7 November 2009

Kenya: AG Will Fail If He Sues for Defamation - Expert

Nairobi — An international human rights law expert in the US says Attorney-General Amos Wako has no chance in successfully suing the country for defamation. "There is no realistic basis for litigation. But I do hope Mr Wako pursues it. It will further publicise the matter," Prof Peter Rosenblum said in an email interview with Sunday Nation.

Prof Rosenblum, of Columbia University Law School in New York City, said he was "quite pleased" about the ban on Mr Wako.

Targeted sanction

"It is a well targeted sanction that should have come years ago. Amos Wako is a powerful symbol of corrupt leadership," he said. "Unfortunately, what should have disappeared with the advent of multiparty politics threatens to be the enduring image of the new Kenya."

Mr Wako protested his innocence at Wednesday's press conference and went to great lengths to dismiss claims that he is corrupt and anti-reformist. Even if the case made it to court, the American legal expert says Mr Wako would face the "nearly insurmountable barrier of proving actual malice".

"Effectively, he would have to show a wilful disregard for the truth on the part of the alleged defamer. That is the US constitutional threshold for public figures who sue for malice and is out of the question in this case," he said. While he admits that visa bans alone will not effect major changes, he says the symbolism is important.

"Many Kenyans have tried courageously to chart a new and independent course. They deserve to be recognised and one way of supporting them is to stigmatise those who scoff at democratic accountability," he said.

Mr Wako has been banned from travelling to the US. He responded by saying he was neither corrupt nor did he have a desire to visit America. He was living up to his promise that should he be the man blacklisted by Washington, he would strike back.

Two decades

Mr Wako listed his reform credential stretching nearly two decades and had the audacity to suggest that some of the journalists present were not qualified to ask him questions as they were born after the 64-year-old AG was well into his career.

Wako has been in office since May 13, 1991. He is the most senior public official carried over from Daniel arap Moi's Kanu administration, which he served for 11 years. Since 2003, at least three inquiries conducted by senior judges and another by Parliament have all found Mr Wako's performance wanting.

The Waki and Kriegler teams apportioned significant blame to the AG for the climate that led the country to the brink of civil war following the disputed December 27, 2007 presidential election. In their reports, the two teams separately wondered why the AG had done nothing over the years to address the election-related violence that has recurred in the country since 1992.

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