Odinga winds full backing of party

Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 5 September 1992


DELEGATES at the first congress of Kenya’s main opposition party, finally halted their internal bickering last night by unanimously accepting a single leader, bringing closer a final split with a rival faction.

They unanimously elected veteran politician Jaramogi Oginga Odinga as party chairman, using the delegate system rather than a direct ballot. Mr Odinga was unopposed, and automatically becomes the party’s presidential candidate. The leader of the other faction, Kenneth Matiba, did not attend the congress.

The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford) has been divided for months into two factions differing over the method of electing the party’s leader. Ford’s internal crisis has been exploited by President Daniel arap Moi’s ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu), which has ruled as a single party since 1965, and has raised the possibility of a snap election being called while Ford is in disarray.

The 2,500 delegates were euphoric at the unanimous vote in Mr Odinga’s favour as well as the acceptance of the constitution, which eased doubts about Ford’s readiness for an election. Mr Moi must call an election by March 1993, but it is expected much earlier, possibly in October.

Mr Matiba says he will hold a direct ballot for his leadership next week. He has not made clear whether he still plans to fight under a Ford banner.

According to an opinion poll based on interviews with 431 people in this week’s Nairobi-based Society magazine Mr Odinga’s personal support stands at 48 per cent nationally. Mr Matiba, a member of Kenya’s largest tribe, the Kikuyu, stands to win 30 per cent, according to the poll. However, his critics say this is an over-estimate.

Despite a desire among Ford’s younger activists, notably the party’s new first vice-chairman, Paul Muite, to discourage tribally based voting, tribal allegiance remains the strongest element in the electoral process.

“The majority of people vote along tribal lines, because of the one-party system and because of dictators having surrounded themselves with their own tribes because of their own insecurity,” Mr Muite said in a recent interview.

Mr Muite is a Kikuyu and could broaden Ford’s electoral appeal if nominated for vice-president. Mr Odinga belongs to the Luo tribe.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited