Kenyan Opposition Parties Struggle to Get on Track

KENYA'S political opposition, accustomed to being on the attack, faces growing domestic and international criticism for not constructing detailed political reforms. In fact, many Kenyans express dismay at the power struggle taking place both between and within the main opposition parties.

As the country moves toward multiparty elections, opposition leaders have called for an independent judiciary, a free press, and fair elections. But they have yet to describe how they would improve the failing economy or reform the administration.

"The opposition has fallen short of the expectations of the people," says Charles Nyachae of the Kenya chapter of the International Commission of Jurists. "People are becoming disillusioned." A Western diplomat says the opposition is in "a kind of messy state, jockeying for power."

President Daniel arap Moi, who has ruled with an increasingly tight grip since 1978, responded to foreign aid cutoffs in December by legalizing opposition parties. According to the Constitution, the president must call elections by March 1993.

Both the Democratic Party (DP) and the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), the two main opposition parties, draw their leadership from various tribes. This suggests Arthur Eshiwani, chairman of the public law department of the University of Nairobi, is one main obstacle to drafting platforms.

"Given the tribal nature of this society, they [leaders within each party] are very uncertain of each other, especially in FORD," Dr. Eshiwani says. Another Kenyan lawyer says FORD never really moved from a pressure group to a political party.

Although the election process got under way in earnest last month, response to the government's voter registration drive has been slow. An initial opposition boycott - replaced July 2 with a call for massive registration - succeeded in discouraging many urban Kenyans from signing up. And tribal violence in western districts this spring is keeping many rural Kenyans from reaching local registration centers.

Lee Kanyare, a DP press spokesman, also claims that the government's registration figures are "cooked," or exaggerated.

Speaking before a congressional subcommittee in June, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Herman Cohen branded the opposition's boycott "ill-advised." Mr. Cohen acknowledged "irregularities in the registration," but added that "it is still unclear whether the irregularities are a deliberate attempt at fraud or the result of poor organization."

Responding to Mr. Cohen, the opposition detailed alleged irregularities and demanded an independent electoral commission to replace the one named by Mr. Moi.

Some Kenyan analysts see similarities between the opposition and the ruling Kenya African National Union in the way they react to criticism. Martin Shikuku, a FORD presidential hopeful, recently was blasted by his rival in FORD, Oginga Odinga, for meeting with Moi before consulting the party leaders.

"We started believing FORD wanted democracy in this country," says Lee Muthoga, a Kenyan lawyer. But "opposition parties have tended to regard positions as more important than principles," he says. Mr. Shikuku counters that the infighting is healthy. "We are practicing democracy, where we can disagree."

The opposition has begun to work more in concert to defeat Moi, says DP Chairman Mwai Kibaki. They met most recently at a conference set up by the National Council of Churches of Kenya. But Mr. Kibaki admits an opposition victory would bring "no major ideological change." Change would come in terms of "honesty" and better management, he says.

For now, the US has extended the aid freeze pending significant democratic and economic reforms. In his testimony, Cohen accused the Moi regime of blocking opposition rallies and the opening of branch party offices, and "harassing the press."

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