An audit review of the U.S. Agency for International Development reveals that the agency has given at least $23 million to grantees who are pushing a Kenyan constitution that liberalizes abortion laws in the country.
The new constitution, which will be voted upon on Aug. 4, is supposed to create checks and balances and protect freedoms, thus guarding against a bloody election like the one Kenya had in 2007. But it also includes a clause that allows a "trained health professional" to authorize abortion "for emergency treatment" or if the life or health of the mother is in danger. Jeff Sagnip, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said of the abortion language, "It's vague enough of a loophole that you could drive a truck through it."
The U.S. inspector general's office found that USAID had given $97,000 to the Provincial Peace Forum to "gain buy-in for the new proposed constitution" by swaying "professional elites" and persuading them to "use their influence to ensure people register and vote 'Yes' at the referendum." Another $91,000 grant to the Central Organization of Trade Unions was granted to organize a public rally to "marshal a coalition of pro-constitution individuals, institutions, and organizations."
Because the funds went to grantees that agreed to push for a "Yes" vote, Smith and other Republican members of Congress say that the funds violate an amendment that prohibits using U.S. foreign assistance funds to lobby for or against abortion.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Katya Thomas in Nairobi told The Associated Press that of 200 grantees, the Embassy revoked funding for nine that supported the Yes campaign. This finding has prompted more questions from Smith's office. Dona Dinkler, spokeswoman for the inspector general's office, would not comment on the nine grantees whose funding was revoked until the audit review was complete. She stressed that the review is not over adding, "We have no evidence-no information-that USAID has done anything illegal."
Kenyans are hotly debating the constitution. Two prominent Kenyan clerics-retired Anglican Archbishop David Gitari and Presbyterian Pastor Timothy Njoya-have challenged the "No" side to a debate, calling them "traitors" and "cowards" if they refused. Gitari has called the constitution a "lesser evil." In a press statement representing 25 churches, church leaders campaigning against the constitution said they have received threatening messages for their position. They denounced American involvement in the election, saying it is an experiment to destabilize and manipulate African nations: "If we as Kenyans allow the Americans to influence us and manipulate our new constitution, we shall have set the way for other African nations to similarly be manipulated."
A July Infotrak Harris poll showed 65 percent of Kenyan respondents saying they would vote "Yes" on Aug. 4. Of the 25 percent who said they would vote "No," 59 percent said they were voting against the constitution because it "permits abortion." Although church leaders are waging the "No" campaign, 60 percent of Catholics and 63 percent of Protestants still support the constitution's ratification.