Obama slates Kenya for fraud

Obama slates Kenya for fraud

2006-08-28 16:22

Nairobi - Buoyed by a rapturous hero's welcome in his father's home nation, US senator Barack Obama delivered on Monday a stinging rebuke on government corruption and the politics of ethnicity in Kenya.

In a nationally televised speech to students and faculty at the University of Nairobi, the rising American political star and potential Democratic Party presidential nominee said rampant graft had thrust Kenya into "crisis".

Obama said: "Here in Kenya, it is a crisis, a crisis that is robbing an honest people of the opportunities that they have fought for, opportunities they deserve."

"Like many nations across this continent, where Kenyan is failing in its inability to create a government that is transparent and accountable," he said, taking aim at President Mwai Kibaki, to whom he delivered a similar, if less blunt, message on Friday.

"The struggle against corruption is one of the biggest struggles of our time," the junior senator from Illinois and only African-American in the US upper house said to applause from the standing-room only crowd.

Respond effectively to crises

He lamented studies that show corruption to be the biggest obstacle to investment and a major complaint of Kenyan citizens in their daily lives, which has nefarious consequences for human rights and health.

"It makes it impossible to respond effectively to crises, whether it is HIV/Aids pandemic, or malaria or crippling drought," he said, adding that graft had also allowed a Rwandan genocide fugitive to hide in Kenya.

"It can shield a war criminal - even one like Felicien Kabuga, suspected of helping to finance and orchestrate the Rwandan genocide - by allowing him to purchase safe haven for a time and robbing all humanity of the opportunity to bring the criminal to justice," said Obama.

Obama, whose late father was a Kenyan goat herder-turned-government economist who worked with Kibaki during the country's early days of independence, also urged the country to demand accountability from its leaders.

Kibaki swept to power on a reform platform in 2004, besting retiring president Daniel arap Moi's ruling party's chosen successor but has come under heavy criticism for failing to rein in massive corruption.

Rock-star reception

His administration has been beset by at least two major graft scandals that have forced the resignation of three cabinet ministers and led the country's former anti-corruption case to flee the country.

Apparently hopeful that his rock-star reception as a "favourite son" would give added weight to his words, Obama also took on the apparent re-emergence of ethnic and tribal rivalries in Kenyan political life.

"Ethnic-based politics has to stop," he told the crowd.

"It is rooted in the bankrupt ideology that the goal of politics is to pile as much as possible to one's family, tribe or friends. It fractures the fabric of society."

Kibaki's election victory had been seen as a sign of Kenya's political maturity but his government has been dogged by infighting that last year took on a decidedly tribal look in a failed referendum to adopt a new constitution.