Kenya criticises US travel ban on officials

Kenya’s foreign minister criticised the United States yesterday after it revoked the visa of a senior government official who Washington says is standing in the way of reforms.
The senior government official was not named, but US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said earlier this week during a visit to Kenya that the US government planned to impose similar bans on three more individuals.
The move brought a stern response from Kenyan officials.
“It is with regret that an assistant minister of a friendly country walks into our country uninvited, makes fairly unacceptable and reckless statements and then leaves,” Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told reporters. “It is not right.”
Wetangula said Nairobi respected Washington’s right to decide which Kenyans received US visas, but he said Kenyan officials needed access to the United Nations in New York.
“When we want to go to the UN, we shall go to transact international business,” he said. “That is an obligation and a right that nobody can take away under international law.”
Carson sent warning letters to 15 prominent Kenyans in September whom Washington accuses of blocking reforms that are desperately needed after post-election violence killed at least 1300 people last year in east Africa’s biggest economy.
The letters said the future of their relations with the United States would depend on their support for wide-ranging reforms, as well as their rejection of violence.
That move also triggered a diplomatic row, with President Mwai Kibaki protesting to his US counterpart, Barack Obama. The spat also weighed on the Kenyan shilling due to fears it would hit the monetary support the country gets from donors.
Wetangula said Kenya’s leadership recognised the need to complete reforms before the next presidential election in 2012.
Local media have speculated that the senior official banned by the United States is Attorney General Amos Wako, who has been criticised for failing to prosecute top corruption suspects.
Watchdog Transparency International ranks Kenya as the most corrupt nation in east Africa.

Pic: President Mwai Kabaki speaking at the podium