Kenya Election Battles Ignite Debate in Atlanta, Georgia; US says “We’re Not Going to Take Eyes Away. Kenya Matters.”


The fierce contest between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition candidate Raila Odinga since their discarded election in August found echo here in Atlanta between Nairobi’s ambassador to Washington and a prominent U.S.-based legal scholar.

“I can categorically say here looking you straight in the eye that the Supreme Court robbed Uhuru Kenyatta of his win and stole the election from the Kenyan people,” Ambassador Robinson Njeru Githae was reported to say.

Not so, responded Makua Mutua, a human rights advocate and former dean at the University at Buffalo Law School.

“It was not just the presidential election that was invalid,” Prof Mutua said. “It was the entire election. The whole thing was rotten.”

Mr. Njoroge on left, Amb. Githae, center, Prof. Mutua on right (Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Sentinel).

The US Government is in the meantime watching the battle for power in Kenya closely because the East African nation is an important ally in the region.

The Supreme Court’s judgment on Sept. 1, overturning official election results, shocked Kenyans, Africans and many in the Diaspora for having upheld the claims by Mr. Odinga of grave irregularities including the torture murder of Chris Msando, the main technician in charge of the electronic voter-ID system. The judges ruled the voting exercise “invalid, null and void”.

The Los Angeles Sentinel quotes The Economist magazine as calling the court ruling “a display of judicial independence” without precedent. “It represents an opportunity—so optimists believe—to build genuine trust in the country’s institutions, especially its highest courts.”

Mr. Odinga concurred. “The fact that a court of essentially conservative, establishment jurists overturned an election in Africa for the first time, makes us extremely proud. They have established a position that is going to reverberate throughout Africa.”

In a speech given in English, Mr Kenyatta called for the decision to be respected. But in comments to supporters made in Swahili, he denounced the judges as “wakora” (crooks) and claimed that their decision was the work of “whites” and “homosexuals”. He vowed to “fix” the Supreme Court if re-elected.

According to the cancelled polls, Mr Kenyatta had a 1.3 million-vote margin over Mr Odinga. Voters will now return to the voting booths on Oct. 17 for the voting rematch although Mr. Odinga has added new demands – suspending six senior officials and hiring a new contractor to print ballot papers. Without these, Mr. Odinga warned, the rematch may be scotched.

The Sept. 8-9 event was organized by the Kenya Scholars and Studies Association (KESSA) based in Bowling Green State University. Mr. F. George Njoroge, the keynote speaker, addressed “Commercializing Science in Africa through Biotechnology) .

In Washington DC the US government says Kenya matters; as such the US Government is keeping a close watch of trends in the East African nation. In a press statement distributed by APO,  the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Ambassador Donald Yamamoto  said “we’re not going to take eyes away from [the Kenya election]. Kenya matters. If our largest embassy is in Nairobi, Kenya, that means we have a stake in that country.”

US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Ambassador Donald Yamamoto

Ambassador Yamamoto: Let me just take a couple of minutes to talk about the United States, and what we’re doing to prepare for new challenges over the next four years, and reaffirming, and encouraging you that things are going well, and in a good direction. I’m very humbled that I was asked to come back. I was at the National Defense University, teaching our future leaders…so I feel very good about that.

With USAID, OSD, the CIA, and the NSC, we’ve all worked together for years and years, and so we know exactly what it is that has come before, what we need to achieve now, and what to move forward on. The other thing, too, that is really striking and remarkable, is that looking at Africa, is not to keep Africa in isolation, but to see it in a context of other issues, globally, and also the trend lines. So when we talk about Africa, we’re going to talk about all the issues that are confronting the United States, and also the world. And I want to say that we’re going to take some new initiatives, but what we also want to do is an affirmation of what has been done before. We want to do expansion on areas which have been highly successful, and which are critical not only to our national strategic interests, but also to the future of Africa, and then also to focus on areas where we can make a difference.

So, let me go into a couple of issues. The fundamental issue is that we need strong institutions, and not leaders who are dictators or strong leaders. Those are the fundamental issues that we’re going to be looking at and be focused on, and then we’re going to look at how the programs that we’ve worked on can be expanded. I heard Bill Gates today give an interview and he said, “You can’t look at Africa and say all the good things in a 10 second soundbite.”

But, following from Bill Gates’ point of view, if you take a Kodak picture of Africa today, you can see a lot of challenges. But if you see it over 20 years, you can see the dramatic differences and transformation that have occurred. That’s what our colleagues have said, and so the question that comes then is, “How do we build on those good transformational issues, and how do we expand and make a difference?”

And so one of the things is following up on our Under Secretary’s speech today. We have our four pillars, but they’re not in isolation, and they’re much more expansive and evolving. So, we have counterterrorism, we have conflict resolution, economic development, and governance, but they’re interchangeable, and they’re mutually supportive. So, let me give you some of the examples that we’re looking at right now in Africa. First is in Liberia, which is really at the fundamental crossroads of democratic elections from two civil wars. It’s now going into a third democratic election, and you’re seeing a president, Johnson Sirleaf, who has abided by the Constitution to step down, and that becomes a model for other leaders across the continent. We look at democratic countries, as the trend line has shown, from a few to almost two dozen, which has a tremendous impact with the State Department and the military.

I did data-dumping for the National Security Council, and we were looking at all the evaluations we’ve done over the last – you know, since the ‘80’s – and we were looking at 18-19 evacuations yearly. We have 278 embassies and consulates around the world and a lot of the evacuations were in Africa. But if you look at those trend lines today, they’re very different. They’re shifting. It’s not just countries that are in crises and turmoil, and that Africa looks, in that context, as a continent that is on the move, that’s transforming, that’s developing, that’s progressing.

Going into Liberia, when I was there in Liberia with John Blaney, we were looking at the transition from Charles Taylor. There was no electricity, everything was generators, and we said, “No way on God’s green Earth could we really, overnight, start doing the electrification, the power planning.” However, the FCC and a $257 million contract agreement with Liberia is now producing electricity.

The other issue, too, is that we are looking at a population that is 50% youth, and then they’re looking at what is it for them for their future, and then we’re looking throughout Africa and the trend lines on Africa. In some ways it reminds us of the State Department, how young our diplomats are, and how much oversight and mentoring this requires. But if we look at 2050 as we look at the trend lines, Africa will be the most populous continent, Nigeria will be the 3rd most-populous country, and the issue is, what is it that we’re going to do, and need to do, to address the needs of a youth that’s probably going to be 70% of the continent? How is it that we’re going to meet not only economic needs, but also development needs, job needs, etc.? We’re heading towards megacities across the globe, and one of the things that we debated at the National Defense University is you don’t want to create mega-poverty zones either. You want to have opportunities, and one of the things that the Under Secretary articulated was that we’re going to look at trade investment, and we’re going to look at economic opportunities in the context of how that promotes and supports democracy and good governance issues.

We look at Ethiopia, which Bill Gates had highlighted as making dramatic changes in the ability to feed itself, but more important is the efforts that USAID has done to really expand trade opportunities. I remember talking to Prime Minister Meles after he bought several billion dollars of Boeing 787s, and he said, “I just preserved 35,000 jobs in America. What will you do for us,” and I said, “Well, we’re going to work on that.” And, in the end, we helped create over 100,000 jobs in Ethiopia, and that was our payback, and that’s what I think a lot of the leaders have asked us to do.

The other issue, too, is Kenya. Kenya’s on – probably on – the threshold of a great election on October 17, but it’s the issues that we need to focus on and work with, and just talking to – over the weekend – the leadership on both sides, saying – both the government and the opposition – is that the eyes of the world and the U.S. government is on you, on Kenya. We’re not going to take eyes away from it. Kenya matters. If our largest embassy is in Nairobi, Kenya, that means we have a stake in that country, and Africa has a stake, and this government’s looking at where the trend lines will go after October 17.

Some of the other issues that we’re looking at is AWEP (the African Women Entrepreneurship Program), and one of the things that I noticed from everywhere I’ve been to – from Somalia to Afghanistan – is girls’ education, and women entrepreneurs, as really the fundamental programs that we need to develop and expand as helping communities and helping societies. The other one that we’re doing is YALI (Young African Leaders Program), Power Africa, and also a number of other programs and projects that we will continue to highlight, affirm, expand, and in many areas, focus. But I wanted – there’s one message to convey to you – is that the people involved in Africa today, we know each other, we’re doing the best we can. But more important is that we’re listening, and that how ever you can mentor us and guide us, we will listen very carefully, so thank you very much.