More than two years after he retired, Sir Edward Clay is still managing to make the headlines here. Today’s splash in the Nairobi Star (sadly without a website as far as I can see) is BANNED! EDWARD CLAY NOT WELCOME.
As British High Commissioner he was a constant thorn in the side of the Kibaki administration. In his most memorable attack on corruption, he used a neat turn of phrase – and one that struck a chord with long-suffering Kenyans – to accuse unnamed officials of behaving “like gluttons” and “vomiting on the shoes” of donors.
His comments immediately provoked a wave of condemnation from the Kenyan establishment, only to be overtaken by a surge in popular support – from church leaders, civil society and ordinary wananchi – who felt he was standing up against a corrupt regime.
Today’s story relates to an exchange on Hardtalk a couple of weeks back with Martha Karua, minister for constitutional affairs, who told him he would not be allowed back into the country. It seems her words have been backed up with an official letter from the Kenya High Commission in London.
The Brits have a different way of doing things here these days. For a start Adam Wood is a very different character from Sir Edward. But the Foreign Office has also decided on new tactics. The British High Commissioner’s job is to keep his mouth shut. Instead, visiting ministers dish the dirt. The theory is that it makes it much more difficult for the Kenyan government to dismiss the criticism as coming from an eccentric colonial throwback who has spent too much time in the sun.
As a journalist, I prefer the approach that delivers me up a continuous supply of colourful quotes. I don’t have to worry about the niceties of international diplomacy. But I have to say the softly, softly way of doing things is indistinguishable from the “deer in the headlights” appoach. And while Martha Karua and the rest of the Mount Kenya mafia may not want Sir Edward back in the country, I think many ordinary Kenyans would appreciate his candour.