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US talks (and writes) tough

America’s top Africa diplomat has written to 15 Kenyans telling them they will be banned from traveling to the U.S. if they continue to block reforms aimed at preventing a re-run of the deadly violence that followed elections in late 2007.

The letter signed by Johnnie Carson read: “I am writing to inform you that your future relationship with the United States is directly linked to the degree of support for urgent implementation of the reform agenda as well as clear opposition to the use of violence.”

Delivering this rather undiplomatic message, U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, said it was a sign of how frustrated Washington had become with the leaders of Kenya, the country in which Barack Obama’s father was born and where the presidential grandmother still lives.

Ranneberger said travel bans for some of the 15 “ministers, Members of Parliament, permanent secretaries and other prominent officials” would follow in the next few weeks. This will hit the political elite where it hurts as trans-Atlantic trips are a popular pastime and many have children and relatives studying and working in the U.S. Ranneberger said family-members would also be banned.

The pressure is needed. A raft of reforms to the electoral commission, the judiciary and the security forces, as well as measures to end impunity and curb corruption were all tabled in an agreement brokered by Kofi Annan that ended the political violence that followed the last polls. Progress has been pretty much non-existent since then.

The letters and the impending travel bans might be the kick that Kenya’s complacent elites need to change the downward direction in which the country is headed.