x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Kenya warned to clean up its act

Kenyan politicians have received a jarring message in recent weeks: the Kenyan people and the international community will not accept business as usual.

NAIROBI // Kenyan politicians have received a jarring message in recent weeks: the Kenyan people and the international community will not accept business as usual. In the past fortnight, the United States and International Criminal Court have warned Kenya's politicians to reform their ways. And, in a move praised by observers, Kenya's anti-corruption tsar was forced to resign after public outcry he did not do enough to tackle graft. Prodded and poked, East Africa's largest economy is taking steps to reform, albeit at a glacial pace. The recent shake-up began on September 24 when the United States slapped a travel ban on Kenyan politicians accused of blocking reforms. Michael Ranneberger, the US ambassador, announced that Washington sent letters to 15 Kenyan leaders, who have benefited from Kenya's culture of impunity. "I am writing to inform you that your future relationship with the United States is linked to your support for urgent implementation of the reform agenda as well as opposition to the use of violence," Johnnie Carson, the top US diplomat for Africa, wrote in the letters. A Kenyan commission of inquiry found last October that a handful of top political and business leaders were responsible for orchestrating the violence that followed the presidential election in December 2007. More than 1,000 people died during the tribal clashes that lasted through February 2008 and almost half a million were displaced. The panel recommended that Kenya reform such key institutions as the judiciary and police force and root out nepotism and corruption at all levels of government. Almost two years later, most of the reforms are yet to happen. No one has faced justice for their part in the violence and human rights groups warn of a repeat of the clashes after the 2012 election if the culture of impunity continues. The International Criminal Court (ICC), the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, has recently taken an interest in Kenya's case. Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, who mediated last year's crisis, urged Kenya to establish a court to try organisers of the violence. Not wanting to incriminate themselves, politicians failed to set up the home-grown court. Growing impatient, Mr Annan gave a list of suspects to the ICC, which, last week, announced it would prosecute those most responsible. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, said he wanted a three-pronged approach: the ICC prosecuting the worst offenders, a special tribunal in Kenya for other perpetrators, and a truth and reconciliation commission to look into underlying causes of the violence. "Decisive consultations between the prosecutor and the Kenyan principals will take place in the coming weeks," the ICC said. "Justice will not be delayed." Mr Annan is in Kenya this week for talks on the status of the coalition government formed between Mwai Kibaki, the president, and Raila Odinga, the opposition leader who became prime minister as part of a peace deal. Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga yesterday issued a statement saying the "overall progress" on reforms is "impressive". Aaron Ringera, whom Mr Kibaki recently reappointed to a five-year term as head of the anti-corruption department, stepped down on Wednesday after a month of pressure from activists. Many saw his reappointment as another example of Mr Kibaki's rewarding of ineffectual officials with plum jobs. Mr Ringera's monthly salary of US$34,000 (Dh125,000) made him the highest paid civil servant. In his five years as head of the anti-corruption board, Mr Ringera recommended the prosecution of eight government officials and four members of parliament for corruption. None faced corruption charges, although the commission does not have the powers to prosecute. Observers praised the decision to quit by Mr Ringera and Fatuma Sichale, his deputy. "Their Resignation, though long overdue was refreshing and welcome," Neto Agostinho, head of Kenyans for Justice and Development, said in a statement. Kenyans are still sceptical there will be lasting change to a government where corruption is rife. "It is a step in the right direction," said John Wainaina, a Kenyan lawyer. "We'll see if it lasts, though." mbrown@thenational.ae