In the midst of brazen political exchanges surrounding recent diplomatic remarks, President William Ruto has stepped forward to defend United States Ambassador to Kenya, Meg Whitman. The controversy stems from Whitman’s comments regarding the credibility of Kenya’s 2022 General Election, leading to a war of words between political leaders.
The diplomatic firestorm was ignited when Whitman, speaking at the 8th Devolution Conference in Eldoret, praised the August 2022 General Election as the “freest, fairest, and most credible election in Kenyan history.”
“I arrived in Kenya days before the August 2022 General Election. What I witnessed was nothing short of remarkable, Kenya held what many analysts said was the freest, fairest, and most credible (general election) in Kenyan history,” Whitman remarked, “The elections were observed by international organisations and upheld by the Supreme Court and power was transferred ordinarily and peacefully at the time,” she added.
Her remarks, while intended to highlight the democratic process, faced sharp criticism from Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
“Tell the rogue ambassador, Kenya is neither the US nor is it a colony of the United States. Keep your mouth shut while you are here. Otherwise, we will call for your recall back to your country,” protested Raila.
Odinga characterised Whitman’s comments as unwarranted meddling in Kenyan affairs and cautioned that her continuous commentary on Kenyan issues could lead to the opposition’s petition to recall her as the US Ambassador to Kenya.
In a spirited defense of the US Ambassador, President Ruto emphasised the importance of maintaining a positive diplomatic relationship with the United States. He highlighted the economic ties between the two nations and the significant investments the American government has made in Kenya.
“America is our largest export market, and we are working to make it even better,” President Ruto said. “In the last year alone, we have created investments from the American government worth hundreds of billions of Kenyan shillings.”
He criticised those who would vilify the diplomatic community, stating that it would be ungrateful to undermine the efforts of those creating opportunities for the nation.
“It would be very 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” cautioned President Ruto
The president went ahead to offer his perspective on Meg Whitman’s statements.
“The American ambassador said the last election was the freest and fairest in the history of Kenya, which is a statement of fact. She also said Kenya is open for business which is a statement of fact. Let us have some decorum and respect ourselves as we demand respect from others,” he asserted.
“We must not be petty and look at things from a personal level,” added President Ruto.
In the wake of these exchanges, various high profile Kenyan government officials have weighed in on the ensuing controversial statements.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Alfred Mutua, issued a statement applauding Ambassador Whitman’s comments. He commended her for highlighting the country’s economic empowerment plan and presenting “forthright and honest comments.” Mutua also reprimanded Odinga for his threats and affirmed that Kenya values its diplomatic partners.
While addressing he media and members present at a recent function in Webuye, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula emphasised the importance of respecting diplomatic representation in the country. He urged the audience to consider that Ambassadors represent their respective Heads of State and the people of their nations.
“Respect the diplomatic representation in our country because those Ambassadors represent their Heads of State and people of their country.” cautioned Wetangula
Wetangula passionately appealed to attendees not to resort to insulting foreign visitors and friends due to self-centered motivations.
Let’s not start insulting our visitors, our friends, because of selfish reasons,” advised Wetangula.
He stressed the significance of maintaining harmonious international relationships and refraining from actions that might undermine Kenya’s image on the global stage.
“As Kenyans, we must speak and handle our issues amicably,” he said, “Kenya should not allow politicians to employ regressive politics and drive away potential investors,” asserted Wetangula
National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah chimed in, urging Odinga to refrain from threatening the ambassador.
“Now Raila, relax. The Ambassador is simply stating the obvious that the elections of 2022 were transparent and fair. Stop threatening her; you can’t recall her from nowhere,” he asserted, highlighting the importance of diplomatic decorum.
Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika echoed these sentiments while expressing admiration for Ambassador Whitman’s stance on Kenya.
“Perhaps it is also time to tell him [Odinga] to shut up. If he really heard what Whitman presented, he would have seen that she is not only the best ambassador to Kenya but a good ambassador of Kenya,” she stated, underscoring the need for mutual respect in diplomatic interactions.
President Ruto’s defense of Ambassador Whitman underscored the potential economic consequences of strained diplomatic relations. The American government’s investments in Kenya have played a pivotal role in job creation and economic development. By demonstrating respect and collaboration with foreign diplomats, Kenya aims to foster a positive international business environment that attracts further investments.
Ruto expressed concern over the negative impact of demonstrations and property destruction on the nation’s economy. He encouraged focusing on dialogue and constructive engagement to address grievances rather than resorting to violent protests.
Following the unexpected war of words, both President Ruto and Ambassador Whitman have echoed a call for diplomatic decorum and mutual respect. They advocate for engaging in respectful dialogue that addresses concerns without resorting to personal attacks or damaging international relations.
Ambassador Whitman’s comments, while stirring controversy, were meant to commend Kenya’s democratic progress and its positive investment climate.
Senator Chris Coons from Delaware, USA who has been in Kenya as part of US efforts to mediate between President Ruto and Odinga, also played a pivotal role in defusing tensions. Coons engaged discussions with both factions as part of the ongoing Azimio La Umoja – Kenya Kwanza bi-partisan talks aiming to address the concerns raised by the Opposition.
After a meeting with President Ruto at State House Nairobi, Senator Coons apparently commended Kenya as a “one of the most vibrant democracies in the world” and expressed optimism about the ongoing efforts to foster dialogue and cooperation between the political leaders.
The discussions covered global seqcurity issues, climate change, and the country’s devolution progress.
While the clash between political figures dominated headlines, the broader implications of this diplomatic row remain in focus. The incident underscores the delicate balance between diplomatic discourse and domestic political interests.
As Kenya navigates complex challenges and strives to project a positive image on the global stage, maintaining respectful dialogue between leaders and foreign diplomats remains paramount.
In a world where international relations can profoundly influence a nation’s stability and growth, Kenyan citizens are left to ponder the long-term consequences of these exchanges.
Kenya is moving forward towards finding common ground and embracing constructive communication which will undoubtedly be key factors in shaping its future trajectory on both the local and international fronts.