The Response of International Actors

An Example of ‘The Responsibility to Protect’

The involvement of international actors such as foreign governments, the African Union, and United Nations agencies in the recent crisis has been considerable.  They have put significant diplomatic pressure on the Kenyan government and the opposition to control violence, respect the human rights of Kenyans, and reach a political settlement. The swift and co-ordinated intervention of the African Union mediation team, headed by Kofi Annan and backed by the United Nations and select foreign governments, can be seen as a model of diplomatic action under the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ principles adopted by the UN while Kofi Annan was secretary-general.248 Indeed both Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki have praised the AU, UN, and foreign governments for their role in encouraging and facilitating the power-sharing agreement.249

However, while acknowledging this positive role, it is important to remember that foreign governments took little action in the face of consistent and chronic patterns of corruption and impunity that characterized the Moi and Kibaki administrations.  They concluded economic agreements through the IMF and World Bank and provided development assistance even while noting the “massive looting” of government funds in Kenya.250 The US reaction to the resignation of John Githongo, head of Kenya’s Anti-Corruption Commission, in February 2005, was simply to suspend aid for that Commission, a total of $2.5 million; a negligible part of the $100 million it provides annually.251

Having played a key role in bringing the parties to the table and reducing the political uncertainty in the country, international actors must now ensure that the long term causes of instability that lead to human rights violations in Kenya are addressed. Peace and justice will remain elusive unless there is sustained action to address the long-term crisis of governance that has led to rampant corruption, impunity and the denial of Kenyans’ democratic, social, and economic rights. To this end, continuing pressure on the coalition government and the parties is essential to ensure accountability for recent violence, and for previous crimes of corruption, political violence and land-grabbing, and to deliver on the promises of institutional reform.

Foreign governments, including Kenya’s neighbors among the African Union, have a duty to keep all diplomatic mechanisms on the table and to provide all necessary assistance in order to ensure that the agreement to share power works and delivers on promises to address long-running human rights violations. This will likely involve financial support for compensation funds, including land—something for which the British have a special, historical, responsibility—technical support to the police and to the Independent Review Committee on the elections; the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission; the Commission of Inquiry into the violence; and any other bodies set up as a result of the mediation.

While congratulating themselves on effective diplomatic action in this case, foreign governments should remember that decades of turning a blind eye to corruption, impunity, and mismanagement by Kenya’s governments has contributed to the recent crisis. Moreover, it seems that the Kenyan government did not expect the strong reaction of international actors to the electoral fraud. Election fraud rarely carries diplomatic consequences. In part, the audacity of the Kibaki administration in clinging to the result and the status quo, was invited by donor governments’ lukewarm defense of democratic principles and human rights in other parts of the continent.

Future development assistance, including World Bank agreements, must adhere more strictly to stated policies benchmarking non-humanitarian aid to principles of human rights and corruption. Failure to do so will only embolden Kenya’s government to do the same again. Without much tougher standards demanded from outside, the rewards of corruption and gangsterism in politics will remain financially high and the penalties comparatively few, with tragic consequences for the people of Kenya.

248 See for example the report of the Secretary General, ‘In Larger Freedom’ prepared for the 60th session of the UN general Assembly in 2005 which discusses the ‘emerging norm of the responsibility to protect’ at: (accessed March 5, 2008).

249 BBC, “Odinga pledges to rebuild Kenya,” BBC Online, February 29, 2008, (accessed February 2008).

250 BBC, “US cuts anti-corruption aid,” BBC Online, February 8, 2005, (accessed March 5, 2008).

251 Ibid. See also Jeevan Vasagar, “EU freezes £83m aid to ‘corrupt’ Kenya,” The Guardian, July 22, 2004 (accessed March 5, 2008).