Saturday, July 4, 2009



KEVIN KELLEY in Washington
Friday, July 3 2009

US President Barack Obama has strongly criticised Kenya’s leadership, expressing concern about the country’s political and economic direction.

Explaining why Ghana was chosen as his first official destination in black Africa, President Obama singled out the slow pace of reforms as a key impediment in Kenya.

In his most pointed comments on the country of his father’s birth, the US President tore into Kenya’s leadership saying that “political parties do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward.”

Peaceful elections

After praising Ghana’s peaceful elections and government accountability, President Obama added in an interview with that in some cases in Africa “we’re also seeing some backsliding.”

Hours after President Obama’s statement, the American embassy in Nairobi announced that the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr Johnnie Carson, was in the country “to consult and discuss the progress of implementation of the reform agenda with senior government officials”.

Mr Carson, a former ambassador in Nairobi, will address a press conference this evening at the ambassador’s residence in Nairobi.

In his last visit to the country in mid-June, Mr Carson delivered a message from Mr Obama to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga that The Hague option would be apt if MPs rejected the formation of a tribunal.

Mr Obama said that there was a direct correlation between governance and prosperity.

He noted: “Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognises that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person, have a track record of producing results for the people. And we want to highlight that.”

Mr Obama’s comments come only days after an audit report on the progress of the Grand Coalition Government this week painted a grim picture of the progress made in implementation of the National Accord.

The coalition partners — ODM and PNU — are currently working overtime as a deadline to set up a tribunal to try suspected perpetrators of the 2008 post-election violence fast approaches.A government delegation is currently in Europe on a familiarisation tour of the International Criminal Court at The Hague which is the next stop for the suspects, if a local tribunal is not established.

The team, that includes Attorney General Amos Wako and ministers Mutula Kilonzo and James Orengo, is also holding talks with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who has given the government until the end of August to set up the special court.

Mr Obama is scheduled to visit Ghana from today in what has been observed as his reward to Africa’s icon of democracy. In the interview, he observed that Kenya’s GDP was higher than that of one of Asia’s economic tigers - South Korea - in the 1960s.

“What’s happened over that 50-year period? What you’ve seen is Korea combine foreign investment, integration with the global economy, with a strategic sense of certain industries that they can promote for export; great emphasis on education for a skilled work force; insisting that foreign investment is accompanied by technology transferring so that home grown industries can be built and nurtured,” said Mr Obama, whose father hailed from Kenya.

Further drawing an implicit contrast with Kenya’s leadership, Mr Obama pointed out that he has invited two African reformers to talks in the Oval Office — President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Prime Minister Morgan Tsavingirai of Zimbabwe.

He explained: “And in each case, I’m trying to send the same message. You’ve seen some very good work by the administration in Tanzania focusing on how to deliver concrete services to the people, and wherever folks want to help themselves, we want to be there as a partner.”

Mr Obama has not invited either President Kibaki or Mr Odinga to the White House, even though the PM visited the US in May.

The two principals have often been criticised locally and internationally for failing to guide the country out of danger ahead of the 2012 general elections.

Up to date, the two are yet to settle on the leader of government business in Parliament after a deadlock ensued when the president appointed Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and the PM nominated himself in April.

However, the two have in the recent past moved to assure the country that the coalition would last to the end and would deliver on the reforms envisaged in the national accord. Some of these include constitution review, electoral review, land reforms and reconciliation.

The government plans to change key parts of the proposed tribunal law in an attempt to get MPs to vote for it. Amendment to the tribunal Bill was top on the agenda of the meeting between a Kenyan delegation and Mr Annan, who mediated an end to the political crisis in 2008.

Two clauses are likely to be amended: The one that requires office holders to be charged for crimes committed by their juniors and another which said suspects are to resign and face arrest the moment they are named.The amendments are intended to disarm MPs and get them to vote for a local tribunal.

The two clauses were contested by MPs and may have caused the Bill to be rejected by Parliament. A number of MPs have however expressed their disapproval, vowing to scuttle the process once more when the Bill is tabled again.