Return of an old Kenya hand
Posted Sunday, February 24 2013 at 02:00
- The State Department in Washington will certainly be hoping he brings a steady hand to the Nairobi Embassy, which has become something of a revolving door in recent times. Mr Godec becomes the third ambassador the country has had in the space of three years and the fifth to serve in Nairobi in the 10 years in which President Kibaki has been in charge
- Mr Godec would not be drawn into the possible “consequences” of the election of the Jubilee ticket of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto who have been indicted at the ICC. He said the choice of who would be president was up to the Kenyan people
- Mr Godec, a keen amateur marathoner, sailed through his Senate confirmation hearings in Washington, where the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Mr Chris Coons, described him as a “smart choice” to lead the biggest US embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa
Early in the morning on August 7, 1998, Robert F Godec and his wife drove out of Nairobi heading for what they hoped would be a relaxing day out at the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage.
Not long after they left the city centre, Mr Godec received a shocking phone call. Bombers had struck the US embassy.
He turned the car around and returned to a scene of utter carnage. The embassy in the bustling heart of the city next to the Railway matatu terminus had been brought to the ground by the force of the blast.
It was a scene of utter devastation as rescuers desperately worked through the rubble to save hundreds of victims who had been caught up in the attack.
For many around the world, the first reaction was one of shock. Few had heard of Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda before the midday attack in Nairobi that claimed 212 lives and injured an estimated 4,000.
For Mr Godec and his wife, Lori Magnusson, the distress was personal.
Mr Godec was Economic Counsellor at the embassy while his wife was in charge of the human resources department.
“It was awful. The most awful day for me personally. I lost so many friends, so many colleagues; people I had hired. It was devastating for Lori because every person on her staff was killed except one woman who survived because she was in a different part of the building and another one who was badly injured,” Mr Godec recalls.
It was a soul-searing experience for all involved. But the incident helped deepen Mr Godec’s relationship with Kenya in a way few other events ever could.
“In the days after the attack one was overwhelmed by a sense of shock, horror, sadness and a tremendous desire to help Kenya recover. There was a profound sense of gratitude to the Kenyan people for their response to an awful event. Kenya and the US have had 50 years of friendship. And sometimes terrible things can bring people closer together. I am happy both Kenya and the US recovered and our engagement is greater than it ever was before this incident.”
Mr Godec was nominated by President Obama to take over as ambassador to Kenya last September.
He is what, in diplomatic circles, would be described as an “old Kenya hand” due to his previous stint in the region.
The State Department in Washington will certainly be hoping he brings a steady hand to the Nairobi Embassy, which has become something of a revolving door in recent times. Mr Godec becomes the third ambassador the country has had in the space of three years and the fifth to serve in Nairobi in the 10 years in which President Kibaki has been in charge.
In his first interview with the Sunday Nation on Wednesday, the career diplomat said he was glad to be back.
“As a diplomat, people always ask what your favourite posting was. The standard answer is that there is something you liked about each posting. But for me and my wife I have to say Kenya is immensely special. It is our favourite. Kenyans are a great people, a very warm people. It is great to be back here, to listen to Kenyans and to work with them to address some of the challenges they face.”
The seeds of Mr Godec’s journey to the world of diplomacy were sown at a tender age.
He was born into a military family in Illinois, a state in the Midwest of America, in 1956. His parents constantly moved house due to work, instilling in him a sense of curiosity.