Democracy in Africa

DEMOCRACY has traveled some rough terrain in Africa this year.

Elections in Cameroon were marred by tribal violence. Nigeria's transition to civilian rule has been prolonged amid charges of ballot fraud. Angola's first democratic poll failed to hand outright victory to either of the two main presidential candidates; parts of the country have returned to war.

Now it is Kenya's turn. A year after President Daniel arap Moi bowed to pressure to initiate democratic reforms, Kenyans will vote tomorrow in their first multiparty elections in 26 years.

This spring, hundreds were killed and thousands displaced in tribal clashes. Similar incidents have occurred this month. A parliamentary report concluded the violence was provoked by "tribalist" statements by politicians on both sides.

Opposition candidates have been denied equal access to the state-owned media. The government has abused a law requiring permits for political rallies in an attempt to squelch the opposition's ability to assemble. About 3 million Kenyans eligible to vote were unable to register.

The main parties spent most of the year mired in internal power struggles, leaving little time to convey an agenda to voters.

Thus, the country that long has been a positive example in Africa is likely to follow, rather than lead. President Moi is expected to win, and any signs of electoral fraud could result in renewed violence.

As in eastern Europe, so in Africa, political reform is a long, slow process. And there are encouraging signs in Kenya.

This vote is the last hurrah for a group of politicians who have long sought power. Nipping at their heels is a new generation, well-educated in law and human rights, whose careers will be marked not by a struggle for freedom from colonial rule but from tribal, parochial government.

The opposition could win up to a third of the seats in parliament, making the legislature much more than a rubber stamp for ruling-party policy. The independent press, although still harassed, has become increasingly outspoken.

If Kenya avoids ethnic violence tomorrow, it could give African democratization a much-needed boost in the new year.

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