NAIROBI, Kenya — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Kenya on Wednesday for rampant graft and corruption as she made the case that business and trade across Africa cannot grow without good governance and solid democracy.
Speaking to a conference in President Barack Obama's ancestral homeland, Clinton said, "True economic progress in Africa will depend on responsible governments that reject corruption, enforce the rule of law and deliver results for their people."
"This is not just about good governance – it's also about good business," she told African leaders. Her audience included Kenya's president and prime minister, who were rivals in a bitterly contested 2007 presidential election that led to violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
Clinton later sharply criticized Kenya's leadership for failing to implement reforms that were part of a power-sharing deal designed to end the postelection crisis, including not yet prosecuting anyone for the violence, as well as not doing enough to tackle corruption.
"Unfortunately, resolving that crisis has not yet translated into the kind of political progress that the Kenyan people deserve," she told a news conference after meeting President Mwai Kibaki and former opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is now prime minister.
"Instead, the absence of strong and effective democratic institutions has permitted ongoing corruption, impunity, politically motivated violence and a lack of respect for a rule of law," Clinton said. "These conditions helped fuel the postelection violence and they are continuing to hold Kenya back."
She was especially critical of a government decision not to appoint a special tribunal to look into the violence that erupted in early 2008. Instead, suspects have been tried in the country's notoriously backlogged local courts, which many believe are not credible.
She also held out the possibility of economic or travel sanctions against those who might thwart justice.
In an address to the trade conference, Kibaki had said his government was pursuing "genuinely Kenyan" reforms to all of the issues Clinton mentioned. He said the reforms "will genuinely change our security, judicial and democratic processes and attain full accountability for all government actions."
And, Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula maintained that "reforms are on course, that the war against impunity in the country is on, that the war against corruption is on."
Kenyan officials have bristled at U.S. criticism of their reform efforts before, most notably when then-Sen. Barack Obama visited his late father's native land in 2006 and warned that failure to address graft and accountability issues would damage the country's credibility.
Just hours before Clinton arrived in Kenya on Tuesday, Odinga said Africa does not need to be lectured anew about democracy because many people on the continent had fought against political oppression.
At the conference Wednesday, he adopted a more conciliatory tone, saying African countries could learn from Clinton's example when she conceded defeat to Obama during the U.S. presidential primaries.
"That is a lesson Africa needs to learn seriously," he said. "In Africa, in many countries, elections are never won, they are only rigged. The losers never accept that they lost. If we do this, we will be able to develop democracy truly in the African continent."
Clinton later made the point that political rivals need not become enemies.
"I can personally attest that political rivals can become productive partners in the service of the country and the people they love," she told reporters at the news conference with Wetangula.
Clinton is in Kenya on the first leg of a seven-nation tour of Africa.
On Thursday in Nairobi, she will honor the victims of the August, 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and meet the beleaguered president of lawless Somalia's interim government, which is embroiled in a struggle with Islamist extremists with suspected al-Qaida links.
From Kenya, Clinton will travel to South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde.
Associated Press writer Tom Maliti contributed to this report.