KAGWANJA: Dysfunctional US diplomacy a huge risk to Kenya’s democracy - Daily Nation

Dysfunctional US diplomacy a huge risk to Kenya’s democracy

Saturday December 2 2017

Heather Nauert

US Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert. "This action is to reciprocate the Maduro regime's decision," she says. PHOTO | ALEX WROBLEWSKI | AFP 

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It is the former American Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson who famously warned that choices have consequences.

Bizarrely, the consequences of America’s choice of Donald Trump the country’s 45th president are inordinately being felt by Africans who never made the choice.

Africa has reasons to be very afraid of one of the consequences of America’s 2016 choice: Washington’s anarchic policy which has given a new lease of life to rogue diplomacy in key African cities.

The United States had earlier on congratulated President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto following their victory in the August 8 election, lauding the “dedication of candidates, officials and public for upholding a peaceful, fair and transparent contest” and calling on politicians aggrieved with the outcome to seek legal redress and stop violent demonstrations.


On November 28, it congratulated the President and his deputy upon their inauguration, routinely undertaking to strengthen and renew partnership with Kenya.

Arguably, this reflected the palpably warm relation between Presidents Trump and Kenyatta that was manifest during the G7 Summit in Italy in May.

But the statement also signals that Washington might be returning to its opposition strategy that led to frosty relations with it erstwhile East African partner before and after the March 2013 elections.

Reading through the statement, it is hard to tell who is echoing who, the US State Department or Raila Odinga’s wing of Kenya’s opposition.

In a nutshell, Washington’s statement “expressed concern over the ongoing political tensions in the country” and alleged “use of unnecessary force against citizens by security officers”, calling on Kenya’s duly elected government to hold an immediate, sustained, and open national dialogue with the opposition to heal divisions between communities.

After 123 days of election, in perhaps the world’s most protracted democratic process, Kenya has proved its mettle as a resilient liberal democracy.

It should not elude the State Department’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert that as in the US and in line with established tenets of liberal democracy, Kenyans vote not as tribes or communities.

America runs the risk of supporting the weaponisation of tribes by election losers.

Even more worrisome, from the standpoint of democratic theory and practice, Washington is preaching water and drinking wine.

Though Hillary Clinton outpaced President Donald Trump by almost three million votes, there is no call on Trump to hold dialogue with Clinton’s supporters to heal divisions between communities.

Washington’s incongruous policy reflects the now publicly acclaimed dysfunctional state of American diplomacy.

Long before the 2016 presidential election, US intellectual luminaries like Francis Fukuyama warned that the world’s largest virtual empire was staring at the abyss and plunging into political decay from within.

After the election, scholars, journalists and observers are routinely speaking of the dysfunctional state of American diplomacy, the State Department’s demise, and the hollowing out at the apex of its foreign policy orthodoxy, which have haemorrhaged the department of its best employees and diplomats.

But Kenya is its own best enemy.

For decades, it has embraced America as the shining City on the Hill.
It is now paying a heavy price for the dysfunctional State Department, which has emboldened rogue envoys in Nairobi.

Kenya has always been a safe haven for diplomats hell-bent on regime-change to achieve the twin goals of putting at the helm of state power a pliable leader and rolling back communism — and now the growing Chinese influence — in Africa.


This regime-change agenda came to a head in 2013.

Speaking to Radio Netherlands on February 6, 2014, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, made the baffling disclosure: “There were some diplomats asking me to do something more to prevent Kenyatta or Ruto to run in the elections.”

Since President Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting safari to Kenya in 1909, successive generations of America’s envoys have treated Kenya as a diplomatic equivalent of America’s wild west.

Theirs is more than a career in diplomacy but an adventure in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

After their adventures, some have written some of the most eccentric and abusive memoirs about Kenya.

Upon returning home, William Attwood, America’s first ambassador to Kenya, published his memoir The Reds and the Blacks: A Personal Adventure (1967), now outlawed.

Three decades later, Smith Hempstone, US ambassador (1989–93) published Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir (1997).

Former envoys Jonnie Carson (1999–2003) and William Mark Bellamy (2003–2006) have continued to wield outsize influence in Washington’s African policy years after they left Nairobi.


They have formed political mutually reinforcing networks with opposition leaders during their tenure to prop up their careers as experts on African Policy in Washington-based think-tanks.

Recently, the pair hosted Odinga. With the wisdom of hindsight, it is safe to say that Bellamy and Carson calculatingly invited Odinga to largely government-financed think-tanks as part of a larger scheme of mainstreaming his grievances in the US post-election Kenyan policy aimed at forcing the hand of Kenyatta to share power with their long-term friend.

The career of Hemstone’s ‘rogue ambassadors’ adept at using think tanks to influence US policy on Africa is alive and well!

In Kenya, the tail of American diplomacy is wagging the dog.

Top diplomats in Nairobi seem to be reading from their own script, exploiting the demise of the State Department to push their idiosyncratic positions on post-election Kenya to make themselves and their colleagues in Washington think-tanks relevant.

Instead of targeting opposition authoritarianism and violent protests which have bludgeoned democracy, caused deaths and injuries of innocent civilians, destroyed property and undermined the economy, America’s new generation of rogue diplomats are masters of mega-diplomacy condemning governments publicly in press conferences.

Africa is changing. The West must take to heart the words of the French President Emmanuel Macron that the new generation of Western leaders and diplomats has no business coming to tell Africans what to do.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former government adviser and currently chief executive of Africa Policy Institute.