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USA/Kenya: What Kind of Partnership?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Aug 4, 2009 (090804)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Many people had hoped that Kenya's 2007 presidential elections would cement Kenya's democratic progress and would provide a solid foundation for the country to break out of its economic doldrums and begin to achieve some of its enormous economic potential. Instead, the 2007 elections brought trade and commerce to a halt, polarized the country along regional and ethnic lines and for a brief moment nearly brought the country to the edge of civil war." - Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa

Carson's analysis of the situation in Kenya corresponds closely with that by Kenyan civil society critics. But he also affirms clearly that "Kenya continues to be our most significant strategic partner in East Africa." The implications in practice of the combined critique and strategic partnership remain to be seen.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, available on the web but not distributed through e-mail, contains the transcript of the July 22 speech by Carson. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin, on the web and sent out by email, contains excerpt from an analysis by former Kenya National Commission on Human Rights chairperson Maina Kiai and other commentaries on recent Kenyan developments (see

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins and other background links on Kenya, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Kenya and the U.S. - Meeting the Growing Challenge in East Africa

Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary of State
Bureau of African Affairs
National Endowment for Democracy
Washington, DC

July 22, 2009

President Gershman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to be here today. As some of you know, I approach the subject of Kenya with a degree of passion. The four years I spent in Kenya were among some of the very best in my Foreign Service career. It is hard not [to] love Kenya. Kenya has a lot going for it. The country's natural beauty is almost unmatched in Africa. The snow capped ridges of Mt. Kenya, the open savannah of the Masai Mara, the calm waters of Lake Victoria and the country's stunning Indian Ocean beaches make it a paradise for those who love nature and the out doors. But even richer than the beauty of the land is the character and quality of Kenya's people. Kenyans are justly proud of their many accomplishments -- Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Muthai, dozens of Olympic Medal holders, one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, over a dozen public and private universities, and the largest non-oil, non-mineral economy in Africa.

Kenyans have accomplished a great deal over the course of the more than six decades since Jomo Kenyatta, the country's first president, published Facing Mount Kenya. Kenyatta and his generation were pioneers in the anti-colonialism struggle that led to the era of majority rule, greater economic opportunity for Africans and the promise of a better future for all of the country's citizens. Kenya also established a high standard for post colonial race relations by welcoming the continued presence of whites and Asians -- much as South Africa has done today.

As every person in this room knows well, Kenya has not always adhered to the democratic ideals and practical experience that guided its birth. And the current situation in Kenya highlights the country's ongoing challenges to deepen its democracy and to make it meaningful to all of its citizens.

Seven years ago, while serving as Ambassador to Kenya, I witnessed the euphoria of the 2002 elections in that country, when current President Kibaki brought together a strong coalition of opposition parties to defeat the Kenya African National Union, which had ruled Kenya since independence, first as a one-party state, and later in a multiparty system. Many people thought President Moi would never leave, that KANU was invincible and that the opposition would never gain power in a peaceful and democratic election.

President Kibaki's overwhelming victory proved otherwise. It was a time of great promise and excitement with high hopes that Kenya had entered a new political and economic era.

Yet, five years later, in the last election, the progress that was achieved by the advocates and supporters of democracy was seriously derailed and nearly destroyed. With great dismay and disappointment, Kenya's friends around the world watched as the Kenyan Election Commission lost control of the electoral process and the December 2007 elections turned into a bitter political brawl and another deeply flawed African election. The post election violence that erupted in January and February of 2008 remains etched in the minds of many people. 1500 Kenyans were killed and over 300,000 people were displaced from their homes.

Many people had hoped that Kenya's 2007 presidential elections would cement Kenya's democratic progress and would provide a solid foundation for the country to break out of its economic doldrums and begin to achieve some of its enormous economic potential.

Instead, the 2007 elections brought trade and commerce to a halt, polarized the country along regional and ethnic lines and for a brief moment nearly brought the country to the edge of civil war.

The Kenya situation underscores the fact that while democracy has made significant gains around Africa, it remains fragile and subject to easy reversal even in relatively strong states like Kenya.

Kenya's democratic health and stability, as well as its economic vitality and success are important to the United States. Kenya continues to be our most significant strategic partner in East Africa. We have real security, economic, and political reasons for wanting Kenya and the rest of East African region to succeed and flourish.

Kenya has the region's largest economy and is the engine for growth in the East African Community. It is an important transportation hub for all of its neighboring states, including most of the Eastern Congo, and it is a regional center for banking, industry, agriculture and telecommunications. Nairobi is also the headquarters of the largest UN regional headquarters in the southern hemisphere and also the home of the largest U.S. embassy south of the Sahara.

Kenya also faces some major security challenges. It has a five hundred mile border with Africa's most volatile and unstable state --- Somalia. Somalia's ongoing instability has sent close to 300,000 Somali refugees across the border into Kenya's northern frontier district. What happens in Kenya has repercussions throughout the region.

The after effects of Kenya's post election violence - combined with the global financial crisis and the country's ongoing series of droughts - have had a negative impact on Kenya's economy. Tourism revenue has decreased sharply over the past two years and demand for Kenya's exports has dropped as a result of the global downturn. Kenya's strong seven percent real GDP growth in 2007, the highest rate in 30 years, has declined to 1.7 percent in 2008 and in 2009, the outlook is not promising. Kenya's relatively high population growth continues to outstrip and undermine its economic gains.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan played a singularly important role in preventing Kenya from sliding over the brink into civil war and in ending the country's Kenya's post-election violence. The elaborate political agreement that Kofi Annan forged with the two competing parties resulted in the creation of a coalition government. Although Kenya's new coalition government has been in office since April 2008, the pace of the political reforms proposed by Kofi Annan under Agenda Item Four has been slow and uncertain. Work by an expert committee to draft a new constitution is clearly underway but it remains to be seen whether the resulting draft will be accepted or rejected by Parliament or whether it will lead to another political crisis like the one that preceded the breakup of the first Kibaki coalition and which led to a highly contested constitutional referendum.

One area where the government has made some progress has been in the area of electoral reform. A new interim Election Commission has been established. It appears to be independent, well led and moving ahead in fulfilling its mandate. However, systemic electoral reform cannot be successfully completed until the country's constitutional review process is passed through parliament.

Kenya also faces another big issue. It has to decide how it plans to deal with the individuals responsible for the violence that occurred after the 2007 presidential elections. Having identified the leading suspects, Kofi Annan gave the Kenyan Government two clear options. The Government could establish an independent court in Kenya to try the suspects or he would turn the names over to the ICC for investigation and prosecution. Although President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga favor the establishment of a local tribunal, the parliament has rejected this idea once and may do so again. Kofi Annan has decided not to wait for a second parliamentary debate on this issue and has now turned over the names of the post-election violence perpetrators to the ICC. Kenya still has a chance to handle this issue internally, but much will depend on what the parliament decides to do. In principle, the United States believes that it is better to have a local tribunal to try people who committed crimes in the community in which they were committed, but we also believe such crimes should not go unpunished.

In addition to the issues outlined by Kofi Annan, Kenya has four major impediments to putting its domestic house in order:

  • Widespread corruption - which affects the country's politics as well as its business life.
  • A weak judiciary that undermines the rule of law;
  • A partisan political gridlock that views politics as a zero sum game; and
  • Growing lawlessness among the police.


Let me say more - corruption is killing Kenya. Over the past two decades, Kenya has endured two mega corruption scandals - the Goldenburg scandal of the early 1990's in which nearly a billion dollars (one tenth of the country's GDP at the time) was stolen and most recently in 2004 the Anglo Leasing scandal in which over a million dollars of government money was lost. During this same period, there have been dozens of lesser scams and scandals -- many involving senior government officials and politicians -- that have cost the Government of Kenya millions of dollars in taxpayer money. Under the watchful eye of Kenya's long serving Attorney General - a man who has served loyally under President Kibaki and President Moi - not one, not one government official or serving politician has been successfully prosecuted for corruption in Kenya in two decades. Kenya's six year old anti-corruption authority has demonstrated a similar success rate.


Kenya's court system has also shown a willingness to play along with the Attorney General's style of politics. On the rare occasions when corruption cases are presented to the courts, they are thrown out on procedural grounds or are allowed to die in a sea of judicial bureaucracy. In Kenya, there is a saying that sums up the public attitudes towards the nation's courts: "Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge."

Partisan Political Gridlock

The coalition government that was established following the post election violence has never really jelled or come together - despite the early good efforts of the country two top political leaders, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. From the beginning, they worked hard and earnestly tried. And although political leaders from the two main parties have sat beside one another in parliament and in the cabinet, they have for the most part not set aside their bitterness, their personal rivalries and their regional interests. Many of the key political and constitutional issues - such as devolution of power, the structure of the executive branch, and the reduction of presidential powers - still divide the country's key political blocs and leaders.

Extrajudicial Killings

The rise of extrajudicial killings has also put a damper on reform and the work of civil society groups in Kenya. It has also contributed to the unease that some Kenyans feel about the country's political institutions and the prospects for additional democratic progress. Over the past two years various human rights groups and political leaders estimate that hundreds of extrajudicial killings have taken place in Kenya -- some of them carried out against civil society leaders investigating government corruption and police misconduct. Several leading politicians have accused elements inside the Kenyan police of being behind many of the killings and abductions. With parts of civil society intimidated and silenced, the number of Kenyans willing to speak out against corruption, judicial malfeasance, and partisan political gridlock diminishes.

Kenya's prospects for renewed growth and ultimate prosperity will depend a lot on the successful implementation of the long-term measures set out in the Kofi Annan mediated accord. Kenya's leaders need to endorse constitutional reform that meaningfully addresses contentious issues, including executive power, judicial and police reform and land issues.

We believe that police reform, from the top down, is crucial to restoring public confidence and combating systemic corruption, and that impunity for politically motivated violence and extrajudicial killings must be addressed seriously and swiftly.

Kenya has failed to harness its full potential and runs the serious risk of falling backwards rather than surging forward. With a young and highly educated population facing greater unemployment and economic hardship, increasing inequality between rich and poor Kenyans, and growing demands on a shrinking supply of arable land, the social and economic demands on the country will undermine its stability and long term growth prospects. Regional insecurity emanating from its neighbor to the north will also add to the country's political and economic burden.

To pull the vast majority of Kenyans out of poverty and fully realize the country's vast economic potential, Kenya must develop strong democratic institutions, honest government, transparent and accountable leaders and a judicial system that works. In Accra, President Obama was clear, Africa does not need strong men, it needs strong institutions. Only with strengthened institutions will it have the chance to resume its role as the regional economic engine of the East African Community and promote itself and the region as a market for trade and investment. Kenyan leaders must see strengthening of internal institutions for democratic governance, not as something which the U. S. desires, but as a necessary foundation for long-term, stable growth, to provide better education, health services, and increased food production for Kenya's citizens. Kenyan politicians must also abandon the notion that politics is a zero sum game - I win and you lose - and begin to make compromises and decisions that place the interest of the nation above their more narrow personal, partisan, and regional interests.

Secretary of State Clinton will visit Kenya on the occasion of the AGOA conference in early August. Although this is largely a trade and commercial event, she will use the occasion to reinforce the message that we view Kenya as an important and long standing regional partner. We value Kenya's friendship and that we stand ready to help Kenya strengthen its democratic institutions, fight corruption, counter the rise in extrajudicial killings and to deal with some of its mounting socio-economic problems. As a friend, that's what we should do, help. However, without improvement in these areas, Kenya's ability to grow its economy and maintain its leadership in the front rank of African states will decline, and stability in the region will do so as well.

I will conclude where I began, with Kenya's legacy in the struggle for independence and majority rule. Kenya's struggle for majority rule was long and certainly often violent. Yet, at the end of the day, bold, courageous, political leadership by Kenyans brought about a national reconciliation that endured for decades. There is every reason to believe that once again, Kenyans can and will draw on this rich historical legacy of just reconciliation under the law and lead their country forward as an example, not only for Africa, but for the world. That is the objective of U.S. policy and we will be there to support Kenya with specific programs adapted to Kenya's needs. Kenya is a magnificent country, a great friend of the United States, and its people deserve our support. Again, thank you for allowing me to address you today. I look forward to hearing any comments or answering any questions you may have.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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