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Kenyan Opposition Rallies Against Moi

Protesters say longtime president's choice of independence hero's son as heir is highhanded.

October 15, 2002|Davan Maharaj | Times Staff Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya — President Daniel Arap Moi, who has ruled this East African nation for nearly a quarter century, officially anointed his chosen successor Monday. Tens of thousands of Kenyans gathered at a rival rally here to protest his decision.

Moi introduced about 4,000 delegates of his ruling Kenya African National Union to Uhuru Kenyatta, the 41-year-old son of the country's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, whom Moi succeeded in 1978.

Moi's decision to handpick a successor has led to open revolt in KANU and political turmoil in the country. During the last two days, six government ministers have resigned to protest what they described as the party's refusal to hold fair elections to select a candidate.

Earlier, Moi fired his vice president and several other ministers who refused to back Kenyatta.

Kenyatta grew up in the presidential mansion known as State House. He was christened Uhuru -- Swahili for freedom -- because he was born a few weeks after the British released his father, an independence leader, from prison.

In his acceptance speech, Kenyatta promised to tackle Kenya's ills, which he said included "high poverty levels, crippling domestic debt, serious unemployment, HIV/AIDS, poor infrastructure, high and worsening income inequalities and gender disparities."

He also pledged that the government would be uncompromising in fighting corruption. Kenya has been named as one of the world's most corrupt countries, and the World Bank and other institutions have frozen nearly $300 million in loans until the nation improves its record of fighting graft.

"We must address this vice as a matter of national urgency," said Kenyatta, a businessman who helps manage the vast empire inherited from his father. "The answer lies within all of us, and we must individually and collectively commit ourselves to combat this menace."

Kenyatta's promise to tackle corruption met doubt among analysts and many ordinary Kenyans.

"The people who are promoting his candidacy have been the ones most closely associated with corruption," said Gichira Kibara, who heads the Center for Governance and Development, a policy research group.

Kibara and other analysts say Moi, who has described Kenyatta as someone "who can be guided," wants to remain the power behind the scenes after his scheduled retirement early next year. By handpicking Kenyatta, the president and his cronies want to ensure that calls for them to be prosecuted for allegedly looting the country would go unheeded, analysts say.

Even as Kenyatta was being elected unopposed as KANU's torchbearer, about 30,000 people streamed into Nairobi's Uhuru Park to hear former government ministers and opposition leaders condemn Moi.

Some of the speakers, including former Energy Minister Raila Odinga, had lobbied Moi to let an independent commission oversee the party's selection of its candidate. Odinga and other candidates who eventually quit or were fired from Moi's government said the president's support for Kenyatta made a farce of the election.

"We are not against Uhuru," said Dismas Ouma, a 57-year-old small businessman who pushed through the large crowd. "But what we don't like is the system that is being used to promote him."

Local commentators say Kenya's fractious opposition has its best chance yet to end KANU's long reign. In a country where voters cast their ballots along ethnic lines, the opposition now promises to unite leaders of the Kikuyu, Luo and Kisii, among Kenya's largest ethnic groups.

"Moi will try to do all in his power to ensure that the super-alliance of opposition parties does not materialize," Kibara said.

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