“What’s going on in Kenya?”–Updated

Extremely interesting time, “isn’t it”?

Parliament is in an uproar about questions surrounding the deaths of Internal Security Minister Saitoti and Assistant Minister Joshua Ojode in a helicopter crash. Ironically, perhaps, at least one of those MPs raising questions about a drug-running connection has sparred with the U.S. in the recent past over accusations of his own involvement in such activity–but many others are raising questions, too. The ostensible investigation into the crash has obviously lagged in terms of any public information from the government.

From the Standard:

-Why did police fail to secure scene of crash?
– Why was Iteere first at scene but left shortly?
-Why was Saitoti family not briefed on probe team?
– Why did State frustrate South African experts till they left?
– Is there a possible drug-link to chopper crash?
-Is Kimunya’s ministry co-operating in probe?
– Shouldn’t Kimunya let someone else speak on behalf of Government?
-Why is State shifting positions on investigations?
-Why has State left a vacuum for speculation?
-Why should Iteere and Transport PS not step aside?

Lots of “buzz” in Kenya about continuing disclosures about drug-running and the Artur Brothers and such leading up to the 2007 election.

Police reform and land issues were understood by “everyone” to be crucial tasks for the “Government of National Unity” to get Kenya back on track after the failed election of 2007 and the ensuing violence, yet the Saitoti matter and drug controversies show how little has been accomplished or even attempted on the police front. (We have noted previously the fact that the land issues have remained unaddressed and ripe for more conflict.) When the Commissioner of the Police during the election, Ali, was pushed aside into the cushier, quieter role of Postmaster, in response to pressure from the U.S. among others, who replaced him but Iteere, the head during the election and post-election of the Kenyan police’s paramilitary General Services Unit (“GSU”)? In other words, the paramilitary forces in charge of securing Kibaki’s second term by, among other tasks, locking down the KICC for the announcement of the flawed election tally by Electoral Commission Chairman Kivuitu and keeping Uhuru Park in Nairobi free of demonstators while the parts of the Nairobi slums and the Rift Valley burned. How can Kenyans reasonably be expected to trust the police now?

Election campaigns are in full swing with the “2012 election” already pushed to March 2013, with questions about the ability to prepare on the part of the Government and on possible further delays for legal issues. Parliamentarians have openly sought to undermine key political reforms in the new constitution to continue to facilitate “party hopping” among other gambits to preserve themselves.

And now, the U.S. Ambassador has resigned, after an extremely low-key year on the ground. Obviously there is a back story. He was Obama’s personal choice and supposedly the post was held for him to become available after the Sudan referendum where he served as Obama’s envoy. The details may or may not matter, but regardless, it is crucial that the U.S. Administation step up to the plate in getting someone effective confirmed quickly to replace him. Confirmation hearings will be a chance for Congress to focus on Kenya before things get even messier.

For better or worse, Kenya has no greater friend internationally than the United States. It is time for some sense of urgency and focused determination from Washington. Kenya is worth paying attention to now rather than after it becomes the next crisis of the day.

UPDATE: “Why Gration Really Resigned” story from Molly Redden in The New Republic late this morning has unnamed former State Department officials indicating that a scathing report on Gration’s management style at Embassy will be released soon. Given that Africa Bureau management as a whole was heavily criticized in an IG review released shortly after the Obama Administration took office, it is especially surprising to see a new round of controversial management in the largest and most important U.S. Mission in the region.

Normally quiet American ambassador speaks out to condemn police repression amid rising ethnic/political tensions in Kenya

Having marked a year in the post this week, U.S. Ambassador Scott Gration has generally “kept his powder dry” in terms of availing himself of the Kenyan media to speak out on the Kenyan issues of the day and exhort better behavior from Kenyan politicians and officials.  This is a marked contrast from what we had been used to during the 2008-11 period.

Today, however, is different.  Ambassador Gration is in both the Saturday Nation and The Standard condemning the Kenyan Police for violently blocking a youth-oriented meeting in Limuru called to counter the recent gathering there to revive the old GEMA (Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association) to foster “Mount Kenya” solidarity against the International Criminal Court on behalf of the suspects, among other apparently divisive purposes.

The U.S. message leads both stories.  From the Nation‘s “US condemns Kenya Police over anti-Gema meeting”:

The United States has condemned the use of force by police to block the Limuru 2B meeting as calls for the resignation of their boss Mathew Iteere over the incident intensified.

US Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration said the police action undermined the basic democratic tenets in the country.

“It was a grim reminder of Kenya’s past,” said Mr Gration in a statement Saturday.

“Fear tactics and political intimidation should have no place in Kenya under the new Constitution for they can threaten the brighter future we all desire for all Kenyans.”

He said the whole world looked at Kenya with admiration after the passage of the new Constitution two years ago, which enshrined universal rights as freedom of speech and assembly.

This he said, laid the ground for a free and fair election.

While both stories note criticism of the police from figures on “both sides” of the Government of National Unity, the Nation includes a defense from Kenyan Police head Matthew Iteere who alleges that the meeting was being used as a front to organize for the Mungiki sect.  Of course the Mungiki have a role in being a real problem in terms of crime, including ironically the instrumental political violence forming the basis of the ICC charges against Uhuru Kenyatta who the revival of GEMA seeks to protect; they also have served as a “bloody shirt” waived by state security forces including the police to justify extrajudicial killing in recent years.

[Update:  See Muthoni Wanyaki’s “Now we know: Only ethnic mobilization is allowed” in the East African.

Obama Taps Gration

As widely expected throughout the administration’s term, the President has named Gen. Scott Gration, current envoy to Sudan as nominee to be the next U.S. Ambassor to Kenya. As discussed here previously, Gration was the military officer assigned to then-Senator Obama on his 2006 trip to Kenya and defended him from smears during the Presidential campaign.

Here is Africa Review story.

Africommons:  “Discussion about Gration as Ranneberger replacement hits media” August 16, 2010

Africommons:  “Gration spoke out on Obama/Odinga ‘smears’ in 2008 campaign” August 16, 2010

Discussion about Gration as Ranneberger replacement hits media

On Friday, Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog ran a piece about tension between U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Sudan Envoy Scott Gration over Sudan policy ahead of the January referendum, and indicated that there were discussions about assigning Gration to replace Ranneberger as Ambassador to Kenya. This has been a topic of conversation in various forms for quite a long time, but so far as I know this is the first explicit media report since a mention in Al Kamen’s “In the Loop” column in Foreign Policy’s sister publication, the Washington Post in April. The Cable post was picked up by Kevin J. Kelley in the Saturday Nation.

The timing of this continues to get stickier as the date for the Sudan referendum approaches in January–in fact, it seems quite late to make a change in Sudan now. It has been said that the Administration was waiting for Gration to be available to make a change in Kenya. At the same time, Gration has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress as well as from activists and the Administration may want a fresh face and voice even if there is no change in policy.

“Planet Washington”: former US Ambassador to Kenya speaks to Washington Post about failure to heed her warnings ahead of 1998 embassy bombings

WP: Prudence Bushnell “A bitter lesson we haven’t learned”

Kevin Kelly story in the Daily Nation: “Ex-envoy blames U.S. spies for Nairobi blast”