U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger Tuesday delivered a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Kenya urging the Kenyan government to crack down on corruption and the country to put ethnic and personal differences aside in preparing for next year's elections.
The ambassador opened his speech by lauding Kenya for "moving in a positive direction."
He noted that the East African country's economy has been growing steadily since 2002, with growth expected to exceed six percent this year, and that the many self-help groups and watchdog organizations make Kenya what he called "the most active and vibrant in sub-Saharan Africa."
But, said Ranneberger, there are still overwhelming problems in Kenya, chief among them being corruption.
He referred to the so-called Anglo Leasing scandal of several years ago, in which government officials awarded lucrative contracts to fictitious companies.
"Corruption in Kenya exacts a terrible toll and is probably the single greatest impediment to economic development and poverty reduction," said Ranneberger. "The Anglo Leasing contracts totaled some $700 million. To put this number in perspective: $700 million is more than the total foreign assistance provided to Kenya over the past year by international development banks and governments like my own."
Ranneberger said corruption discourages new and existing investment, as it raises the cost of doing business in Kenya. He called corruption "a cancer, robbing Kenya of the resources badly needed for development and prosperity."
The corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Kenya near the bottom, 142nd out of the 163 countries surveyed, in its corruption index for 2006.
Two former ministers who were accused of being involved in Anglo Leasing, Minister of Education George Saitoti and Minister of Energy Kiraitu Murungi, were last week re-appointed to their portfolios by President Mwai Kibaki.
Ranneberger also urged the government and all Kenyans to put ethnic, personal, or other interests aside in the run-up to next year's elections.
"While it is increasingly free and open, Kenya's political process remains too narrowly focused on tribal, regional, and personal interests," noted the U.S. ambassador. "This is to the detriment of a national agenda and the welfare of the people as a whole."
"When a country's political class, whether leaders in the government or in the opposition, consistently put tribal, family, or personal interests first, governance fails," Ranneberger continued. "Government becomes not a pathway to achieve national consensus and development for the betterment of all, but rather a platform for patronage, cronyism, corruption, waste, and mismanagement."
He said he urges all politicians and political actors in Kenya to conduct their campaigns and other activities in ways that would appeal to all Kenyans, not just members of a particular ethnic group.
Ranneberger was also concerned about increased narcotics trafficking, especially on the coast, and money laundering activities.