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Kenya (Human Rights)

Volume 301: debated on Wednesday 19 November 1997

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1.29 pm

I am extremely heartened by the acceptance of the subject of human rights abuses in Kenya for today's debate. It is a reflection of the warmth and affection that many right hon. and hon. Members feel for Kenya and its people.

No one who has visited Kenya and met its people can fail to be entranced by a country so beautiful and so abundant in natural resources. From the fertile shores of Lake Naivasha to the game-filled plains of the Masai Mara, across the green foothills of Mount Kenya to the beaches of Mombasa, Kenya is a stunning garden of Eden.

No one can fail to be impressed by the fortitude, vigour and enterprise of the Kenyan people. Kenya is a vibrant melee of Africans, Asians and Mzungus—the settlers who stayed on after decolonialisation—most of whom share a common bond of loyalty and commitment to their country—a commitment bred from a courageous struggle to free themselves from colonial oppression and establish a modern nation.

I introduce the debate with considerable humility. I do not wish to be depicted as some interfering neo-colonialist lecturing an ex-colony on how to manage its affairs. Nor do I want to be portrayed as some ex-pat arrogantly expostulating over a tusker beer on the verandah of the Norfolk hotel in Nairobi.

Instead, I speak firstly as a friend to friends—a friend of the Kenyan people to the Kenyan people. I speak as someone who represents many constituents who originate from Kenya and who share my love of that country. Above all, I speak as a socialist, and thus someone who believes that international solidarity places a duty on us all to associate ourselves with and support all those whose human rights are being abused and who struggle against oppression.

The Government, with wide acclaim and my total support, have placed human rights at the centre of their international relations policy. The recent White Paper on international development defined the human rights that have been recognised by the global community and protected by international legal instruments.

We said that human rights include all those rights essential for human survival, physical security, liberty, and development in dignity of the human being. They include the right to life and liberty; the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, water and housing; the right to social protection in times of need; the right to education; freedoms of religion, opinion, speech and expression; freedom of association; the right to participate in the political process; the right to be free from arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and to a fair trial; and, above all, freedom from torture and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It is with immense sadness that I report that, on virtually every count, the present Kenyan Government stand accused. On those basic physical freedoms—freedom from torture, imprisonment and loss of life—the most recent Amnesty International report published two months ago indicts the Kenyan regime.

Physical force has increasingly become a basic ingredient of Kenyan life. In its recent investigations in Kenya, Amnesty International identified numerous reports of human rights defenders being threatened, harassed, beaten or arbitrarily arrested. Their meetings have been disrupted, and their premises raided. Journalists trying to report on events have been assaulted by the police and by members of the ruling party's youth wing.

The Kenyan police have used their wide-ranging powers of arrest without warrant extensively in round-ups of the poor, the street children and those suspected of sedition. There are continued reports of ill-treatment, torture and deaths in custody as a result of torture.

Kenya retains the death penalty, and there are currently more than 700 prisoners under sentence of death. There have been no executions in the past nine years, but many prisoners on death row have died as a result of the appalling prison conditions. A Kenyan high court judge recently described the prisons as "death chambers" and noted:
"going to prison these days has become a sure way to a death certificate."
Amnesty International reports hundreds of political prisoners dying each year, the majority from infectious diseases resulting from severe overcrowding and shortages of food, clean water and adequate medical care. Exact figures are hard to come by, but the most recent official figures suggest that more than 800 prisoners died in the first nine months of 1995.

The Kenyan police have become notorious for their use of excessive lethal force. Less than a year ago, the shooting of three students by the police provoked widespread revulsion in the community, only to be followed in March this year by a further student being killed by the police, who followed up his murder by arresting and beating up his two companions.

As for the Kenyan Government's record on political freedoms, hon. Members will be aware that the last year has been dominated by preparations for the Kenyan general election, which, thankfully, has now been called for 29 December. Recently, Kenya has witnessed the use of force and intimidation by the existing regime in order to undermine the Opposition and thus the potential for free and fair elections.

Earlier this year, a loose alliance of Church groups, lawyers and reformers came together and launched under the banner of the National Convention Executive Council a new campaign with the aim of securing basic electoral reforms in advance of the general election. All but one of the demonstrations for reform organised by the NCEC have been broken up by the police and by supporters of KANU, the governing party.

On 10 October, when President Daniel Arap Moi was celebrating Moi day—his 19th year in power—his police were violently breaking up the most recent NCEC demonstration. People were beaten and tear-gassed by the police. Prominent NCEC supporters including Paul Muite, Ngengi Mugai—Jomo Kenyatta's nephew—and Richard Leakey were beaten so brutally that they left in ambulances. The police commander in charge personally physically thrashed an elderly and ailing Member of Parliament.

In a previous demonstration in July, 14 people were shot dead. Mothers carrying babies were beaten, students sitting exams at Nairobi university's school of architecture were beaten up and tear-gassed, and a lecturer had his arms broken. At the capital's All Saints cathedral, the presidential security guard itself beat up the pro-Opposition clergy at prayer, spattering blood over the pews, and leaving one Church leader unconscious and soaked in blood.

The Kenyan Public Order Act requires meetings and demonstrations to be licensed in advance, and has been used to restrict meetings and rallies of Opposition groups. Sections of Kenya's penal code dealing with sedition and treason have formed the basis of the Government's ability to threaten their critics with detention.

In effect, some Opposition parties have been banned from the forthcoming election by the Government's refusal to allow them to register as political parties. The Safina party, led by lawyers Paul Muite and Mutari Kigano and the archaeologist and conservationist Richard Leakey, has not been allowed to register, and therefore cannot put forward candidates in the election. The Islamic party of Kenya has been banned outright.

The Kenyan constitution requires a successful presidential candidate to obtain at least 25 per cent. of the vote in five out of the country's eight regions. In key marginal areas such as Mombasa, there have been concerted attacks on northern settlers aimed at driving out potential Opposition voters—an activity that occurred in the earlier elections in 1992.

In the raids on Mombasa by ruling KANU supporters, 31 people have been reported as killed and hundreds forced to leave their homes and shelter for safety in the grounds of local churches. The Economist reported that it was revealed that the gang of 150 youths responsible for the attacks had been recruited, armed and trained in the coastal hinterland some months ago with orders to
"keep the coast safe for KANU".
The tragic irony is that the present level of violence and loss of life is almost certainly unnecessary to sustain President Moi and his regime in power. A divided Opposition is President Moi's best guarantee of remaining in the State House, and his recent simple manoeuvre of offering some token reforms has yet again split his opponents asunder. That, plus the inevitable sprinkling of bribes, should ensure his re-election.

The real question is whether President Moi will use his last term of office to leave behind the inheritance of a prosperous, cohesive democracy, or the same monument to human greed as Mobutu did—a billion-dollar Swiss bank account. The abuse of human rights in Kenya stems from a regime that will do almost anything to sustain itself in power in order to be able to continue to plunder the country's resources.

Corruption is the motivating force for denial of and attacks on human rights in Kenya's beautiful but unhappy country. The corruption of the regimes of Mobutu and Moi, denounced by their own people as Moi-butu, is on such a scale and so all-pervasive in the system of government that we have been prompted to coin a new political term for such rule. Instead of democracy or aristocracy, the states have developed a kleptocracy: a system of government whose main purpose appears to be the plundering of the nation's resources by a kleptomaniac ruler—a kleptocrat.

The massive scale of corruption in Kenya has almost been counter-productive, as in recent months international donors have increasingly frozen or withdrawn support, and the Kenyan currency has spiralled downwards. On 31 July, the International Monetary Fund suspended its $220 million loan programme to Kenya in the face of not only the refusal of Moi's Government to act against corruption but the direct involvement of members of the Government in corrupt practices.

The corrupt scams become increasingly bizarre. In one recent notorious scam called the Goldenberg scandal, implicating Saitoti, Moi's Vice-President, huge subsidies were gained from the Government to support the export of gold and diamonds by individuals associated with the Government. The only problem with that worthy policy is that there are no gold or diamond mines in Kenya from which to export. An honest customs commissioner tried to close a similar con on sugar importation, and was sacked by the President himself.

The latest Nairobi fashion in corruption is land-grabbing, which involves the simple appropriation of publicly owned land by corrupt politicians and civil servants. In Nairobi and other towns, public parks and gardens, school playgrounds and even graveyards have been allocated to individuals well connected to the ruling elite. While that theft is going on, the country's infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly. Many people go hungry and are uneducated, ill-clothed and unhealthy, while the tragedy of street children multiplies.

What can we do to help? Our new Government can serve in the coming period as a true friend of the Kenyan people. First, in the run-up to the elections in December, we should continue—as I know my right hon. and hon. Friends have done—to impress on the Kenyan Government in the strongest possible terms the need for abuses of human rights to stop, and the importance of fair elections in a climate free from violence and intimidation.

Secondly, we should review the adequacy of the scale of assistance that we are providing through non-governmental organisations which perform the task of monitoring elections. Thirdly, we should join other international donors, including the United States and the IMF, in an approach to the Kenyan Government to agree new ground rules on human rights, corruption and poverty elimination before loan facilities are renewed.

Finally, we should commence the process of redirecting all bilateral aid to Kenya through NGOs rather than the Kenyan Government, and review procedures for ensuring financial probity in all the assistance that we provide to Kenyan organisations.

Many of us were inspired by the original Mau Mau struggle and the ideals that they developed. I dream of a return to the ideals of Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya, which were hammered out in the freedom struggle and became expressed in the concept of Ujamaa, when Kenyatta said:
"I stand for the purposes of human dignity and freedom and for the values of tolerance and peace."
I believe that our Government should assist the Kenyan people in standing once again for those virtues.

1.42 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) on securing this debate, and thank him and the Minister for allowing me to make a modest contribution in the short time available. I also thank my hon. Friend for referring in the House to Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya, two heroes of African post-colonial politics.

I, too, am a long-standing friend, both of the people of Kenya and of their country. That friendship goes back 18 years, to when, as a teenager, I was a volunteer teacher in two Harambee schools. My hon. Friend mentioned the Mzungu community. I was a white teacher in that community—"Mimi mwalimu mzungu".

Since then, I have visited the country several times. I went back with my wife on our honeymoon, and returned shortly afterwards to take her to one of the schools at which I taught. Over the intervening decade, the school had changed from a single block in a mud-hut village with just a salt-water well to a multiple block in a village that had tap water—supplied through the international community.

From my very first time in Kenya, I was concerned about the lack of democracy. The first time that I was there, Oginga Odinga, the former Vice-President, was effectively in domestic exile. Shortly afterwards, leading literary figures, such as Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, were forced into real exile. On our honeymoon, we flew into a curfew in Nairobi, such was the political pressure for democracy and the resistance to it. More recently, I too have seen on television from these shores the savagery with which the pro-democracy demonstrators have been treated.

Those experiences lie behind a number of written questions that I have tabled in order to test exactly the Government's attitude in foreign policy to what we see in Kenya. Are we providing military or other assistance to the existing regime? What measures are we taking in our ethical foreign policy to ensure that pressure is brought to bear to bring democracy to true fruition?

I must say that I am slightly concerned by some of the answers that I have received, which do not reveal exactly what military assistance we have been giving, but do reveal that, notwithstanding what appear to be human rights abuses, we are still treating the country as eligible to receive military training at the very least.

I press the Minister to confirm that our ethical human rights policy is what it proclaims to be: that we will be led by the guiding light of human rights; that we will look cautiously at applications for military assistance; that we will do what we can to support the pro-democracy movement; and that, in particular, we will be vigilant in monitoring the progress in the lead-up to the elections on 29 December to ensure that there is no intimidation and the democratic process works properly and fulsomely, so that we can restore Kenya to the kind of country that Tom Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta wished it to be.

1.45 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) on introducing this very important debate. It could not be more timely, given the impending presidential and parliamentary elections in Kenya.

I congratulate my hon. Friends on expressing the great affection—it is important that the House expresses such affection—in which Kenya and the Kenyan people are held by hon. Members and British people generally. It is important that that message is given, because it is important that we do not send a mixed signal about our ambitions and intent.

Our relations with Kenya are obviously long-standing. It is a measure of the importance that we as a country—and certainly the Government—attach to Kenya that, on my first official visit to Africa in June, not long after our general election, I decided to visit Kenya.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington gave a graphic account of the criticisms made of the Kenyan Government's human rights abuses. Indeed, earlier in the year and again in September, Amnesty International launched a document in which it went into considerable detail about its concerns. My hon. Friend has already cited some examples, such as the questions of arbitrary detention, killings by the police, detention without trial and numerous other grave and serious charges to which the Kenyan Government have to respond.

I raised such issues when I visited Kenya. I specifically raised Amnesty International's manifesto with the Attorney-General, Mr. Wako, and President Moi himself. The key points in the manifesto were the need for legal reform, the end to indefinite detention without trial, the need for reform of the press and media and the judicial system, an end to torture and ill-treatment of prisoners—an argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington made forcefully—and action on police killings. There is a legitimate demand that lethal force be countenanced only when unavoidable in order to protect lives.

At that time, and since that time, the Government have pressed all concerned on those issues and, more generally, on the need to avoid confrontation and to resolve differences—there are real differences in Kenyan society—through dialogue and not by resorting to violence.

We have called consistently for free and fair elections. We knew that the electoral cycle in Kenya meant that elections would have to take place this year, or possibly early next year. We have said specifically that free and fair elections are ones in which all those who want to vote can exercise that choice freely, all those who want to stand have the opportunity to do so, the electorate have access to the candidates through the media to help them to make their choice, and people can come together freely in support of the candidates of their choice.

The donor community—the Europeans, the United States and the Japanese—have made it clear that such conditions are necessary for proper elections. We have been consistent in our demand that that process take place.

The elections that have been announced are a great opportunity for the Kenyan people to take control of the destiny of their country. The election takes place against a backdrop of laws that have made the electoral process a subject of concern. The elections held in 1992 were widely seen not to have come up to the standards that we demand. The saving grace is that they were the first multi-party elections after a long period of one-party rule. We must insist that the elections this time are fought and won on a more acceptable basis than those of five years ago.

During the summer, there was considerable violence, much of it no doubt related to the anticipation of elections. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to several specific incidents, including that in the Anglican cathedral and another in which Paul Muite and Nengi Muigai, both of whom I know personally, were subjected to violent attack. We have made it clear to the Kenyan Government that we abhor violence from Opposition figures, state institutions or the Government's supporters. It has no place in Kenyan society.

I spoke at length with Church leaders when I was in Kenya, urging them to continue to play a constructive role, as they seek to do. Their initiative brought the different sides together to form the inter-parties parliamentary group. That has had positive results.

On 7 November, Parliament and the President approved three important reform Bills. One removed the principal legal instrument that has been used to harass Opposition politicians—the Public Order Act. When I was Opposition spokesman, I had direct experience of the operation of that Act, when a meeting that I was supposed to address was cancelled arbitrarily and at short notice. That did not ultimately prevent the meeting, but the intention was certainly to disrupt and reduce the audience.

I welcome the abandonment of that Act, which means that political meetings no longer require a licence. That takes them outside the immediate control of those with a political incentive. There is now simply a requirement to notify the police of public rallies.

The Preservation of Public Security Act has also been amended, removing the provisions for detention without trial, as has the penal code, with the replacement of the sedition laws, which had been used to prevent freedom of expression and to intimidate Opposition politicians. Importantly for the coming election, the constitutional provision preventing coalition government has now been changed.

We note the commitment of the Kenyan Government to allowing equitable access to publicly funded media. All parties must have access to the radio, in particular, to ensure free and fair elections. When the election was announced, we issued a statement calling for a peaceful election and insisting that all parties and candidates of national status should have access to the media on a fair basis, particularly to the radio.

We also note that a law has been passed to establish a constitutional review commission, which will draw from diverse sections of Kenyan society, with a two-year timetable to draw up fundamental reforms to present to Parliament.

We are not sanguine about the process. We do not think that it goes far enough. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to the unacceptable continued refusal to register Safina as a political party. There can be no place in a democratic system for parties being arbitrarily forbidden to contest elections.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised that with the Kenyan Foreign Minister as recently as the Edinburgh Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in October. I am writing once again to the Kenyan Government, asking them to allow an urgent appeal against that refusal. I do not know whether that will be possible in time for the forthcoming election, but, if not, that will be a severe blot on the credibility of the election.

We shall follow the election campaign closely. The Department for International Development, together with the Swedes, the Danes and the Dutch, is jointly financing a $1.5 million project to help independent Kenyan non-governmental organisations to observe the elections. Those bodies include the National Council for Churches, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and the Institute for Education in Democracy. We have also seconded staff to the international secretariat in Nairobi, which will co-ordinate the monitoring of the electoral process from start to finish. The election is important. The world has an interest in ensuring that it is fought on a free and fair basis.

We shall continue to be critical of all human rights abuses. We know about the problem of persistent police brutality. We recognise the evidence of tortures and deaths of prisoners and detainees and of excessive violence in crowd control, arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings. I have raised those issues with the Kenyan Attorney-General on at least two occasions. We shall continue to criticise excessive police violence, particularly incidents such as those of 7 July and 15 October. I wrote to the President about our concerns at that time, and the Foreign Secretary has raised the issues with the Kenyan Foreign Ministry.

Against that background, the Department for International Development is considering funding training courses for the Kenyan police. I want to disabuse my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough of his concerns. There are 4,000 British troops in Kenya on their own training exercises. We are simply using the training facilities offered by the Kenyans.

The only training that we offer the Kenyans is not on civilian control, but on peacekeeping duties on a wider basis throughout Africa. There is no large-scale military training programme that might give him concerns—which we would share. We are not training an armed force that is out of control.

I should add that the Kenyan army has a remarkably high standard of discipline, and there is little evidence of it being involved in the abuses that have been referred to.

The concerns are specifically related to the Kenyan police and its training.

The police training that we have provided has been limited to a training scheme for senior management, which includes a human rights component. We believe that that helps to improve the quality of the Kenyan police. The Department for International Development is considering a human rights training scheme, which we hope will focus on improving the human rights attitudes of the Kenyan police. We shall monitor how that works out. Those are important initiatives.

We look forward to the election. It is a new chapter in Kenya's history. We hope that it will be a multi-party election fought on a proper democratic basis. It is not for the British Government to choose the winners. It is up to us to work with whoever wins the election and to ensure that action is taken on corruption, an end to which is vital for the long-term economic future of Kenya, and human

rights abuses, on which the Kenyan Government are bound under international obligations to make progress. More generally, there is a need for constitutional reform to give sovereignty to the Kenyan people.

My hon. Friends are right to urge the Government to play their part in pressing those issues on the Kenyan Government—the current Government and whatever Government emerges after the election. We intend to ensure that pressure is maintained on the Kenyan Government. We shall continue constructive private dialogue and, when circumstances warrant it, make public our concerns. My hon. Friends have taken part in that process.

It being before Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.