Kenyans have power to bring change, says Biden

US Vice President Joe Biden delivers a public lecture at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi, June 9, 2010. He told Kenyans that the power to effect change rests with them. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI

United States Vice President Joe Biden has said the power to bring about change in Kenya rests with its people.

He said that while the cooperation between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga in supporting the proposed constitution is encouraging it is upon Kenyans to bring about change.

"The power rests with you," he told the gathering at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi during a town hall meeting Wednesday.

Wind of change

He said that the wind of change is blowing across Africa and Kenyans should grasp the opportunity.

"You are the keystone of Africa, it is up to you, it is up to the Kenyan people," he said.

Mr Biden said it was not "his business how Kenyans will vote" at the August 4 referendum, but urged them to seize the moment to bring change.

"You are the best hope for this country," he said.

He told Kenyans not to rely on their leaders to bring change saying they can only facilitate it.

"Change will not come from the top but from you."

He told his audience that the US Government could not dictate to a section of its elected leaders on what to say about the Kenya constitutional review process.

"It is one of the drawbacks of democracy," he said in reference to reports that American right wing groups are supporting Kenya religious leaders efforts to shoot down the proposed constitution.

Defeat new law

Kenya Churches are against the clause on abortion that allows a health professional to terminate a pregnancy if the woman's health is in danger and reports indicate that they are getting funds from US anti-abortionists to defeat the new law.

"Do not confuse that with the position of the US President, US Vice President and US Government," he said in answer to the Rev Timothy Njoya question on the issue.

Mr Biden said the envisaged change can only happen when a government is participatory, accountable and democratic.

He said this can only happen when corrupt leaders are held to account and the rule of law is adhered to.

The US VP urged Kenyans to embrace these values so as to attract foreign investment that will reshape the country's economy.

"We are hopeful, Barack Obama is hopeful, I am hopeful that you will carry out these reforms to allow money to flow."

Blunt criticism

Mr Biden said the US-Kenya relations was one of the most important in the continent saying that if the US seems blunt in its criticism of Kenya it is because it cares.

He thanked Kenya for hosting millions of refugees from neighbouring Somalia and taking a leading role in the fight against piracy off the Indian Ocean saying the US will continue to offer support for the efforts.

On Tuesday, the US VP said he was optimistic that the implementation of the reform agenda, which began after the signing of the National Accord, will be successfully concluded.

“I have never been this optimistic of the country’s ability to move the reform process forward... Kenya’s best days are yet to come,” he said.

Mr Biden is on a three-day tour of Kenya and will fly to South Africa for the official opening of the 2010 Fifa World Cup on Friday.