Washington considers Kenya a prime ally
PETER N.R.O. OGEGO, Kenya’s Ambassador to the United States, Mexico and Colombia, was interviewed for Diplomat East Africa by JOHN MULAA in Washington DC. The following are excerpts from the interview
Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego, 52, Kenya’s envoy to the United States, is a dapper fellow with a penchant for specificity of language. He chooses his words carefully, and yet his delivery is smooth, bespeaking a certain assurance, or maybe it is simply a matter of practiced ease. Either way, spending an hour with Ogego talking about many subjects that come to mind is clearly worth it. He does not parse; he calls it as it is, albeit in a soothing manner. Ogego is a man who is comfortable in his skin. Ogego is no diplomatic novice. He took over the Washington mission after a stint in Ottawa, Canada. It was by all accounts a tumultuous time. Then the Ambassador to the US had, shall we say, issues, that at the very least paralysed the mission.
Ogego’s takeover coincided with the then Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s visit to Nairobi, where he gave a candid assessment of the political situation in Kenya, offering advice that clearly rubbed up the powers that be the wrong way. Kenya Government spokespersons, official and unofficial, poured cold water on the assessment and described it as wildly off the mark. Ogego chimed in on behalf of the Kenyan Government more or less hewing to the official line. Fast-forward three years later. The supposed wet-behind the- ears Senator with Kenyan ancestral roots is sitting comfortably in the Oval Office. He personally does not need to hector Kenya on this or the other. Obama has more than enough underlings to do this on his behalf. However, the message has not changed. What has changed is the Kenya Government’s reaction, given the reality it faces. We began our conservation by talking about the role of Kenya’s mission in the US.
Ogego: Foreign missions are the official institutions through which bilateral diplomacy is conducted. Our mission in the US is the official channel through which we conduct bilateral relations. Washington considers Kenya a prime ally plomacy taking place outside the confines of the embassy, but, finally, all these efforts are channelled through the embassy. Take, for example, communication between the White House and State House, Nairobi. The messages from State House were communicated in the traditional manner: State House, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC, the State Department, and then the White House. We use our mission here to drive our foreign policy, which in our case means continuing to highlight our shared values with the US, values based on democracy, freedom, and economic development. Kenya-US relations date back to the days before Independence, and over time they have deepened. Occasionally, we have some rough patches, but they are smoothed, eventually.
Kenya-US relations with Obama at the helm Two things define the current Kenya-US relations. Kenyans are looking at the US with renewed curiosity and interest because President Obama has Kenyan ancestral roots. This has spurred much interest, inquisitiveness and expectations from Kenyans. Secondly, many Kenyans have been to the United States as students, professionals, and business visitors, etc. Lately there has been a surge of Kenyan Green Card holders. In addition, there are many Kenyans who are US citizens. I estimate there are close to a million Kenyans in the US registered and undocumented. This translates into a lot of interest by Kenyans back home that have relatives living here. There is a flurry of activity between Kenya and the US. The US has always considered Kenya a prime regional ally for obvious reasons. Geopolitics is one of them, particularly given the situation in the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, Kenya is major hub of internal relief operations; it is also a regional hub for aviation, banking, not to forget that it is the only Third World country hosting the headquarters of United Nations agencies UNEP and Habitat. This makes Kenya very important to the US.
Is Obama hard on Kenya?
Is the Obama Administration’s treatment of Kenya different from previous administrations?
I think it is a question of expectations. Washington’s expectations of Kenya are much higher than for the rest of Africa. Kenya is held to higher standards than it is able to meet. I think that is where the problem lies. Many Americans feel that Kenya deserves better institutions than it has. Of course, they understand that the institutions were eroded over a period and it will take some time to get them back on track. Americans know that Kenya has the human resources capacity to revamp and properly manage its institutions. They feel that what is lacking is the political will to get it done within a reasonable period. They are concerned that the next elections are not too far away and unless major institutional reforms are undertaken, there could be a repeat of what happened in 2007. I have spoken to President Obama on several occasions, starting when he was a senator. I have met him at official functions. I recall after his visit to Ghana I met him at an official reception at the White House and we chatted briefly. I told him that his message had been heard clearly. Obama is concerned about Kenya. He feels very strongly that the country should do better than it is doing. No doubt, the US intends to be a good partner.
Is it to Kenya’s advantage to be held to a higher standard?
How does the Kenya Mission in the US market Kenya?
Your impressions of Kenyans in the US...
Life of an ambassador in Washington DC...
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