Opposition Parties Build Bridges Among Tribes

ETHNICITY IN AFRICAN POLITICS. ETHNIC nationalism has emerged as a powerful factor in world politics as communist or authoritarian governments have collapsed in places such as the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Somalia. But it remains little understood, especially in the Afircan context, where the tribalism label leads to easy misperceptions. Here, and on the opinion pages, the Monitor explores the relationship between ethnicity and African politics. KENYA

THROUGHOUT his 14 years in power, President Daniel arap Moi has justified one-party rule by arguing that a multiparty state would disintegrate into tribe-based power struggles.

At first glance, the year-long run-up to tomorrow's democratic elections - the first multiparty ballot since 1966 - would seem to support this contention.

Since last December, when President Moi bowed to domestic and international pressure to lift a ban on opposition parties and allow multiparty elections, hundreds have died and thousands been displaced by tribal fighting. About 35 people died earlier this month in tribal attacks about 150 miles north of here. At least eight people were killed in tribal clashes near Eldoret in the west.

But Kenya has not seen the kind of mass proliferation of tribe-based opposition parties that Moi once predicted. In fact, one of the main emergent opposition parties has attempted to build a coalition between two of Kenya's major tribes.

Politicians "are primarily to blame, and not their followers," for stirring tribal tensions, says Arthur Eshiwani, senior law lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

Kenya has more than 35 tribes, Dr. Eshiwani says. The 1983 report, edited by Harold Nelson, "Kenya: A Country Study" listed the top five, and their percentages of population, as: Kikuyu (21.2 percent); Luhya, consisting of 16 groups (14 percent); Luo (12.9 percent); Kamba (11.4 percent); and Kalenjin, consisting of about seven groups (10.9 percent).

In African states where authoritarian rule has been weakened by multiparty reforms, politicians have sought votes on an ethnic basis, often with violent results, analysts say. This has been the case in Kenya.

A parliamentary report this fall linked the clashes to tribalist statements by politicians seeking support from their tribe by fanning fears of other tribes that had been rivals for years over such issues as land ownership. The recent clashes in Eldoret came within a week after a candidate of Moi's Kenya African National Union reportedly told a press conference that no opposition candidates would be allowed to campaign in his district.

One of the more discontented tribes is the Luo. Under Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, who was a Kikuyu, Luos were shut out of government. While Moi has hired more Luos in his government, Vice President George Saitoti recently hinted that Luos could be left out if they did not support Moi at the polls.

One main opposition party, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya, has tried to build bridges between the Luo and the Kikuyu. The party's presidential candidate is Oginga Odinga, a Luo who was detained by Kenyatta in late 1969. His running mate, Paul Muite, is a Kikuyu.

But 14 years after Kenyatta's death, Luos still are unlikely to vote for a Kikuyu, fearing complete loss of influence, says well-respected Kenyan journalist, Pius Nyamora. And Kikuyus remain unlikely to vote for a Luo.

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