Kenya: Moi’s Ploys

Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi (left) with Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir (right). (Photo: AFP)

As the clock runs out on his second presidential term, President Daniel arap Moi has been devising some ingenious ways to hold on to power, including absorbing members of the opposition into his government. On June 11, Moi appointed four members of the National Development Party (NDP) to posts in the KANU (Kenya African National Union) party government. The appointments followed protracted negotiations between the two parties and gave Raila Odinga, the NDP’s leader, a cabinet post as minister for energy.

In following days, the KANU-NDP bandwagon continued to roll. On June 19, 19 NDP politicians crossed the parliament floor and joined Odinga on the government benches. The coalition was clearly a political bonanza for Moi, KANU, and the NDP, all of whom stood to gain from their new love-in.

“Having the NDP in government…has already started changing the image of KANU as the great architect of Evil,” wrote Kwamchetsi Makokha in Nairobi’s independent Daily Nation (June 22). “Last week’s appointments…reinforced the idea...that President Moi can…wake up in the morning and decide which way power will flow,” wrote John Githongo in Nairobi’s independent weekly, The East African (June 18).

For Odinga, the deal with KANU was a way to shore up his power base and put him in line as a possible Moi successor. “Raila has, whether one agrees with him or not, proved himself an innovator,” wrote Githongo.

Perhaps most important, the infusion of NDP MPs gave KANU a new constituency and a strategic advantage for the 2002 elections. On a pessimistic note, Kivutha Kibwana speculated that “KANU-NDP will henceforth try to do all in their power to deny a democratic transition” (Sunday Nation, June 17).

But a June 21 editorial in the Daily Nation suggested that the strength of the NDP-KANU coalition would force opposition parties to unite and “begin to work with a mature purpose.” At first glance, the KANU-NDP alliance seemed to be doing just that, as opposition leaders scrambled to form their own alliances.

On June 20, leaders from FORD-Kenya, the Democratic Party, and the Social Democratic Party announced a plan to field a single presidential candidate. “Political showbiz is here; expect more alliances and dalliances,” wrote David Makali in the Daily Nation (June 30).

No matter how much the parties realign, the dominant issue remains whether Moi, who has been in office for 23 years, will cede power in 2002. In 1992, Kenya’s constitution was amended so that a president could serve only two five-year terms. Whether the increasingly unpopular Moi will abide by the constitution or attempt to change it to allow for a third term remains a question for debate.

“Possibly, Moi the pragmatist may be contented with supporting a proxy president as he retains the chairmanship of KANU,” speculated the Daily Nation’s Kibwana (June 17). For The East African’s Githongo, Moi’s embrace of the NDP seemed a brilliant piece of maneuvering that could provide the momentum for a third term. “The psychological impact of [the NDP] appointments should not be underrated,” he wrote (June 18). “Just when the constitutional impediment to [Moi] standing for another term was making him look like a lame duck, he pulled a very non-lame-duck move.”