WORLD REPORT 1999 - Kenya

Human Rights Developments
The lead-up to Kenya’s second multiparty election, on December 29, 1997, was fraught with violence and intimidation, and marred by government reneging on promised legal reforms to allow genuine political liberalization. Several peaceful pro-democracy rallies were brutally dispersed, an estimated one million eligible youth were denied registration, and over 100,000 people were displaced in the Coast Province following ethnically-driven attacks on groups largely affiliated with the opposition. Under pressure, the government made concessions a month before the election to allow some constitutional reform and to permit the registration of opposition party Safina. While these gestures calmed somewhat the volatile climate and allowed for the election to proceed, they were not sufficient to level the playing field to allow for a genuinely free and fair election. The reelection of President Moi for five more years and the victory of his ruling party was due both to longstanding government obstruction of the opposition as well as to deep divisions within the opposing parties, largely on ethnic lines.

There were hopes that the election would bring an end to the violence that had marred the run-up and that President Moi would finally permit reform after securing a further, and under consitutional term-limits, final term of office. However, 1998 was marked both by deepening ethnic hatred and continuing violence, and a growing political crisis due to the government’s unwillingness to allow any reform that would end the absolute executive power wielded by President Moi. The president responded to calls for reform with a characteristic combination of recalcitrance and brutality, all the while making promises to bring about change.

In January, the results of the presidential election were challenged in a court petition by opposition Democratic Party (DP) leader Mwai Kibaki, who subsequently, with his lawyer, received anonymous death threats. “Ethnic” violence also followed in two DP constituencies in Rift Valley Province. Armed groups of Kalenjin (the president’s ethnic group) attacked ethnic Kikuyu residents in night raids, raping, hacking with machetes, or killing with firearms, before looting and burning their homes. Over one hundred people were reportedly killed and thousands displaced. The initial attacks were well organized and from outside the community.

The attacks mirrored similar violence that had taken place in the run-up to the previous elections in 1992 and afterwards, when members of the ruling party attacked members of ethnic groups considered to support the opposition. In those attacks, it was later found that ruling party members had paid some attackers a fee for each house burned and person killed and that government vehicles had transported some of the attackers. Since 1992, over 300,000 people had been displaced by this violence. The authorities consistently failed to provide adequate security to those under threat or to hold those responsible for the violence accountable. As in the past, the response of the security forces to the violence was slow and although some arrests were made and security temporarily increased, residents remained distrustful of the authorities.

In retaliation, members of the Kikuyu community attacked and virtually wiped out a Kalenjin community at Naishe (Lare), slaughtering men, women, and children. Shortly after the attack on the Kalenjin community, President Moi publicly called for peace and the violence subsided, although sporadic attacks continued through the year.

The renewal of political violence occurred against the backdrop of the calls for legal reform to curb presidential powers. Some significant legislative reforms were passed in November 1997 following talks between the government and opposition politicians in the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG). Prior to the election, a coalition of opposition parties, human rights, religious and nongovernmental groups came together in the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) to call for constitutional reform. Peaceful rallies and strikes called by the NCEC in 1997 were met with brutal force, however, in what was a major factor in pushingfor the enactment of the reforms prior to the election. The government successfully divided the constitutional reform lobby by selecting the IPPG as a body to deal with and excluding the NCEC from participation in the reform process, reducing its momentum and dividing the reform constituency. By year’s end, the reform crisis had not been resolved and the post-election environment continued to be characterized by distrust, infighting, and a lack of consensus—playing perfectly into Moi’s hand.

In August, Kenya became the focal point of the international news following the bombing of the U.S. embassies there and in neighboring Tanzania. The attack on the embassy resulted in the death of some 400 Kenyans as well as twelve embassy staff members; thousands of Kenyans were wounded, many grievously. In addition to the human suffering caused by the bombing itself, the incident had further repercussions for the human rights situation. First, the event drew international attention from the domestic human rights problems in Kenya. Second, the government’s response to the bombing was to crack down indiscriminately against foreigners and Muslim-run nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Refugees without distinction were told to report to the immigration authorities and informed that documents issued by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to them were no longer valid. When accredited refugees with UNHCR letters presented themselves at immigration, these letters were taken away and they were given papers that deemed them illegal immigrants.

In September, without making public the basis for the measures, the government canceled the registration of five Islamic relief agencies for allegedly supporting terrorism—the Al-Haramain Foundation, Help African People, the Islamic Relief Organization, the Ibrahim Bin Abdul Aziz Al Ibrahim Foundation, and Mercy Relief International. The authorities claimed that materials for the bomb were smuggled in as relief aid with the help of some Islamic relief agencies. The offices of Mercy Relief International had been raided by the Kenyan police and agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) shortly after the bombing.

Police brutality, bad prison conditions, lack of an independent judiciary, and repressive legislation remained major impediments to respect for human rights in Kenya. No progress was made during 1998 by the legal task forces formed by the attorney general in 1993 to amend or repeal repressive legislation that impinged upon the rights of freedom of speech, association, and assembly.

The independent media also came under attack. In April, the editor of Dispatch was arrested for an article containing “alarming information.” In July, three publications were refused registration— Finance , Post, and Star —and a fourth, Kenya Confidential , was told that it was functioning illegally since it had not registered. The same month, newspaper stalls were attacked by unknown assailants who destroyed hundreds of copies of the Daily Nation newspaper, the most outspoken daily.

Defending Human Rights
A wide array of local human rights organizations were engaged in monitoring human rights in Kenya, but some came under threat during the year, particularly those associated with the NCEC. On January 19, a leading member of the NCEC was abducted by four armed plainclothesmen who drove him around in his car and threatened him for approximately two hours before abandoning him and taking his NCEC documents. In March, President Moi threatened to deregister a number of human rights NGOs following their support of the NCEC, including the Kenya Human Rights Commission. On January 27, a peaceful demonstration held in Nairobi to protest the outbreak of political violence in the Rift Valley was violently dispersed by police and two members of the Release Political Prisoners (RPP) group were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly. The charges were dropped on March 13.

On May 22, a member of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and a journalist were charged with theft and released on bail after being held incommunicado for four days. The arrests took place after a new pro-government group called NGO Watch accused them of stealing an advance copy of a confidential report and some personal property. Following the arrests, the offices of the Kenya Human Rights Commission were searched.

Following the de-registration of five Islamic relief agencies in September (temporarily stayed by a court order), the head of the NGO Coordinating Committee stated that other NGOs would be investigated and their registrations would be revoked. President Moi also announced that the government would reduce the number of NGOs in Kenya, raising concerns that some NGOs may be targeted for speaking out against government abuse. Shortly after, eleven more NGOs were de-registered for allegedy “deviating from functions they were registered for,” and for “engaging in political matters.”

The government-sponsored Human Rights Standing Committee, formed in May 1996, handed its sixth confidential report to President Moi, but otherwise remained silent on abuses occurring in the country.

The Role of the International Community
In the lead-up to the election, Kenya’s main donors played a positive role in pushing the government to concede to domestic demands for genuine pluralism. Donors took a more unified public stand around human rights than in the past, although they stopped short of placing human rights conditions on donor aid. In a series of joint statements in 1997, several donor countries criticized police brutality, government harassment of the opposition, and the need to respect the rights to life, speech, assembly, and association.

Donors continued to unite to protest human rights problems during the year, although less frequently than in 1997. On election day, international observers from twenty-two embassies, known as the Donor’s Democratic Development Group, monitored the process. This group issued a January 9, 1998 statement noting that “a significant number of young Kenyans were denied the right to register [to vote] as they had not received their identity cards in time.” The statement also noted that the government’s minimal constitutional reforms did improve the political climate and reduce violence, however “the timing of these reforms just prior to the elections reduced their ability to level sufficiently the playing field.” The same group also issued another statement in January 1998 expressing concern over the outbreak of “ethnic” violence and the “slow and ineffective response by security forces.”

Following the election, international attention to the human rights situation declined significantly. Small concessions orpromises by the Kenyan government, often not carried through, were hailed as major steps forward, missing the ongoing pattern of government unwillingness to promote and protect rights. During 1998, international attention focused mainly on Kenya’s worsening economic situation and its dismal record on corruption. The international financial instititutions remained dissatisfied with the lack of economic reform occurring in Kenya, and World Bank and IMF funding remained suspended since 1997 pending progress on corruption. There were some preliminary attempts by twenty-four of Kenya’s donors to produce a document setting out ways for donors to better coordinate their funding efforts with regard to promoting human rights and good governance in Kenya. It is hoped that this document will be put into effect by Kenya’s donors.

European Union
The E.U. did not have a central focus on human rights in Kenya, although it did raise concerns where rights violations impeded good governance. The E.U. signed several joint statements with other donors during the year. On January 6, 1998, the E.U. released a strong statement on the Kenyan elections noting that “in several respects, the process fell short of normal democratic standards...The 1997 elections, despite the shortcomings, may be seen as a further step in Kenya’s development towards greater democracy. It is clear that despite positive developments in recent years, that process still has far to go. A democratic culture has yet to take root across the country.” The statement concluded by urging that the constitutional review process was of “central significance” and needed to be embarked on immediately.

The European Commission has a budget of about two million ecus to spend to promote good governance in Kenya over a five year period. However, this amount remains untouched, largely due to the lack of progress by the Kenyan government on governance issues.

United States
Although human rights concerns remained on the U.S. agenda, trade and economic concerns as well as the embassy bombing tended to take precedence over the human rights situation. Kenya was visited by a number of high-ranking U.S. officials. In February, Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa Rev. Jesse Jackson, visited Kenya and toured areas of the Rift Valley affected by the political violence. Rev. Jackson spoke out strongly against the violence both publicly and in a meeting with President Moi. As a result of his urging, President Moi visited the affected areas shortly after. This was the second trip by Rev. Jackson and a welcome change from the silence on human rights issues during his previous visit.

In March, President Clinton’s trip through several sub-Saharan countries by-passed Kenya due in part to its lack of progress on economic and human rights reform. President Moi was one of several African presidents who met President Clinton in Uganda and signed the U.S.-inspired Entebbe communique that pledged its signatories to uphold human rights. The Clinton visit also made time to allow the voice of the Kenyan human rights community to be heard. During Clinton’s visit to Senegal, Kenyan Archbishop Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki participated in a face-to-face session held with civil society and human rights activists and spoke of human rights violations in Kenya.

In July and September, economic and trade concerns were raised in visits by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Commerce Secretary William Daley respectively. During his visit, Secretary Rubin noted that U.S. assistance would be predicated on continued economic and political reforms, but did not raise human rights concerns in any further detail. Secretary Daley made no public reference to human rights concerns. In August, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Kenya following the bombing of the U.S. Embassy to express her sympathies.

In 1998, U.S. development aid to Kenya totaled U.S.$23.5 million. Approximately two-thirds of this aid was allocated to program assistance directed almost entirely to nongovernmental organizations.