In Summary
  • Nairobi's negative assessment of Obama administration policy toward Kenya has been deepened in recent months due to developments related to the International Criminal Court cases against President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto

NEW YORK

Despite Kenya's bitter criticisms of the United States' actions during the past year, behind-the-scenes relations between Nairobi and Washington remain strong, envoys on both sides say.

Some independent analysts suggest, however, that the two countries' rapport is fraying due to Kenyan mistrust of US intentions regarding the administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.

The 50-year friendship reached a turning point a year ago when then-Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson warned Kenyans of unspecified “consequences” for relations with the US if certain candidates – universally understood to be Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto – were elected as the country's leaders.

“Since the 'consequences' statement that, to many analysts, was meant to influence voting in Kenya, the trust between the current government and Obama's administration has been eroded significantly,” comments Mwangi Kimenyi, a Kenyan who heads the Africa programme at a leading Washington think tank.

On its part, the US believed that Kenya's international standing would be degraded if voters were to choose two men accused of committing crimes against humanity. Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have been charged in the International Criminal Court with having orchestrated violence that took the lives of some 1,300 Kenyans and forced more than half-a-million people from their homes.

In insisting that the ICC proceedings should go forward, Washington sees itself as upholding the principle of accountability for powerful figures. The United States does not, however, expose its own officials to prosecution by the ICC.

There is “puzzlement” among Obama administration officials regarding “the extraordinary amount of vitriol flowing from Nairobi in the direction of the US,” says former US Ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy. “It's more than any of us can recall.”

'DESTABILISING GOVT'

Relations between Nairobi and Washington will “have hit an all-time low,” Mr Kimenyi observes, if it is proven that the US Agency for International Development is funding groups working to destabilise the Kenyan government. That allegation was made last week by Francis Kimemia, chairman of the National Security Advisory Committee. (READ: Report on USAid ‘won’t affect Kenya-US ties’)

But even if there is no factual basis for Mr Kimemia's claim, Mr Kimenyi adds, the allegation reflects deep suspicions toward the United States. “My conclusion is that relations between the US and Kenya are actually very bad and founded on mistrust,” declares the Kenyan scholar based at the Brookings Institution in Washington. (READ: Kenya lashes out at US over demonstrations)

The US is not seeking to loosen President Kenyatta's grip on power but is affirming democratic freedoms and the right of dissent in Kenya, Mr Bellamy says. “There is an effort underway in Kenya to restrict media and the flow of information and to restrict the scope of what civil society and NGOs are doing. So naturally there's going to be pushback from the US.”

Nairobi's negative assessment of Obama administration policy toward Kenya has been deepened in recent months due to developments related to the International Criminal Court cases against President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto.

Mr Obama excluded his father's homeland from his Africa itinerary this past summer largely because the US calculated that a stopover in Kenya would be seen as a negation of the threatened “consequences” of a Kenyatta victory.

A few months later, Kenya's UN ambassador reacted angrily to the US abstention on a United Nations Security Council vote on a proposal to defer the ICC cases for one year.

Then came charges by Mr Ruto's defence attorney that a former US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, had recruited witnesses to testify against Mr Ruto. Current US Ambassador Robert Godec rejected that claim.

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