Saturday, September 26, 2009



Saturday, September 26 2009

Q: Do you think the US letter threatening travel bans against certain Kenyan leaders will help or hinder the reform process?

A: I can only speculate. The letter (from Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson) was basically meant to put people on notice so they can be more proactive. I don’t think of it as blackmail. When I spoke with President Obama (on Wednesday evening at a reception Mr Obama hosted for world leaders), he said we should push harder for reforms. I said we were doing our best.

Q: Can you give some impressions of how President Obama feels about the situation in Kenya?

A: He is genuinely concerned. He wants to help us. But I sometimes think Obama’s roots in Kenya can actually be a problem. Kenya is always being held to different standards compared to neighbouring countries. We Kenyans should actually be proud to be held to higher standards rather than saying the standards should be lowered. We should never be complacent.

Q: Is the United States acting appropriately in its dealings with Kenya or is the US acting in a patronising way?

A: It seems at times we are being judged by what we were before. Not enough attention is being paid to the progress that has been made. There’s not sufficient information coming over to this side about what is actually happening in Kenya.

Our society is much more open and transparent now than previously. We have a very vibrant media, a strong and active civil society. And there are now so many whistle blowers that any kind of impropriety may get blown out of proportion.

A lot of it (corruption) is being nipped in the bud. There are now strong institutions under the Prime Minister’s office: the inspectorate of state corporations and the efficiency monitoring unit. These are the two institutions I use for investigating whenever somebody has come to us as a whistle blower.

Never since we came to power has there been anything like the Goldenberg scandal. We have worked very hard to reduce corruption. We sacked the managing director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards. At the Prime Minister’s roundtable, which is held quarterly with government ministers and the private sector, issues are raised and they are answered there and then. We have greatly reduced the amount of corruption in the system.

We have taken efficiency steps as well that are helping the private sector. We have managed to make the Port of Mombasa a 24-hour port. We have reduced the number of roadblocks on the highway from Mombasa to the border with Uganda from 58 to 15.

All these efforts are not being appreciated because we don’t stand on the roof top and shout about it. So the Kenyan society is changing, which is what I have tried to impress upon President Obama and Johnnie Carson. And we have agreed to keep talking with one another. And we Kenyans have said we will not be complacent.

I also mentioned some of this to Hillary Clinton when I had a discussion with her over lunch three days ago. I told her she should not shy away from criticising us. I said we should be told where we are going wrong because it helps us get better. But I also said there shouldn’t just be sticks and no carrots. I told Johnnie Carson the same thing.

Q: And at the same time, the United States would probably resent if Kenya told the US what it’s doing wrong.

A: Standards sometimes are different. There’s one language spoken about Kenya and another about Saudi Arabia or Egypt.

Q: Was progress made this week in regard to the Mau Forest in your discussions with UN and US officials?

A: We have definitely managed to raise awareness of the importance of preserving the water towers. We pointed out that there is now much more support in Kenya for efforts to conserve the environment.

There have been attempts by some politicians to make it appear that the issue involves a vendetta against some segments of society when actually there is a genuine effort being made to conserve. The majority of the Kenyan people fully understand the need for environmental restoration.

Bill Clinton was very supportive when I spoke with him about the forest this week. He first offered to help with the replacement of 100,000 hectares in the Mau. Bill Clinton said we need to mobilise resources through his foundation and through the United Nations and World Bank.

I told him our ambition in Kenya is to increase forest cover from the current 1.7 per cent of the land to 10 per cent. I also raised these points with (UN Secretary General) Ban ki Moon.

Q: You spoke with Ban about the status of Unep in Nairobi as well, right?

A: I asked him to raise Unep to a higher level within the UN system and to consolidate other UN environmental programmes in other countries under Unep. I suggested that the funding for all these UN initiatives should come through Unep. There’s also the matter of Unep’s location. France and Germany have indicated in the past they would like Unep moved there from Nairobi.

Q: You will be attending a special UN meeting on Saturday about efforts to improve food security. What about the shortfall in donor funding for emergency food programmes in Kenya right now?

A: It’s a very serious situation. I met with donors in Nairobi last week and I have been discussing it here in New York as well. I said just this evening in my (General Assembly) speech that we need to raise $500 million for food assistance, with half of that coming locally and half from donors. The United States has offered $25 million, Japan has said it will give about $30 million and other countries have said they need to consult.

I met here in New York with Douglas Alexander, the British secretary for International Development and Cooperation, and he told me that Britain will be making a substantial contribution. World Bank President Robert Zoellick also told me when I talked with him this week that they will help us.

Q: You emphasised the crisis in Somalia in your speech this evening. Do you think the United States is being helpful to Kenya’s security through its actions regarding Somalia?

A: We need to share information. It’s a very sensitive issue. We have our own plans and we want to share them with the United States. We can complement one another. There needs to be a comprehensive approach to Somalia. All the players have to come together to strategise.