7 July–Saba Saba Day
Democracy versus “realism” in support of other U.S. interests may have been an unavoidably difficult trade off during the Cold War. But it has been more than twenty years now since that excuse passed muster.
My recent post “A Blast From the Past” linked to a 1990 policy paper that seemed to attempt to justify support for Moi by the U.S. for tactical or “strategic” U.S. advantage in the region–post Cold War and pre 1998 embassy bombings and Global War on Terror. Fortunately, the U.S. Ambassador at the time, George H.W. Bush’s appointee, Smith Hempstone, was willing to stick his neck out to support those seeking liberty against Moi’s tyranny. And thus the U.S. is remembered and honored by Kenyans for that assistance as it celebrates its “Second Liberation”.
Now, however, we seemed to have changed. This is what Maina Kiai of the current generation of activists had to say in an interview with columnist Kwamchetsi Makokha last year about the most recent Kenyan election:
Kwamchetsi Makokha: The American ambassador endorsed the results at first. What do you think happened to change his view?
Maina Kiai: I think the way it blew up shocked a lot of people. For whatever reasons, not even the international human rights organisations had anticipated what came to happen. I think in a sense the country and the world had been lulled to sleep by the 2002 elections and the referendum in 2005. We did those fairly and peacefully but fell asleep and imagined that we would do the 2007 elections. But the signs were clear.
I was particularly pleased to see [American ambassador Michael] Ranneberger turning around because what he did was clearly unconscionable and wrong – more so because he was in possession of the exit poll results. He could at least have been equivocal, but in his case, he was very categorical. I am not sure if that was an agenda from him or from the US government. I think it still needs to be interrogated. The fact that as Kenyans we stood up to the American ambassador and said it does not matter – we will take you on – on principle, on what is right and wrong, that was very important.
How sad that where Kenya’s pro-democracy heroes found support from the U.S. through our Ambassador in the Saba Saba era, they are now in a position of speaking of having had to stand up to and “take on” the Ambassador on principle. We can do better.
Kiai, as a Kenyan democracy leader and Harvard-trained lawyer among many other credentials, was asking the same question in January 2009, that I was asking from December 2007 in my position as an American working as local leader for an “international NGO” being funded by USAID: was the agenda from the ambassador personally or from the U.S. government? I tend to think that it was some of both and something that was evolving in real time in the messy way that “foreign policy” gets “made” by our country–but ultimately I guess now one could conclude that by not “interrogating” these obvious questions that the Kenyan people as well as Americans have–and extending Ranneberger’s appointment once again–we have in a sense “ratified” or taken ownership of what went on before and made it “ours” now? I do still wonder what people in Washington knew in “real time” about what was going on on Nairobi.
*Worth noting: Larry Diamond, democracy scholar/advocate, speaks to AFRICOM headquarters on themes from his latest book.