Challenges to the constitutional role of the Kenyan Courts by the Executive Branch did not start this week

[Update: see new editorial from the New York Times: “Kenya on the brink again.

And Gathara’s World: “Kenya’s Future Increasingly Looks Like Its Past”;

Kenya has basically regressed 50 years in the last 7 months and the 2010 constitution’s promise of a democratic renewal is fast fading. If extinguished, history suggests Kenyans may be in for decades of brutal and kleptocratic rule. It will be a steep price for the country to pay for not learning from its past.

The role of the Courts in Kenya is under most conspicuous assault with the Kenyatta government flouting orders to allow the main private television networks back on the air, and ignoring orders to release a high profile political detainee.

In fact, the decision of the Supreme Court to rule against the incumbent President to annul his re-election was unprecedented and extraordinary. It has never warranted complacency.

That one Supreme Court ruling was not a bona fide moment of “Mission Accomplished” any more than the winning of the “yes” vote backed by the United States in the 2010 referendum to approve the new constitution was “Mission Accomplished” for “the reform agenda” that we talked about back in those first years of this decade.

Kenyans will remember the beginning of the Obama Administration when Ambassador Ranneberger was a born-again reformer after getting caught out selling Kenyans on accepting the ECK’s alleged “results” as announced (and subsequently disowned) by Samuel Kivuitu in December 2007. As I learned through the Freedom of Information Act later, Ranneberger had informed Washington in his pre-election cables that the Kenyan courts at that time were not credible.

See quotes from Ranneberger’s cable of December 24, 2007 from my post “Lessons from the 2007 Elections and the new FOIA cables–part two“:

There is no credible mechanism to challenge the results, hence likely recourse to the streets if the result is questionable.  The courts are both inefficient and corrupt.

(For my summary of the 2007 election, see The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen With US Connivance” in The Elephant from June.)

After those December 30, 2007 announced “results” were questioned by other observers and not accepted we withdrew our pre-mature congratulations to Kibaki and shifted to support “power sharing.” We helped support negotiations that “settled” the violence among the pols and created openings for ODM politicians within Kibaki’s second administration, along with providing for the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and the revival of the stalled constitutional reform promised voters by NARC in 2002.

After that experience of 2007-08, when the absence of credible independent courts was so sorely felt, the court system was a recognized need for the new constitution.

The new constitution eventually passed in the 2010 referendum against a spirited campaign led by William Ruto created a new Supreme Court and spurred new hope for a cleaner, stronger judiciary that could perhaps stand up to the cartels and politicians and maybe even a president.

But the “reform agenda” held our focus for only so long, and I don’t think we converted many unfaithful politicians. I never got the impression we were too enthused about the TJRC process, but one way or the other we certainly seem to have completely forgotten about that part of the 2008 National Accord since the Uhuruto regime came in power and made it clear that nothing is to come of the (expurgated) gathered evidence of the wrongs of recent decades.

From the “reform agenda” days, which corrupt Kenyan politician ever got prosecuted by the Kenyan authorities based on Ranneberger’s dossiers? Which corrupt institutions were liquidated to benefit the public? Impunity has proved untouchable and, thus corruption has only gotten worse. The new innovation is that if you get caught and pushed out of the Executive Branch you might get lucky enough to be sponsored in a governor’s race. The dossiers pile up and up.

Meanwhile, the notion of an independent judiciary in Kenya is a fledgling work-in-process. Since September 1 signs have been more negative than positive. Starting with the infamous wakora slurs from the President himself against the Judges, culminating with the inability of the Supreme Court to muster a quorum to hear the challenge to the IEBC holding the “fresh election” on October 26 (after the shooting of the Deputy Chief Justice’s driver in her car), there are questions whether September 1 was a “one off” event. Not one the ruling party intends to see metastasize into an inflection point toward reform and away from Kenya’s historical norms under “Kenyatta and Moi’s KANU especially–the “home” of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto together for most of their years.

Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s “People’s President” swearing in?

[Update Feb. 2: Here is a good overview from Martina Stevis-Gridnef in the Wall Street Journal, Kenya Crackdown on Media, Opposition Deepens“; Fr. Gabriel Dolan explains how the Kenyatta government has popularized the “National Resistance Movement by banning it, with good historical context.]

Since I elected to stay away from the 2017 election in Kenya myself, I have tried to avoid offering a lot of derivative commentary from afar, but have continued to be interested and concerned with how my American government representatives approach this on behalf of the American people.

Privately, I shared the worry that perhaps Raila was not being a good steward of the lives of his supporters given the risk of threatened action by the Kenyan governments’ security forces (and my inability to decipher what he was really aiming to accomplish).

Nonetheless, I also decided that it was not my place to lecture for several reasons. First, any Kenyan who would be deciding to attend or not attend the rally knew full well and far better than I the risks of running afoul of the GSU (General Service Unit, a paramilitary wing of the police, known for use for high profile political missions, such as sealing off Uhuru Park in the weeks after the 2007 election to prevent opposition rallies) as or other force at the disposal of the “Commander in Chief President”.

Second, we ourselves have passed on doing our part to forthrightly deal with the detritus of the stolen 2007 election and the substandard and opaque election process that put the current Uhuruto regime in power in 2013.

Third, in this election cycle we did not give visible public support to reasonable reforms of the IEBC process. I am not willing to be too critical from afar without knowing more (although I don’t know more because our approach is intentionally more opaque than I think is appropriate or prudent) but in watching as an American back home we certainly gave the impression over the last couple of years that while we wanted things to go smoothly and would support negotiation of the disputes surrounding the IEBC in areas where they were pushed to the forefront by the opposition, we remained in the mode of supporting the old “Chickengate” IEBC team and staff, even while the investigation of procurement fraud directed by the April 2013 Supreme Court ruling never happened. Even when the British secured criminal convictions for the Chickengate bribes and paid money over to the Government of Kenya, we were mute as Kenyans enjoyed the customary impunity for corruption–and when Uhuru used the funds to do a “photo op” for the purchase of ambulances as if it was a charitable donation.

We allowed the incumbent administration to attack and potentially interfere with our assistance to the IEBC through IFES in the critical months before the election (see “The hardest job in Kenya . . .”) without obvious penalty, and stayed silent on reforms called for by the EU Election Observation Mission and others–aside from the opposition–in the wake of the Supreme Court’s September 1 ruling striking the presidential election of August 8 because of the IEBC deficiencies.

As it turned out the incumbent administration acted extra-legally to shut down private broadcasters (except the President’s own) but had the security forces pull back and did not initiate the feared violence. If we had any influence on that decision then I am pleased that our long years of support to Kenya’s various police and security services and governments of the day may have borne some positive fruit in that instance.

As far as the notion that Raila would be likely to unilaterally instigate violence in this situation, people in the State Department would do well to remember the analysis of Ranneberger’s own staff pre-election in 2007 that while there was hate speech on both sides the largest share was directed against Raila rather than on behalf of his candidacy or the opposition.

Invoking the so-called “ooga booga factor” to scare Westerners about Raila has been more than a cottage industry in Kenya (and in London and Washington PR shops) along side the ethnic hate speech to rally other ethnic groups against him in Kenya. And Raila is unavoidably controversial in some respects and gives his critics ammunition. But at present Raila is in a relatively physically powerless position in opposition; the Government of Kenya security forces are in the hands of “Uhuruto”, controversially elected in the first place as a “coalition of the killing” from the violence that was taking place exactly ten years ago.

In this context the “black propaganda” operation on behalf of the Uhuruto re-election campaign through Harris Media of Texas, United States, was particularly pernicious and even worse than 2007.

Let’s remember that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer herself insisted that what was being done through the Kalenjin militias in the Rift Valley in early 2008 was “ethnic cleansing” and we all know the “revenge” attacks through the Mungiki against especially Luo and Luhya who had the misfortune of living and working in Naivasha and Nakuru were horrific. And that the largest share of the killing was done by the police and largest number of killed identified by ethnicity Luo per the Waki Commission. The ICC Prosecutor’s Office may have run a sloppy legal operation, but did they really get “the wrong guys” factually in the six indictments? Will O.J. someday find the real killers? (Do Raila and Kibaki–Commander in Chief then–and many other politicians also bear some real moral responsibility, too–surely so; does Kalonzo Musyoka? I personally would not vote for either ticket if they were running in my country, but they weren’t, and left us with our own problems.)

Fair minded representatives of the United States in current circumstances have to recognize that the threat of violence on behalf of an incumbent “Uhuruto” regime in full control of all military, paramilitary and other police forces is much greater than that presented by an opposition rally or ceremony.

Old Party Office in Kibera

Candy and Communists for Kenya: as Kenyatta’s Jubilee “deepens” partnership with Communist Party of China, Mars’ Wrigley East Africa to sell “affordable Skittles”

“Affordable Skittlesfor the “kadogo market” may not quite match Kentucky Fried Chicken, but perhaps the biggest news since Burger King arrived in Nairobi?

And yes that event at State House celebrating the deeping partnership of Jubilee and the Communist Party of China yesterday has turned heads. I think a lot of Americans had not been aware of this relationship. Obviously it makes sense in carrying forward the spirit of KANU of Kenyatta and Moi and their understudies. Kenya always labeled itself a “democracy” whether one party rule was formal or informal. China, of course, is also democratic with numerous parties other than the Communist Party.

“Today we agreed to deepen our relationship with the The Communist Party of China in order to enhance Jubilee party management and democracy.” The Presidency

At a micro level I would take umbrage at the blatant use of State resources for Jubilee Party business, but since the Party was launched at State House in the first place and the donors supporting “Western-style” democracy and the “rule of law” and such were not willing to say “boo”–nor the IEBC nor the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties, there is never a reason to be surprised at this point. We reap as we sow.

ICYMI: An important read from Tristan McConnell in The Atlantic: A Deadly Election Season in Kenya – The Killings Suggest a State that is More Predator than Protector.

And here is the story from Moroccan World News of how the Chinese connected the African Unions computer servers at the Addis headquarters directly to Chinese servers in Shanghai.

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?

Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi; public statements adjusted to advocate for “national conversation” as substitute for “national dialogue”

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.

In the 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 a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new 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.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

Western envoys in Kenya decry difficult pre-election environment, but say too late for substantial reforms, leaving no obvious way forward

[Update: Here is an Oct. 3 Daily Nation story on the status of negotiations and demands among Kenyan politicians and Western diplomats: “Envoys threaten travel bans to politicians derailing poll plans“.  The International Crisis Group meanwhile offers a good brief: “How to have a credible, peaceful presidential election in Kenya“.

The independent European Union Election Observation Mission issued a new 3 October statement saying “decisive improvements are still achievable if Kenyans come together in a constructive manner” while decrying excessive demands and proposed law changes and with confrontation from both sides.

And to refresh the memories of the envoys and candidates here are the September 14 recommendations of the European Union Election Observation Mission for reforms ahead of the election re-run.]

It is in fact very unfortunate that time has been running hard against the 60 day deadline for the “fresh election” necessitated by the failure of Kenya’s IEBC (significantly supported by the United States and, at least indirectly through the UNDP so-called “basket funding”, other donors) to conduct a lawful presidential election on August 8 as determined by the Supreme Court of Kenya.

With the passage of time things like the then-shocking torture/murder of acting IEBC ICT head on the eve of the election are no longer mentioned in such statements as today’s from the envoy group.  Too long ago that murder (passing 60 days) and with no sign of progress or serious effort to solve the case we should of course “accept and move on” that it was simply an unfortunate coincidence (or at most one of those political murders that happen periodically in Kenya that are agreed to be ignored so that we don’t have to face the darker realitity of how “democracy” really works in such a pretty country).  Of no relevance to the August 8 election or its rerun in the hands of the his suspened predecessor who got his job back when Msando was killed even though he had been earlier suspended as ICT director for refusing to cooperate in an audit.

Rather it is noted today that it is “too late” to replace staff hired under the removed Issack Hassan Chickengate regime or otherwise substantially reform the IEBC.

Longstanding CEO Ezra Chiloba doubled-down last week and signed (reportedly) a new (amendment??) with the controversially sole-sourced ICT vendor OT Morpho now owned by a US-based fund and a fund of the Government of France.  Pretty much an “in your face” gesture toward reformers if true. [Update 4/17: The IEBC twitter feed has reported that the OT Morpho contract will be released – I gather this is confirmation of the reported new agreement but we shall see.]

Either the donors have lost all significant influence, if they had any, toward transparency and trust building at the IEBC or they are really gambling hard on selling whatever the IEBC in existing form–without meaningful reform–will offer up on October 26 and the seven days thereafter.

As for me, I think this is a bad gamble, both in terms of odds and because the known character of the other players at the table.

As an American who was involved in the 2007 fiasco from part-way inside and witnessed 2013, I would like to see my Government cease to help underwrite this IEBC as a matter of our own integrity and of our long term ability to provide some future positive influence to the future development of independent democratic institutions in Kenya.

The American dollars supporting through USAID this IEBC would be much better spent on urgent humanitarian needs (see the UNDP’s call for additional funds of more than $100M for Kenya famine relief).

It may be that NASA will throw in the towel and agree to go along to run in a “not so fresh” election without IEBC reforms.  That is for NASA to decide.  I just do not want my Government to interfere in that decisionmaking process unless we are willing to provide some independent assurance of transparency and support for fairness to all Kenyans (not just NASA) that the Government of Kenya cannot be expected to agree to unless we are willing to stand up to them in a way that I have not seen from us in 2007 or 2013.

The United States and other donors to the IEBC must not let (again) the power of incumbency in Kenya obscure the dangers of “fear and loathing” on the campaign trail

This is a straightforward lesson.  We have acted in this movie in Kenya before.
(To refresh, here is my piece “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan politics was frozen and an election was stolen with U.S. connivance” in The Elephant.)

Mistakes will be made when we are out and about involved in our way in the world. (Most conspicuously, per Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  This recognition of error obtained consensus among at least the top dozen Republican candidates and the top four Democrats so it seems to be a rare “given” that we should not have to argue about now.)

We cannot undo the past but at the very least we have a moral responsibility to take cognizance of (very) recent history in Kenya involving many of the very same Kenyan ethnic/commercial/political leaders and a continuity of institutional and individual players and assumed interests of the United States as well.  Our choices have consequences, too.

We are in denial if we pretend that we did not fail abjectly (to the extent we even tried really) to effectively foster any type of justice in Kenya for the 2008 Post Election Violence.  If we can excuse our asserted complacency in 2007 on the argument that the full magnitude of the violence was unprecedented (in spite of the 1992 and 1997 “campaigns”) we certainly do not have that excuse this time.

You cannot but hear bitter strident speech about Kenya’s presidential election from Kenya’s politicians, and from Kenya’s journalists, lawyers, pundits, publishers, moguls, ranchers and hustlers (of whatever ethnic or national origin or income).   Compared to 2007 it is more aggressive and open and it is coming in some key part directly from the President and even more so from those very close to him and from the Deputy President.

In 2007 Mwai Kibaki and Moody Awori were not using the “bully pupit” of the Presidency and Vice Presidency to openly disparage and ridicule those with less power (even though Kibaki was obviously not in hindsight of any mind to actually risk being found to have lost the election by the ECK).

Likewise, during that campaign Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, on opposite sides of the presidential campaign once “retired President” Moi realigned to support Kibaki mid-year, were far more restrained in their widely public statements as candidates
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Kenya’s presidential election petition – it was clear IEBC did not follow the law, even before Supreme Court Registrar showed serious skulldugery with ICT

Discussing Kenyan elections can get tense, even among friends who are not Kenyans and try to be relatively dispassionately analytical. I have copied here one of my emails from an ongoing exchange in late August during the pendency of the Presidential Petition in the Supreme Court. My friend with whom I was corresponding is a Westerner who knows far more about Kenya (and lots of other relevant things) than I do and is someone I greatly respect (he is also a layman as far the legal profession goes). My friend was much more sanguine than I about the IEBC’s implementation and use of the KIEMS Results Transmission System, both in terms of facts and law. This explains how I saw things (and still do):

Uploading an alleged Form 34A offline after the election and reporting of results reflects a failure of the use of the RTS by its terms as consistently represented by IEBC and IFES until well after the election.

It is simply not the same thing at all in my opinion.

Even ELOGs sample in their PVT found 13.5% of Polling Stations did not publicly post Form 34A. If it wasn’t scanned and transmitted in real time, or at least scanned with delayed transmission upon being moved into a coverage area contemporaneously, and it also wasn’t publicly posted, then it cannot credibly treated as if it was reliable without explanation and evidence.

Your figure of 29,000 and the IEBC tweet claiming all but just over 1000 leaves a huge gap in a very short time period. (Further, I understand you to refer to some “backlog in uploading them” which apparently refers to something other than KIEMS transmission, so I am not sure at all that I am really understanding your argument.)

I also disagree with your characterization of “clear rules” of Kenyan election law implementing the Maina Kiai court decision against the IEBC. IFES advised to the contrary in their last pre-election publication on the process that I am aware of, the July 20 FAQ that also explained how KIEMS was to work.

People may have gambled that Chebukati could use the Court of Appeals ruling to announce on day 3 of 7 “final results” from most but not all alleged Form 34Bs without the 34As having been demonstrably transmitted to the Constituencies to generate the Form 34Bs. This tactic might very well win the Supreme Court of Kenya, legitimately or illegitimately, but I don’t find it persuasive myself, nor do I find that provides any justification for the assertive lack of basic transparency.

Kenyan lawyer Nelson Havi’s piece in The Elephant from about the same time gives a good summary of the issues in the Presidential Petition and the Petitiiners basic case: “KENYA ON TRIAL: Truth, Justice and the Supreme Court.”

“Preliminary Findings” released by Kenyan civil society coalition on election

Update 23 Aug – Here is the latest from the  Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu monitoring:    KYSYElectionDataUpdate-WhyDisputed-22Aug2017

Following the unlawful raid on AfriCOG in Nairobi yesterday, today the Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu election monitoring program which has been engaged since long before any of the International Election Observation Missions were constituted, released its Preliminary Findings.

Please read for yourself (especially if you have commented publicly so far on Kenya’s election).

Kenyan election – amid uncertainty, unfortunate there was no Kalonzo v. Ruto debate [updated 7 Aug]

Today [Sunday 6 Aug.] the IEBC announced for the first time that over 25% of its more than 40,000 polling stations do not have network coverage.  Satellite phones have only been provided, apparently, to the 290 constituency tally centres.

So with a very messy voter register again–see AfriCOG report here–the election is entirely dependent on the KIEMS system.   The procurement of the system remains deliberately shrouded, the techical director murdered–with offers of assistance from the FBI and Scotland Yard spurned.  And now the connectivity bombshell.

Along with the deployment by the Kenyatta administration of twice the security personnell as Kibaki deployed in 2013 in the wake of 2007.

So no need to pretend that this is a normal election in which voters could have standard expectations.  Still, the contrast between the coalitions and the generational consequences at issue might have been best captured by a debate between Kalonzo and Ruto.

Update Monday 7 Aug: seemingly keen to signal that there has been no end to the use of the assets of the Government of Kenya for the Uhuruto re-election campaign, the official website of the Office of the Presidency today features this piece dated Saturday to  correspond with the end of the campaign:  “President Kenyatta: I served Kenya diligently–vote for me again“.  Last year Kenyatta and Ruto launched the Jubilee Party as their re-election vehicle at State House in a telling contrast from Kibaki’s 2007 launch of his PNU re-election vehicle at his private Silver Spring Hotel in Nairobi.

The unwillingness or inability of Kenya’s other institutions, including the media, to stand up to the “re-KANUization” of the State by the Executive’s Party is one of the most troubling indicators of the deteriorization of democratic health from the seeming breakthough of the 2003-05 with the NARC coalition defeat of KANU.

Update: here is a VOA overview.