Wednesday, January 26, 2011

U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger at MindSpeak

It came as a pleasant surprise to me to know that Ambassador Michael Ranneberger was to speak at MindSpeak. Being the first sitting diplomat from another country (in this case the USA) invited to speak at the business club meeting. But I came to realize the ambassador is a man of firsts in many fields.

The ambassador started his presentation by shifting our mindset of the fact that by him being the ambassador of US in Kenya he is then by implication the CEO of the mission in Kenya. Giving a few statistics of his portfolio, He has 1500 employees under him, 500 Americans and 1000 Kenyans and that the mission handles about US dollars 1 Billion which flow to Kenya through the various agencies his country has in Kenya

Ambassador Ranneberger was not shy to speak about his previous engagements which you can say have influenced him to the ambassador he is today. Surprising is the fact that he had not anticipated a career in the diplomatic corps and that he was going to post a letter in the post office that he saw an advert to do a test to join the corps.
He had been studying his PhD in history and was about to do his dissertation and then as he put it become a teacher in one of the colleges.  He also shared with us that when he started his stint in the diplomatic corps he was a shy person and could not fathom talking to a group of people (like the house full MindSpeak).

He also hinted on his style of doing things in that he does not read theological books but relies mostly from his experience and that his style is both positive and confident.
Pointing on the time when the Post Election Violence was occurring. One of the things at his disposal was flying out his staff BUT he didn’t take that option. What he did was to rely on his instinct and experience, assembled his staff or troops if you like and told them that the situation would be over in a couple of months.
He also talked briefly on the role the US played behind the scenes to resolve the crisis. Pointing out on how the principals were a taken by the dailies headline which ran across all spectrum of newspapers in Kenya ‘Save our Country’.

Being an American citizen he did not hesitate to talk about his country and values. Talking about what is going on in the States ‘Tea Party Movement’ and the electoral swings they experience. Also pointing out that American values are always consistent what may change are the tactics or Strategy.
He also talked of how he had met the President during his Chief of Mission Conference last year and how the President is abreast on what is happening in the country.
He also talked on his definitive speech he was to give on 25/01/2011 at the American Camber of Commerce dinner in Kenya.

Ambassador Ranneberger also talked briefly on the three major programmes his government is involved in Kenya.
  • PEPFAR US dollars (580 million) Largest amount spent in a single country the whole world
  • Democracy and Governance initiatives i.e. Youth Programmes
  • Environment and Agriculture i.e Feed the future programme (Signed in 2010 at KARI)

US Interests in Kenya

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One of the things we like the US ambassador is that he is forthright and this was NOT an exception. He candidly pointed out the US interests in Kenya which are;
  1. Democracy and Stability (As is the US goal any part of the world)
  2. Development
  3. Regional Stability (Pointing out Somalia & Sudan). Mind you Sen. John Kerry was in Southern Sudan during the referendum to secede from the North
  4. Counter Extremism

However he did not talk much about China which has been making in roads in this region and South Korea which I have noticed is also coming along.
However, during the Q&A he did point out Robert B. Zoellick who brought a new paradigm to Washington of NOT viewing Beijing as a Competitor in the World stage but as an ally during his tenure as the US Trade Representative before joining World Bank.
So he welcomed the positive competition that China is currently giving them. Noting that US ceased from doing infrastructure projects he does not mind China assisting African countries in developing their infrastructure. However, he cautioned in passing that he had observed NOT many African were involved in these projects, so the issue of Kenyans gaining from these cooperations was minimal.

Youth Issue
The ambassador talked about why the state dept is investing in the youth alluding to the fact that the youth are the future.
Hence programs that target interacting with the youth have gained traction in the state dept with the ambassador present on the social networks.

Here are some of the snippets from the ‘Hope for the future speech’ which was delivered on Tuesday 25/01/2011 at the American Chamber of Commerce dinner where the ambassador was the keynote speaker. I consider this speech definitive because it has lots of stats which are credible considering the US sponsors quite a number of Statistical undertakings in the country.

President Obama has a strong interest in developing the leadership skills of young people, and last year held his first Young Africa Leaders Forum.  He has charged young people to be agents of change and to “stand up for democracy and transparent government.”  Our $45 million “Yes Youth Can” program will empower hundreds of thousands of youth to participate in the development of their country, and expand their peaceful participation in the democratic process. 
Our work with youth supports the initiatives of young people themselves.  Importantly, the National Youth Forum works across ethnic and political lines with a common agenda to promote peaceful reform. We welcome the National Youth Forum’s efforts to establish County Youth Forums in every county.  We are establishing a $10 million youth-led and youth-owned Youth Innovate for Change Fund that will provide youth with opportunities to access capital for economic development”.  

Over half of Kenya’s population lives in poverty, living on less than $2 per day.  Kenya is ranked in the bottom 20% of countries in the UNDP Human Development Index.  Real unemployment among the two-thirds of the population which are under 35 stands at nearly 50 percent’’

Support for the empowerment of youth to expand their participation in the democratic system and to assist them to develop businesses to create new jobs”.

"Kenya has recently been designated a focus country for two of President Obama’s global initiatives.  Through the Feed the Future Initiative, working with the Government of Kenya we have affirmed a commitment to achieve significant agricultural development objectives, including alleviating the suffering of the over 2 million Kenyans who are chronically food insecure.  Last September at KARI, I announced an initial USG investment of $29 million to support Kenya’s agricultural strategy through the Feed the Future initiative.  We will also continue to provide humanitarian assistance to combat drought".

"Real success in the agricultural sector, however, will require the GOK’s commitment to the political and economic reform agenda, including land reform, a strengthened fight against corruption, restructuring and/or elimination of the 34 agriculture-related parastatals, including the NCPB, and removing protectionist tariffs and import licenses that increase the price of basic foodstuffs to the poor".

The writer is an intern at Ministry of Agriculture, Planning Department and contributes/one of the admins of NairobiNow.

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