Kenya accuses West of "colonial" meddling

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya accused Western envoys on Friday of "shameless blackmail" and gross condescension for trying to force the head of the electoral commission to resign over a chaotic presidential poll that led to months of violence.

Diplomats said the government was exaggerating the envoys’ role even though they agreed the election boss needed to go for mishandling the vote last December.

The row reflects both ongoing recriminations over Kenya’s post-election crisis and foreign donor impatience with the pace of political reform in east Africa’s largest economy.

Local media reported that U.S. and European Union ambassadors had this week visited Samuel Kivuitu, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), to urge his resignation. Washington had threatened a travel ban, media said.

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said he was outraged by the "audacious and blatant breach of protocol" by the envoys.

"It is unacceptable for an ambassador accredited to Kenya to physically walk into an office of a holder of a constitutional office and directly confront him with the aim of attempting to force his resignation," he said.

"Such shameless blackmail, applied through open disregard of established norms of conduct of diplomats, in favour of a style and tone reminiscent of colonial mindset, is an insult to the Kenyan public."

U.S. CRITICISM

Diplomatic sources said no such direct threat or confrontation took place, though Western nations do support the recommendation of an independent inquiry that the commission be totally overhauled due to its failures during the December vote.

Widespread irregularities and a disputed result led to two months of violence that killed at least 1,300 people and effectively paralysed east Africa’s largest economy. Public wrath after the crisis has focused on Kivuitu.

Party political sources in Kenya predict he and his commissioners may go once the government has negotiated a severance package and possible alternative jobs for them.

The U.S. Embassy declined comment on the travel ban report, but said ECK should take blame for the poll debacle.

"Lack of transparency and accountability in the election vote tallying process seriously compromised the credibility of the results," it said.

"The ECK was responsible for oversight of this process and therefore bears responsibility for the way in which it was handled. The commissioners have lost the confidence of the Kenyan people and must be held accountable."

Wetangula said President Mwai Kibaki’s government would not tolerate such "a pattern of activism" by embassies.

"I urge these individuals, who continue to demonstrate this grossly condescending behaviour, to respect the proven ability of Kenyans to deal with this internal matter."

Many Kenyans, however, share the Western donor nations’ irritation with the lack of deep reforms to political institutions in the wake of the election crisis.

A power-sharing government set up to end the violence has held the peace but dragged its feet over constitutional changes.

"Chastising foreign diplomats will not solve our problems," leading local paper Daily Nation said in an editorial.