Joe Biden taps former HP boss Meg Whitman as US ambassador to Kenya

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US President Joe Biden’s Kenya’s ambassador nominee Meg Whitman. PHOTO | AFP

US President Joe Biden has nominated former chief executive of ICT firms Hewlett Packard and eBay Margaret Whitman as ambassador to Kenya.

Ms Whitman, a billionaire and longtime technology industry executive, commonly referred to by her nickname “Meg,” spent decades in high-level corporate roles and has also been active in US politics.

If confirmed by the US Senate, she will take over from Eric Kneedler, the chargé d’affaires ad interim for Kenya since January after former ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter resigned following the change of guard at the White House. McCarter had been appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2019.

In announcing Biden’s selection of Whitman, the White House noted her extensive business background.

Her nomination comes amid growing unease in Nairobi about the Biden’s administration’s delay to conclude a free trade agreement with Kenya, which was initiated by his predecessor Trump.

“Kenya is a strategic partner of the United States, and if confirmed, I look forward to working with the Kenyan government on a wide variety of issues to advance peace, prosperity and health in the country and throughout the region,” Ms Whitman said in a statement issued by the White House on Wednesday night.

A graduate of Princeton, Ms Whitman earned her MBA from Harvard and worked at several major US companies — including Proctor & Gamble and Walt Disney — before joining eBay in 1998.

She is a board member of Proctor & Gamble and General Motors and national board chair of Teach for America.

According to US reports, Whitman, a former Republican, was a significant donor backing Democrat Biden’s campaign.

Whitman ran an unsuccessful bid for governor of California as a Republican in 2010. She also endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016 against Trump.

US records show that wealthy donors often get ambassadorial roles in Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

Former President Trump also picked ambassadors to various countries who had contributed to his campaign.

Previous US ambassadors to Kenya include Robert F. Godec (2013-2019), Scott Gration (2011-2012), Michael Ranneberger (2006-2011), William M. Bellamy (2003-2006), and Johnnie Carson (1999-2003).

Others are Prudence Bushnell (1996-1999), Aurelia E. Brazeal (1993-1996) and Smith Hempstone, Jr (1989-1993).