Kenya’s divided opposition in battle for tribal support

Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 25 August 1992

INTENSIFIED factional strife within Kenya’s main opposition party may cause part leaders to seek an electoral pact with the second largest opposition party.

The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) is increasingly likely to split at a conference of party delegates on September 5 and 6. The move represents an attempt to isolate rivals and win support within the country’s largest tribes. Party factions, led by the former vice-president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, and a former cabinet minister, Kenneth Matiba, are unlikely to heal their differences.

Mr Matiba, and his main factional ally within Ford, Martin Shikuku, have said they will not make peace with the Odinga faction unless the latter agrees to their demands regarding the selection of Ford’s presidential candidate. Mr Odinga has insisted that Ford members elect delegates throughout the country who will then elect a presidential candidate at next week’s conference. Mr Matiba has demanded a direct secret ballot of all party members.

According to Raila Odinga, a member of Ford’s executive committee, Mr Odinga’s faction is having discussions with the third main party, the Democratic Party (DP), to draw up an electoral pact which would lead to joint presidential, vice-presidential and prime ministerial candidates for the two parties. The parties could also agree not to stand against each other in parliamentary elections.

“It would be a broad-based alliance with a joint secretariat for the purpose of the elections and deciding on candidates,” Mr Raila Odinga said, “In areas where there is predominantly Ford there would be a Ford candidate, and in other areas it would be DP.”

The DP leader, Mwai Kibaki, denied that there are discussions between the two parties, and said he could not discuss pacts until there was a clear victor in Ford’s internal battle. However, he did not dismiss the idea, or the likelihood that it would be necessary as a way of defeating President Daniel arap Moi’s ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu) party if Ford splits in two.

Mr Raila Odinga said that Ford delegates’ conference would see the end of the wrangling which has threatened the existence of the party for the past two months.

The Odinga and Matiba factions are now locked in legal battles to decide which faction can use the Ford name if two separate parties emerge.

The basis of the factional dispute lies in the belief of the two faction leaders that the changes they are demanding to the electoral procedures will improve their own chances of winning win the nomination. But the split has heightened tribalism to an extent which opposition figures, particularly the younger activists, had hoped could be avoided.

Mr Matiba’s critics within Ford are doubtful that a member of his Kikuyu tribe could take power. Voters are aware of the Kikuyu domination of power during the presidency of Jomo Kenyatta, which ended with his death in 1978. For this reason, the ageing Mr Odinga, a member of the second biggest tribe, the Luo, is seen as a better opposition candidate and as somebody who can command the Luo vote.

“The country isn’t ready for another Kikuyu president, so they won’t vote for Matiba,” said Mr Raila Odinga. “People want fundamental change, and they don’t see Matiba and his clique as capable.”

But awareness that the Kikuyu vote remains the largest single tribal block has forced Ford to look for alliances with other Kikuyu politicians.

The DP leader, Mwai Kibaki, is often accused of running an almost solely Kikuyu party, but an electoral pact with Ford would help Ford attract votes among the Kikuyu, particularly in the Central Province and Nyanza.

A pact with the strongly Kikuyu DP would attract Kikuyu votes and help overcome a predicted sense of isolation among the Kikuyu if Mr Matiba fails to win the Ford leadership or is ousted from the party altogether.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited