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Kenya Corruption Scandal Triggers Halt to US Education Funds

Suspension comes following reports that more than $1-million is missing from the country's primary schooling program

The United States is suspending education funds to Kenya following reports that more than $1 million is missing from the country's primary schooling program. Britain late last year also pulled its financial support pending resolution of the scandal.

During a speech Tuesday afternoon to the American Chamber of Commerce in Nairobi, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger said that apparent corruption within the Ministry of Education demanded strong punitive action.

"The United States government has suspended a planned five-year, $7-million capacity building program for the Ministry of Education that was scheduled to begin in 2010 until there is a credible, independent audit and full accountability," Ranneberger said. "Those culpable for the fraud should not merely be sacked, they should be prosecuted and put behind bars."

The move followed a British announcement in December that it was withholding the final $16 million of a five-year education funding program that began in 2005.

When Kenya created its free primary education system in 2003, it was lauded internationally for extending education to those who could not afford paying for schooling.

But a government audit late last year found that significant portions of the ministry's funds could not be accounted for.

Ambassador Ranneberger also revealed U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke recently by telephone with both Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to encourage compromise on a contentious new draft constitution.

"It is essential that whatever new constitution is developed ends the longstanding 'winner take all' approach to Kenyan politics, helps reassure all Kenyans that their interests will be protected, and serves to de-emphasize the importance of ethnic electoral alliances," Ranneberger said. "The president and secretary made clear that tough compromises need to be made on the constitution and that implementation of the reform agenda must be greatly accelerated."

The desire of Kenyans to create a new governing framework has been a core issue within the nation's politics for years now. The current constitution is thought to place too much central power in the office of the president, with few checks and balances.

A controversial new draft defeated in a 2005 referendum led to the splintering of the then-governing party, setting up the electoral showdown in 2007 between Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga that ended in ethnic bloodshed.

Party negotiators are now attempting to achieve consensus around the most recent draft document to avoid a repeat political split in the nation's fragile power-sharing government.

President Obama's father was Kenyan, and the U.S. president holds high levels of popularity here. A national day of celebration was declared after his election in November 2008.

The ambassador described the United States as Kenya's most important partner, saying $3 billion flows into the East African nation from America every year in aid, trade, and private investment.