Until Things Fall Apart

The West paid little attention to repression in Nigeria until last year’s execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other human rights activists. About Liberia, former Secretary of State George Shultz said, “By the time African crises receive this level of outside attention, the moment of averting catastrophe or sealing the peace has all too often passed.”

Kenya, which will hold key elections in the next 18 months, could well be the next place where international laissez-faireism toward Africa comes to a boil. While Kenya has often been portrayed as Africa’s most democratic country, human rights groups paint a less-rosy picture.

For example, Amnesty International reported recently that prisoner of conscience Koigi Wa Wamire was sentenced to four years in prison and six cane strokes on trumped-up charges of “robbery with violence”—an accusation that usually carries the death penalty. Foreign Minister Robert Ouko and 28 others were brutally murdered in 1990. His brother Barak Mbajah, a political exile, decried the lack of outside support for human rights—especially from the U.S. government which, he said, “waits until things fall apart.”

Kenya’s 1992 election, touted by the government as the country’s first “free” vote, was widely dismissed as fraudulent by outside observers including then-U.S. Ambassador Smith Hempstone. President Daniel Arap Moi, in power since 1978, swore he would never agree to multiparty politics.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1996
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