A WIDENING split in the opposition is dashing the hopes of many Kenyans that 14-year authoritarian President Daniel arap Moi will be defeated in upcoming elections.
"My gut reaction is that the current division in the opposition is, to some extent, securing the reelection of the president," says Joe Okwach, former chairman of the Law Society of Kenya.
Mr. Okwach, a critic of the Moi government not aligned with any political party, blames the split in the opposition on ambitious power struggles by party leaders who are "mouthing about democracy but not believing in it," while trying to climb onto the "driving seat" of power.
Some Kenyan political activists insist President Moi is so unpopular and the economy in such shambles that most voters will rally around whichever opposition candidate appears most able to win. The Constitution calls for elections by March 1993.
"When the crunch comes, none of [the voters] will like to see a situation where Moi comes back," says Gitobu Imanyara, newly elected secretary-general of one wing of the main opposition party, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD).
When President Moi finally caved in last December to strong Kenyan and international pressure to allow opposition parties, many Kenyans assumed he would be swept from office in the next election.
FORD, which had been operating for months as a pressure group, quickly registered as a political party, led by its six founding members of various ethnic groups, particularly the Luo and Kikuyu tribes.
But the Kikuyu electorate was soon split by formation of the Democratic Party, led by Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu and a former vice president.
A few months later, cracks in FORD's unity surfaced when opposition activist Kenneth Matiba, a Kikuyu businessman and long-time politician, returned from London. He had been convalescing there following his detention by the Moi government in 1990 and 1991 for proposing multiparty reforms.
Mr. Matiba soon challenged FORD interim chairman Oginga Odinga, a Luo, and another former vice president, for both the FORD chairmanship and the party's presidential nomination.
THE split in FORD widened as Matiba and Mr. Odinga began slinging charges at each other. Odinga now finds himself heading one wing of FORD, while the other four surviving founders, led by Matiba and party founder Martin Shikuku, have formed another wing. Masinde Muliro, the sixth FORD founder, died in August.
Odinga organized national grass-roots elections of delegates to a party congress Sept. 4 in Nairobi. At the congress, attended by more than 2,500 Kenyans, Odinga was unanimously appointed party chairman - and FORD's presidential candidate.
Odinga claimed he has more than just Luo support. "You see how people have come from all over the country?" he said in an interview during the Congress.
"You can see me. Do you find me old? Age is a great advantage" in terms of experience, he said, responding to criticism about his age.
Some delegates, however, seemed more anti-Moi than pro-Odinga. Abdulkaidr Hassan, from Garissa, a town in Kenya's northeast and far from the predominantly Luo area of western Kenya, said: "People do not care much who replaces Moi. All they want is someone new."
Others at the congress complained Odinga and his supporters did not allow enough time to debate a last-minute amendment to the party's proposed constitution, under which delegates to such national FORD congresses choose the party's presidential candidates. The amended constitution was adopted.
The Matiba-Shikuku group insists on direct nominations by party members at the grass roots, and intends to start such elections Sept. 12.
Since the Odinga-led congress, a few of the candidate's supporters have announced their defection from FORD, without specifying their new political allegiance. Matiba claims the Odinga congress was not legitimate because only one of the FORD founders organized it.
Matiba claims support beyond his Kikuyu base, citing many phone calls, letters, and delegations of Kenyans to his home near Nairobi.
He says he and Mr. Shikuku will serve as each other's vice president depending on which of the two wins the top post in the grass-roots nominating elections by their wing of FORD.
Meanwhile, the split in FORD, and the power of the incumbency, are working to Moi's advantage, says Wangari Maathai, an internationally recognized environmentalist and FORD activist with the Odinga wing.
Moi has at his disposal the civil service to campaign for him, exclusive use of the state-run TV and radio, and "a lot of money," to help him woo uneducated voters, Dr. Maatahi says.
Even if Moi does win, however, as much as a third of the new parliament, to be elected at the same time as the president, is likely to be made up of members of the various opposition parties, attorney Okwach says, ensuring an independent voice in the new government on such issues as human rights.