NAIROBI — The US ambassador to Kenya, once a confidant of President Obama, abruptly announced Friday — days before the release of an internal audit — that he was resigning, citing ‘‘differences with Washington.’’ His departure will leave the top embassy post vacant at a time when Kenya is increasingly being drawn into a battle with militant Islam.
At about the same time that the ambassador, Scott Gration, was giving a tearful farewell to embassy staff members, suspected Somali militants attacked a convoy of aid workers near the Kenya-Somalia border, according to news reports in the state-run media. The militants shot and killed a driver before kidnapping four international aid workers and two Kenyans working for the Norwegian Refugee Council in the Dadaab refugee camp, the world’s largest. The gunmen — and the hostages — then vanished, last seen heading into the Somali desert, the reports said.
Gration’s announcement came just before the release next month of a US government audit that is highly critical of his leadership and management of the embassy, State Department officials said. Gration announced his resignation after seeing a draft of the report, the Associated Press said.
Kenya has suffered a string of kidnappings along the Somalia border, including the abduction of a Frenchwoman who was dragged from a beachfront bungalow and later died in Somalia. There have also been a number of deadly grenade attacks since October, when Kenya sent several thousand troops into Somalia to confront al-Shabab, Somalia’s most fearsome Islamist group.
Gration, a former Air Force pilot and general who had served as a campaign adviser to Obama, said the ambassadorship to Kenya was his ‘‘dream job.’’ But since he arrived in May 2011, Gration has been a bit of a lightning rod. Before his posting to Kenya, he served as Obama’s special envoy for Sudan and was routinely criticized by advocacy groups as being too conciliatory toward Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges for massacres in Darfur.
In Kenya, many of his subordinates at the US Embassy said he was remote and imperial. He also did not seem to be engaged in Kenyan politics as the country heads into one of the most anticipated presidential elections in its history, the first since 2007.