NAIROBI, NOV. 16 -- A top official of the World Bank today urged the government of Kenya to take greater steps toward democratic change to assuage the fears and loosen the purse strings of uneasy Western donors who have expressed deep concern in recent months about political repression and economic stagnation here.
Edward V.K. Jaycox, the bank's regional vice president in charge of Africa, said he was "optimistic" about recent changes announced by the East African country, but maintained that it was up to the government of Daniel arap Moi to keep proving its sincerity to the donors.
"There is an increasing gap in perceptions by donors about what is happening in Kenya," said Jaycox, who has been meeting with top Kenyan officials, business leaders and academics this week on the Kenyan economy and political system. "It's up to the government to close that gap. . . . Kenya is going to have to give assurances on the political and economic situation here."
Jaycox's comments came three days before the start of an annual meeting in Paris of bilateral and multilateral donors to Kenya, which the World Bank will chair. The purpose of the meeting is to review Kenya's annual allotment of foreign aid, currently about $900 million.
The meeting, described as key to determining future disbursements of aid, comes at a time when Kenya -- like many countries in Africa -- is suffering severe economic shocks from the Persian Gulf crisis. Energy costs have increased sharply while world prices for exports of raw commodities such as tea, coffee and cocoa, upon which Africa depends for foreign exchange earnings, have plunged.
Perhaps equally important, the Paris meeting comes at a time when some Western donors, particularly the United States, have begun to link portions of foreign aid to improvements in Kenya's human and civil rights record. Earlier this year, 23 people died in anti-government riots after opposition figures called for greater civil freedoms and more political parties in Kenya, a one-party state. The riots broke out when police fired into a crowd at an illegal rally for democracy.
These disturbances came against the backdrop of popular movements for democracy and economic fairness in a number of other African single-party states, most prominently Gabon, Ivory Coast and Zambia.
But while many countries, including even war-torn Mozambique and traditionally repressive Zaire, announced tentative steps to multi-party democracy, the 12-year-old Moi government reacted harshly to such calls, jailing dissidents and clamping down on the press. Such developments "have eroded donor support," said Jaycox.
Last month, Moi's government severed ties with Norway -- a prominent donor nation -- after Oslo was accused of aiding and abetting Kenyans suspected of planning to subvert the Kenyan government. The action occurred at about the same time that U.S. congressional leaders voted to freeze $15 million in military aid to Nairobi, linking the aid to greater political freedom in Kenya. Last year, the United States gave Kenya $49.8 million, the largest U.S. aid package given to any country in sub-Saharan Africa.
In recent weeks, apparently relenting to the outside pressure, Moi's government has taken cautious steps toward reform, reinstating the security of tenure and independence of the nation's judiciary, for instance, after several years in which judges served only at the pleasure of the regime. This week, Moi also scheduled a meeting Dec. 3-4 of delegates of the ruling party, the Kenya African National Union, to debate a number of suggested political changes, among them a reinstatement of the secret ballot in elections. Currently, Kenyans vote by standing in line behind a picture of the candidate of their choice.
During a recent meeting with Moi, Jaycox said, the Kenyan president said he could not understand why world critics were "all over me" when "I have maybe three people in detention and Mr. X next door has had 150 for 10 years."
Jaycox said he tried to explain to Moi that Kenya was much like the lead runner in a marathon race of other African nations, most of them far more troubled. "You have been the darling of the international community for many years," Jaycox said he told the Kenyan leader, referring to Kenya's record for economic growth since independence in 1963 and its reputation for political stability on a continent noted for civil turmoil. "But when you stumble, everyone notices you. . . . We don't want to see your success go down the drain."