Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Unless 'rampant' corruption is curtailed, Kenya's next election could descend into a bloody crisis much worse than the last one, the U.S. ambassador to the East African nation has said.
In a leaked confidential cable to Washington written in January -- and published by the website WikiLeaks -- Ambassador Michael Ranneberger argued that "failure to implement significant reforms will greatly enhance prospects for a violent crisis in 2012 or before -- which may well prove much worse than the last post-election crisis."
Over one thousand people were killed and hundreds of thousands pushed out of their homes following a disputed late-2007 election in Kenya. A coalition government was formed, promising crucial reforms to avoid future chaos.
But for the U.S. government's top diplomat in the country, those reforms were not taking place fast enough.
The cable states that the culprit is widespread senior government corruption.
"No significant steps have been taken against high-level corruption," writes Ranneberger.
"While some positive steps have been taken, the old guard associated with the culture of impunity continues to resist fundamental change," says the cable.
The ambassador gives a scathing assessment of the country's ruling elite as the major stumbling block to reform. The cable implicates both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga and most of the cabinet members as part of the corrupt group running the country.
Kenya is a key strategic ally to the U.S. government because it provides a relatively stable buffer against Somalia to the North and Sudan to the West. Kenya is also East Africa's largest economy and a major trade hub for the region.
Kenya's government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the cable was "totally malicious and a total misrepresentation of our country and our leaders. We are surprised and shocked by these relations."
Mutua added, "Some of the statements, for want of a better explanation, look like fiction to us. It is their personal interpretation of events, they are not God and they can't always get it one hundred percent right. Some of the information is way off the map."
The government has pointed to key developments since the cable, such as passing a new constitution in August, to show that Kenya is moving in the right direction.
But Ranneberger, who is a popular figure among many ordinary Kenyans, hints that a democratic revolution of sorts is the only solution.
"The old guard of vested interests knows we and others are fanning the winds of change -- always stressing the need to work peacefully within the democratic process -- and feels threatened by that," the cable says.
"The political elite are planning several chess moves ahead. While we are no mean chess players ourselves, it is very difficult to anticipate their next more or motives behind the reform steps."