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Aid may dry up as donors lose patience with Kenya

Repression, corruption and waste are prompting the West to be less charitable, writes David Orr in Nairobi
Kenya, once regarded as a model of positive change in Africa, is fast becoming known as one of the continent's more dramatic examples of democratic decline, so much so that Western governments are revising their aid programmes. Even Britain, hitherto an indulgent supporter of President Daniel arap Moi's unpredictable regime, is voicing anxiety.

The international community is increasingly alarmed by political repression and human-rights abuses. Among the charges being levelled at the government are persecution of opposition MPs, harassment of civil-rights organisations, and intimidation of the press. Foreign donors are also showing impatience at the government's poor record on implementing public-sector reform and tackling corruption.

The strongest stance yet taken has been by Germany, which has slashed its aid budget by over half, to 49m marks (pounds 22m) for 1995/96. Denmark and Japan have said continuing assistance depended on radical improvements in Kenya's political and economic record.

There are also signs that Britain, until now reluctant to jeopardise its substantial interests in the country, is preparing to take a tougher stance on aid if progress on democratisation is not forthcoming. Answering questions about Kenya in the Commons this week, Tony Baldry, a Foreign Office minister, said he shared concerns "about the deterioration of the political atmosphere in that country". The Kenyan government would have to do "some very frank talking" at its meeting with the World Bank in July.

Britain, with aid payments of pounds 31m for the current year, ranks among Kenya's leading bilateral donors. If Britain has been less openly critical of the ruling Kanu party than other governments, it is because it has more at stake. Up to pounds 2bn of British money is invested in Kenya. There are about 40,000 British passport-holders in Kenya, of whom 30,000 are Asians, so London is also wary of anything which might provoke a large Asian influx to Britain.

"We tend to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach," said a source at the High Commission in Nairobi, "because we feel we achieve better results than by openly haranguing the government. But there's no doubt that the political situation is deteriorating this year and so far there's no sign of a turnaround."

Attacks on the fragmented opposition reached a peak this week with President Moi's accusation that a FORD-Kenya MP, Raila Odinga, was conspiring with Italian mafiosi and unspecified Mozambicans to overthrow the government. It was also claimed that opposition groups were sponsoring insurgency groups in Uganda.

The conservationist Richard Leakey, who recently said he intended forming a party, was accused by the President of seeking to destabilise the country, and a leading opposition MP, Paul Muite, a political ally of Dr Leakey, was among six peoplecharged with security offences. "We're not at all happy with Kenya's progress on reforms," said a source in the German embassy. "There's been a significant clampdown on civil rights and, so far this year, there have been more than 50 arrests of opposition figures. Some advances have been made in the economic sector ... but there's been little headway on the privatisation programme for state-owned companies."

Corruption remains a major complaint by all donors. The German embassy estimates that losses from mismanagement and corruption exceeded donations in 1992 and 1993. In these years, according to the United Nations Development Programme, total donations were $997m and $857m respectively. If true, this means corruption is even worse than imagined. Construction of an international airport at Eldoret, in Mr Moi's constituency, is being highlighted as the outstanding white elephant in the government's programme.

There are also signs that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are beginning to balk at Kenya's intransigence. The IMF is refusing to release $200m because of Kenya's failure to meet its demands on economic reform.

Though aid is less critical for Kenya than for many other African countries, it still remains an important component of the economy. Development projects in all sectors - health, energy, agriculture, roads - are almost exclusively financed by external donors. If they continue to withdraw support at the present rate, investor confidence could plummet and political stability worsen.

The government is putting on a brave face for the World Bank meeting but unless firm indications of a commitment to reform are given, some harsh measures are likely to be taken to encourage Kenya back on track.