MAGUTT: America could be the main loser in the diplomatic spat - Daily Nation

America could be the main loser in the diplomatic spat

Wednesday September 30 2009


THE ROW BETWEEN KENYA and the United States which prompted President Kibaki to write a protest letter to Washington citing lack of respect and breach of protocol has put into focus the man entrusted with representing the US here.

Ambassador Michael Ranneberger has been accused of misleading President Barack Obama on local reforms. As the highest ranking diplomat representing the American head of State, there are allegations that he is merely engaged in peddling vested interests.

It will be noted, however, that Kenya has in the recent past enjoyed subtly vibrant diplomatic relations with the US when cool heads and well-mannered ambassadors represented Washington.

This was during the tenure of Aurelia Brazil, Prudence Bushnell, William Bellamy and Johnnie Carson, who is now the assistant Secretary of State in charge of African affairs and signatory to the controversial letters to leading Kenyan officials.

MR RANNEBERGER HAS DISTINGUI-shed himself as a gadfly to this administration. One cannot help comparing his tenure with that of Smith Hempstone who went to undiplomatic lengths to undermine the Moi regime.

But questions should be asked as to why the US is interminably engaged in double-speak and double standards. Why did Obama choose to visit Egypt on his maiden trip to Africa as US president?

Egypt is indisputably one of the headquarters of dictatorship in Africa. President Obama even had the moral courage to hold a private meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.

It is also disturbing that President Obama has no qualms about trafficking with quintessential despots in the Middle East, whose leaders have an aversion for the word democracy.

It is this Janus-face by his administration that is annoying many Kenyans.

President Obama has decried rampant corruption, high-octane tribalism, bad governance and the big man syndrome, as being the bane of this continent. This underscores why democracy and good governance informs the core of his administration’s policy towards Africa.

But his fixation with democracy can be challenged. How does he explain the fact that in Rwanda, a one-man governance style is succeeding in the fight against corruption and has made important strides in meeting the Millennium Development Goals?

Similarly it will be noted that, the so-called Asian Tigers that he frequently cites as success models for Africa were buoyed by strong and visionary leadership as opposed to abstract democracy.

In fact, the reason why China is doing well in Africa today is because of its commitment to relationships based on mutual respect, partnership and the language of trade and investment.

This is diametrically opposite the empty harangues about democracy and such other abstractions from the West as fronted by the US and Britain.

Today if you land on any corner of Africa, you are bound to meet a Chinese either engaged in road construction, mining, oil exploration, or building stadiums. These are things that ordinary people identify with because they affect their lives directly. And it is the reason why China is taking over Africa.

If you connect the dots, the biggest loser in the whole diplomatic row could easily turn out to be the US, should Kenya decide to retaliate.

Why? First, the US is alienating a historically strong and reliable ally in the region. This may make other allies in the region think twice about dealing with Uncle Sam.

Two, the tough love stance towards Kenya which has apparently become Obama’s modus operandi is slowly generating public resentment and may diminish the awe and respect for President Obama.

His ancestral roots aside, he may be losing the reverence accorded him by many Kenyans.

THREE, THIS MAY EMBOLDEN AL- Shabaab extremists to flex their muscle in the region on the understanding that the injured relations between the two countries will constrain intelligence gathering apropos their terrorist activities.

So far, Kenya is the only country in this region to have proffered its courts for administering justice to the pirates, making itself a prime target for revenge acts of terrorism.

Four, Kenya may fully turn to other friendly nations such as China that have less time for mechanical and imperialistic tendencies.

Five, democratic gains could be rendered nugatory if the country is enraged by the actions taken by the US. The public may overlook their problems and gang up against the new “common enemy”.

Mr Magutt is a political scientist and founder of Big Ideas International, a think-tank domiciled in Nairobi. ([email protected])