Election violence in Kenya

2.12 pm

Topical Debate: Election violence in Kenya

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I must admit that I am somewhat resistant to modernisation of the House, but topical debates are a brilliant idea, as a number of contributions clearly demonstrated today.

Perhaps I should not admit it as an ex-banker, but sometimes I struggle with numbers-250,000 people in Kenya have been displaced; I struggle with the enormity of that number. More than 600 people have been killed-about the same as the number of Members in this House. I think of the life of the young girl in Kenya whom my wife sponsors. She writes to us every six months about what is happening in her village, which is one of the affected areas.

To put the numbers into context, 6,000 people regularly meet at Southend United football club; 250,000 is an enormous number. The situation is horrific for Kenya, the region and the African continent generally. As one who spent a lot of time working in Africa before entering this place, I know it to be a place of great optimism and entrepreneurship. There are great business opportunities in Africa. However, every crisis there is an indicator for the uninitiated that Africa is not a safe place in which to holiday or work or to trade with. That is a complete tragedy.

A number of hon. Members have spoken about Kenya’s regional role. I, too, am deeply concerned about the links with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in respect of essential goods and petrol. The Kenyan crisis could have a severe long-term impact on the whole region. I would welcome any information that the Minister can provide on Nairobi being a financial hub for the whole region. I presume that the stock exchange is closed and that financial transactions are not taking place; if so, that will have wider impacts, beyond Nairobi.

Kenya always provided great optimism-just as, ironically, Zimbabwe did as a large, affluent country with lots of natural resources. Now, however, those are two major blights in Africa. Although we should not interfere in Kenyan affairs, we should look critically at the failure of the British Government and international institutions to spot the problems. Specifically, there were strong indications before 27 December that the elections might not be free and fair and could cause problems. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what representations the high commissioner made to the Department about the elections and their likely validity before they took place. Were there any indications that people were preparing for violence, if that was indeed premeditated?

The statistics and facts prove absolutely that the elections cannot be relied on. In some areas, 115 per cent. of the voters apparently voted. In an intervention, I mentioned the problem of the electoral register and the manipulation that left whole tribal groups with a common name off the register. All that happened before the election, so there were early indicators that there could be major problems.
The Kenyan economy might not be fundamentally damaged. There is some cause for optimism; everyone feared that the bombs in Nairobi in 1998 and Mombasa in 2002 would bring Kenya and its tourism to a grinding halt. However, Kenya has managed to get back on its feet and attract business and tourism again. However, the country is losing £15 million a day as a result of the problems, and a country with a GDP per capita of about $500 a year cannot afford that.

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I spend a lot of time considering Africa through the prism of development and the departmental prism of the Department for International Development rather than that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There needs to be greater co-ordination between the two; it seems farcical that, as the DFID budget is rightly being ramped up and spending on governance is increasing-some of that money needs to flow through to places such as Kenya-the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, for example, is not receiving the same funding increases. Perhaps that organisation would be more effective than DFID trying to reinvent the wheel. Although I support DFID as an independent Department, perhaps there is not the co-ordination that there would have been under a single Department in respect of situations such as Kenya’s. I urge greater co-operation.

This topical debate has rightly concentrated on Kenya’s problems, but the Minister should take time to reflect on what the Department does to spot other problem areas. We often talk about the three major issues of trade, aid and conflict resolution for the developing world, but we need to consider not only post-conflict, but pre-conflict resolution. There were certain signs in Kenya that indicated that there might be social, civil and political unrest-issues of corruption, overpopulation and pressures on the land are very evident in Kenya and they are easily monitored. Corruption can be followed through the excellent organisation, Transparency International and population growth is closely monitored by a number of international organisations, including the UN. Land pressure can be monitored by looking at agricultural statistics on land yield. Surely the FCO should do some statistical modelling to note countries at risk across Africa and give greater economic, governance or political support. Indeed, extra FCO and DFID people should go to the country to try to assist.

I did not hear the Minister mention British citizens in Kenya. When my good friends Councillors Liz and Mel Day were in Kenya, their return was delayed because of the difficulties. While it is not our primary concern to worry about British citizens-and should not be, given the large numbers of people killed and displaced-there are significant issues in that regard.

Several Members mentioned the African Union, which must be the powerhouse of change and peer-to-peer review within Africa. It is not right for the UK, as an ex-colonial Government, to impose solutions, nor even for the EU or any other international organisations to do so-much better that the AU should do it. That is easy to say, but we need to give the AU a lot more support. It would be fair to say that while Britain has encouraged the AU to act in several other countries-for example, in Zimbabwe-it does not have the momentum to be what we would call the critical friend that would allow countries to be critical of one another and say, “You’re my neighbour but what you’re doing is unacceptable.” We need to give it the confidence to be able to do that.

That said, I am optimistic. Kenya recovered from the Nairobi bombs. I wholly disagree with one aspect of the speech by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), which was very good overall. I think that imposing sanctions or travel bans now, 30 days or so after the incident, would be premature and counter-productive, even if it was the right thing to do at some point. It might be possible to resolve the situation quite quickly, and there should not be a knee-jerk reaction to these events.

Jo Swinson: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the Government already have travel bans in place for some of the individuals concerned, so it would just be an extension of that? The elections were on 27 December. The situation is escalating, so it is incredibly important that the Government bring pressure to bear now to precipitate free and fair elections.

James Duddridge: I do not accept the hon. Lady’s proposition; in fact, it might get in the way of people travelling here for international discussions about what is happening.

Other than that, it has been a good debate. I very much hope that for the young girl whom we sponsor in Kenya, and for the whole community, things get better, because it is a dire, horrific situation.