Thursday, October 29, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
October 29, 2009

Let us face the reality of the situation here rather than burry our heads in the sand. Ties between Kenya and the USA run deep; deeper than the present generation may ever know. If Tom Mboya and JF Kennedy were alive today, they would be baffled by the current brick bats the two friendly countries keep throwing at each other. In fact one can be brave to add that the Democratic president of the United States then, JF Kennedy was the power behind the airlift that cemented the relationships between the two countries. Ironically, Barack Obama, the current Democratic president 50 years later and a product of that era, has been forced to deal with this souring relationship with the land of his forefathers.

Is the US bullying Kenya? Yes, indeed it is bullying Kenya in the method it has chosen to deliver its message. Yes, Kenyans need reforms like yesterday. Yes, Kenyan leaders have been a letdown in the department of democracy and good governance in the last 46 years of independence. Yes, Kenyan leaders have let us down big time and for a long time.

However, part of that blame must be shared by several American administrations since 1963. If it had not turned a blind eye to the excesses of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi for four decades, we would today not be talking of reforms.

The Cold War era blinded Americans and the rest of the Western world to the cruelties of African dictators such as Jomo Kenyatta, Mobutu Seseseko, Kamuzu Banda, apartheid South Africa and numerous generals in Africa as long as they could support America and the West in the fight against Communism. This talk of democracy and good governance we hear about just started the other day when the Soviet Union and Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. I can bet my last coin that had the USSR lasted to this day, dictators in Africa would still be having a field day.

Personally I would love our reforms to be fast-tracked so that we get down to the business of rebuilding this country. We have been at it for too long for our comfort. What we want our friends from the USA and the European Union to do is to try a different approach in helping us accelerate reforms because the current approaches and their messengers are wrong and repulsive to Kenyans who want reforms but at the same time are proud of their country.

If America is really a friend of Kenya and is keen on helping this country get the reforms in needs, then there must be a change of guard at the American Embassy in Nairobi because it is now obvious the current one has soured his relations with the regime it is supposed to deal with. If Michael Ranneberger doesn’t get it, this regime stopped listening to him a long time ago. Therefore if he still feels that he is the man to deliver ultimatums and tantrums, he has only one recourse left to him; resort to brute force to get things done!

Looking at America’s recent history of dealing with countries it considers as rogue regimes, there are plenty of cases where its diplomacy failed and it resorted to brute force. We can cite Vietnam, Korea, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, in all these countries cited so far, brute force never yielded the desired results for America. If anything, the outcome has been detrimental to its image internationally. This is the reason it is embroiled in a costly and never ending war in Iraq and Afghanistan where it routed for regime change. If brute force could sort out America’s enemies, we would today not have North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba still picketing at it over several international issues.

There is a good reason why America should force reforms in Kenya using a different strategy and a different set of players. First is the issue of players. Right now
Johnnie Carson and Michael Ranneberger may not be the right guys to execute reforms. They have been here long enough to know that they have lost respect of many Kenyans except perhaps for a few cheerleaders from the civil society. Their arrogance has put off many reformists that once supported our reform agenda. You cannot reform people by abusing and insulting them. It just doesn’t work anywhere.

If Barack Obama truly wants to accelerate reforms in Kenya, let him work with truly seasoned and resolute diplomats in Kofi Annan and Graca Machel to bring about the change Kenyans can believe in.

In the few years that the two eminent Africans have engaged with the political, civil society and the business community in Kenya, they have come to know the country like the back of their hands. They are adept at backroom diplomacy as opposed to the American”rooftop” format that ridicules rather than enhances its image locally.

More importantly, America cannot afford to alienate Kenya at a time when its enemy number one, the Al Qaida are encroaching into the Horn of Africa through the Al Shabbab militia in Somalia , not to mention the lawless pirates in the Gulf of Eden.
When there is a common enemy to fight, it is pointless and even dangerous for allies to start quarreling among themselves.

That is the way it is.