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A Walde-wide Game of Keep-away

August 03
01:54 2013

DAN RUDY

When a regular fellow does it, it’s called hit and run. But when an American embassy official does, it’s called diplomatic immunity.Stunned to read today the misadventure of Joshua Walde, formerly an information management officer at the American embassy in Nairobi. Whilst speeding along in his SUV Friday, Walde crossed over into the opposite lane of traffic, colliding head-on with a minibus filled with passengers, killing one and seriously wounding eight others.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, the minibus is an ubiquitous fixture on African road surfaces, typically overladen and unsafely spartan craft packed past the brim with riders.

But I digress. The man killed, Haji Lukindo, leaves behind two children and a now-widow, Latifah Naiman Mariki, who is pregnant with a third. Once the sole source of income, Lukindo’s family is now left destitute and facing the possibility of eviction.

From Al Jazeera’s coverage:

“It is difficult for me to handle this matter because my kids need to go to school. They need everything, basic needs,” Mariki said. “And we have no place to stay because we have to pay the rent. We have no money. Even if my kids are sick I have no money to take them to hospital.”
Hilary Renner, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington, said the embassy extended its deepest condolences to Mariki’s family and wished those injured a speedy recovery.

Where’s Walde in all this? He’s apparently scarpered, extricated from the country by the embassy, neither to be bothered with the details nor otherwise held accountable for his actions. He was in sound enough a state to update his credentials, however:

Shortly after the crash, Walde updated his work history on the networking site LinkedIn to put his time in Nairobi in the past tense, from July 2012 to July 2013.
A Facebook group set up after the crash noticed Walde’s updated CV and pointed to that as evidence that Walde would not return to face charges or help victims. The LinkedIn account was then deleted, though a cached version is still available on the internet.
Walde’s wife circulated an email to sell a family vehicle and try to find new work locations for the family’s nanny and gardener after the crash.

So what do information management officers do, that puts them above the laws of others? The State Department describes the post as that which provides customer support, knowledge management, application support, and which manages a world-wide telecommunications network, computer networks, telephone systems, radio networks, and the Diplomatic Pouch and Mail program. At embassies and consulates abroad, IMS are expected to perform other duties, such as supporting visits of high-level officials, including the President of the United States, in support of U.S. foreign policy.

This isn’t Henry Kissenger we’re talking about here. But then, this isn’t the first or worst time the State Department has cited immunity in defence of an employee. In January 2011, a man named Raymond Davis attached to the American consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, gunned down two men in its city streets and was promptly arrested. A vehicle with four occupants coming to his aid ran down a third Pakistani in the process.

The Americans claimed diplomatic immunity for Davis, who himself claimed to have killed the men in self-defence. Islamabad was in an uproar, however, demanding the four men that hit and killed the third Pakistani be turned over. Much like Walde, the demand was refused and the unnamed men were withdrawn from the country.

The whole incident was a frustrating diplomatic wrangle, especially when it came to light that Davis was the acting director of CIA activities in the country. After much fuss and no trial, it ended with Davis paying a sum of money to the victims’ families before leaving the country, never to be heard from again. The only silver lining to the affair was the temporary cessation of drone strikes as the US pressed for Davis’ release.

The United States isn’t alone in its perseverence to the sanctity of diplomatic shenanigans, as a humourous selection of anecdotes from cracked.com and Mental Floss might illustrate. And diplomatic immunity is a tremendous linchpin to the global diplomatic process, to be sure. But leave us be reasonable; there’s a time and a place for everything, and it hardly seems either diplomatic or judicious to put criminals above the law.

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Dan Rudy’s got a bit of a cough at present. But between moist gasps and shuttering expulsions, he does his duty by way of writing, here and abroad.

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1 Comment

  1. APK
    APK July 01, 15:16

    Whatever happened with this case? Did he maintain his diplomatic position? I cannot find anything.

    Reply to this comment

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