Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kenya's Political Awakening

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kenya's Political Awakening

Article excerpt

KENYA'S switch to multiparty politics in December is still hard to believe. Will President Daniel arap Moi's Kenya African National Union (KANU) subject itself to an open race against other parties after ruling since independence from Britain in 1963?

Ten years ago, President Moi, threatened by the possible formation of a new opposition party, began to accumulate increasing power into his hands by forcibly amending the Constitution to legalize KANU's de facto monopoly on power. His intolerance for criticism also grew.

But last December intense criticism from Kenyan opponents and pressure from international aid donors forced Moi to open up the political system. By the end of January, nine opposition parties had announced their formation. Two have attracted massive rallies as Kenyans await the announcement of an election date.

For the first time, the post-colonial generation is seeing several prominent Kenyans publicly present themselves as potential presidential candidates.

As a Kenyan following all this from the United States, it's difficult not to contrast the sudden political liberalization with the gloom of 1975, when I left the country. In March of that year, J. M. Kariuki, a highly popular member of Parliament and articulate critic of the government of then-President Jomo Kenyatta, was assassinated.

I was 13 then, and that tragic event was my awakening to national politics. Terrifying rumors made the rounds as to who actually killed Kariuki and how it was done. The underlying theme was that J. M., as he was commonly known, had boldly highlighted the social inequalities in Kenya, gaining such widespread support - transcending tribal lines - that he would have easily succeeded the aging Kenyatta. He was therefore a serious threat to some very powerful figures.

A report released three months later by a parliamentary committee implicated senior police and security officers. It was reported, however, that the committee was forced by Kenyatta to delete the names of two public officials embarrassingly close to him. There was a strange, though not unexpected, lack of follow-up. This killing, like that of Tom Mboya, a remarkably competent and popular minister assassinated in 1969, has remained a mystery.

Kariuki, like Kenyatta, belonged to the Kikuyu, the largest of Kenya's 40-odd tribes. His slaying showed that political divisions cut not only between tribes but within.

I left Kenya for neighboring Ethiopia, then on to America in 1978. In Ethiopia, I experienced a country that was sinking deeper into a violent socialist revolution after toppling Emperor Haile Selassie. A military regime, ruthless against opponents, was in control.

Kenya, despite its assassination scandals, enjoyed an active economy. The country welcomed foreign investment and had a limited democracy, enviable by African standards. …

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