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PERSPECTIVE ON DIPLOMACY : Confessions of a Boat-Rocker : Bush's envoy to Kenya didn't like what he saw there and said so, to the dismay of Foggy Bottom and Daniel Arap Moi.

June 01, 1993|SMITH HEMPSTONE | Smith Hempstone, ambassador to Kenya from December, 1989, to March, 1993, is back home in the Washington area.

Probably it was a case of mistaken identity. There is no other logical way to explain President George Bush's nomination of me in 1989 to be ambassador to Kenya.

I had not been born in Massachusetts or brought up in Connecticut. I had not attended Andover or graduated from Yale. I had not served in the Navy or worked in the oil business in Texas.

While I had been a lifelong Republican, a maverick conservative, and had known Mr. Bush slightly, I had never been a political activist. More disabling, I was not a rich man and had never been a big campaign donor. My contribution to Mr. Bush 's 1988 presidential campaign was $100.

Perhaps more disqualifying, I actually knew something about Kenya. I had first gone there in 1957, had lived there from 1960 through 1964 and had visited East Africa many times since. I had known the country's movers and shakers as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, was familiar with its history and political dynamics, had visited every corner of the East African republic, even spoke the lingo (Swahili) a bit. Clearly, I should have been sent to Indonesia, if anywhere.

Perhaps the political squirrels who scuttle through the attic of the White House felt it would be safe to float my name on the thought that, for lack of an ardent political sponsor in my state, I would never be nominated or confirmed.

So I had to be (and was) perfectly shameless in corralling the support of every bigwig (and many small, but nevertheless significant, little wigs) I had known in politics, academia, the press, the Foreign Service and the intelligence community over more than 30 years as a newspaperman. With one honorable exception, all agreed to write letters or speak out in my support, and some probably actually did so. I was nominated in May and, with the bureaucratic machinery working at white-hot speed, confirmed in November. My wife and I deplaned in Nairobi on Dec. 7, 1989 (a day that shall live in infamy) and, one week later, I presented my credentials to President Daniel Arap Moi, a rare sign of favor on the part of His Nibs.

To the obvious consternation of the staff at the Embassy, I made it clear that I would be a working ambassador, that, rather than playing golf and bridge and attending diplomatic receptions, I intended to be the chief of mission in fact as well as name. Nothing could have more alarmed the gray little men of Foggy Bottom.

For the 27 years since Kenya's independence, U.S. policy had been conditioned by the Cold War and the perceived need to keep Kenya as a pro-Western, free-market island of stability in the midst of a roiling sea of Marxist chaos. Moi's one-party kleptocracy might not be a particularly pretty boat, but it was not to be rocked.

The former colonial power, Britain, was particularly eager to see that its multi-million-dollar trade with Kenya remained buoyant, its billion-dollar investment safeguarded and, most important, that 40,000 Kenya Pakistanis and Indians entitled to British passports were not dumped on the shores of that green and sceptred isle.

But the rules of the game had changed. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, nationalistic fires ignited all over Eastern Europe and dissidents everywhere in Africa were calling for a "second liberation" that would sweep away the corrupt, inefficient and heavy-handed, single-party governments that had made a charade of three decades of independence.

In early 1990, there were signs that Washington was reconsidering its support of African tyrants simply because they were (or claimed to be) anti-communist. I made it clear to Moi privately on several occasions during this period that change in Africa (and elsewhere) was inevitable, that he had only two options: to manage change to his benefit, or to become its victim. I don't think he had the faintest idea what I was talking about. Certainly nothing changed.

Since quiet diplomacy was not proving effective, I went public in May. I declared to a notorious revolutionary forum, the Rotary Club of Nairobi, that America would in the future concentrate its finite economic aid on "those countries that cherish human rights, adhere to the rule of law and practice multi-party democracy." The same day, two former Kenyan Cabinet ministers, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, announced the formation of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, demanded the legalization of opposition parties and called for elections.

Through June, I was subjected to an unprecedented campaign of personal vilification launched by members of the ruling Kenya African National Union. The KANU-owned Kenya Times, in a front-page editorial, advised me to "shut up."

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