Kenya rattled by claim of new coup plot

Kenya, just recovered from last summer's coup plot, is in the throes of another attempt to topple President Daniel arap Moi. So charges President Moi at any rate. The Kenyan leader says that a member of his own Cabinet is attempting to unseat him with the help of a foreign power.

Moi has named neither the Cabinet minister allegedly involved nor the country he says is grooming the minister for the presidency. But he says he is ''monitoring the progress of the plot.''

The charges have produced a crop of highly emotional pledges of loyalty to the President by Cabinet ministers over the past few days. Foreign ambassadors and commissioners also have stepped forward to say ''it is not I.'' This last group includes Britain's high commissioner, Sir Leonard Allinson, who called on Moi personally to disclaim knowledge of a plot.

Recently frictions have been evident in Moi's Cabinet. But talk of a plot appears to have dampened rivalries and brought some unity to the group. Some observers privately suggest that Moi may have shrewdly announced his suspicions of a plot in order to nip these divisions in the bud.

Moi is perhaps more politically vulnerable now than he has been at any time since he took over the presidency in 1978 upon the death of Jomo Kenyata. To a large degree, this stems from the nation's rising unemployment (about 13 percent) and an economic growth rate that has slowed to about 2 percent. But having suffered one coup attempt, he grip is considered less secure than it once was.

As for as the countries involved in the ''plot,'' some ministers and Mombasa city councillors have accused South Africa and Israel of a role. But these nations are traditional whipping boys in Kenyan politics, so their names are expected to pop up.

Kenyan newspapers are devoting column after column to the unfolding story. One newspaper referred Sunday to ''leaders in three-piece suits,'' which somewhat cuts down the size of the field of possible traitors.

One political journal, the ''Weekly Review,'' points out that Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, Israel, Tanzania, and Uganda have interests in Kenya and may be among the countries Moi is fingering.

Some diplomatic sources say Moi is piqued at Britain for allowing Lenyan left-wingers to wage a campaign against Kenyan from London after last August's attempted coup.

The Kenyan who Britain is most closely associated with Britain is Minister of Constitutional Affairs Charles Njonjo, the ''Review'' said.

The American stake in Kenya, the Review notes, is tied up with US strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. The US is improving port and air facilities in Mombasa in response to defense planners' recognition that that the US has not paid enough enough attention to the region.

The Soviet Union, the Review said, ''would clearly wish to take advantage of any situation that may open up the way for a revolutionary change in Kenya.'' And Israel, it says, ''might lend a hand in a plot . . . if its interests in Africa were threatened by the present government.''

A finger was pointed early on at Kenya's vice-president, Mwai Kibaki, but President Moi squashed this by declaring he had complete faith in Kibaki. Then Moi reprimanded those (unnamed) who were trying to undermine him.

In recent days, minister after minister has come out with strident accusations against the unnamed colleague.

One assistant minister, Martin Shikuku, has urged the President to hold a Cabinet meeting at which all the ministers should either deny the charge or confess all.

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