News 2008


Kenya in furious attack on British High Commissioner

The Independent

By Steve Bloomfield in Nairobi

Friday, 15 February 2008

Britain is embroiled in a diplomatic row with Kenya after the British high commissioner said President Mwai Kibaki's government did not "represent the democratic will of the Kenyan people".

Kenya's Foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, accused Adam Wood of a "total disregard for diplomatic etiquette". He said: "Continued provocation will not be tolerated further and the government will not hesitate to take appropriate remedial measures." Officials refused to elaborate.

Mr Wood's comments to a local broadcaster, KTN, were no different from those made previously by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. Representatives from other countries have also used similar language.

Some observers believe politicians in Mr Kibaki's government are determined to create a bilateral dispute with Britain, Kenya's former colonial master, that may help rally support from other African leaders. "They are trying to pull a Mugabe," said a European diplomat, referring to the Zimbabwe President's attempts to blame Britain for his country's economic problems.

Mr Wetangula said Mr Wood "should be the last person to be reminded that Kenya fought a bitter war and won her independence from the British colonial yoke over 44 years ago".

So far four African countries have formally congratulated Mr Kibaki on his re-election Somalia, Swaziland, Djibouti and Uganda. South Africa's deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, last week said his country did not recognise Mr Kibaki's government.

Britain has been wary about appearing to lead condemnation of December's flawed presidential poll. Instead, most critical comments have come through the EU and other major donors, such as the US. While Washington last week warned it would consider banning certain hardline politicians from entering the US, it took Britain several days to warn of similar "consequences".

As well as considering visa bans, Britain may threaten to freeze assets held in the UK. Many senior Kenyan politicians were educated in the UK and some have properties and business interests there.

The Foreign Office has already drawn up a list of politicians to target. It is said to include those on both the government and opposition sides. Some of the main figures are already subject to visa bans following allegations of corruption.

So far, the threats remain just that. Mediation talks to solve the political crisis led by the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, are continuing and diplomats do not want to derail the talks, although hardline elements in the Kenyan government appear determined to hold on to power.