Jamhuri Day no. 52–Secret “visa bans” are too little, too late from the USA to revive Kenya’s democratic spirit of 2002

Integrity Centre

US Secretary of State Kerry issued a short perfunctory statement of congratulations to Kenyans for Jumhuri Day, mentioning his visit to Kenya in May, but not President Obama’s visit in July.

I get tired of expressing my disappointment in my government’s approach to relations with Kenya’s government and informal power structure and I did not have much to say about Obama’s visit.  One particular item that got marginal attention in the Kenyan media and that I chose to ignore was an actual signed agreement between the Government of Kenya and the Government of the United States styled as a “Joint Commitment to Promote Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya“.  There is actually a fair bit of detail to this agreement in terms of process, meetings, communications, and such, aside from the platitudes suggesting that the same people with life-long track records of comfort with corruption in Kenya were suddenly born again  GooGoos (GooGoo being an old American slang term for “good government” types, referring to reformers who opposed corrupt urban political “machines” in large cities such as Chicago and my hometown of Kansas City).

In spite of the temporary boost to the UhuRuto administration from President Obama’s Nairobi visit, there has been a rising chorus of Kenyan grassroots umbrage to the extreme corruption levels as more and more scandals have emerged without, still, any actual sucessful prosecutions of major figures (meaning major players in either business or politics, or most likely both together) for any of the known thievery.

In the wake of the Pope’s visit, Uhuru–who has made conspicuous use of Roman Catholic photo props in his campaign and PR imagery since the contested 2013 vote–was said to have been moved or shamed to take some action, along the lines of the kinds of things that he had already agreed to do in his July agreement with the United States, to fight “graft”.  Perhaps.  “You just never know,” as some older conservative friends in Mississippi said when I tried to explain back in 2008 that everyone in Kenya knew that Barack Obama was born in the United States, not in Kenya.

What about on the United States side?  Does our government really want to change things now?  Here is what I would need to see to be persuaded that we have decided to change the game: 1) public follow up on the Goodyear bribes paid to public officials in Kenya [months have gone by now with no prosecutions in Kenya reported in the press after the parent company in the US turned itself in to the SEC and the Justice Department]; 2) public follow up on the bribery of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the 2013 election procurements [I finally submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request a few months ago to USAID on the procurements we paid for through IFES and for our dealings with the vendor Smith & Ouzman which was convicted in the UK of bribing the Kenyan IEBC–no documents or substantive response yet]; 3) public follow up on the issue of unnamed Kenyan officials being among those bribed by Chinese interests at the UN in New York resulting in U.S. indictments.

It has been credibly reported based on leaks that the new “visa bans” on travel to the US by Kenyan officials are quite extensive.  Great.  But we do this type of thing, if not quite to this extent, periodically.  Over the years it obviously has not added up to any strategic progress even if there may (or may not) have been a few tactical successes here or there. Bottom line is that I don’t think you can really fight corruption with secrecy–you have to chose your priorities.  And for my government to ignore the cases that have been publicly exposed in which we have some direct stake leaves me unconvinced that we have actually changed our priorities from 2007 and 2013 when I was in Kenya to see for myself.

One thing that we could do to make sure we are “practicing what we preach” on the governance side is for Congress to have oversight hearings about how we are carrying out the July 25 “Joint Agreement”.