Political arrests ignite opposition to Moi in `the year of discipline'
More Kenyans are believed to be in prison for their political beliefs today than at any time in this East African republic's short history. With each arrest, detention, or imprisonment, concern grows about the stability of Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi's government - a topic that was once unthinkable. Since May last year, the government has picked up hundreds of Kenyans in connection with a clandestine socialist organization called Mwakenya.
In a recent development, an American lecturer at a Kenyan university, Mumbi wa Kinyatti, was seized by security forces and held for three days. Her husband, a Kenyan university lecturer, has been in political detention for the last four years.
The authorities claim that Mwakenya is trying to seize power by unlawful means, but not much is known about the group's size and goals.
What seems clear, however, is that opposition to President Moi's government appears to be growing rapidly. For example:
In a hilltop sermon last month the Anglican Bishop of Eldoret, Alexander Muge, said Kenyans are ``tired of false implications, false accusations, witch-hunting.''
A former Vice-President, Ajuma Oginga Odinga, warned Moi that ``those closest to him may overthrow him.'' The flamboyant elder statesman said Moi's advisors are increasingly frustrated because they are not allowed to make any criticism of government policy.
An editorial in the Nation, Kenya's biggest-circulation newspaper, said that Kenyans must be allowed to express their personal opinions or ``we can ... create conditions for an implosion'' of the political leadership.
This is happening in what President Moi officially dubbed ``the year of discipline.'' It is a hard word: The Oxford Seventh Concise dictionary defines it as ``a system of rules for conduct ... order maintained among school children, soldiers, prisoners ... control over members of church or other organization.''
Stung by Bishop Muge's sermon, the government called out the people in Eldoret for a rally. For over three hours, government leaders accused, castigated, and threatened the churchman. Bishop Muge was ``disciplined'' in his absence at Eldoret's stadium by 14 members of Parliament, including four Cabinet ministers. The 14 leaders charged Muge with ``assuming the role of an opposition party.'' Each leader, in turn, beseeched Kenya's clergy and people to ``disown'' the churchman.
They said Muge was a ``stooge'' who had been ``bought by South Africans to create chaos.'' In ``a different country'' they said, Muge ``would have been wrapped up in a sack and thrown into a lake.''
The government faces increasingly frequent and detailed allegations of murder and torture from abroad as well.
Uganda's foreign minister blasted President Moi's government on March 27, accusing it of torturing to death a Ugandan citizen in the western town of Kisii. Junior police officials in Kisii admit the man was beaten badly. They accused ``senior officers'' of the killing.
A senior official at Kenya's Foreign Ministry confirms the details of the killing, and put the case simply: ``We are mounting a campaign against the Ugandans.'' Thousands of foreigners throughout the country were picked up by police in March. More than 2,000 appeared in Kenya's courts, charged with being in the country illegally after President Moi ordered a crackdown on all illegal aliens.
Privately, many Western diplomats in Kenya worry that the security forces, especially the Special Branch, are acting without explicit orders.
The government is also under pressure from the United States. Moi's recent visit to the US, which The Times (London) called ``a diplomatic disaster,'' was marked by repeated public statements about human rights abuses. The chairman of the US House of Representatives' subcommittee on Africa, Howard Wolpe, reportedly raised with Moi the detention of a prominent Nairobi lawyer who specializes in human rights cases.
The lawyer, Gibson Kamua Kuria, was arrested by plain-clothes police on Feb. 26 and officially detained under Kenya's ``Preservation of Public Security Act'' by the government less than two weeks before Moi's visit to Washington. (The act permits the indefinite detention without trial - or access to a lawyer - of people thought to be security risks.) The government said Mr. Kuria was arrested because he ``did not show respect to the head of state,'' among other ill-defined charges.
Observers say Kuria was put into prison because he had filed affidavits accusing the government of torturing five people. In his suit, the well-known lawyer included two sworn affidavits by Kenyans who said they were severely beaten, forced to live in water-filled cells, deprived of food and water for days on end, and subjected to other psychological and physical abuse.
According to human rights group Amnesty International, between 100 and 300 people are reported to have been arrested in Kenya for political reasons since March 1986.