Africa: Tribal rifts wreck Kenya's chance to throw out Moi

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The Independent Online
Daniel arap Moi appears to have the achieved the victory he sought in Kenya's elections. But Ed O'Loughlin in Nairobi asks whether this will simply deepen the crisis in the country.

Amid all the sound and fury of this week's elections in Kenya one remarkable story of human achievement has gone almost unnoticed.

On Tuesday it was announced that Humphrey Ochuo Makasembo, a candidate for the National Development Party, had trounced his four rivals to win the Uruba ward seat on Migori town council. For Mr Makasembo it was a triumph over the greatest of handicaps: three weeks before the polls opened on Monday, he died.

Mr Makasembo's victory from the grave was by no means the only strange thing about this week's elections. By the time polls closed all the main parties contesting the parallel presidential, parliamentary and civic elections - including the ruling Kenyan African National Union - were claiming to be the victims of impersonation, ballot-stuffing, vote-buying and intimidation. All alleged that the electoral commission's gross bungling, which caused many polling stations to open late or not at all on Monday, was part of an anti-democratic conspiracy against them.

The two leading opposition figures, Raila Odinga and fellow presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki, yesterday rejected the preliminary results which showed Mr Moi would be swept back into power, and called for a new poll within 21 days.

With counting continuing yesterday, unofficial figures from 166 of the 210 constituencies showed PresidentMoi comfortably leading his nearest rival, Democratic Party candidate Mr Kibaki, by 1,974,871 votes to 1,633,597. His share of the vote was 39.2 per cent - a surprise increase on his 36 per cent in 1992.

But even if the elections were really free and fair, the late Mr Makasembo's story shows that there are still deep flaws in Kenyan democracy.

Mr Makasembo posthumously topped the poll because his name appeared on the ballot paper beside the tractor symbol of Mr Odinga's National Development Party.

Mr Odinga is a member of the Luo tribe, the second largest in Kenya, and like all major Kenyan parties, his NDP is really little more than an ethnic caucus. Migori is in the Luo heartland of Nyanza province. Had the NDP nominated a dead donkey in Mr Makasembo's stead it too would have come in at a canter. In fact the NDP took every seat in Migori.

Ethnic and regional considerations dominate Kenyan politics to the exclusion of virtually everything else.

In the 1992 election, for example, candidates Kenneth Matiba and Mwai Kibaki, both members of Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, won 95 per cent of the votes in the Kikuyu-dominated Central Province, but only 23 per cent in Rift Valley, stronghold of President Moi's Kalenjin tribal alliance. Raila Odinga won 75 per cent of the vote in his Luo-dominated Nyanza province but only 1 per cent in Central. Early figures from this year's poll show the same massive regional imbalances.

This year there was some excitement when Charity Ngilu became the first woman to make a serious bid for the presidency. As a member of the small Kamba tribe it was felt she might win votes from women of all ethnicities and from men sick of the tribal deadlock. This has not materialised. Early figures put Mrs Ngilu a poor fifth, with most of her votes coming from her native Eastern province.

Her main significance now is as a potential spoiler. To be re-elected Mr Moi needs to win 25 per cent of the vote in five of Kenya's eight provinces and Mrs Ngilu's candidacy threatens to deprive him of a substantial block of the Kamba vote in one of the five provinces which he won last time. Unofficial figures suggest that he may reach the target in seven provinces - a result which the opposition is certain to reject as fraudulent.

For the past 19 years Mr Moi's great skill as a ruler has been to play off the three largest tribes - the Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya - against each other while maintaining the support of the smaller peoples.

Although most members of the larger tribes now detest Mr Moi's government for its corruption and misrule, they still seem unable to unite to get rid of him. In 1992, despite claims of massive Kanu vote-buying and suggestions of serious irregularities, Mr Moi won only 36 per cent of the vote but still won easily.

This time around the opposition vote is split amongst 14 presidential candidates and 22 would-be parliamentary parties.

With political tensions running high across the country and all sides condemning the election as flawed and rigged, Kenya's battered reputation as East Africa's richest and most stable country seems destined to suffer a further blow. Mr Makasembo, wherever he is now, may feel he is better off out of it.