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Two grand farewell parties for outgoing US ambassador

By | Apr 24th 2011 | 4 min read
By | April 24th 2011

By Stephen Makabila

For almost five years, outgoing United States Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger has been the most visible, controversial and most talked about envoy in Kenya.

At one time, he even attracted a tongue-lash from the two Grand Coalition Government principals, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

That’s why when Mr Ranneberger ends his diplomatic tour of duty, he will be leaving an indelible mark, and it would be for history to judge his stay that started on August 11, 2006.

And finally, two grand farewell parties have been lined up for a man who had become part and parcel of the country’s debate on all matters from politics, corruption, impunity, youth empowerment, and development.

While Ranneberger will host his farewell party at his Muthaiga residence on April 28, another send-off party organised by former Attorney General Charles Njonjo is scheduled for May 2, at Sankara Hotel in Westlands.

The guest list for the Sankara event reads like who-is-who in politics, public, and private sectors.

Njonjo will be playing host, with the PM as the chief guest.

Rogue Ambassador’

Those invited include National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende, ministers, MPs, ambassadors, businessmen/women and other professionals.

Ranneberger’s tenure as ambassador can be closely compared to former US Ambassador Smith Hempstone’s and British High Commissioner Edward Clay, who equally had their share of controversies.

Hempstone was nicknamed the ‘Rogue Ambassador’ for tongue-lashing the Kenyan regime in the early 1990s.

In a speech in July 2004 to the British Business Association of Kenya, Clay famously remarked that the gluttony of senior figures in the Government of President Kibaki was causing them to "vomit all over our shoes".

His outspokenness earned him widespread popularity among Kenyans. But he became unpopular in Government. More surprisingly, his own Government saw him as problematic and undermining of British funding for Kenya. Outspoken, frank and never shy of the public eye, Ranneberger has remained visible and active especially on impunity, the fight against corruption, and the new Constitution.

When Kenya was plunged into the first ever post-election violence in 2007/2008, US told Kenya it would not be business as usual if the National Accord was not signed.

The then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited, and Ranneberger took the cue and remained in the forefront championing for reforms. After restoration of peace, Ranneberger basked in glory when the US Vice-President Joe Biden visited Nairobi enroute to the World Cup finals in South Africa, last year.

However, his stay has not been rosy, at times being on the receiving end from those in authority.

During Jamhuri Day celebrations at the Nyayo National Stadium, last year, Kibaki and Raila took Ranneberger to task, for meddling in local affairs.

Leaked cables

They told the envoy to respect Kenya and its citizens. The two were reacting to leaked diplomatic cables that had then soared relations.

Ranneberger had described President Kibaki and the PM in the cables leaked by WikiLeaks as part of a political and economic elite resisting reform.

The dossier by WikiLeaks branded Kenya’s Cabinet as the most corrupt in Africa. The PM in turn described Ranneberger as a colonial governor and told him to keep off local affairs.

"We do not want a visitor who acts as if he is a governor ... the last governor left in 1964. The responsibility of running Kenya is ours. We welcome visitors, but we also want them to respect us," said the Prime Minister during the celebrations.

Kibaki urged Kenyans not to worry about the leaked cables. "Kenya is a sovereign State and no one should scare us with things that they write. Those trying to scare us should go elsewhere," Kibaki said.

Kibaki also stated that a foreign power was funding the youth to cause instability and confusion. This was in apparent reference to Ranneberger’s support for youth empowerment programme through the US funded National Youth Forum.

Earlier, during the constitutional campaigns in July, last year, the ‘No’ team led by Eldoret North MP William Ruto had demanded the recall of Ranneberger, accusing him of breaching diplomatic protocol.

The ‘No’ team had accused Ranneberger of meddling in internal affairs through his involvement in referendum campaigns. This came a day after the US envoy received a group of defectors who defected to the ‘Yes’ camp in Kisii.

"The presence of the US ambassador in a public rally in Kisii and Kitale campaigning for the ‘Yes’ team and receiving stage-managed defectors does not only abuse the sovereignty of our nation, but also shows the clear interference by the US in Constitution-making," said Makueni MP Peter Kiilu.

Diplomatic orbit

Ranneberger, however, maintained his activities were within the diplomatic orbit, citing his Government support for reforms.

The worst moment for Ranneberger, however, came during an attempt by MPs to move a censure Motion against him in Parliament.

Imenti North MP Silas Ruteere, however, withdrew the Motion after the enthusiasm it generated among MPs appeared to fade.

The Motion was popular at the end of last year when he moved it to hit back at the envoy over his unflattering assessment of Kenya’s leadership and his activities to empower the youth.

Acting Foreign Affairs Minister George Saitoti had however maintained complaints against an ambassador should be handled through diplomatic channels.

And as he prepares to leave, Kilome MP Harun Mwau has sued the ambassador for linking him to drug trafficking. In a suit filed at the High Court in Nairobi three weeks ago, Mwau wants the court to make several declarations against Ranneberger whom he accuses of manufacturing criminal offences against him.

Mwau was the Assistant Minister for Trade but resigned on principle on December 24, last year, after being named in Ranneberger’s report that also named two other MPs and a businessman. Police investigations have since cleared Mr Mwau.

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