Moi election rivals fumble their chance to win power

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Kenya's voters go to the polls today to select a president and parliament. Ed O'Loughlin, in Nairobi, says tribal loyalties hold the key to the outcome, which is unlikely to heal the country's divisions.

The last time Kenya went to the polls in 1992, hundreds of people died in a wave of violence and "ethnic cleansing" that had precious little to do with democracy. This year's campaign has been much less bloody, with "only" half a dozen deaths reported in the final week. But whoever wins, there are signs of trouble ahead.

Most polls suggest the incumbent president, Daniel arap Moi, will stretch his 19-year rule by another five-year term, while candidates of his Kenyan African National Union (Kanu) are also confident of holding on to the majority they have enjoyed since independence from Britain in 1963.

Glossing over his government's poor record on human rights - the UN rates Kenya the third most corrupt country in the world - Moi supporters insist he alone has the experience and the touch needed to maintain some kind of peace in a country whose 28 million inhabitants are split into about 70 ethnic groups.

But there are fears that a fifth Moi term could trigger a succession struggle within his Kanu party. Access to power is access to money, and reports suggest much of the recent political violence has taken place between rival Kanu candidates.

Mr Moi's task, as in the 1992 vote, has been made easier by the opposition's incompetence. In spite of their earlier efforts to make common cause, Mr Moi faces no less than 14 candidates for the presidency. Of the four main challengers, only Mwai Kibaki of the Democratic Party managed to stage an impressive show of force at his final rallies when he addressed some 15,000 supporters in Nairobi's Uhuru Park.

Michael Wamalwa, of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, called off his final rally citing a lack of funds, while Charity Ngilu, the first woman to run for the presidency, failed to turn up for her own planned rally on Saturday; her aides said she had had to stay behind in her rural constituency of Kitui to fight off attempts by Kanu officials to buy the votes of members of her Kamba tribe.

Ms Ngilu's ethnic stronghold may be the key to the whole election. Mr Moi needs at least 25 per cent of the vote in five of Kenya's eight provinces to avoid a run-off against the second-placed candidate, so a strong showing by Ms Ngilu in her native Eastern Province may deny him at least one of the five he took in 1992.