By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; A12
J. Scott Gration, the Obama administration's controversial Sudan envoy, will leave that position to become U.S. ambassador to Kenya, the White House announced Thursday.
The move had been rumored for months. It came shortly after Sudan managed to pull off a major element of the 2005 peace accord that ended one of Africa's most brutal civil wars: a referendum allowing southern Sudan to secede.
Gration, a retired Air Force major general, was one of the first prominent military officials to embrace Obama as a presidential candidate, and he traveled with the then senator to Africa in 2006. Gration grew up in Africa, the son of missionaries, and speaks Swahili.
His approach to Sudan, however, was widely criticized by advocacy groups, by lawmakers and by some within the Obama administration. Gration suggested offering concessions to Sudan's government - which is headed by an alleged war criminal - to get progress on implementing the peace accord and ending violence in the country's Darfur region.
"In order to fix these very real problems that were threatening lives, human rights, physical property, there was no option but to engage and to build the relationship of trust," Gration said in December.
The administration adopted much of Gration's approach. But his controversial remarks - such as saying it was necessary to offer "cookies" and "gold stars" to Sudanese officials - may have hurt him. In recent months, he assumed a lower profile, and the State Department named two senior representatives to focus on the peace agreement and Darfur.
Many officials and experts had feared last month's referendum on splitting up Sudan might end disastrously, touching off a new chapter of the country's bloody civil war. Preparations had been running well behind schedule.
But in a foreign-policy victory for the administration, the vote went well and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir acknowledged this month the decision by the oil-rich south to form its own country. However, there are still several outstanding disputes on borders, oil-revenue-sharing and other issues that could lead to new bouts of tension, experts say.