Gration’s departure comes amid increasing U.S. concern that al-Shabab and other groups are penetrating the Horn of Africa and using the region as a base to target the West and its allies. Kenyan military forces are fighting the Islamist militants in Somalia, alongside U.S.-backed African Union troops.
Since Kenya sent its troops to Somalia last October, a spate of grenade attacks has harmed the nation’s tourism sector, the second-largest source of foreign exchange after agriculture.
A U.S. Embassy advisory last week warning of an imminent terrorist attack in Kenya’s southern port city of Mombasa stirred tension between Nairobi and the State Department. Worried that the warning could further harm its tourism industry and economic growth, the Kenyan government publicly described it as “economic sabotage.”
Two weeks ago, Gration was visited in Kenya by the administration’s highest-ranking diplomat on Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, a career foreign service officer who served as ambassador to Kenya from 1999 to 2003. Carson first visited Somalia, the highest-ranking U.S. official to do so in nearly two decades.
The son of missionaries, Gration grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and speaks Swahili, widely used in Kenya and other parts of East Africa.
He spent most of his Air Force career as a fighter pilot, then rose through the ranks to become director of strategy and planning under Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who at the time was NATO’s supreme allied commander. Gration was assigned to brief then-Sen. Barack Obama, and later was asked to accompany Obama as military liaison on a formative trip to Africa. They spent three weeks traveling through South Africa, Kenya, the Darfur refugee champs in Chad and the U.S. military installation in Djibouti.
A few months after the trip, Gration retired from the military and joined the Democratic Party and Obama’s campaign. Gration was a close adviser who was said to have greatly influenced Obama’s thinking about Africa; he later became a special assistant to the president.
From March 2009 to April 2011, Gration was the U.S. special envoy to Sudan. He spawned controversy over his soft-handed leadership style in dealing with the repressive Khartoum government, led by Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who had been indicted on war-crimes charges.
While Gration at the time called his approach pragmatic, critics, including Democratic and Republican members of Congress, charged that Bashir’s regime was manipulating him. They argued that Bashir and his top advisers respond only to pressure, particularly tough multilateral sanction against Sudan. But Gration preferred a more conciliatory approach, using carrots over sticks.
“We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” Gration told a Washington Post reporter in September 2009. “Kids, countries — they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.”
Gration, who became ambassador 13 months ago, said in his statement Friday that the diplomatic assignment had been “the perfect opportunity to use my deep-rooted
knowledge of Kenya — its people, its language, and its culture — and my diplomatic, development, security, and humanitarian experience.”
Gration said he would deeply miss Kenya and its people.
“I am very proud of my 35-year career of dedicated and honorable service to our great nation, leading at all times with integrity first and the highest ethical standards,” he said.
Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.
The Kenya Forum extends its thanks to Gen.J Scott Gration for his work in supporting Kenya….we know you had our interests at heart, and we hope you find happiness in your future…