Thursday, August 6, 2009



By David Ohito

America met with Kenya — word for word and head to head. The visitor said ‘this’ and the host ‘that’ — adding to the significance of the moment as ‘Big’ and ‘Small’ Brother played a ping-pong game of words.

Either side tongued lashed, albeit in the diplospeak mode, but the message of denial and admonishment was not lost.

The encounter also had the taste of fencing, a game rarely played in Kenya, as one side cut in, the other deflected the sharp blade. At another time either side recorded a score — but all the time it seemed to be the US had a field day, as it diplomatically bombarded Kenya with restraints and warnings.

The heat rose inside the packed hall and excitement soared as President Kibaki and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, took their seats at the first conference of its kind in Kenya.

"Leaders have to lead. They have to demonstrate to their people that democracy does deliver," said Mrs Clinton, as she berated Kenya on behalf of her President, Mr Barack Obama, born to a son of Kogelo in Siaya. She talked about Kenya’s lost opportunities in governance, economic growth, human rights, but fell short of saying we have extolled the vice of corruption and impunity as if they were virtues.

She added: "The US was instrumental in resolving the crisis that afflicted Kenya. Unfortunately resolving that crisis has not translated into progress for Kenya."

"We will stand with you. Democracy does not come easy. It took us over 230 years. But the election of President Obama was the turning point," she went on.

Video link

President Kibaki’s poignant response came in two parts: "We are committed to complete them (reforms) in the shortest time possible. This will significantly change our security, judicial and democratic processes and attain full accountability for all government actions," and, "these and other reforms are genuinely Kenyan, and Kenyans are driving them forward in earnest for the good of all."

The rebuke continued when Mrs Clinton addressed a press conference where she said the US will remain open and true to Kenya. "We respect the way Kenyans pulled the country from the brink of disaster. Kenyans know President Obama has a personal connection and commitment with Kenya."

President Obama addressed the gathering through a video link, hailing economic growth as the best way to lift people out of the cesspool of poverty. Obama said Kibaki and Raila have his unequivocal support and partnership and that is why he sent a strong representation from his Cabinet.

But Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whose dispute over declaration of Kibaki as winner of 2007 presidential election, seemed to agree with Mrs Clinton’s rebuke of Kenya as failing where it should excel, especially on governance, and punishment of post-election violence suspects, and war against impunity.

Raila said, as Kibaki and Clinton, whose government was instrumental in pushing the power-sharing deal last year, listened: "In Africa, in many countries, elections are never won, they are only rigged. The losers never accept that they lost. If we did this, we would develop democracy truly in the African continent".

But despite the harsh reprimand, Mrs Clinton still painted a different picture of Kenya and Africa: "We believe in Africa’s promise. We are committed to Africa’s future and we will be partners with Africa’s people," Clinton said, during the African Growth and Opportunity Act conference in Nairobi.

But in the hall still reverberated the echo of America and British’s warning to Kenya on Tuesday while she was still airborne. "US will stand firmly behind Kenyan people as they insist on full implementation of the reform agenda. We will take the necessary steps to hold accountable those who do not support reform agenda or who support violence,’’ said US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, in a statement.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a word with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga minutes before the official opening of the Agoa meeting at Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, Wednesday. Clinton told the Government to speed up reforms and fight corruption, impunity and human rights abuses. [PHOTO: GILGERT OTIENO/STANDARD]

Visa ban

British High Commissioner Rob Macaire joined in with the warning the UK had imposed visa bans on 20 top Kenyans, including ministers.

He added: "The UK is seeking an explanation from the Government over its move to block a special tribunal and opt for the local courts to try suspects in post-election violence."

The US also reminded Kenya its support was hinged on commitment to the reform agenda, rule of law, war on graft, responsibility and accountability. In her speech at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre during official opening of African Growth and Opportunity Act conference, she also demanded implementation of reform agenda as agreed on in National Accord.

Mrs Clinton later held closed talks with the President, the Prime Minister, and ministers who were in the Serena Talks. She is reported to have told them that a special tribunal was inevitable. She said post-election offenders must be tried locally.

Noting that the principals faced challenges in their working together, she insisted President Obama whose father was a Kenyan, wanted reforms delivered.

Obama said in a speech in Ghana last month that Western aid must be matched by good governance and African leaders had to do more to end war, disease, and stamp out corruption.

"True economic progress in Africa will depend on responsible governments that reject corruption, enforce the rule of law, and deliver results for their people," Clinton told the meeting. "This is not just about good governance – it is also about good business."

Weak leadership

Clinton argued: "Investors will…will not be attracted to states with failed or weak leadership, or crime and civil unrest, or corruption that taints every transaction and decision."

Kibaki said: "We have introduced several reforms in our electoral system, media, and human rights. Our constitutional review process is in top gear and a new constitution could well be in place within a year."

"Institutional reforms have been started and we are committed to complete them in the shortest time possible. This will significantly change our security, judicial and democratic processes and attain full accountability for all government actions," Kibaki added.