Thursday, October 1, 2009



By Barney Jopson in Nairobi
September 24 2009

The US has vowed to punish the Kenyan government for failing to act on its reform pledges by banning several senior figures from travelling to the US and putting all multilateral aid proposals for Kenya under “intense scrutiny”.

Washington has grown increasingly frustrated with Kenya this year as months of diplomacy – including an August visit by Hillary Clinton, secretary of state – failed to prompt action on reforms agreed after last year’s post-election crisis.

The measures announced on Thursday are similar to those the US and European Union have imposed with limited success on president Robert Mugabe and his allies in Zimbabwe, another country where a disputed election led to a dysfunctional power-sharing government.

But in Kenya they underline just how far the reputation of its leaders has fallen since the crisis. They are also a reminder of the country’s importance to the rest of the world as a regional economic hub and a base for aid agencies and the United Nations.

Michael Ranneberger, US ambassador to Kenya, said a total of 15 ministers, members of parliament and bureaucrats had received strongly-worded letters on Wednesday from Johnnie Carson, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

The letters warned: “Your future relationship with the US is directly linked to the degree of your support for urgent implementation of the reform agenda as well as clear opposition to the use of violence.”

The 18-month-old coalition – paralysed by vested interests, internal squabbles and mutual mistrust – has notched up few achievements in tackling corruption or reforming the constitution and the judiciary.

Mr Ranneberger did not name the 15 recipients of the letters but said they were split almost equally between the two sides of the coalition, led by Mwai Kibaki, president and Raila Odinga, prime minister.

Not all 15 would be subject to travel bans, but those who were would probably see their families affected too, a significant point given the popularity of the US among the Kenyan elite as a destination for schooling, shopping and holidays.

Mr Ranneberger also said the US “will more closely scrutinise all proposed projects, loans and other programmes of assistance to Kenya that are brought before international financial institutions” such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the African Development Bank.

In the 1990s, when president Daniel arap Moi was in power in Kenya, donors led by the World Bank and IMF cut off lending to the country several times in protest at human rights abuses and corruption.

“These steps reflect the view at the highest levels of the US government that implementation of the comprehensive reform agenda … must proceed with a much greater sense of urgency,” Mr Ranneberger said.

[Other western powers including the UK are also dissatisfied with the Kenyan government, but they have been less active in raising their concerns publicly.

The coalition has already admitted that next week it will miss its third internationally-set deadline for making progress on establishing a local tribunal to try senior figures accused of orchestrating the post-election violence, which killed 1,300 people.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court who set next week’s deadline, has pledged to take up the cases if there is not a credible tribunal in Kenya.

[This month’s sacking of the chief of Kenya’s police force, an institution that ordinary Kenyans and diplomats want to see reformed, was a rare sign of progress.

Mr Ranneberger’s outspoken stance on reform has already sparked the ire of several Kenyan politicians. One minister earlier this month sent a public message to the US ambassador: “Please shut up”. Asked about it on Thursday, Mr Ranneberger said: “At least he said ‘Please’.”