Time for Reform in Kenya

It was a small - but not insignificant - victory for the opponents of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi. For the first time since a coalition of religious leaders, human rights advocates, and opposition politicians stepped up their push for constitutional reforms, thousands of people were allowed to assemble July 26 and speak out against the government. Police presence was light. The gathering took place without incident.

What a contrast to a few weeks earlier, when riot police smashed pro-democracy protests across the country with tear gas and clubs and closed all four campuses of the University of Nairobi amid escalating violence.

The recent, peaceful, assemblage was testament, at least in part, to what international pressure can achieve. Twenty-one countries signed a statement criticizing the government's earlier tactics, and the International Monetary Fund threatened to hold up a $36 million loan disbursement. Unexpectedly, the ruling Kenya African National Union announced it would set up a parliamentary commission to review the Constitution and reevaluate laws used to stifle debate.

Whether the offer is genuine remains to be seen. But with a presidential election scheduled for later this year, Mr. Moi should be running scared. And the US and its allies should keep the pressure on, making it clear to Moi that financial support won't be forthcoming without evidence of real reform, including greater guarantees of political freedom and an end to abuses such as detention without trial.

Last month, before the G-8 summit meeting in Denver, President Clinton unveiled a new trade policy for Africa, urging European and Japanese leaders to take a similar approach. The policy replaces government-to-government aid with backing for businesses investing in Africa. "Only nations carrying out serious reform will reap the full benefits," Mr. Clinton said. We hope the president stands by his strong words. We hope, too, that Moi is listening.

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