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Action Needed On Kenyan Reforms


Kenya is at a crossroads. The time for fulfilling promises of government reform is running out. While some progress has been made, more needs to be done to reduce tension and political turmoil, and hold offenders accountable for corruption and political violence. If promised reforms aren't made soon and public confidence in the government restored, it is feared Kenya could face more of the violence seen after the last presidential election, with tragic results.

More than 1,300 people were killed and 300,000 fled their homes amid ethnic clashes that followed disputed voting in 2007. A coalition government was formed to end the disorder and lead the country forward. Some important steps have been taken, such as creating an Independent Electoral Commission and starting a process leading to a referendum on a new constitution. But progress has been slow and fraught with political wrangling.

Meanwhile, a string of government corruption scandals has cost the Kenyan people more than $1 billion. In the latest incident, more than $1 million in funding for Kenya's free primary education program can't be accounted for. As a result, the United States has put on hold a new 5-year, $7 million program for capacity building in the Ministry of Education until a thorough investigation and remedial measures have been completed. Ongoing U.S. programs supporting education are continuing, however.

Leadership and accountability start at the top. President Obama has personally urged President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to set aside their differences and forge a consensus around a new constitution that will deepen democracy and garner the confidence of all Kenyans. Developing a consensus draft and holding a successful referendum would greatly advance these reforms.

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