Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Saw no evil, Hurd no evil

Radio 4 recently had two former Foreign Secretaries – David Owen and Douglas Hurd – in to discuss democracy promotion. Unsurprisingly, Kenya came up in the discussion.

Owen said, on former President Daniel Arap Moi:

I think we lost a great opportunity to solidify democracy in Kenya when we acquiesced in the rigging of the 1992 election by Moi. I think that was an absolute tragedy and Moi was allowed to stay in with British government support all through the 80s and 90s doing terrible harm to Kenya.

Hurd was invited to respond to “the accusation made about British policy in 1992 when you were, of course, foreign secretary”. He said:

There's a cycle in these things. When Moi first came in he was a straightforward schoolmaster from a minority tribe, elected to clear up the mess. He deteriorated, as people do…

Interesting. Also misleading. Remember that Hurd was asked about the 1992 Kenyan election.

It’s true that when Moi “first came in” to politics, he was a schoolmaster. That was in 1955. He held ministerial office from 1961 onwards. A machine politician, he became President in 1978, following not an election but the death of the incumbent.

Through the 1980s he consolidated his power by playing divide and rule with Kenya’s different tribes, instituting a one-party constitution and sending the secret police to disrupt pro-democracy groups. He managed to win a couple of unopposed elections.

By 1992, other parties had been allowed to contest the election, but it was not free and fair. Moi appointed a crony to chair the Electoral Commission. On top of that:

The Attorney General attempted to shorten the nomination process for opposition parties; legislation preventing meetings of more than three persons without a permit was used to prevent opposition rallies; journalists and opposition activists were arrested and detained without charge; and villages were attacked, crops burnt and meetings disrupted throughout the campaign.

Moi managed to win that election too.

It would be too strong to call him a tyrant, but his attitude to human rights – throughout his presidency – was one of contempt.

This didn’t trouble Douglas Hurd, who spent the early 1990s focused on more important business, such as stirring up apathy in the guise of neutrality while Bosnia and Rwanda became charnel houses.

He had started in the Foreign Office not too badly:

He oversaw Britain's diplomatic responses to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, as well as the first Gulf War… Hurd cultivated good relations with the United States under President George Bush Sr., and sought a more conciliatory approach to other members of the European Economic Community, repairing relationships damaged during the increasingly Eurosceptic tone of Margaret Thatcher's final years.

He deteriorated, as people do.

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