President William Ruto’s close ties with the West has unsettled the opposition which now seems to be falling out of favour with Western countries.
During Daniel arap Moi, Mwaki Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta regimes, the US and most of the European nations enjoyed a cordial relationship with the opposition.
Former US ambassador to Kenya Smith Hempstone goes down in history as having enjoyed a good relationship with the opposition and at one time almost became the face of the opposition.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s opposition leaders were agitating for pluralism and it took foreign diplomats led by Hempstone to prevail upon the West to pile pressure on President Moi to embrace multi-party democracy.
Notably, the West through its diplomats in Nairobi piled pressure on President Kibaki to embrace dialogue with ODM leader Raila Odinga in the wake of the 2008 post-election violence following the disputed presidential poll. This led to the birth of power sharing through the Grand Coalition Government.
In the past the diplomats have been daring.
In a speech made in July 2004 to the British Business Association of Kenya, UK High Commissioner Edward Clay remarked that the “gluttony” of senior figures in Kibaki’s was causing them to “vomit all over our shoes”.
Today, the opposition finds itself in a difficult place without the support of the West.
Unlike in the past where they would raise issues on governance, like the recent police clamp down on protesters that resulted in deaths and the poaching of some MPs by President Ruto, the envoys are not as vocal.
Last month, however, 13 ambassadors and high commissioners representing Australia, Denmark, Germany, the US, Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, Canada, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland and the UK in a wussy statement expressed their concern over loss of life, violence and destruction of property.
“We recognise the daily hardship faced by many Kenyans and urge all parties to table their concerns through a meaningful dialogue and resolve their differences peacefully to build the nation together, ensuring no further loss of life,” the statement read.
It added; “We stand ready to support the parties in their efforts to find constructive and peaceful solutions.”
Traditionally, according to a source at one of the West embassies, Raila has enjoyed a cordial relationship with the West because of his long-term stay in the opposition and calls for good governance.
“In the past, Raila has enjoyed a good relationship with the West because of his opposition role but this changed after the handshake. That explains why they are cosy with Ruto because they did not have a preferred candidate in the 2022 polls,” said the source, a political scientist who sought anonymity.
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Caught in unfamiliar territory, Raila lost his cool during the Devolution Conference last week when he warned US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman that they could consider asking Washington to recall her over her endorsement of the August 2022 General Election.
Raila was irked with Ms Whitman’s opinion that the election was credible and that it affirmed Kenya’s position as the most democratic State in the continent.
“I arrived in Kenya days before the August 2022 General Election; what I witnessed was nothing short of remarkable. Kenya held, what many analysts and commentators say, was the free-est, fairest and most credible election in Kenyan history,” they envoy said during the Devolution Conference in Eldoret last Thursday.
Raila did not find the remarks palatable and termed the ambassador ‘rogue’ and threatened to seek her recall if she does not ‘shut up’.
“Kenya is not a colony of the US. Keep your mouth shut, otherwise, we shall go for a recall. She should leave Kenyans alone,” he said.
But President Ruto said the Azimio leader’s remarks were disrespectful to the US envoy.
“It would be ungrateful of us to vilify the people who are creating opportunities for us. We have huge investments from the American government, Germany, and other countries. We must know what our interests are and secure them…We must not be petty and look at things from a personal level,” said Ruto.
The incident points to a changing political scene where the president could have torpedoed the opposition to enjoy apolitical camaraderie with West.
Senate Minority Whip Ledama ole Kina said that Ruto does not know how to run a country. “ That is what the West like so that they can control him,” said Kina.
National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Defence committee chairman Nelson Koech said that Ruto had changed the political matrix and was liked by the West because he is shrewd, diplomatic and progressive.
“In Ruto, the West finds a president who is so focused on changing his people’s lives and carries the hopes and aspirations of the nation and the region and continent. The West believes that with such leaders, the continent would experience a better future,” said Koech.
“We are not bothered by what other people are engaged in out there. We are focused on the issues.” National Assembly Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi.
But Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi dismissed the notion that the opposition was jittery about Ruto’s close relationship with the West.
“Raila attacked the person of the ambassador and not the US, the Azimio leader’s comments were directed at the person who had lost diplomatic etiquette. Otherwise, Raila enjoys similar relationship with the West, the other day Delaware senator Chris Coons came to visit him because of the respect they have for him,” said Osotsi.
The Azimio leader’s allies have warned that the US ambassador’s remarks could threaten the ongoing bipartisan talks.
Former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said the envoy should focus on representing America’s interests and avoid commenting on matters concerning the country’s internal processes.
“It is wrong for Whitman to make such comments praising the system at a time when reconciliatory talks are just beginning. This is a time we need the support of both sides,” said Wamalwa said.
“What the US ambassador is saying is stop disrupting the country. Any progressive democracy anywhere in the world will laud the democracy in Kenya,” said Mukurweini MP John Kaguchia.