US envoy: We’ll lend the youth a hand to drive change agenda

Saturday August 21 2010

By MURITHI MUTIGA

How will the relationship between Kenya and the US change following the referendum?

The US has had a large partnership with Kenya for many, many years. The passage of this new constitution will open up new prospects for an expanded relationship because this new constitution will be a major step in helping to advance reforms.

US Vice-President Joe Biden was specific in stating that a new constitution will “open the door to major American development programmes like the Millennium Challenge (Account)”. Will Kenya now benefit from that?

What Biden said is this: that if the new constitution is passed, it will be a major step in addressing the issue of the culture of impunity. (It will help deal with) negative ethnicity and, therefore, it will promote greater stability in the country and that, as a result, more American investors will want to come to Kenya.

Implementing the new constitution will help to address some of the concerns that have blocked the Millennium Challenge Account from coming to Kenya. It doesn’t mean that Kenya will get the account but it is a major step forward in getting into the millennium account.

You have been involved in a high profile campaign to engage with youth groups across the country. This is a similar strategy deployed in countries in which America advanced revolutions backed by pro-Western parties such as in the Ukraine. Is your objective regime change?

In Kenya, the US has been very vigorous in pushing for implementation of this constitution. In doing that the interests of the US and the interests of the Kenyan people absolutely coincide because we want to see change that will address these issues that divide the Kenyan people and that will promote conditions necessary for Kenya to become a stable, democratic and prosperous country.

That is obviously in the interests of the Kenyan people. Now we are reaching out to the youth of this country because the youth form the vast majority of this country and it’s important for our young people to participate in the democratic, political and economic system of the country.

What we saw in 2008 with the post-election violence is that if young people are not empowered, they will be manipulated by politicians. It is important to empower young people so that they are not manipulated.

So we have been reaching out to young people. Now, members of what we would call the establishment or the vested interests are threatened by this reaching out to the young people of this country because they know that our efforts are making the youth more independent and less able to be manipulated by politicians.

But the purpose of this is not regime change. The purpose is to empower young people to participate in the reform process.

How much American influence has there been in this process? A year ago, you said that Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission chief Aaron Ringera, Attorney-General Amos Wako, former Police Commissioner Maj-Gen Hussein Ali were blocking the reform process and now, within 24 months, they will all be gone.

Well, look, the US strongly supported the constitution review process and the reason for that is because putting in place a new constitution really is the centrepiece of the reform agenda. All the other reforms -- police reforms, judicial reforms -- cannot move ahead unless these new structures in the constitution are in place.

So it was absolutely central to us and now that the constitution has been approved by more than two thirds, we want to support the implementation process. We will do that by providing technical assistance, for example, to parliamentarians as they work on these new laws.

We are not going to influence what the laws say. We will provide technical assistance and we will continue to support police and reforms in the judiciary.

President Obama made an implicit promise that he would come to Kenya if the constitution was endorsed. Will he make good that promise?

It wasn’t implicit. It was an explicit promise. He said ‘‘I will visit Kenya during the course of my presidency’’. Now, he could be president for eight years. So I’m not going to speculate on when he is going to come to Kenya. He obviously wants to come and we’ll see when it happens.

But does the endorsement of the constitution make it more likely he will come?

Oh, certainly.

Critics have questioned your personal involvement in the review process. They say you have breached protocol and been too intrusive in domestic affairs.
Well after the post-election crisis, a poll was done. And the poll said 89 per cent of Kenyans welcomed the role played by the US.

Now, I can’t tell you how many messages and expressions of support I have received from the Kenyan people about the role that the US has played in the reform process.