Storm clouds over Kenya

Permanent crisis: As East African country falters, President Moi moves to silence government critics.

January 05, 2001

DAY IN, DAY OUT, news from Kenya's government-controlled radio is predictable and reassuring: The lead item is always about something President Daniel arap Moi did or said.

In reality, Kenya is teetering on the brink of a disaster. After two years of inadequate rain, the dams are dry, crops failing. Crime is out of control. Joblessness, particularly among restless young people, is endemic. The East African country, once touted as one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal continent, is in permanent crisis.

The new year has not begun well, either. President Moi feels embattled. He sees conspiracies everywhere.

Blaming foreigners, he has hampered diplomats with travel restrictions. He has outlawed the opposition movement Muungano wa Mageuzi and told Kenyans all political criticism has to be channeled through elected members of parliament. He has also attacked established nongovernmental organizations, accusing them of pursuing political aims and being in the pay of foreigners.

Meanwhile, Mr. Moi's surprising political alliance with Raila Odinga is showing strains.

Mr. Odinga, who in 1982 masterminded a failed coup attempt against the president, is the son of an earlier opposition figure, Oginga Odinga.

Three years ago, when Raila Odinga suddenly allied himself with the Moi administration, many speculated that he hoped to eventually succeed the 76-year-old president, whose term ends in another three years. But the two are now at loggerheads. President Moi wants the opposition party folded into the ruling Kenya African National Union, while Mr. Odinga prefers a political coalition.

Mr. Moi, a one-time schoolteacher, and Mr. Odinga, an Eastern bloc-trained engineer, are both intolerant of dissent. From experience, both know that survival requires total control and political discipline. That's why their relations soured a few days ago.

In 1978, when then-Vice President Moi succeeded Kenya's independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, the dominant Kikuyu population saw the member of the small Luo ethnic group as an interim ruler. "He is just a passing cloud," many Kikuyus said.

Over the past 22 years, Mr. Moi has found Kikuyu allies to shore up his power base among other population groups by sharing the spoils and closing his eyes to his supporters' profiteering. This opportunism, however, has corroded and corrupted the ruling circles.

Mr. Moi has shown he's more interested in preserving his privileges than in securing a stable future for his increasingly troubled nation. His likely legacies will be uncertainty and turmoil.

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