On September 30, 2017, the NASA quartet – Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetangula – held a press conference to alert Kenyans on a pressing issue they considered to be a hot-button election matter. The media briefing was about an IT company called OT-Morpho that had become something of a technological ogre to many Kenyans.
Looming large but shrouded in mystery, Kenyans only came to learn about the company after the Supreme Court of Kenya overturned the victory of Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party in the August 8, 2017 elections. The thrust of the Supreme Court’s majority judgement rested in part on finding fault with the technological malpractices that clouded or interfered with the transmission of votes by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)’s server. OT-Morpho was the French company that had been outsourced by IEBC to man the server and to ensure the correct transmission of tallied votes.
The statement read by Musalia Mudavadi, NASA’s national campaign chairman, said in part: “We are aware the KSh2.4 billion awarded sum is way above the KSh800 million that IEBC’s technical committee recommended. Kenyans should be excused if they were to conclude that the offensive amounts are being paid as a bribe to OT-Morpho for a shady job of using technology to tilt elections in favour of Jubilee in the same way it did last month.”
The thrust of the Supreme Court’s majority judgement rested on finding fault with the technological malpractices that clouded or interfered with the transmission of votes by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)’s server. OT-Morpho was the French company that had been outsourced by IEBC to man the server and to ensure the correct transmission of tallied votes.
The key words Mudavadi used are bribe and shady job. The statement also claimed that “the two (OT-Morpho and Jubilee) have pulled another expensive fraud on Kenyan taxpayers even before the IEBC and OT-Morpho can address numerous questions regarding irregularities and illegalities in the August 8 elections.” The third key word is fraud. OT-Morpho has recently allegedly been involved in less than honest dealings in other parts of the world.
The NASA statement also accused OT-Morpho of being “firmly part and parcel of a criminal enterprise that has hijacked the Kenya electoral system with the sole aim of profiteering and frustrating the democratic ambitions of the people of Kenya.” Criminal enterprise are not charitable words to describe a global company that prides itself as a leader in the world of technological expertise and products. But has the company been charitable in its provision of its supposedly world class services?
On September 28, IEBC’s Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba re-negotiated another deal with OT-Morpho to oversee the electronic transmission of the presidential results in the fresh election. (This new deal was the core theme of NASA’s press conference two days later). In its judgement, the Supreme Court said that a fresh election should be held within the constitutionally mandated 60 days from the date of the judgement.
Chiloba’s point of departure on once again contracting the French firm was that there was limited time between then and October 26, 2017 (the new date slated for the fresh elections. The initial date was October 17, 2017) to look for another IT firm to replace OT-Morpho. “The Commission held a series of meeting with OT-Morpho on the level of support we required for the fresh presidential election. This culminated into an addendum to the contract that was signed on Thursday (September 28, 2017) evening after negotiations were concluded as per the procurement law”, said Chiloba on September 30, 2017 to the media.
This new contract immediately was criticized by the opposition NASA coalition. The contract amounting to KSh2.4 billion “for an election involving only one position and two candidates is not only outrageous, but an act of fraud and deliberate theft of public funds and bribery,” said the NASA statement.
Two weeks earlier, Raila Odinga had asked the French government to investigate the Paris-based company and its alleged connection with IEBC officials who he claimed “acted in complicity and connived to undermine the will of the people of Kenya.”
Two weeks earlier, on September 8, 2017, in a protest letter to the French Embassy in Nairobi, NASA Presidential candidate Raila Odinga had asked the French government to investigate the Paris-based company and its alleged connection with IEBC officials who he claimed “acted in complicity and connived to undermine the will of the people of Kenya.”
He also requested the government to expose two alleged OT-Morpho employees, Laurent Lambert and Axel Gaucher, who allegedly helped some IEBC officials to gain unauthorised access to the electoral commission’s servers. In the letter, both were referred to with their respective titles: Lambert is said to work as head of Project Kenya, while Gaucher works as head of analytics at the same organisation.
OT-Morpho was tasked with providing two electronic systems that were to identify the Kenyan voter and consequently transmit election results from the 40,000-plus polling stations to a central tallying centre. Evidently, that did not happen. Raila, the NASA presidential candidate and the leading opposition figure in the August 8 general election, was quick to accuse the IT company of, “failing to comply with the prescribed format of results management data.”
Stung by criticism by the leader of the opposition and castigated by the Supreme Court for its electronic transmission system, OT-Morpho’s Chief Operating Officer, Frederic Beylier, in a terse statement on September 15, 2017 said: “We have conducted two in-depth audits of our system with the support of external and reputable companies. We refute any allegations of piracy or fraudulent intrusion into our system.” Beylier added that the internal audit done on their equipment did not find any foul play.
On election day itself, OT-Morpho supplied 45,000 Kenya Integrated Election Monitors (KIEMs) tablets that are used to identify voters biometrically and the Results Transmission System (RTS) software. Hence, while OT-Morpho was tasked with the provision of tablets, the transmission of encrypted data from KIEMs kits to the IEBC server was the work of three local mobile network companies, namely, Safaricom, Telkom Kenya and Airtel.
It is alleged that IEBC sub-contracted the French company to create a parallel system that gained access to the mobile network operators’ data, re-routed the data to Paris, then purportedly re-sent the figures to the IEBC server. According to people in the know, the reason why IEBC defied the Supreme Court’s order of opening its server to the judges’ scrutiny is that the server could be empty or with data that is not palatable to the public, hence lending credence to the allegation that the August 8 general election’s results were predetermined and preset.
So how is it that OT-Morpho was involved in electronic transmission? Bob Collymore, Safaricom’s Chief Executive Officer, in responding to Raila’s September 26, 2017 criticism of the company’s alleged culpability in abetting the electronic transmission malpractices, defended his company by stating: “In accordance with the contract with IEBC, all mobile companies connected their Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and transmitted the data to the IEBC cloud servers. It was the IEBC’s responsibility to transmit results from its servers to the tallying centres (emphasis added).”
This apparent “clarification” about IEBC being solely responsible for transmitting results to the tallying centres came about as a result of NASA pointing out that: “KIEMs kits were using two SIM cards. From contract provided by IEBC during scrutiny, the total SIM cards procured from the three mobile network operators combined “totalled 58,000 or thereabouts”. That is how the Safaricom position statement read by Bob Collymore, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) put it on September 27, 2017.
This included the satellite phones. If two SIM cards were fitted in each KIEMs kit, you would have to divide the total by two. So basically only 29,000 KIEMs were fitted with SIM cards in this case. That means that only 29,000 KIEMs transmitted results.” It is noteworthy that Safaricom does not dispute that only 29,000 KIEMs were fitted with the dual SIM cards, which possibly explains why 11,000 Form 34As were not filled by IEBC’s returning officers.
It is at this point that OT-Morpho comes in. It is alleged that IEBC sub-contracted the French company to create a parallel system that gained access to the mobile network operators’ data, re-routed the data to Paris, then purportedly re-sent the figures to the IEBC server. According to people in the know, the reason why IEBC defied the Supreme Court’s order of opening its server to the judges’ scrutiny is that the server could be empty or with data that is not palatable to the public, hence lending credence to the allegation that the August 8 general election’s results were predetermined and preset. (The Elephant is on record on having written to the OT-Morpho public relations consultant Julien Tahmissian, to comment on the allegations levelled against the French company, but our email request went unanswered.)
Acting and talking tough, Beylier responded by saying that his company was going to sue unidentified people in France and Kenya for damaging “our reputation and honour.” Guns blazing, he warned: “We do not intend to become the scapegoat of the political situation in Kenya. We do not accept the reputation of OT-Morpho and its employees is tainted in any way by these allegations. This has to come to an end.”
In an interesting twist of events, Beylier had earlier pointed out on September 19 that the French firm had not signed a new contract with IEBC. Speaking to Alastair Leithead of the BBC’s Focus on Africa, he said: “We don’t have contract with them (IEBC) for the next election yet.” (He was then referring to the new election date of October 17, 2017, before it was moved to October 26, 2017.) “If we had the contract by now – and assuming that the Supreme Court does not recommend any technical change in its ruling – we would need up to the end of October to reconfigure our systems for the repeat election,” he added.
Beylier said the company was willing to open its system for scrutiny by an independent body under the authority of IEBC. But less than a fortnight later, when the chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, asked the company to open the servers before the upcoming fresh presidential election, OT-Morpho’s Vice President for Middle East and Africa, Olivier Charlane, promptly wrote to the commission, vehemently opposing the suggestion.
Posturing and seemingly on the offensive, Beylier said the company was willing to open its system for scrutiny by an independent body under the authority of IEBC. But less than a fortnight later, when the chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, asked the company to open the servers before the upcoming fresh presidential election, OT-Morpho’s Vice President for Middle East and Africa, Olivier Charlane, promptly wrote to the commission, vehemently opposing the suggestion.
“OT-Morpho would respectfully warn IEBC that opening access to servers, databases and logs prior to the election might open security weaknesses. We would rather recommend that access to server and databases be provided after the Election Day. Anyhow, logs will be shared on a daily basis with IEBC. Agents should be allowed to review them at IEBC premises only,” wrote Charlane.
Like Chiloba, OT-Morpho now ducked the issue of opening itself to an external audit, arguing that there was limited time for that kind of exercise. In the letter to Chebukati, Charlane pointed out that considering the short time left to the date of the fresh polls, it was impossible to conduct a dry-run of results transmission. “Even though OT-Morpho was and remains willing to support such a dry-run, IEBC has to realise that conducting such an operation is hogging the RTS (Results Transmission System) system for four days, so as to prepare test, run and clean the system.”
In reply to Chebukati’s terse memo to OT-Morpho on the issue of clearly displaying all the form 34B from the constituencies, Charlane said the firm would find it technologically impossible to do this given the bulky nature of the forms.
“In the current planning and considering the recent delays in receiving the SIM cards to start the KIEMS (Kenya Integrated Elections Management System) kits production as well as the latest IEBC requirement, we fear we have no room any more for such operations,” opined Charlane. In a roundabout way, what Charlane was saying in not so many words is that nothing should be done to compromise or interfere with OT-Morpho’s supposed data security.
Why would a company with such a huge reputation in digital technology and identification systems offer such flippant excuses for not accepting a reasonable request from a client? OT-Morpho’s website describes the company as, “the acknowledged expert in identification systems.” OT-Morpho used to be known as Safran Identities and Security (Morpho) until May 2017, when it sold its digital security unit and morphed into Advent International, owner of Colombes, France-based Oberthur Technologies SA and renamed the company OT-Morpho.
Deepak Kamani, was the one engaged in the passport deal, which NARC’s new corruption boys had expanded to include visa and border controls. Who was the supplier? Francois Charles Oberthur of Paris, France, then the world’s leading supplier of Visa and Mastercards.
Before Safran merged with Oberthur Technologies (OT), it dealt with supplies of systems and equipment in aerospace, defence and security. The company also sold aeroplane engines, helicopters, launch vehicles and missiles, landing and braking systems, nacelles on board electrical systems, optronics, avionics, identity documents, biometric equipment, smart cards explosives detection and trace analysis.
While Oberthur Technologies SA mainly dealt with security services, the company provided payment technology, smartcards, identity protection, authentication mechanisms conditional access management solutions. OT similarly had clients in the finance, telecom, digital and transport sectors globally. With the morphing of the two companies, they naturally combined and expanded their client base.
Dogged with scandals, in September 2012 Safran Morpho was fined the equivalent of KSh52 million (about US$520,000) for bribery by a Paris court. The company had bribed Nigerian public officials to win a contract for the provision of 70 million identity cards between 2000 and 2003. The deal was worth 170 million euros. After being slapped with the fine, Safran said that it was “deeply attached to strict respect of anti-corruption rules.”
Yet, even with this knowledge, an IEBC official was quoted at that time saying: “The deal with Safran is almost complete. It is only a matter of time.” Meaning, it is already too late to pull back. Someone must have smelt big money. Was this why the IEBC was ready to enter into negotiations with a company that had been implicated and fined in a corruption deal?
Not too long ago, IEBC had itself been caught up in a similar scandal, which was cheekily baptised “Chickengate”. The Chickengate scandal was about a UK-based security printing company that had bribed IEBC and Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) officials to win their respective ballot paper and certificate tenders. Smith and Ouzman, based in Eastborne, Sussex, became the first company to be convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1906. Investigations found that Smith and Ouzman had paid bribes amounting to £433,062 to Kenyan officials. The key suspects were investigated by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK, yet their counterparts in Kenya have yet to face the law, or even be investigated.
When sentencing Christopher Smith, 72, and his son Nicholas, 42, in December 2014, Judge David Higgins said: “The pair were guilty of a premeditated, preplanned, sophisticated and very serious crime.” The offence, which took four years to unravel and which occurred between 2006 and 2010, was dubbed Chickengate because they had codenamed the bribe “chicken” for IEBC and KNEC officials.
Back to Safran Morpho. Safran was arraigned before a federal court of law in San Jose, California on August 14, 2016, for allegedly supplying software deemed to have originated from Russia. The case was filed in San Jose because Safran’s local subsidiary is located there.
Safran used to supply fingerprint identification systems to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Defence Department and drivers’ agencies in most US states. All that time it described its technology as originating from France. However, two former company executives confessed that the technology was actually developed in Russia. The two former Safran employees – Philipe Desbois, the former Chief Executive Officer of Morpho’s Russian affiliate, and Vincent Hascoet, a deputy director of an affiliate company, Powerjet, in Moscow from July 2012 to May 2014 – told the court that the technology was actually used by Russia’s security agency and could easily be sabotaged in the event of a crisis.
Desbois, who had also served as Safran’s financial representative in Russia, and Hascoet were referred to as “whistleblowers” and “very credible” plaintiffs. In fact, Hascoet was sacked after he raised the alarm over corruption tendencies in the company. Both lived in Russia then.
Through their defence attorney, the duo said that it was “conceivable” that the software contained a “back door” that could enable the Russian government to “override” fingerprint identification devices in such strategic organisations such as the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA (National Security Agency) and other security areas to gain unauthorised entry.
At the federal court, Morpho and its parent company Safran Group were accused of making “surreptitious sales” of more than US$1billion in Russian technology to federal, state and local governments in the US between 2009 and 2015. The suit said that Morpho and Safran defrauded the US government and the state of California by falsely claiming that their technology was from France, not Russia. In essence, they violated antitrust laws and presented false claims for payment.
The court was told that there existed a confidential 25-year agreement between the French and Russian companies signed in 2008 that included a declaration by the Russian firm Papillon ZAO that stated that its software did not contain “any undisclosed ‘back door’ or other disabling mechanisms.”
In the law suit filed by Daniel Bartley, he noted that the declaration had not been independently verified by either the French firm or any government agency. The point is, although the verification may not have mattered when checking out fingerprint identification technology, like in the issuance of driver’s licences, it would have mattered when it came to matters such as high level security.
“The national security implications are significant,” said Bartley. In agencies that require only cleared people to gain access to secure areas, “such protection could be bypassed if the technology is hacked.”
At the federal court, Morpho and its parent company Safran Group were accused of making “surreptitious sales” of more than US$1billion in Russian technology to federal, state and local governments in the US between 2009 and 2015. The suit said that Morpho and Safran defrauded the US government and the state of California by falsely claiming that their technology was from France, not Russia. In essence, they violated antitrust laws and presented false claims for payment.
In its defence, Safran Group’s US affiliate counterargued that the government agencies exercised “due diligence” in deciding not to intervene in the case. The suit “contains inflammatory and baseless allegations and lacks merit,” said the group. “As leaders of biometric industry for 42 years, we take defence of our reputation and security matters about products solutions very seriously. We are confident that we will successfully defend our case.”
Bartley, in responding to Safran, argued that their statement was “evasive” because it did not address the central claim that the technology in Safran and Morpho products was from Russia.
According to a leaked NSA report of June 5, 2017, Russian hackers gained access to the US voting system. The document talks of how Russian military intelligence, “executed cyber espionage operations against a named US company in August 2016 evidently to obtain information on election-related software and hardware solutions, according to information that become available in April 2017.”
The company in question is suspected to have been Safran. President Vladimir Putin opined that “patriotically minded” Russian hackers may have been behind the cyberattacks during the 2016 US elections.
On September 30, 2017, OT-Morpho rebranded itself to IDEMIA, possibly in an effort to look and sound different as it polishes its image and re-positions itself as a global leader in digital technologies. (The Supreme Court of Kenya had dealt the company a “credibility blow” when it questioned the electronic transmission of the August 8 results.)
It is suspected that this sudden rebranding by the company is not a mere coincidence; it coincides with its signing of a new contract with IEBC. Together with its alleged past scandals, and with the world closely watching its behaviour and performance in Kenya, the company must have been concerned that its global reputation had been tainted. What better way to remain in a competitive and highly lucrative business than to rebrand?
By Dauti Kahura
Mr Kahura is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya
A Dictator’s Guide: How Museveni Wins Elections and Reproduces Power in Uganda
Caricatures aside, how do President Yoweri Museveni and the National Revolutionary Movement state reproduce power? It’s been 31 years.
Recent weeks have seen increased global media attention to Uganda following the incidents surrounding the arrest of popular musician and legislator, Bobi Wine; emblematic events that have marked the shrinking democratic space in Uganda and the growing popular struggles for political change in the country.
The spotlight is also informed by wider trends across the continent over the past few years—particularly the unanticipated fall of veteran autocrats Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Yaya Jammeh in Gambia, and most recently Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe—which led to speculation about whether Yoweri Museveni, in power in Uganda since 1986, might be the next to exit this shrinking club of Africa’s strongmen.
Yet the Museveni state, and the immense presidential power that is its defining characteristic, has received far less attention, thus obscuring some of the issues at hand. Comprehending its dynamics requires paying attention to at-least three turning points in the National Resistance Movement’s history, which resulted in a gradual weeding-out of Museveni’s contemporaries and potential opponents from the NRM, then the mobilisation of military conflict to shore up regime legitimacy, and the policing of urban spaces to contain the increasingly frequent signals of potential revolution. Together, these dynamics crystallised presidential power in Uganda, run down key state institutions, and set the stage for the recent tensions and likely many more to come.
From the late 1990s, there has been a gradual weeding out the old guard in the NRM, which through an informal “succession queue,” had posed an internal challenge to the continuity of Museveni’s rule. It all started amidst the heated debates in the late 1990s over the reform of the then decaying Movement system; debates that pitted a younger club of reformists against an older group. The resultant split led to the exit of many critical voices from the NRM’s ranks, and began to bolster Museveni’s grip on power in a manner that was unprecedented. It also opened the lid on official corruption and the abuse of public offices.
Over the years, the purge also got rid of many political and military elites—the so-called “historicals”—many of whom shared Museveni’s sense of entitlement to political office rooted in their contribution to the 1980-1985 liberation war, and some of whom probably had an eye on his seat.
By 2005 the purge was at its peak; that year the constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits—passed after a bribe to every legislator—saw almost all insiders that were opposed to it, summarily dismissed. As many of them joined the ranks of the opposition, Museveni’s inner circle was left with mainly sycophants whose loyalty was more hinged on patronage than anything else. Questioning the president or harboring presidential ambitions within the NRM had become tantamount to a crime.
By 2011 the process was almost complete, with the dismissal of Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, whose growing popularity among rural farmers was interpreted as a nascent presidential bid, resulting in his firing.
One man remained standing, Museveni’s long-time friend Amama Mbabazi. His friendship with Museveni had long fueled rumors that he would succeed “the big man” at some point. In 2015, however, his attempt to run against Museveni in the ruling party primaries also earned him an expulsion from both the secretary general position of the ruling party as well as the prime ministerial office.
The departure of Mbabazi marked the end of any pretensions to a succession plan within the NRM. He was unpopular, with a record tainted by corruption scandals and complicity in Museveni’s authoritarianism, but his status as a “president-in-waiting” had given the NRM at least the semblance of an institution that could survive beyond Museveni’s tenure, which his firing effectively ended.
What is left now is perhaps only the “Muhoozi project,” a supposed plan by Museveni to have his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba succeed him. Lately it has been given credence by the son’s rapid rise to commanding positions in elite sections of the Ugandan military. But with an increasingly insecure Museveni heavily reliant on familial relationships and patronage networks, even the Muhoozi project appears very unlikely. What is clear, though, is that the over time, the presidency has essentially become Museveni’s property.
Fundamental to Museveni’s personalisation of power also has been the role of military conflict, both local and regional. First was the rebellion by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, which over its two-decade span enabled a continuation of the military ethos of the NRM. The war’s dynamics were indeed complex, and rooted in a longer history that predated even the NRM government, but undoubtedly it provided a ready excuse for the various shades of authoritarianism that came to define Museveni’s rule.
With war ongoing in the north, any challenge to Museveni’s rule was easily constructed as a threat to the peace already secured in the rest of the country, providing an absurd logic for clamping down on political opposition. More importantly, the emergency state born of it, frequently provided a justification for the president to side-step democratic institutions and processes, while at the same time rationalising the government’s disproportionate expenditure on the military. It also fed into Museveni’s self-perception as a “freedom fighter,” buttressed the personality cult around him, and empowered him to further undermine any checks on his power.
By the late 2000s the LRA war was coming to an end—but another war had taken over its function just in time. From the early 2000s, Uganda’s participation in a regional security project in the context of the War on Terror, particularly in the Somalian conflict, rehabilitated the regime’s international image and provided cover for the narrowing political space at home, as well as facilitating a further entrenchment of Museveni’s rule.
As post-9/11 Western foreign policy began to prioritise stability over political reform, Museveni increasingly postured as the regional peacemaker, endearing himself to donors while further sweeping the calls for democratic change at home under the carpet—and earning big from it.
It is easy to overlook the impact of these military engagements, but the point is that together they accentuated the role of the military in Ugandan politics and further entrenched Museveni’s power to degrees that perhaps even the NRM’s own roots in a guerrilla movement could never have reached.
The expulsion of powerful elites from the ruling circles and the politicisation of military conflict had just started to cement Musevenism, when a new threat emerged on the horizon. It involved not the usual antagonists—gun-toting rebels or ruling party elites—but ordinary protesters. And they were challenging the NRM on an unfamiliar battleground—not in the jungles, but on the streets: the 2011 “Walk-to-Work” protests, rejecting the rising fuel and food prices, were unprecedented.
But there is another reason the protests constituted a new threat. For long the NRM had mastered the art of winning elections. The majority constituencies were rural, and allegedly strongholds of the regime. The electoral commission itself was largely answerable to Museveni. With rural constituencies in one hand and the electoral body in the other, the NRM could safely ignore the minority opposition-dominated urban constituencies. Electoral defeat thus never constituted a threat to the NRM, at least at parliamentary and presidential levels.
But now the protesters had turned the tables, and were challenging the regime immediately after one of its landslide victories. The streets could not be rigged. In a moment, they had shifted the locus of Ugandan politics from the rural to the urban, and from institutional to informal spaces. And they were picking lessons from a strange source: North Africa. There, where Museveni’s old friend Gaddafi, among others, was facing a sudden exit under pressure from similar struggles. Things could quickly get out of hand. A strategic response was urgent.
The regime went into overdrive. The 2011 protests were snuffed out, and from then, the policing of urban spaces became central to the logic and working of the Museveni state. Draconian laws on public assembly and free speech came into effect, enacted by a rubber-stamp parliament that was already firmly in Museveni’s hands. Police partnered with criminal gangs, notably the Boda Boda 2010, to curb what was called “public disorder”—really the official name for peaceful protest. As police’s mandate expanded to include the pursuit of regime critics, its budget ballooned, and its chief, General Kale Kayihura, became the most powerful person after Museveni—before his recent dismissal.
For a while, the regime seemed triumphant. Organising and protest became virtually impossible, as urban areas came under 24/7 surveillance. Moreover, key state institutions—the parliament, electoral commission, judiciary, military and now the police—were all in the service of the NRM, and all voices of dissent had been effectively silenced. In time, the constitution would be amended again, by the NRM-dominated house, this time to remove the presidential age limit—the last obstacle to Museveni’s life presidency—followed by a new tax on social media, to curb “gossip.” Museveni was now truly invincible. Or so it seemed.
But the dreams of “walk-to-work”—the nightmare for the Museveni state—had never really disappeared, and behind the tightly-patrolled streets always lay the simmering quest for change. That is how we arrived at the present moment, with a popstar representing the widespread aspiration for better government, and a seemingly all-powerful president suddenly struggling for legitimacy. Whatever direction the current popular struggles ultimately take, what is certain is that they are learning well from history, and are a harbinger of many more to come.
The Enduring Blind Spots of America’s Africa Policy
America should move way from making the military the face of its engagement with Africa and instead invest in deepening democracy as a principled approach rather than a convenient choice.
While Donald Trump’s administration completely neglected America-Africa relations, the blind spots bedeviling America’s Africa policy preceded his 2016 election. Correcting the systemic flaws of the past 30 years will require a complete rethink after the controversial President’s departure.
To remedy America’s Africa policy, President Joseph Biden’s administration should pivot away from counterterrorism to supporting democratic governance as a principal rather than as mere convenience, and cooperate with China on climate change, peace, and security on the continent.
America’s Africa policy
America’s post-Cold War Africa policy has had three distinct and discernible phases. The first phase was an expansionist outlook undergirded by humanitarian intervention. The second was nonintervention, a stance triggered by the experience of the first phase. The third is the use of “smart” military interventions using military allies.
The turning point for the first phase was in 1989 when a victorious America pursued an expansive foreign policy approach predicated on humanitarian intervention. Somalia became the first African test case of this policy when, in 1992, America sent almost 30,000 troops to support Operation Restore Hope’s humanitarian mission which took place against the background of the collapse of the Somalia government in 1991.
On 3-4 October 1993, during the Battle of Mogadishu, 18 US servicemen were killed in a fight with warlords who controlled Mogadishu then, and the bodies of the marines dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The media coverage increased pressure on the politicians and six months later America withdrew from Somalia — a case of the New World Order meeting the harsh reality of civil conflict.
The chastening experience resulted in America scaling back its involvement in internal conflicts in far-flung places. The result was the emergence of the second phase — non-engagement when Rwanda’s Genocide erupted in 1994 and almost a million people died in 100 days revealed the limitations of over-correcting the Somalia experience. This “non-interference” phase lasted until the twin Nairobi and Dar es Salaam US embassy bombings by Al Qaeda in 1998.
This gave way to the third phase with the realisation that the new threat to America was no longer primarily from state actors, but from transnational non-state actors using failing states as safe havens. The 2002 National Security Strategy states: “the events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states . . . can pose as a great danger to our national interests as strong states.”
Counterterrorism training and equipping of African militaries is the central plank of this new security policy. As a result, counterterrorism funding has skyrocketed as has America’s military footprint in Africa. As a result, Africa has become the theatre in which the Global forever War on Terror is fought.
The counterterrorism traps
The reflexive reaction to the events of September 11 2001 spawned an interlocking web of covert and overt military and non-military operations. These efforts, initially deemed necessary and temporary, have since morphed into a self-sustaining system complete with agencies, institutions and a specialised lingo that pervades every realm of America’s engagement with Africa.
The United States Africa Command (Africom) is the vehicle of America’s engagement with the continent. Counterterrorism blurred the line between security, development, and humanitarian assistance with a host of implications including unrelenting militarisation which America’s policy establishment embraced uncritically as the sine qua non of America’s diplomacy, their obvious flaws notwithstanding. The securitisation of problems became self-fulfilling and self-sustaining.
The embrace of counterterrorism could not have come at a worse time for Africa’s efforts at democratization. In many African countries, political and military elites have now developed a predictable rule-based compact governing accession to power via elections rather than the coups of the past.
“Smart” African leaders exploited the securitised approach in two main ways: closing the political space and criminalising dissent as “terrorism” and as a source of free money. In Ethiopia, Yonatan Tesfaye, a former spokesman of the Semayawi (Blue) Party, was detained in December 2015 on charges under Article 4 of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation ((EATP), arguably one of the the country’s most severe pieces of legislation. But Ethiopia has received millions of dollars from the United States.
The Department of Defense hardly says anything in public but gives out plenty of money without asking questions about human rights and good governance. Being a counterterrorism hub has become insurance policy against any form of criticism regardless of state malfeasance.
Egypt is one such hub. According to the Congressional Research Service, for the 2021 financial year, the Trump Administration has requested a total of US$1.4 billion in bilateral assistance for Egypt, which Congress approved in 2018 and 2019. Nearly all US funding for Egypt comes from the Foreign Military Finance (FMF) account and is in turn used to purchase military equipment of US origin, spare parts, training, and maintenance from US firms.
Another country that is a counterterrorism hub in the Horn of Africa is Ethiopia. For the few months they were in charge, the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU) brought order and stability to the country. Although they were linked to only a few of Mogadishu’s local courts, on 24 December 2006, Ethiopia’s military intervened in Somalia to contain the rise of Al Shabaab’s political and military influence.
The ouster of the ICU by Ethiopia aggravated the deep historical enmity between Somalia and Ethiopia, something Al Shabaab — initially the youth wing of the ICU — subsequently exploited through a mix of Somali nationalism, Islamist ideology, and Western anti-imperialism. Al Shabaab presented themselves as the vanguard against Ethiopia and other external aggressors, providing the group with an opportunity to translate their rhetoric into action.
Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia could not have taken place without America’s blessing. The intervention took place three weeks after General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces from the Middle East to Afghanistan, met with the then Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The intervention generated a vicious self-sustaining loop. Ethiopians are in Somalia because of Al Shabaab, and Al Shabaab says they will continue fighting as long as foreign troops are inside Somalia.
America has rewarded Ethiopia handsomely for its role as the Horn of Africa’s policeman. In both Ethiopia’s and Egypt’s case, on the score of human rights and good governance, the net losers are the citizens.
In keeping with the War on Terror being for forever, and despite departing Somalia in 1993, America outsourced a massive chunk of the fight against Al Shabaab to Ethiopia primarily, and later, to AMISOM. America is still engaged in Somalia where it has approximately 800 troops, including special forces that help train Somalia’s army to fight against Al Shabaab.
America carried out its first drone strike in Somalia in 2011 during President Barack Obama’s tenure. Under the Trump administration, however, the US has dramatically increased the frequency of drone attacks and loosened the oversight required to approve strike targets in Somalia. In March 2017, President Trump secretly designated parts of Somalia “areas of active hostilities”, meaning that the high-level inter-agency vetting of proposed strikes and the need to demonstrate with near certainty that civilians would not be injured or killed no longer applied. Last year, the US acknowledged conducting 63 airstrikes in the country, and in late August last year, the US admitted that it had carried out 46 strikes in 2020.
A lack of transparency regarding civilian casualties and the absence of empirical evidence that the strikes lead to a reduction in terrorism in Somalia suggest that expanding to Kenya would be ill-advised. The US has only acknowledged having caused civilian casualties in Somalia three times. Between 2016 and 2019, AFRICOM failed to conduct a single interview with civilian witnesses of its airstrikes in Somalia.
Despite this level of engagement, defeating Al Shabaab remains a remote possibility.
Containing the Chinese takeover
The Trump Administration did not have an Africa policy. The closest approximation of a policy during Trump’s tenure was stated in a speech delivered by John Bolton at a Conservative think tank decrying China’s nefarious activities in Africa. Even with a policy, where the counterterrorism framework views Africa as a problem to be solved by military means, the containing China policy views African countries as lacking the agency to act in their own interests. The problem with this argument is that it is patronising; Africans cannot decide what is right for them.
Over the last decades, while America was busy creating the interlocking counterterrorism infrastructure in Africa, China was building large-scale infrastructure across the continent. Where America sees Africa as a problem to be solved, China sees Africa as an opportunity to be seized.
Almost two years into the Trump administration, there were no US ambassadors deployed in 20 of Africa’s 54 countries even while America was maintaining a network of 29 military bases. By comparison China, has 50 embassies spread across Africa.
For three consecutive years America’s administration has proposed deep and disproportionate cuts to diplomacy and development while China has doubled its foreign affairs budget since 2011. In 2018, China increased its funding for diplomacy by nearly 16 per cent and its funding for foreign aid by almost 7 per cent.
As a show of how engagement with Africa is low on the list of US priorities, Trump appointed a luxury handbag designer as America’s ambassador to South Africa on 14 November 2018. Kenya’s ambassador is a political appointee who, when he is not sparring with Kenyans on Twitter, is supporting a discredited coal mining project.
The US anti-China arguments emphasize that China does not believe in human rights and good governance, and that China’s funding of large infrastructure projects is essentially debt-trap diplomacy. The anti-China rhetoric coming from American officials is not driven by altruism but by the realisation that they have fallen behind China in Africa.
By the middle of this century Africa’s population is expected to double to roughly two billion. Nigeria will become the second most populous country globally by 2100, behind only India. The 24-country African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) entered into force on 30 May 2019. AfCFTA will ultimately bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people — including a growing middle class — and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion.
While Chinese infrastructure projects grab the headlines, China has moved into diversifying its engagement with Africa. The country has increased its investments in Africa by more than 520 per cent over the last 15 years, surpassing the US as the largest trading partner for Africa in 2009 and becoming the top exporter to 19 out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Some of the legacy Chinese investments have come at a steep environmental price and with an unsustainable debt. Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway is bleeding money and is economically unviable.
A fresh start
Supporting democratic governance and learning to cooperate with China are two areas that will make America part of Africa’s future rather than its past.
America should pivot way from making the military the most visible face of its engagement with Africa and instead invest in deepening democracy as a principled approach rather than a convenient choice.
Despite the elegy about its retreat in Africa, democracy enjoys tremendous support. According to an Afro barometer poll, almost 70 per cent of Africans say democracy is their preferred form of government. Large majorities also reject alternative authoritarian regimes such as presidential dictatorships, military rule, and one-party governments. Democracy, while still fledgling, remains a positive trend; since 2015, there have been 34 peaceful transfers of power.
However, such positive metrics go hand in hand with a worrying inclination by presidents to change constitutions to extend their terms in office. Since 2015, leaders of 13 countries have evaded or overseen the weakening of term limit restrictions that had been in place. Democracy might be less sexy, but ignoring it is perilous. There are no apps or switches to flip to arrest this slide. It requires hard work that America is well equipped to support but has chosen not to in a range of countries in recent years There is a difference between interfering in the internal affairs of a country and complete abdication or (in some cases) supporting leaders who engage in activities that are inimical to deepening democracy.
The damage wrought by the Trump presidency and neo-liberal counterterrorism policies will take time to undo, but symbolic efforts can go a long way to bridging the gap.
America must also contend with China being an indispensable player in Africa and learn to cooperate rather than compete in order to achieve optimal outcomes.
China has 2,458 military and police personnel serving in eight missions around the globe, far more than the combined contribution of personnel by the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia, the US, France and Britain. China had more than 2,400 Chinese troops take part in seven UN peacekeeping missions across the continent — most notably in Mali and South Sudan. Of the 14 current UN peacekeeping missions, seven are in Africa, consuming two-thirds of the budget.
Climate change and conflict resolution provide opportunities for cooperation. Disproportionate reliance on rain-fed agriculture and low adaptation to the adverse impact of climate change make Africa vulnerable to the damaging effects of climate change, the consequences of which will transcend Africa. Through a combination of research, development, technological transfer and multilateral investment, America and China could stave off the impact of climate change in Africa.
Hijacking Kenya’s Health Spending: Companies Linked to Powerful MP Received Suspicious Procurement Contracts
Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee.
Two obscure companies linked to Kitui South MP Rachael Kaki Nyamai were paid at least KSh24.2 million to deliver medical supplies under single-source agreements at the time the MP was chair of the National Assembly’s Health Committee, an investigation by Africa Uncensored and The Elephant has uncovered.
One of the companies was also awarded a mysterious Ksh 4.3 billion agreement to supply 8 million bottles of hand sanitizer, according to the government’s procurement system.
The contracts were awarded in 2015 as authorities moved to contain the threat from the Ebola outbreak that was ravaging West Africa and threatening to spread across the continent as well as from flooding related to the El-Nino weather phenomenon.
The investigation found that between 2014 and 2016, the Ministry of Health handed out hundreds of questionable non-compete tenders related to impending disasters, with a total value of KSh176 billion including three no-bid contracts to two firms, Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, linked to Mrs Nyamai, whose committee oversaw the ministry’s funding – a clear conflict of interest.
Although authorities have since scrutinized some of the suspicious contracts and misappropriated health funds, the investigation revealed a handful of contracts that were not made public, nor questioned by the health committee.
Mrs Nyamai declined to comment for the story.
Nyamai has been accused by fellow members of parliament of thwarting an investigation of a separate alleged fraud. In 2016, a leaked internal audit report accused the Ministry of Health — colloquially referred to for its location at Afya House — of misappropriating funds in excess of nearly $60 million during the 2015/2016 financial year. Media stories described unauthorized suppliers, fraudulent transactions, and duplicate payments, citing the leaked document.
Members of the National Assembly’s Health Committee threatened to investigate by bringing the suppliers in for questioning, and then accused Nyamai, the committee chairperson, of blocking their probe. Members of the committee signed a petition calling for the removal of Nyamai and her deputy, but the petition reportedly went missing. Nyamai now heads the National Assembly’s Committee on Lands.
Transactions for companies owned by Mrs Nyamai’s relatives were among 25,727 leaked procurement records reviewed by reporters from Africa Uncensored, Finance Uncovered, The Elephant, and OCCRP. The data includes transactions by eight government agencies between August 2014 and January 2018, and reveals both questionable contracts as well as problems that continue to plague the government’s accounting tool, IFMIS.
The Integrated Financial Management Information System was adopted to improve efficiency and accountability. Instead, it has been used to fast-track corruption.
Hand sanitizer was an important tool in fighting transmission of Ebola, according to a WHO health expert. In one transaction, the Ministry of Health paid Sh5.4 million for “the supply of Ebola reagents for hand sanitizer” to a company owned by a niece of the MP who chaired the parliamentary health committee. However, it’s unclear what Ebola reagents, which are meant for Ebola testing, have to do with hand sanitizer. Kenya’s Ministry of Health made 84 other transactions to various vendors during this period, earmarked specifically for Ebola-related spending. These included:
- Public awareness campaigns and adverts paid to print, radio and tv media platforms, totalling at least KSh122 million.
- Printed materials totalling at least KSh214 million for Ebola prevention and information posters, contact tracing forms, technical guideline and point-of-entry forms, brochures and decision charts, etc. Most of the payments were made to six obscure companies.
- Ebola-related pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical supplies, including hand sanitizer
- Ebola-related conferences, catering, and travel expenses
- At least KSh15 millions paid to a single vendor for isolation beds
Hacking the System
Tira Southshore Holdings Limited and Ameken Minewest Company Limited, appear to have no history of dealing in hygiene or medical supplies. Yet they were awarded three blanket purchase agreements, which are usually reserved for trusted vendors who provide recurring supplies such as newspapers and tea, or services such as office cleaning.
“A blanket agreement is something which should be exceptional, in my view,” says former Auditor-General, Edward Ouko.
But the leaked data show more than 2,000 such agreements, marked as approved by the heads of procurement in various ministries. About KSh176 billion (about $1.7 billion) was committed under such contracts over 42 months.
“Any other method of procurement, there must be competition. And in this one there is no competition,” explained a procurement officer, who spoke generally about blanket purchase agreements on background. “You have avoided sourcing.”
The Ministry of Health did not respond to detailed questions, while Mrs Nyamai declined to comment on the contracts in question.
Procurement experts say blanket purchase agreements are used in Kenya to short-circuit the competitive process. A ministry’s head of procurement can request authority from the National Treasury to create blanket agreements for certain vendors. Those companies can then be asked by procurement employees to deliver supplies and services without competing for a tender.
Once in the system, these single-source contracts are prone to corruption, as orders and payments can simply be made without the detailed documentation required under standard procurements. With limited time and resources, government auditors say they struggle especially with reconciling purchases made under blanket agreements.
The agreements were almost always followed by standard purchase orders that indicated the same vendor and the same amount which is unusual and raises fears of duplication. Some of these transactions were generated days or weeks after the blanket agreements, many with missing or mismatched explanations. It’s unclear whether any of these actually constituted duplicate payments.
For example, the leaked data show two transactions for Ameken Minewest for Sh6.9 million each — a blanket purchase order for El Nino mitigation supplies and a standard order for the supply of chlorine tablets eight days later. Tira Southshore also had two transactions of Sh12 million each — a blanket purchase for the “supply of lab reagents for cholera,” and six days later a standard order for the supply of chlorine powder.
Auditors say both the amounts and the timing of such payments are suspicious because blanket agreements should be paid in installments.
“It could well be a duplicate, using the same information, to get through the process. Because you make a blanket [agreement], then the intention is to do duplicates, so that it can pass through the cash payee phase several times without delivering more,” said Ouko upon reviewing some of the transactions for Tira Southshore. This weakness makes the IFMIS system prone to abuse, he added.
In addition, a KSh4 billion contract for hand sanitizer between the Health Ministry’s Preventive and Promotive Health Department and Tira Southshore was approved as a blanket purchase agreement in April 2015. The following month, a standard purchase order was generated for the same amount but without a description of services — this transaction is marked in the system as incomplete. A third transaction — this one for 0 shillings — was generated 10 days later by the same procurement employee, using the original order description: “please supply hand sanitizers 5oomls as per contract Moh/dpphs/dsru/008/14-15-MTC/17/14-15(min.no.6).
Reporters were unable to confirm whether KSh4 billion was paid by the ministry. The leaked data doesn’t include payment disbursement details, and the MOH has not responded to requests for information.
“I can assure you there’s no 4 billion, not even 1 billion. Not even 10 million that I have ever done, that has ever gone through Tira’s account, through that bank account,” said the co-owner of the company, Abigael Mukeli. She insisted that Tira Southshore never had a contract to deliver hand sanitizer, but declined to answer specific questions. It is unclear how a company without a contract would appear as a vendor in IFMIS, alongside contract details.
It is possible that payments could end up in bank accounts other than the ones associated with the supplier. That is because IFMIS also allowed for the creation of duplicate suppliers, according to a 2016 audit of the procurement system. That audit found almost 50 cases of duplication of the same vendor.
“Presence of active duplicate supplier master records increases the possibility of potential duplicate payments, misuse of bank account information, [and] reconciliation issues,” the auditors warned.
They also found such blatant security vulnerabilities as ghost and duplicate login IDs, deactivated requirements for password resets, and remote access for some procurement employees.
IFMIS was promoted as a solution for a faster procurement process and more transparent management of public funds. But the way the system was installed and used in Kenya compromised its extolled safeguards, according to auditors.
“There is a human element in the system,” said Ouko. “So if the human element is also not working as expected then the system cannot be perfect.”
The former head of the internal audit unit at the health ministry, Bernard Muchere, confirmed in an interview that IFMIS can be manipulated.
Masking the Setup
Ms Mukeli, the co-owner of Tira Southshore and Ameken Minewest, is the niece of Mrs Nyamai, according to local sources and social media investigation, although she denied the relationship to reporters. According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms Mukeli works at Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a medical logistics agency under the Ministry of Health, now embroiled in a COVID procurement scandal.
Ms Mukeli’s mother, who is the MP’s elder sister, co-owns Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., which shares a post office box with Tira Southshore and Mematira Holdings Limited, which was opened in 2018, is co-owned by Mrs Nyamai’s husband and daughter, and is currently the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest. Documents also show that a company called Icpher Consultants was originally registered to the MP, who was listed as the beneficial owner.
Co-owner of Tira Southshore Holdings Limited, Abigael Mukeli, described the company to reporters as a health consulting firm. However Tira Southshore also holds an active exploration license for the industrial mining in a 27-square-kilometer area in Kitui County, including in the restricted South Kitui National Reserve. According to government records, the application for mining limestone in Mutomo sub-county — Nyamai’s hometown — was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018.
Mukeli is also a minority owner of Ameken Minewest Company Limited, which also holds an active mining license in Mutomo sub-county of Kitui, in an area covering 135.5 square kilometers. Government records show that the application for the mining of limestone, magnesite, and manganese was initiated in 2015 and granted in 2018. Two weeks after the license was granted, Mematira Holdings Limited was incorporated, with Nyamai’s husband and daughter as directors. Today, Mematira Holdings is the majority shareholder of Ameken Minewest, which is now in the process of obtaining another mining license in Kitui County.
According to public documents, Ameken also dabbles in road works and the transport of liquefied petroleum gas. And it’s been named by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in a fuel fraud scheme.
Yet another company, Wet Blue Proprietors Logistics Ltd., shares a phone number with Tira Southshore and another post office box with Icpher Consultants Company Ltd., according to a Kenya National Highway Authority list of pre-qualified vendors.
Mrs Nyamai and her husband co-own Wet Blue. The consulting company was opened in 2010, the same year that the lawmaker completed her PhD work in HIV/AIDS education in Denmark.
Wet Blue was licenced in 2014 as a dam contractor and supplier of water, sewerage, irrigation and electromechanical works. It’s also listed by KENHA as a vetted consultant for HIV/AIDS mitigation services, together with Icpher Consultants.
It is unclear why these companies are qualified to deliver all these services simultaneously.
“Shell companies receiving contracts in the public sector in Kenya have enabled corruption, fraud and tax evasion in the country. They are literally special purpose vehicles to conduct ‘heists’ and with no track record to deliver the public goods, works or services procured,” said Sheila Masinde, executive director of Transparency International-Kenya.
Both MOH and Ms Mukeli refused to confirm whether the ordered supplies were delivered.
Mrs Nyamai also co-owns Ameken Petroleum Limited together with Alfred Agoi Masadia and Allan Sila Kithome.
Mr Agoi is an ANC Party MP for Sabatia Constituency in Vihiga County, and was on the same Health Committee as Mrs Nyamai, a Jubilee Party legislator. Mr Sila is a philanthropist who is campaigning for the Kitui County senate seat in the 2022 election.
Juliet Atellah at The Elephant and Finance Uncovered in the UK contributed reporting.
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