Multi-Party Politics in Kenya: The Kenyatta & Moi States & the Triumph of the System in the 1992 Election

By David W. Throup; Charles Hornsby | Go to book overview
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Four
The Regime in Crisis, January 1990-December 1991

By the end of the 1980s, President Moi had established complete control over both party and government, and through his political and business associates ran an increasingly partisan, corrupt and feared administration. Following the end of the Cold War, Western donors were becoming increasingly concerned about the style and direction of the government, but had shown little sign of abandoning this 'legitimately elected', pro- Western ally. Opposition existed among 'radicals' and 'dissidents', but there seemed little prospect of change. Two years later, the situation had been transformed. Kenya was a multi-party state with a serious opposition party which appeared likely to sweep all before it, while the government and ruling party were discredited, demoralised and increasingly unable to govern. How did this happen?

Between 1985 and 1989, KANU had moved from strength to strength. The party had become increasingly autocratic, detaining critics of the regime and disciplining the few politicians who spoke out in the National Assembly.1 In 1990, however, the government began to show signs of weakness. The reasons for this were a complex combination of economic difficulties, external pressures, state violence and corruption, accident, and a suppressed but always alert opposition, ready to seize the initiative when the chance emerged. Four critical events ushered in the new era, provoking popular discontent and encouraging the regime's critics to speak out. These were the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the ending of the Cold War; the regime's blatant manipulation of the 1988 national and party elections; the murder of Foreign Minister Dr Robert Ouko in February 1990; and the withholding of Western aid in November 1991 by the Paris Group of bilateral donors, who were dissatisfied with the slow pace of economic and political liberalisation. The crucial figure in at least two of these was Nicholas Biwott, the Minister for Energy and the President's right-hand man. Biwott's greed by the end of the 1980s had exceeded permitted bounds. Had the country been stable and the economy booming, donors probably could have been placated, as in the 1970s, but by the end of the first decade of Moi's rule, Kenya was facing acute economic problems.

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