5 January 2013

Kenya: Our Development Partners Better Get It Right

During his college days, this writer had the privilege to work as a Congressional Intern for the venerable late US Senator Edward M Kennedy. During and even long after that experience, he often would be asked what was it like to work for the Senator specifically and Congress in general.

The response was that working for the Senator or even working in Congress for that matter was not any different from working in any office or environment. The only difference is, working in Congress one was at the epicenter of US policy making unlike anywhere else other than, perhaps, working at the White House.

The writer would also often note that though members of a revered institution, Senators often act and conduct their affairs not any different than you would expect a kindergarten child to act, complete with throwing tantrums.That's not slighting the US Senate at all but merely stating the truth.

It will take books to note other imperfections of not only the US Congress but the US government as a whole. Suffice it to say, like all of us, neither the US Congress nor the US government is immune from making mistakes--and often monumental ones.

A good example is the Rwanda genocide of 1994 which then US president Bill Clinton had to apologise for years later for doing virtually nothing to prevent or stop the genocide.

Many reasons have been given to explain the United States' failure in Rwanda ranging from claims that the US did not know what was happening, that it knew but didn't care, or that regardless of what it knew there was nothing useful to be done.

The truth is, if the US or the West for that matter deems it to be in its interest to sit by and do absolutely nothing as one or even a whole country perishes, they will do so without breaking a sweat of guilt.

On the other hand, the US and the West for that matter both ascribe to the theory that it is better "dealing with a devil you know than the angel that you don't know."

Kenya had a whiff of this US dogma soon after the elections of 2007 when then US President George W Bush rushed to congratulate PNU presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki as the winner of the elections even as Raila and everyone else were shouting from the nearest microphones for the world to hear that Kibaki had, indeed, stolen the election.

It took concerted lobbying efforts by Raila and ODM representatives in Washington to cause a shift in both attitude and policy, including forcing a retraction of the congratulatory message from Bush.

Indeed, the lobbying was made that much easier because a chorus of other world leaders and observers led by Britain condemned the elections as fraudulent.

It's a good thing the US made an about turn and aligned itself with the right side of our history for that change in policy along with efforts by Kofi Annan who, with his team of eminent leaders, brokered a deal where Raila agreed to share power with Kibaki and that's true notwithstanding the fact that Raila ended up getting the short end of the stick in the deal.

A reliable source tells me a small select group of individuals has been putting together a report commissioned by the US White House (not Obama, he emphasises) that is supposed to provide an assessment of the political climate in Kenya and the prospects for the various candidates, especially Raila and Uhuru.

What is very disturbing, if not annoying about this report--which the source has shared some parts, is how glaringly wrong this group has it both in terms of information and analysis.

As in the case of Rwanda where US embassy staff were initially communicating to Washington that the daily killings were mere "war casualty" like deaths instead of the genocide that was unfolding, so too are these US diplomats in Kenya relaying faulty information to Washington about what is going on politically.

It's neither wise nor necessary to disclose the faulty assessment this group is putting forth to Washington. Suffice it to say that as ordinary Kenyans who care about our country, we ought to find ways to communicate to our development partners what the reality and circumstances are as we see or know them to be.

You'll be surprised that is and can be different from what these diplomats know, especially if their sourcing is contaminated by propaganda as is often the case.

Put another way, it is imprudent to assume just because these diplomats have the ability to independently gather information, that information or the analysis that follows from it is without fault.

It is also worth noting there is no malice or ill-motive associated with the gathering and sharing of such faulty information; quite the contrary. The faultiness can be easily credited to either human error or simply bad judgment.

Let us hope our development partners, especially those who have compiled this faulty report are made aware of this and that they will go back to the drawing board and reassess the whole political situation.

If they do so, they would have but to conclude the country is vastly changing even from 2007 and the mood of the vast majority of the people is they cannot be taken for a ride ever again. They now know better and will choose their leaders wisely.

Samuel Omwenga is an investment advisor and blogger in the US.

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