Thursday, August 6, 2009



By Mary Beth Sheridan and Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 6, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began a major trip to Africa on Wednesday by publicly urging Kenya, a strategic U.S. ally, to move faster to resolve tensions lingering from a disputed 2007 election that precipitated the country's worst crisis since it gained independence.

Clinton went further in a meeting with Kenyan leaders, urging them to fire the attorney general and the police chief, who have been accused of ignoring dozens of killings carried out by police death squads, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. Clinton also raised the possibility of banning some Kenyan officials from traveling to the United States if the government does not move more quickly to prosecute those responsible for post-election ethnic violence that left 1,300 people dead. The organizers are widely suspected to include senior officials and cabinet ministers, many of whom have family members in the United States.

"We are going to use whatever tools we need to use to ensure that there is justice," the official said. "We raised the possibility of visa bans and implied there could be more."

Clinton's public remarks were more gentle but still reflected the Obama administration's concern that Kenya, which has lent crucial support to U.S. humanitarian, diplomatic and military operations in this volatile region, could slip back into political and ethnic violence that brought it close to collapse last year.

President Mwai Kibaki and former opposition leader Raila Odinga, now the prime minister, ended the crisis with a power-sharing deal and a commitment to political reforms that would include prosecution of those suspected of participating in the post-election violence. But Clinton made clear that their coalition government has not followed through.

"The absence of strong and democratic institutions has permitted ongoing corruption, impunity, politically motivated violence, human rights abuses, lack of respect for the rule of law," Clinton said at a news conference after meeting with Kibaki, Odinga and security officials.

'They're Trying to Hide'

Kenyans remain deeply frustrated with the coalition government, which they say is bloated with well-paid officials concerned more with their own survival than with the welfare of the country, swaths of which are in the midst of a hunger crisis.

In the latest example of trouble with the peace deal, the Kenyan government stepped back in recent days from a commitment to establish a special tribunal to try people accused in connection with the post-election violence. The government said it would rely on a "reformed judicial system" instead.

But in a country with a history of sweeping corruption cases, political killings and other official misdeeds under the rug, human rights groups and ordinary Kenyans cast the move as a blatant bid by senior officials to avoid punishment.

"They're selfish, and they're trying to hide," said Caleb Onduso, 25, who was among a crowd at a convention center here Wednesday hoping to hear Clinton speak. "They've forgotten us."

The U.S. Embassy also condemned the government's move in a statement on the eve of Clinton's visit, saying it was "not a credible approach in the eyes of Kenyans and the international community."

If the government fails to establish the special tribunal, U.S. officials say, they will support prosecution of the suspects by the International Criminal Court.
Clinton's trip comes just three weeks after President Obama visited Ghana and laid out his emerging policy toward Africa. Like Obama, whose father was Kenyan, Clinton is emphasizing good governance and touting a $20 billion U.S.-led program to provide poor countries in Africa and elsewhere with agricultural aid aimed at small farmers.

Economic Growth

She began her visit Wednesday morning at the annual forum on the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, a program started by President Bill Clinton that allows enhanced U.S. market access for African products. Clinton said she wanted to emphasize Africa's success stories and move beyond the "stale and outdated" image of the continent as a place awash in poverty, disease and conflict.

Sub-Saharan Africa had economic growth averaging more than 5 percent for the five years leading up to 2009, the first such expansion in 45 years. But the continent is now feeling the pinch of shriveling trade and remittances due to the global economic crisis.

At the AGOA Forum, Clinton emphasized plans for U.S. development assistance to focus more on spurring business and trade. Meanwhile, she said, African countries must focus on good governance and adherence to the rule of law, conditions she called "essential to creating positive, predictable investment climates."

In her meeting with Kibaki and Odinga, Clinton delivered a "frank statement" from Obama pressing for greater progress on political reforms such as a new constitution and an overhaul of the police, she told reporters.

Kibaki appeared to bristle at some of the U.S. demands, saying at the conference that his government had introduced electoral reforms and was in the midst of a constitutional review.

"These and other reforms are genuinely Kenyan," he said. "And Kenyans are driving them forward in earnest, for the good of all."

But Odinga, who had accused Kibaki of stealing the 2007 presidential election, acknowledged that there were problems and praised Clinton.

She has "demonstrated she's a true democrat, in agreeing to work with her opponent," he said, referring to Obama. "That's a lesson Africa needs to take seriously."