Kenya: Travel ban: Obama jolts Cabinet ministers, MPs

kenya_kibaki_odinga US President Barack Obama promised action against frustration of constitutional reforms, war on corruption and impunity and when he struck the jolt was felt right in the Cabinet. It also turned out the UK and Canada, both popular destinations for Kenyas rich class, would follow suit making their world smaller.

The men and women (pictured) President Kibaki (left) and Prime Minister Raila Odinga appointed to the Cabinet were left wondering who, among them, was on the list of soon-to-be prohibited immigrants or even unwanted daylong visitors to US.

On the Obama Administration radar are 15 prominent personalities among them ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Members of Parliament.

Most ministers we talked to said, “I am not the one,” even as others welcomed the move to pressurise the Government to meet its obligations to Kenyans on reforms.

The US action is part of international pressure on Kenya to institute reforms that would ensure political and economic stability. “Letters signed by (Mr Johnie) Carson have been sent to 15 individuals, making it clear the future relationship of those persons with the US is tied to their support for implementation of the reform agenda and opposition to the use of violence,” said US Ambassador in Kenya Michael Ranneberger.

The list, Ranneberger said, contained an equal number of individuals in both blocs of the Grand Coalition Government.

Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo said he had not received any letter from the US, adding he did not apply for a visa to the USA. “But I do welcome such sanctions if they target individuals, even if its myself,” he said.


Special Programmes Minister Naomi Shaban said she was not aware whether she has been blacklisted. “Maybe the letter is on the way. America is not heaven for one to fear being banned or blacklisted. The ambassador should stop his drama,” she said.

Former minister Martha Karua, while supporting the move said the ultimate responsibility of bringing about reforms lie with Kenyans.

“No one should threaten me because their judgement is based on rumours,” said Roads Minister Franklin Bett. “Who told them we want to go to America?” he retorted, when we sought his reaction. He said he had not received any letter from the US and that he would gladly have shared it with the public.

Lands Minister James Orengo said his record was clear on reforms and he had never wavered in pushing for change. “My crusade for reforms and anti-corruption is in the public domain. I have no fear. If I get it, I would let Kenyans know.”

Water Minister Charity Ngilu also said she has been a crusader for reforms. “Anyone who loves Kenya must push the Government to accept the reform agenda.”

East African Community Minister Amason Kingi said he hoped he was not one of them. “I do not know the motive behind such a move.”

Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang, said: “The US is aware I am a leader in reforms. I have no fear since I have not killed anyone. And by the way they have the prerogative to chose who to issue with travel bans.”

Replicate bans

Travel bans inconvenience leaders who travel abroad for official, business or professional engagements. Some of the politicians banned will now not visit their children studying in American universities. Their fear is compounded by the fact that other Western states replicate the bans.

Some politicians have been known to travel to the US to seek medical care and, for those who may be caught in the web, they would have to look elsewhere.

Because the ban does not name the culprits, politicians will be shaking in their boots wondering if they are the ones targeted. Once banned politicians would be cut off from their international business circuits, political networks and social circles.

Ranneberger said the officials were targeted for their roles in corruption and opposition to fundamental reforms. “It will no longer be business as usual and we want to see accelerated pace and urgency in implementation of reforms,” his terse statement read.

Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua dismissed the action against Kenya. “We are not commenting but we are saying, at this time we will not respond to activism diplomacy, he said. The decision comes after sequence of events, which followed the strong statements from Obama, a dressing down by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who visited in August and persistent warnings by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

“The US is not doing this in isolation. European Union, Canada and UK are in tandem over this decision,” US ambassador said.

Reform agenda

The news filtered in as Carson met Prime Minister Rail Odinga on a day the PM and his wife met and posed for pictures with Obama and First Lady Michelle.

The list of the key players will be made public in two weeks the US Ambassador revealed, as he read out the communication from Washington DC.

“In pressing for implementation of reform agenda, we are supporting only what a vast majority of the people of Kenya want, expect and deserve from their political leaders,” he said.

“Peaceful, fundamental change that will end the culture of impunity, a society governed by rule of law and accountability, all of which amount to changes that will guard against repeat of unprecedented crisis suffered last year,” he explained.

Said the diplomat: “President Obama and Clinton have repeatedly made it clear the importance they attach to implementation of reforms.”

“We welcome initial indication of steps toward police reform. The remaining reform agenda is extensive, however, and we expect to see actions and results, not more promises, rhetoric and commissions,” he said. Two weeks ago Mutula said Ranneberger was irritating the Government and should shut up.

The US pressure merely affirms what President Kibaki and Raila agreed, and signed for, in the National Accord on February 28, last year.

The Standard

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