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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Atonement

You have got to admire the energy with which US ambassador Michael Ranneberger has been ingratiating himself into Kenyan history and memory. If he is not becoming a kaya elder among the Mijikenda at the Coast, he is breathing life into the dead kingdom of Nabongo Mumia by becoming a prince of the Wanga in Western Province.

At peace rallies across Rift Valley, which witnessed some of the worst violence in the aftermath of the 2007 elections, he is the star attraction because he insists on supplanting the local elected leadership.

Mr Ranneberger’s good deeds are welcome because they are necessary and important. Under different circumstances, Kenya would be grateful to the good ambassador for his thoughtfulness and energy in focusing the leadership on the critical reform work ahead. His reassuring statements about the perfect fit in the troubled coalition government go a long way in creating a stable environment for “democracy”.


Few people in Kenya feel any debt of gratitude to Mr Ranneberger, however, because of his defective behaviour around election time in 2007.

The head of the International Republican Institute in 2007, Mr Ken Flottman, told a New York Times journalist that the ambassador suggested that a voter survey showed President Kibaki was ahead and tried to block a roughly simultaneous one favouring Mr Raila Odinga. “It was clear, in my opinion, that the ambassador was trying to influence the perceptions of the Kenyan electorate, and thus the campaign,” Mr Flottman said. The ambassador has dismissed the suggestion that he tried to influence the result to favour Mr Kibaki as  “utter nonsense”.

Yet, on December 17, the previously robust critic of corruption in Kenya downplayed it, saying it was nothing compared to what the US had. Mr Ranneberger reportedly objected to the inclusion of his predecessor, William Bellamy, in the IRI election monitoring delegation. Mr Bellamy, the envoy confessed to colleagues, was viewed as anti-government in Kibaki circles.

Of course, Mr Ranneberger has denied any role in having Mr Bellamy’s invitation withdrawn. On December 27, three days before Kenya exploded into violence, Mr Ranneberger had the results of the IRI exit poll. Possession of the exit poll results did not stop him from telling the Washington Post on December 31 that the US would accept the announcement that Mr Kibaki had won the election, and that the State Department sent its congratulations. This ambassador withdrew this robust endorsement after the European Union raised concerns about election irregularities. That poll was suppressed and released six months later, after IRI withdrew all its objections about faulty data and methodology.

It would appear that Mr Ranneberger has much to atone for with regard to Kenya’s failed elections in 2007. One would wish that he would do it in the privacy of his (US) home, preferably at a place where his presence on TV is not a daily reminder of the duplicity of diplomacy.

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