Human Rights Developments
The human rights situation in Kenya deteriorated seriously in 1990, with the government arresting, detaining and sometimes torturing human rights advocates and proponents of multiparty democracy. The year began with clergymen, lawyers and opposition politicians, encouraged by changes in Eastern Europe, discussing the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in Kenya. In June, President Daniel arap Moi abruptly ordered the debate to end. He threatened to hunt down supporters of a multiparty system "like rats."
Meanwhile, Cabinet ministers and ruling party officials called on supporters to take violent action against those advocating political reform. One Minister urged government backers to cut off the fingers of people flashing two raised fingers -- a sign of support for a two-party system. Two prominent figures died under suspicious circumstances in which it was widely believed that the government played a role. In February, Kenya's Foreign Minister, Dr. Robert Ouko, reputed to be out of favor with President Moi, was murdered. The perception of government involvement was reinforced by its refusal to release a Scotland Yard report which, under pressure, it had commissioned. In August, Bishop Alexander Muge, who had recently denounced the government, was publicly warned by the Minister of Labor that if he visited the Minister's constituency, he would not leave alive. Muge did visit the district and was killed in a car accident as he was leaving.
Having banned three publications in 1988 and 1989, the government intensified its campaign against the Nairobi Law Monthly, one of the few remaining press outlets willing to criticize the country's drift toward dictatorship. On several occasions, the Special Branch threatened and later arrested the magazine's editor, Gitobu Imanyara, a nonpracticing attorney. In September, the Attorney General banned the magazine, making possession a criminal offense. When the magazine's lawyer won a temporary stay of the banning order pending a full hearing by the High Court, he was charged with contempt of court in an unrelated matter.
In early July, the government denied a permit for a rally calling for the restoration of multiparty democracy. As a result, the principal organizers, two former Cabinet ministers, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, issued a public statement that the rally would not take place. Just prior to the originally scheduled date, however, the government arrested and detained the two ex-ministers, along with Raila Odinga, the son of a former Vice President and a former long-term political prisoner. The detentions were imposed under Kenya's Preservation of Public Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without charge or trial. Detention orders were also issued for two human rights lawyers, Mohammed Ibrahim and Dr. John Khaminwa, as well as for editor Gitobu Imanyara, all of whom were held without charge or trial.
At the time, Gibson Kamau Kuria, an internationally recognized human rights lawyer, went into hiding to avoid arrest. When he appeared at the US Embassy, Ambassador Smith Hempstone granted him refuge and facilitated his departure from the country. Paul Muite, another prominent human rights attorney, went into hiding for nearly three weeks.
Several days after the arrests, thousands turned out to attend the canceled rally. It was forcibly broken up by police who fired on demonstrators. In protest, demonstrations and clashes occurred in several cities across the Central Province. The police and army suppressed these as well, again using indiscriminate deadly force. While the government claimed a death toll of 23, it appeared that more than 100 died as a result of military and police action. In one incident, six school children were shot dead. As many as 1000 people were arrested.
Three weeks later, in late July, the government released Ibrahim and Khaminwa. However, Imanyara was charged with sedition for publishing an issue of the Nairobi Law Monthly entitled "The Historic Debate: Law, Democracy and Multiparty Democracy in Kenya." The charges were still pending at the end of 1990. If convicted, he could be jailed for seven years.
There were other arrests of dissidents throughout the year. In March, Reverend Lawford Imunde was arrested and denied legal counsel. He was later convicted of sedition on the basis of "seditious" entries in his personal diary. In an affidavit, he stated that he had been forced to add incriminating statements to his diary, and that while in custody, and he had been beaten, kicked in the genitals and forced to take cold showers to which he was allergic.
In late June and early July, twenty-four people were arrested for the production, sale or possession of music cassettes with lyrics critical of the government.
In July, the authorities arrested four opposition figures who were charged with holding a seditious meeting: George Anyona, Ngotho Kariuki, Augustin Kathanga and Edward Oyugi. They were also charged with possessing a seditious publication -- an issue of Africa Confidential. According to their lawyers, they were beaten, interrogated while naked by female officers, and kept in water-logged cells.
In early October, the government announced the arrest in Nairobi of Koigi wa Wamwere, a former Member of Parliament who had been living in exile in Norway. Wamwere was allegedly associated with an illegal opposition movement, the Kenya Patriotic Front. The authorities claimed that he had returned to Kenya to incite violence. There were credible reports that in fact he had been abducted from a neighboring country.
Special Branch officers arrested two prominent human rights attorneys as accomplices of Wamwere: Mirugi Kariuki and Rumba Kinuthia. Kariuki had been tortured while in detention between 1986 and 1989. The government claimed that he was arrested this time with a cache of arms and ammunition. His wife issued a press release denying these allegations and expressing concern for her husband's well-being. Africa Watch is unaware of any government statement about Kinuthia's arrest. According to their lawyers, both Kariuki and Kinuthia were tortured in custody and may have been forced to sign confessions. They have been indicted for treason, which is a capital offense in Kenya. At the same time, the Kenyan government began picking up various people for questioning.
The government also promoted ethnic tensions by fanning resentment against the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group, accusing them of supporting multiparty democracy for ulterior political motives. By making direct reference to the experience of the Ibo tribe, who suffered brutally during the civil war in Nigeria, KANU officials attempted both to intimidate those Kikuyu advocating a multiparty system and to incite hatred against them among members of other ethnic groups. This occurred at the same time that President Moi justified the government's resistance to a multiparty system because of the dangers of "tribalism."
Also of concern to Africa Watch, the government in November 1989 instituted a "screening" procedure requiring all Kenyans of ethnic Somali origin and all Somali nationals living in Kenya to carry a special card that identifies them as being of ethnic Somali origin or a Somali national. They are eligible to receive state-supplied services as well as to obtain authorization for internal and external travel only if they produce this card.
Many Kenyans of ethnic Somali origin and many Somalis who had fled to Kenya from the war in Somalia were forced to seek refuge abroad in 1990, and a large number fled to Tanzania or Burundi, where many were detained, or to Somalia, where the Kenyan citizens found themselves stateless. At least 2,000 Kenyan citizens of Somali origin were deported to Somalia and suffered great physical hardship. As of September, they were living in the compound of the Ministry of the Interior in Mogadishu. They had no recognized legal status, either as legitimate refugees or citizens of either country. They were not receiving adequate humanitarian assistance.
On October 16, President Moi announced that all Rwandese refugees would have to leave the country. He claimed that Rwandese refugees were using Kenya as a base for subversive activities -- a direct reference to the October invasion of Rwanda by rebels based in Uganda. On October 22, he extended the order to Ugandan refugees. The exact number of refugees forcibly repatriated is not known, but by December at least 1,000 were known to have reached the Ugandan border in a specially assigned train. Many Ugandans were rounded up in Kenya by police and members of the youth wing of the ruling party. These actions were in clear breach of the Kenyan government's obligations under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Kenya is a party; Article 32 guarantees refugees the protection of due process of law before repatriation, and Article 33 prohibits forcible refoulement except when a refugee has been convicted of a serious crime endangering the community.
Despite some important contributions during the first half of the year, the Bush administration's record on human rights in Kenya later in the year was decidedly mixed. While Ambassador Smith Hempstone made a number of public pronouncements in support of multiparty democracy, and the State Department issued timely statements condemning the July arrests, the Bush administration in the ensuing months resisted congressional efforts to cut aid to Kenya on human rights grounds, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen took an unjustifiably accomodating stance toward the Moi government.
During the multiparty debate, Ambassador Hempstone encouraged the restoration of multiparty democracy by announcing in a speech before Kenyan businessmen that in the future US foreign assistance would be allocated to countries that "nourish democratic institutions, defend human rights and practice multiparty politics." The message was not lost on either the government or the people of Kenya. The ambassador also hosted gatherings at the embassy, where human rights activists and proponents of multiparty rule were often invited.
Hempstone's statements and actions provoked scathing condemnation from Kenyan authorities. The official Kenya News Agency released a statement accusing the embassy of "gross interference in the internal affairs of Kenya." It charged: "Under the pretext of concern for free expression and plural politics the Embassy of the United States of America has attempted to dictate to the people what choices this country should make in her politics." The Kenya Times, the KANU-owned newspaper, published a front-page editorial condemning Ambassador Hempstone, headlined "Shut up, Mr. Ambassador." During the July crackdown, Ambassador Hempstone's sheltering of Gibson Kamau Kuria resulted in even more vitriolic attacks.
The July arrests of Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia prompted the State Department to issue strong statements condemning the regime's actions. One such statement read:
This statement sent a timely and clear signal of support for those pressing for a multiparty political system.
Unfortunately, the message that the administration delivered publicly in the months following the crackdown downplayed human rights concerns. Prominent members of Congress wrote Secretary of State James Baker requesting that all military aid and development assistance be suspended. The State Department responded by announcing that Assistant Secretary Cohen would visit Nairobi to express US concerns. Meanwhile, the administration attempted to stave off any action on Kenya's aid. On July 5, one day after the crackdown, the administration signed an agreement to release $5 million in military aid previously appropriated by Congress. Under pressure from Congress later in July, the administration put a freeze on the aid.
The administration sent other mixed signals. On July 30, Ambassador Hempstone participated in a public "signing ceremony" of a US-Kenyan food aid agreement which was reported as a "landmark in US relations with Kenya." Hempstone noted that the aid agreement (which represented a change by providing $10 million of food aid in grant rather than loan form) "is not only the first time the US has provided such a grant to Kenya, but it is also the first time we have made such a commitment to any African country."
Arriving in Nairobi in early August, Assistant Secretary Cohen made no public criticism of the July crackdown and generally minimized US support for political pluralism and human rights. When asked about US backing for multiparty democracy, Cohen chose to emphasize the KANU Review Committee, formed to make minimal changes in ruling-party procedures without breaking KANU's monopoly on political power. He went on to ask: "Who are we [the US] to say that this [multiparty democracy] is best for everybody?" During the visit, he did not meet any human rights advocates or relatives of political detainees. In regard to the detentions, Secretary Cohen claimed that he had "discussed recent events in Kenya" but that he was "not at liberty" to reveal what Moi had said about them.
Cohen's visit strengthened President Moi's hand at a time of mounting international pressure for Kenya to democratize, sending a clear message that the US was not going to press human rights concerns. This stance only helped to facilitate the serious deterioration of respect for human rights that followed. On Cohen's return to Washington, according to congressional sources, the administration lobbied against any reduction in aid to Kenya.
This more accomodating posture toward Moi was maintained throughout the remainder of 1990. When the Nairobi Law Monthly was banned, the Bush administration did issue a public protest, but used considerably weaker language than in July, expressing only "regret." The administration said nothing about the October arrests, and continued to emphasize the hoped-for reforms from the KANU Review Committee rather than the introduction of a multiparty system.
While not significantly reducing the amount of aid going to Kenya in fiscal year 1991, Congress, for the first time, attached certain human rights conditions to the military appropriations component. Under the terms of the 1991 legislation, the President will be required to certify that certain human rights conditions have been met if Kenya is to receive the $15 million in military assistance that was appropriated. Among the conditions, the Kenyan government must: charge and try or release all prisoners, including detainees; stop the mistreatment of prisoners; restore the independence of the judiciary; and permit freedom of expression. Such legislation is clearly a positive way of addressing aid, but given the administration's past forebearance toward abuses by the Kenyan government, scrutiny should be maintained to avoid an unjustified certification. In November, three senators visited Nairobi and warned the government that aid would be cut if the country's human rights performance did not improve.
The Work of Africa Watch
Concerned about the mounting abuses, Africa Watch publicized these developments, pressed for US insistence on respect for human rights, and attempted to generate as much protection as possible for the human rights advocates under fire.
In early 1990, Africa Watch published two newsletters on the deteriorating human rights situation, focusing on the political crackdown and the government's efforts against the Nairobi Law Monthly. In September, another newsletter drew attention to the screening of ethnic Somalis. Africa Watch also issued a series of press releases protesting such events as the arrest of Gitobu Imanyara, the banning of the Nairobi Law Monthly, and a visit by British MPs who praised the Kenyan government's record on human rights.
In April and May, when Gitobu Imanyara visited Great Britain and the United States, Africa Watch helped to introduce him to journalists, editors and US congressional staff. These contacts proved invaluable when Imanyara was repeatedly arrested in July and August.
Africa Watch protested the July crackdown and hosted a visit by Gibson Kamau Kuria and Kiraitu Murungi when they went into exile. Murungi, another prominent Kenyan human rights lawyer and a law partner of Kamau Kuria, avoided arrest only because he happened to be out of the country at the time of the crackdown. The two human rights lawyers visited Africa Watch's London, Washington and New York offices, where they made contact with a range of potential supporters.
Africa Watch published an article in the Nairobi Law Monthly criticizing Assistant Secretary Cohen's failure to raise human rights concerns publicly during his visit to Kenya, as well as his efforts to distance himself from the human rights community. Another Africa Watch article published in Africa Report in November also criticized administration policy.
Africa Watch wrote an article published in The Nation in August expressing regret that Nelson Mandela had failed to speak out on behalf of detainees during a visit to Kenya. Several other articles written by Africa Watch were devoted to highlighting the plight of detained Kenyan lawyers and appeared in Legal Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Journalism Review and the Connecticut Law Review. Efforts were made to mobilize bar groups to send letters of concern to President Moi.