The Obama administration on Monday revoked the visa of a top Kenyan government official.
Three more would also be banned as soon as the paperwork was ready, the United States assistant secretary for African Affairs, Mr Johnnie Carson, announced on Monday. The visa is intended to put pressure on government to speed up reforms.
It is a particularly bold step coming so soon after President Kibaki wrote to President Barack Obama to protest against the direct targeting of individual members of his government.
Mr Carson refused to name the official, only saying he has a US visa and travels widely on government business.
The decision to impose the ban appears to have come out of meetings in Washington between Mr Kofi Annan and Mr Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The former UN secretary-general has met in Washington with Secretary Clinton and President Obama and Kenya has featured in both meetings. They both have strong favourable views on Kenya,” Mr Carson said.
Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula condemned the ban as “megaphone diplomacy”. He said the US was “conducting our affairs from rooftops”.
There was widespread speculation, including in diplomatic circles, about the identity of the banned minister.
During her visit in August, Mrs Clinton was reported to have pressed for changes in the police force, the Judiciary and the State Law Office.
Former police commissioner Hussein Ali has since been transferred to the Postal Corporation of Kenya as Postmaster-General. Attorney-General Amos Wako and Chief Justice Evan Gicheru are still in office.
“For 15 years, grand corruption has reigned such as Anglo Leasing but not one top officer has been found guilty. Millions of dollars that could have been used to build schools have disappeared and the Attorney-General and the Judiciary are responsible,” Mr Carson said.
Mr Wako, Kenya’s longest serving AG, has been in charge of prosecutions for 18 years. His record of successfully prosecuting corruption has been widely criticised.
On Monday, a source close to Mr Wako said the US embassy had not been in touch with the AG. The source also said the AG would respond publicly if he was the banned minister.
On official duty
Mr Justice Gicheru was away on official duty in Mombasa and could not be reached.
Mr Wetang’ula criticised the US action and said there was a better way of doing things.
He said the US ambassador had informed him that a senior official had been banned from travelling to the US.
“If the visa was in place, under international law, the US has a right to withdraw it but it is out of order if the person in question had not applied for it,” he said.
He said the government was on course with reforms.
Mr Carson said he had met Internal Security minister George Saitoti to express concern over reports of fresh arming of militia in Rift Valley and rising ethnic tensions.
Announcing the ban at the US ambassador’s residence in Muthaiga, Nairobi, Mr Carson, himself a former US ambassador to Kenya, said: “Today, the US government has taken the decision to revoke the visa of a senior Kenyan government official who has been obstructive to reforms.”
His government had decided to target individuals whom it considered to be hindering Agenda Four reforms.
“We have focused our attention on individuals who have not used their offices well. We have had enough talk, we want action,” he said in the company of the ambassador, Mr Michael Ranneberger.
Mr Carson said he was delivering a message from President Obama and Mrs Clinton who were determined to see that Kenya did not return to violence at the next election.
Last month President Kibaki wrote to President Obama protesting at the targeting of individuals in his government after the US sent letters to officials warning them that they faced visa sanctions if they continued blocking reforms.
“This is a powerful signal because the individual cannot travel to the US for business or personal pleasure. The US is prepared to impose visa bans on those who stand against reforms. We hope other countries will follow.”
The European Union and the United Kingdom, which retains some influence because of historical and economic ties, have been applying pressure on the government to move faster on the reforms included in the National Accord.
On the banned individual, Mr Carson said: “The name, and those of others will be made public soon.”
He listed reforms he considered urgent as those that would halt corruption in government, hold top government officials accountable, punish key post-election violence suspects, streamline the Judiciary and electoral reforms.
He saluted the change of guard at Vigilance House with the departure of Maj-Gen Ali and his replacement as by Mr Mathew Iteere.
“We do not want to see Kenya return to the post-election violence of early 2008. Reforms have to be implemented and we have our own interests that drive us,” he said.