VISITOR FROM NAIROBI. Kenya requires delicate handling by US
Only the smile of United States-Kenya relations will be visible to the cameras when President Daniel arap Moi pays his third official visit to Washington this week. In meetings today and tomorrow, top US officials including President Reagan will reaffirm close ties with the leader of one of Africa's most stable, pro-Western, and free-market-oriented regimes.
But less visible to public view will be growing US concerns over the worsening human rights record of President Moi.
According to the human rights group Amnesty International, between 100 and 200 people have been arrested in Kenya on political grounds since last March.
In addition, Moi has tightened his political grip on Kenya by designating his Kanu party ``supreme over all other institutions,'' including the legislative and judicial branches. Moi has also proposed revising the country's electoral system by abolishing the secret ballot.
Human rights organizations say that without pressure from the US, with its $53 million aid leverage, Moi's crackdown is likely to continue.
Secretary of State George Shultz did not make a major issue of human rights in a January visit to Kenya. State Department officials say the issue is being addressed through quiet diplomatic channels.
But US Rep. Howard Wolpe (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Africa subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has complained that the Reagan administration is being ``extraordinarily passive'' in the face of a worsening human rights situation.
Analysts attribute the administration's reluctance to press human rights issues to the role Kenya plays as a pro-Western force in a region now considered increasingly important to American interests.
US officials also fear that too much pressure from the US could risk destabilizing Kenya, strategically located on the Indian Ocean and bordering seven other countries including Sudan and Ethiopia.
But a State Department official insists that the US is ``not going to ignore'' the human rights issue, adding, ``Kenya is a model of stability; we want that model to continue.''
Moi is expected to discuss Kenya's worsening economic problems, fueled by the highest per capita birth rate in the world. US officials will urge Moi to loosen government controls on Kenya's economy and provide more incentives for foreign investment.