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Biden: Kenya's Future in Hands of its People

Visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has told Kenyans the power to secure a better future for the east African nation rests in the hands of its people, not its politicians.

As Kenyans prepare to vote in a constitutional referendum later this year, the vice president says a new constitution will deepen the roots of democracy, guarantee security and allow foreign investors to pump millions into the country's struggling economy.

In a rousing speech to a packed conference center in Nairobi, Vice President Biden assured Kenyans the United States stood beside them on what he called their journey to a "secure, free, democratic and prosperous Kenya."

He urged all Kenyans to work together in securing the country's future and demanding changes from those who have led them into uncertainty.

"Too many of your resources have been lost to corruption and not a single high-level official has ever been held accountable for these crimes," he said. "Too many of your institutions have lost the people's confidence, and too many times Kenya has been divided against itself, torn apart by ethnic tensions, manipulated by leaders who place their own interest above the interest of their country."

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The vice president said violence that followed Kenya's disputed presidential election in 2007 had revealed how dangerous the forces of ethnic division and corruption could be.

The new coalition government, formed in the aftermath of the fighting, signed up to a raft of political reforms including a new constitution. After two and a-half years, the debate will culminate this August when the country goes to the polls.

Despite repeated delays in the constitutional process, Vice President Biden praised the cooperation of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, but said the ultimate responsibility to bring about a new constitution has now passed into the hands of the public. He said Kenyans should not feel intimidated by the task ahead.

"As you prepare to write a new history for your nation, resist those who try to divide you based on ethnicity or religion or region and above all fear. It is a tool as old as mankind and its been used to great effect in this country in the past," he said.

Biden said future foreign investment in Kenya would increase with political stability and confidence in the country's judiciary, police and politicians. Positive reform, he said, would open the door to major American development programs.

"There is so much more we could do and want to do in partnership with you. It could provide millions of dollars in grant assistance to Kenya that you would know how to use well to build this great nation," he said.

The vice president labeled the United States' relationship with Kenya one of the most important on the continent.

He brought greetings from U.S. President Barack Obama who, he said, is deeply concerned about those in his father's homeland, many of whom idolize the American leader. The U.S. hopes the president's promise of a visit on the condition of a successful constitutional review will further encourage Kenyans to seek change.