Daniel Howden: The embassies that take Kenya to task

Africa Notebook: Foreign ambassadors have taken over the role traditionally played by an elected opposition
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The Independent Online

A survey of recent headlines in Nairobi reveals a curious development in Kenya. It appears that foreign ambassadors have taken over the role traditionally played by an elected opposition.

The notion was first floated by the country's most famous whistleblower John Githongo. Kenya's former anti-corruption tsar noticed the phenomenon after returning from a self-imposed exile in the UK that followed his exposure of government graft scandals. "You have envoys acting and talking as though they were MPs," he said.

Almost every day the Kenyan press reports broadsides aimed at the country's dysfunctional power-sharing government fired from the US and German embassies or the British high commission.

This weekend it was the turn of outgoing German ambassador Walter Lindner who called on the Kenyan government to name those behind the crippling maize and oil scandals that have exacerbated the food crisis and sparked chronic fuel shortages.

"Kenyans would like to know the people linked to the scams and that they be punished according to the law. Punishing the evil doers will lift the country's image," he told reporters. Fair point you might think, and many Kenyans do, it's just that usually these demands would come from home-grown voices.

Last week it had been the turn of US ambassador Michael Rannenberger who demanded "bold and decisive action on corruption" before announcing that an unnamed senior official in the Kenyan government had been slapped with a visa ban for his part in yet more graft scandals.

Kenya's bloated coalition – born in an effort to avoid civil war after a rigged election brought chaos and ethnic strife to the country last year – predictably complained that its sovereignty was under attack. The problem is that the unity government with its massed ranks of ministers now contains everyone who would ordinarily be expected to do the job. There is no major political force outside the government to call it to account.

So it's left to the tough love of the ambassadors: "Kenya needs friends who will stand with them in good and bad times and not those who fail to point at wrongdoings," as the German envoy Mr Lindner put it in his parting shot.

It was the Masai wot won it

Everyone in Kenya is related to Barack Obama, or at least that's what they will tell you. But only one man, a Masai warrior, claims he's responsible for the Democrat winning the presidency. Amos ole Tinninah guided the Obamas in the Masai Mara game reserve during a 2006 trip. After spending two days with the family he gave Senator Obama a rungu traditional throwing club. And how does he account for the tourist's subsequent political success? "My rungu worked magic."