Opposition to Anti-Terror Law Could Jeopardize Kenya's Relations With West

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Kenyan Muslims complain that they are the targets of a proposed law to fight terrorism, which is now before the country's parliament.

But as opposition to the draft legislation grows, there are fears that if it fails, it could sour relations with the United States and Britain, which are eager to see anti-terrorism legislation in place.

The administration of President Mwai Kibaki could also miss out on development credits from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The proposed law aims to counter the increasing threat of terrorism in a country that has suffered two significant terrorist attacks over the last five years.

Muslim cabinet minister Najib Balala said he would rally all Muslims to oppose the law because it was "inhuman" and "intended to oppress" Kenya's Muslim population.

Balala, supported by other high-profile Muslims, claims that the law was drafted in the U.S. for implementation in Kenya.

The government has denied reports that the U.S., World Bank and IMF have made enacting anti-terrorism legislation a "silent" condition for resuming Kenya's development credit, which was suspended during the former regime of President Daniel Moi because of corruption.

The financial institutions will meet on November 25 to review whether Kenya has met all the "conditions" to reverse the earlier decision.

Lawyers and human rights campaigners in Kenya have called the proposed law "draconian and oppressive."

Controversial aspects of the legislation include the possibility of life imprisonment, the extradition of suspects to other countries without the normal legal safeguards and powers for the police to detain terror suspects for unspecified time and to confiscate assets.

The law also does not provide for compensation for anyone wrongly accused of terror activities.

At a seminar organized by the Law Society of Kenya to debate the contents of the law, lawyers said it had been "shoddily drafted" to impress "external forces," thus allowing loopholes for violation of human rights.

Critics noted that terror suspects could be held without the right to contact family or legal representatives.

Attorney Harrison Kinyanjui said the draft legislation violates the rights of all Kenyans and foreigners in Kenya, not just those of a particular religious group.

"This country will have surrendered its sovereignty if it allows the bill to be passed by parliament," Kinyanjui said.

Another critic, Caroline Nyambura of a humanitarian group called Poverty Alleviation Initiatives for Development, said the proposed law should have addressed what she said were the root causes of terrorism if it was to succeed in solving the problem.

Nyambura said the fact that most Kenyan youths were languishing in poverty meant they were vulnerable to being "brainwashed" to undertake clandestine activities.

"Terrorists have money which the youths need to survive," Nyambura said.

On Aug. 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and the capital of neighboring Tanzania, Dar-es-Salaam, were bombed in an almost-simultaneous attack carried out by al Qaeda. More than 250 people, including 12 Americans, were killed, and some 5,000 were hurt.

A year ago, an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa was bombed, and on the same day, terrorists tried unsuccessfully to shoot down an Israeli passenger airliner over Kenya.

Al Qaeda was also believed responsible for those attacks, which killed 12 Kenyans and three Israelis.

A new U.N. report says the terrorists who carried out last November's strike trained in and obtained weapons from neighboring Somalia and returned to Somalia after the attacks.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.