Lessons For US Envoy Gration
What was the lesson for the outgoing US ambassador of the process that moved Kenya in 1990 -1992 from a de jure one party state to a multiparty state? What was the lesson of the process that moved Kenya 2008 - 2010 from near collapse to a new constitution and change? What were the lessons of the struggle against the entrenched state machinery of the Moi years through the 1980s and 1990s and the ethnic based machinery of the Kibaki government?
The lesson in each was that for democratic change to take place in Kenya there must be a united domestic critical mass for change and united international pressure for that change, the two acting together. If there is only domestic demand for change it can be and was ignored by reliance on the government’s monopoly of repressive force. If there is only international pressure for change, it can be and was ignored by magnifying it as improper interference in the internal affairs of Kenya.
The problem for Gration was not differences of programme or style with Washington. Smith Hempstone too had differences with State about both content and style. But Hempstone understood the lesson and got the job done. In the present case the job was not being done. The lesson had not been appreciated. The US was showing no leadership in Kenya in support of the ideals of the constitutional implementation, or against negative ethnicity. The gains made by Kenya in these fields were increasingly in danger.
The political programme of the US Embassy is for these ideals. So when constitutionalism is subverted, public meetings broken up or human rights violated, the Ambassador must speak up to change such trends. Silence does not bring about change. ‘Quiet diplomacy’ does not bring about change. On the continuing subversion of the National Coalition and the tacit encouragement of rampant hate speech, Gration kept silent. There was from him neither condemnation to correct the violations, nor leadership to support the constitutional goals. Other important diplomatic missions have also been silent. Kenyans in the civil society and the writers are also missing in the necessary efforts at this critical time to entrench the Constitution irreversibly.
Praise for ‘quiet diplomacy’ only comes from those for whom such silence provides a useful cover-up. The Foreign Affairs PS praised Gration’s “diplomatic humility” (read ‘made no demands’).” The Foreign minister said Gration engaged through diplomatic channels instead of the Press, (read ‘brought no pressure on us’). Unfortunately, these accolades come from the very camp that is suspected of subverting, violating and attacking the Constitution.
The understanding Gration critically needed was how democratic change occurs in Kenya. The right action had then to be taken. It was tempting for Gration to think that Ranneberger’s or Hempstone’s style prevented their words from being heeded, and had instead brought about resistance from Moi and Kibaki to change; and that therefore it would be better to persuade in quiet fashion and keep good relations. Gration was not the first to fall into this comfortable trap. The British had housed there long ago. They would not condemn corruption or political repression or the misgovernment of the one-party state. Their ‘quiet diplomacy’ not only failed, but commenced the decline of Britain’s moral and political influence in Kenya, till the UK now has little influence over ideas in Kenya.
The same result took place when Aurelia Brazeal, who succeeded Hempstone, (and was flattered when Moi’s regime commended her for ‘correcting his excesses’), also opted for quiet diplomacy. Her approach dissipated the pressure for change, ensured Moi another five years, and got her arrested at a police checkpoint. This approach had to be corrected. So the ambassadors who followed - Bushnell, Carson, Bellamy and Ranneberger - eschewed this false road.
It is also an error to think that Hempstone or Ranneberger or the former German Ambassador Mutzelberg were a ‘style’. Theirs was a substantive assessment of Kenya’s politics that silence in the face of not being heeded would be worse than noise in the face of not being heeded. They led international pressure in acting together with domestic demand. And change came to Kenya – the lesson the new Ambassador must also draw. His choice will impact on our complex problems - implementation, containment of negative ethnicity, Somalia and the elections. To address them he will have to ensure that international pressure acts together with domestic demand to bring about the next changes in Kenya .
The writer is a lawyer.