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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Kenya: AFRICANEWS Report

Kenya: AFRICANEWS Report
Date distributed (ymd): 970717
Document reposted by APIC

This posting contains an article from the most recent edition of AFRICANEWS, a monthly news and feature service managed by African journalists. For a free subscription to AFRICANEWS, send a message to: Put subscribe afrinews in the body of the message and indicate your name and e-mail address. You can also access AFRICANEWS on the Web at:

AFRICANEWS is published through:
Koinonia Media Centre, P.O. Box 8034, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel./Fax: 254.2.560385 E-mail:

AFRICANEWS: News and Views on Africa from Africa
Issue 16 - JULY 1997

KENYA: Hurtling towards anarchy
by Boro Klan

Recent events in Kenya portray a country sliding towards purgatory. Kenyans must fervently hope that the country has reached the nadir in the conduct of its political affairs. Lower than this, the country can only implode into chaos.

Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi would like to forget June 19, 1997--whose deeply humiliating memories will haunt him for the remainder of his life--in a hurry. On that day, legislators brawled in Parliament disrupting this year's Budget presentation. Opposition legislators--taking their calls for constitutional reforms a notch higher--shouted down the Finance Minister, Musalia Mudavadi, with chants of "No Reforms, No Budget" and waved placards demanding the president's removal from power.

It was a scene unprecedented in Kenya's Parliamentary history. After the clash in Parliament, Moi warned that he would deregister all "political" Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) which he accuses of funding opposition groups. Later on, he offered to hold talks with the head of the Catholic Church in Kenya, Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a' Nzeki, after the church held prayers all over the country to plead with God to give Kenyans a new leader.

But the worst was yet to follow. On July 7, riot police killed 10 people as they violently dispersed demonstrators in Kenya's major towns who were calling for constitutional reform.

To add insult to injury, riot police stormed into an Anglican church in Nairobi where demonstrators were gathered for prayers--battering them ruthlessly with truncheons and gun butts and critically injuring scores of them. Amongst those beaten up and injured were a Presbyterian clergyman, Reverend Timothy Njoya, who was taken to hospital in a coma.

Widely criticised for unleashing police terror on demonstrators, Moi is still playing tough. One Kenyan newspaper, The People, likened the Kenyan President to the Egyptian Pharaoh of Biblical times who--despite pleas by Moses--persistently refused to let the children of Israel to go to their Promised Land.

The Catholic Church has called for the immediate start of the process of reforming the constitution. But Moi will hear none of that and instead accuses the United States government of favouring the Kenyan opposition. The US State Department has strongly condemned the killing of the demonstrating Kenyans.

The Kenyan opposition wants some laws that give the Moi regime undue electoral advantage changed. These pieces of legislation are primarily a left-over of British colonial rule that ended in 1963. Key among these laws is the Public Order Act which forbids any public assembly without a government permit.

Kenya's Attorney-general, Amos Wako, has published a Peaceful Assemblies Bill which allows meetings but only after a government official has been informed. The officer can block the rally--or if he assents to it--just remain silent!

But the Bill is just one item in the battery of reforms sought by Kenya's opposition. Others are the Chief's Act which gives a village head massive powers over assemblies. Also sought are reforms of the country's sedition laws, the vetting of presidential appointees and the freeing of airwaves.

Currently, only the ruling party, Kanu, or its cronies have radio or TV stations in the capital. Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, the only station with a live transmission capacity is controlled by the government.

If the June 19 incident in Parliament indicated that the 73 year-old Kenyan President cannot buy time any longer, the deaths of the pro-reform demonstrators proved that Moi has not yet grasped the mood of his subjects.

But the reading has been on the wall long enough. As early as May this year, the national Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK)--a respected coalition of Protestant Churches put--forward a list of constitutional reforms that would ensure a free and fair election. Moi - as is characteristic of many African BIG MEN--sent back a resounding NO to the churches.

Nairobi-based foreign envoys, worried that the country was on a downward hurtle to chaos, asked Kenyans to talk to each other to avert catastrophe. Moi remained deaf as a rock to their pleas.

The July 7 killings were reminiscent of similar ones in 1991. Then Moi sent his security apparatus to disperse Kenyans who were agitating for plural politics. Moi's rationale then was that plural politics would divide Kenyans along tribal lines and eventually lead to bloodshed.

The President did, however, buckle down to international pressure and finally allowed multi-party politics in the country. Whether he similarly buckles down this time--remains a matter of conjecture.

Aside from sheer brutal force, Moi owes his staying power to his ability to manipulate the opposition. He has ensured that the opposition remains fragmented and querulous. Indeed, he won the 1992 presidential poll on account of the opposition's failure to file a single candidate--and not a little tinkering with figures.

The uncertainty in Kenya is best captured by the mood during the enthronement of Bishop Ndingi as the head of the Catholic Church in Kenyan June 21. Said one speaker: "Kenya is bleeding and in need of prayers." Moi, perhaps awed by the presence of high-ranking church people, responded: "I'm not an obstacle to peaceful discussions relating to the future of Kenya."

Born in 1924 in Baringo in the Rift Valley Province, Moi started off as a primary school teacher. His political career began in 1955 when he joined the colonial legislative council. He has remained in Parliament ever since--19 of those years as an autocratic leader of this East African nation--a once a thriving economy that has been bled dry by mismanagement.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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