Kenya Announces Tentative Reform

But President Moi's changes are unlikely to satisfy domestic critics

WHAT Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi wants, he usually gets, despite his talk of Kenyan ``democracy''' and open ``debate.'' That much was clear Monday and Tuesday in a shiny indoor sports arena here, as more than 3,000 delegates of Kenya's sole political party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), gathered to approve limited political reforms.

Like enthusiastic sports fans, delegates for two days wildly cheered speakers praising Mr. Moi's 1988 decision to scrap the secret ballot for primary elections. Then the delegates did an instant flip and wildly cheered Moi when he spoke late Tuesday, in favor of restoring the secret ballot.

The secret ballot had been abolished for parliamentary primary elections in favor of voting by publicly lining up behind a picture of the candidate of choice, a system critics say intimidates people into voting for those favored by the government.

Delegate Mohammed Hussein, of northeastern Kenya, was asked whether anyone disagreed with the president on any issue. ``No disagreement,'' he said.

This kind of cheering-section reaction, regardless of what the president says or does, appears strongest among party and parliament members whose positions depend on Moi's support.

Outside this relatively small circle, however, many Kenyans disagree with the president's stands, renewed at this week's party meeting, including his stand against multiparty politics and against new elections for parliament.

Multiparty politics would fan tribal divisions, says KANU delegate Peter Munala, of Kakamega, repeating the argument used by Moi. Many people genuinely are concerned that the multiparty movement is the strategy Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, hopes to regain the presidency it held prior to Moi's taking office. And they see Moi as a symbol of unity for Kenya, a country that has avoided civil war.

But multiparty advocates say tribes can cooperate and would have to do so in order to gain a parliamentary majority. And with one party, one-man rule under Moi will continue, they contend.

One Kenyan attorney called this week's reforms ``cosmetic change.... KANU is still the sole party and nominates its candidates. You can't have another platform. Nobody can oppose the president. It's the same old story,'' said the attorney, who asked not to be identified.

Many Kenyans resent what they claim was massive government rigging of 1988 parliamentary elections to get rid of critics. ``Seventy percent of those parliamentarians wouldn't be there if the elections had been fair,'' said a Kenyan journalist this week.

For several weeks earlier this year, a wide cross section of the public spoke out in hearings run by KANU, demanding change ranging from multiparty politics to new elections. This week's meeting approved some changes called for in those hearings, including restoring the secret ballot and an end to expulsion of critics from KANU. (See story at right.)

While the limited reforms failed to satisfy many Kenyans, they also fail to meet United States conditions for reinstating about one-fourth of its aid to Kenya, cut under a law signed by President Bush in early November. Conditions include: charging or releasing all political detainees; ending physical abuse of prisoners; restoring freedom of expression and the independence of judges.

The US pressure for change is ``annoying'' because it's ``on their timetable, not ours,'' says Amboka Andere, acting deputy editor in chief of The Kenya Times, the KANU newspaper. ``I see a lot of people [Kenyans] who are for reforms taking a hard stand'' as a result of the recent US pressure, he told the Monitor.

But in another interview, Kenyan attorney Paul Muite, an outspoken government critic, welcomed US aid cuts saying they will speed reform. ``The government, after perhaps initial prevarication, will change,'' he said.

Moi has promised to restore judicial independence, something he abolished in 1988. But critics wonder if shifting the power to fire judges from the president back to a panel appointed by the president will provide real independence.

This week, with the judicial protection legislation pending, the high court threw out government-initiated contempt charges against Kenyan attorney Pheroze Nowrojee, who had criticized the court for delay in a ruling in one of his cases. Some Kenyan attorneys suspect the charge had come shortly after Mr. Nowrojee won an unusual court injunction against a government ban on the sale of The Nairobi Law Monthly, a magazine that has carried articles about multiparty democracy.

Meanwhile, the two leading advocates of multiparty democracy have been in detention for several months. Local daily newspapers continue to print allegations of police mistreatment and torture of some Kenyans. And a number of periodicals remain banned, while others practice self-censorship to escape banning.

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