Previous Section Index Home Page

Meg Munn: We believe that that possibility needs to be discussed properly. The two leaders need to agree on
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1110
the mediation process and constitutional and electoral reform need to be considered. It is not for us to say at this point whether there should be further elections. That is a matter for discussion. The African Union delegation and the panel of eminent persons that I mentioned will go to Kenya to talk to the leaders and consider those issues. We must support that process.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I am listening with great interest to the Minister’s comments. Of course, the political issues are important, but the humanitarian ones are even more so. It has repeatedly been claimed by UN observers, independent charity workers and local Kenyans that aid dispatched from the west is not getting through to the people who need it, but is being siphoned off corruptly. Is there more that the Government could do to help to prevent that?

Meg Munn: We have considered carefully for some time the long-term issue of corruption. For that reason, we try to ensure that our aid is delivered through organisations that are not part of the Kenyan Government. We continue to support all efforts to tackle corruption, as we have done for many years. On the subject of the current situation, the UK and the EU are considering whether they should stop the aid that they provide because of corruption. We need to look at the right way to ensure that humanitarian relief reaches Kenya.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the safe delivery of aid poses considerable difficulties. All the aid agencies do the best that they can to ensure that help gets to those who need it, particularly when the social situation deteriorates because of the political situation. He is right to be concerned about the plight of ordinary people and the humanitarian crisis, but we also know that the resolution of the political situation and a move towards an agreed solution will help the humanitarian situation. That is why I have placed such emphasis on talking about all the issues, in particular ethnically motivated violence, which is a cause for great concern. Kenya had turned from such violence and its re-emergence poses a risk. The sooner that we have an agreed mediation process and move forward on the subject of constitutional and electoral reform, the better it will be for the humanitarian situation described by the hon. Gentleman.

In the longer term, we have to see institutional reform because that will reduce the risks of the events of late December being repeated. Sufficient checks should be put in place to allow Kenyan people to restore their faith in democracy and their trust in the electoral system. We hope that the panel will help Kenya’s leaders to examine how the crucial elements of constitutional reform can be fast-tracked. Changes that spread executive power and patronage more widely could reduce the winner-takes-all nature of the presidential election. They would reduce the temptations to cheat or resort to violence.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Will the Minister enlighten me on the subject of whether teams of observers were present during the conduct of the elections? If we have to have more elections, can we ensure that even more observers are present?

Meg Munn: Indeed there were. It is interesting to note that the previous elections had gone well and it
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1111
had been considered whether, on this occasion, observers needed to be sent. They were present and reports on the elections have also been made. The Commonwealth observer group produced a report today—hon. Members will understand that I have not seen it in detail—that clearly said that the elections fell below acceptable international standards, so my hon. Friend’s point is well made.

James Duddridge: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as I appreciate that time is short. I am concerned about whether there were early indications that things were going wrong. For example, everyone whose name began with the letter O was left off the register in Nairobi. That happened well before the elections took place, and members of the second ethnic group that the President wanted to disadvantage commonly have surnames that begin with O. There were early indications of the problem, and I am concerned that they were not picked up.

Meg Munn: The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood me. I was talking in a general sense about how Kenya’s democracy had progressed. It was hoped, because of the conduct of previous elections, that the attendance of observers would not be necessary this time, but obviously the decision was made to send them. Concerns were raised by the EU election observers and other observer missions about alleged irregularities in the conduct of the elections. It is important that they are investigated fully through proper democratic and legal channels. Those early indications of the problem were taken into account.

Constitutional reform is important because it would help to ensure that Kenya’s diversity is better reflected in its Government and could strengthen the prospect of future Governments carrying the broad confidence of the Kenyan people

I call for the lifting of the ban on live media broadcasts in Kenya and for respect for the right to peaceful assembly. It is important that all people have an outlet through which to express their views, and that the media can report objectively on events in Kenya. We hope quickly to establish the basis for restoring stability in Kenya and regaining the trust of its people in how they are governed. Until that happens, it cannot be business as usual. The United States and the EU made that clear in statements released over the weekend. The Department for International Development is keeping our development aid programme for Kenya under close review.

All Kenya’s leaders need to overcome their divisions, to engage in a genuine process of reconciliation and to agree on a way to govern that reflects the democratic will of the Kenyan people. The Kenyan people, Kenya’s business community and its international partners have had their confidence in the Government of Kenya damaged over the past three weeks. Kenya’s politicians will have to work hard to win back that trust. Let us hope that the swearing-in on Tuesday of Kenya’s 10th Parliament, the election of which broadly carried greater confidence in the eyes of observers, and the successful election of a Speaker and deputy Speaker will be a first step on that path.

17 Jan 2008 : Column 1112
1.27 pm

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): This is the first time that I have participated in one of the new topical debates. I suppose it is the parliamentary version of speed dating, in which speakers have to make an impact straight away.

I welcome the opportunity to evaluate the efforts that have been made so far to restore calm in Kenya since the crisis erupted more than three weeks ago. The initial outbreak of widespread violence and displacement has lessened, although, of course, confrontations are still going on between protestors and the Kenyan security forces. As the Minister said, some 250,000 people remain displaced and at serious risk of violence, intimidation, hunger and disease. Increasingly, there are worrying signs of tribal and ethnic divisions. The crisis has not been resolved, and although we hope that a compromise will be reached between the two main political contenders, there is a danger that the situation could get much worse.

In the short time that I have been allocated, I want to put a series of questions to the Minister. She might not be able to cover them all when she winds up the debate, but if that is the case, perhaps she will take the opportunity to write to me later.

It is still far from clear what happened during the contested elections. Does the Minister agree that the publication of a full report by the EU monitoring mission would be helpful? Is such a report being prepared and when might it be published? Is there any evidence that the initial violence following the election, which was initiated by Mr. Odinga’s supporters, was premeditated rather than spontaneous? I do not ask that question lightly, but some friends in Kenya have told me that there is a strong feeling in the country that the violence was more premeditated than spontaneous.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The observer from this country who was in Kenya as part of the Commonwealth mission said that translations of vernacular radio broadcasts had been obtained and that they showed that the Orange Democratic Movement had appealed for violence, both before and after the election.

Mr. Simpson: I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention. I have no definitive knowledge of that, but perhaps the Minister will be able to enlighten us.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Kenyan police of using live ammunition to disperse protestors and looters, killing and wounding dozens. Have the Government been able to confirm such reports, and have strong representations been made to the Kenyan authorities about them? Will the Minister confirm reports that the Kenyan Government are maintaining the suspension of news broadcasts? Have the Government protested about such actions? Will the Minister confirm that the UK has urged the two leaders to meet? What is her understanding of their continued refusal to do so? Are they genuinely at odds, or are they looking for reasons not to meet, in the hope of gaining an advantage one way or the other?

Crucial during this period of instability is the Kenyan army. I taught some of the young men in it when they were officer cadets, and they have a very
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1113
good reputation for being highly professional. Does the Minister believe that the army’s cohesion and discipline have been threatened by the crisis? Can the army be relied on to remain outside politics?

As the Minister said, it is clear that international efforts have not yet had a significant impact on the crisis. Have Ministers spoken to Mr. Annan, and can the Minister shed any light on what sort of compromise plans he is prepared to propose? What plans are there for further African or international mediation if the Annan initiative does not make progress? What options does she believe the international community has to put pressure on President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to agree a power-sharing arrangement?

Will the Minister say a little more about Britain’s role? What is the background and experience of the UK high commissioner to Kenya, and how long has he been in his post? There have been reports of some differences of opinion between the UK and the US about what would be the best political arrangement to emerge out of the crisis, and in particular about the UK’s clear support for a Government of national unity. Will the Minister confirm that, and is she confident that we are working effectively with our international partners to co-ordinate a response to the crisis?

Does the Minister, or any other member of the Government, plan to visit Kenya in the near future? If so, does she believe that that would have a positive impact? Does the Minister agree that it is important that we listen to the voices of the Kenyan people? Does she accept that we should send a message of support to the population, making it clear that the international community does not back either of the contending political groups? An impression exists, rightly or wrongly, that the British Government tend to back Mr. Odinga rather than the president. I do not assert that that is the case, but it is the impression conveyed by some press outlets.

Have the Government sought contact with influential groups in the wider Kenyan society, such as the Churches, business and trade unions? In his recent statement to the House, the Foreign Secretary said that the UK would consider providing more aid, as necessary. Is the Minister confident that sufficient international aid has been dispatched to meet the immediate needs of displaced people, and are the Government considering further assistance?

Louis Michel, the EU’s Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, has warned that the EU may consider cutting long-term development aid to Kenya unless the political situation there improves. Is that something that the British Government support, and at what stage would decisions about EU aid be made?

All the matters that I have raised will need to be addressed, and Kenya will need international support to that end, but will the Minister assure the House that the Government are giving no thought whatever to the idea of imposing sanctions on the Kenyan Government—something that has been suggested by the Liberal Democrat party? Will she assure the House that the Government are considering the long-term support that should be extended to Kenya, especially as that concerns the reforms
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1114
to the electoral and judicial systems that the country will need if it is to deal with electoral disputes in the future?

I turn now to the wider ramifications of the crisis. The Opposition remain concerned about the impact on regional stability. As the Minister knows, Kenya is the transit point for a quarter of the gross domestic products of Uganda and Rwanda, for one third of the GDP of Burundi, and for the supply of many essential commodities. Many hon. Members will know that this is not just a Kenyan crisis but an east African one.

The road blocks and instability in Kenya have made it impossible to move fuel along the regular routes through east Africa. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are in close contact with the Governments of countries neighbouring Kenya? Are those countries providing good feedback? What assessment has been made of the number of Kenyans who have fled to neighbouring countries? Is humanitarian assistance reaching them, as their presence is having a major impact on the economies of the countries involved? Will the Minister confirm disturbing reports that Ugandan soldiers have been brought into Kenya, and does she agree that that would be a worrying escalation of the situation?

There have been al-Qaeda attacks and major terrorist incidents in Kenya in the past. Is there any concern that the current crisis might provide cover for an upsurge in that sort of activity, especially since al-Qaeda is known to be active in Somalia?

Kenya is an important hub for international bodies and non-governmental organisations operating across Africa. Has the crisis had any impact on their ability to operate?

In the past, Kenya has been held up as a good example of a new African country which, although not a perfect democracy, has managed to maintain many democratic institutions. Its level of violence has been lower than that experienced in many of its neighbours. The sadness is that Kenya may be joining the group of African countries that are sliding away from the democratic process. I am sure that all hon. Members would want the Government to give Kenya all possible assistance, but to make it clear to the authorities there that the UK does not back one political party over another.

1.37 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The situation in Kenya is extremely serious, for Kenyans and for black Africa as a whole. Kenya’s stability since independence has enabled it to attract inward investment in sectors such as tourism, horticulture, telecoms and banking. It is a low-income country, but not so poor as to count as one of the world’s least developed nations.

Just after the new year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by Mr. Speaker to attend the conference of Commonwealth Speakers. I was able to speak at some length with quite a few of the African Speakers and to get their views. They were extremely concerned about what was happening in Kenya, in part for the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson). Mombasa is the seaport for Uganda and Rwanda, and a great deal of the exports from Burundi also go through it. In addition, Jomo
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1115
Kenyatta airport is a regional hub for countries in sub-Saharan Africa and around the Indian ocean.

The crisis with Kenya’s stability is a problem for Africa for other reasons as well. The unexpected collapse of the rule of law in Kenya has sent a signal to investors in other parts of the world that Africa is not a safe place to do business, and that could have very serious consequences for the continent’s development.

Some people in the media and elsewhere in this country—including some Kenyan expatriates living here—have suggested that Britain should do something, such as supervising new elections. Yesterday evening, I attended a meeting on Kenya organised by the all-party group on Africa, and I heard a Kenyan expatriate call for Britain to send in the troops. The Government must be level-headed. We are not the colonial power—Kenya has been independent for almost 50 years. We would not expect to step in to manage the affairs of India, France or the United States if they faced an electoral crisis, and we should not do so in Kenya.

I support strongly the visit of John Kufuor, chairman of the African Union, which seemed at least to damp down the violence, for which we should all be grateful. I hope that Kofi Annan will soon be fit and able to visit the country and start work toward a process of reconciliation. Well respected African leaders are more likely to be able to broker some sort of settlement than a UK envoy.

Mr. Andy Reed: As always, my hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Although it is difficult in the short term not to want to do more, does he agree that it is far more important for Africa’s long-term development and stability that it and the African Union sort out the situation themselves, involving political leaders in the region in the process of bringing people together, than there be a quick fix, which is probably not possible in Kenya anyway?

Hugh Bayley: I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. We should stand with the African leaders and support their efforts.

I do not want to be prescriptive. I support mediation, but I have to say to the Minister that I doubt that a power-sharing deal would work. Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga are both strong men with enormous egos. Ten years ago, at the request of the Labour party, I went on an exercise funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to see the then opposition candidates who intended to stand against President Moi in the election before last and to ask them whether they would unite around a single candidate, to make defeat of the KANU party, which had been the ruling party of Kenya since independence, more likely.

Next Section Index Home Page