Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger (left), made a very strange announcement. He confirmed on his Twitter page that the U.S. government had denied a visa to Kenya’s attorney general Amos Wako. What’s strange is that as far as we know, it’s the first time an American official has ever revealed a visa determination under Presidential Proclamation 7750. That’s the executive order giving the State Department the power to exclude foreign kleptocrats, their families and friends. Before now, those decisions had always been made — and kept — in complete secrecy.
In October, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said the U.S. had denied a visa to an unnamed senior Kenyan official who had been “obstructive in the fight against corruption.” After Carson’s announcement, the Kenyan press had been speculating who the unnamed senior official could be. But it was Ambassador Ranneberger who confirmed it. He didn’t mention the attorney general by name but sent Twitter readers to a story in the Kenyan press that did.
We talked with a couple of State Department officials earlier this year about Proclamation 7750 (see our post here). Why, we asked, were those banned from American soil never publicly identified? “The State Department,” they told us, “can’t publicly release the names of those denied entry under Proclamation 7750 — U.S. law generally prohibits disclosure of visa-related information.” And consistent with that, we’ve never seen confirmation from the State Department or any American government source of a Proclamation 7750 visa action. Until Ambassador Ranneberger’s tweet.
Attorney General Wako, meanwhile, sprang to his own defense and threatened to sue someone in the United States for defamation (a good reason to keep Proclamation 7750 determinations secret).
Kenya’s Standard said Wako, who has served as attorney general since 1991, “confirmed he received a letter from the U.S. banning him from the country.” The paper’s account also referred directly to Proclamation 7750, which the foreign press rarely mentions and the U.S. press completely ignores. The Standard said:
In a seven-page statement that took a half an hour to read, Wako prosecuted his case, defending his record as a “reformist” and attacking the revocation of his visa as serving American interests. . . . “Let me state that Sitswila Amos Wako has not been engaged in corrupt actions which have adversely affected the national interests of the United States of America or at all,” he said, in reference to Proclamation 7750 of January 12, 2004, which a U.S. official in Nairobi confirmed had been used to lock him out their country.
Wako claimed he’s “totally indifferent to the revocation of the visa” since “I have no desire to visit the U.S.” But, he said, the grounds given for the visa determination are defamatory and he “intends to seek legal advice with a view of instituting legal proceedings in the U.S.”
We naturally have a few questions: When does United States law allow disclosure of the State Department’s visa determinations under Proclamation 7750? On what grounds was it allowed in Attorney General Wako’s case? Will there be more announcements of actions taken under Proclamation 7750?
And finally: Did the ambassador simply go a tweet too far?