The Obama administration's push for reforms in Kenya has reportedly divided senior Kenyan lawmakers. The dispute is growing one day after Kenya's foreign minister sharply criticized the Obama administration for revoking the visa of a senior government official whom Washington says is standing in the way of reforms.
Kenya's Standard newspaper Thursday described the differing opinion among lawmakers as the "big split over Obama."
Through an informal survey of various government officials, the Standard concluded that officials belonging to President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity were far more supportive of Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula's defiant stance against the United States than officials in Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement party.
Nairobi-based political analyst, Kamotho Waiganjo, says the survey reflects his belief that most officials in government still think of themselves as members of political parties rather than as public servants.
"The reality is we have a dysfunctional coalition which, on some issues, believes it is in competition," Waiganjo said. " The coalition has not jelled to the extent that we think it is because in another two years, they will be competing for political power. So, when any of the principle actors in any side of the coalition is hit, that side of the coalition re-groups to support one of their own."
On Monday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson traveled to Nairobi to announce that a senior government official has been banned from entering the United States. Carson said the unnamed official was frustrating reform efforts aimed at preventing a repeat of the post-election violence that killed more than 1,500 people in early 2008. He said Washington is planning to impose visa bans on three more government officials.
The United States has been pressuring Kenya, among other things, to overhaul its security forces and judicial system and bring to justice the organizers of the violence. The reforms were part of a power-sharing agreement that helped end months of bloodshed.
On Wednesday, Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula -- a member of President Kibaki's PNU party - delivered a stinging criticism of the Obama administration for what he called Washington's "meddling" in Kenyan affairs. Wetangula's rebuke fueled speculation that the unnamed official on Washington's banned list is a PNU member or a close party ally.
"With regret, an assistant minister of a friendly country walked into our country uninvited, makes fairly unacceptable, reckless statements and then leaves," Wetangula said. " And the statements made by Johnnie Carson is totally out of order, is not in keeping with the expected norms of good, diplomatic behavior."
The U.S. embassy in Nairobi declined to respond to the minister's remarks.
But Kenya's Justice and Constitutional Minister and PNU member Mutula Kilonzo agreed with Foreign Minister Wetangula, saying Carson's announcement appeared to be aimed at embarrassing President Kibaki. A member of the rival ODM party, Water Minister Charity Ngilu, told reporters in Nairobi that she welcomed U.S. pressure because it could only help the country's politicians to move forward on promised reforms.