Kenya's Moi Bows to Calls for Multiparty Elections Threatened by a Cutoff in Aid from Western Donors and Renewed Protests by Domestic Critics, Kenya's President Reluctantly Agrees to Move toward Reform

Article excerpt

THE focus was on President Daniel arap Moi as he told several thousand party faithful on Dec. 3 that Kenya would soon have more than one political party.

In the expensive, modern Kasarani Arena in the Moi Sports Complex where he spoke, there was an air of resignation about the president as he bowed to rapidly escalating domestic and international pressures for democratic reforms.

Outside the arena, a young woman with a baby strapped on her back sold bananas from a green plastic bucket. Nearby, two teenage boys sat behind a pile of newspaper-wrapped packets of peanuts, selling them for the equivalent of three US cents each.

Will the political reforms President Moi announced improve the lives of Kenya's poor, such as the young mother and the teenagers selling peanuts? Will those accusing Moi and his ministers of corruption and human rights abuses establish a more just and honest government if they win multiparty elections?

These are some of the questions Kenyans and diplomats here are asking as Kenya becomes the latest African nation to adopt multiparty politics to replace a one- party system.

"The power stems from the people," Moi told the party delegates in the arena.

The truth of those words was evident, for this time it is not the power of Moi's party that has carried the day. As in the other African countries making reforms, it is the power of his critics demanding an end to detention of political opponents, an end to the ban on publications criticizing the government, an end to torture by police, and an end to the ban on opposition political rallies.

A pro-multiparty rally in Nairobi on Nov. 16 was blocked by club-wielding police. But the fact that thousands of Kenyans tried to reach the rally site "shattered the myth that all was well," says Christopher Mulei, director of the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists.

Such a display of opposition, coupled with the six-month freeze Western donors put on new aid to Kenya on Nov. 26 pending political and economic reforms, apparently forced Moi to knuckle under to reformist and donor demands.

"He's not convinced that this {multiparty politics} is best for the country, but his own political survival comes first," Mr. Mulei contends.

But Western aid donors do not just want to see multiparty elections.

United States Ambassador to Keyna Smith Hempstone says the pending adoption of multiparty elections is "a positive step.... But there are a lot more things that need to be done, and I'm sure will be done. I would hope they would launch a serious assault on corruption, and the next election, whenever it is held, is free and fair and is perceived to be so."

Attorney Pheroze Nowrojee credits Moi with having the political courage to accept change. …