Sunday, August 16, 2009



Saturday, August 15 2009

President Barack Obama’s administration has dramatically stepped up pressure on the grand coalition in demanding the removal of four top officials it says are frustrating the implementation of institutional reforms in Kenya.

The United States has asked President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to dismiss the officials, who hold senior positions in the governance and law and order sector, if the international community is to take seriously the government’s vow to reform key institutions.

Those pinpointed for the sack, or ouster from office through constitutional tribunal, are Police Commissioner Maj-Gen Hussein Ali, Attorney-General Amos Wako, Chief Justice Evan Gicheru and Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission head Aaron Ringera.

Failure to remove these men, the US administration has warned, will attract a broad range of sanctions against some Kenyan leaders, including lifetime travel bans and asset freezes.

“The catchphrase in our engagement is less talk, more action,” a senior US embassy official said. “We want to see some tough decisions taken such as removal from power of people who are themselves corrupt, have been corrupt in the past or head institutions that have been described as corrupt and in need of reform. In order to signal commitment to reforms, some of these officials need to be removed from office.”

The official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss freely state-to-state relations, said the US was closely monitoring the implementation of the reforms proposed in the National Accord and Reconciliation Act (2008) and those suggested by several commissions including the Waki and Kriegler reports and separate task forces on reform of the police and Judiciary.

All these have suggested far-reaching changes in the two institutions that have been described in numerous opinion polls and probe reports as endemically corrupt and inefficient.

It was reported last week that the US administration had expressed displeasure about several government officials, but this is the first time the administration identified those it wants removed.

Said the official who spoke to the Sunday Nation:

“Unfortunately, Kenya has a history of putting together commissions whose findings are not implemented. The concern of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and Ambassador Michael Ranneberger is that this should not happen this time round,” the official said.

If the US goes ahead and imposes visa bans on senior Kenyan officials, it would mark one of the lowest points in Kenya’s relations with the West.

The last time the country came under similarly intense pressure was in the late 1980s and early 1990s when President Moi was forced to allow amendments to the constitution that paved the way for a return to multi-party politics.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga are under pressure to implement the reforms they promised when they signed the national accord.

The changes are regarded as key to ensuring the country does not slide back into the chaos that saw over 1,000 people killed and a quarter million displaced last year following the disputed presidential election.

Apart from the Americans, the British High Commission in Nairobi and the European Union mission in to Kenya have been vocal on the need for reforms.

In separate interviews, Sweden’s acting ambassador Björn Häggmark and British High Commission spokesperson Charley Williams stressed the need for Kenya to carry through with the reforms.

“Ultimately, it is upon Kenyans to implement these reforms. We recognise it is a major challenge, but we are concerned because there is limited time before the next election, and our concern is that the crisis does not recur,” Ms Williams said.

Mr Häggmark, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said the EU was monitoring the progress of implementation of reforms.

“The importance the EU attaches to Kenya was made clear at the meeting of EU foreign ministers (on July 27). We fully agree with Kenyans who say the crisis we saw last year must never be repeated, and we will strongly support efforts to promptly implement the proposed reforms.”

While the Kibaki-Odinga administration is under considerable pressure from countries in the EU, the pressure from the US appears especially acute.

The US official who spoke to the Sunday Nation said his country has a “unique tie and interest in Kenya now that Mr Obama is president.” He stressed that the US was not “dictating” to Kenya but that it was supporting the demands of ordinary Kenyans for change.

“President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton look carefully at the opinion polls and what Kenyans say on the editorial pages. We see what the people of Kenya have said they want: the end of impunity and corruption.”

The official said sacking of officials thought to be standing in the way of reform was a key test of the administration’s willingness to support reform.

While he declined to confirm or deny reports the Sunday Nation received from Kenya government officials that the demand to sack the senior government officers was relayed through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the embassy official said:

“The government is aware of our position. The fact is that we have indicated these guys are problematic. We have told the government we need better leaders.”

On the question of how soon the four men should be relieved of their jobs, the official said: “As soon as possible. The Kenyan government could signal its interest in reforms if it so chose. In the US, President Obama does not have to consult Congress if he wants to remove the head of the FBI. It is the same here with a number of these officials.”

Commenting on the four individuals, the official said they were not directly accusing them of corruption but said they need to pave way for people who can seriously drive the reform process.

“Mr Wako has been in office for more than 18 years, yet we are yet to see substantial movement towards reforming the State Law office and making it easier for Kenyans to access justice. The same with Mr Gicheru. Again with Mr Ringera.

We can’t say he himself is corrupt, but he is one of the highest paid public officials, and we are yet to see the sort of concerted effort to bring senior officials to account for corruption that we would expect from his office. Regarding Maj-Gen Ali, the less said the better.” On the proposal by Cabinet to try the suspected masterminds of post-election violence, the official was especially blunt, saying they consider that option “dead.”

“We are glad that Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka came out to say that the mandate of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) will not be changed.”

The embassy official also dismissed as “complete rubbish” some reports that Mr Ranneberger was not reading from the same script as his bosses in Washington.

“Ambassador Ranneberger has served a long and distinguished career in the foreign service. He is not a Republican appointee as some have said but a career diplomat. His message has been consistent with that of Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton and Mr Carson. The ambassador consults very closely with Washington.”

Mr Ranneberger has been one of the most consistent advocates of the swift implementation of the reform agenda, a subject he returned to on Friday evening at a dinner hosted by civil society organisations.

On Saturday, the Sunday Nation was unable to get through to the individuals named by the US as standing in the way of reforms. But government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua rejected the US demands for the sacking of those officials.

“The government does not replace or hire people based on positions taken by other countries. That would make us puppets,” he said. The growing clamour for change is likely to focus unflattering attention on the government in the coming weeks.

The subject of the trial of people suspected of masterminding the post-election violence has proved particularly uncomfortable for the grand coalition, especially because several sitting ministers are thought to be on the list of suspects.Outside the house, the Kibaki and Raila administration will have to device a strategy to cope with the international pressure from the west which, according to the US official, will only grow in the days to come.

“Secretary of State Clinton put it best. Ours is a tough message lovingly presented. We will keep airing it until the aspirations of the Kenyan people for an end to impunity and corruption are realised.”