andMozambique(going along with the U.S. extradition and prosecution of members of the Kenya-based Akasha narcotics trafficking syndicate).See the Amabhungane story on the Mozambique cases here.
The U.S. has been quietly supporting capacity building for Kenyan prosecutors; some people, including some Kenyans, think that the Director of Public Prosecution is now closer to “the real deal” than his predecessors and that President Kenyatta is actually now waging a form of a genuine if limited “war on corruption”. (We shall see.)
On the Kenyan side, with the end of 2018 we reached the end of the first year of the Second UhuRuto Administration and the first year of “Uhuru’s Big Four Agenda”.
In late 2017 we witnessed the opposition-boycotted “fresh” presidential election conducted by the highly controversial (and at least to some extent corrupt we now know) IEBC, followed by an international diplomatic circling of the wagons to close out Kenya’s political season on that basis.
“On reflection, I came up with four responses to your concerns. I call them the Big Four: food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare for all. During the next 5 years, I will dedicate the energy, time and resources of my Administration to the Big Four.”
Fulfilling these development targets would be the prospective reward to ordinary Kenyan citizens for their role, such as it was, in the re-election drama, and serve as Uhuru Kenyatta’s “legacy”, to cement his place within Kenya’s First Family and presumably secure the status of yet another generation of Kenya’s post-colonial pre-democratic elite.
I was struck by the fact that the Jubilee/UhuRuto election campaign did not offer the “Big Four” as its electoral platform. Needless to say, it is a bit incongruous to see the Jubilee Government and its international supporters (the same ones funding Kenya’s serially corrupt electoral management bodies) not offer a serious nod toward seeking a direct democratic mandate for such an ambitious and aggressive program to define a Kenyan president’s term in office.
I am fully in support of the concepts of “the Big Four” in having the Government of Kenya actually prioritize the common welfare of Kenya’s citizens. It is just that this type of service provision is frankly head-spinningly counterintuitive coming from Kenya’s existing political class. Anyone who has been blessed to live in Kenya and follows its politics must have asked at the inception a year ago if this “Big Four” was not just the another expression of foreign ambitions projected on Kenya and indulged by Kenya’s elite for their paramount purpose: looking out for themselves.
Now that a year has gone by, the attention of Kenya’s governmental leaders draws more and more tightly around their next election in three-and-a-half years while the reality of the debt load from the most recent pre-election period bears down. It would seem that skepticism was well warranted.
The United States reportedly took a key “leading from behind” role in late 2017 and early 2018 in bringing Raila into some form of post-election accommodation with the Kenyatta’s while taking both a publicly and privately assertive position against the “People’s Presidency” inauguration gambit last January. Since that time we have a new Secretary of State, a permanent Assistant Secretary for the Africa Bureau, and now a new Ambassador, but no open discontinuities in Trump Administration policy on Kenya. Dr. Jendayi Frazer who was the Assistant Secretary in 2007-08 is still around in the same various private capacities as she was in during 2013 and 17 (as far as I know). She wasmost recently in the Kenyan media visiting with Mombasa County Governor Joho, reportedly discussing “violent extremism” before a Mastercard Foundation event. Most of the other people who were involved in Kenya diplomacy and policy at a senior level in the Obama years are in quasi-official related positions and/or the Albright Stonebridge Group, awaiting a change in administration if not retired.
With the “handshake” between Uhuru and Raila it seems that Kenya’s opposition has been left with less power in parliament than at any time within the past twenty years.
Certainly Daniel arap Moi must rest easy knowing that the rumors of his political demise were greatly exaggerated. His succession project from 2002 has more-or-less succeeded. Kenyans are freer as a matter of civil liberties now than they were during the days of his rule as recorded in history and as described to me by politicians who were in opposition back in 2007 but have circled back in the years since. At the same time, extra-judicial killing remains a constant threat to the poor and to anyone whose exercise of those liberties might seem to present a real challenge to the political status quo. The killings by State security forces in support of the 2017 elections were significantly escalated from 2013 and after ten years it is now safe and necessary to say that the post-election violence of 2007-08 has been effectively ratified by the State as the violence of 1992 and 1997 under Moi was. And Kenya may be even more pervasively corrupt than ever. Elections arguably peaked in the 2002 landslide.
The “international community” as it identifies itself has accepted and moved on from its abject defeat by Kenya’s political elite (and by its own vanity and lack of substantive commitment) on the issue of “justice” for the politically instrumental murder and mayhem of 2007-08.
Trump’s “New Africa Policy” as per National Security Advisor John Bolton suggests that we should not expect any separate new “flagship” initiatives for development or assistance from the U.S., nor other major changes emanating from the White House. The “New Africa Policy” could be seen as raising questions of how far the U.S. will be willing to financially underwrite the “Big Four” approach on development assistance. Bolton himself was both the intellectual and political leader of the campaign to keep the ICC as far from any interaction with U.S. policy as possible and is a career U.N. skeptic. There are elements of the approach talked about for “the Big Four” that fit up with what we hear from USAID in the Trump era, in particular a heavier focus on creating opportunities for private foreign investment coupled with reduced direct assistance spending. At the same time, the sexiest sector for investment under the Big Four, under Universal Health Coverage, is predicated on the rejection of the Republican approaches to healthcare in the United States, so the rationale for U.S. Government support under a Trump Administration is fuzzy at best.
Just as most of Kenya’s major politicians have history as cooperators in some fashion with Kenya’s single party KANU regimes, some of those around Trump worked for Moi directly (Paul Manafort and Roger Stone most conspicuously) and Americans of longevity in the Foreign Service have background with the USG-GOK alliance under Moi. It will be interesting to see where Ambassador McCarter fits into this history.
On one hand, McCarter is a Trump political appointee from Republican politics; on the other his background with Kenya as a missionary makes him a somewhat anomalous figure in the world of Black, Manafort and Stone, Cambridge Analytica and other Trump-connected international operatives and lobbyists, and with Donald Trump and his Organization, the global hotel/gambling developer and brand broker.
McCarter has been around Kenya independently and will have is own pre-existing relationships and his own impressions on Kenya’s politics not tied to the Trump family.
McCarter’s religious background as an Oral Roberts University graduate and missionary in itself, and political background as an elected official from a less urbanized portion of the American Midwest may give the new Ambassador some head start in relating to ordinary Kenyans over someone from a more typical background for a professional diplomat.
Will McCarter tuck comfortably into the pre-existing Bush/Obama/Trump policy for Kenya of accentuating the positives about those in power and how we can keep things quietly spinning without risk of disruption? Or might he be more plainspoken? How will he see his role in the “handshake” and “Building Bridges” endeavor as Kenya’s pols move more quickly on to jockeying for advantage for the next dispensation from 2022? Can McCarter find a way to contribute something lasting on corruption and law enforcement even if the “Big Four” is “overcome by events” as politics moves on?
My comment: I have read much of the report in some detail, but still working through some sections. When Ambassador McCarter hails the report and suggests that Kenyans should not comment until they have read it, he does let us know that it is intended to be an elite consensus to be handed down into Kenya’s democratic politics such as it is.
Figures on internet penetration in Kenya are, inevitably, as inconsistent as figures on Kenya’s population. Some assert that more than 85% of Kenyans have internet access, but so much of that is strictly mobile and expensive for data that reading the full report while suspending comment is quite a big ask. The Ambassador obviously is a very quick reader based on the timing of the release and his comments to The Star.
On substance, I find Kenya’s elites to be smart, well educated and well spoken, so it is no surprise that within the details of the report I find a lot of exposition that is appealing to me. How seriously is it to be taken? One has to compare the track record of these elites to past performance, which while giving no guaranty of the future, is the most tangible thing to go on in trying to guess whether they are serious. That part does not weigh in favor of getting too excited about the document one way or the other.
As an example, look at the recent US attack on Senator Amos Wako for his alleged corruption as Kenya’s attorney general during the Moi and first and second Kibaki Administrations at the same time he was a key member of the BBI effort. So what does my government really think about the BBI process?
Beyond that, what I would need to know myself, and what I would think Kenyans would need to know is how the specific decisions reflected in the report were made. The report is very ambitions, and arguably internally contradictory, in making profound recommendations for the shape of Kenya for generations to come. How did the BBI team decide to stress on one hand the idea of going back to try a “nation building” exercise of coming up with some type of “national ethos” for Kenya,while also committing to doubling down on and even expediting the notion of regionally confederating and then federating in an East African state? Are either of these goals realistic and if both are, are they compatible?
What was the process for deciding that industrial manufacturing for a regional market was the best way to address the employment crisis? And so on.
[Update: I have completed my “close reading” of the full document. What I will add is that there are a lot of worthwhile specific items included in the recommendations toward making Kenya’s government more effective/efficient/ fair. These represent collectively a substantial amount of thought and effort and I do not take that lightly; collectively they could if fully implemented quickly accomplish very significant incremental improvements, but do not seem to me to suggest something profoundly transformational. Aside from the issues I mentioned above, the gaping hole is the failure to address at all the unfulfilled parts of Kenya’s National Accord from the 2008 “peace deal” following the stolen 2007 election, especially the truncated and “shelved” Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report.]
Following the post-election negotiations between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during December 2017 – March 2018, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 “handshake” between the two, Kenyans have witnessed a prolonged period of political stasis in which Kenyatta has run the Government as he sees fit without opposition and former Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President Ruto and their factions have carried on their 2022 campaigns.
We now have a 150+ page published report from the Government of Kenya representing the work product of a dual team of insiders for the two “sides” (Raila/ODM and Uhuru) making various recommendations for political governance issues as are always “on the table” in “post-Colonial” Kenya.
Formally, this has been called the “Building Bridges Initiative” implemented by the “Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce” and has incorporated the usual process of donor supported public “input” sessions around the country to “popularize” the process, the teams of insiders and what they will agree on and eventually announce.
The adjustments proposed from the public comments and news so far appear to be relatively nondramatic and reflect what one would expect for an elite consensus process where the primary issue is the adjustment of interests among those at the table.
I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.
Inthe latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in anational dialoguefollowing the presidential election.” (emphasis added)
Today, however, following the talks, anew statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.
Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.
“Former Kass FM presenter Joshua Sang is set to make a comeback to the airwaves after landing a job at Emoo FM, a station owned by Mediamax Network Ltd.
Even though both the Kenyatta family and Ruto hold substantial stakes in the DMS Place-headquartered Mediamax Network – sources claim Ruto is the hitherto biggest shareholder even as he aims to consolidate media support around his 2022 ambitions.”