US warns 15 Kenyans they are blocking reforms

The United States has sent warning letters to 15 prominent Kenyans it says are blocking reform in East Africa’s biggest economy following last year’s post-election violence, the U.S. ambassador said on Thursday.

Michael Ranneberger, the US envoy to Kenya, declined to name the individuals. But he said they included sitting government ministers, members of Parliament and other senior officials on both sides of the country’s coalition government.

The United States may issue travel bans against some of the 15 in the coming weeks, he added, and Washington would now also closely scrutinise all proposed loans and aid programmes for Kenya brought before international financial bodies.

“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,” Ranneberger told a news conference in Nairobi.

“Doing so is crucial to the future democratic stability of Kenya ... Despite all the rhetoric and commissions and talk and all that, not much has happened.”

During a visit last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Kenyan leaders they must quickly implement long-delayed reforms to tackle rampant corruption, impunity and rights abuses that were holding their country back.

The 15 letters from US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson warned the recipients their future relationship with Washington was directly linked to their support for the reforms and opposition to violence.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who critics say has done little in office to tackle a raft of corruption scandals, was unruffled by the move as he gave a speech at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston.

“The US government is totally entitled to do whatever they want to do, if they are convinced that the people they are banning from coming to the United States have been involved in forms of impropriety,” Odinga said.

‘No business as usual’
Graft is a major deterrent to private sector investment in the economy. Watchdog Transparency International ranks Kenya as the most corrupt nation in all East Africa.

Corruption, red tape, crime and fears about political stability are all major headaches for businesses operating in the region, executives routinely tell researchers.

Ranneberger said Washington would study all future aid and loan deals to make sure they benefited Kenyans, and to ensure they would help support the nation’s urgently-needed reforms.

“These steps follow an awful lot of private diplomacy ... It goes hand-in-hand with what we said: No business as usual,” Ranneberger added.

“The people we’ve sent letters to are not thugs, they’re not criminals. They’re people we have dealt with over the years, people who can play a role helping to transform this country.”

Kenya said this week it would miss a September 30 deadline to set up a local tribunal for the architects of last year’s post-election violence, raising the possibility of prosecutions by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

The ICC has said it is ready to step in if the government does not find a way of putting on trial those accused of masterminding the violence that killed at least 1 300 people and drove another 300 000 more from their homes.

Ranneberger said he did not believe the possibility of a credible local tribunal had been completely ruled out yet.

“But the whole point is that accountability needs to move ahead,” the ambassador said. “Don’t let it take another six months or a year or two years. Let it happen now.” - Reuters

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