News 2008


FAIR PLAY - Envoy should name and shame those involved in US visa ban

Saturday Nation


16. 02. 2008

Citing the confidentiality of the visa application process, US ambassador Michael Ranneberger has declined to name politicians and businessmen and women his country has slapped a travel ban on for their alleged role in Kenya’s post-election violence.

However, the visa denial goes beyond what is personal. First, the denial of visas is being done ostensibly to punish individuals for the harm they have inflicted on Kenyan, not American, society. Second, the procedure for issuing the travel ban warnings raises issues of procedural fairness, natural justice and due process.

A US embassy official, who does not want to be named, suggests that “the affected people can choose to share it with the public.”

BUT, AS WE ALL KNOW, PEOPLE CO-rrectly identified as inciters of the violence will not choose to share their guilt with the public. So in reality, the Kenyan public will never know, except through rumours, whom the Americans have identified as backers of tribal hatred and violence. This scenario raises important questions about the US act of righteousness.

For example, how can America justifiably punish Kenyans for crimes against Kenyans and not let Kenyans know who the criminals are? Whom are the Americans helping, really?

The real value of the visa refusals in this case lies in naming and shaming the individuals concerned in their own society, not in the confidential immigration files of the US embassy in Nairobi.

So far, only Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando, among more than 10 other people implicated, has chosen to go public — for obvious reasons. He believes in his own innocence. The newly-elected legislator has cast a shadow over the credibility of the US charges against him and threatened to file a defamation suit against Mr Ranneberger.

He also claims, without evidence, that the envoy is targeting President Kibaki’s supporters. The Kabando saga is a good indication of why Mr Ranneberger should avoid giving anybody the opportunity to show, even without evidence, that he has preconceived opinions, a vested interest or personal involvement in a matter that is really about the future and wellbeing of Kenyans. He must be seen to act fairly, in good faith, without bias and in a judicial manner.

Kenyans must feel confident that they will not suffer any victimisation or discrimination in an exercise that is publicly touted as a weapon to punish people who stoked the fires of ethnic violence.

The people must feel confident that they are not being identified as culprits because of their criticism of US.

The only way of restoring that confidence is to go public with the names of those implicated and the reasons for doing so. Mr Ranneberger says there is credible evidence linking the travel ban victims to the post-election mayhem. He must bring out that evidence.

In sending out letters to the politicians and business people warning them that they will not be allowed to enter the US, the envoy says that “people involved in inciting, supporting or perpetrating violence must be held accountable and, for our part, as the United States of America, we will hold them accountable by not providing visas.”

Kenyans can only hold them accountable if they know who they are, and the US can help by releasing the dossier that it has on them.

Another reason Mr Ranneberger should publicly name people he has identified is to avoid further confusion and name-calling and let the public be the judge. Already, there is unnecessary panic and appearance of lack of procedural fairness.

Justice should be done and be seen to be done. As a decision maker who is affecting the rights and interests of others, Mr Ranneberger should not only act in good faith and without bias, but also grant a hearing to any person whose interests will be affected by the exercise of that decision before it is made.

THE KENYAN PUBLIC WHOSE INTERests will be affected by the decision, and apparently in whose interest the US is acting, should be given full details of the accusations and the factual issues and allegations to enable them to see if justice is being done, that the decision made is fair and unbiased and that Mr Ranneberger is acting fairly, in good faith and without bias.

In the American law, due process, or fairness, is a cardinal rule and a constitutional right that the US government must respect when depriving a person of his or her rights and liberty. Due process, or natural justice, places limitations on what the government can do.

Kenyans accused or suspected of inciting violence should not be denied due process just because they are not American citizens. In any land, nobody shall be condemned unheard.

If the Kenyan public is satisfied that justice has been done, it will continue to place its faith in the American ambassador. Otherwise, he will be regarded as just one of the parties interested in an outcome of the post-election negotiations to suit his interests or those of his government.

Mr Ranneberger should name names or shut up.