NAIROBI, Kenya – The U.S. ambassador to Kenya says in a confidential cable that if Kenya's government doesn't implement significant reforms the nation could be hit by a wave of violence worse than the country's 2007-08 postelection riots in which more than 1,000 people perished.
In a cable posted by the website WikiLeaks, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger wrote that Kenya's "old guard" continues to resist change and that key reforms are yet to be carried out.
The cable says Kenya's president and prime minister are part of the "political and economic elite" that benefits from a lack of accountability and rule of law. Since the January cable, Kenya has passed a new constitution, but the country's longtime attorney general, whom Ranneberger also singled out, is still in office.
"No significant steps have been taken against high-level corruption, which remains rampant," the cable said. "No significant reform of the judicial or Attorney General's office has been undertaken. No steps have been taken to hold accountable perpetrators of postelection violence. Police reform remains an open question."
The cable adds: "Failure to implement significant reforms will greatly enhance prospects for a violent crisis in 2012 or before, which might well prove much worse than the last postelection crisis."
Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Ranneberger's characterization of the president and prime minister as stumbling blocks to reforms in Kenya is wrong.
"Some of it, for lack of a better explanation, reads like fiction," Mutua told journalists Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy said it can not comment on any leaked cables.
A statement from Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's office on Thursday said Kenya has "enjoyed unprecedented political, economic and social freedoms during his tenure in office." The statement highlighted the adoption of a new Constitution in August that sets out a one-year timetable to weed out corrupt and incompetent judges. If there are any unwarranted delays, parliament risks being dissolved in measures written into the charter.
Ranneberger's cable said the U.S. is reaching out to Kenyan youths to empower them to press for reforms, an issue that prompted Kenya's government spokesman to say earlier this month that a country — he did not say which one — is seeking to overthrow the Kenyan government by funneling money to youth groups.
The cable says there is more democratic space in Kenya than ever before, and it credits an active civil society and a "vibrant" media.
The International Criminal Court is expected to indict six Kenyan leaders later this month for the 2007-08 postelection violence.
A separate leaked memo notes China's engagement and investment in Kenya "continues to grow exponentially." China is searching for oil in Kenya, though it hasn't found any yet, and is interested in developing a new deep water port in the coastal city of Lamu. China, the note says, is also providing weapons to Kenya.
"China's interest in the Lamu project is reportedly linked to the presence of oil in Southern Sudan and Uganda which could be exported via Lamu as well as the greater export potential to Ethiopia, Southern Sudan and Uganda," the February cable said.
It also noted that Chinese "technicians" are working on an unspecified project inside Kenya's intelligence headquarters.
A February cable from Nigeria shows America's criticism of Chinese interest in the continent's oil.
"China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals," the cable quotes U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson as saying. "China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons. China is in Africa for China primarily."
Though the U.S. has strong ties with Kenya — the birthplace of President Obama's father — the cable quotes Carson telling leaders there that "Nigeria is the most important country in Africa for the United States."