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Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What assistance they are providing to resolve the crisis in Kenya.

My Lords, UK Ministers and officials have been involved in intensive diplomatic efforts across Africa and with international partners to urge regional engagement, an end to violence and dialogue. We have given our full support to the Annan mediation mission. There can be no business as usual until the current crisis is resolved in a way that respects the democratic will of the Kenyan people. The Department for International Development has provided £2.2 million for humanitarian relief.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The problems in Kenya arose following the election on 27 December between Mr Kibaki’s PNU and Mr Odinga’s ODM. There has been tribal violence, bloodshed and disputes concerning land. There was bloodshed in Eldoret, Kisumu and the Rift Valley. What is the Minister’s assessment of the election? Does he feel that there needs to be a rerun or a government of national unity?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. The election was simply not satisfactory. Doubts are left as to the real outcome of that election and we can have no confidence in a government formed on the basis of the announced election results. The EU observers, as well as those of the Commonwealth and others, have all made it clear that the elections fell far short of acceptable international standards. The EU Commissioner Louis Michel is currently en route to Kenya to deliver the preliminary election report of those EU observers.

On the noble Lord’s second question, we think there is so much tension in the country at the moment that a rerun of the elections would be enormously dangerous. At the very minimum, a government of national unity, to be followed at some future point by further elections, seems the most likely and sensible way forward.

My Lords, I welcome the enhanced mediation process under former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the apparent acceptance by the parties that the process should be completed within seven days. Does this also imply that the parties will accept whatever verdict the Kofi Annan mediation team come up with, including a rerun of the elections at some future date? On the delivery of humanitarian relief, does the noble Lord agree that the obstruction of relief in western Kenya by the continuing violence there and the interruption of supplies from neighbouring countries through the port of Mombasa might warrant the referral of Kenya to the Security Council as a threat to peace?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes good points. First, the Annan panel has already dealt with the humanitarian issues. Both sides have committed to the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, to agree an invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to send an investigation team to visit Kenya, and to the right of freedom of expression and assembly, which led immediately to the lifting of the ban on live broadcasts. They have also committed to the need to deal with the resettlement of those displaced and the provision of adequate security. The talks have now moved on to the more difficult political issues. I spoke to Kofi Annan a few hours ago. He said that both sides had made their opening political presentations and he felt that the hard bargaining would continue this afternoon.

On the role of the Security Council, it has already made one presidential statement. Yesterday the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the council on his own visit, and that is likely to be followed by a further statement. We certainly agree that it may now become an agenda item of the council because there are significant regional implications. I was in southern Sudan last week and saw them in the increase of the price of fuel. I met President Museveni of Uganda later in the week, who confirmed that fuel and food prices in Uganda had gone up significantly, too, as a result of this crisis.

My Lords, the United Nations is engaged and senior African leaders are engaged. Does my noble friend see any role at all for the Commonwealth? Given the feeling of “winner takes all”, is there any prospect of power sharing before a possible rerun of elections?

My Lords, my noble friend rightly draws attention to the role of the Commonwealth. I have been in regular touch with Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth Secretary-General—most recently yesterday. At the moment there is room for only one negotiation, that of Kofi Annan. Obviously we are considering referring the Kenyan situation to CMAG, the ministerial committee of the Commonwealth, which deals with matters of this kind. But we want first to see the outcome of the Annan negotiations. Certainly there will be a role for the Commonwealth in supporting the strengthening of the Electoral Commission, and perhaps even the strengthening of the justice system, both of which are critical if confidence in government institutions is to be restored.

My Lords, I am glad to hear the Minister say that he thought the tensions were so great that, for the time being, talking of a further rerun of the election would not be practical. Does he agree that there has been a tendency, particularly in the British press, to take sides and to depict Mr Raila Odinga as the wronged party, whereas, of course, there is major skulduggery on both sides? Therefore, would he counsel that we not only avoid taking sides but that we avoid any further encouragement of massive demonstrations, as some of us argued from the start, because such demonstrations lead yet again to more bloodshed and more horror and that the concentration should be, as he rightly says, on urging some kind of government coalition and coming together of the two parties, so that they can counsel both of their tribal followers—Luo and Kikuyu—to stop killing each other?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct. In a situation in which 1,000 have been killed and 300,000 displaced, it seems inappropriate to move immediately to elections. There needs to be a cooling-off period. Trust needs to be restored. While the conduct of the election is the immediate trigger to the violence, there are underlying causes and, I suspect, as the noble Lord suggests, certainly plenty of blame to be attributed to both sides. Hence the importance of an investigation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and of a truth and reconciliation commission to assign blame where blame is due.