KENYAN President Daniel arap Moi has initiated secret negotiations with opposition leaders from key tribes in an effort to broaden his support in the new multiparty Parliament, set to convene Jan. 26.
The gesture reflects the fact that, after 14 years of strict one-party rule, President Moi now faces substantial opposition in a Parliament he once controlled completely.
Moi won reelection in the Dec. 29 ballot, the first multiparty vote in Kenya in 26 years, with a plurality of only 36 percent. His party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), will hold 112 of the 200 seats in Parliament.
That is 17 votes short of the majority needed to pass constitutional amendments. Many of Kenya's most important political changes in recent years have come through such amendments.
In the behind-the-scenes meetings in recent days, Moi has appealed to incoming parliamentarians from the Luo and Luhya tribes, two of Kenya's largest ethnic groups.
But he apparently has avoided reconciliation efforts with the Kikuyus, Kenya's largest tribe, which voted overwhelmingly against him. That decision holds two risks, according to opposition politicians.
First, Kikuyus control much of the economic wealth of Kenya. Increased friction between Moi and the Kikuyus could undermine efforts to get Kenya's shaky economy moving again.
Second, playing non-Kikuyus against Kikuyus could reignite the kind of tribal clashes that took several hundred lives last year and left thousands homeless. Charges of tribalism
"Moi's motives are not sincere," says Paul Muite, a Kikuyu newly elected to Parliament and the first vice chairman of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya. "Basically he's trying to practice tribalism."
FORD-Kenya, one of the main opposition parties, was led by Luo presidential candidate Oginga Odinga, but had the backing of some Kikuyus.
Gitobu Imanyara, FORD-Kenya secretary-general, adds: "Moi wants to isolate the Kikuyus. He doesn't trust them. The results [of the election] confirm his worst fears: The Kikuyu did not vote for him."
But a senior Kenyan official told the Monitor that the meetings Moi held last week at his home in Nairobi - meetings the official said the government had hoped would not be disclosed - were simply a matter of political logic.
"The motive is to let the government machinery continue" by getting broader cooperation from tribes which gave Moi at least some support, the official said.
The official said many non-Kikuyus fear political domination by the Kikuyus. Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was a Kikuyu. Many Luos say they felt unfairly excluded from government posts under Kenyatta.
Moi belongs to a cluster of minority tribes called the Kalenjin. Since gaining the presidency in 1978, following Kenyatta's death, Moi has built his political base on a coalition of minority tribes.
So far, the opposition shows few open signs of wanting to cooperate with Moi in his new administration. Mr. Muite, for example, says he would not be interested in a Cabinet post.
"The Cabinet exists in name only; it's Moi who runs things," he says.
Cooperation in Parliament from FORD-Kenya will depend on whether the government "takes steps to eradicate corruption," Muite says. "They cannot expect us to support them if money goes into bottomless holes."
Beden Mbugua, spokesman for FORD-Asili, another major opposition party, voices similar rhetoric.
"Moi has shown first he is not ready to recognize the opposition and take them seriously, in spite of the fact that the opposition has the majority of Kenyans behind them," he says. Economic toll
A stalemate between the government and the opposition would further weaken the economy, Mr. Mbugua argues.
A bag of corn meal, a staple here, has tripled in cost in the past two years, while wages have lagged behind. Mbugua says that fertilizer costs have increased to the point where many farmers cannot afford to buy as much as they need. Hospitals are short of medicines, and health-care costs often exceed the patient's ability to pay. Many university graduates, among others, have been unable to find jobs.
United States Ambassador to Kenya Smith Hempstone says he hopes the opposition and government will work together on such issues as corruption, the economy, and Kenya's educational system. He says he hopes the government will not "just slander people, but defend its policies where it can, and where it can't, maybe negotiate."
Donor nations suspended millions of dollars in aid to Kenya in 1991 pending democratic reforms. They have not decided yet whether to release those funds.