Magazine article New Internationalist


Magazine article New Internationalist


Article excerpt

Two recent developments have slightly raised the world's awareness of Kenya - previously limited to its reputation as the safari capital of the world and its production of a series of outstanding long-distance runners.

The country could bask in the reflected glow of Barack Obama's historic election as US President in 2008, given that his late father was a Kenyan. In addition, the country is credited with the introduction of M-Pesa, a cellphone money-transfer technology that is now the object of worldwide study and replication.

Back in the 1950s, Kenya achieved international notoriety thanks to the bitter conflict between the British colonial authorities and the Mau Mau rebels but, once independence was achieved in 1963, the country under its first leader, Jomo Kenyatta, pursued a pro-Western free-market course that contrasted markedly with the African socialism propounded by its neighbour, Tanzania. Kenya remained a one-party state after Kenyatta's death in 1978 and replacement by Daniel arap Moi - and a failed coup attempt in 1982 led to even greater consolidation of power and quashing of dissent by the Moi regime.

Mounting internal pressure - combined with greater Western encouragement for multiparty democracy in Africa in the 1990s - led Moi to concede that multiparty elections should take place, though initially not by secret ballot.

When the opposition finally dislodged the ruling party in the 2002 election and Mwai Kibaki assumed the presidency, Kenyans were understandably optimistic. Kibaki promised that primary school fees would be removed, iconic environmental campaigner Wangari Maathai was brought into the government, and there was talk of a new start, devoid of the cronyism and corruption of old.

However, the two principal political parties that engineered Moi's demise failed to reach an agreement and government business was henceforth frustrated by political point-scoring, which gradually extinguished citizens' hopes for change. …

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