Leading Article: The deal that Kenya deserves

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KENYA'S presidential and parliamentary elections were extensively rigged. Even so, President Daniel arap Moi was able to achieve only 36 per cent of the votes cast. His support among the two main tribal groups, the Kikuyu and the Luo, was derisory. The President also polled appallingly in the capital, Nairobi, where the most sophisticated, prosperous and detribalised Kenyans live. Had the opposition not been divided on tribal lines among three ambitious and self- indulgent contestants, the man who has ruled Kenya as an increasingly corrupt, autocratic and brutal one-party state since the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978 would almost certainly have been defeated.

These conclusions are shared, with varying degrees of reservation, by the three main teams of observers: the Commonwealth Group, representatives of the American- based International Republican Institute and those nominated by the National Council of Churches of Kenya. Yet they have all demonstrated a marked reluctance to draw the obvious conclusion: that the elections should be rerun with one opposition candidate - preferably under tight international supervision.

Instead, the misused Kenyan voters have, in effect, been told that they should keep quiet and learn to live with the results of last week's deliberately botched procedure. The evasive phraseology employed by the Commonwealth Observers' Group was particularly bizarre. 'In many instances (the results) directly reflect, however imperfectly, the expression of the will of the people,' it said. But it is hard to see how anything could at the same time be a direct yet imperfect reflection of the popular will.

More fundamentally, the statement - that in many instances the results did express the will of the people - surely carries the implication that, in many other instances, the results failed to do so. This ought to be a cause for concern rather than complacency. Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the Commonwealth Secretary-General who arrives in Kenya today, needs to speak far more directly and far more toughly if he is to protect the credibility of his office.

During the Cold War, Kenya's dictatorial and venal rulers were looked on with tolerance by the West because they kept the country in the anti-Communist camp and encouraged capitalist development. President Moi allowed multi-party elections only under belated pressure from the United States and (to a far smaller extent) from this country. Aid was withheld to force the regime to submit itself to popular judgement.

There is one honourable - though misjudged - excuse for international caution. It is that foreign pressure on President Moi to allow new elections could precipitate violence that could end in civil war. Yet the threatening manner in which the incumbent has been talking of an end to the 'restraint' that has supposedly marked his regime suggests that President Moi will resume his repressive ways. If this is the case, Kenya must expect a period of unrest, whatever attitude the international community takes.

This country, the Commonwealth and the United States should press President Moi to reach an accommodation with the newly formed opposition alliance. If he refuses, the West should consider maintaining the aid embargo until honest elections are held.