Kenya: Decisive Victory

Kenyans went to the polls on Dec. 27 to elect their third president since the country gained independence from Britain in 1963. The elections were conducted in a relatively peaceful environment, leading to a transfer of power from former President Daniel arap Moi, the country’s ruler for 24 years, to Mwai Kibaki, a former leader of the country’s opposition.

For Kibaki, it was third time lucky after he had failed to win the presidency in the country’s 1992 and 1997 elections. He led a coalition of opposition parties under an umbrella party tagged the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), and galloped home with 62 percent of the presidential vote, or 3.6 million votes, against rival Uhuru Kenyatta of the former ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU), who managed only 31 percent, or 1.6 million votes.

It was a humiliating defeat for KANU, signaling the end of its 40-year reign. The victory by NARC “did not come as a surprise, but the landslide margin—it was actually a rout—was a shock to everyone, including those to whom the acronym KANU was anathema,” wrote the Daily Nation on Dec. 30. The newspaper added: “The vote for NARC was a vote against all that President Moi stood for; it was a vote for change.” Similar sentiments reverberated across the country as various political commentators argued that Kenyans had resoundingly rejected Moi’s hand-picked successor.

Writing on Jan. 3 in People Daily, which had been virulently critical of the KANU government, Mukalo Kwayera said: “The KANU loss in the poll was not a vote against KANU and its promises; it was purely a vote against Moi.”

Kenyatta and other little-known losers accepted defeat, and, defying expectations, Moi handed over power peacefully. Along every street there was jubilation as even the most introverted Kenyans joyously celebrated Kibaki’s victory. “In going through a peaceful transitional election, our image has been boosted by several degrees and we at least have something to boast of as a country,” wrote People Daily on Jan. 1.

Plaudits to Kenya came from far and wide. “The Kenya elections have proved that multiparty politics can successfully work in Africa given a chance,” wrote John Kakande in Uganda’s New Vision on Jan. 1. “In the end, no amount of self-serving nationalist claims could blind [Kenyans] to the failure of [Moi’s] rule,” wrote the Zimbabwe Independent on Jan. 3. “The message from Nairobi is crystal clear: Ruling parties that become bandit regimes don’t survive indefinitely.”

The NARC government got off the ground with gusto. Even Kenya Times, a paper previously critical of NARC, admitted that Kibaki had risen to the occasion. “He started off his government on the right footing, sticking to the many commitments he promised the country when he was installed...six days ago,” editorialized the paper on Jan. 5. However, People Daily warned that the Kibaki government should be careful not to squander the public trust. “The task ahead is gigantic and if we expect them to do something, they must not waste time but work,” wrote the paper on Jan. 12.