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US Ambassador to Kenya Expresses Support for Kenyan Democracy

The US ambassador to Kenya, Michael E. Rannenberger, expressed his support for the country’s electoral process (yesterday) in remarks to students at the University of Nairobi.

Kenya will hold parliamentary and presidential elections in December.

Ambassador Rannenberger warned his audience about three potential dangers for Kenya’s democracy:

"Not enough has been done to bring to justice those responsible for corruption, tribalism, and gender equity. Not enough has been done to bring to justice those responsible for corruption, based on a real zero tolerance policy. Tribalism – rather, political appeals to tribalism – remains perhaps the most significant challenge to Kenyan democracy. And, women are grossly under-represented in the political system, and are victims of unbridled violence."

Ambassador Rannenberger said the United States supports the integrity of kenya’s democratic process and the right of voters to choose the parties and individuals who will lead their country:

"We are strictly neutral with respect to the competing candidates and political parties. It is for Kenyan voters alone to decide which candidates and which political parties can be trusted to lead the country for the next five years. However, we are not neutral with respect to the process, which is the conduct of the elections," he said.

The American ambassador added that the United States wants to see an inclusive, fair and transparent electoral process.

He said the US supports Kenyan law, the electoral code, and international standards that call for transparent voting. The ambassador said the US government also supports the Electoral Commission of Kenya. He congratulated the commission for the way it conducted the 2002 elections and the 2005 constitutional referendum.

Ambassador Rannenberger said elections are a shared responsibility. He said it entails an obligation by political leaders to control their rhetoric, forego violence and set an example for their followers. He said that includes avoiding threats and name-calling.

He also warned against tribalism – and encouraged political parties to form broad-based coalitions cross tribal lines.

He said Kenya does not need 85 political parties, calling many of them “little more than ‘sitting room’ or ‘briefcase’ parties representing personal interests.” Ambassador Rannenberger said consolidation would offer a clearer choice for voters, but this can only be achieved through a democratic process and not by government fiat.

The American ambassador said he’s encouraged by the role played in the electoral process by faith-based groups and other members of civil society. He urged the media to provide objective information on electoral issues and to refrain from ethnic incitement.

Ambassador Rannenberger also encouraged parties to have an open debate on issues such as unemployment, corruption, gender equity, tribalism, reducing poverty and other topics of interest to voters.

“You have a wonderful saying in Kiswahili,” he told his audience. “The hard work is not the pregnancy; rather it is in raising the child.” He said Kenya’s elders struggled to deliver democracy and it is the responsibility of all Kenyans -- especially the younger generations -- to nurture it.