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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 July, 2004, 19:41 GMT 20:41 UK
Profile: Edward Clay
By Gray Phombeah
BBC News Online, Nairobi

Kenyans fondly refer to Edward Clay, the British high commissioner to Kenya, as the two-breakfast diplomat.

Edward Clay pictured at State House Nairobi on 14 July this year
Mr Clay is renowned for his blunt and often undiplomatic style

His first claim to a bit of unusual publicity was when he ate two breakfasts in one morning at two of Nairobi's posh hotels, to underscore the message that Kenya was still a safe destination for overseas tourists.

However, it's his penchant for speaking candidly on controversial issues that many Kenyans will remember him for. But his streak for being blunt goes back a bit.

At the British high commission in Cyprus, Mr Clay did not take kindly to a local protest at the British bases in that country.

He described a Cypriot MP who was leading the protest as "a medical monkey up a stick" after he climbed a British radio mast.

In Uganda, where he served between 1993 and 1997, he was equally blunt - lashing out at the government's decision to postpone the first general election in 15 years and its military policy in the civil war in the north.

Two years into his new posting in Kenya, the 59-year-old known for his trademark dark business suit is at it again.

On Tuesday, he accused unnamed corrupt officials of Kenya's new coalition government - the same government he helped midwife - of behaving "like gluttons" and "vomiting on the shoes" of foreign donors.

Tough words indeed for a diplomat, sending a new chill in what has always been a special relationship between Kenya and Britain, even at the worst of times.

'Rogue ambassador'

But from the beginning, Mr Clay was clearly determined to become the antithesis of the high commissioner in John le Carre's novel, The Constant Gardener.

In the book - set in Kenya - the British high commission and its staff are portrayed as being spineless snobs who sip gin-and-tonics in their lush gardens and who choose to turn a blind eye to the corruption of the Kenya government and its officials.

In contrast, Mr Clay chose to ignore diplomacy and discretion - the main attributes of diplomats - and spoke his mind about what he now sees as grand corruption in the Narc coalition government - a coalition government that came to power 18 months ago on an anti-graft platform.

He is now blazing the same scorching trail of the former US ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, who was nicknamed the "rogue ambassador" for tongue-lashing Daniel arap Moi's regime in the early 1990s.

And Mr Clay could not have chosen a better time: Mwai Kibaki is low in the polls, with a weaker economy and his coalition government in tatters. His government is at the centre of a damaging corruption scandal.

The euphoria that welcomed his new government has now been replaced by anxiety and anger for its failure to deliver on its election campaign promises.

Santa Claus

Away from his professional duties, Mr Clay was also determined not to be just another of the usually stiff and boring diplomats.

In Kampala, he was popularly known as the walking high commissioner - preferring to walk to his office rather than take the car.

Since he came to Nairobi, armed with passable Kiswahili, Kenyans have seen him put on a white T-shirt, blue shorts, white socks, sneakers and white cap, and cycle 35km in Lake Nakuru National Park to raise funds in support of the park's rhino population - part of the way being watched by two buffaloes as he cycled by.

The other nugget about his less-than-diplomatic character was the image of Mr Clay as Santa Claus, dishing out goodies to children at last year's Christmas festivities in Nairobi.

Incidentally, the adaptation of The Constant Gardener is currently being filmed in Kenya, not far from the British high commissioner's residency in the up-market Muthaiga suburb.

In the book, the ending is dark, in trademark Le Carre style.

Certainly, Mr Clay's many Kenyan fans must be hoping that no similar fate awaits their good diplomat.

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