Tribal Lines Divide Kenyans

Moi won last week's elections, analysts say, thanks to Kenya's tribal divisions.

Daniel arap Moi, Kenya's president of 19 years, won another five years in office in last week's chaotic elections. But his survival as one of Africa's last old-style autocrats was due not to the will of the people, but to tribal arithmetic.

Just as in 1992, when Kenya held its first multiparty elections since 1966, Mr. Moi swept to the State House against the will of the country's fragmented majority: The embattled president garnered 40 percent of the vote against the opposition's combined 60 percent.

Marred by vehement allegations of rigging on the part of the losing opposition, Kenya's second experiment with multiparty contests pitted tribal identity against national interest.

Although analysts agree the president deserves credit for having secured peace and relative stability in a region plagued by violence and war, they say Moi has presided over the gradual disintegration of Kenya's once highly valued infrastructure.

Kenya's roads are full of potholes, and power shortages in Nairobi's residential areas are the maddening rule rather than the frustrating exception.

While neighboring countries like war-ravaged Rwanda are investing in telecommunications as a means to access the global network, Kenya's phone lines rank among the worst in East Africa.

Two decades of Moi leadership have indeed seen the rise of a sizable, urban-based middle class. But experts agree that the disparity between rich and poor has steadily widened, with much of the country's wealth concentrated in the hands of a well-connected few.

Last but not least, Kenya has the dubious honor of being the third-most corrupt country in the world, according to the nonprofit organization Transparency International.

"Tribal loyalties won over national interest," says a Nairobi-based observer, who asked that his name not be used.

"Once again, we are reminded that Kenya, like many other countries in Africa, started out as an artificial geopolitical entity. At this stage in the country's history, Kenyans still see themselves as Luos, or Kikuyus, or whatever before they see themselves as Kenyans. They would have united and voted Moi out of office if this weren't true."

AS results trickled in from the country's 210 constituencies, Mwai Kibaki of the Democratic Party - Moi's closest contender with 31 percent of the vote - insisted poll results had been rigged in favor of the ruling Kenya African National Union.

Yet Mr. Kibaki, who cashed in on the loyalty of the country's largest tribe, the Kikuyus, stood no chance of winning support from the Luos or from any of the smaller tribes.

Conversely, much of the support for Moi's KANU came from small ethnic groups, whose mistrust of the larger tribes runs deep.

"That's not surprising when you consider that KANU is an alliance of small tribes whose main priority is preventing the Luos or the Kikuyus from taking power," a Western diplomat says.

With the elections over, focus is shifting to the country's future over the next five years.

Moi has reiterated his commitment to constitutional reform and expanding democratic liberties. But the issue, observers say, is whether he will take concrete steps to curb rampant corruption.

"The question investors are asking is whether Kenya will remain fertile ground for another Goldenberg [affair]," says the Nairobi-based observer.

Rated the country's most embarrassing scandal, the 1991 to 1993 gold-exporting scam siphoned $400 million out of state coffers. The affair was allegedly orchestrated by powerful officials, among them Vice President George Saitoti.

Corruption in government dealings resulted in the unprecedented suspension of a $205 million loan by the International Monetary Fund last year.

IMF officials are due back in Nairobi this month to discuss rescheduling the loan, and Moi will need to persuade them a new era of transparency is at hand.

"There is the real possibility that the new Moi administration will do things differently, if only because it is facing economic problems of a serious magnitude," the Western diplomat says. "He is under significant pressure to find new sources of income."

The suspension of the IMF loan, a disastrous year for tourism - which ground to a halt after violence wrecked the coast, leaving 72 people dead - and dismal prospects for agriculture combined to make 1997 one of the worst ever in economic terms.

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