Kenya: Transfer of Power

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi
Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi commemorates Kenya's independence, Oct. 20, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

After 24 years as his country’s president, Daniel arap Moi will step down this year following a presidential election in December. His regime was widely held to be characterized by economic mismanagement, corruption, political repression, and ethnic tensions, while his mad dash to secure his future left the ruling party divided and weak.

In July, Moi endorsed 41-year-old Uhuru Kenyatta, son of former Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta, igniting a wrangle within the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the ruling party since 1963. As the dispute escalated, Moi sacked defiant ministers, while others resigned and formed a “super alliance” with opposition groups to run under the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) and rally behind 71-year-old former vice president Mwai Kibaki, who challenged Moi in presidential elections in 1992 and 1997.

Though many analysts agreed that the experienced Kibaki represented a more viable candidate than the political novice Kenyatta, an editorial in the East African Standard (Oct. 29) was skeptical about the NARC alliance: “Political paranoia that ‘Moi must go’ and that ‘it is our time now to eat the cake’ took center stage….The issue was not so much about KANU’s gaping ‘un-democracy’ as much as it was about power.”

Kenyatta, who was barely known until Moi appointed him to a cabinet seat in 2001, was criticized as a proxy for Moi. “Moi has chosen Kenyatta, a businessman with scant political experience, so he can manipulate him after retirement and use him as a shield against any attempt to prosecute him for corruption,” speculated Kampala’s New Vision (Nov. 6).

While Kenyatta’s weakness seemed to be his association with Moi, conversely, Kibaki’s potency could be traced to widespread anti-Moi sentiment, while his Achilles’ heel was the expedient unity he forged with ex-KANU political elites, whose common ground is their wounded egos.

Writing in The Nation (Oct. 26), Wycliffe Muga argued that  “If Mr. Kenyatta’s nomination as KANU’s presidential candidate was the result of an arbitrary decision by President Moi, then Mr. Kibaki’s nomination likewise was the result of the arbitrary decision of a small political elite.”

Whoever wins, claimed Macharia Gaitho of The Nation (Oct. 27), Moi could probably sleep soundly, since “if it ever came to digging up the dirt about the Moi regime, both Mr. Kibaki and Mr. [Simone] Nyachae [a former chief secretary running under the Kenya People’s Coalition] have in their respective entourages characters who were in the thick of all the evil.” At the end of the day, Gaitho concluded, “voters were left...with simply a competition for power.”

The election was scheduled for Dec. 27. At press time, according to a Kenya Capitol Radio station poll, Kibaki was leading with 56 percent to Kenyatta’s 34 percent.