Previous Section Index Home Page

If there is to be power sharing, my hon. Friend the Minister and her colleagues in Government should keep a close eye on the nature and basis of that power sharing. There is ample previous experience of coalitions
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1122
in Kenya. At best they can be inspiring and move the country forward; at worst they can be a grubby deal between politicians horse-trading power and influence. The former is needed, not the latter. We should ensure that there is a genuine sharing of power, not just a divvying-up of jobs. That is difficult under the present constitution, without certain checks and balances, with a very powerful presidency, and with the vice-presidency apparently now occupied as well.

I hope my hon. Friend and the rest of the Government will push for real transparency about who is pulling the strings. Like others, I welcome the mission by the UN and other African Heads of State. However, I notice that almost every communiqué issued refers to talks with Daniel arap Moi. Moi’s influence in connection with Kibaki is well known. He was his fund-raiser during the election campaign. This is a president who was thrown out in the previous elections for corruption on a scale that leaves most people gasping. It is important that if there is to be international confidence and transparency, the elected politicians, not those who were chucked out for corruption, are making the decisions and pulling the strings.

I ask my hon. Friend to keep a close watch on what happens with the Kenyan Parliament. When Mwai Kibaki lost the referendum on the constitution and was in difficulties, one of the responses was to put Parliament into recess and keep it there for several months. That must not happen again. I understand from reports that it is not due to sit until March. Can the Minister confirm that? If that is the case, that means that while there is unrest on the streets and there are debates about the nature of the power sharing and the future of the country, Kenyan MPs are in their constituencies, but Parliament is not sitting and holding the President and Government to account, which is really important.

The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire rightly mentioned the packing of the electoral commission; the same happened with the judiciary just before the election, when the President appointed a number of judges. People say that things should be left to the courts, but there are real fears that that is a difficult issue. I ask my hon. Friend and her colleagues to keep up the pressure on those points and provide the space and certainty so that the Kenyan people can make their own decisions on the proper way forward for their country.

I plead above all that we maintain long-term commitments to the humanitarian work and ensure that that goes through non-corrupt channels. One night I opened the Evening Standard and saw a picture of flattened parts of Kabira. I knew that a number of the children whom I had seen only a couple of weeks previously had lived there. Either those shacks—and they were terrible things—will re-emerge or the international community will say that in this day and age such housing is not appropriate and we should consider providing proper shelter there, and do the same for the other appalling slums. We should ensure that the supply lines for people’s HIV/AIDS treatment, some of which is being disrupted, are maintained. Above all, we should ensure that the children will get food.

17 Jan 2008 : Column 1123

Kenya has been a country of great wealth, dynamism and enterprise, but it has also been one of massive poverty. As other Members have said, what is happening there now is impacting grossly on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

2.12 pm

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I must admit that I am somewhat resistant to modernisation of the House, but topical debates are a brilliant idea, as a number of contributions clearly demonstrated today.

Perhaps I should not admit it as an ex-banker, but sometimes I struggle with numbers—250,000 people in Kenya have been displaced; I struggle with the enormity of that number. More than 600 people have been killed—about the same as the number of Members in this House. I think of the life of the young girl in Kenya whom my wife sponsors. She writes to us every six months about what is happening in her village, which is one of the affected areas.

To put the numbers into context, 6,000 people regularly meet at Southend United football club; 250,000 is an enormous number. The situation is horrific for Kenya, the region and the African continent generally. As one who spent a lot of time working in Africa before entering this place, I know it to be a place of great optimism and entrepreneurship. There are great business opportunities in Africa. However, every crisis there is an indicator for the uninitiated that Africa is not a safe place in which to holiday or work or to trade with. That is a complete tragedy.

A number of hon. Members have spoken about Kenya’s regional role. I, too, am deeply concerned about the links with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in respect of essential goods and petrol. The Kenyan crisis could have a severe long-term impact on the whole region. I would welcome any information that the Minister can provide on Nairobi being a financial hub for the whole region. I presume that the stock exchange is closed and that financial transactions are not taking place; if so, that will have wider impacts, beyond Nairobi.

Kenya always provided great optimism—just as, ironically, Zimbabwe did as a large, affluent country with lots of natural resources. Now, however, those are two major blights in Africa. Although we should not interfere in Kenyan affairs, we should look critically at the failure of the British Government and international institutions to spot the problems. Specifically, there were strong indications before 27 December that the elections might not be free and fair and could cause problems. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what representations the high commissioner made to the Department about the elections and their likely validity before they took place. Were there any indications that people were preparing for violence, if that was indeed premeditated?

The statistics and facts prove absolutely that the elections cannot be relied on. In some areas, 115 per cent. of the voters apparently voted. In an intervention, I mentioned the problem of the electoral register and
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1124
the manipulation that left whole tribal groups with a common name off the register. All that happened before the election, so there were early indicators that there could be major problems.

The Kenyan economy might not be fundamentally damaged. There is some cause for optimism; everyone feared that the bombs in Nairobi in 1998 and Mombasa in 2002 would bring Kenya and its tourism to a grinding halt. However, Kenya has managed to get back on its feet and attract business and tourism again. However, the country is losing £15 million a day as a result of the problems, and a country with a GDP per capita of about $500 a year cannot afford that.

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I spend a lot of time considering Africa through the prism of development and the departmental prism of the Department for International Development rather than that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There needs to be greater co-ordination between the two; it seems farcical that, as the DFID budget is rightly being ramped up and spending on governance is increasing—some of that money needs to flow through to places such as Kenya—the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, for example, is not receiving the same funding increases. Perhaps that organisation would be more effective than DFID trying to reinvent the wheel. Although I support DFID as an independent Department, perhaps there is not the co-ordination that there would have been under a single Department in respect of situations such as Kenya’s. I urge greater co-operation.

This topical debate has rightly concentrated on Kenya’s problems, but the Minister should take time to reflect on what the Department does to spot other problem areas. We often talk about the three major issues of trade, aid and conflict resolution for the developing world, but we need to consider not only post-conflict, but pre-conflict resolution. There were certain signs in Kenya that indicated that there might be social, civil and political unrest—issues of corruption, overpopulation and pressures on the land are very evident in Kenya and they are easily monitored. Corruption can be followed through the excellent organisation, Transparency International and population growth is closely monitored by a number of international organisations, including the UN. Land pressure can be monitored by looking at agricultural statistics on land yield. Surely the FCO should do some statistical modelling to note countries at risk across Africa and give greater economic, governance or political support. Indeed, extra FCO and DFID people should go to the country to try to assist.

I did not hear the Minister mention British citizens in Kenya. When my good friends Councillors Liz and Mel Day were in Kenya, their return was delayed because of the difficulties. While it is not our primary concern to worry about British citizens—and should not be, given the large numbers of people killed and displaced—there are significant issues in that regard.

Several Members mentioned the African Union, which must be the powerhouse of change and peer-to-peer review within Africa. It is not right for the UK, as an ex-colonial Government, to impose solutions, nor even for the EU or any other international organisations to do so—much better that the AU should do it. That is easy to say, but we need to
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1125
give the AU a lot more support. It would be fair to say that while Britain has encouraged the AU to act in several other countries—for example, in Zimbabwe—it does not have the momentum to be what we would call the critical friend that would allow countries to be critical of one another and say, “You’re my neighbour but what you’re doing is unacceptable.” We need to give it the confidence to be able to do that.

That said, I am optimistic. Kenya recovered from the Nairobi bombs. I wholly disagree with one aspect of the speech by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), which was very good overall. I think that imposing sanctions or travel bans now, 30 days or so after the incident, would be premature and counter-productive, even if it was the right thing to do at some point. It might be possible to resolve the situation quite quickly, and there should not be a knee-jerk reaction to these events.

Jo Swinson: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the Government already have travel bans in place for some of the individuals concerned, so it would just be an extension of that? The elections were on 27 December. The situation is escalating, so it is incredibly important that the Government bring pressure to bear now to precipitate free and fair elections.

James Duddridge: I do not accept the hon. Lady’s proposition; in fact, it might get in the way of people travelling here for international discussions about what is happening.

Other than that, it has been a good debate. I very much hope that for the young girl whom we sponsor in Kenya, and for the whole community, things get better, because it is a dire, horrific situation.

2.22 pm

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I am pleased to be able to make a brief contribution to today’s topical debate on Kenya and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge).

I have never visited the country, and therefore have no personal experience of it, although I have many friends who have visited on business or on holiday and tell me what a beautiful place it is and what great people Kenyans are. However, the results of the recent elections and the subsequent crisis remain of great concern to us all. The humanitarian issues remain tragic and the consequences are very worrying for the future. The indiscriminate violence has been appalling and still, sadly, continues. Without doubt, the top priority for Kenya’s political leaders and the international community must be to bring the murder and violence to an end. All Kenyan political leaders have an obligation, and must do everything in their power, to end the bloodshed and to start talking.

As we have heard from many Members in a very good and measured debate, Kenya has been quite different from many of its African neighbours, with relative stability. Surely compromise and all the politicians working together must now be the answer. The efforts of the African Union, the United Nations and the Commonwealth to bring political reconciliation must be supported, and I welcome what the Minister said about that in her
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1126
opening remarks. We must all be ready to assist wherever possible. I strongly support the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) in his opening speech from the Opposition Front Bench.

While accepting, as the Minister did in response to my intervention, that a political solution is vital and the way forward, the suffering of the people must not be forgotten. In the UK, we must be ready to respond to the appeals from the Kenyan Red Cross for humanitarian support. The displacement of people, the destruction of homes, the violence, the killings and the problems of so many are heart-rending, and we remember that today. The UK-based charity Merlin Relief International has stated, and I hope that the Minister will note, that it needs £300,000 to continue its work beyond the end of this month in Nyanaza province alone. What plans has the Minister made for dispatching aid, especially financial provision, to Kenya and supporting the efforts of UK charities such as Merlin and the British Red Cross? These are vital areas where we should be looking to help. Of course, the political influence that the Government can exert is very important, but the humanitarian aspect is equally so.

Kenyans complain bitterly of Government corruption, stressing that few of their own parliamentary leaders visit the poorest areas and that domestic and foreign aid packages are mis-targeted or appropriated so that they do not reach those in greatest need. Others claim that neither Kenyan nor foreign leaders fully appreciate the problems facing the common man and woman in the country. That hinders the effective application of aid packages. All the issues that have been raised today on both sides of the House have highlighted how critical the situation is, and we urge the Government to do everything possible.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: DFID’s recent policy has been, rightly, to direct aid in most cases, and wherever possible, directly through the foreign Government concerned. Does my hon. Friend agree that in this case that policy needs reassessing so that we can get money quickly to the NGOs that are involved at the sharp end? Mention has been made of AIDS, but many other health and food projects urgently need aid to get into Kenya.

Mr. Evennett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment and for his expertise on these issues. I entirely endorse what he says.

Hugh Bayley: For clarification, although DFID provides aid through the Governments of many developing countries through a process called budget support, it does not, because of corruption and for other reasons, use that as a route for delivering aid in Kenya, so it is not a problem in this case.

Mr. Evennett: I am grateful for that comment and hope that that is so.

We are all united in the belief that it is absolutely essential that Kenya returns to normality as quickly as possible to avoid long-term damage to the economy, to end the suffering of the people, and to protect the future of a very beautiful country.

2.27 pm

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I was not expecting to speak in this debate; I would have hoped
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1127
not to have to speak in such a debate, but the images that I saw on the television of young men carrying machetes struck home tremendously.

Last summer, I spent time in Rwanda, and those who know that country know that over a period of 100 days in 1995, an incredible genocide took place involving the Hutus and the Tutsis, in which the Hutu majority slaughtered 750,000 Tutsis. I went to see one of the memorials, on which it said “Never again”. That phrase struck me when I saw television reports showing young men carrying machetes in the aftermath of the election in Kenya. That is why I wish to speak briefly; I appreciate that I have only a brief time to talk on this important issue.

We heard from President Kibaki that the elections were free and fair, but we would not have seen the response on the street, and from the international community, if those on the ground believed them to be free and fair, and if those internationally, who know best practice when it comes to elections, thought so too. It is important that the Government take a strong stand on the issue, and I hope that the Minister will respond to this point. She should address the question asked earlier about whether the Government will recognise the Kibaki Government.

Meg Munn indicated dissent.

Mr. Newmark: A simple yes or no will do, rather than equivocation. That is an important message that we need to send to put pressure on the Kenyan Government.

On the nuances of what went on, my experience of what went on in Rwanda is that it was a tribal reaction. I have been to Kenya, and it is important that we do not see the current tensions in a country that is relatively stable compared with some of the countries around it, and which is relatively progressive—Nairobi is a big city—disintegrate into the tribal tensions to which I alluded earlier. What can we do, and what should we do? As an international community, aid is extremely important. I would like to congratulate those from the Department for International Development who are going to Kenya today to give that aid. It is a stressful time, there are tensions and it is not a particularly safe place to go. I know that people from DFID are going out there at the moment, and I want to give them my support.

In particular, I should like to congratulate DFID on the support it gives in relation to HIV/AIDS, which is a big issue in Kenya, as it is, unfortunately, in many other African countries. I know that the Minister was shaking her head earlier; perhaps she can tell me why in her response, and I would also like to ask her about the targeting of aid. One of the criticisms we have heard from experts on the ground in Kenya is that aid is not as targeted as it should be. We are hearing that from independent observers, and perhaps she could address that issue.

In responding to the situation, it is always easy for us in the west to say what we think should be done in Africa, but I am a great believer in the idea that those who are most local to a problem are those best placed to provide a solution. Therefore, I congratulate Kofi Annan,
17 Jan 2008 : Column 1128
who is leading a panel of eminent Africans organised by the African Union, which includes President Benjamin Mkapa and Nelson Mandela’s wife, Gra├ža Machel, to try to resolve Kenya’s problems. If Africa tries to resolve things along with its neighbours, we are far more likely to achieve success than we would as outsiders. That is better than us as westerners going in and imposing our views—and our sense of colonialism, as they would perceive it—to try to achieve peace and stability in that part of Africa.

Finally, the overall response should be to try to support the Kenyan Red Cross, which has asked for our support through humanitarian aid. We should provide that assistance to the Red Cross, first of all. Secondly, we should ensure that we protect our citizens. A number of British citizens are there, and the Government have a responsibility to protect them. Thirdly, we must do whatever we can to condemn the Government of President Kibaki, and send a powerful message to him that we do not see his elections as free and fair and, therefore, do not recognise his Government as legitimate.

Next Section Index Home Page