17th January 2008
Keith Simpson calls for a full report of events leading to the crisis in Kenya calls on the Government to send a message of support to the population, making it clear that the international community does not back either of the contending political groups
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 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 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 of 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.