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U.S. Flag Burning by Opposition Coalition in Kenya

On February 16th, members of the opposition coalition in Kenya, known as the National Super Alliance (NASA), burnt an American flag near the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The purpose of the gathering was to protest the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, and make it known that they want Godec to be replaced from his post.

This is not the first flag that has been burned by the opposition coalition, with some having been burned over the few weeks leading up to February 16th. The opposition party has become increasingly irritated with how the U.S. has responded to Kenya and have made its disappointment known through these various demonstrations. The coalition places blame on the U.S. government for what it deems to be unjust criticism of its leader, Raila Odinga. The U.S. government has demanded that Mr. Odinga accept that his rival, Uhuru Kenyatta, will be serving a second term, as was determined by the election held last year. Mr Odinga, on the other hand, claims that Mr Kenyatta was not elected according to electoral rules and that he took it upon himself to swear himself into office.

   
  
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    Ngan, Mandel.  Nasa Leader Raila Odinga Speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on November 9, 2017 in Washington, DC . Washington, D.C., 9 Nov. 2017.

Ngan, Mandel. Nasa Leader Raila Odinga Speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on November 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Washington, D.C., 9 Nov. 2017.

The problem that many supporters of the opposition group have with Godec is his alleged participation in Kenyan political affairs; some see his actions as partisan. The burning of the U.S. flag and the anti-Godec chanting were a message to Western countries, specifically America, to stay out of the country’s personal political affairs. NASA supporters also claimed that in the days leading up to the flag burning, Godec was bribed with deals to support Kenyatta’s presidency. Thus, burning the U.S. flag was in retaliation to what the increasingly angered opposition coalition deems as Western meddling in Kenya’s political affairs. 

   
  
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    Omondi, Tonny.  US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec Addresses Vernacular Radio Journalists at Imperial Hotel in Kisumu on May 9, 2017 . Kisumu, 9 May 2017.

Omondi, Tonny. US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec Addresses Vernacular Radio Journalists at Imperial Hotel in Kisumu on May 9, 2017. Kisumu, 9 May 2017.

Godec denies claims of bribery and instead has called for increased communication in Kenya. He himself claims that the Kenyan government is not acting in accordance with the law. He has mentioned instances such as turning off certain TV stations. Yet he is also concerned with NASA’s denial of last year’s election. He claims that if they are in agreement with the law, then they have to accept the results of the election since it was deemed permissible by the Supreme Court.

However, it seems that Godec’s gentle calls for communication can only foster so much cooperation while the situation is so tense. The opposition feels as though it has no say in governance, and believe the U.S. has an influence in this. It has resorted to increasingly radical measures - including this most recent U.S. flag burning - to get its arguments across. Thus, if communication is the solution, then it needs to be aimed at making both sides of the debate feel as though it has a say. It also has to make the opposition feel as though a Western power is merely moderating, not influencing the internal politics of the country more than a political party that still has a major support base.