By MACHARIA KAMAU
That Amb. Mark Bellamy and Amb. Johnnie Carson are accomplished US diplomats is not in doubt. It may also be assumed that their relationship with Kenya as former Ambassadors in Nairobi gives them a more than average understanding of Kenya’s politics, economy and even social aspects. But the article by the two gentlemen published online on February 22, 2018, in which they call for US intervention in Kenya is a clear demonstration of how preconceived notions and stereotypes about Africa by Western technocrats, override any practical experience and knowledge they may have acquired in the continent. Their knack for getting it wrong on African and Kenyan issues is not only dumbfounding but also a demonstration of why desk research on Africa, with the only source of information being a biased western media, should be treated with disdain.
The authors seem to revel in misinforming their readers not only on the existing situation but also on the events that unfolded during Kenya’s election cycle in 2017. They talk of political chaos and possible intercommunal violence and a palpable desire to change this trajectory. They even mourn that attempts by western governments to appeal for calm are not being heeded. The reader will note how the authors are keen to weave the now familiar narrative of a crumbling African State and the ever-benevolent western states, ready to intervene and sort “another fine mess in Africa”. Inevitably, attempts to weave this narrative in this article fall flat on the face due to the blatant use of lies, half-truths and innuendos.
It’s a fact that Kenya’s vibrant electioneering period ended with the swearing in of President Uhuru Kenyatta on November 28, 2017, after he was duly elected in October 26, 2017, repeat presidential elections. The claims that there is a deliberate attempt by the executive to subvert the rule of law cannot be further from the truth. Throughout the campaign period, the government demonstrated fidelity to the law with the then incumbent president accepting the Supreme Court ruling nullifying the August 8, 2017, presidential election even as he, and other legal analysts, disagreed with it. The main opposition coalition, clearly aware that their political strategy had failed, dithered and withered, eventually boycotting the repeat presidential elections. Their attempt to perpetrate violence in the wake of their electoral loss have been outrightly rejected by Kenyans with the government taking the necessary steps to fulfil its cardinal responsibility of protecting the lives and property of Kenyans in line with the Kenyan constitution. In the long and arduous walk to entrench democratic principles in Kenya, no individual or institution is exempt from the dictates of the constitution. Just like in any other democracy, the media, various arms of government, political parties, the civil society groups and all citizens are bound by the constitution and the violation of the same has consequences in line with the rule of law.
The fact that Kenya went through the prolonged campaign and electioneering period and emerged peaceful, should be a reason to celebrate the resilience of her democracy. Kenya’s constitution which was enacted in 2010 is barely 8 years old. The 2017 elections presented an opportunity to test the institutions created by the constitution including the Judiciary and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The question of whether the institutions withstood the test can be attested by the peace and tranquility that is existing in Kenya barely three months after the repeat elections. Kenyans are back to work and the economy, which had slightly slumped during the electioneering period, is now on an upward trend with the World Bank projecting a 5 percent economic growth for the year 2018. Even international investors have given the Kenyan economy a vote of confidence by a sevenfold oversubscription of a Eurobond issued by the Kenyan government in the London Stock Exchange on 21st February 2018. The tourists are trooping back to enjoy the unrivalled Kenyan flora and fauna and bask in the white beaches of Malindi and the entire Kenyan coastal region.
The authors’ assertion that Kenya is unravelling due to what they refer to as the widening rift between the ruling Jubilee and the opposition NASA coalition betrays their double standards when it comes to democratic tenets in Africa as compared to the same in America. It is not lost on Kenyans that the differences in ideologies between the Democrats and Republicans, especially during the 2016 presidential elections and the toxic political drama that culminated in the election of President Donald Trump left some social and political fissures in America. Despite their divisive nature, the Trump Vs Clinton political campaigns can rightly be described as a demonstration of the vibrancy and maturity of the American democracy. In a clear display of bias and cognitive dissonance, the authors describe similar ideological differences and political rhetoric between the Jubilee Party and NASA Coalition in Kenya during and after the electioneering period as political turmoil. Competitive politics in a democracy, both in America and in Africa, can never be described as turmoil. Indeed, political competition is a key tenet of democracy and Kenya has demonstrated that with strong institutions, credible and peaceful elections are possible.
On a positive note, the authors have acknowledged the cordial relations between Kenya and the US which they had an opportunity to strengthen during their respective tenures as US ambassadors to Kenya. They use this as a basis for advocating for US intervention to prevent what they term as Kenya descending into violence and threat to rule of law. With memories of US interventions in countries such as Libya and Iraq ostensibly to return democracy, still fresh in our minds, the jitters about this proposal by senior US leaders is understandable. Any form of interference by the US in a country that has time and again demonstrated her commitment to entrenching democratic principles, rule of law and good governance can only portend danger.
It is no wonder that the current US ambassador in Nairobi and indeed the entire US government has risen above Kenya’s political challenges. Just as Amb. Carson was proven wrong on his assertion in the period preceding the 2013 general elections in Kenya that election of President Uhuru Kenyatta would have negative consequences, the two countries have once again continued in the path of strengthening their bilateral relations and partnerships with a clear understanding of the need for mutual respect. The threats issued and the grandstanding advocated for by the two US leaders in this article is not only unfortunate but also an affront to Kenya’s sovereignty.
On her part, Kenya will maintain momentum in strengthening governance institutions, entrenching the rule of law, building a cohesive society and buttressing peace within its borders and in the region. While we welcome positive and constructive criticism from our partners and friends, we remain averse to any suggestions of interference with our internal affairs from any quotas. Our response to the authors’ absurd demand for US intervention in Kenya is a loud NO THANKS!
Amb. Macharia Kamau is the Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the immediate former Permanent Representative of Kenya at the United Nations in New York.