Kenya is the richest country in East Africa, and it has a relatively peaceful history compared to its neighbors. It is a strategic ally of the United States and European Union in the war on terrorism and serves as a negotiator among the warring factions in Sudan and Somalia. Many international institutions, foreign media organizations, and non-governmental organizations have their regional headquarters in Nairobi. But in spite of its generally positive history of international relations, the Kenyan government under President Moi has frustrated donors with its "stop-and-go" record on fighting corruption, mismanagement, and human rights abuses. Heading into the election, donors, like many Kenyans, look forward to a change of leadership.
Donors share concerns about such human rights violations as police abuse, corruption in the judiciary, mistreatment of prisoners, torture, vigilantism, and gender inequity. They recognize that many abuses occur not so much as a matter of government policy, as in some other African countries, but as a result of patronage, overweening presidential power, and weak governance.
In the 1990s, twenty-six diplomatic missions in Kenya formed a consortium, known as the Democratic Development Group, to divide up responsibilities and speak more or less with one voice on their policy toward Kenya. With varying intensity, they call for economic restructuring, the expansion of civil society, and a sincere effort in the fight against corruption.
Most foreign donors continue to support programs in community development, education, health care, AIDS research, and gender equity. During the past three years, they have also been active in the area of good governance. The Democratic Development Group has initiated a number of programs to support democracy: the National Civic Education Program (NCEP) described above; Engendering the Political Process (EPP), a program to encourage the political participation of women; the Domestic Observation Program of Kenya (DOP-K), which provides election observers; the Donor Information Center for Elections (DICE-K), an information clearinghouse which will make the findings of the DOP observers available to the public; and the Central Depository Unit, which monitors and documents election-related abuses and violence.
At the same time, the government criticizes the donors for meddling in Kenya's internal affairs. During the past decade, several donors, including the U.K., Belgium, and the Netherlands, have joined with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut or suspend financial support to the government because of corruption. In January 2000, the IMF and World Bank refused to disburse a loan package of nearly U.S.$350 million until the Kenyan government established a permanent, independent, anti-corruption authority and took sincere steps to prosecute significant graft cases. These conditions have not yet been met. Indeed, Kenya's legendary corruption reached inside the World Bank itself. In May 2002, the World Bank officer in charge of Kenya's roads program pleaded guilty to bribery. Earlier this year, three employees of the Nairobi office of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees were charged with accepting bribes from people seeking resettlement in third countries.61
Even though progress on reducing corruption seems to be slow, basic civil and political rights in Kenya have improved in the past decade.
"Everyone is better off today than ten years ago," said U.S. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, speaking of human rights. Donors' support for civil society groups has helped, he claimed.62 Since 1990, the U.S. has pressured Kenya to become more democratic. Most recently, when some members of the ruling party tried to extend Moi's term in June 2002, Carson and other ambassadors made it clear that they were firmly opposed to this, and KANU backed down.
Unlike some other donors, the U.S. has not reduced aid to Kenya. In fact, largely because of the war on terror, US support for Kenya rose in 2002, to more than U.S.$53 million, and additional funds were requested for anti-terrorism efforts along Kenya's borders. Carson said the U.S. does not overlook human rights abuses in return for support on the war on terror, adding that building strong institutions is the best way to protect against terrorism.63
So far, donor support for good governance in Kenya has mainly gone to non-governmental groups. However, a multi-donor subgroup led by the U.S. and U.K. is beginning to support parliamentary and judicial reform as well, mostly by providing advisers and seminars. In particular, donors increasingly recognize that aid agreements that directly affect the lives of millions of people have in the past been drawn up behind closed doors between the ruling party and the donors. There is a growing awareness that Parliament, which is more independent of the executive than it was even a few years ago, should be more involved in government decision making. The U.K. provided support to a group of MPs who submitted legislation to establish a parliamentary budget office that would scrutinize government spending; however, the legislation did not pass.
U.S. trade with Kenya rose in 2002, largely because Kenya is one of the countries receiving benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Kenyan textile exports to the U.S., for example, rose by 75 percent in the first six months of 2002, compared to the first six months of 2001. Otherwise, Kenya's foreign investment and trade have declined in the past few years.
One exception is the flower trade, which is largely in the hands of British and Dutch companies. Kenyan businessmen also own some flower farms. Human rights activists claim that working conditions on Kenya's vast flower farms are very poor. Wages are extremely low, and many workers are employed on a casual basis, without benefits or job security. The flowers are grown under large tents, and workers are exposed to concentrated chemical fumes that they say could be dangerous. The companies are worried that the workers' concerns could spark a boycott of Kenyan flowers in Europe, and they have formed an association to impose uniform standards on working conditions on the farms and communicate with the public. Rights groups are continuing to monitor the situation.
Donors should continue to support human rights groups in Kenya, particularly those involved in civic education. But they must also work harder to improve the accountability and integrity of Kenya's governmental institutions. They must focus not only on corruption in those institutions that might be involved in laundering money for terrorists, or that could threaten their own loans and investments. They must also focus more aggressively on corruption in those institutions that threaten the rights of ordinary Kenyans, including the police, the prisons, and the Ministry of Lands. Finally, donors need to help the new government find imaginative solutions to Kenya's considerable economic problems. Foreign investors have been leaving in droves for years, even though the country has one of the most buoyant private sectors in Africa. At the moment, there is a tendency to see Kenya's dire economic condition as entirely the fault of Moi and the corrupt system he has created. However, it is not clear that rapid economic growth will resume as soon as Moi steps down. Land shortages, staggering urban unemployment, and a manufacturing sector weakened by smuggling and foreign competition are challenges that any new leader will face.