Charity takes to the streets in Kenya poll

Undeterred by violence, a feisty anti-corruption mother of three is a serious threat to President Daniel arap Moi, reports James Roberts

No one knows yet whether Charity Ngilu has what it takes to be President of Kenya, but she does possess one important attribute. In matters of street fighting, she can give as good as she gets.

Her national profile rocketed a few months ago when a picture of her hitching up her skirt to flee from the tear gas at a demonstration was splashed across the front pages. A story at the time of the recent voter registration exercise, headlined "Ngilu beats up official", also did nothing to diminish the vigorous image she was developing.

On that occasion Mrs Ngilu felt she had evidence that the officer in charge of registering the people in her Kitui Central constituency was tampering with the forms so that her supporters would be disqualified. Accompanied by 20 young men she marched up to confront Mwema Malonza, a supporter of the ruling Kanu party, and grabbed him by the lapels as she issued threats. Only the arrival of plain clothes security officers prevented more humiliation for Mr Malonza.

An incident on 12 July, in which she was this time on the receiving end, had more sinister overtones. She was returning from a rally outside Nairobi with a fellow opposition MP when a truck started to follow them. After several miles her vehicle developed two punctures. When she stopped the truck stopped too and its occupants, carrying sticks and powerful torches, attacked the two MPs, robbed them and left them stranded. The senior policeman in the area where the incident took place described it as a "normal highway robbery", but Mrs Ngilu feels sure the attack was political.

The attack testifies to the difficulty of separating violence from politics in Kenya. This tangled knot is being exposed vividly on the coast around Mombasa. In the township of Likoni, a ferry ride from the city, a mysterious militia has bombed a police station and killed or attempted to drive out non-coastal people. The ruthless General Service Unit is expected to move into the area this weekend, after the expiry of a deadline set by President Daniel arap Moi for the recovery of weapons looted from the station. The GSU has a reputation for indiscriminate violence, and the past two days have seen a vast exodus of the Likoni population. More than half its 100,000 people have already taken the ferry out, and a place once vibrant with life is becoming a ghost town.

The militia's aim was to sow ethnic discord. The message in pamphlets and of its attacks was that people of local origin would be safe, but "up-country" people - the vast army of incomers who have arrived in recent years to cash in on the coastal tourist boom - would have to leave or die. The effect of driving out these probable opposition supporters would be to leave a broadly pro-government voting population, but it is hard to see what benefits the government as a whole is getting from the Likoni violence.

Opposition leaders, including Mrs Ngilu, share a view on this. She says it shows the government is either impotent, or is somehow involved. She spares the president blame only by saying he is no longer in control. "Moi is the chief executive of the state, and should tell us who is killing people." Richard Leakey, a leader of the unregistered opposition Safina Party, told me: "I do not think you can blame the president, but I do not think he is blameless either." Mr Moi is seen as captive in some degree to hardliners in his party, such as vice-president George Saitoti and Nicholas Biwott.

Mr Moi, who has ruled since 1978, won fewer votes in the 1992 poll than the opposition as a whole; he got 1.9 million to their 3.3 million. But he romped home because the opposition was divided, giving him the largest single vote, and he fulfilled the constitutional requirement of gaining 25 per cent of the vote in five of Kenya's eight provinces.

No date has been set for this year's election, but Mrs Ngilu could challenge strongly if the opposition pulls together. Seven opposition parties and other non-political groups have come together in the National Convention Assembly to demand minimal constitutional reforms before the poll, and major democratic safeguards after. They do not want Kenya to follow the example of Zaire, where an all-powerful leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, was ousted simply to make way for another, Laurent Kabila, who can exploit all the mechanisms of dictatorship left behind.

Charity Ngilu says she wants to be a one-term president who, through a coalition government (at present not possible without constitutional reform), will usher in "a process of healing, a process of give and take". The declaration that she does not want a job for life sounds more credible coming from her lips than it would from many of her rivals within the opposition.

The daughter of a minister in the Ebenezer Gospel Church, and now married with three children, Mrs Ngilu founds much of her political ideology on a rugged idealism. In her Kitui constituency she made the building of health clinics and water provision priorities. While she genuinely seems to believe that the NAC is "the only group that is going to save this country", with its platform of irreversible democratic reforms and established safeguards against corruption, she correctly predicted that Kanu would seek to divide opposition MPs connected with the group, a process which has since begun.

Mrs Ngilu will have the strong support of the many women's groups that have mushroomed in Kenya in recent years, though she will be fiercely opposed by the women's groups in the ruling party. The role of women in politics has to be clearly defined, she says; otherwise they will remain "choir singers for male candidates". She is a real threat to Mr Moi, because her hold on the Kamba vote in Eastern Province could prevent him getting 25 per cent of the vote there.

But the opposition is by no means united behind her. On Friday Mrs Ngilu's former colleague in the Democratic Party, the old political heavyweight Mwai Kibaki, declared his candidacy. His is not the only powerful male voice in the opposition that will be hoping to muffle her fierce anger. One fact that neither Mr Kibaki nor any other politician will be able to change, however, is this: in Kenya, far more women turn out to vote than men.

Suggested Topics
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game