Moi's reforms leave rivals divided

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Kenyan opposition was struggling to regroup yesterday after President Daniel arap Moi took the wind out of its sails with proposals for reform.

The ruling Kanu's National Executive Council, chaired by Mr Moi, proposed on Thursday night that parliament pass a bill for 11 controversial laws to be "repealed or amended where deemed necessary" before elections, due later this year, and to set up a commission to review Kenya's constitution.

The repeal of the 11 laws, some dating back to the colonial period, would reduce Mr Moi's power, but would also undermine the reform drive and in all likelihood split the opposition again.

Mr Moi held on to power in the last elections in 1992 mainly because of the divisions that wracked the opposition. In recent weeks the NCEC, an umbrella body of opposition parties, churches and non-governmental organisations, achieved a semblance of unity and began threatening to obstruct the next elections unless Mr Moi agrees to a list of "minimal reforms".

The agitation culminated two weeks ago, on 7 July, when police used tear gas, live ammunition and clubs to beat pro-reform demonstrators off the streets of Nairobi. Between nine and 14 people were killed, prompting widespread international condemnation and a 10 per cent drop in the value of Kenya's currency.

There is every possibility history could be repeated if Mr Moi moves to catch the opposition off guard by calling elections shortly after repealing the 11 laws.

The proposals surprised opposition leaders and stunned many ordinary Kenyans. "They [Kanu] have dented the pressure," said Willy Mutunga, a leader of the opposition alliance. "It's up to us to make the next move."

Yesterday, an estimated 2,000 people attended a commemoration in Nairobi's Uhuru Park for those killed in the violence of "saba saba" - Swahili for the seventh day on the seventh month. Leaders urged their supporters to stick to the campaign they hoped would unseat Mr Moi, 73, and in power for 19 years.

"The freedom we have fought for has not been restored," said Democratic Party chief Mwai Kibaki. "Struggle to the very end."

The NCEC says that in the absence of reform it will launch a series of protests, beginning next week in Mombasa. The campaign is to build towards a national protest and general strike scheduled for 8 August. But yesterday, in what could be interpreted as a weakening of resolve, an NCEC spokesman said that the movement would call off its planned actions as soon as it was satisfied the government's reform offer was genuine.