Police Crackdowns Underscore Slow Reform in Kenya

AFTER years of authoritarian rule in Kenya, the first competitive presidential campaign is faltering amid public dismay and violence.

Stung by Western aid cutoffs, the government reluctantly legalized opposition parties last December and is bound by the Constitution to hold elections by next March. But President Daniel arap Moi seems determined to run the presidential and parliamentary campaigns by his own rules.

Using the Public Order Act inherited from the British colonial administration, President Moi has required the opposition to apply for permits to hold rallies, make speeches, or open branch offices.

Two incidents Saturday underscore Moi's tight grip. In the northern town of Embu, police blocked a motorcade of opposition leader Kenneth Matiba, and later tear-gassed his unlicensed speech to supporters.

Edith Matiba, the candidate's wife, was clubbed by police. "I was hit by a gun by two policeman, one from the front, and one from the back," she told the Monitor.

In Mombasa, police fired shots into the air to disperse Muslims protesting a government ban on an Islamic party. Ethnic- and religious-based groups remain illegal.

Responding to the Matiba incident, a United States Embassy official stated Saturday: "A political campaign in which presidential candidates are denied ... freedom of movement and association, on whatever pretext, betrays President Moi's personal commitment to a free and fair election."

Government critics say voter registration, scheduled to end yesterday, was flawed. The opposition says the government refused to give many young voters identity cards, which are necessary for registration. According to the journal Africa Confidential, unpublished census data detailing the ethnic composition of the country have given the government an advantage in redrawing electoral districts.

Kenyans also express dismay at the verbal attacks lobbed back and forth by presidential candidates between and within the major opposition parties.

"Competitive politics is not something we are accustomed to," says independent Kenyan attorney Lee Muthoga. "We will make mistakes in learning. Overzealousness will overtake us. There is need for concern."

Mr. Muthoga blames Matiba, a candidate of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, for provoking the police attack by not obtaining a permit for his address in Embu. Mrs. Matiba says he sought permission to travel and had been touring to meet, but not address, supporters. Police and Army soldiers blocked his motorcade in Wajir and Marsabit, in the north, before Embu.

Bedan Mbugua, a Matiba supporter, says: "The Constitution grants the freedoms of expression and movement. But they are taken away by the Public Order Act." He has filed suit against the law; the first hearing is scheduled for Monday. Moi said Saturday the Act enhances public security.

Meanwhile, growing food shortages may force boarding schools to close and are causing long lines. Workers complain their paychecks are being eaten up by inflation.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Police Crackdowns Underscore Slow Reform in Kenya
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today