Kenya's Moi Resists African Tide of Change

WHILE political change comes to more and more African states, Kenya's president is standing firm on the issue of one-party rule.In the Congo, pro-multiparty supporters have stripped President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of most of his powers. At a national conference of opposition forces, a new prime minister was named to rule for a one-year transition period leading to free elections. In Togo and Zaire, authoritarian governments have agreed to demands for similar national conferences. And in Madagascar, thousands of multiparty proponents have been marching in the streets demanding elections. But in Kenya, President Daniel Arap Moi continues to insist that one-party rule is the only way to avoid tribal conflicts. Still, in apparent response to demands for political reform, he has recently made some concessions on human rights and election issues. On June 21, Moi released the country's last official political prisoner, Raila Odinga, son of a former vice-president. (Some Kenyans contend that other government critics in prison or awaiting trial on criminal charges are, in effect, political prisoners.) THE same day, leaders of the sole legal party, the Kenya African National Union, unanimously adopted an electoral reform at Moi's suggestion: There will no longer be a primary election for parliament. Anyone can now run - but under key restrictions. The party retains the power to "clear" candidates, and only candidates who are life members of the party can run for election, officials say. These concessions, however, are unlikely to dilute demands for a switch from what critics call authoritarian government to one based on free and competitive elections. "We can't have democracy without multiparty elections," says one Kenyan attorney who welcomes the reforms but says they don't go far enough. A senior Kenyan official told the Monitor that multiparty elections are definitely not part of Moi's plans, at least for now. Some of the government's main critics are suspended from the party, and it is not clear if they will be allowed to run. A senior Kenyan official insists changes are genuine. The party clearance mechanism has seldom been used in the past, he says. And anyone who runs and claims to have been cheated by rigging can carry a complaint "all the way to the high court," he adds. But a prominent Kenyan church official is skeptical. He says he is waiting to see if the party uses the "clearance" and other remaining controls to prevent critics from running. A few weeks before the election reform was adopted, Moi replaced his controversial attorney-general with Amos Wako, a man recognized even by critics as a competent lawyer and one associated with some international human rights organizations. ONE of Mr. Wako's first acts was to drop government charges of sedition against critic Gitobu Imanyara, who wrote an editorial in the Law Monthy magazine, alleging that a disproportionate share of key government appointments was going to members of Moi's minority Kalenjin tribe. Mr. Imanyara's arrest had attracted considerable international criticism from human rights groups. A few days after Imanyara's release May 28, the government seized his passport as he was about to go abroad to receive a human rights award. The same week, Moi blasted Imanyara as a "liar" for claiming during detention that he had been in ill health. In a Monitor interview a few days after his release, Imanyara, who still faces charges of stealing from one of his clients several years ago, said he was not about to throw in the towel in his campaign for improved rights and multiparty elections. Describing his imprisonment from February to late May, Imanyara says, "I was held in solitary confinement for 24 hours a day, a damp cell.... There is dire shortage of food in prison." He was also chained by one wrist to a hospital bed for more than a month, he says. He alleged that Kenya remains "a police state" with a judiciary "manipulated" by the government, and a parliament elected by "fraud." While dubbing the appointment of the new attorney general "very welcome," Imanyara urged that Wako not "compromise" his solid domestic and international reputation for political purposes. (Attempts to reach Wako for a response to some of Imanyara's allegations were unsuccessful.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Kenya's Moi Resists African Tide of Change
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today