United States Vice-President Joe Biden was to meet southern Sudan’s leader in Nairobi on Wednesday and also focus on troubled Somalia after discussing the fate of the volatile region with Kenyan leaders.
On the second leg of his trip to Africa, Biden highlighted Kenya’s key role in stabilising a region that is threatened by chaos in Somalia and could see further upheaval if southern Sudan chooses independence in January.
“We recognise that Kenya’s long-term stability and development are tied to regional security and development, and the US is committed to work with Kenya to achieve both those objectives,” he said on Tuesday, when he met Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
A dispute between the two Kenyan leaders following the 2007 presidential election triggered a wave of violence that left about 1 500 people dead and rattled a nation long seen as a beacon of stability in the region.
In recent months, US officials had been openly critical of Kenya’s attempts to implement the political reforms demanded by the international community, but Biden on Tuesday took heart in recent developments.
The coalition formed in 2008 by the formerly feuding Kenyan leaders had looked on the brink of collapse earlier this year but the uneasy partners eventually agreed on a draft constitution.
The document, a key demand of the US and other international players who sponsored Kenya’s power-sharing deal, is to be submitted to a referendum in early August.
Biden said he was “truly impressed by the mutual cooperation” between Odinga and Kibaki and added that a new constitution would appease foreign concerns over Kenya’s political climate and stimulate a fresh wave of investments.
The vice-president was expected to expand further on his country’s reinvigorated partnership with Kenya during a keynote speech on Wednesday.
He was also scheduled to hold talks with southern Sudan’s leader, Salva Kiir, who is expected to steer his semi-autonomous region towards a referendum on self-determination in January 2011.
The referendum is part of the 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade civil war between the north and south of Africa’s largest country.
A widely predicted “yes” vote by the oil-rich south — which has borders with the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia — would have wide-ranging effects on the region.
Biden was also scheduled to hold a special meeting Wednesday on Somalia, where moderate Islamist President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been mustering support for an offensive against an Islamist insurgency.
Washington has repeatedly voiced concerns that Somalia, two-thirds of which is controlled by the insurgents, was becoming a new haven for al-Qaeda operatives.
Kibaki for his part reiterated his concerns over the threat posed to Kenya’s border by Somalia’s Islamist rebels and to the impact of growing Somali piracy.
“This matter must be addressed with greater urgency. We have asked the US government to provide the leadership to forge a concerted international effort to stabilise Somalia,” he said. — AFP