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Monday, December 29, 1997 Published at 05:20 GMT

Special Report

Divided they fall: the Kenyan opposition
image: [ Richard Leakey's party can now legally campaign, but accuses Kanu of electoral rigging ]
Richard Leakey's party can now legally campaign, but accuses Kanu of electoral rigging

One of the great disappointments of the fragile democracy which has emerged in Kenya has been the failure of opposition parties to mount a credible challenge to President Moi and his governing Kanu party.

Kanu has been in power since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963. For much of that period, Kenya was a one-party state, in which opposition activists were jailed or intimidated.

Under pressure from the outside world, President Moi allowed Kenya to hold its first multi-party democratic elections in 1992 - but ahead of the vote, the opposition split internally, and failed to dislodge Kanu. Five years on they find themselves in an even worse position. BBC Africa specialist, Greg Barrow, reports

In the months leading up to the elections, opposition leaders have become ever more desperate and threatening in their tone. But for all the posturing, political life remains dominated by the Kanu party of President Daniel arap Moi.

The opposition is in a state of chaos - it has few new ideas, no ideology, and only one clear objective: to get Moi out, a position some commentators feel can only lead to further disappointment at the polls.

[ image: Nairobi students supporting Charity Ngilu]
Nairobi students supporting Charity Ngilu
"This sort of concentration on the personality politics is the big problem. While it might be appealing to some in the opposition leadership to march through Nairobi with placards saying 'Moi out, Moi out', the issues in Kenya are very much wider than that," said Patrick Smith of Africa Confidential.

"Even if getting Moi out was the core opposition objective, they're going about it in a very strange way. By having so many different candidates contesting for the presidency in this election, they're almost guaranteed to get the incumbent candidate a further five years in office."

The dangers of multi-party democracy

Widespread rigging by Kanu had won the election for President Moi, but the opposition was not blameless - it had squandered the opportunity to wrest power from Kanu by dividing amongst itself - a mistake it has repeated ahead of this month's elections.

Dr David Anderson, of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London sees a grave irony in the introduction of multi-party politics in Kenya. Far from strengthening the hand of the opposition, it actually weakened their position by encouraging their division along tribal lines.

[ image:  A Masai woman supporting Mwai Kibaki]
A Masai woman supporting Mwai Kibaki
"One way in which multi-partyism has changed a lot is that it's created a great variety of political parties. There are some 24 parties that are standing in the elections coming up on the 29th of December. Of those 24 parties, some 14 are putting up presidential candidates. Each of these parties tends to have, with one or two exceptions, a regional or ethnic focus," he said.

"Now that makes it very easy to accuse the opposition parties of being tribalist. So you have different kinds of ethnic politics being worked by the opposition and Kanu, but at the root of it, Kenya's politics have become more, not less ethnically derived as a result of the move towards democratic multi-partyism."

In the shadow of the British Houses of Parliament is the office of a political consultancy which last year took on the cause of the Kenyan opposition.

Wiser for her experience, Jane Cooper of Westminster Strategy harbours no illusions about the poor state of opposition politics in Kenya, and having witnessed at first hand the hostile environment of Kenya's flawed democracy she fears for the country's political future.

"I think it's fraught with dangers. There is the danger that the project of multi-party democracy fails because the concept of a loyal opposition is not allowed to flourish and develop in terms of its expertise and its policy making.

"Given an opportunity, and with support from the international community to ensure that the electoral playing field is much fairer, I think Kenya has a very rich and rosy future. Without that, and it looks as if that isn't going to be provided in any great measure from outside before the next elections, I'm pretty pessimistic about the future."

The power of Kanu

[ image: The Kenyan opposition is still relatively young]
The Kenyan opposition is still relatively young
In pre-election rallies the Kanu party machine has demonstrated its ability to get Kenyans to sing, clap and dance to its tune. When push comes to shove, it will also get them to vote. Kanu is more experienced in these matters, and is probably in an even better position than it was before the 1992 elections.

As for the opposition - they'll have to wait, and it could be for a long time if the Kenya High Commissioner to Britain, Mwenyengela Ngali is to be taken at his words.

"One has to remember that the opposition is very young, very youthful, and they need time. What Kanu has been able to do has taken some 35 years to put together, and we have recognised that ethnicity is a factor in politics, not only in Kenya, but elsewhere.

"Therefore, Kanu has tried to make sure that every body is brought in, and today I think that that imprint of how the ruling party has operated is visible in all the institutions of the country."

The dawning of Kenyan independence in 1963 brought with it many things. But foremost in the minds of a generation of young Kenyans who had known nothing but British colonial rule, was the hope of political freedom. More than three decades on from independence, many Kenyans are now wondering what they have achieved.

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In this section

President Moi: an enduring face of Africa

Divided they fall: the Kenyan opposition

Kenya: a political history

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