December 30, 2010
Kenya’s political elite are in no mood for merry making this holiday season, as they determinedly jump from one indignation against foreigners to the next. It all started when WikiLeaks released cables that US Ambassador to the impoverished east African country, Michael Ranneberger, sent to State Department highlighting corrupt anti-reformist elements in the Kenyan government.
The truth, delivered by an outsider, proved too much to handle for some Kenyan parliamentarians, who are pushing a motion to have Ranneberger expelled.
A day after debate on the motion began, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor accused six well-known Kenyans of instigating the country’s post-election unrest in 2007/8.
In response Kenyan politicians accused the ICC of being a tool of colonial imperialists (even though Kenya was a signatory of the Rome Statute establishing the court), and the Kenyan parliament rashly passed a resolution calling for the country to withdraw from the court. Said Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi, “There is nothing we cannot handle. As a sovereign country, no other Kenyan…will be tried on foreign land. Let the six go but we have now learnt our lessons.”
It’s great in theory to assert a country’s national sovereignty, especially in countries like Kenya, which underwent protracted struggles against brutal colonizers to secure independence. But when that call is reactionary, resisting the urgent need for reform and accountability, it encourages a political culture of mismanagement that leaves millions poor and impotent, in turn weakening not strengthening a nation’s sovereignty.
Kenya’s ruling class too often misses this point, as this holiday season shows, in which bitter declarations of sovereignty are being conflated with advancement of the national interest; and an outsider’s advice, no matter how good and well-meaning, is being rejected primarily because, well, it came from an outsider.
Ranneberger’s urging of Kenyan youth to engage with the democratic process so they are no longer ignored is misconstrued as a conspiracy to topple the government (mp); the ban on four government officials and a businessman from traveling to the U.S. for alleged drug trafficking is deemed “cowboy antics” (the mainstream Nation newspaper); the ICC is a tool of western domination (mp), and so on.
Fortunately for Kenya, the pressures of realpolitik and America’s substantive contributions to the country’s progress is limiting the reach of this hysterical bigotry. As Prime Minister Raila Odinga noted, withdrawing from the ICC would be both futile and impractical, likely to alienate Kenya and deter investment.
Ranneberger and the US, meanwhile, have been pivotal in assisting Kenya bounce back from the brink. As Holy Ghost Cathedral Bishop Bonface Lele in Mombasa reminded Kenyans this week, as parliamentarians were busy writing off the outside world, “Were it not for the intervention of our international brothers and sisters during the post-election violence, Kenya would have turned into smoke and ashes.”
More recently, Ranneberger has been instrumental in helping the Kenyan government combat a drug trafficking crisis that could destabilize the region, funding a drug enforcement unit that will bring even the high and mighty to justice and handing over the names of Kenyan officials suspected of abetting the trade.
All this is naturally demeaning in a country once bullied into submission by the white colonizer. But that hardly describes the role of the West in Kenya today, and Kenyan politicians and commentators who miss this point, whose pride and sense of inferiority makes them quick to resist cooperation with the “colonizers” and “imperialists,” threaten to drag Kenya back into the humiliating past that haunts their minds.