An African at heart

An African at heart, a child of the soil of this great continent, Major General (retired) Scott Gration was born in the former Zaire (now DRC) to missionary parents who built schools in Africa and has worked on the continent much of his life. In his book, Flight Path: Son of Africa to Warrior Diplomat, he details his experiences as a son of the soil, his illustrious career on the continent and abroad as well as the painful exit from a position he considered the pinnacle of his love for Africa.

He has been a refugee in Uganda, a Maasai ‘warrior’ in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a volunteer at Mulago, Uganda’s main referral hospital, a fighter pilot in Iraq, a community worker in Ghana, a diplomat in Sudan and Kenya.

Growing up in the early days, he struggled a lot with schooling. His reading proficiency was rated at 360 words per minute with minimal comprehension at the age of 17. An academic future was simply not his thing but he was always outdoors trying to fix things, build something or simply make it work better or more efficiently. His co-curricular abilities saw him get admitted to Rutgers University where he graduated as a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer in 1974. He joined the US Air Force and rose through the ranks to the coveted position of Major General. In the Air Force, he was part of the team whose work involved refueling fighter jets mid-air on expeditions in places such as Iraq. He also trained fighter pilots in Nanyuki, Kenya.

His propensity for inventiveness, breaking away from the tried and tested procedures and inspiring his team members to come up with novel methods in the way of doing things manifested a lot in his adult life. This came back to haunt him both professionally and personally. He was for instance, very critical of the expanded fight in Iraq after 9/11, suggesting that this mission targeted innocent Muslims and Arabs. He also questioned the logic behind regime change in Libya in 2011. Still, he censured the US for failing to remove Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism even after promising to do so in 2010.

As President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan between 2009 and 2011, he went against the prevailing narrative in Washington of an enduring genocide in Darfur region in Sudan. His understanding of the tensions in the region was different and had his own suggestions of how to solve them. As an ambassador in Kenya, he was informed that he rocked the boat “too hard” especially on questions regarding security and embassy staff. His questioning of Kenya’s terrorism rating (on the same level as Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) was, for instance, one such case that irked his bosses in Washington.

His unceremonious exit from his ambassadorial position in Kenya is attributed to the irreconcilable differences with Washington regarding his leadership style. But, in retrospect, he feels he should have done things differently in a position he considered the pinnacle of his life and career and regrets having had to exit too soon. He had regarded the ambassadorial posting in Kenya as a culmination of his family’s experiences and love for Africa. Only that had he known that part of the work of US diplomats is to rather kowtow to donors and to play the typical diplomats’ game of pursuing validation by hobnobbing with a tireless civil society especially those famed with seeking to effect a change of the unpopular regimes, perhaps he should still be holding his job. Or, he should have exited in the most memorable and satisfying way. But, what a waste! Some lessons come too late in life.

In the memoir, Gration hasn’t shed off some mistaken stereotypes about several aspects of life on the continent. By making reference to Kibera, a slum in Nairobi as the largest in the continent with over a million residents earning less than one dollar a day and living within two square miles, he doesn’t do justice to himself as one who is very conversant with the continent he grew up in. Kenya’s Population and HousingCensus in 2009 puts the population of the slum at 170,000 people and not a million as he suggests in the book.

After his unceremonious exit from the position of US ambassador to Kenya (serving only for seven months), he continues to live in Kenya and is fully an African at heart. 

Photo Credits: Scottgration.com.

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