Chaotic Kenya

The repression of political foes, press, students, and now missionaries, by the government of Kenya is a sad spectacle, all the more tragic because it comes at a time when Kenya, for all of its abuses, had seemed more respectful of human rights than the rest of Africa.

Perhaps the virtue of Kenya has been exaggerated simply because it has had a political stability few other African nations have matched. The plundering of public resources for private gain by the late Jomo Kenyatta and his family was diplomatically overlooked because he brought economic development and firm political control. But it is not clear that President Daniel Arap Moi has that control. Weakness at the top is betrayed by the extreme measures Moi has taken against political foes--real and imagined--including the mistreatment of political prisoners, the repeated closings of the University of Nairobi and now the lashing out at foreign correspondents and missionaries.

Police beat the correspondents while they were watching a brutal government raid on the university. The missionaries are being deported without formal charges or official explanation, apparently as the result of a letter, which the U.S. governments believes to be a forgery, outlining a conspiracy of American churches to cooperate with the Ku Klux Klan to destabilize black governments in Africa. But these assaults on foreigners are minor compared with the repression over the years against political rivals that has led to appeals to Moi from Amnesty International.

The latest responses of the government, and notably the alacrity with which the government responded to the ludicrous KKK conspiracy charges, could very well be an effort to mask the economic crisis that is troubling Kenya after a year of remarkable growth and relative prosperity. The long-term prospects are not good, and they continue to be dimmed by the highest birth rate in Africa.

For the United States, Kenya remains important, reflected in aid at a level of $55 million in the last fiscal year, almost half of it in defense and security-related assistance. The deportation of the missionaries, and the silence of Moi in response to international diplomatic protests regarding the beating of the foreign correspondents, are troubling. Given the condition of most other nations in Africa, however, the prospect of repairing the damage is favorable.

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