Stung by Opposition Gains, Kenya Regime Returns To Politics of Intimidation
WITHIN weeks of being declared narrow victors in the country's first open election in 26 years, President Daniel arap Moi and his Kenyan African National Union (KANU) have unleashed a campaign of terror reminiscent of the authoritarian one-party state. Renewed government repression has shattered the hopes of Kenyans and some diplomats in Nairobi that the election, which was neither free nor fair, could have been the springboard for a democratic society.
Recent government-sponsored violence has brought this once-peaceful East African nation to the brink of civil war. Last week, members of the Kenyan secret police attempted to abduct Paul Muite, an elected leader of FORD-Kenya, the key opposition party, from the basement of his office. Only the intervention of a crowd of supporters aborted the kidnapping. Mr. Muite, the de facto leader of the opposition, publicly condemned the continuing government slaughter of those who did not vote for KANU in Northeast ern, Eastern, and Rift Valley Provinces.
Sadly, President Moi's actions come as no surprise. A despot who has ruled with an iron hand for 14 years, Moi was a reluctant convert to competitive politics. He legalized opposition political parties only after donors had suspended aid pending economic and political reforms. He then took every conceivable step to hobble the opposition and steal the election. He set the stage by orchestrating ethnic clashes, refusing to register eligible voters in opposition strongholds, and denying the opposition acces s to the media and permits for rallies.
On election day, with international and domestic observers reporting widespread irregularities and rigging, Moi edged out the three main opposition challengers in the presidential sweepstakes. The opposition fared much better in the parliamentary poll: It won in all the districts where government agents were prevented from rigging the election. In the 188-seat National Assembly, the combined opposition captured at least 88 seats, denying KANU the two-thirds majority required for constitutional amendments . The opposition immediately formed a united front, the Opposition Alliance, rejected the electoral results, and called for another election.
Regrettably, division within the opposition made it easier for the government to steal the election. The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), Kenya's original pro-democracy movement, was split by ethnic divisions into two competing parties. The main one, FORD-Kenya, was led by Oginga Odinga, a former vice president, and Muite, the former chair of the Law Society of Kenya. It remained the core of the movement. The other wing, FORD-Asili, was led by Kenneth Matiba, a former Cabinet minister under
Moi. It was mainly supported by the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group. The third major opposition party was the Democratic Party, also supported by the Kikuyu, and led by former vice president Mwai Kibaki.
While pressing for a fresh voice, the opposition parties should take up their seats in the Parliament and work for a joint legislative agenda. Under the leadership of FORD-Kenya, they must now use their strength in Parliament to force economic and political reforms. They must press for legislative and constitutional changes to democratize the presidency and other public institutions. They must now expose and punish official corruption, human rights abuses, and the excesses of the executive. At a minimum,
the opposition must demand the repeal of legislation that criminalizes basic freedoms and prevents democracy, such as the detention and sedition laws, the Public Order Act, the Societies Act, the NGO Coordination Act, the Chief's Authority Act, and the Local Authorities Act, which Nairobi could use to abolish opposition-run local governments.
Even with these efforts, there is no chance that Moi will become a democrat. But the opposition has an excellent opportunity to tutor him. With nearly half the seats in Parliament, the opposition can make it almost impossible for him to rule. He cannot pass constitutional amendments without its consent. Clever use of parliamentary procedures can slow or block the passage of government-sponsored legislation. Even a no-confidence vote in the presidency is not a wild speculation. Also, Moi's victory is holl ow because he was overwhelmingly rejected by the Kikuyu and the Luo communities, Kenya's two largest ethnic groups. The opposition is also fortified by its handsome win in civic elections in several provinces, breaking KANU's monopoly on local politics.
SOON after the election, there were reports that Moi was thinking of forming a coalition government with FORD-Kenya. However, he quickly abandoned the idea and named a cabinet made up entirely of old KANU hawks and incompetent cronies, some of whom were rejected by the electorate. A coalition government would have given Moi the two-thirds majority in Parliament. It would also have legitimized the KANU government among the Kikuyu and Luo communities. By refusing to reach out to the opposition Moi, has cho sen confrontation over cooperation.
Kenya will disintegrate unless all parties agree on a formula for defusing the current crisis. FORD-Kenya has already called on Moi and KANU to step down and hand over power to an interim government to oversee free and fair elections. This is the sensible course. A sovereign national conference must be convened to draft a constitution with an enforceable bill of rights. Checks and balances and the effective separation of powers guaranteeing judicial independence and parliamentary oversight must be entren ched. Provisions for impeaching the president also should be introduced. The conference should then appoint the interim government whose members would be ineligible for the ensuing elections.
Donor countries should not resume aid to Kenya on the basis of a fraudulent election. The West must not reward Moi for heightened government repression and disrespect for democracy and human rights. The Clinton administration should insist that Moi agree to work with the opposition in the framework of the national conference to carry out economic, legislative, and political reforms before additional aid is forthcoming. Unless these conditions are met, and the international community continues to withhold
aid, Moi will have used the stolen election to crush the opposition and drive the country to civil war. He must not be allowed to continue in power. If that happens, we will have allowed him to lay the foundation for a future Somalia or Liberia.