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US Action Divides Kenya's Leadership


US Action Divides Kenya's Leadership

US Action Divides Kenya's Leadership

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The Kenyan government appears torn over the travel ban threats issued to 15 senior Kenyan officials seen as blocking the nation's reform process. The prime minister has responded by saying the United States has the right to regulate travel into its own country, but the Kenyan president wrote a letter Saturday to President Obama complaining of a breach in international protocol.

Moses Wetangula, Kenya's foreign affairs minister, announced Monday that the Kenyan government was considering its options in response to what it views as a violation of diplomatic protocol by the U.S. administration.

"I would want to urge, particularly the American ambassador, that I have no doubt whatsoever that he is overstepping the boundaries of protocol of diplomatic etiquette, and the country has options in such issues, which we do not wish to exercise yet," Wetangula said.

Last week the United States sent letters to 15 senior Kenyan officials warning that action could be taken against them if they were viewed as impeding key government reforms. The U.S. ambassador then announced that some of those targeted would be banned from traveling to the United States.

The letters were signed by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, but the U.S. ambassador said the action came from the "highest" level of the U.S. government.

The letter from Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to his U.S. counterpart expressed concern that the United States was issuing private threats to civil servants over the public policies of his administration.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was in New York at the time to attend the United Nations Security Council meetings, responded to the initial U.S. announcement by saying that the United States had a right to take away travel rights and that it was correct to push for the reform agenda.

Back home, others have come out in support of the U.S. intervention as well. Cabinet ministers Mutula Kilonzo and James Orengo as well as a number of members of parliament have been quoted as saying that they welcome the move. The editorial board of the nation's largest newspaper also came down in favor of the U.S. decision to act.

But the Kenyan government has begun taking a much more hardline official attitude, lashing out at what it's government spokesperson deemed as "activism diplomacy."

The foreign affairs minister denied that the government was falling behind on the reform process, noting that the one notable exception was the country's failure in creating a local tribunal to try suspected perpetrators of political violence.

To many Kenyans, the U.S. action represents an embarrassing slap on the wrist for a nation which received its national independence decades ago. Many public commentators have expressed being torn between the acknowledged need for public pressure on reforms and the desire to stand up for their country against foreign criticism.

Ngari Gituku, a Kenyan political analyst, says that the government's public fuss is necessary for any sovereign nation when any of its leaders are diplomatically acted against.

"Every country has to have its own honor. And when you talk about sovereignty, I think honor is part and parcel of the sovereignty we should observe as a nation," Gituku said.

The reforms being pushed for by the United States include the overhaul of the police and judicial systems, finishing a crucial constitutional review process, fighting seriously against high level corruption, and prosecuting those suspected of instigating post-election violence.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga head a coalition government formed after weeks of deadly chaos between the two presidential rivals. The United States has said that the targeted officials were almost split evenly between the two government sides.

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