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US Envoy Calls for Ouster of Top Kenyan Officials

US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger (file)
US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger (file)

The U.S. Envoy in Kenya has called for the removal of the nation's chief justice and attorney general as the country steps up its fight against corruption.

Kenya's Daily Nation is reporting that American Ambassador Michael Ranneberger has called for sweeping changes to Kenya's justice system on Monday.

Speaking at a development forum in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Ranneberger called for the east African nation to replace its top judge and lawyer.

Ranneberger told the crowd that removing Attorney General Amos Wako and Justice Evan Gicheru were important steps eradicating a "culture of impunity." The U.S. envoy said that ensuring political stability and good governance would be critical for Kenya to attract foreign investment.

In attendance at the forum was Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Seated with Mr. Odinga was Cabinet Minister Charity Ngilu, who is facing corruption allegations and calls for her resignation.

Ambassador Ranneberger has been an outspoken critic of Kenya's notoriously ubiquitous corruption. It is not the first time he has called for a more independent judiciary. Speaking in late September, the envoy urged Kenyan officials to carefully select a new chief justice.

"The new chief justice is going to be one of the most important positions in the country," he said. "It is critically important that a person of the highest competence, of independence and of good repute be put in that position. I do not want to rule anyone out or in, but clearly their needs to be a selection process that is transparent. And where the best possible person is chosen; a person who will truly strive to make the judiciary corruption free and independent."

As part of Kenya's transition to its new constitution, the country must install a new Chief Justice by February 2011. The Attorney General must also be replaced by August of next year. Wako was originally appointed by former President Daniel arap Moi and has been the attorney general for nearly 20 years.

During his tenure Wako has overseen the infamous Goldenberg scandal - in which the Kenyan government illegally subsidized non-existent gold exports from the company Goldenberg International. The debacle has cost Kenya an estimated $76 million.

While Ambassador Ranneberger has previously called for strict vetting for future Justice and Attorney General appointments, this is the first time he has called for the two officials to step down.

The envoy recently made headlines by announcing that three senior members of government, as well as a prominent businessman, had been handed a U.S. travel ban for their alleged involvement in narcotics trafficking. Speaking just two weeks ago, Ranneberger said the illicit trade was a very serious problem which was made possible by the country's rampant corruption and "culture of impunity."