- Denmark's aid to Kenya worth euro 20 million is being withheld as the Nairobi government is accusing a Danish organisation of undermining its land policy and fuelling violence. In Denmark, the press and organisations focus on Kenya's ruling elite and their large properties as the relations between Copenhagen and Nairobi are getting sour.
Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (MS) is one of the biggest and most popular aid organisations in Denmark. Therefore, the conflict between MS-Kenya and the Kenyan government has been given much attention by Danish media and politicians during the last six months. Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller and Development Minister Ulla Tørnæs have become personally involved in the case.
Three employees of MS-Kenya, including country director Lotte Grauballe, have been told their working permits will not be renewed due to their engagement in Kenyan land policies. According to the Nairobi government, MS-Kenya has actively contributed to land conflicts in the country by promoting calls for land to be redistributed to the poor.
In December, the group was accused of engaging in "subversive and illegal activities." The accusations were specifically linked to the support provided to Kenyan civil society groups working for a pro-poor land redistribution in the country. MS Kenya has categorically refuted these government allegations through the Danish Embassy in Nairobi.
Last month, the conflict was taken to the Danish parliament, where Foreign Minister Møller told MPs he demanded that the Kenyan government "recognises and respects the legitimate and important role of civil society in development." According to Mr Møller, the question was not whether MS-Kenya had "engaged in political agitation," but that the group must be let work with Kenyan civil society groups. The Danish government finances most of MS-Kenya's operations.
In May, representatives of MS-Kenya and the Danish Embassy in Nairobi had talks with Kenya's Minister of National Security, John Michuki, without reaching any result. On 3 June, Kenya's Ambassador to the Nordic countries, Michael Kinyanjui, was summoned to the Copenhagen Foreign Ministry and told that Danish aid to Kenya would be frozen until the three aid workers had been granted a new work permit.
While the Danish government increased its pressure against Kenya, Ministers of President Mwai Kikabi's cabinet tried to soften the wording. Kenya's Water Assistant Minister, John Munyes, told 'The Standard' MS-Kenya was "doing a sterling job on the ground." He urged his cabinet colleagues to "stop intimidating and harassing the officials of MS-Kenya," because the case was not worth risking to lose Danish development aid.
In Denmark, meanwhile, the press and local organisations are continuing to use strong rhetoric against the Kenyan government. A row of articles in the Danish press focus on the injustice in Kenyan land policies and the wealth of Kenya's ruling elite. The articles are often accompanied with photos from Kenya's slums.
Also non-governmental organisations automatically support MS-Kenya's case against Kenyan authorities. "The facts are that Kenyan rulers, the national elite and foreign investors are in the process of stealing large land properties," the Copenhagen-based group Southern Africa Contact for example claimed in a statement today.
These groups urge the Danish government to "adopt a highly-profiled line of negotiations in the current issue." In which way the Danish government could muzzle its Kenyan counterpart - in addition to the freezing of Danish development aid - was however not mentioned in the statement.
The conflict between the Copenhagen and Nairobi executives is threatening to cause severe harm to the diplomatic relations between the two countries. The last time Kenyan authorities were muzzled by a Nordic country - Norway in the 1990s - President Daniel arap Moi closed down the Norwegian Embassy and said "no thanks" to Norwegian aid. This aid and diplomatic relations were only resumed in 2003.
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