Kenya: Technical Failures to Commun’cate and Do the Math, Preliminary Notes

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A high number of dead people are still in the [voter] register. The main reason for this being that the Department of Civil Registration is not computerized and often relies on the provincial administration (chiefs and assistant chiefs at the location and sub-location level) which often do not supply the department with information on deaths. In the media it was reported that this could be more than 1,000,000 dead people.Joint report of the EU observer mission and K-DOP on the 2002 elections (PDF)

The KNCHR is disturbed by the escalating use of SMS and email disseminating hate messages against particular candidates and other communities. The KNCHR has chosen not to publish, in this report, the numerous emails and SMS texts so as to avoid the unintended effect of further dissemination of hate speech. ––Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights report, December 2007 (PDF)

No high-minded man, no man of right feeling, can contemplate the lumbering and slovenly lying of the present day without grieving to see a noble art so prostituted –Mark Twain, “The Decay in the Art of Lying”

The Kenyan elections offer an opportunity to reality-test the “rhetoric of the technology sublime in postmodern technology PR” as it applies to relatively simple, but mass-scale, beancounting and institutional communications problems.

Is this one of those tech Big Digs that have collapsed into smoking craters?

A USAID press release from 2002 — “USAID assistance lauded for role in Kenya’s landmark transition: Untold tales of pre-election fears and how USAID assisted” — takes credit for equipping the Elections Commission of Kenya with a modern communications network in order to increase the efficiency and reliability of future Kenyan elections.

An assessment of ECK’s communications and networks system by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) in February 2002, revealed that 2,350 polling stations did not have a communication system. As a result, USAID and ECK agreed on a work plan to provide IT equipment and a fax machine to each District Office and Returning Officer Offices, while satellite phones to offices with no reliable telephone lines.

Very well, then: 2,350 polling stations lack communications systems.

“What we have here — is failure to commun’cate.”

How does USAID address the problem?

To start with, by equipping a hundred or so field offices, and the ECK’s Nairobi headquarters, with communications systems:

A total of $1,038,774 worth of communications network was provided viz. 100 computers, 100 UPSs, 80 printers, 158 fax machines and 111 Motorola satellite phones, significantly increasing the capacity of the ECK to administer the elections and provide secure communications and transit of ballots and electoral results between field offices and the Nairobi headquarters. “…although the system was not used to its full capacity…we have no doubt that future elections will be conducted more efficiently and securely..” says Commissioner Jack Tumwa.

The Kenyan elections this year are being widely characterized, by a number of different observers, as a jaw-dropping and systematic failure to count the beans (ballots) accurately and reliably. The results that transited securely through his network appear to have been phonier than the European War in 1939.

For a draft-quality, back of the envelope estimate of how phony they were, see

Also reported: catastrophic failures to communicate — including reports of failures of technical systems, like the electricity supply to the field offices.

ECK commissioners were reporting that field office administrators had simply turned their cell phones off. Which may actually count as a refusal to communicate rather than a technical failure.

“Democratizing” technology, and the SMS network in particular, was touted and hyped in advance of the polls by all and sundry. I want to try to document that for you.

But now, the de facto Kenyan government is issuing strident warnings about the “dark side” of the same technology used to communicate elections results.

Over the same network, as far as I know, but I am looking into that. See

Why, then, did your tax dollars apparently get spent on solutions to problems of accurate beancounting and “failures to commun’cate” that apparently did not resolve these problems in the intervening five years?

  1. What did they get spent on? With whom?
  2. Who prognosticated technological fixes as magical solutions to elections ineffiencies? And why did their prognostications fail?

To start working on (1), then: What additional “assistance” was offered to the Kenyan elections commission in this area in the intervening years? USAID budget reports seem to be the natural place to start. From 2007:

Promote and Support Credible Elections Processes ($448,200 DA; $2,425,000 ESF). USAID provides technical assistance, commodities, and training to the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). USAID anticipates supporting domestic and international observations, including training for both party agents and domestic observers, allowing them to assess whether the presidential and parliamentary elections are non-violent, transparent, and competitive. USAID further anticipates monitoring media bias in the run up to the 2007 elections. Principal contractors and grantees: ECK, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), local CSOs (primes).

I am going to need to get up to speed on government alphabet soup here. What is a CSO, for example?

  1. Customer Support Office
  2. Central Services Organization
  3. Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
  4. Concours de Saut d’Obstacle (France)
  5. Computer Security Officer
  6. Corporate Social Opportunity
  7. Catholics Speak Out
  8. Centre Social Okupat
  9. Connecticut Southern (railroad)
  10. Customer Support Office
  11. Chief Signal Officer
  12. Christian Science Organization
  13. Court Services Officer
  14. Child Support Officer
  15. Chief Solutions Officer (corporate title)
  16. Citizens Support Organization

I am guessing (16), and possibly (12). (Actually, it stands for Civil Society Organizations. Can I get a list, please?)

I wonder if any (11)s and (5)s were part of this training process, though?

At any rate, as to the programs funded: Was any media bias monitoring delivered? Where are the deliverables? Can I get a copy of this taxpayer-funded work product?

And also:

Promote and Support Credible Elections Processes ($460,200 DA; $1,455,000 ESF). USAID will continue to support local election observers, political party agents, and strengthening the ECK. Principal contractors and grantees: Same as FY 2006.

Gathering previous budget reports. Processing.

Okay, so, who were the “previous grantees” for 2006? The same as the ones for 2005 for governance and anti-corruption?

FY 2005 Program: Promote and Support Anti-Corruption Reforms ($400,000 DA; $2,778,000 ESF). USAID will continue to support the institutionalization, capacity building and training for key Government of Kenya (GOK) anti-corruption entities, including the Department of Governance and Ethics, the Department of Public Prosecutions, and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission. USAID will assist in strengthening a Public Complaints Unit, conducting the baseline survey for the National Anti-Corruption Campaign, and establishing an Asset Recovery Program. Principal contractors and grantees: the Office of the President, the Attorney General, and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.

In other news, Fox News is hired to cover the race for the Hen House — the presidential palace of the Republic of Freedonia — Rufus T. Firefly presiding.

That was a gratuitous quip, by the way. I do not actually know that. I am engaging in boneheaded Mainardism there. Ignore it.

But I would seriously like to rule the underlying hypothesis in or out. Because this was after the Githongo Report, right? See

Support and Promote Free and Fair Elections ($700,000 DA; $350,000 ESF). USAID will continue to support the institutionalization, capacity building and training for the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). Technical assistance will support the computerization of the Procurement and Supplies Department. The Research Division will be linked to web sites providing information on election legislation, election management, polling/counting technology, electronic voting, new electoral technology, reporting and results programs, advance voting and voting abroad concepts. A digital ID system software will be purchased and installed. Assistance will also support the implementation of the ECK’s restructuring plan, further strengthening logistics capacity and local ballot printing, and accelerating the transmission and display of results. USAID will also support an assessment of the electoral environment in preparation for the 2007 national elections. Principal contractors and grantees: International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES).

Note to self: Take IFES news updates on the situation with a grain of salt.

They got money to help fix the problem.

The problem seems not to have gotten fixed.

They may not know what the hell they are doing. Or, worse, they may.

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1101 15th Street NW, Third Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005

Same address as

  1. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  2. International Forum for Democratic Studies, National Endowment for Democracy
  3. National Board of Public Health Examiners
  4. Youth Services America
  5. National Black Child Development
  6. Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates, PC
  7. The Democracy Promoters Network
  8. The National Association of Margarine Manufacturers

None of which necessarily means anything, of course. Just another D.C. office block crammed with lobbyists, public servants and philanthropreneurs.

IFES had reported success in 2003 by-elections, writing:

The communications network has assisted the Commission in its general operations and in results reporting. In May 2003, the ECK used the equipment successfully in the collation and transmission of results in three by-elections in the Naivasha, Wajir West and Yatta constituencies. The by-elections served as an opportunity for IFES and the ECK to improve the performance of the communication network used during the December 2002 presidential elections. The use of satellite phones improved communication between poll workers and the computerized tabulation of votes enabled election results to be announced the same day. Overall, the equipment has greatly improved communication and efficiency between the ECK headquarters and its district offices.


Improper Payments: Weaknesses in USAID’s and NASA’s Implementation of the Improper Payments Information Act and Recovery Auditing –GAO-08-77 November 9, 2007

Relevant? Studying …

U.S. strategic communication efforts are supported by media and audience research efforts conducted by the State Department (State), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Department of Defense (DOD), and Open Source Center (OSC). GAO examined (1) how research is used to support U.S. strategic communication objectives; and (2) how agencies identify end-user needs, assess end-user satisfaction, and share available research. GAO examined program documents and met with key officials. … U.S. government agencies conducting research on foreign audiences currently do not have systematic processes in place to assess end-user needs or satisfaction pertaining to research products, or to coordinate or share research. … State Department Faces Challenges in Using Research Strategically …

U.S. Public Diplomacy: Actions Needed to Improve Strategic Use and Coordination of Research GAO-07-904 July 18, 2007

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Was the taxpayer-funded gazillion-jigawatt megaphone fair® and balanced®? “Balance and access” in KBC election coverage on the state-owned boob tube — a BBC 2.0 “content alliance.” From right to left: PNU (Kibaki), ODM (Odinga) … Source: EU EOM Kenya 2007.


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