Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
Print this page
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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived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: WOA Update Alert
Kenya: WOA Update Alert
Date distributed (ymd): 970809
WOA Update Alert
Pressure Grows on Kenya's Moi to Enact Political Reforms
Tensions are mounting in Kenya as the country looks toward new elections
that will test the political hold of long-time strongman Daniel arap Moi.
Pro-democracy campaigners in opposition parties, the churches, and other
sectors of society are demanding reforms in the country's corrupt and repressive
political system before elections are held. The potential for escalated
conflict is great.
[For current updates of Kenyan developments, see news summaries from
Kenyan newspapers, radio and TV on Kenyaweb (http://www.kenyaweb.com/news/newspapers.html).
Full text of stories from the Daily Nation (Nairobi), as well as other
sources, are available at the Africa News web site (http://www.africanews.org/east/kenya).]
In 1991, internal opposition to the Moi regime eventually led foreign
donors to suspend over $350 million in aid. This in turn provided the impetus
for Moi's subsequent agreement to multi-party elections in 1992. He won
with 36% of the vote over a divided opposition. Donor countries subsequently
restored aid despite widespread evidence of continuing repression. This
year foreign donors have called for dialogue and reform, but have not yet
explicitly threatened a cut-off of aid.
In April, representatives from a wide range of Kenyan groups-- including
13 opposition parties, religious entities, nongovernmental organizations
and others--came together in a National Convention Assembly. They called
for a minimum package of constitutional and other reforms to be enacted
before the next general elections. The proposed reforms include reducing
the extraordinary powers of the Kenyan presidency, establishing an independent
electoral commission, and repealing a series of laws that restrict freedom
of expression and assembly. The National Council of Churches of Kenya (Protestant)
and the Kenya Episcopal Conference (Catholic) have issued a joint statement
affirming the urgency of such reforms.
International human rights organizations--including Amnesty International,
Human Rights Watch/Africa, African Rights, and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial
Center for Human Rights--have documented systematic abuses of human rights
in Kenya under the Moi regime and have supported the call for reforms.
In a series of incidents in May, June and July, police forcibly broke
up pro-democracy demonstrations. In the largest confrontation, on July
7, police killed as many as 15 people. Others seriously injured included
three members of Parliament and a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Timothy
Following this internationally publicized incident, President Moi promised
dialogue with his critics and pledged changes in the laws before the elections,
which must be held by March 1998. The National Convention executive council
demanded a more substantive response and threatened a national strike unless
the government begins serious dialogue. Moi seems determined, however,
to play on divisions in the political opposition and other reform forces
by offering limited changes in the laws without wide-ranging consultation.
In May, ambassadors in Nairobi representing the United States and 21
other countries presented President Moi with basic criteria for "free
and fair" elections. The U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state
for Africa, William Twaddell, told the Senate Subcommittee on Africa that
"the U.S. government has indicated to Kenya that our relationship
cannot develop in the absence of democratic reform." It is not yet
clear, however, under what circumstances the United States and other donors
would withdraw their aid.
Kenya faces other uncertainties in the coming months. The International
Monetary Fund suspended the release of a $200 million adjustment loan on
Aug. 1 because of the Moi government's unsatisfactory response to issues
of corruption. This measure, observers say, could have more impact on the
regime than overt political protests. The issues are, of course, linked.
As Nairobi's Daily Nation commented on Aug. 3, "The corrupt are a
powerful cabal that is well-known. It is in Government, it is connected
to Government, it is nurtured, nourished and protected by Government."
The longer the Moi regime avoids a credible reform program, the greater
will be the threat of renewed violence. If Kenyan pro-democracy advocates
are to win even minimal reform demands, consistent international pressure
will be essential.
An Entrenched System
President Moi has dominated Kenya's political system since the death
of Jomo Kenyatta, the country's first president, in 1978. The undemocratic
political order, however, has a longer history. Under British rule, effective
political rights were confined to the colonial administration and to white
settlers, who also controlled much of the country's best agricultural land.
After independence in 1963, Kenyatta presided over a conservative one-party
state that edged out or repressed more radical or populist forces who had
been involved in the struggle for independence and land rights. An African
economic elite, aided by the state, joined settlers, foreign investors
and Kenyans of Asian origin in controlling the economy. Kenyans without
special access to power suffered both political and economic abuse, without
effective protection from an independent judiciary.
Moi became vice-president under Kenyatta in 1967, and president in 1978.
He further consolidated the one-party state. Like Kenyatta, Moi was skillful
in using political and economic patronage to support his ethnic group and
family network and to play on dividing lines among his opponents. Kenyatta
was from Kenya's largest and most economically prosperous African ethnic
group, the Kikuyu, while Moi comes from the smaller Kalenjin ethnic group.
When these tactics failed, Moi--like Kenyatta--resorted to repression.
Many regime opponents have been imprisoned. Western powers, happy to have
a Cold War pro-capitalist ally in the strategic East African country, most
often turned a blind eye to these abuses.
According to World Bank figures, the highest 20% of Kenya's income-earners
receive more than 18 times as much as the lowest 20%, a ratio almost as
lopsided as in South Africa. Yet the political system provides no opportunity
for addressing such inequalities. Instead, corruption is rife, and political
life often focuses on dividing the spoils.
Kenya has also seen, however, the development of a large, diverse and
outspoken civil society, including church groups, women's groups, human
rights groups, writers, journalists, lawyers, academics and others. It
is this sector which has most recently taken the lead, in uneasy alliance
with opposition political party figures, in demanding reforms in the political
Kenya's prominence is enhanced by the fact that it provides a regional
headquarters and base for many governments, international agencies, private
companies and nongovernmental organizations involved in eastern Africa.
While such agencies have often ignored Kenya's internal problems, the escalation
of crisis there could have profound effects on neighboring countries as
The Election Context
The 1992 elections were deeply flawed: by government harassment of the
opposition, by government-inspired ethnic violence and expulsion of ethnic
groups associated with the opposition in the Rift Valley in particular,
and by other alleged manipulation of the results.
Fundamental to the opposition's defeat, however, was its division. The
Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) split into two groups: FORD-Kenya,
with a primary base in the Luo population, and FORD-Asili, based among
southern Kikuyu. A third major group, the Democratic Party (DP), was strongest
in the northern Kikuyu areas. In the presidential race, Moi won 36% of
the vote against 26% for Kenneth Matiba of Ford-A, 19% for Mawi Kibaki
of DP, and 18% for Oginga Odinga of Ford-K. Moi's party, the Kenya African
National Union (KANU), won 100 seats in Parliament and added 12 nominated
by the president, while the combined opposition gained only 57 seats.
After the 1992 elections, the Paris Consultative Group of foreign donors
renewed aid to Kenya, citing progress in economic structural adjustment
and the existence of the multi-party system. However, serious abuses have
continued, as documented by Kenyan and international human rights groups:
- Beginning before the 1992 elections and continuing afterward, as many
as 1,500 people were killed and 300,000 were displaced from their land
in ethnic clashes initiated by Kalenjin or Maasai "warriors"
who were in turn instigated by ruling party officials. Despite a U.N. Development
Program effort that reportedly returned more than half of the displaced
to their land, Human Rights Watch/Africa recently reported that the government
has undermined the resettlement program, and that there has been no effective
protection for the displaced.
- There have been repeated incidents of banning or unexplained violence
against independent nongovernmental organizations and news media. While
critics continue to speak out and most organizations still function, a
climate of intimidation prevails, particularly in areas remote from the
capital without effective access to the national and international media.
- Opposition leaders, most notably Koigi wa Wamwere, a former member
of parliament, have been detained or imprisoned on trumped-up charges.
Koigi was finally released in December 1996 after three years in prison.
Other politicians have been attacked by government-inspired mobs, and opposition
rallies have been regularly broken up by police or mob violence.
- The judicial system has failed to protect opponents of the Kenyan government
from such abuses. As documented in reports by African Rights, Human Rights
Watch/Africa and others, it has also failed to protect ordinary Kenyans,
particularly vulnerable groups such as street children, the landless, and
prisoners, from abuse by the police and local authorities.
Against this backdrop, the coming elections have provided a focus for
opponents of the regime. Significant consensus has formed around a minimum
set of demands for reform to precede the election, without which a vote
would lack any credibility.
The National Convention Assembly, Kenyan churches, and Amnesty International
(with the support of 17 Kenyan human rights groups) have each prepared
detailed lists of issues to be addressed and specific laws to be changed.
Particularly important is stopping the use of legal mechanisms, police
action or mob violence to bar freedom of association, speech and public
Equally critical is the process for reform. The government must engage
in serious dialogue about change, not only with opposition political parties
but also with representatives of civil society. Unless these prerequisites
are met, an election exercise would make no contribution to democratic
rights for Kenyans, and could well lead to escalated violence.
Even if the minimum reforms are accepted and implemented by the Kenyan
government, it is quite possible that divisions among the opposition will
give Moi another lease on political life. And even if the opposition should
oust Moi in a free and fair election, further reforms to address political
and economic injustice will not be easy. Many Kenyans critical of Moi also
have little faith in opposition politicians. That is why most critics in
civil society stress the need to open the system for ongoing critique and
change, not just a package of election-time agreements.
What You Can Do
[Note to non-U.S. readers: This posting is provided both for your background
information and for possible forwarding to those of your U.S. contacts
you think would be interested.]
1. Contact the White House and the State Department. Ask that the United
States increase its pressure for meaningful democratic reform in Kenya
before the December elections. Stress that it is crucial for Kenya's donors
to focus on systemic change, not only on economic issues, and to demand
far-reaching rather than minimal cosmetic reforms.
- If international pressure on the regime does not increase, there is
a danger of more regime-manipulated violence that could take many lives.
- Kenya is of critical importance to the peace and security of the entire
East African region.
Mr. Samuel (Sandy) Berger
National Security Advisor
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Fax: (202) 456-2883
White House comment desk: (202) 456-1111
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 647-6434
2. Send copies of your letters to the Africa Subcommittees in Congress
and to the Congressional Black Caucus. Encourage them to make public statements
of support for Kenyan pro-democracy forces. Congress should let the Moi
regime know that the United States stands firmly in favor of peaceful and
thoroughgoing reform in Kenya and sees such reform as a prerequisite for
free and fair elections.
Foreign Relations Committee
Washington, DC 20510
International Relations Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Rep. Maxine Waters
Congressional Black Caucus
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
This material is produced and distributed by the Washington Office
on Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit church, trade union and civil rights
group supported organization that works with Congress on Africa-related
legislation. WOA's educational affiliate is the Africa Policy Information