U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said on Friday in Nairobi he had shared his concerns with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta about the importance of democracy. Tillerson said at a news conference that his concerns were that government should not stifle the media and threaten the courts. “We believe that there are actions that need to be taken in Kenya and that they need to correct certain actions like shutting down independent TV stations and threatening the independence of the courts,” he said. “I know Kenya takes these matters seriously. A free and independent media is essential for safeguarding democracy and giving all Kenyans confidence in their government.”
Tillerson called Kenya a “leading democracy in Africa”, praising President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga for meeting on Friday and pledging to bring their people together after 2017 contentious and bloody elections. He said they had shown a commitment to working for all Kenyans, regardless of party, to take “the long journey that is necessary to restore the country, eliminate these divisions that are creating obstacles to Kenya’s future.” Tillerson said “all the credit” for the meeting went to the Kenyan political leaders, in response to a question as to whether the U.S. had a role in organising it.
Both Kenyatta and Odinga had said in a joint statement that they agreed to establish a new office staffed by advisers. They are to tackle the divisions ranging from opposition complaints over the election to tensions between ethnic groups and corruption. “We have a responsibility as leaders to find solutions. Elections come and go, but Kenya remains,” Kenyatta said.
Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term in November after an extended election season which saw the Supreme Court nullifying an August presidential poll. The apex court went on to order a re-run in October, which Odinga boycotted. Around 100 people died mainly in clashes between the security forces and opposition supporters during months of acrimonious campaigning and protests. The election season blunted growth in Kenya, East Africa’s richest economy and a Western ally in a volatile region. In January, Odinga took a symbolic presidential oath in a Nairobi park in a direct challenge to Kenyatta.
Before Friday’s meeting, the two men had defied calls from Kenyan civil society, religious leaders and Western diplomats to hold talks to overcome deep divisions opened up by the disputed elections. Odinga said the opposition had decided to change tactics for the sake of the country’s unity. “We refuse to allow our diversity to kill our nation,” he said. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in the Kenyan capital later on Friday as part of a seven-day visit to Africa.