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Western envoys care more about business than your human rights

 Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni speaks during an interview at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi district, Uganda December 4, 2021. [Reuters]

The stats on cost of living and increasing inflation paint a depressingly bleak outlook for the country’s economic prospects of recovery and growth.

Even the government’s economic advisor, David Ndii, gives a similar grim forecast for the next five years. Not everyone, however, shares that same pessimism about the country’s global standing, diagnoses and future. 

American Ambassador Meg Whitman spoke in glowing terms about the country’s leadership, strengths and opportunities while addressing a cohort of American businessmen who recently visited here.

She not only declared that the August 2022 general election was the most transparent in our history, but also informed the visitors that Kenya is the most democratic country in the region. Lauding the great entrepreneurial spirit and growing number of tech hubs, she called Kenya the Silicon Savannah and hub of the East African region with a potential market of half a billion people.

She then enthusiastically recommended Kenya as the safest country to invest in. Already pharmaceutical company Moderna has committed $500 million to set up a manufacturing centre here that will produce 500 million doses of vaccines annually.

Ms Whitman knows what she is talking about since previously she was CEO of both eBay and more recently Hewlett Packard. According to reports, her own personal wealth is valued at $3 billion. Her selection as ambassador therefore underlines how President Joe Biden sees Kenya as strategic in terms of security, investment and wealth creation.

She is well positioned to compete with the massive Chinese economic presence here. Her appointment, like many more ambassadorial positions among Western countries, indicates the global shift in diplomatic priorities to business and profit with less and less talk about democratic reforms and rule of law.

The chase for markets, minerals and wealth creation in the whole of Africa is the major and sometimes the only agenda for Western diplomats these days. The days of undiplomatic outbursts of former American Ambassador Smith Hempstone are long gone and don’t expect any grumpy comments from the new British High Commissioner like those of Edward Clay who declared that the greed and corruption of the Kibaki regime caused them to vomit on his shoes.

If the new generation of diplomats has something unpleasant to say to the region’s leaders it will be shared in private and far away from the cameras. Of course, there are specific rights that Ambassadors will speak on because of demands from their home countries. In particular, this week there will be diplomats issuing condemnations and threats to Uganda over the signing into law by President Yoweri Museveni of the draconian and dangerous Anti-Homosexuality Law.

This may lead to sanctions and withdrawal of aid but such drastic actions were never considered when Bobi Wine and his followers were tortured, detained and disappeared.

These days, the voices of Western diplomats are most likely only to be heard when addressing issues of reproductive and sexual rights, which arguably are their number one agenda on the rights platform.

That is not to dismiss these as unimportant for Africans too, but in the ladder of priorities they do not currently rank near the top. For civil society organisations here and elsewhere, there is a growing concern about threats to democracy and rule of law.

Populism has replaced accountability and the fight for Africa business and resources between the East and the West has led to silence on mega corruption witnessed in mega projects Kenya has undertaken in last decade.

The plundering of the nation’s wealth has produced rampant inequality and driven millions into poverty. Civil society now realise they may still receive a few coins to advance a pro-poor agenda but they should no longer consider Western nations as serious allies on human rights.

They are much on their own. However, in the long-term that may be for the best. They can no longer be accused of being puppets of the liberal West but stand alongside the suffering, while separating the careerists from the passionate.

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