Schaake MEP’s conflicts of interest raise questions about her role in EU Observation Mission to Kenya

By Eric Omondi

When Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake said “Making compromises is not sexy but it’s the bedrock of democracy” she was speaking of politics in her own country. But today as she debates in the European Parliament the politics of another country, in her role as head of last year’s EU Observation Mission to the October 2017 Election in Kenya, we won’t hear comprise – but the words of a deeply compromised individual.

This is a tragedy – both for the EU and for Kenya – as it means even if the conclusions of her report were accurate or justified, their validity is in question.

Ms. Schaake is conflicted both by past opinions she has expressed regarding Kenya, and by her political party’s connections. In the EU Parliament, her criticism of the current government of Kenya puts in doubt her neutrality in leading an election observation mission.This is unfortunate but on its own, perhaps, may not be considered reason to judge her as incompatible with her mission.

However, the same cannot be said of the close political links held by her political party D66 and Kenyan political parties that were competing in the last elections. Along with another Dutch liberal party, VVD, the D66 are members of Liberal International – an association of liberal parties across the world. So is the Orange Democratic Movement of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga. In fact, along with Alexander Pechtold, the leader of Ms. Schaake’s D66 party, Odinga is one of the Liberal International’s Vice Presidents.

In April 2017, just weeks before Kenya’s August polls, D66 was a main supporter and sponsor for the annual conference of the African Liberal Network (ALN). This is a sub-group of Liberal International for liberal parties from Africa. The event was held in Nairobi, with ODM as hosts.

At the ALN conference, D66 provided election campaign training to delegates from African political parties, including a session entitled “Liberals in Cooperation: Coalitions, Negotiations and Democratic Collaboration”. Whether or not that seminar was prescient or coincidence, the preliminary statement issued by Ms. Schaake’s EOM in the dates immediately after Kenya’s October election called for “political leaders to take up their responsibility and find a way out of the impasse through direct talks at the highest level”.

This would seem unnecessary when the election was won by President Uhuru Kenyatta, with Mr Odinga as runner-up, and described in the EOM’s final report as “generally well conducted” and with an absolute majority of votes. This result would create no expectations anywhere else in the world that a negotiation is necessary.

Even if the final report’s recommendation that Kenya needs to “address deep-rooted structural issues of exclusion and the ‘winner takes-all’ system of government” was implemented, there is no existing electoral system that would call for Kenya’s election result to lead to the “Coalitions, Negotiations and Democratic Collaboration” the D66 advised on at the ALN conference.

Another item of questionable neutrality can be seen in one of resolutions passed at the ALN Nairobi event in support of the ICC, headquartered at The Hague, Holland’s seat of government.

When many of the institutions that dispense global justice are based in Holland it may be no surprise such a conference sponsored by a Dutch political party passes a motion to support one of them. However, to do so at an event in Kenya where ODM are hosts is different.

Raila Odinga was amongst the leading voices in support of taking cases to the ICC after the 2007-8 ballots. Amongst the individuals indicted by the ICC were Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, currently Kenya’s President and Deputy President – and Mr. Odinga’s main opponents in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

Ms. Schaake has regularly demonstrated her support for the ICC at the EU, hosting events for an informal group of EU parliamentarians, “Friends of the ICC”, of which she is a leading member.

But she has also voiced opinions regarding the ICC that demonstrate her lack of neutrality specific to Kenya. In 2015, in the parliamentary chamber, she condemned President Kenyatta for not arresting and extraditing another African president wanted by the ICC when visiting Kenya for an African Union summit.

This might demonstrate Ms. Schaake’s deep interest and concern for the ICC, Kenya and Africa. However, there are 751 members of the European Parliament, with many clearly qualified to have led the EOM mission, and without any questions as to their neutrality towards one side of Kenyan politics.

Similarly, there are 683 MEPs that are not members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – the European chapter of Liberal International – of which Ms. Schaake’s D66 is part. When Mr. Odinga’s ODM is the only Kenyan political party that holds membership of the same international political club, this makes any MEP from D66 and ALDE conflicted by association.

And judging others according to their political associations is something Ms Schaake has done herself, especially regarding Kenya. Last December she tweeted: “Texas Media Company hired by Trump created Kenyan president’s viral ‘anonymous’ attack campaign against rival, new investigation reveals”.

When she speaks in the European Parliament this week, perhaps Ms. Schaake can provide conclusive evidence that she is not so compromised – and neither is her Kenya EOM report – despite her own words and the political company she keeps.

Eric Omondi.
Expert in International Relations.

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