Clinton Pushes Kenyan Leaders to Follow Through on Promised Reforms
Thursday, August 6, 2009
NAIROBI, Aug. 5 -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began a major trip to Africa on Wednesday by publicly urging Kenya, a strategic U.S. ally, to move faster to resolve tensions lingering from a disputed 2007 election that precipitated the country's worst crisis since it gained independence.
Clinton went further in a meeting with Kenyan leaders, urging them to fire the attorney general and the police chief, who have been accused of ignoring dozens of killings carried out by police death squads, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. Clinton also raised the possibility of banning some Kenyan officials from traveling to the United States if the government does not move more quickly to prosecute those responsible for post-election ethnic violence that left 1,300 people dead. The organizers are widely suspected to include senior officials and cabinet ministers, many of whom have family members in the United States.
"We are going to use whatever tools we need to use to ensure that there is justice," the official said. "We raised the possibility of visa bans and implied there could be more."
Clinton's public remarks were more gentle but still reflected the Obama administration's concern that Kenya, which has lent crucial support to U.S. humanitarian, diplomatic and military operations in this volatile region, could slip back into political and ethnic violence that brought it close to collapse last year.
President Mwai Kibaki and former opposition leader Raila Odinga, now the prime minister, ended the crisis with a power-sharing deal and a commitment to political reforms that would include prosecution of those suspected of participating in the post-election violence. But Clinton made clear that their coalition government has not followed through.
"The absence of strong and democratic institutions has permitted ongoing corruption, impunity, politically motivated violence, human rights abuses, lack of respect for the rule of law," Clinton said at a news conference after meeting with Kibaki, Odinga and security officials.
'They're Trying to Hide'
Kenyans remain deeply frustrated with the coalition government, which they say is bloated with well-paid officials concerned more with their own survival than with the welfare of the country, swaths of which are in the midst of a hunger crisis.
In the latest example of trouble with the peace deal, the Kenyan government stepped back in recent days from a commitment to establish a special tribunal to try people accused in connection with the post-election violence. The government said it would rely on a "reformed judicial system" instead.
But in a country with a history of sweeping corruption cases, political killings and other official misdeeds under the rug, human rights groups and ordinary Kenyans cast the move as a blatant bid by senior officials to avoid punishment.
"They're selfish, and they're trying to hide," said Caleb Onduso, 25, who was among a crowd at a convention center here Wednesday hoping to hear Clinton speak. "They've forgotten us."
The U.S. Embassy also condemned the government's move in a statement on the eve of Clinton's visit, saying it was "not a credible approach in the eyes of Kenyans and the international community."
If the government fails to establish the special tribunal, U.S. officials say, they will support prosecution of the suspects by the International Criminal Court.