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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 12:46 GMT
Merger shakes up Kenyan politics
President Daniel Arap Moi saluting the Guard of Honour
President Moi is preparing to pass on his baton
Kenya's ruling Kanu party has absorbed the smaller National Development Party (NDP), revolutionizing Kenyan politics ahead of general elections due later this year.

President Daniel arap Moi is due to retire before the elections and Kanu has also revamped its leadership ahead of the poll.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the 41-year-old son of Kenya's founding father becomes one of four party vice-chairmen.

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson says this confirms him as a front-runner in the race to succeed Mr Moi.

The merger was approved at a Kanu conference in Nairobi - the first in 13 years.

Rising star

Mr Kenyatta has had a rapid ascent through the Kanu hierarchy.

This time last year the son of Kenya's independence leader was not even a member of parliament.

Vice-President Georges Saitoti
Saitoti's presidential hopes were dashed
But in the last few months President Moi has favoured the younger man.

He has been appointed not only as an MP but also as a government minister.

The NDP leader, Raila Odinga, is the new party's general-secretary.

The main casualty of these elections was Kenya's outgoing Vice-President, George Saitoti.

He did not even bother to contest his position as vice-chairman after being abandoned by key supporters.

Backroom deals

The conference was attended by 6,000 enthusiastic Kanu members from across the country.

But our correspondent says that for all the excitement, it seems the delegates stuck to a well-rehearsed script - the real decisions were made in the backrooms before the conference opened.

Raila Odinga
Odinga is the new general secretary
Kanu, which has ruled the country since independence in 1963, is at a low ebb.

Many Kenyans blame the government for the country's faltering economy.

Kanu strategists hope that by merging with the NDP, its junior coalition partner, they can revive their political fortunes.

The NDP is the third-largest party in Kenya's parliament.

Voting in Kenya is still largely split along ethnic lines, and Mr Odinga comes from one of Kenya's biggest tribes, the Luo.

Whoever emerges as the candidate of the new party will be hoping that the extra Luo votes will swing the election in his favour.

See also:

11 Feb 02 | Africa
Moi warns boozing officials
31 Jan 02 | Africa
Moi's golden handshake
26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Kenya
22 Feb 02 | Africa
Timeline: Kenya
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