Coming back to Kenya is a bit like coming home. After all, I spent four years here (1999-2003) as U.S. Ambassador, and I grew to love the country. It's hard not to. Kenya's spectacular beauty ranges from lofty mountains to the lush shores of Lake Victoria to the open savanna filled with wildlife to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Its people are gracious, welcoming and well-educated, among the most literate on the African continent. Kenyans, led by Jomo Kenyatta, fought hard and long for independence. Once they gained it, the manner in which they achieved national and racial reconciliation set an example that South Africa would follow forty years later.
I've traveled here this week with Secretary Clinton to participate in the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum, held August 4-6. Political, business and civil society leaders from all over Africa and the United States have gathered to discuss and improve the African Growth and Opportunity Act, first signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000. But my passion for Kenya underlies this visit, and I can't help but be concerned for the country and its people.
At the top of my concerns is corruption. Corruption is killing Kenya. Since the long rule of Daniel arap Moi, it has seeped into the fabric of Kenyan governance. It affects everyone at every level. The long-running Goldenberg scandal, in which the government subsidized exports of gold, cost Kenya more than a billion dollars, a value of more than 10 percent of the country's GNP. More recently, the Anglo Leasing case has cost the government more than 50 million dollars. These are just two of a long list of scandals, documented often in detail by organizations such as Transparency International. These scandals have sapped not only the national treasury, but the very spirit of a talented people and faith in their state institutions. And the dollars lost are only part of the story. This insidious disease infects all aspects of Kenyan life, down to the basic public services such as education, driver's licenses and business permits, where even a few extra dollars for "dash" can break one family's meager savings. Multiply that one family by millions, and you get a nation going backwards.
How does a country fight corruption? I'm from Chicago, so I know that corruption is not specifically African or American, but a human condition. In the United States, a strong judiciary and vibrant free media serve as effective checks on corruption. One former governor of my state of Illinois sits in prison, having been convicted in a court of justice and now serving a term for selling pardons. Another governor of Illinois has been indicted by a former U.S. attorney for pay-for-play. A federal prosecutor investigated the case. The state legislature impeached the governor, who now awaits a criminal trial. And Illinois has a new governor. This all happened as spelled out in the state constitution.
In the Kenya of today, unfortunately, such a scenario would seem impossible. Under the watchful eye of Kenya's long-serving attorney general -- a man who has served loyally under current President Kibaki and his predecessor President Moi -- not one government official or serving politician has been successfully prosecuted for corruption in Kenya for two decades. Kenya's six-year-old anti-corruption statute has demonstrated a similar success rate.
Kenya's court system has also shown a willingness to play along with the attorney general's style of politics. On those rare occasions when corruption cases are presented to the courts, they are dismissed on procedural grounds or are allowed to wither away in files and boxes. There's a well-known saying among Kenyans: "Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?"
Inaction also seems to be the prevailing mode for dealing with the rise in extrajudicial killings, estimated to be in the hundreds over the last two years. The current coalition government resulted from a deal struck by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the wake of the post-election violence that killed 1,500 and displaced 300,000 Kenyans in early 2008. The lack of action to investigate and prosecute those responsible has stymied reform and intimidated civil society groups -- effectively silencing many Kenyans who would otherwise be willing to speak out against corruption and judicial malfeasance.
The consequences of corruption and the poor governance threaten to shatter the hopes of what was once one of Africa's shining stars. Kenya was beginning to thrive because of a record of rule of law, budding democratic institutions and education. In fact, it had -- and still has -- the continent's strongest economy not based on mineral extraction. Instead, the country's growth rate fell from eight percent in 2007 to less than two percent in 2008 -- a decline due mainly to the fallout from the electoral violence, not the global recession.
As President Obama said in his recent visit to Ghana, Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men. Kenya's peaceful transition to independence happened in part because strong leadership coalesced to bring about a national reconciliation based on building up democratic institutions and rule of law. My hope for Kenya is that its citizens will draw upon this rich legacy. I can say with full certainty that the United States will support this great country and its people as it seeks to renew itself once again and become the stable, prosperous, and just country it has the potential to be.