Jailed Dissident at Center of Kenya's Struggle for Reform
NAIROBI, KENYA — AS a young man, he championed the cause of the poor and landless. He verbally attacked the wealthy. He carried his radical views to parliament when elected in 1979, running afoul of powerful politicians, and later fled into exile in Norway. Today, Koigi Wamwere is back. Accused of trying to overthrow the government, he is in prison and at the center of the struggle over democratic reforms in Kenya.
Kenya has resisted moving toward multiparty rule, a trend in many other African nations. President Daniel arap Moi says that having more than one party would lead to tribal conflicts.
His critics say it is a self-serving argument to help him stay in power.
Mr. Moi has referred to the Wamwere case as proof of the need for vigilance against those ``using democracy as a coverup for subversion and killing.''
``They don't want a multiparty system,'' he says.
But last week, through his attorneys, Mr. Wamwere filed charges that the government had tortured him into making confessions.
Wamwere claims he was held naked in a cell in the federal immigration center in Nairobi, his hands handcuffed behind him, while freezing cold, then suffocatingly hot air was blown over him, making it impossible for him to sleep. He says he was deprived of food for three to four days at a time, interrogated in a weak condition - and at gunpoint. Finally, he says, he heard what he now thinks were simulated sobs and cries of anguish from a nearby cell where he was told his mother was incarcerated.
``I broke down,'' he says in his 31-page motion against the government. His lead attorney, Japheth Shamalla, has moved for dismissal of the case against Wamwere on several grounds, including the allegation of torture.
A government official, who asked to remain anonymous, said of Wamwere's torture allegations: ``The government would not go to the extent of having Koigi tortured. It would spoil the case. The matter is before the courts. I'm sure the government has enough evidence to proceed with the case.''
Mr. Shamalla, the defense attorney, told the Monitor that his client claims to have been kidnapped from a Uganda border town and brought to Kenya for trial. Kenyan authorities say he was apprehended in Nairobi.
``We believe,'' says Shamalla, ``that the government, having gotten Koigi in their hands, has been very anxious to make as much as they [could] by proving to the Kenyans and the rest of the world that here is a person who has said and done lots of bad things, as far as they are concerned. And they take the opportunity to build up a case far out of proportion with what is reality.''
Some Kenyans see Wamwere's arrest as slowing the momentum for democratic reform. Last Monday, Moi railed at those calling for a multiparty system. ``A few misguided Kenyans, among them some lawyers and even clergymen, are engaging in affairs that could easily plunge the country into chaos.''