News 2008


Sustaining Kenya on its democratic path

March 9, 2008


On Saturday night the United States Ambassador Michael Ranneberger addressed the Law Society of Kenya. Here are excerpts from his speech on the way forward for Kenya:

I am proud that the United States stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Kenya in its darkest hour, at times pushing both sides harder than they wanted to be pushed, because that is what a real friend does.

In that same spirit of friendship, let me offer my thoughts on the steps that need to be taken quickly in order to maintain momentum.

First, President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga must work together effectively to put in place the coalition government in a way that reflects the letter and spirit of the agreements signed. Government positions must be equitably shared but, even more importantly, immediate steps must be taken to carry through with the ambitious reform and national policy agendas, particularly with respect to constitutional, electoral, and land reform.

Second, a transparent process must be put in place to begin work on the reform agenda, to be completed within a designated timeframe. Work on the reform agenda needs to be inclusive, particularly through consultation with civil society.

Third, Parliament must quickly pass the necessary legislation to make the coalition structure legal and constitutional. Let us not forget that well over 60 per cent of all sitting MPs are newcomers who are being asked, without the benefit of orientation or training, to implement some of the most important legislation in Kenya’s history, and then to deal with sweeping and long overdue reforms.

The dynamic leadership of the Speaker, Mr Kenneth Marende and the political will — and goodwill — of parliamentary leaders will be required to move forward quickly.

Fourth, political leaders, elders, and the respected personalities of Kenyan society from the top down must cooperate to send unequivocal messages on the importance of rapid reconciliation between communities and individuals. I urge President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to undertake joint visits to encourage reconciliation, and to lead by example.

Fifth, urgent practical steps must be taken to advance the process of reconciliation by helping the country deal with the havoc wreaked during the crisis. This includes returning people to their homes in conditions of peace and safety as quickly as possible, and restoring their livelihoods.

While returns must be voluntary, the right of every Kenyan to live and to own property anywhere in the country must be assured. Returning displaced to their so-called "ancestral homelands" is not a viable option politically, socially, or economically.

Diversity is one of this country’s greatest strengths and it must be cherished. If people cannot return to their homes, it will validate violence and weaken the fabric of the nation. At the same time, appropriate assistance should be provided for all areas of the country affected by violence. Sixth, steps to promote reconciliation must include establishing a legally independent Peace, Truth, and Justice Commission and holding those responsible accountable under the law.

Historical injustices

Kenyans are giving real meaning to my favourite verse in your national anthem: Haki iwe ngao na mlinzi (Justice be our shield and defender).

One of the most important results of the mediation process was agreement to examine Kenya’s history of violence and the long-stranding grievances, which fuel it. The proposed Peace, Truth, and Justice Commission must provide a meaningful channel for Kenyans to address both recent and historical injustices.

In conjunction with Kenya’s criminal courts, this process must determine what happened during the recent violence and hold to account those who organised, financed, and perpetrated the violence.

Land issues are the basis of many of the long-standing grievances and the causes of violence. Instituting a process of land reform will be critical to fostering reconciliation and building long-term peace in Kenya.

Seventh, the Independent Review Commission charged with investigating the conduct of the 2007 general elections must credibly complete its work within the proposed timeframe. Chain of custody issues make it highly likely that we will never know what the actual vote was, but determining where and how the electoral system broke down is vitally important to fixing it and restoring Kenyans’ confidence in the democratic system.

Eighth, the crisis put into sharp relief the plight of youth, and that problem must be addressed. The massive unemployment among youth provided fuel for violence. A national youth agenda needs to expand vocational training and employment.

Ninth, concerted efforts must be made to get the economy back on track.

Only an inclusive process can turn the crisis that the country experienced into an opportunity. It will be up to you and to all Kenyans to insist that this be the case.

President Kibaki and Mr Odinga have found the political will to share power within a "grand coalition" government. How long this political will endures depends entirely on whether Kenyans take immediate and decisive advantage of the momentum at hand. Kenya has a finite window of time to address an ambitious reform agenda.

Perhaps the most important item on the reform agenda is constitutional change. Kenyans relentlessly debated almost every salient issue during the 2005 referendum, and did so after a broad consultative process. This shared national experience should give Kenya’s new parliamentary leaders a running start on resolving even the most difficult issues at hand.

The Law Society of Kenya’s Constitutional Law Committee Report of 2006 makes it perfectly clear, however, that — this time — constitutional reform must be gotten right. In the report, you said: "The ramifications of the failed 2005 referendum … was a national catastrophe in which everybody lost. Billions of shillings of public money set aside for the constitutional review process were lost…. And worst of all, we emerged from the referendum a nation severely torn by ethnic balkanization." Obviously, the stakes are an order of magnitude higher today. There can be no second failure.

While the current political accord justifiably focuses primarily on constitutional, electoral, and land reform, it is important not to loose sight of other pressing issues which must be addressed. These include intensified and more effective efforts to combat corruption; continued liberalisation of the economic sector; and promoting gender equity, among others.

There is an urgent need for reform in the judicial sector as has been made clear by the Chief Justice himself. This will require providing more resources for the judiciary, tackling judicial corruption by ensuring transparency and accountability, and making judicial proceeding more efficient and open. With an efficient, transparent and non-partisan justice system, Kenyans will no longer feel forced to take the law into their own hands. I salute the LSK’s leadership in the fight for legal and judicial reform.

Experience similar crisis

The fact that Kenya has experienced such a fundamental crisis does not mean that the democratic progress made during the past five years was an illusion or that in some way Kenya is a fundamentally flawed country.

Almost all democracies have experienced crises of similar or greater magnitude. Our own experience as Americans helps us understand what transpired here.

The experience of the Great Depression in my country exemplifies how a galvanised political leadership, sharing a unity of purpose, can move an entire country from fear and misery to prosperity and national renewal.

Assuming the presidency almost 75 years ago to this very day and at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt vividly described the America he saw at the time of his inauguration: "The withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side, farmers find no markets for their produce, the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return."

When President Roosevelt memorably went on to state that, "the only thing we have to fear … is fear itself," he was really asking Americans to have faith in their government and — most especially — in each other. Capitalising on broad support from Republicans and Democrats alike, FDR passed an extraordinary amount of legislation during his first 100 days in office. The New Deal, as it became known, reformed the very fabric of American business and society. The New Deal created jobs, including through a National Youth Administration. It included passage of sweeping farm and ranch policies. The New Deal transformed our nation, and America emerged from a profound crisis with stronger institutions.

Another American experience also exemplifies how crisis can be turned into opportunity for national renewal. After the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, many of the largest US cities erupted into violence. This became so serious that military forces had to be deployed to restore order. The assassination was the spark that set off the riots, but the violence reflected the anger of the black population of the United States regarding underlying grievances not resolved since the Civil War 100 years before.

Once again, Americans rose to the challenge and seized the opportunity for fundamental change. Poverty programmes were expanded, urban problems were addressed, the inner cities were rebuilt, and civil rights legislation was passed. As a result, our country again emerged with stronger institutions, a stronger economy, and a more inclusive society.

Kenya, the US, and the Global Community

The extraordinary amount of attention Kenya received during the crisis reflects its importance in the regional and global context. The crisis demonstrated that Kenyan stability is critical to the economies and the stability of the entire region. Kenya is home to the most effective peacekeeping training facility in the region. Kenya’s leadership on Sudan directly led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The Nairobi Accord helped the governments of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda adopt a common approach toward eliminating the threat posed by rebel forces. Bringing stability to Somalia requires Kenyan influence and assistance.

Kenya is now uniquely positioned to show the region and the world that through dialogue and a commitment to reform it is possible to rise above political crisis and come out even stronger than before.

US assistance

Earlier this week I met separately with President Kibaki and Mr Raila to discuss the way forward. As a result of those conversations, I am convinced that both men understand the opportunity at hand. They recognise that the seeds of Kenya’s future must be planted now, and share a sense of urgency. I told them that we want to help. We are moving quickly to amplify the US-Kenyan partnership, which already results in about $2 billion of resource flows from the United States to Kenya each year. We will make a concerted effort to encourage expanded trade, investment, tourism, and cultural and educational exchanges.

I am pleased to announce that the United States will provide an additional $25 million in funding for reconciliation and reconstruction. This $25 million is in addition to the $14 million in immediate humanitarian assistance the United States has provided since January. This $25 million will be used to: promote dialogue and reconciliation; facilitate the return of the displaced to their homes and resumption of their livelihoods, as well as assistance with related infrastructure and youth agenda programs; support for implementation of the coalition accord, particularly carrying through with the reform agenda; and assistance for key governance programs, including strengthening the Parliament and supporting as appropriate establishment of the new office of the Prime Minister.

We will, of course, consult closely with the coalition government and civil society as we move ahead.

Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice has also pledged to encourage other donors and international financial institutions to provide the support that Kenyans require in order to turn the crisis they experienced into an historic opportunity.

Greater involvement by the international community will help to ensure that institutional reform is carried out in a timely manner. In doing so, we will be supporting a Kenyan agenda implemented by Kenyans — and not one imposed from outside. International support will, of course, be linked to good faith efforts to implement the political accord and reform agenda. This will complement the desire of Kenyans to hold their leaders accountable.

Kenya stands at a defining moment in its history. The political accord is the first step on what will be a long and challenging journey — but the United States will travel it with you. We are confident about Kenya’s future, even "bullish".

I wish the Law Society of Kenya and the Kenyan people well as you continue to pursue your democratic experiment — one that Americans continue to pursue after 232 years of independence.

Thank you.