Rivals clash as Kenya approaches democracy


Despite damaging opposition infighting, Kenyan voters now have a potential alternative to Daniel Arap Moi. But political violence is deepening swiftly as polling day gets closer, writes Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 27 October 1992


AN UPSURGE in police violence against Kenyan opposition leaders, clashes between rival supporters and the stoning of the vice-president’s car by demonstrators have signalled the launch of an increasingly ugly election campaign.

At the same time uncertainty is growing about the date of the elections, the country’s first multi-party contest following the end of single-party rule last year.

Daniel Arap Moi, president since 1978 and leader of the ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu) party which has held power since independence in 1963, is expected to name the date this week.

He has until March 1993 to hold the poll, but observers believe that it will be held by the end of November.

Clashes between Kanu and opposition supporters broke out during a presidential campaign visit to the strongly pro-Kanu Western Province last week. On Sunday vice-president George Saitoti’s car was stoned at a rally in Nairobi. On Saturday police beat up, arrested and detained senior officials of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (Ford-Kenya), the main opposition party, when they stopped to meet supporters in the eastern province of Nyanza. Last week Ford-Kenya’s vice-chairman, Paul Muite, was beaten by police when he tried to address a rally.

The resurgence of political violence has coincided with the ascendancy of Ford-Kenya as a credible political force after an internal split within the opposition. Ford-Kenya, led by former vice-president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, emerged after supporters of a key member of what was simply called Ford, former cabinet minister Kenneth Matiba, failed to take over the leadership. The Matiba faction broke away and is now known as Ford-Asili. Both factions have been registered as separate parties.

This formal split and Ford-Kenya’s increasing readiness to fight an election, mean that Kanu is no longer able to appear as the only organised political force. Both Fords are preparing campaign strategies, intensifying the process of calculating tribal voting allegiance which lies at the heart of Kenyan politics.

Mr Odinga and Mr Muite’s leadership of Ford-Kenya is an attempt to attract votes from the former’s Luo tribe and the latter’s Kikuyu, the largest single tribe in Kenya.

Since the registration of opposition parties earlier this year, Kanu has tried to present itself as the stable alternative to what it portrays as the internally divided and tribally based opposition parties. But these attempts all but disintegrated last week when parliament, which contains only Kanu MPs, rejected an official report which blames leading government officials and at least one ex-minister for inciting tribal clashes during March in the Rift Valley area which left 800 dead and 55,000 homeless.

The report identified the disgraced former energy minister Nicholas Biwott, a member of Mr Moi’s Kalenjin tribe, as a prime suspect and urged investigation of the ex-minister who was sacked last year amid allegations of involvement in the death of the country’s former foreign minister Robert Ouoko. Kanu’s secretary-general, Joseph Kamotho, has repeatedly said that the Ford factions were responsible for the clashes, a claim seriously undermined by the fact that it was ruling party MPs who rejected the report.

The US embassy last week slammed the Kanu government in a report on economic trends in what is still regarded as east Africa’s healthiest economy. The report portrayed the regime as endemically corrupt and both reluctant and incapable of carrying out reforms.

Foreign donors suspended £200 million in aid to Kenya in November 1991, largely to pressure the government to carry out political and financial reforms. The suspension is still in place, as financial reforms have not been implemented

Since 1988 there has been a 3 per cent decline in economic growth and investment, wages have fallen, and inflation has soared to an unofficial monthly rate of 35 per .cent, the US report says.

Adding to Kanu’s woes is a massive influx of refugees from war-ravaged Somalia to the north, as well as the semi-permanent presence of refugees from Sudan and Ethiopia, creating a total refugee population of up to one million in Kenya. The Somali conflict has destabilised the north, because of rising crime and guns filtering across the border. Meanwhile, Kenya’s northern region is suffering a drought and food shortage leading to demands that a relief effort like that for Somalia should be launched for Kenya.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited