Travel Ban Threat Helped Bring Peace to Kenya, Envoy Says

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - A threat to bar Kenyan leaders from traveling to the United States was one of the main reasons why calm returned after an eruption of election-related violence early this year, according to U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger.

Warnings of a visa ban "proved highly effective" in helping the East African country return to normalcy, the ambassador told Cybercast News Service in a Web chat interview.

"[The threats] made clear that we were aware that various people might have been involved in violence and helped change their behavior," he said. "It made others more cautious and more willing to engage in dialogue and negotiations in order to get a political accord."

Under pressure from the U.S., President Mwai Kibaki and opposition rival Raila Odinga agreed late last month to form a coalition government.

Earlier, Odinga's supporters had accused the president of rigging elections last December. The disagreement sparked violence along political and ethnic lines that cost at least 1,000 lives in a country the U.S. considers an important regional partner.

In the run up to the drafting of the peace deal, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had warned that the U.S. was ready to take unspecified actions against those it held "responsible for lack of progress" in the mediation efforts.

Not everyone involved in the dispute was happy about the pressure applied by Washington. While Odinga's backers approved of the U.S. intervention, some Kibaki supporters protested, even torching U.S. flags.

Explaining why the U.S. had acted with "a sense of urgency," Ranneberger said Kenya is important to America as well as to Africa and beyond.

"Kenya is an anchor of stability within the Horn of Africa, and has been a model of a stable democracy for the broader developing world," he said. "We acted with urgency to help sustain Kenya on its democratic path."

The accord was a major relief to many Kenyans, shaken by the violence that led to so many deaths, displaced half a million people and resulted in losses of $2 billion.

"It's strange that they had to be forced to sign the peace deal," said Dennis Takori, an administrator in Nairobi. "I wish they would have done it before."

The U.S. has been one of the first countries to pledge reconstruction money after the violence, with a $39 million gift to help Kenya implement the political accord, help those who have been displaced to return home, and support reconciliation efforts.

The embassy has also directed the country office of President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to resume all its programs in Kenya and to pay special attention to HIV patients among the displaced people.

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