Kenya's Troubled View

The government is quick to point a finger outside for the problems on the inside

SOMETIMES the comments of Kenyan officials suggest they believe that most of the country's problems are attributable to foreign governments and the misperceptions of the international media.

They talk about an alleged conspiracy against Kenya by journalists, Western governments, and domestic political opponents.

At a recent luncheon with foreign correspondents, Kenyan Foreign Minister Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka blasted journalists for ``trying to bring down the government'' through their allegedly exaggerated reports on tribal killings.

He blamed the killings themselves on opposition politicians ``in smoky rooms'' who, he claims, are trying to topple the government. But opposition and human rights groups pin much of the blame on the government.

He condemned Germany's ambassador to Kenya for making critical remarks about a recent by-election the diplomat monitored. Germany is a major donor to Kenya.

And in a period when foreign aid is often linked to democracy, Musyoka equated democracy with ``tribalism'' and called for ``redefining the word democracy - at least in the African view.''

There was little mention of economic assistance from donors or ways of building links to the strengthening economic blocs of Europe and Asia. Nor was there much mention of Kenya's serious domestic economic problems.

The foreign minister's angry swipes came off a bit like the captain of the Titanic trading insults with passengers rather than watching out for icebergs. Kenya is in troubled waters: Its population is likely to double in 24 years, and good farmland is already overused; many children are dropping out of school because parents cannot pay the fees; and patients are buying half doses of medicine, if that, because of lack of money.

And there have been political riots on the coast with Muslims pushing for recognition of their political party.

Theories of international conspiracy against Kenya, often spun by President Daniel arap Moi, might be of less concern if the economic challenges facing most Kenyans were less serious.

But beyond such rhetoric, both supporters of the government and its critics see two problems in Kenya today affecting economic development: an over-concentration on domestic issues and not enough attention to substantive foreign issues.

``I think we are very inward looking,'' says Less Kanyare, a Kenyan freelance journalist who served as a spokesman for an opposition political party.

``For many years Kenyans have seen themselves as Africa's best,'' he says. ``We still say we are the best.''

But both government and opposition politicians lose too much energy in personality attacks - taking issues personally, not substantively, he says.

A retired senior Kenyan civil servant, Bethwel Kipligat, sees a waning interest on the part of Kenyans in foreign affairs.

``It's more the internal that occupies people: How do I survive from today to tomorrow ... [and] pay school fees and medical bills,'' he says.

That is unfortunate, according to Mr. Kipligat, because Kenya's development depends on peace in the region. He cites the civil wars in neighboring Somalia and Sudan, which have a spill-over effect on Kenya, sending refugees and weapons into the country.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan media sometimes provides its public with a lopsided view of the world.

News reports here tend toward accounts of macabre and bizarre events in other countries.

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