Tuesday, June 8, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

June 8, 2010

I call recall way back in Abuja Nigeria when Bill Clinton came calling. Nigerian airports and any route that the American president followed was a blockage. American marines were everywhere. Attempts to upstage the Nigeria military soldiers almost turned ugly. Nigerian soldiers almost declared war on the President’s men. The standoff was resolved somehow; I can’t remember exactly how.

A few weeks or days later, it was the turn of Clinton to give Tanzanians a piece of the action when he landed in Arusha. Local dignitaries were shunted aside like school children or political youth wingers. Even some heads of state from East Africa that were at the function were not spared either. The American marine arrogance and scorn for diplomatic niceties was in full display.

On his last leg as president of the United States of America, GW Bush made a whirlwind tour of eight African states in just ten days covering West, Central, South and East Africa. Again Tanzania and Uganda were on the cards. And as usual a stopover in Entebbe Uganda for just a few hours was good enough to disorganize the nation’s schedules of the day with unnecessarily over exaggerated security detail harassing and intimidating locals for no apparent reason.

Sometime last year, Kenya had the pleasure of hosting Hilary Clinton during the AGOA conference in Nairobi. The trade summit ended up being a nightmare for Kenya with political tirades about good governance and the fight against corruption taking center stage. During those three days of Hilary’s visit, Nairobi was a besieged city. Public places such as the Hotel Inter-continental not to mention public roads such as Parliament Road, City Hall Way and sections of Uhuru Highway were no go areas.

This scenario is what Kenyans went through this week when America’s Vice President, Joe Biden came over this week on his way to watch a football match in South Africa.

To tell you the truth, if an African visited Washington, New York or Los Angeles, many Americans would not even know there was a dignitary in town. In the first place, no American Media house, no matter how insignificant would pay attention to such a leader. Most likely most Americans would not even know which part of Africa that leader came from.

To visit American soil, no African leader would be allowed to land with military plane loads full of security men armed with AK 47 assault rifles and other deadly weapons of mass destruction. More importantly, the African leader would be met by junior American protocol officers who would determine means of transport from the airport to a downtown hotel. No American citizen would be inconvenienced by the arrival of such a dignitary and no traffic would be disrupted in his honor. Yet here, it has become our way of life when such dignitaries come calling.

Since 1998, some embassies such as the US, Israeli embassies, the British and Canadian High Commissions have erected what I would call illegal roadblocks on public roads on a 24 hour basis on major public roads in Nairobi. These barriers are manned by Kenyan police paid for by the Kenyan tax payers. For Americans, the situation has improved since they moved to Gigiri in their new fortress; they no longer erect roadblocks on public highways. However, the British High Commission and the Israeli Embassy have continued to grab Upper Hill Road and Bishop’s Road in Upper Hill parts of Nairobi to the inconvenience of motorists using these roads.

The question to ask is this: What international law allows a foreign embassy to grab a public road against the wishes of a host country? Is this allowed or is it just plain arrogance of bully nations?

When one looks at these things happening on our soil one is tempted to think of another scenario when A Ugandan, Kenyan or Tanzania embassy could erect barriers on a public road in the center of Washington DC, London or Tel Aviv to safeguard itself against any terrorists, real or imagined!

Remember the last time Muamar Gaddafi attempted to erect his tent in a public park in New York during the last UN General Assembly meeting? There were protests, demonstrations and near riots until Gaddafi abandoned the idea.

If a Kenyan embassy were to erect a barrier on a public road in the heart of Washington, DC, the first question Americans would ask themselves would be: Of what value is the Kenyan Embassy to the American people to warrant it block their public road constructed with their taxes?

The issue would not even arise!

What about a Ugandan embassy blocking a road in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? The Israeli commandos would blast it away claiming that it is a security risk and a danger to the lives of many Israelis.

Surely, our foreign friends and visitors must find a better way of dealing with us even if we are dependent on them for our daily livelihood.