Friday, December 3, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

December 2, 2010

Mr. Julian Assange, the 39 year old Australian maverick has suddenly become the global superstar of international politics. Blog counts rate him miles ahead of Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden.

The man’s super stroke WikiLeaks mainly on American diplomatic cables in the last 14 years have put the only world super power on the spot like never before.

Here in East Africa, Kenya features very prominently in the over 1800 cables sent from Nairobi by the American embassy officials dating back to 1996. Even though the details of what the cables say about the regimes of Moi and Kibaki are still scanty, a late night telephone call from high ranking State Department officials in Washington to Raila Odinga has muddied the waters even further in Nairobi.

The supposedly advance warning and apology from an Assistant Secretary of State for Africa to Raila Odinga the Prime Minister left Kenyans wondering why such an important and sensitive phone call was not directed to the Head of State. Or did the Americans realize that some contents of the cables would annoy the Prime Minister more?

Even though these WikiLeaks include American opinion on a good number of African leaders such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Muamar Kaddafi of Libya; in East Africa, they seem to have not touched on other East African leaders such as Presidents Jakaya Kikwete, Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame and even Sudan’s Omar El Bashir and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

Be that as it may, what are the short and long term implications of this diplomatic fiasco on American international relations around the world? Obviously a number of countries including some of America’s closest allies in Europe have not been spared. British, French, German, Russian and even Italian leaders have been mentioned in some of the most derogatory terms. But for some reason, Robert Mugabe is mentioned rather positively; even more positively than European and fellow African leaders.

Seeing reactions from South American leaders and Kenya; it is obvious the United States and especially Barack Obama’s administration will have to launch an aggressive diplomatic offensive to restore its credibility across the globe.

While South American leaders like President Chavez who have never had any kind words for their neighbor next door are celebrating the ‘nakedness of the emperor”, other leaders are stunned by the revelations.

It has slowly dawned on them that George Orwell’s prophetic 1984 novel has finally been vindicated. Big Brother has been collecting data and watching every move of each one of us for the past two decades.

The records of our leaders, terrorist groups, activists, friends and foes alike are securely stored in some American volts either at the Pentagon or at the CIA Center.

To be told that as late as 2009, the current Secretary of State ordered surveillance on every notable and politically active individual through the internet, media streams, blogs, social media such as facebook, twitter, international credit cards and travel details through frequent flyers is terrifying to say the least. It seems that most of us who fall into this category are marked individuals.

Having said that; how did the only country in East Africa that is in the list of shame react? The reaction was fast and furious from Kenya’s Government Spokesman. And it went beyond the WikiLeaks potentially damaging content that is yet to be released. He threw in the US $ 47 million Youth Fund which the American Ambassador in Nairobi, Michael Ranneberger has been going around distributing to empower the youth economically and political. The fund is incidentally called “Yes the Youth Can”, possibly in line with Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan, “Yes We Can”.

In the opinion of the Kenya Government Spokesman, he could see a direct link between the WikiLeaks contents on Kenya and Rannneberger’s involvement with the youth of Kenya. Without mincing any words, the spokesman stated that what the US was doing with its Youth Fund was to undermine the democratically elected government so that the young people of Kenya can rebel against their government. This interpretation came on the backdrop that WikiLeaks memos on Kenya indicated that Washington had low opinion of the Coalition partners and that Kenya was wallowing in endless corruption.

Watching television footages of this reaction, one wondered aloud if the Kenyan reaction had come rather prematurely since no contents had been made public to warrant measured response. More importantly, would it not have been proper to deal with this explosive issue much more diplomatically than through the press? Wouldn’t the response have carried more weight if the Cabinet convened a special sitting, discussed the issue, took a stand then detailed the Foreign Minister to summon the American Ambassador for a closed door reprimand then issue an official statement on the same?

Whichever way one looks at it, this Julian Assange man has got the world talking.