In a wide ranging and optimistic speech in Nairobi visiting US Vice President reckons Kenya’s potential has yet to be realised, Joe Biden and urges political reform. DEA’s BOB WEKESA picks choicest excerpts from the speechLadies and gentlemen, it’s great to be in your beautiful country. I come here as a representative of the United States to say one thing, one primary message —the United States stands with you, stands with you on your journey to a secure, free, democratic, and prosperous Kenya.
On December 12, 1963, 50,000 Kenyans filled the stadium in Nairobi and 200,000 more packed the hillsides around the stadium. An entire nation’s eyes watched as, at the stroke of midnight, the new Kenyan flag was unfurled for the first time, making Kenya the 34th independent state in Africa.
Earlier that week, American President Lyndon Baines Johnson sent a congratulatory letter to Prime Minister Kenyatta, welcoming Kenya to the family of nations and comparing Kenya’s journey toward independence with that of America’s. And he said, and I quote, “as our own freedom for all our citizens was proclaimed to the world by our Declaration of Independence, so Kenya’s freedom begins with her declaration of independence today.”
Some 50 years later, the promise of that day still pulses through this country, on the bustling streets of Nairobi, to Mount Kenya, from the coastal shores of Mombasa to the plains of the Maasai Mara. Once, the wealth of a nation was defined by the expanse of its land, the size of its population or and the strength of its army, the abundance of its natural resources. But, now, we know that the true wealth of a nation is found in its human capital, in the skill, ingenuity, and determination of its people. And by that measure, Kenya is a very wealthy nation. Indeed, Kenya is a rich nation.
You have no oil. You have no precious minerals. But you have built the largest non-oil, non-mineral based economy in sub-Saharan Africa. You have become the hub for the transportation for the goods and people that flow through East Africa. And you are the financial capital of East Africa.
Your diplomats have helped solve some of Africa’s most intractable problems. Your military is small in number, but large in stature, helping to bring stability to Sierra Leone to East Timor. You’ve produced world-renowned scientists, geneticists, environmentalists, writers, and a Nobel Prize winner.
At the heart of this success is a conviction that education has the potential to transform a nation—seven public universities, over 20 private ones, among the most of any on the continent of Africa; a determination to make primary and secondary education available to all, although there’s a long way to go.
Americans know first-hand your commitment to education. Thousands of our citizens have studied in Kenya. And Kenyans have long been among the largest groups of African students at American universities. And today, Kenyans are the largest group of African students at American universities. And that tradition goes back before your independence. One of the earliest pioneers was a fellow named Barack Obama Sr., the father of a man who is now the President of the United States of America.
Next January, the referendum on the future of southern Sudan envisioned by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement will occur, and it must be credible and it must be peaceful. Sudan is hurtling toward a monumental decision that demands urgent international attention and preparation.
And far too many of the people in Sudan’s Darfur region continue to live with unacceptable insecurity. These regional issues are all on your doorstep. They are felt in your communities. They are present, real challenges that we must work on together in partnership to address.
The global financial crisis dampened your economy, slowing demand for Kenyan goods abroad and lessened the flow of tourists eager to see Kenya’s natural beauty. Global climate change is not a phenomenon of Kenya’s making, but its consequences affect your forests, your harvests, and your way of life.
Kenya feels the effects of these problems and should, because of your wealth of human capital, be a part of a global solution—a strong African voice on the international stage. But that voice has been muted by internal problems—problems that have held you back from making an even greater contribution.
Too many of your resources have been lost to corruption, and not a single high-level official has ever been held accountable for these crimes. Too many of your institutions have lost the people’s confidence. The crisis that gripped Kenya in the wake of the 2007 elections revealed just how dangerous these forces can be. They are dangerous, but they are not immovable. Change is within your grasp.
Your coalition government has agreed to a reform agenda that would bring about the fundamental change that Kenyans are seeking. If implemented fully, corrupt officials will be finally held accountable. The judiciary and the police force will place the pursuit of justice above the pursuit of personal gain.
Folks in my 36 years experience on the world stage, stability ultimately rests on the separation of powers. The truth is, better governance is not just an end in itself, it is your path to a lasting democratic stability and your ultimate stability.
And, I might add it’s the best route to economic prosperity, sparking job creation, opening up opportunity, and improving the way of life for Kenyans everywhere. Reform will also encourage foreign investment which depends upon stability, transparency, the rule of law, and the crackdown on corruption.
So if you make these changes, I promise you, new foreign private investment will come in like you’ve never seen and you will have a reinvigorated tourism industry that will exceed the billion dollars it was before the economic crisis.
I know from my personal experience, change is never easy. And change in circumstances like yours is extremely difficult. Fundamental change is never easy. But I also know from personal experience that it’s possible. I’ve seen it happen around the world. As a young senator, I’ve stood in the capitals of Sarajevo and Pristina—in the Balkans. From the Balkans to the Middle East to Eastern Europe, I have seen dark paths transform, through the will of the people, to bring about brighter futures.
In the 1990s, I stood in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and in Pristina, Kosovo, and witnessed the god-awful carnage and the blood running in the rivers, the ethnic cleansing that we thought we’d never see again in Europe. I saw the carnage and the hate.
I sat in refugee centers. I sat in homes and heard about how neighbors who had been friends for years literally hacked one another to death in their backyards once Slobodan Milosevic’s ugly, ugly violence took hold. The hate, it seemed to know no bounds. And it seemed like it would never end.
But, the people of those countries, they made a choice. They ultimately rejected violence. They drew a line on the past and today they are looking toward a future. And they’ve given up their own vile criminals to the international courts, which is part of the reconciliation that was needed, acknowledging their individual responsibilities.
It was a choice that not only is changing their future, but is changing the future of that entire portion of Europe. And just one year ago, I was in Romania celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the fall of Communism and the wall. And I said then, “Now, when we think of Central Europe... we don’t think of what we can do for you, but what we can do with you”
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