US gives $23 million to push new Kenyan constitution, charges Rep. Smith

05 26 2010 Smith Kenya Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)

Despite the U.S. Embassy to Kenya’s claim that the U.S. government is neutral in the Kenyan constitutional referendum, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) charged that the Obama administration has given over $23 million to push the new legislation. The proposed constitution has faced criticism for creating an opening to legalize abortion and for recognizing Muslim courts.

On July 12, the U.S. Embassy to Kenya argued in a statement that “some leaders” are being divisive and spreading “categorically” false claims that the U.S. Embassy is “providing funding to Members of Parliament to support the ‘yes’ campaign.”

Although the embassy denied the U.S. is funding Members of Parliament, Congressman Smith stated that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been supporting non-government groups specifically to encourage votes for the proposed constitution.

“There is no doubt that the Obama Administration is funding the ‘yes’ campaign in Kenya,” Rep. Smith commented in July 14 statement, charging that the administration has “crossed the line.”

“Directly supporting efforts to register ‘yes’ voters and ‘get out the yes vote’ means the U.S. government is running a political campaign in Kenya,” the congressman continued. “U.S. taxpayer funds should not be used to support one side or the other.”

Rep. Smith further claimed on July 16 that Donald Gambatesa, Inspector General (IG) for USAID, provided information showing that the U.S. government is spending over $23 million for activities in Kenya to influence the voter approval on the new constitution. The representative said that changes within the new document include overturning Kenya’s only current exception for abortion: the life of the mother being at risk.

As a Ranking Member of the Africa and Global Health Subcommittee, Rep. Smith and U.S. lawmakers recently received a chart listing recipients of USAID-funded activities related to the proposed constitution and a summary of their agreements.

Although previous estimates indicated that $2 million was being spent – later updated to $11 million – the congressman reported that the figure identified by the IG’s office now exceeds $23 million.

“The Obama Administration should not be spending $23 million in American tax dollars on the specific “Yes” campaign, pushing a determined outcome on the proposed constitution in Kenya,” Rep. Smith said. “The U.S. government can be supportive of the process, helping to secure a free and fair referendum. But we must respect the Kenyan people and let them decide for themselves. U.S. dollars should not be used to tell the Kenyan people how to vote.”

Rep. Smith outlined examples of where U.S. taxpayer funds are going, saying that two organizations received over $150,000 to “contribute to an ‘overrepresentation’ of the YES voters,” while five organizations have been tasked with registering a total of 100,000 citizens “for a YES vote” at the referendum, the congressman's office reported.

An almost $98,000 grant to the Provincial Peace Forum, Eastern Province was made to “gain buy-in for the new proposed constitution by educating the professional elite” and by securing their commitment “to use their influence to ensure people register and vote YES.” Another $91,000 grant to the Central Organization of Trade Unions, Kenya (COTU) was to be used to marshal “a coalition of pro-constitution individuals, institutions and organizations.”

A $56,953 grant to the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA) was to be used for “one of a series of activities that aim to contribute to an ‘overrepresentation’ of the YES voters at the next referendum” and a $37,000 grant to Christian Community Services funded “one of a series of activities aimed at facilitating registration of approximately 20,000 … for a YES vote at the next referendum.”

Additionally, said Rep. Smith, “U.S. tax dollar monies are flying out the door to pro-abortion groups committed to overturning pro-life laws in Kenya.” 

The congressman pointed to the Kenyan Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya), which as a member of the Kenyan Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (RHRA), is committed to  decriminalization of abortion in the country and increasing its availability.

Rep. Smith also said that the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review in Kenya, which drafted the abortion-related provisions in the proposed constitution, received over $180,000 of U.S. taxpayer funds for office equipment and networking services.

The African Woman and Child Features Service, non-governmental organization that works to increase media coverage about abortion and “comprehensive reproductive health rights” in Kenya, he added, is receiving almost $157,000 for constitution-related activities.

Development Alternatives, Inc. which is receiving almost $3 million as a grant recipient, advised USAID in 2000 that USAID/Kenya would benefit by promoting civil society organizations' “efforts to eventually legalize abortion in Kenya.”

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“We should be embracing the health and welfare of both mothers and children in African while respecting sovereign pro-life laws,” Rep. Smith said.“Instead, the Obama Administration is trying to change Kenya’s existing restriction on abortion through the referendum.” 

“Such actions constitute a violation of U.S. law and is an affront to both the pro-life people of Kenya and the U.S., an overwhelming majority of whom do not support abortion, and in the case of the U.S. – do not want their tax dollars to pay for abortion activities.”

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