Envoy nurtured political and personal Kenyan ties


(This is an abridged version of a speech made by Charles Njonjo at a farewell dinner he hosted for outgoing US ambassador Michael Ranneberger).

Thank you for joining me tonight to celebrate the amazing tenure and times of my good friend the outgoing US ambassador, Michael Ranneberger. We will dearly miss him and his championing the Kenyan cause in Washington and indeed globally. And championing it with Kenyans themselves.

But despite his departure, we have no reason to be downcast today.  As we now know, even as Michael was cementing strongest ties between our two countries, he was also devoting himself to cementing bilateral ties of an altogether more important kind!  In the process, he is taking with him a piece of Kenya that most of us wish had stayed right here with one of us.

Michael, we congratulate you on having succeeded in nurturing not one but two very successful US-Kenya marriages, the political and the personal!  Dare we hope that we are seeing the beginning of the Obama factor in reverse?  let us pray that in years to come, there will be a Kenyan, born out of the union of our two great nations, who will provide the finishing touches to an enduring inter-ethnic harmony in Kenya, just as President Barack Obama\’s victory represented for the US.

So, dear friends, we are not downcast tonight – Michael will be a living presence among us, even before you return in a year or so to join us again.

As some of you know, Margaret and I hurried back just this morning from London after attending the other glorious wedding, between Prince William and Kate Middleton.  It was a long but delightful affair, capped by that kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony.

But I discovered even in London that Kenyans were celebrating a much more dramatic kiss in their own midst, captured in beautiful photographs.

You can tell that the Kenyan kiss was not rehearsed half a dozen times, with professional handlers in tow! It was entirely spontaneous and a great photographer captured it just.

So while we, and Michael and Ruth, are not downcast tonight, miss him we will.  He loomed large in our daily lives, a staple of media coverage.  There were very few weeks when he did not announce a major new initiative – or was not the subject of caustic comment!
Michael made an impact wherever he went – and Michael went more places in more provinces in Kenya than any other ambassador has.

He engaged with the widest spectrum of society, dancing with Nyakinyua women even as he promoted their causes, exchanging ideas with youth on how to achieve their empowerment, brainstorming at the grassroots with elders and opinion leaders on the ways to reconciliation.

And so he ended up being much admired – and loved – by Kenyans fed up with our long history of impunity, divisiveness and corruption.

I have never seen an American ambassador – and I have known every one of them, believe it or not – but there was no one who was able to leverage the superpower\’s influence in Kenya so delicately and achieve such impressive results, despite the political tensions that have marked this period.

Not all his leveraging was so delicate – leaders and Kenyans alike were stunned through WikiLeaks to see how candid his cables to Washington were. But it gave them a rare insight into the political contest constantly under way in Kenya to obtain maximum support from our partners.

Clearly some leaders had no compunction in fuelling internal divisions to gain the upper hand.

It is a tribute to Michael Ranneberger that save for implicated leaders, his stock with Kenyans retained its lustre because they recognized that he was genuinely trying to grapple with our ailments.
There were other great ambassadors with impressive achievements. The 1950\’s and 60\’s saw the US Airlift, which catapulted thousands of young Kenyans into skilled pioneers who were able to drive this country forward from Day One.

Among those who benefitted was Barack Obama Snr, whose many contributions include siring the future president of the United States.  It was President Obama\’s personal interest that has been crucial for Michael\’s efforts to set us back on the road to reconciliation and reform.   

Smith Hempstone\’s efforts also spring to mind, but then he was advocating a democratic course that had immense, Africa-wide support. Mike was fighting a much lonelier Kenyan battle.

It was inevitable that Michael would have admirers as well as critics. Many were unhappy with some of his earlier positions, and they did wonder how he came to understand Kenya so much better so quickly after that.  I think we now know part of the answer.

So let me conclude, my dear friends, by saying that no friend of Kenya has done as much as Michael did to make ours a more peaceful country through advocating reforms which will address the root causes of our ailments. I am so pleased that all of you were able despite this holiday weekend to come together to bid Michael a hopefully temporary farewell.

(Charles Njonjo is a businessman, elder statesman, former MP and ex Attorney General)

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