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General has no regrets over his ‘respect’ diplomacy

Saturday August 18 2012

By MURITHI MUTIGA [email protected]

As President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Maj-Gen Scott Gration found himself at odds with some senior officials in the administration over the politically delicate self-determination referendum on the fate of South Sudan.

Gration’s position was that it was impossible to guarantee a successful referendum without engaging both Khartoum and Juba.
He won this argument and was vindicated when the historic referendum ended peacefully and successfully with the breakaway of the South.

“It’s nice to have ideals,” he says. “But you also must get results. If you say I won’t talk to Khartoum then how do you end the war. How do you resolve the stalemate. Sometimes you have to negotiate. I needed to get a peaceful referendum. The process is important but sometimes the result is the most critical aspect.”

This is the same approach he brought to Kenya, a posting both he and his wife described as their “dream assignment”. His style was notably different from that of some of his more publicly aggressive predecessors.

“I believe it is better to build relationships than to talk at each other in newspapers. I am an outcome based person. You will not trust me simply because I am an ambassador. You trust me because you can rely on me to tell you the truth. I feel you should negotiate from a position of respect. Friends don’t embarrass friends. I speak privately on many issues and when necessary I speak publicly as I did after the disruption of the Limuru 2B meeting.”

Perhaps informed by his experiences working in mission hospitals on the continent, Mr Gration focused heavily on support for health care, especially assistance targeted at improving child mortality.

His other key project involved arrangements for direct flights between the US and Kenya. One of the notable hallmarks of his time in Nairobi was the number of CEOs of top American companies he brought to the country in a push for more investment.

Some of these included the heads of Visa Inc, Coca Cola, Dow Chemical Company, General Electric and several others.

“I’m bullish on Kenya,” he says. “If we can get through this election we can take four per cent growth and we can make it a minimum of seven per cent. This will be a great nation.”

Unfortunately, despite seeming like the perfect man for the job in Nairobi, things did not work out perfectly at the embassy.

Mr Gration dismisses as “silliness” media reports describing various theories as to why he resigned his post.

A report by the Inspector General of the State Department had recorded that Mr Gration had difficult relations with some of his staff. Asked about the circumstances surrounding his exit Mr Gration said: “Let me be clear that I have never done anything illegal, immoral or unethical. I have been accused of rocking the boat. But I have had no disagreements on policy with the State Department. We have had disagreements on priorities and style.”

Despite his abrupt exit from his job Mr Gration remains an admirer of President Obama and says he hopes to return soon to Kenya.

“We love this country. I and Judy will come back to serve here in any way that helps the local economy without violating the rules that govern former ambassadors,” he said, closing the interview as his wife dissolved into tears.