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Associated Press/Photo by Khalil Senosi

Influence peddling

Did the U.S. go too far in underwriting Kenya's new constitution?

Issue: "Rocks in their heads?," Sept. 11, 2010

The Obama administration has gone to lengths in late summer to show solidarity with pro-Islamic factions and pro-abortion groups in the United States. Overseas it's worth watching a similar trend unfold-backed by millions in U.S. taxpayer dollars. While rumors about President Obama's secret Muslim leanings only grow stronger, what's important are a chief executive's actions.

In Kenya a reported $2 million in grants to groups pushing the "yes" vote to a new constitution-one that allows a first-ever right to abortion in the east African nation and a higher profile to Muslim courts-turned out to be over 10 times higher-$23 million, according to a July internal audit by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A sampling of USAID grants to Kenyan groups:

• Provincial Peace Forum received $98,000 to "gain buy-in for the new proposed constitution . . . and to ensure people register and vote YES at the referendum."

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• The Central Organization of Trade Unions in Kenya received $91,000 "to marshal a coalition of pro-constitution individuals, institutions, and organizations."

• The Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance received $57,000 for "one of a series of activities that aim to contribute to an 'overrepresentation' of the YES voters."

The effect of the administration's influence peddling is possibly striking. In March nearly 70 percent of Kenyans polled said they opposed the draft constitution's abortion provision; yet the constitution passed on Aug. 4 by about 67 percent. Its Article 26 states that abortion is allowed if "in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment or the life or health of the mother is in danger or if permitted by any other written law." Everyone everywhere knows that such language wedges open the door to abortion on demand.

Article 66 formally establishes Islamic courts, long known but little recognized in Kenya as khadi courts, with jurisdiction over "questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion." Since Quranic law does not recognize any conversion away from Islam, it's easy to see it clears a path to greater Islamic influence over private property and family life-in a country where only 10 percent are Muslims (and about 80 percent are Christians).

U.S. officials-including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger-have tried to pass off U.S. interest as a benign nudge to Kenya's overdue need for reform. "We support a process, not an outcome," said Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Yet Kenyans saw something else. In 2009 Ranneberger, a 61-year-old career diplomat appointed in 2006 to the Kenya post by President Bush, pressed Kenyan audiences to pass the constitution, and some contend he may have influenced its drafting. He suggested that Washington would "take action" if the referendum failed and made clear that Obama would not visit Kenya on his first presidential trip to Africa (even though it's his father's birthplace) "because of the slow pace of reform"-a statement that so outraged members of Parliament they pressed for his dismissal. "Ranneberger is behaving like a governor," said MP Nicholas Gumbo.

One week before the vote, Ranneberger made clear his support for the draft constitution, saying "the document caters to the needs of all Kenyans." That position essentially dismissed those who led the NO campaign, including a broad cross-section of Kenyan church leaders upset with Articles 26 and 66.

"It is true this constitution has many good things but the good has been mixed with evil sections that affect the moral life and rights of this country in fundamental ways," said Peter Karanja, secretary general of the National Council of Churches of Kenya.

The United States can play a significant but narrow role in foreign elections: ensuring that they are open, fair, and peaceful. Not only does it run into problems when it takes sides, but in this case Ranneberger and others may be in legal jeopardy because the constitution altered existing abortion law: Current U.S. law bars funding to advocate for or against abortion. A State Department inspector general's report issued Aug. 12 cleared Ranneberger of wrongdoing; further reports are due from USAID and the Government Accountability Office. Meanwhile USAID has suspended nine of the grants in question and rumors swirl, at least in Africa, that Ranneberger will resign.
Email Mindy Belz

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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