The US ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman is caught in the local political crossfire over her public remarks this week depicting the 2022 elections as the most credible in the country’s history.
Ms Whitman, who spoke at a devolution conference on Wednesday, also rubbed the opposition the wrong way by appearing to back new or increased taxes imposed by the William Ruto administration.
Her remarks made in the presence of President Ruto have drawn sharp criticism from the opposition, with former Prime Minister Raila threatening to push for the ambassador to be recalled for allegedly interfering in Kenya’s politics.
“Tell the rogue ambassador, Kenya is not 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,” said Mr Odinga in his address at the devolution conference Thursday.
But ruling coalition politicians and senior government officials, including President Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Foreign Affairs Minister Alfred Mutua, have sprung to Ms Whitman’s defence, terming the opposition’s threats to have her recalled unwarranted.
“The US ambassador said that Kenya had a free and fair election and that is a matter of fact. Let us learn to respect ourselves before we demand to be respected. I was asking myself between the people organising demonstrations and destroying property and the ambassador, who is rogue. I leave it up to Kenyans to decide,” President Ruto said on Friday.
Dr Ruto defeated Mr Odinga by a narrow margin of just over 200,000 votes in the August 2022 presidential election, where 14 million cast their ballots. His victory was upheld by the Supreme Court after hearing petitions filed by Mr Odinga and others challenging the result.
But a year later the election remains a touchy topic for the opposition, which maintains that its candidate’s victory was stolen and has called for a forensic audit of the electoral commission’s systems, transmission and vote systems.
Ongoing bipartisan talks, which were recently initiated to end the waves of deadly anti-government protests called by the opposition between March and July to demand for electoral justice and a lowering of the cost of living, are expected to, among others, recommend electoral reforms.
US Senator Chris Coons, who has been in Kenya in recent days and participated in mediating past political conflicts in the country, is believed to have played a role in making the negotiations happen alongside former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Mr Coons met President Ruto at State House, Nairobi yesterday, five days after holding talks with Mr Odinga.
But the Delaware Senator now has another challenge reassuring the opposition about the US neutrality on the latest conflict in the wake of the ambassador’s remarks.
It is not unusual for American and other Western envoys to find themselves embroiled in Kenya’s domestic politics, with the government often accusing them of being sympathetic to the opposition.
Ms Whitman, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard who arrived in Kenya days to last year’s election, has, however, appeared to buck the trend with her proclivity to praise President Ruto’s government.
She first ruffled feathers in the opposition back in August last year when the US embassy imposed movement restrictions for its staff in the western Kenya city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, hinting at a Ruto victory before the results were declared by the electoral commission.
Ms Whitman’s critics in the opposition also allege that she is out to promote US investments at the expense human rights, democracy and governance.