MURITHI MUTIGA Posted Saturday, May 23 2009 at 15:54 sundays nation In Summary As Kikwete claims the honour of being the first African head of state to visit White House, the growing estrangement between America and Kibakis regime is likely to pile further pressure on the troubled Grand Coalition Government. Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete this week claimed the honour of being the first African head of state to visit President Obamas White House, in a move that will further highlight Kenyas diminished status on the international scene. The visit came on the back of a public snub by President Obama, who has opted to make Ghana the destination of his first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. The growing estrangement between the US and Kenya is likely to pile further pressure on the troubled Grand Coalition Government. A statement from the White House Press office following Mr Obamas meeting with Mr Kiwete read: The President [Obama] and President Kikwete met and had a valuable discussion on a range of issues. President Obama expressed his appreciation for the close bilateral relationship the United States shares with Tanzania. Exchanged views Presidents Kikwete and Obama exchanged views on approaches to enhancing the US-Tanzanian partnership, improving development policy in the fields of health, education and agriculture, and working with other partners in the region to solve some of the most pressing conflicts on the African continent. They expressed a desire to work together to solve common problems in the future. This was the first African head of state to visit President Obama at the White House. According to a veteran diplomat, Mr Bethwell Kiplagat, Mr Obamas decision not to visit Kenya should serve as a warning to the Grand Coalition to get its act together. If I was planning to visit someones house and I realised that they are not getting on well, I would think twice about going ahead with the visit, he says. Mr Kiplagat says the calculation from the White House was that President Obama might have been embarrassed on visiting Kenya at a time when the discord between coalition partners Orange Democratic Movement and Party of National Unity has made the coalition erratic and unpredictable. I am sure they (Americans) are sending a message on the need for unity. It is clear that when you are wrangling, quarrelling and contradicting each other as a government, your effectiveness is markedly reduced, he says. The frosty relations between Kenya and a number of its key Western allies represents a sharp turnaround for a nation described by the US pointman to the continent Johnnie Carson as the keystone country in the region. In 2003, when President Kibaki led the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) in ending Kanus 40 years in power, Kenya was regarded as the toast of the continent. The peaceful nature of the transition and the overwhelming mandate secured by Narc won the government admiration from around the world and instantly seemed to have repaired the strained relations between Kenya and the West. President Kibaki and First Lady Lucy Kibaki were treated to a White House state banquet, a rare honour for an African leader. Former US President Bill Clinton, when asked which world leader he admired most in a television interview in early 2003, named President Kibaki for his introduction of free primary education. The good times did not last. Allegations of corruption in the new administration, particularly the Anglo Leasing scandal, made Western donors wary of dealing with the government. The outbreak of violence following the disputed presidential election in 2007 also dealt a blow to Kenyas reputation as a stable and peaceful democracy. Following the violence, the US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger, has been a relentless advocate for implementation of reforms under what is known as Agenda 4 of the Accord mediated by Kofi Annan. These include changes to land laws, and institutional reform of the police and judiciary besides tackling mass youth unemployment. The accord also led to the formation of a commission headed by Mr Justice Phillip Waki, which called for the establishment of a tribunal to try the masterminds of the post-election violence. Parliament is yet to agree on setting up such a tribunal. Mr Rannebergers voluble demands for reform have rubbed some MPs the wrong way with a number criticising him last week. According to Mr Kiplagat, the coalition deserves credit for implementing some reforms. He pointed to the appointment of an Interim Independent Electoral Commission and establishment of a boundary review commission. He also said the publication of a bill to establish a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was a positive step. But he said the administration must move faster. It is essential that these commissions move with speed to carry out their mandate. Line ministries must also ensure the commissions are well funded. In the end, though, the image the government projects will depend on its ability to speak with one voice, said Mr Kiplagat, a former permanent Secretary in the ministry of Foreign Affairs.