By OSCAR OBONYO, Daily Nation, 10/08/2017
The visa card ban that US ambassador Robert Godec is waving in the face of Kenyan politicians, who advocate violence and spread hate speech, is the same one that one of his forerunners, Michael Ranneberger, employed with a fair amount of success to calm tempers following the post-election violence of 2007.
Then, the US ambassador had the full backing of the international community to restore peace and order following a highly disputed and discredited presidential poll that sparked bloody chaos leading to loss of lives and destruction of property.
To promote peace and foster constitutional reforms, President Barack Obama through his advisor on African Affairs Johnnie Carson, issued travel ban threats to 15 top government officials including, then Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet ministers William Ruto, John Michuki, Franlin Bett, Mutula Kilonzo, George Saitoti, Attorney General Amos Wako and Head of Civil Service, Francis Muthaura. Also put on watch were joint parliamentary chief whips, Jakoyo Midiwo and George Thuo.
The letters to the officials indicated that their future relationship with the US would be directly tied to “your support for the implementation for the reform agenda and opposition to the use of violence.”
But in the same fashion with which Siaya senator James Orengo has laughed off at the Godec threat, the then PNU and ODM perceived hard-liners pointed out they were not enthusiastic to visit the US.
Today’s grandstanding by allies of Mr Kenyatta, who is now President, and his main challenger Mr Odinga has similarly raised political temperatures and fears of recurrence of poll chaos, hence the swift reaction by Godec and 14 other envoys from the western community.
The visa ban threats by the envoys have ignited hostile reactions by the political class and the general public through angry posts on social media.
A seething Siaya County Senator and Nasa lead counsel Mr Orengo, said they would not give in to blackmail by foreign envoys to halt their anti-Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission demos.
“We are not very enthusiastic about going to the United States of America. The diplomats have overstepped their mandate, our sovereignty cannot be surrendered to anyone,” said Mr Orengo.
Jubilee legislators similarly tore into the diplomats’ move warning them against meddling into Kenyan affairs. They defended their decision to alter electoral rules arguing that “extra ordinary’’ situations the country finds itself in after the nullification of the presidential poll demanded such a drastic move.
In a statement read by Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, the MPs said the opposition took the electoral agency to court several times just before the August poll and the diplomats did not raise any concern:
“We would have been happy for the distinguished diplomats to note that the international best practices do not have to subscribe to Nasa’s politics of provocation and threat,” he added.
The defiance by Jubilee and Nasa politicians notwithstanding, a conflict resolution and peace-building expert, Dr George Katete, explains the envoys are neither acting out of step nor on their own: “We already have a crisis which requires urgent intervention and the ambassadors, who are keen on ensuring there is peace in Kenya and who are guided by the realist actuality of protecting interests of their powerful nations, have moved in to demonstrate their intent to address the matter.”
Analysing the language used by the envoys as neither cajoling nor pleading (with the Jubilee and Nasa camps), Dr Katete says the envoys are diplomatic but firm on their demands: “It is a carrot and stick strategy meant to sweet-talk but at the same time whip the Kenyan political class into action with a view to avoid a possible escalation of the political impasse.”
This type of intervention is managerial – the first phase in a conflict resolution effort. It is ordinarily executed by a powerful “big brother” and is geared at realising immediate tranquility and other related short-term gains.
However in the current case, Dr Katete who teaches at the University of Nairobi observes that Godec and team may be facing a credibility crisis as negotiators, hence the hostility towards their initiative.
“Having rushed to side with the electoral body and by extension the Jubilee party after the August polls that the presidential poll was free and fair, it is understandable why Nasa would have reservations on Godec and team as neutral arbiters. The perception that a negotiator has a leaning towards one side is enough to polarise and frustrate a negotiation process,” observes Dr Katete.
In their joint statement, after meeting officials of IEBC this week, the envoys tried to strike a balancing in apportioning blame and issuing threats. They were specifically critical of Jubilee’s attempts to make changes to electoral laws, just days to the repeat poll and similarly lashed at Nasa’s demands for staff changes at the electoral body a few days to the polls.
“It is international best practice not to make changes to electoral laws without broad political agreement. If everyone were to agree on changes that needed to be made, that would be fine but at the moment, we would encourage everyone to look at international best practice and work together to bring the election and make it free and fair,” said the envoys in a statement read by Godec.
The tale of hard positions taken on Kenyan leaders did not begin with Godec or Ranneberger. It has been the strategy of the west over the decades to compel successive governments into embracing political pluralism, good governance and shunning economic crimes.
Many, for instance, still recall vividly the stinging speech by UK High Commissioner Edward Clay in 2004 against corruption. He dramatically hit out at top officers in the Mwai Kibaki administration for their arrogance, greed and desperate sense of panic leading them to eat like gluttons: “They may expect we shall not see, or notice, or will forgive them a bit of gluttony because they profess to like Oxfam lunches. But they can hardly expect us not to care when their gluttony causes them to vomit all over our shoes.”
This blunt attack by Clay attracted the ire of Members of Parliament, who protested publicly and even rallied the UK government to recall him. Ranneberger attracted similar reaction after WikiLeaks released a January 2010 cable in which he allegedly said that President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are among the political elite who “benefit from and support impunity.”
But it is the arrogance with which Ranneberger publicly snubbed a government minister, Dr Newton Kulundu (Labour), that irked Kenyans and government officials most. Speaking at an event he presided over, and attended by the US envoy, Kulundu unleashed scathing attacks at the US and UK terming them the greatest violators of human rights. Upon completing his speech, he extended his hand to greet Ranneberger, who declined to shake the minister’s hand.
But the biggest bully of them all was Smith Hempstone, who served as ambassador between 1989 and 1993. Hempstone was in the country at a time of heightened crusades and political activism in the push for political pluralism. He was fearless, frank and combative and openly shielded opposition politicians against persecution by the state and there is no denying that the ‘nyama –choma” ambassador, as he was derogatively referred to by officers in the Daniel arap Moi government because of socialising with common citizens, contributed immensely to Kenya’s constitutional reform progress.