Challenges Awaiting Kyle McCarter, New US Ambassador to Kenya

Published on 21st May 2019

The incoming United States ambassador, honorable Kyle McCarter, has taken over from his predecessor Robert Godec, when Kenya is embroiled in many challenges. One wonders if ambassador McCarters diplomatic role in Nairobi will set a paradigm shift from his predecessor who was more friendly to the status quo. Preventing corrupt Kenyans to enter the US nor pay for their children's education is a masterstroke by the new ambassador.

From corruption, the main elephant in the room, money laundering, drugs menace; to the war on terror, one can say, the ambassador has stridden into an environment of turbulence and uncertainty. Kenyans at home and in the Diaspora are optimistic that the ambassador is up to the task to represent the US President Donald Trump. Ambassador Mccarter’s philanthropic work in Tharaka Nithi with his wife Victoria, speaks volumes about his big heart and passion to support the people of Kenya.

The new ambassador may be the first US diplomat with a better understanding of Kenya’s culture and language more particularly Kiswahili since the US formalized diplomatic relations with Kenya in 1964. Kenyans have high optimism about what the Trump administration’s foreign policy will be during his tenure.

While Kenya always appreciates assistance from friends who are ready to stand with us in good and bad times, we have a primary role to play for Kenya’s social, political and economic transformation.

Chinese influence and war on corruption

The issue of greater interest is President Trump’s foreign policy on Africa that was arrived at last year when his National Security Advisor John Bolton, named Kenya an anchor country. This strategic step to cushion China’s aggressive economic influence in Kenya will have far-reaching economic ramifications for the country. It has been discovered that China is primarily for self-economic enhancement which does not benefit Kenyans and the whole of Africa.

Ambassador McCarter is likely to face growing concerns from Kenyans about over-borrowing from China which has bloated the country’s public debt to a whopping Kshs.4.884 trillion (USD$49 billion). An increase of 42.8% in over a decade.

If over-borrowing from China is not scaled down, Kenya will sink into a "debt trap" which will affect even the unborn on repayments. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the right ratio of public debt for a developing country should not exceed 40%.

As the adage goes, the borrower is a slave to the lender. In Sri Lanka, the country was forced to give up its two ports to China, as a result, of failing to service their loans. What will remain of Kenya if China claims the Port of Mombasa or Lamu if overborrowing from the Asian giant is not curtailed?

Trump administration should come to Kenya’s rescue to recover funds stashed in offshore accounts by corrupt Kenyans. If the US and European countries will collaborate in this endeavor, it will drastically reduce the looting of public coffers and money laundering.

Kenyans are yet to know if a memorandum signed last year between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Swiss counterpart Alain Berse did yield some fruit to recovery of funds hidden in Swiss banks. The US government can help to divulge these mysterious to Kenyans about funds in offshore accounts: Who is behind the accounts, the amount in the accounts, the accrued interest and lastly, the repatriation timelines of the funds. Transparency and accountability from the Kenyan government in this matter. Kenyans have a reason to fear that the funds may be repatriated back but still end up in the leader’s pockets.

To spur investigative and prosecutorial capacity, the new ambassador should consider setting up a working partnership between Kenya’s law enforcement, The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This will reverse the shoddy work often done by local agencies in apprehending, prosecuting and convicting the corrupt.

US investment

Despite Kenya being the largest economy in East and Central Africa, corruption has slowed the country’s economic growth. It has increased poverty, slowed infrastructure development ruined the delivery of essential services to the citizens and impeded foreign investment.

No investors want to put their funds in an environment of uncertainty where money laundering is a norm with bribery, a tradition to get services in a government office. It is worthy to note that many US companies are ambivalent to invest in Kenya due to heavy government bureaucracy, corruption, and high tariffs. This is an area that the current ambassador should address with President Kenyatta’s government in order to make investment in Kenya more flexible and friendlier to newcomers.

Last year, President Trump and President Kenyatta signed a memorandum in Washington DC to spur Kenya, US strategic partnership on trade, investment, and infrastructure development; a sector currently dominated by China.

Aggressive diplomacy

Diplomats from advanced democracies have over the years openly supported Kenya’s struggle for democracy, social justice, and good governance. In fact, a couple of them fighting alongside Kenyans for the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1991.

The big question for ambassador McCarter is this: Will he be another Smith Hempstone to confront the purveyors of injustices and corruption head-on? The stakes are high in Kenya. The country desperately wants a US diplomat who will take the bull by the horns voraciously by challenging the status quo. Kenyans miss former British ambassador Sir Edward Clay of vomiting on our shoes fame and former Germany ambassador, Berndt Mutzelburg. The two never spared the big fish. They dressed them down without fear.

The US is Kenya’s traditional ally and friend. Genuine friendship was reflected when the late ambassador Hempstone and Mutzelburg (Germany) openly supported the young Turks like James Orengo, Paul Muite, Raila Odinga and  Gitobu Imanyara to fight for political pluralism in early 1990.

Some will argue that the West has no role to meddle into Kenya’s affairs but, this is far-fetched. When we are in a crisis it is the US and other Western powers who come to our rescue. We cannot whitewash the influence of the US, and the EU in Kenya’s social, political and economic affairs.

Through ambassador McCarter, there is hope that the US will continue supporting Kenya to confront her modern challenges in the region.

By Joseph Lister Nyaringo

President of Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby based in the US.

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