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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Kenya: Security and Elections Kenya: Security and Elections
Date distributed (ymd): 021216
Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

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Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +peace/security+


This posting contains several documents on current issues in Kenya, in the wake of the Mombasa attacks and in the lead-up to the December 27 election, as well as links to additional current information. According to current plans, President Bush's trip to Africa in January will includes stops in Kenya, as well as Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, and Mauritius.

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Africa Action Note

Today's postings are the last for this year on the Africa Policy List. We will resume in the second week of January. Our best wishes to our readers for a safe holiday season and for renewed strength for struggles for peace and justice in the new year.

To support our continued work with a contribution on-line, or to print out a contribution form, go to:

Close Call in Kenya

By Gamal Nkrumah December 6, 2002

Foreign Policy in Focus Global Affairs Commentary

(Gamal Nkrumah writes for Al-Ahram Weekly (online at where this first appeared.)

The daring attacks last week on Israeli interests in Kenya sent shock waves throughout the East African region. The United States was obviously also deeply perturbed. Three East African leaders were immediately summoned to Washington for discussions with President George W Bush. Two, Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zennawi, accepted the invitation. A third, Djibouti's President Omar Guelleh, declined the invitation to join Moi and Zennawi at the White House on the pretext that he had to be in his country to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Djibouti, an Arab League member state, is strategically situated on the crossroads between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. More than 95% of its population is Muslim and it is inhabited by ethnic Afar and the not-so-distantly related Somalis--an ethnic group that has unfortunately come under increasing scrutiny and suspicion for fomenting trouble in the region. Indeed, ethnic Somalis make up a large and restive minority in both Ethiopia and Kenya as well.

Talks centered on the Mombasa attacks and the U.S.-led war against terrorism. And Bush himself is scheduled to visit Kenya next January for the official inauguration of the new U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

The Kenyan authorities and Western intelligence agencies discount any direct connection between al Qaeda and those detained--six Pakistanis and four Somalis. But there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the Mombasa attacks. Questions are raised, however, about how militant Islamists managed to destroy an Israeli-owned resort, Paradise Beach, and attempted to shoot down an Israeli airliner in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the country's second-largest city.

Kenya appears to be especially prone to such attacks. The country, East Africa's economic powerhouse, is now widely seen as a soft target. This is the third time that such major terrorist attacks have taken place on Kenyan soil. Kenya has a Muslim minority of about 20% of the population of 32 million. Kenya's Muslims are geographically concentrated on the East African country's Indian Ocean coastline, where a five-century-old Arab-African hybrid Swahili culture thrives. However, nomadic ethnic Somalis inhabit the northeastern arid areas of Kenya, and these Kenyan nationals are also thoroughly Islamized.

Nevertheless, it appears that neither community was directly involved in the attacks on the Paradise Beach resort in Mombasa and the Arika airliner. None of the four Somalis detained by the Kenyan authorities appear to be Kenyan nationals--they are all from Somalia proper and hold Somali passports issued in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Kenya has, since the collapse of the state of Somalia in 1991, played host to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, who quite naturally have intermingled and intermarried with their kith and kin in Kenya. The Somalis have found safe haven in Kenya, but the Kenyan authorities have become increasingly concerned about the security risk inherent in the Somali presence--a large and dynamic ethnic and religious minority.

The Mombasa incident was reminiscent of the August 1998 bombing of the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es-Salam, Tanzania. More than 200 people were killed in the Nairobi bombing, most of them, it has to be said, Kenyans. But as early as November 1979, militant Islamists blew up the Norfolk Hotel in Kenya, ostensibly in retaliation for the Kenyan government permitting the Israeli military to use Kenya as a base for rescuing passengers aboard a hijacked Israeli plane in Entebbe airport, in neighboring Uganda.

The militant Islamists who carried out the Mombasa attacks used surface-to-air missile launchers to shoot down an Israeli Arika airliner, which took off from Mombasa airport for Tel Aviv with 261 passengers aboard the Boeing 757. Soon after the attacks an Islamist website on the Internet asserted that al Qaeda claimed responsibility, but obviously the assertion cannot be independently verified.

What is certain is that the surface-to-air missile (SAM) seeker system used in Kenya was very similar to that used against a U.S. warplane in Saudi Arabia in June. They are shoulder-launched and heat-seeking missiles. Kenyan and Western intelligence also concur that the SAM seeker system used was Strela-2, a rather antiquated system that was originally developed in the former Soviet Union in the 1960s.

Israel's national carrier, El-Al, uses infrared system that tampers with the less sophisticated types of SAM seeker systems, making them less accurate. The optimum altitude for the Strela-2 is 250 meters. Apparently, those who launched the Strela-2 against the Arika airliner in Kenya were rather hasty, as the SAM seeker system was launched immediately after take-off when the Israeli plane was only 150 meters off the ground.

About a year ago, Hussein Aidid--son of the warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid who in 1993 masterminded America's most disastrous firefight loss since the Vietnam War--warned that militant Islamist Pakistani proselytizers were active in Mogadishu and other Somali cities and that they have strong links to Al-Itihad Al-Islami, founded in the late 1980s and until recently dismissed as a spent force. Aidid heads the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC)--set up as a rival administration to the Somali Transitional National Government (TNG)--and has accused the TNG of harboring militant Islamist sympathizers. Hussein Aidid is a former U.S. marine, and whatever his political agenda, he does know a thing or two about military matters.

The U.S. authorities have identified Al-Itihad Al-Islami as having a hand in the Mombasa attacks. The organization had also incurred the wrath of the Ethiopian authorities as it emerged that it had been active among Ethiopia's own ethnic Somali minority concentrated in the southeastern region of Ethiopia. Two years ago, Ethiopian troops crossed over the border into the adjacent southern Somali Geddo region in order to pursue Al-Itihad Al-Islami forces. The militant Islamist organization is also believed to have military bases in El-Wak, at the crossroads of the Ethiopian, Kenyan, and Somali borders, and in Ras Kamboni, near the Kenyan border in the far south of Somalia.

The Kenyan authorities have clamped down hard on the large ethnic Somali community in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh where an estimated 500,000 Somalis reside. Most have been living in the country for generations, and Eastleigh has emerged as a prosperous and vitally important economic district of the Kenyan capital city. The Kenyan authorities have banned all flights to Somalia for security considerations. Until last week, there had been at least four daily flights between Nairobi's Wilson Airport and the Somali capital Mogadishu, and three other daily flights from Nairobi to other Somali cities. The Kenyan connection is vital for Somali economic survival, and Kenya itself benefits tremendously from such lucrative trade links. What remains to be seen is whether there is irrefutable evidence of collaboration between Al-Itihad Al-Islami and al Qaeda in East Africa.

Kenya's Dec. 27 Elections Won't Solve Human Rights Ills
December 12, 2002

For more information, please contact:

In New York, Peter Takirambudde: +1-212-216-1223
In London, Steve Crawshaw: +44-20-7713-2766

(New York, December 12, 2002) - The hotly-contested December 27 election has highlighted serious human rights shortcomings in Kenya, Human Rights Watch said today. As the election approaches and Kenya's draft constitution awaits enactment, Human Rights Watch released a new report urging all candidates to adhere to a clear human rights agenda, which would address the iniquities and abuses that persist in the East African country.

"Kenya is at a crucial turning point in its history as it desperately struggles to complete the transition from Cold War semi-autocracy to modern democracy," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director for Africa at Human Rights Watch. "Power struggles and backroom deals among various political parties dominate political debate, and we have real concern human rights abuses will be overlooked by the new government."

The 34-page report, "Kenya's Unfinished Democracy: A Human Rights Agenda for the New Government," reveals that while Kenya has gained many important freedoms since the early 1990s, and is considered a relatively free and open society- especially in comparison with many other African countries- a closed system of patronage and graft continues to undermine human rights in the country.

Limits on Democracy

Although officially Kenya no longer detains political prisoners, torture in police cells is reported to be common. Interference with democratic processes also remains widespread. During the1990s, Kenya held two multi-party elections, but both were suspect, and accompanied by politically motivated `ethnic' violence, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and the displacement of some 400,000 people.

The media often presents critical views of the ruling party, but bureaucratic restrictions on radio licenses mean few opposition voices can be heard outside of Nairobi. Kenya's notorious sedition laws were scrapped in 1997, yet several politicians have since instigated dubious, but successful, defamation lawsuits to silence criticism. Likewise, while the atmosphere at public meetings is freer than ten years ago, some activists still experience police harassment.

"The paradox of Kenya is that the country seems very free on the surface, but this freedom does not extend to everyone," said Takirambudde.

Activists in poor, remote areas face particular limitations. For example, two land reform advocates, Nicodemus Mutuku and Alois Mwaiwa Muia, for example, have been charged with murder in Machakos, a provincial town, though they were reportedly not in the area at the time the victim was killed. The activists say they are being framed to silence their protests over the illegal grabbing of public by powerful, politically connected individuals.

Constitutional Changes Uncertain

The change-over from the 1963 constitution to the constitution drafted last year presents an ideal moment for Kenya to improve its human rights record. It has been clear for many years that the country's constitution, drawn up by the British at independence and subsequently amended in ways that placed even greater limits on freedom, needed to be rewritten. A review commission has just published a new draft constitution, developed with extensive civil-society participation.

"If adopted, the new constitution could dramatically improve the human rights protections for Kenyans," said Takirambudde. However, the constitution proffered has been undermined by lawsuits and other forms of interference by associates of the ruling party, and its future is not yet secure.

Report Recommendations

Human Rights Watch urged Kenya's leaders to address the tension between the country's democratic and anti-democratic tendencies, which has created an element of suspense both with respect to the upcoming election and to Kenya's future in general. In particular, Human Rights Watch called upon Kenya's new leadership to adopt the following reforms:

  • Put an end to torture, extortion, forced confessions, and extra-judicial killings in Kenya's jails and prisons, which have become routine. In the past, most victims of such human rights abuses by Kenya's security forces were lawyers, activists, and academics. Most victims today are ordinary poor people, and not necessarily dissidents
  • Enforce the official ban on ad hoc vigilante gangs that terrorize people at political rallies and spread fear and violence in the slums. Many gangs are recruited by powerful politicians who exploit the poverty and boredom of slum youths
  • Uphold the independence of the judiciary. At present, the president has enormous power over the appointment and discipline of judges, which allows for executive interference in court cases. Greater judicial independence would make an enormous contribution to the right to justice in Kenya. The new government should also take steps to stamp out corruption, incompetence, and inefficiency in the justice system
  • Seriously prosecute major cases of corruption. The average Kenyan is now poorer than he was twenty years ago. This economic decline is partly a direct consequence of the looting of public resources and public land by government officials and their collaborators, including the treasury, government agencies, and parastatals. None of these offenses has been seriously prosecuted
  • Provide justice to the victims of politically motivated ethnic clashes. Throughout the 1990s, widespread politically motivated ethnic violence resulted in the deaths of thousands of Kenyans and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of potential opposition voters. To date, tens of thousands of people remain displaced from their Rift Valley farms, and their land remains occupied by government supporters. The clashes are believed to have been instigated by powerful politicians, who took advantage of a long history of land disputes in the region to stoke tribal hostilities. Human Rights Watch urges the government to help clash victims seeking redress through the courts
  • Enforce the right to free expression. Police and candidates' thugs sometimes harass journalists, while outside of Nairobi, the government has almost total control of the media. For most Kenyans the only source of local news outside of the capital is the government-run radio station, whose reporting tends to favor the ruling party. Radio and TV stations seeking to obtain licenses to broadcast beyond the capital face bureaucratic obstacles that are, so far, insurmountable. Human Rights Watch urges Kenya's new leaders to close the vast urban-rural gap in access to information that denied millions of people unbiased information as the election approached
  • Establish clear policies to govern the rights of workers in the informal economy. Many of Kenya's street hawkers and kiosk vendors are subject to arbitrary harassment by the police and local authorities, who extort bribes, destroy their property, steal their goods, or hold them in prison until they manage to bribe their way out. The new government must curb these abuses of police power
  • End the culture of impunity. The government has established numerous commissions to investigate major cases of corruption, the political manipulation of ethnic violence, the grabbing of public lands for use as political patronage, and other issues. However, few reports of these investigations have been released to the public, and no one has been held accountable for major crimes. Kenyans must urgently begin an intensive national debate on accountability for past crimes, including corruption and the manipulation of ethnic violence.

Kenya's foreign donors eagerly look forward to a change of government, but many Kenyans recognize that the greater challenge is to create a just and open system of governance based on checks and balances and separation of powers.

"The change in leadership and the new draft constitution provide a unique opportunity for Kenya to address longstanding human rights concerns," said Takirambudde. "The new Kenyan government and the international community should embrace this opportunity."

Recent news reports:
Interview with presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, December 15, 2002
Nairobi welcomes opposition presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki December 15, 2002
Moi vows not to rule from behind the scenes
December 12, 2002

Human Rights Watch
"Kenya: Crackdown on Nairobi's Refugees After Mombasa Attacks" December 6, 2002

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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