Godec’s statement weakens fight for Kenyan democracy

US Ambassador Robert Godec

Watching Ambassador Robert Godec’s statement on the Kenyan elections on Monday this week would have made a skilled ballerina on Broadway cringe in pain. He tried desperately to steer the middle road between NASA and Jubilee but in the end satisfied neither.

His ambiguous statement on the repeat election gives comfort to reactionary forces determined to maintain a perpetual state of constitutional authoritarianism. A condition where brutal authoritarianism is legitimised in the name of the constitution. His statement weakens the fight for Kenyan democracy.

As my ambassador in Kenya, I expected Mr Godec to champion the cause of democracy because he read the statement as the leader of the collection of more than 20 ambassadors and high commissioners at the American embassy. One of the key issues I thought he would address was the flight of a Kenyan-American -- Dr Roselyn Akombe -- whose only crime was to champion the cause for a free, open and credible election. I imagined that the ambassador might condemn the intimidation and threats on an American citizen and engage the government on investigating the threats to her life and those of her brother who has also been forced out of the country.

These actions are ruinous to Kenya’s image abroad. According to data released by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), America has overtaken the UK as the top tourist source market to Kenya. If American citizens are intimidated in this way, it sends a poor message for the country in the US where every negative story from Kenya gains more news coverage than the many positive things happening. More broadly, it reinforces the perception in America that Kenya is another African country where there is disdain for democracy.

Secondly, the extra judicial killing of Chris Musando is still a mystery. Kenya has a long history of unsolved political murders that have had a chilling effect on free speech, transparent institutions and democratic ideals. A word from Mr Godec on this case would have helped the cause of democratisation. The ambassador should have been a lot more forceful and demanding of public communication from the government to what is happening with the late Musando’s case. His family, the Kenyan public and lovers of democracy demand his killers be brought to justice.

Aside from the threats of to life and limb, the structural impediments to a credible election are still in place. The IEBC has not done enough to ensure a free, fair and credible election. It continues to be in defiance of a court order to allow an investigation of its computerised systems that transmitted the election results for the August 8 election. This defiance goes against international norms for transparency and respect for the rule of law. The IEBC’s defiance of the court order leaves many wondering what exactly the commission is hiding. Godec missed a golden opportunity to provide leadership on this poignant matter.

Ambassador Godec’s ballerina act played skillfully to a middle road strategy. Not wanting to antagonise the government and not wanting to appear to be endorsing the opposition. In the end he did neither. He further reinforced the perception that America and the West are all talk about democratisation in Kenya with no action.

It appears my ambassador was too weak to speak truth to power.

 - The writer is at City University of New York