Kenya stops US election education program ahead of polls

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya's government has terminated operations of a U.S.-funded project to educate voters, just months before this East African country holds its next presidential election. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta last week claimed that money coming into the country in the guise of civic education is being used to influence Kenyans' electoral decisions.

Fazul Mohamed, executive director of the agency that regulates non-governmental groups, said in a letter to the U.S. government's aid agency that it has ended the $20 million International Foundation for Electoral Systems program for Kenya's upcoming general election. The letter said IFES is not a registered NGO and all foreigners working there were doing so illegally.

The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, on Tuesday expressed disappointment "by the attempt to discredit the United States' efforts to assist Kenyans in the conduct of free, fair, peaceful and credible elections in 2017." In a statement, he said the U.S. assistance had been requested by Kenya's government and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and that the project operated under their "careful oversight."

IFES is registered in Kenya under the Companies Act and has legal standing to conduct programs, the ambassador said.

In a separate statement, 11 countries including the U.S. said they do not provide electoral assistance to influence the election results for any side, political party or candidate. "The Kenyan people alone have the sovereign right to choose their leaders, and we fully respect this right," the statement said.

Kenyatta, who will run for re-election next year, has accused opposition leader Raila Odinga of conspiring with foreign countries to remove his administration. Kenyatta came to power in 2013 riding on a wave of resentment at perceived attempts by the West to influence elections.

At the time Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating violence after the December 2007 flawed election in which former President Mwai Kibaki claimed victory over Odinga. More than 1,000 people died and 600,000 were evicted from their homes.

Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposing sides of the conflict but joined forces after they were named suspects. Their campaigns spread the message that the ICC charges were meant to clear the way for Odinga. A comment by a U.S. diplomat that "choices have consequences" was taken by some Kenyans as an example of the West's interference.

The charges against the two have since been dropped, but the ICC prosecutor says the lack of evidence was caused by witness interference and intimidation.

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