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US Confirms Top Kenyan Legal Official on Travel Ban

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The United States has ended local speculation over the identity of a senior Kenyan official banned from traveling to America, naming Kenyan attorney general Amos Wako as the targeted person. Critics have long-accused Kenya's top legal official of being implicit in the widespread impunity granted to Kenya's political elite.

The U.S. ambassador used his Twitter account Sunday to confirm a local newspaper headline reporting Kenya Attorney General Amos Wako has been banned from traveling to the United States.

The vice chairperson for the parliament-created Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Hassan Omar, says despite the strong powers granted the attorney general under the Kenyan constitution, Wako has refused to prosecute those involved in Kenya's worst legal violations.

"Amos Wako has been in office for almost 18 years," he said. "And over this period of time there have been massive issues of human rights violations that unfortunately have not been dealt with decisively within the law."

Wako was first appointed to his post in 1991, under then President Daniel Arap Moi, and his tenure has continued under President Mwai Kibaki.

Local media outlets began speculating about Wako immediately after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said an unnamed senior Kenyan official had been sanctioned.

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During remarks last week, Carson had accused Kenya's attorney general and the judiciary system for failing to crack down on government corruption.

"Over the last 15 years, there have been a number of grand corruption scandals in this country, from Anglo-Leasing all the way back to Goldenberg," said Carson. "In none of those cases, in which millions and millions of dollars have been stolen, has there been an effective prosecution of anyone. No one has gone to jail for that."

The move has received a harsh rebuke from Kenya's foreign affairs minister, who vowed the Kenya government would reciprocate to what it views as a hostile action.

But assistant ministers Joseph Nkaissery and Mwangi Kiunjuri, who represent both sides of the coalition government, told VOA that Wako should resign, both threatening that parliament might take action to force the attorney general out of office if he does not make the move himself. Both say the ban will limit the attorney general's legitimacy in the eyes of the international community and will hinder his ability to carry out his mandate.

Assistant minister Orwah Ojodeh, elected through Prime Minister Raila Odinga's party, says he does not think the ban is a big deal.

"You know, in any country, there are several people who are denied their visa," said Ojodeh. "So what is so special about this one? And, those who are working under Wako are so many, he can as well give some opportunity [to travel] to some other guy."

The United States has been pushing for reforms from the Kenyan government, including strengthening its fight against internal corruption, holding accountable those responsible for organizing political violence, and reforming the nation's police and judiciary institutions.

In a visit to Kenya last month, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan warned Kenya its window to enact reforms is quickly closing as the 2012 election cycle draws nearer.