What you need to know:
- Mr MacCarter will be ending his tour of duty on January 20, the date when new US President Joe Biden will be sworn in.
- The resignation comes just two years since his confirmation.
Just how can one describe Kyle McCarter? A politician, an accountant or a missionary from an evangelical background? He could be all the above, but Kenyans have come to know him as the diplomat of brutal honesty when it comes to commentary about catching thieves.
Yet Mr McCarter was not entirely detached from his predecessors. Most of the American Ambassadors in the past had stepped on toes of politicians or rubbed the leadership of the day in the wrong ways. Like them, he was a common man in the media. He spoke fluent Kiswahili and was also prominent on social media.
Those ‘kinds’ included Smith Hempstone, once nicknamed the ‘Rogue Ambassador’ for his incessant criticism of the Moi regime. Then came Michael Ranneberger, who Kenyan MPs tried to censure before backchannels voided the move. He later married a Kenyan.
Mr McCarter will be ending his tour of duty on January 20, the date when new US President Joe Biden will be sworn in. The Ambassador announced on Friday he will be resigning the post as the new administration comes in. There is little chance of him marrying a Kenyan now (he is married with two kids).
The resignation comes just two years since his confirmation. He replaced Bob Godec, who had served an unprecedented six years as US envoy to Kenya.
“To his credit, he did not try to interfere directly in the politics of Kenya in the manner in which his predecessors did. Even though his commentary sometimes ruffled people’s feathers, he remained Ambassador in his approach,” said a senior government official, speaking on the diplomat’s tenure.
“He also had a great enthusiasm for Kenya and for the people of Kenya in a naïve sort of way. For all his flaws, Kyle has been a good man.”
He coined ‘USA Marafiki’, a rallying call for US cooperation with Kenya, routinely showing that his country, not rivals like China, was offering genuine support to Kenyans by focusing on mutual benefits rather than debt or just aid. But then he also rattled a few politicians with his ‘Catch the Thieves’ slogan, with which he used to campaign against graft and lack of integrity.
So far, it appears Mr McCarter would be leaving the country with his reputation, or even ties, intact. His vocal incidents, including one in which he used a national prayer breakfast to call on leaders to ensure thieves do not steal more, were not as controversial as those of his predecessors.
Yet the outgoing envoy was already familiar with Kenya long before President Donald Trump nominated him for the post. Back in the 1980s, he and his wife worked for a Christian charity that cared for orphans and widows in today’s Tharaka-Nithi County, where he had also lived with his father as a child.
“As I reflect on my time as Ambassador, I continue to believe that Kenya should no longer be just a beneficiary of foreign aid, but a benefactor to the rest of East Africa,” he wrote in a farewell letter on Friday.
Under his tenure Kenya began negotiations with the US for a bilateral trade agreement, which has stoked controversy in some quarters over the possibility of contradicting the Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
McCarter counters that any deal coming out of the negotiations with Kenya will not violate regional integration but provide more American market access for Kenyan products based on ‘equal’ partnerships.
Serving the Trump administration, McCarter probably focused more of the economic side of relations. Yet he was just as vocal on governance and security.
On Friday though, he was honest, admitting that democracy, despite being the best practice of governance, is a difficult tradition, even for the US itself where the sitting President rejected the outcome of elections and his supporters stormed the US Congress in an attempt to stop the approval of Joe Biden’s victory.
“People make up our institutions. People make up our governments. People are fallible and make mistakes,” he said. “Democracy gives us the chance to recognise our mistakes, to learn from them, and to make changes to ensure our institutions and our leaders do not repeat those mistakes.”