NAIROBI // Wrapping up a two-day visit to Kenya, the US vice president said Washington supports Kenya's efforts to reform its political system and that the US is committed to the country's long-term stability and security. "The United States stands with you in your journey toward a democratic, free and prosperous Kenya," Joe Biden said in a speech yesterday at a Nairobi conference centre. "The wealth of a nation is found in its human capital. By that measure, Kenya is a rich nation."
Mr Biden addressed about 500 Kenyan business leaders, students and members of civil society during his two-day visit to Kenya. He also met Kenya's president and prime minister and held consultations on Somalia and Sudan, two of Kenya's troubled neighbours. The vice president said the United States has a close eye on Kenya, a key US ally in Africa and the homeland of the US president Barack Obama's father. Mr Biden is the highest ranking US official to visit Kenya. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, met Kenyan officials here last year.
Mr Obama chose Ghana for his first African trip as president, a move that many Kenyans felt was a snub at their bickering politicians. Kenyan politicians have made strides towards reform in the past year, and Kenyans see Mr Biden's visit as Washington's reward. On Tuesday, Mr Biden met with Mwai Kibaki, the president, and Raila Odinga, the prime minister. The leaders have been working in a coalition government since a 2008 election crisis that turned violent, killing 1,300 people.
"Too many of your resources have been lost to corruption," Mr Biden said. "Too many times Kenya has been torn apart by ethnic tension. Change is within your grasp." A year ago, the coalition government was on the verge of collapse and rival politicians were deadlocked over judicial and constitutional reforms. Since then, politicians have started to overhaul the judiciary, the International Criminal Court is investigating suspected perpetrators of the post-election violence and most of Kenya's leaders back a new constitution that will go to voters in August.
In Nairobi, Mr Biden met with Salva Kiir, the president of southern Sudan. Southern Sudan will vote in a referendum next year on secession from the north. The two sides fought a bloody civil war that ended in 2005. The vice president also met senior Somali politicians. Somalia has been embroiled in a 20-year civil war that has threatened Kenya's security. About 300,000 Somali refugees live in camps in eastern Kenya.
"Kenya is situated in a very tough neighbourhood," Mr Biden said. "We recognise that Kenya's long-term stability and development are tied to regional security and development, and the United States is committed to work with Kenya to achieve both those objectives." After meeting Mr Biden, Mr Kibaki asked the US to help bring stability to Somalia. "This matter must be addressed with greater urgency," he said. "We have asked the US government to provide the leadership to forge a concerted international effort to stabilise Somalia."
Mr Obama last week gave his first interview to a Kenyan television network. The president pledged his support for the constitutional review process and said that he would visit Kenya before his term expires. "I am very encouraged by the actions of parliament in April to issue a draft constitution," Mr Obama said from the White House. "This is a singular opportunity to put Kenyan governance on a more solid footing that can move beyond ethnic violence, beyond corruption, that can move the country towards a path of economic prosperity."
Mr Biden, his wife, Jill, and daughter Ashley are on their way to the World Cup in South Africa, which begins on Friday. He began his Africa trip by meeting leaders in Egypt on Monday. While Mr Biden met officials in Kenya, his wife and daughter toured a slum and visited a hospital that treats Aids patients. The family was also scheduled to view wildlife at Nairobi National Park. Security was tight and streets near the conference centre were blocked off. Kenyans were happy with the attention from Washington, but most are still waiting for a visit from Mr Obama, whose grandmother lives in western Kenya.
"In Kenya, Mr Biden will find that he is no substitute for Obama," Macharia Gaitho, a columnist, wrote in the Daily Nation newspaper. "Now if it was President Barack Obama visiting the land of his father, life would come to a standstill. The sun would stop moving across the sky." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org