Official Pushes U.S. to Aid Kenya The chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights visited Washington this week urging the U.S. to help Kenya through what he calls its "civil war moment." It's in the United State's interest to take the situation seriously, he says.
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Official Pushes U.S. to Aid Kenya

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Official Pushes U.S. to Aid Kenya

Official Pushes U.S. to Aid Kenya

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

A Kenyan human rights official came to Washington this past week to make sure the Bush administration is paying attention to the crisis in his homeland. It's a country that is key to security across Africa.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has that story.

MICHELE KELEMEN: After meetings at the State Department, Maina Kiai roamed the halls of Capitol Hill with a message. He says the conflict in Kenya is complex and the U.S. should not simply gloss over the need for fundamental political and judicial reform in his homeland.

Mr. MAINA KIAI (Chairman, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights): We are at a turning point in the history of Kenya that needs to be dealt with seriously and comprehensively and to avoid ideas of a quick fix. This is not just about elections. It's about deep cleavages in our society that are political.

KELEMEN: Political, he emphasizes, not simply ethnic. Kiai is the chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a body set up by President Mwai Kibaki. But he's not siding with the president in this crisis. In fact, he says the Bush administration and the international community as a whole needs to be doing much more to get Kibaki to negotiate in good faith with opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Mr. KIAI: He believes that the longer it takes, the longer he draws this out, then maybe people will forget, maybe a crisis somewhere else in the world will happen and the world will turn its attention away from Kenya. So we're saying no, this is the time for considered action, the time to put pressure on President Kibaki, and to sustain this over the long term no matter what else happens in the world.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration embraced Kibaki early on. President Bush even hosted a rare state dinner for the Kenyan leader back in 2003, so Kiai thinks the U.S. should have the influence it needs. If that doesn't work, he says, the U.S. should consider imposing travel bans on those he describes as the intransigent hardliners in Kibaki's government. Kiai says he's now being targeted by those hardliners. He's been under surveillance at home and receiving threatening calls.

Mr. KIAI: I happen to come from the same village as President Kibaki. And in a sense, there's now a circling of the wagons, if you wish, and there's an expectation that because of the levels of fear that have been generated on all sides in this debate, there's a sense that you must speak the same line so the community can survive.

KELEMEN: He sees an attempt by both sides to isolate and eliminate moderate voices in Kenya and groups like his, which now has a heavy load investigating human rights abuses on the part of the government and the opposition. Another group, Human Rights Watch, blame the opposition for orchestrating some of the post-election violence. Kiai says all of this should matter to the U.S.

Mr. KIAI: And if Kenya is unstable, as it's likely to be if we don't fix this and fix it properly, is going to be immeasurably bad for the United States government on the war on terror - their policy - because unstable government means easy movement of people who want to cause harm. So it's in the U.S. interest to take this thing seriously.

KELEMEN: Maina Kiai says he's trying to disabuse the U.S. of the idea of simply pushing for a power-sharing arrangement between Kibaki and Odinga. He says what's needed in Kenya is an overhaul of the political system away from what he calls the imperial presidency or the winner-takes-all system, which he says has led to the violence Kenya is seeing today.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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