Senate considers funding cuts to Kenyan security forces over human rights abuses (Part I)

Last month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations released a report of the Department of State Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2013. In the section of the report that discusses Foreign Military Financing (FMF), there is a paragraph about Kenya that reads as follows:

“The Committee directs the Secretary of State to take steps to ensure that no United States training, equipment, or other assistance is provided to any Kenyan military or police personnel who have been credibly alleged to have violated human rights at: Mount Elgon in March 2008; Garissa, Wajir and Mandera in North Eastern Kenya between November 2011 and January 2012; and in the Dadaab refugee camps in North Eastern Kenya in December 2011. The Secretary shall submit a report to the Committee on steps taken by the Government of Kenya to conduct thorough, credible investigations of such violations and the identification of military units responsible.”

Spokesman for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) Colonel Cyrus Oguna declined to comment on the appropriations bill, but characterized the relationship between Kenya and the United States as “cordial, historical and important.” And he’s correct. Relations between the United States and Kenya have generally been amicable, with occasional instances of discord – as one might expect from any bilateral relationship. Kenya has historically been a key partner for the U.S. military, considering the country’s geostrategic location for counterterrorism and counterpiracy operations as well as for its utility as a staging ground for crisis response operations in other countries in the region. Of note, the KDF is considered a relatively professional military, and receives considerable security assistance from the United States. The KDF is also part of a vital effort to stabilize Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which also receives U.S. funding.

The report on the appropriations bill alludes to two operations during which there were allegations of human rights violations – Operation Okoa Maisha (Save Lives) and Operation Linda Nchi (Protect the Nation). For additional details on former – the police and military’s heavy-handed response to the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) insurgency in March 2008 and the victims’ inability to receive justice for human rights abuses four years later, read the Human Rights Watch report “Hold Your Heart” Waiting for Justice in Kenya’s Mt. Elgon Region. For additional details on latter – the police and military’s violence against Kenyan Somalis and Somali refugees in the fall of 2011, read the Human Rights Watch report Criminal Reprisals: Kenyan Police and Military Abuses against Ethnic Somalis.

Unfortunately, I am at a loss for interpreting what Kenya’s inclusion in the report on the appropriations bill means. Given the existence of far less reputable militaries on the continent, I was surprised that the KDF was called out for further scrutiny in the report. (The police, however, were less of a surprise.) The timing is odd, considering the United States presumably desires that the KDF be successful in stabilizing southern Somalia. One could see how, in this situation, the investigation of such allegations could get pushed to the back burner – but it was not. Furthermore, although both the military and the police stand accused of some rather egregious human rights abuses detailed in HRW’s reports, if you look at the State Department’s 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, you will notice that the police are far more frequent human rights violators. In addition, it appears that the KDF tends to get into trouble when deployed domestically, but has not had a reputation for human rights violations when deployed abroad as members of African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations, for example.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at is that yes, bad things have happened and the United States is prepared to call Kenya out on these incidents. But based on what I have learned about the  U.S.-Kenya relationship, I have observed that sometimes things are not as they seem. So my underlying assumption is that Kenya’s security forces being placed under additional scrutiny may not be about Operation Okoa Maisha or Operation Linda Nchi. It may be about pressuring Kenya to cooperate with the ongoing International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of six high-profile individuals suspected of being responsible for the 2007-2008 post-election violence. It could also be a way to exert pressure on Kenya to have credible polls free of electoral violence next spring. Or perhaps there are tensions in the mil-to-mil relationship and the United States is using security assistance as leverage when Kenyan security forces need it most in Somalia and for homeland defense. (Or perhaps it is actually about human rights and I need to stop being such a conspiracy theorist.)

But it is just pure torture that I don’t know for sure what this might really be about. Any thoughts?

One response

  1. […] my last post, I wrote about how the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations had asked Secretary of State […]

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