US worried Kenya may return to violence

KenyaPresident Barack Obama’s administration is worried that friction between rival parties in Kenya’s coalition government could lead to violence similar to that which nearly tore the country apart last year, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa said Tuesday.

In recent weeks, the parties in the coalition government have sniped at each other with increasing frequency. A minister allied to the president has resigned, saying she was frustrated in her push for reforms. And meetings on how to manage the coalition have been aborted.

Obama’s father was born in Kenya. The president last visited the East African nation in 2006.

“Political tensions must not be allowed to turn to political crisis and political crisis must not be allowed to turn into violence,” said Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

He spoke to journalists after holding separate meetings with President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who lead rival parties within the government.

“Our serious concern is to see the Kenyan people get the governance that they want,” said Michelle D. Gavin, an aide to Obama, referring to public clamor for the government to fight corruption and reform the police and judiciary. Gavin, who is accompanying Carson on his Kenya trip, is a senior director for African affairs at the White House.

Kibaki’s presidential press service said in a statement the Kenyan leader told Carson the coalition government was committed to reform and will get the consensus needed to ensure the country gets a new constitution, something for which ordinary Kenyans have lobbied for years.

Carson was making his first trip to Africa since taking office last week.

Kibaki and Odinga signed a power sharing deal in February 2008 after a deadly dispute over presidential results left more than 1,000 people dead.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.