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Why Obama will not visit Kenya

Published date:
Tuesday, 19 May 2009

US President Barack Obama will skip Kenya in his July maiden tour of Africa since his inauguration because of the slow pace of political reforms, Ambassador Michael Ranneberger has revealed.

And to add salt to injury, Obama will still not come to Kenya in August as earlier expected, thanks to squabbling in the Grand Coalition Government and the obvious schemes to stall key reforms.

A source at the US Embassy told The Standard last night that Obama will instead be represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the African Opportunity for Growth Act (Agoa) conference in August where at least 35 countries will participate.

The source said Obama was not taking the reform agenda lightly and has insisted that it was time to walk the talk before he can be associated with Kenya.

While Obama will formally set foot in Africa as president during his visit to Egypt on June 4 to give a speech to the Muslim world, his Ghana trip will be his first foreign voyage in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to a statement from the White House, Obama will visit Ghana between July 10 and 11 after a tour of Moscow on July 6 and 8. He will then attend the G8 summit in Italy between July 8 and 10.

But speaking in Eldoret yesterday, Mr Ranneberger said the US government was impatient with the Government’s ills, including extra-judicial killings and corruption.He said Washington was observing the country’s governance with keen interest and would take action if the reforms agenda failed.

"I do not want to speculate which action we will take, but the next eight to 12 months will be crucial. It will not be business as usual," Ranneberger said.

But US Embassy Spokesperson Imni Patterson said Obama’s August trip "would be confirmed in a couple of weeks". All the same, Ranneberger was categorical: "The fact that he (Obama) has preferred Ghana is obvious as the country has just had a democratic election and kept the path of progress."

And Kenya Private Sector Alliance Chairman Patrick Obath, who is also the chairman of the Federation of Kenya Employers, said Kenya had lost a great business opportunity.

Ranneberger was on a peace mission to Eldoret and Burnt Forest. He also visited the Kiambaa arson victims’ burial site.

Kiambaa monument

"What the Kenyan people want is an end to corruption, a tribunal to try suspects of post-election violence and police reforms," he said. Ranneberger opposed plans to erect a monument at the Kiambaa burial site, saying the violence affected the whole country.

"It is important to remember the past, but it would be a mistake to focus on one particular incident since a number of people were killed throughout the country," he said. The envoy also presided over the opening of the Burnt Forest market built by USaid at a cost of Sh8 million.

Eldoret East MP Margaret Kamar, Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir and Eldoret East DC Charles Mukele attended the function.

Last week, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Johnnie Carson said the US feared for the stability of the coalition and asked President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to implement the National Accord. "Washington’s fear is that failure to implement the Accord could undermine political stability," Carson said.

Ms Gavin said: "President Obama asked me to relay his message to the Government that he is keen to see reforms in Kenya and that Washington will not do business as usual with Kenya."

MPs’ anger

But yesterday MPs expressed outrage over the Obama snub although they directed their anger at Kibaki and Raila.

Youth Affairs Assistant Minister Wavinya Ndeti said: "Very few people would want to go to a house where the family is quarrelling anyway."

Three MPs and two clerics from Western Province termed the move a warning to the leadership to embrace reforms. MPs Simiyu Esseli(Kimilili), Bonny Khalwale (Ikolomani) and Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i) said failure by Obama to visit Kenya was a clear sign that things were not well.

Dr Khalwale, who is the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chairman, said Obama loves Kenya but he has to attend to other international affairs.

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