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Kenyans Differ on President's 20-Year Tenure

Africa: Moi's supporters praise 'fruitful' leadership. Opponents see a despot responsible for nation's decline.

October 12, 1998|ANN M. SIMMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NAIROBI, Kenya — President Daniel Arap Moi took pride over the weekend in celebrating what his supporters deem 20 "fruitful" years as leader of this East African nation.

Saturday was officially "Moi Day," and the president and thousands of supporters were treated to a spectacular military parade and a colorful display of native dancing at a thronged stadium here in the capital.

However, many other Kenyans insist that Moi's tenure amounts to two decades of shame for a country once hailed as one of the continent's few success stories.

Kenya's economy is in a slump, the infrastructure has crumbled to its worst state since independence from Britain in 1963, the education system is being crippled by a nationwide teachers strike, and thefts of public funds and other financial scandals have crushed investor confidence.

Now, Moi faces a serious challenge from a score of mainstream opposition lawmakers who are supporting a motion of no-confidence in the government.

Although analysts say it is unlikely that such a motion, scheduled for debate this week, would pass--because of the seeming success of the ruling party in lobbying smaller opposition parties--the issue has generated considerable public interest and caused anxiety in the halls of power.

If the motion succeeded, political observers say, the 74-year-old Moi would have to resign and parliament would ultimately be forced to dissolve.

Moi won a decisive fifth and final term in December's general elections and has the mandate to rule until 2002. Addressing Saturday's rally at Nyayo Stadium, he called on Kenyans "irrespective of their political persuasion . . . to focus their attention on finding ways and means of strengthening our economy."

But critics of the president say he is responsible for Kenya's steady decline.

"There is really nothing to celebrate at all," said James Orengo, a member of parliament for the western Ugenya constituency who proposed the no-confidence motion. "The economy is a very sordid picture. The infrastructure has collapsed, and the very state as an institution is being dismantled. The whole issue revolves around governance and the lack of trust and confidence both on the part of Kenyans and the international community. Nobody can trust this government."

Kenya recently was ranked among the 13 most corrupt nations from a field of 85 surveyed by Transparency International, an organization that monitors corruption.

Neighboring Tanzania and Uganda also scored poorly, but Western officials acknowledge that Kenya is held to higher standards because of its proven potential to attract foreign investment, its lucrative tourist industry and its relative long-term stability when compared with many of its neighbors.

Last year, the International Monetary Fund suspended a $220-million loan to the nation for economic restructuring, citing corruption and the failure of the government to undertake promised political reforms. Recession followed, as would-be foreign investors got cold feet and additional aid from individual donor nations also was withheld.

Pete Ondeng, a respected local commentator on economic affairs, notes that Kenya has made some positive steps in opening up and liberalizing financial markets and trade but says the reforms have not gone far enough.

There is still a lack of trust in the legislation--which was reluctantly passed--along with skepticism that any positive investment climate will be permanent, Ondeng said.

"What's missing is that sense of confidence that an investor or someone else who wants to initiate something here believes that all [the new laws] are for their good and are not actions to placate a certain political group or foreign donors," he said.

Average Kenyans have suffered the most because of the government's failure to provide adequate social services, including affordable health care, good roads and reliable postal facilities, telephones and electricity.

Poverty and illiteracy have increased despite the government's numerous promises to eradicate them. A recent U.N. development report asserted that 27% of Kenya's 29.7 million people are living in poverty. Some local observers believe the figure could be as high as 50%.

"Ten years ago, I was able to feed and educate my children very smoothly," said taxi driver Peter Muchiri, 37, a father of three school-age youngsters who often earns less than $10 a day and claims that he can save only $30 a month now compared with $160 a decade ago. "Now, I have to borrow money. I can eat only once a day, and buying new clothes has become difficult. I have also shifted to a cheaper house."

Dissatisfaction has led to widespread labor unrest in recent months, with numerous strikes by civil servants and demonstrations by various workers and students to press for better pay, grants and working conditions. The nationwide walkout by teachers is entering its eighth day today.

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