Family misses Gado’s cartoons, retired Primate David Gitari’s fiery sermons and Father Christmas riding down Tchui Road on a camel
Sir Edward Clay, the former British High Co m m i s s i o n e r whose tour of duty was a high drama assignment and still ranks among the most memorable and controversial in the history of Kenyan diplomacy, misses this country dearly. He says he feels deprived at having been declared persona non grata (PNG) long after he had left Nairobi. Among other factors, Sir Edward is remembered in Nairobi as the originator of the visa sanction, a strategy which US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger has now made his own to great effect. The sanction now reportedly extends to around 20 or so leading Kenyans. The latest target of the visa bans is no less a personage than Attorney General Amos Wako, who in November threatened to sue the United States Government for what he called defamation. Speaking exclusively to Diplomat East Africa recently, Sir Edward said of grand corruption, Kenya style, “I have worked on the subject since I left Kenya”. He was the envoy who diagnosed Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura as suffering from selective amnesia in the same breaking news
KENYA BOOSTERS: Former British High Commissioner to Kenya Sir Edward Clay and his wife Anne call on the Kenyan stand at the Gardens for Life exhibit in Cornwall, a county of England
But what was even more surprising is that in all the informal polls taken at the end of the TV news at that time, a solid 80 per cent or more of all Kenyans backed Sir Edward’s campaign against corruption in high places.And he was to continue to enjoy that overwhelming support from the Kenyan public for the rest of his time in Kenya, until he left in mid-2005. It was not his first public exposure on controversial issues. He warned former President Moi and his ministers privately and in a public speech to the Law Society when they seemed to be considering delaying the 2002 election and extending briefly President Moi’s tenure. Although then Internal Security Minister Julius Sunkuli (today the Kenyan envoy in Beijing) took Clay to task, President Moi retired gracefully. “The 2002 election was a huge success for Kenyans”, Clay recalls. “It showed that good elections could be held. The clean result demonstrated that Kenyan electors indeed held in their hands the ability to change the country’s governments.”
He was proud of the British High Commission’s fielding a large number of election observers. “They were all volunteers who accepted disturbance of their Christmas holidays – British, Kenyan, men and women, mixed with observers from outside. They and the larger army of domestic and other observers played a valuable part in witnessing the process under which citizens confer legitimate authority on their rulers. Kenyans started 2003 proud and full of hope.” But the contested election of 2007 and its dire aftermath showed that the gains of 2002 could be reversed. When governments take power without the proper authority of the voters, legitimacy is lost. ‘Long after he retired, Clay was involved in an international incident in the studios of the BBC. He had, in early 2008, an epic encounter on the programme Hardtalk with Gichugu MP Martha Karua, then the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and fire-breathing apologist for the Kenyan Presidency. Ms Karua took the opportunity of appearing alongside Sir Edward to announce on air that he had been declared persona non grata in Kenya and that he had property in this country.
An unrepentant Sir Edward recalls the encounter ruefully in a candid discussion with this writer: “How do I feel about being PNG-ed? Puzzled: ‘PNG’ is a strange distinction to acquire two and- a-half years after I retired, because it usually applies to active diplomats. Martha should know that. She could have checked on property, too: we had none in Kenya. “The most disappointing thing about that episode is that I believe she and people like her were encouraged to think I was vulnerable because I had previously taken a hit from my own government. I got into hot water in 2007 because I publicly criticised the former British Prime Minister's decision to call off inquiries into BAe Systems's Saudi business. That argument hurt me, but I don't regret it. BAe is now being investigated on several other matters. But the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) later also gave up on Anglo-Leasing thanks to Kenya’s non-co-operation. Perhaps Mr Wako thought what a British AG could do, he could, too. His British counterpart, Lord Goldsmith, had lectured Kenyans on corruption during a visit to Nairobi only weeks before the SFO were told to drop their Saudi enquiries. The example the British Government set in meeting its own obligations to crack down on corruption was a bad one: it is now commonly recognized as needing attention.
“Sad, too. My wife, Anne, and I spent a total of six years in Kenya, which was our first posting (1970 to 1972) when I served as a junior political officer, and also our last posting (2001 to 2005) when I served as the High Commissioner. Our oldest daughter was born there. We heard almost on our last day in Kenya that our middle daughter had been a victim of the terrorist attacks in London on 7 July 2005. I had climbed Mt Kenya with her and a young friend as our last family adventure together in Kenya. “Alice’s narrow escape recalled the common threat we all faced from the terrorism which first struck in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. Its shadow hung over all our time in Kenya. The human and other costs for Kenya of those attacks and threats have been severe.” During one terrorism scare, Sir Edward was filmed eating two breakfasts on the same morning in two central Nairobi hotels. What was that about? “There had been a warning to which we all needed to respond. It concerned particularly two hotels in the city centre. The Kenyan authorities took prudent precautions. As a result, tens of thousands of people would be inconvenienced by closing off the centre to traffic and many would have no option but to go to work in or through the area. So I told the Dave Mwangi, PS/Security, that I intended to have breakfast next morning in the targeted hotels, at the possible time.
The idea was to show solidarity with the city’s commuters and express confidence in his ministry’s handling of the precautions. He said it was a good idea and told the media.” Dave Mwangi didn’t show for breakfast; but Sir Edward became known as “Two Breakfasts” for his self-inflicted indigestion (though without vomiting), shared with two colleagues who loyally risked left office. their bacon being fried with their boss’s. This episode reminds me that Sir Edward – who was easily the most popular foreign diplomat ever to serve in Kenya – did not start off as a popular envoy at all. His early years in Kenya coincided with some public relations disasters for the British High Commission.There was the controversy over the “travel advisories” issued by the US and the UK in June 2003, before the breakfast incident above. These led to British Airways cancelling all flights into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on British Government orders. These advisories outraged the Kenyan public and Government. Kiraitu Murungi, then Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, refused contact with the High Commissioner for months: a case of shooting the messenger and ignoring the very serious message.
So perhaps Clay is glad to forget Kenya and these painful memories? Not so, apparently: “I am still involved in development NGOs which have programmes in Kenya. I am glad to be a trustee of Leonard Cheshire Disability, involved in the innovative Oriang education project. I am a patron of Excellent Development, which helps the little water in semi-arid Ukambani go a bit further. The Constant Gardener Trust does useful work in Loyangalani in Turkana, and in Kibera, where some of the film’s memorable scenes were made. “I admire very many Kenyans. “So exclusion is deprivation, though not for the reasons Ms Karua falsely alleged on Hardtalk. But Martha Karua got her own come-uppance later: that was a fair return for somebody who turned from being an apparently convinced reformer in opposition to becoming something else after she got power in 2002. I do not repine; and I would certainly not take back anything for the sake of ingratiating myself with her or anyone else who disapproved of me for laying bare the extent and character of corruption presided over by the government to which she belonged”.
Gado’s Cartoons and the ‘Kieni Strangler ’ On the question of what he and his family — wife Anne and three daughters — miss most about this country Sir Edward had this to say: “What do we remember most of our tour in Kenya? It is hard to choose. The MYSA football league's games. Those who worked with us, and especially our staff in Tchui Road. Gado's cartoons. Redikyulass. Your columns on Saturdays in the Nation. Bush-walks in Porini, at Sarara in Samburu, through Kakamega Forest and in the Mara. Archbishop David Gitari's fiery sermons. Sunrise at Mombasa and on top of Mount Kenya. Sunset and moonrise at Solai. The Phoenix Theatre. Riding my bike through Karura Forest, blessing Wangari Maathai for saving it. Speaking to Caroline Mutoko on KISS FM and realising, with a shiver, that we were mysteriously off-air. “Neighbours. Hosts of children chattering cheerfully to school. People - street vendors, shoe-shiners, successful business people, distinguished former senior politicians and civil servants - who gave me support when the Government wished me dead, or at least dumb. One matatu driver pulled alongside in the traffic crawling home one evening and asked with a big grin if I wanted a lift to Kamiti Prison. A shoe-shiner spotted me one day and offered a ‘special price to clean vomit from your shoes’. Our last Christmas party in our garden: Anne (my wife) presiding, with all our family, grandsons and a few hundred other children, and Father Christmas advancing down Tchui Road on a camel.
“I loved the gullibility of the yellow Press in reporting that Chris Murungaru tried to strangle me at a State House garden party. A British Minister had been with me at that party: we often laugh about my imagined “assassination” by the man I called the “Kieni Strangler” ever after. I recall then- Foreign Minister Mwakwere calling on me in July 2004 to put up or shut up about corruption. I was glad, in giving his President my dossier, to meet his challenge.” An unmistakably sad note enters Sir Edward’s list of things that he misses most about Kenya when he says, “I miss more than anything the busy and noisy human atmosphere in Kenya: the sense of living among purposeful and clever people, whose achievements were undermined by the dysfunctional governance of the country of which they were so proud and which we were so glad to live in. I am sad about those we knew and worked with who are now late.”. If Sir Edward were to return to Kenya when memories of his tumultuous tenure are still fresh one of the most remarkable encounters he would have would almost undoubtedly be with Martha Karua, who has turned her coat yet again and is now a vocal critic of the Kibaki Administration and all it stands for. How times change — the photo op might show the former envoy and the fallen minister shaking hands and smiling broadly at each other. Or perhaps not. Their remarks would resonate all the way to the end of the next decade, long after President Kibaki has left office.
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