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Godec missed golden opportunity to address a poignant matter

Saturday October 28 2017

Robert Godec

American Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec leads other diplomats during a press conference at Radisson Blue in Nairobi on October 23,2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 


Watching Ambassador Robert Godec recently read a statement on the Kenyan elections would have made a skilled ballerina on Broadway cringe in pain.

He tried desperately to steer the middle road between Jubilee and the National Super Alliance but, in the end, satisfied neither.

His ambiguous statement on the elections held on Thursday gives comfort to reactionary forces determined to maintain a perpetual state of constitutional authoritarianism: a condition where brutal authoritarianism is legitimised in the name of the constitution.

His statement on the election weakens the fight for Kenyan democracy.


As my ambassador in Kenya, I expected Mr Godec to champion the cause of democracy because he read the statement as the leader of the collection of over 20 ambassadors and high commissioners.


One of the key issues I thought he would address was the flight of a Kenyan-American whose only crime was to champion the cause for a free, open and credible election.

Fearing for her life, Dr Roselyn Akombe fled back to New York where she previously worked with the United Nations.

I imagined that the ambassador might condemn the intimidation and threats on an American citizen and engage the government on investigating the threats to her life and those of her brother who has also been forced out of the country.


These actions are ruinous to Kenya’s image abroad.

According to data released by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), America has overtaken the United Kingdom as the top tourist source market to Kenya.

If American citizens are intimidated in this way, it sends a poor message for the country in the United States where every negative story from Kenya gains more news coverage than the many positive things happening in the country.

More broadly, it reinforces the perception in America that Kenya is another African country where there is disdain for democracy.


Secondly, the killing of Chris Msando is still a mystery.

Kenya has a long history of unsolved political murders that have had a chilling effect on free speech, transparent institutions and democratic ideals.

A word from Mr Godec on this case specifically asking the Inspector-General of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General’s offices to provide the public with an update on the investigations they are conducting would have helped the cause of democratisation.

It would hold these public servants to account for the execution of an innocent Kenyan public official.

I think the ambassador should have been a lot more forceful and demanding of public communication from the government to what is happening with Msando’s case.


His family, the Kenyan public and lovers of democracy demand his killers be brought to justice.

Aside from the threats to life and limb, the structural impediments to a credible election are still in place.

The IEBC has not done enough to ensure a free, fair and credible election.

The electoral commission continues to be in defiance of a court order to allow an investigation of its computerised systems that transmitted the election results for the August 8 election.

This defiance goes against international norms for transparency and respect for the rule of law.


Without an investigation of this system of transmission of results, a re-run election will lead to the same disputed results and possible court nullification.

The IEBC’s defiance of the court order leaves many wondering what exactly the commission is hiding.

Mr Godec missed a golden opportunity to provide leadership on this poignant matter.

Ambassador Godec’s ballerina act played skilfully to a middle road strategy.

Not wanting to antagonise the government and not wanting to appear to be endorsing the opposition. In the end he did neither.


He further reinforced the perception that America and the West are all talk about democratisation in Kenya with no action.

There is no way a free, fair and credible election could be conducted on October 26 under an environment of fear and intimidation.

President Kenyatta’s win will raise legitimacy issues.

This will only reinforce the constitutional authoritarianism prevalent for much of Kenya’s post-independence history.

It appears my ambassador was too weak to speak truth to power.


The writer is a lecturer in the Political Science Department, City University of New York