American national security officials decided the time was ripe to talk to “UK Declassified” about CIA/GSU counterterrorism operations in Kenya (updated 9-6)

On the record Americans in Washington and a key American who is not identified by name or specific agency tell most of the story about the development of the US-Kenyan counterterrorism relationship since the 1998 embassy bombing in a two part series from “UK Declassified”.

Particular focus is on the establishment and operation by the Kenyan police paramilitary General Services Unit (GSU) of a special previously secret CIA-supported unit dedicated to capture and render, if not kill in some situations, high value terrorist targets.

This unit was set up under the Kibaki Administration in 2004 and been kept out of the open source media since.

Here is the story (Part One) published in The Daily Maverick through their partnership with “UK Declassified”. And Part Two.

I cannot imagine that the substance of the story is especially surprising to anyone. In a way it’s a story of the interlocking of two bureaucracies and the making of “alphabet soup”. Whereas most Americans paying attention from outside specific national security roles and most Kenyans would have assumed that the counterterrorism operations discussed involved the ATPU (Anti-Terrorism Police Unit) branch of the Kenya Police Service, as discussed, it turns out they involved the GSU branch. On the American side the bureaucratic distinction is that we have been using in this GSU-support role the CIA, a stand alone branch of the Intelligence Community, rather than one of the units under the military command structure.

The fact that some mistakes would be made and “collateral damage” (such as raiding the wrong house and killing the wrong person) incurred in any Kenya Police Service paramilitary operation is hardly surprising. To the contrary it would be foolish not to expect it and my guess would be that the seeming lower volume or rate of errors in these operations compared to what we see from the GSU and the Kenyan Police Service overall has something to do with the involvement of the CIA.

More generally, however, the thing that I was aware of and concerned about as a temporary duty democracy assistance American NGO worker during the 2007 Kenyan election cycle was that these type of counterterrorism tactics–regardless of the letters in the “alphabet soup” or which utensil used to eat it–caused genuine fear among Kenyan citizens and potential voters.

The highest profile use by the Kibaki Administration of the GSU during my time with the International Republican Institute was the deployment of paramilitary troops to form a perimeter sealing off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in the early weeks of 2008 to prevent protests against Kibaki’s disputed swearing in for a second term from accessing the symbolically important venue. (Contra events ten years later for Raila Odinga’s “people’s president” mock swearing in.). See “Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s ‘People’s President’ swearing in?“, January 31, 2018.

It seems conventional that you would have some general comment from former Ambassadors Bellamy and Ranneberger for the article on counterterrorism but unusual to have the amount of discussion from the CIA side. I have thoughts about why people spoke up now but they are speculative so I will keep them to myself for the time being. Regardless, it is vitally important that Americans and Kenyans learn from experience, including trial-and-error in facing the challenges of terrorism in the context of laws and policies that place hope in democracy, democratization and the rule of law. So I appreciate the move towards increasing public information both from press and those interviewed.

Conspicuously absent though is any reference to the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with US support to displace the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu and restore the Transitional Federal Government with related operations by the Kenyan military. This kicked-off the current round of the ongoing war in Somalia, gave rise to the separation of al-Shabaab as an al-Queda affiliate operating a territory-controlling jihadist insurgency in Somalia as well as operator of persistent regional terrorist attacks over the years.

See my post from June, 2018 and articles and posts discussed therein for U.S. support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion, Kenyan engagement, and the consequences:

More context: what happened between Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 that might have changed State Department priorities on democratic reform in Kenya and Kibaki’s re-election?

Kenya USAID documents show policy shift on Kibaki from 2006 to 2007 election

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt

Uganda: Retiring US Ambassador “stings Museveni for overstaying in power” but emphasizes support for Uganda’s role n regional stability

Outgoing US Ambassador Malec stings Museveni on overstaying in power as she bids farewell Nile Post, Jan 23:

The outgoing US Ambassador Deborah Malac, has aimed a dig at President Museveni and his NRM government for staying long in power saying it might lead to problems in the future.

Having served in Uganda for four years, Malac will late this month leave the country as US Ambassador but also retire to private work after spending 39 years doing US public service, mainly in Africa.

Speaking at her last press briefing on Thursday, Malac said the long stay in power and failure to have a peaceful transition will at one time lead to problems for the country.

. . . .

Speaking on Thursday, Malac however said because Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence people have a number of concerns over the same.

“I know it becomes difficult in countries like Uganda to talk about succession and transition and not sound political in the sense that you must be against or for a particular group but the issue is figuring out the other voices so they are heard and issues discussed,” she said.

The outgoing US Ambassador who has been in Uganda for four years, has been very vocal on issues of human rights and democracy and has on several occasions been accused of interfering in local politics after being viewed as being pro-opposition but speaking about the same, she said she does not care about what many think of her.

. . . .

Uganda remains a cornerstone of stability in the region says outgoing US Ambassador MalacNile Post, Jan 24:

. . . .

In 2007, Uganda was the first country to deploy troops in Somalia under the AMISOM and turned around what had for long been termed as a “mission dead on arrival.”

The Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector One in Benadir,(has 16 districts) Banadir, and Lower Shabelle regions having pushed Al Shabaab militants for over 200km away from Mogadishu city for normalcy to return to the capital where the militants roamed freely.

. . . .

She said that in her time, the US has supported the training, equipping and deployment of nearly 25000 Uganda military personnel to Somalia to help in improving regional security and stability.

Uganda has been at the forefront of fighting Allied Democratic Forces that have made life difficult in the volatile Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where they roam freely and have killed thousands of locals.

Uganda has also played an important role in brokering peace in the continent’s newest country, South Sudan.

. . . .

The Kampala government has also been influential in ensuring peace in Burundi and Central African Republic.

The outgoing US Ambassador said her government will continue supporting Uganda’s efforts to ensure stability in the region.

. . . .

See also “US Ambassador bids Museveni farewell“, Daily Monitor, Jan 17.

Uganda campaign flyer on tree says vote NRM Yoweri Museveni for peace, unity and transformation for prosperity

Uganda: As Museveni expands role of military in civilian sectors ahead of vote, Bobi Wine invokes Ukraine and Trump Administration is quiet, setting up risks for democracy assistance

Uganda billboard Museveni and Gaddafi

The East African had an important item looking ahead to Museveni’s next re-election campaign: “More military men don police uniform as Ugandan polls loom“:

Two weeks ago, Ugandans on social and mainstream media went into a frenzy after president Yoweri Museveni made a major shake-up of the police hierarchy, appointing four senior army officers to key positions, in a move interpreted as a preparation for the conduct of the 2021 elections.

The president named army men to the positions of Chief of Joint Staff, Crime Intelligence, Human Resource Development and Training, and Human Resource and Administration.

Civil society, the Uganda Law Society and opposition figures said that the appointment of the army officers to top positions in the police amounted to militarising the force, which could lead to impunity and brutality towards citizens.

The Uganda Law Society noted that the army did not have a good history working together with police.

Meanwhile, in the Financial Times, we have David Piling’s interview with Bobi Wine: “I will walk you around my ghetto.”

Recent opinion polls show Wine mounting a serious challenge, especially in Kampala. He is encouraged by events in places such as Ukraine, where Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political pedigree, recently won the presidency. “We have a funny saying: ‘If they did it, then we can did it’,” he says, grinning. “So if those people in Ukraine did it, then we also can did it.”

According to Ambassador Ranneberger’s cables to Washington from my FOIA research, in the run up to the 2007 Kenyan electoral debacle the Embassy reported to Washington that there was a desire on the part of the Kenya’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to emulate Ukraine’s opposition to Soviet then Russian backed government culminating in what became known as “the Orange Revolution”.

—-

Exit Polls and Orange Revolutions, Ukraine and Kenya“:

From Ben Barber, senior writer at USAID during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, as quoted from a McClatchy piece on Egypt in a previous post:

The Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 might never have taken place if not for U.S. aid. First, the former communists in control of the Kiev government declared their candidate won an election. Then, a U.S.-funded think tank tallied up exit polls that showed the government had lied and it really lost the election.

Next, a Ukranian TV newsman trained by a U.S. aid program broadcast the exit polls and set up its cameras on the main square for an all night vigil. Up to one million people came to join the vigil. Then the Supreme Court — which had been brought to visit U.S. courts in action — ruled the election was invalid and the government had to step down.

Furthermore, U.S. legal, legislative, journalism and other trainers taught judges, prosecutors, legislators and journalists how to do their jobs in a democratic system.

From U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s January 2, 2008 cable to Washington after witnessing fraud at the ECK  in the tally of presidential votes along with the head of the EU Election Observation Mission: “We have been reliably told that Odinga is basing his strategy on a mass action approach similar to that carried out in the Ukraine.”

In Kenya, however, unlike in Ukraine, the U.S.-funded exit poll was suppressed rather than broadcast.  The New York Times reported that USAID’s agreement with the International Republican Institute to fund the poll stipulated that IRI should consult with USAID and the Embassy before releasing the poll, taking into account technical quality and “other diplomatic considerations”.  (The USAID agreement was subquently, eventually, released to Clark Gibson of the UCSD, the primary author of the poll and consultant to IRI, under a FOIA request. I had the contract all along, of course, since I supervised the poll as IRI’s East Africa director but waited for the FOIA to write about this provision in the contact providing for Embassy diplomacy input with IRI on the release decision.)

Here is an account of the opposition approach in Ukraine from Wikipedia on the Orange Revolution:

Yanukovych was officially certified as the victor by the Central Election Commission, which itself was allegedly involved in falsification of electoral results by withholding the information it was receiving from local districts and running a parallel illegal computer server to manipulate the results. The next morning after the certification took place, Yushchenko spoke to supporters in Kiev, urging them to begin a series of mass protests, general strikes and sit-ins with the intent of crippling the government and forcing it to concede defeat.

In view of the threat of illegitimate government acceding to power, Yushchenko’s camp announced the creation of the Committee of National Salvation which declared a nationwide political strike.

Ranneberger noted in his cable that the situations in Ukraine and Kenya differed, but did not elaborate.  In Ukraine there was ultimately a re-vote and in Kenya the altered election results showing a Kibaki win stood, with a partially implemented power sharing agreement eventually leading to a new constitution. How was Kenya in 2007 different from Ukraine in 2004?  How would the U.S. react to a potentially disputed election in Uganda where Museveni has arguably even more control over the election management body than Kibaki did?

What Will Jendayi Do? Reading “tea leaves” on Kenya’s next presidential race (revised)

[This post is revised to reflect a correction and revision from the East African.]

The East African made an editorial slap at Michael Ranneberger and Jendayi Frazer in its “Cry havoc, and let slip the U.S. ex-diplomats” last Saturday to which I added a link in my last post regarding ex-Ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s deal with Salva Kiir:

Michael Ranneberger, whose controversial tenure as United States ambassador to Kenya is well remembered, is the managing partner at Gainful Solutions.

Comparing his posture back then, his flip from the high priest of justice and human rights, to the devil’s advocate cannot escape attention.

Former assistant secretary for African affairs Jendayi Frazer, is another US top gun diplomat who is well known for her consultancy services across East and Central Africa since leaving US government service.

At issue here is whether American diplomacy, as represented by Frazer and Ranneberger, subscribes to any universal values at all. It is obvious that the duo are exploiting the networks made during their career, to make hay today.

In an ideal world, the stakes in South Sudan are so high, that they should be adequate incentive for anybody to think beyond the short-term gains an individual could make out of the situation.

Ultimately, however, external interference cannot be discussed without examining the role of the African politician who has been a willing accomplice by shunting aside the national interest in favour of self-preservation. [this is EA revised text]

Dr. Frazer usually makes appearance in the media in Nairobi for business dealings related to the Jubilee Administration, along with one appearance a few months ago meeting with controversial Mombasa Governor Joho identified as a discussion on “countering violent extremism” on a MasterCard Foundation trip.

REVISION NOTE:

[(East African) EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been corrected to remove the association earlier made between big infrastructure projects in Uganda and Ms Jendayi Frazer. Ms Frazer has not been involved in any infrastructure deals in Uganda and her name was inadvertently mentioned in that segment of the leader. We regret the error.]

See also.

Editorial criticism of Ranneberger and Frazer of this type is not the East African’s usual approach, as reflected in the defection of many of their Nation Media Group opinion columnists to The Elephant’s East African Review, as well as to The Standard, in the wake of the handling of coverage of the Uhuruto re-election fiasco in 2017-18 and Jubilee crackdowns on the media. Some years ago the East African passed up a friend’s offer to put together my experience and investigation from this blog on how Ranneberger and to some extent Frazer played the 2007 Kenyan election while they were in the State Department from my “War for History” series.

So kudos to the East African now for calling this issue out editorially, even if the news departments have not been covering these developments in the past. Maybe that can change.

One of my questions in looking at the current Kenyan presidential race has been how Dr. Frazer will play it, especially given that there is no way to know now who will be in power then in Washington. Assuming that the current “handshake” holds and that Frazer’s first relationship is with the Kenyattas, would she affirmatively step up for Raila in the face of a serious challenge from Ruto in a competitive “two-horse” presidential race? Or would she approach this differently? (She was firm in her position that what was done in the Rift Valley in the wake of the 2007 election fraud was “ethnic cleansing” even though “Main State” would not adopt her terminology, so it would arguably seem pretty awkward for her to support Ruto, wholly aside from the current corruption situation with Ruto). She was vital to the Uhuruto ticket in the 2013 race and to its perception and reception in Washington in the Obama years thereafter to my way of thinking. Getting called out publicly in the East African and not just having dealings with Uhuru and Kagame is a wild card.

When The Star had me write some columns in the spring of 2013, they headlined the one dated March 23 challenging Dr. Frazer’s support of the Uhuruto defense in the Supreme Court of the IEBC’s questionable numbers to avoid a runoff after “failure” of the Results Transmission System in the election petition by civil society and the opposition as “Jendayi Frazer lacks moral authority“. Read the whole piece if you are interested in Kenyan elections or U.S. democracy assistance, but I concluded:

The thing that is most striking to me about this now, in light of the current litigation about the manual vote tally by the IEBC in this election, is that Jendayi Frazer was the head of the Africa Bureau at the State Department during 2007-08 when the previous Exit Poll was withheld and the misleading “press guidance” put out [by the Africa Bureau as I had just learned from FOIA]. Today, as a private citizen, Dr. Frazer is aggressively arguing in the Kenyan press and in the press back in Washington to once again uphold the disputed work of the Kenyan election officials against the concerns raised by the opposition. I cannot justify how this was handled when she was in charge in 2007 and 2008.

When I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Frazer the first time later I did apologize to the extent of noting that the phrasing of the headline itself was not something that I myself would personally have written, although I stand by the content of what I did write. When I published “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen with U.S. Connivance(again, the headline is not mine) in The Elephant in June 2017, I focused primarily on my direct dealings with Ranneberger. Frazer’s exact role as his superior and the intentions of any formal policy beyond the law as such have never been made fully clear. Ranneberger’s cables as provided under FOIA from before and immediately after the election leave gaps and questions as to what was reported to Washington before Frazer and later Rice were dispatched to Nairobi starting several days after the vote during the post-election violence (although it would be unfair to Ranneberger to make assumptions from that circumstance alone, and various facts were misrepresented in Washington after the vote regardless.)

More broadly, I have agreed with some of Dr. Frazer’s many policy approaches and disagreed with some. What I would think about her personal integrity regarding the 2007 election would depend on whether she was acting per instructions of policy or making it herself. In 2013, I did not appreciate her public role and have not qualified my reaction based on anything I seen since.

At the same time, Frazer seems to have been a primary architect of some policy approaches in Africa that were quite positive and that left the U.S. in better stead in the G.W. Bush years in Africa than elsewhere, in spite of conspicuous controversy regarding Somalia. Arguably with PEPFAR and other initiatives there was some actual “compassionate conservatism” undertaken in SubSaharan Africa even as the anti-compassionate forces reflecting the Vice President’s approach changed the direction of the Bush Administration foreign policy elsewhere in the wake of 9-11. Post-Bush Administration she is relatively ubiquitous in elite U.S. institutions associated with Africa, especially as an African-American as well as her various “Afrocapitalism” engagements. So in that regard she earned respect and a willingness on my part not to assume the worst even if there are some things that look bad.

Ultimately, in spite of the fact that she tends to be quite assertive in her positions, I find her to be a bit of an enigma really. Regardless, anyone as involved in as many things in as many places as she is is going to be wrong some of the time. As a diplomat that involvement may not always be optional absent resigning, but it is a choice for a private citizen.

Ramping up air strikes after 12 years, does the Trump Administration have a new strategy for the war in Somalia or is this escalation “mission creep”?

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt

The Trump Administration’s escalation of the air power part of the war in Somalia in recent months has caught the attention of American journalists. See recent reporting in The New York Times and Amanda Sperber’s investigative reporting in The Nation. A recent Amnesty International report that U.S. air strikes have caused 14 civilian casualties since 2017 had enough salience now to draw a formal AFRICOM denial in response. Al-Shabaab has maintained a recent high rate of suicide bombings causing mass civilian casualties as well as targeting government officials.

[Update 2: On April 5, AFRICOM released this statement regarding civilian air strike casualties, indicating that records had been discovered showing two civilians killed in April 2018 with further review to be conducted.]

[Update: See April 3 from the Council on Foreign Relations, “Controversy over U.S. Strikes in Somalia“,]

Meanwhile, Kenyan forces under AMISOM are reportedly continuing to pull back into more defensive position and thus leaving previously secured villages.

In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.

See “David Axe on ‘America’s Somalia Experiment’ provides a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08“.

Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).

There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.

In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.  In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.

Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers.  In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.

Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing.  Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.

For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate.  This strikes me as quite irresponsible.  Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.

Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same.  Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?

Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria.  Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.

Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits. 

The Trump Administration has announced that it is re-orienting American National Defense Strategy toward defending against major power competitors (i.e. Russia and China) rather than the “violent extremists”.  The timing may seem worrying to African defense leaders since the “violent extremist” problem is significantly worse in many areas now than when AFRICOM started in 2008, just as a recent CSIS report has documented what we all know casually: the situation has worsened globally (“Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.“)

In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”.  (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.)  Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.

Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts?  Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise?  Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable?  These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.

Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been.  The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it.  We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.

I have always wondered to what extent the war effort on Somalia, and the decision not to talk about it, hamstrung Ambassador Ranneberger and others who were supervising our democracy assistance and election preparation in Kenya. And once I eventually saw recently through FOIA that by April 2017 the Ambassador was describing a new approach of “building capital” with Kibaki rather than pushing reforms as per the older USAID program I would inherit within a few weeks, I am left with the heightened collaboration with Kenya during those initial months after the Ethiopian invasion as the most obvious change in facts that could explain the Kenya policy change. Was our failure in election assistance in Kenya with its devastating consequences facilitated by an unwillingness to discuss and account for Ethiopia and Somalia policy overlaps? If so, are we facing this kind of risk again as we escalate an air campaign without discussing why?

I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:

The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.

See “At War: This New Generation of Weapons Could Mean More Covert Airstikes Around the World”, March 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine.

 See “Somalia and the Limits of U.S. Bombing“, a prescient warning from Jon Temin, now of Freedom House, early in the Trump administration.

For the KDF role, see “Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive“, Andrew J. Franklin, Business Daily Africa, Dec. 7, 2011.

For background please start with Kenyan writer Rasna Warah’s “War Crimes: How Warlords, Politicians, Foreign Governments and Aid Agencies Conspired to Create a Failed State in Somalia” and the recent “Inside al-Shabaab; The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” by Haron Maruf and Dan Joseph, reviewed here in Hiiran Online.

Dr. Peter Pham gets new post-midterm Trump diplomatic appointment as Great Lakes Special Envoy [Updated]

Ahead of the long-overdue elections scheduled for next month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the State Department announced the nomination of Dr. Peter Pham, Africa Director at the Atlantic Council, to be Trump’s special envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.

U.S. names new envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes. (AFP)

Pham has a long background in academics and national security related policy/”think work” on Africa from the Right, which is a fairly limited universe. I became aware of Dr. Pham’s work initially as a “friend of IRI” in relation to my work on Somaliland as IRI country director in 2007-08. He was involved in publicly advising the Trump transition on Africa-related issues and was often identified as the frontrunner to be the nominee as Assistant Secretary of State. See “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017, by Helene Cooper.

Pham and his deputy at the Atlantic Council, Bronwyn Bruton, have been prominent critics/skeptics of the initial 2006 invasion of Somalia and aspects of the subsequent “nation building” process there, and Pham has been seen as an advocate for Somaliland. Beyond that, I’m not as familiar with his background on the numerous various immediate issues in the Great Lakes, or how the election results and retirements will re-shape Congressional interests.

I will endeavor to read up.

In the meantime, I have not heard any public comment about any likely impact on a vote on the stalled nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter to replace Ambassador Godec in Kenya.

Update: I had forgotten Pham’s controversial advocacy from November 2012 in the New York Times: To save Congo, let it fall apart“. A view that could be seen as very pro-Kagame/RPF and that is certainly at odds with many considered opinions and perhaps a tough starting point for a new diplomatic posting.

See also, from Foreign Policy: Pompeo to appoint new envoy for troubled central Africa region.”

Update II: Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society on Pham last year in African Arguments:

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasized security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

“Another Fine Mess” in Uganda? Time to read Helen Epstein on “America, Uganda, and the War on Terror” if you haven’t yet

I first bought a copy of “Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror“, by Helen Epstein, then “hot off the press” as a “sizzling indictment” of our policy in Uganda while evacuated to the Florida Panhandle from hurricane Maria last year.

Helen Epstein Uganda Another Fine Mess

This year in Northeast Florida were have missed Florence but are watching our neighbors in the Carolinas with concern. Meanwhile our neighbors in Uganda are suddenly on the radar screen in a heightened way.  Museveni’s political repression has struck an international nerve through the popular musician turned Member of Parliament and opposition by-election campaigner Bobi Wine.

See “Ugandan politician confronts diplomat over torture allegation” from VOA Africa.

Earlier this week Bobi Wine agreed to be represented pro bono in Washington by the Vanguard Africa Group.

Epstein’s book from the Columbia Global Reports series is a quick read (and inexpensive) so there is really no excuse to duck it if you are an American concerned about Uganda. Helen Epstein is an American with “skin in the game” in Uganda. She has lived there and worked with the failing health systems — her “active voice” as a critic comes not from the abstract but the specific. You do not have to agree with her about everything, or think she has figured out all our governmental secrets or inside-the-beltway motivations, but you would be foolish not to take her seriously and account for what she has to say.

Update: let me add here a couple of key blurbs for Epstein’s book from other writers who I have relied on and who will be well familiar to readers here:

William Easterly: “As her new book reveals, Helen Epstein is an eloquent advocate of human rights and democracy for Africans, as well as a courageous critic of how U.S. aid supports oppressive dictators like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.”

Michela Wrong: “For decades, Western policy-makers have hailed Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni as a benign autocrat, a charming African Bismarck and trusted partner in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Another Fine Mess reveals a far darker side to this key African ally, while exposing the cynicism at the heart of American policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. This gripping, iconoclastic, angry book raises a host of uncomfortable questions.”

I want to note that Epstein highlights my old friend the late Joel Barkan’s investigation of Uganda’s economic issues for the World Bank.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss this work with Joel a few years ago. Joel also prepared a prescient warning for American policy makers back in 2011 at CSIS of the risk of instability in Uganda with Museveni’s advancing age, elimination of term limits and need to transition.

[Note: Some of my Washington friends took a bit of umbrage about some of Helen’s real time reportage on Kenya’s last election–fine. If we were more transparent we would not risk being misunderstood; I was not in Kenya for the 2017 vote and at the end of the day we will have to see what the record shows. In that regard I am still working on 2007 and 2013. Uganda is Epstein’s lived experience in a different way.]

Meanwhile, Uganda is reported “sliding into crisis”

With attention focused on Mugabe’s capitulation to the military and his erstwhile ZANU-PF cronies in Zimbabwe, and the accompanying exuberant popular optimism, the Crisis Group released its latest report of 30+ pages on Uganda as Museveni moves to clarify his status as supra-party, supra-legal supremo.

Here is the link to download: “Uganda’s Slow Slide Into Crisis“:

Crisis Group: Principal Findings

What’s the issue? Popular discontent is growing over President Museveni’s apparent desire to remain in power while governance, economic performance and security deteriorate.

Why does it matter? Uganda is not in danger of renewed civil war or rebel violence, but it risks sliding into a political crisis that could eventually threaten the country’s hard-won stability.

What should be done? The government should hold a national dialogue over presidential succession, enact reforms to the partisan police force, stop post- poning local elections and initiate broad consultations on land reform. Donors should encourage these efforts, while avoiding projects that help perpetuate political patronage.

Museveni has continued to have amazing grace from the United States which has taken a position of official neutrality as he has sought to strong arm his way to another constitutional change to eliminate the 75 year presidential age limit for the presidency.

As AMISOM has indicated its first troop drawdown of 1,000, and more U.S. forces deploy to assist the Somali National Army, Museveni volunteered another 5,000 Ugandans for the Somalia-building endeavor during President Trump’s “Nambia lunch” with African leaders in New York in September. No indication that we want to take him up on the offer, but we seem to continue to hold a stream of various defense-funded public events in Uganda and otherwise seem to desire to telegraph “strategic patience”, “immoral indulgence”, “complacent complicity” or whatever it is that best characterizes our multigenerational intertwining with the M7 regime.

Always “steady progress” – COMESA “elders” to observe COMESA member elections in Kenya and Rwanda

From a COMESA Press Release yesterday:

COMESA believes that elections play a pivotal role in societal transformation in the region and provide a footstall for entrenching democratic principles.

Premised on this critical role, Member States have continued holding periodic elections which have heralded a new dawn by signifying steady progress towards deepening and institutionalizing democracy in the 19-member bloc.

Nonetheless, COMESA is still dispatching teams of Election Observers to issue Preliminary Statements just after the upcoming elections in Rwanda on August 4 and Kenya on August 8, with further reports after 90 days.

Zimbabwean Ambassador Dr. Simbi Mubako will lead the team for Kenya to arrive 30 July.

Think I am too jaded?  Enjoy this:

The presidential elections in Rwanda follows the 2015 referendum that unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that allowed President Kagame to run for office in 2017.  The forthcoming elections are considered important in Rwanda’s socio-economic and political progress.

In the past years, Rwanda has made significant progress in consolidating its political stability, economic growth and development.  Furthermore, Rwanda has recorded major milestones in consolidating democracy through holding periodic parliamentary and presidential elections as stipulated in its legal framework.

Since 2008, COMESA has continued to support the elections process in Rwanda.  COMESA observed the parliamentary that were held in 2008, 2013 and the presidential elections held in 2010.

I am all for extra diplomats and elders from the region being in Kenya for the election to meet diplomatic needs that may arise.  But let’s not confuse this type of “intramembership” diplomatic obsevation with an independent election observation. 

[See U.S. and IGAD Statements on Djibouti election from last year, featuring Kenya’s Issack Hassan for IGAD]

U.S. fights in Somalia; Old lions–Kissinger, Moi, Scowcroft, Brezenski–outlast the post-Cold War democratization era in East Africa 

Things had gone so far awry on the democratization front by last year  to trigger a Washington Post editorial noting the authoritarian trend in East Africa.

Recently we have news of a major U.S. airstrike (manned and drone) on an al-Shabaab training camp, followed by a raid involving U.S. and Somali special forces.

We are now also faced with a major ISIS presence in continental Africa in the wake of the proverbial “ungoverned space” in Libya and are in discussions considering a new military coalition to organize resistance.  Prior to the 2011 uprising AFRICOM was joining our European allies in coordinating military relationships with Gaddafi but the revolution, in which we intervened, has not resulted in a stable or unified replacement government.

Let’s face it; 14 years after 9-11, 15 years after the USS Cole bombing, 17 years after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the window of opportunity for a U.S.-led focus on the building of shared democratic values in the region may have largely slipped shut.

Years ago I got some attention for a post noting that “the aid bubble has burst” and Western attention had moved past the Gleneagles era toward a more normalized mode of profit-seeking investment.  While private actors will remain more alert for opportunities in Africa and “public-private” endeavors including the current Power Africa program can still have legs, it seems to me that “conflict management” and irregular warfare have come to the fore to the point that we seem to be back in an era more akin to the Cold War in which perceived immediate “security” interests are predominant.

Museveni in particular “surfed the wave” of democratization after the fall of the Soviet Union and came out onshore as a primary U.S. military ally in the region anyway.  We are willing to chastise him to a point, but there is no indication from Washington that the fundamental facts of our relationship are at issue over another awful election.

While much has been accomplished with AMISOM in Somalia, we are still a long way from seeing a stable, sustainable government there that would create an opportunity to de-militarize our relationships with Uganda, or Kenya or Ethiopia.  The increasingly direct U.S. role in fighting al-Shabaab reflects the limitations of Ugandan and Burundian proxies, as well as the reality of limited capacity and contradictory objectives from the Kenyan and Ethiopian contingents in AMISOM.

This also leaves Somaliand in suspended animation.  Sudan remains an awful paradox for our policy goals and our values, and South Sudan is simply a fiasco.

It seemed to me in Nairobi during the post-election violence in 2008 that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006 to displace the ICU and save in some fashion the remains of the TFG was a turning point for U.S. policy.  After that, we seemed to have effectively dropped our criticism of the corruption failures of the Kibaki administration and its failure to reform the constitution and then helped get Moi and Kibaki back together.  We upped our security cooperation and looked the other way as Kibaki stole re-election.

The USAID democracy programming I inherited in mid-2007 as regional director at the International Republican Institute included the pre-war era 2005 criticisms of Kenyan government backsliding and I failed fully appreciate how much had changed until the midst of that year’s disaster.

Back in the U.S., Kissinger is now personally embraced by key elements of the leadership of both our parties.  In early 2009 after the New York Times published its investigation on the Kenya exit poll,  IRI, to my amazement, gave Kissinger its “Freedom Award” even though it has long worked to promote democracy in Cambodia, in particular, as well as places like Bangladesh and East Timor where I was invited a few years before I worked for IRI in Kenya.  Now, the likely Democratic nominee apparently holidays with Kissinger in the Dominican Republic.  A new, old, era, apparently.

A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki–getting the F-5s, safaris and slums

More Kenyan-U.S. diplomatic history: Kenyatta’s health and succession; status of whites; military assistance

“Linkage”-remembering how we got here, from “rules of the game” with the Russians and the “Carter Doctrine” to Al-Queda in East Africa and the Embassy Bombings

Why the U.S. got started training the Kenya Police Service; 1977 Embassy cable