Kenya embraces change as opposition wins power

 

There aren't many good days in African politics, a turbulent arena of violence and skulduggery, but yesterday was one of them.

At the climax of a momentous weekend, millions of Kenyans ejected from power the notoriously corrupt government of President Daniel arap Moi, who has ruled them since 1978.

There had been fears of violence, vote-rigging or mass revolt. But in the end there was just quiet democracy, the silent slip of pink ballots falling into black boxes. And the winner, Mwai Kibaki, was the one who had the most votes, not the most thugs or guns.

"This is the dawn of a new era," proclaimed Mr Raila Odinga of the National Rainbow Coalition, the victorious opposition alliance.

Kenya's peaceful democratic transition has excited fresh hopes for democracy on a continent where wars and violence have blighted progress. "We need more of this in Africa," said one delighted western diplomat in Nairobi.

It was no foregone conclusion. Africa's "Big Men" rulers tend to be dislodged by the gun or the grim reaper. Mr Moi, who tortured opponents in the 1980s and was a reluctant convert to multiparty democracy in the 1990s, looked like he might go that way too.

Yet in the end, the old man agreed to quietly step off the stage with solemn dignity. After 24 years of economic vandalism and moral decay, it may be the best part of his legacy.

In contrast, conflict continued in corners of Africa once seen as models of progress. Several thousands miles to the west, war was escalating in the Ivory Coast, a country previously considered an anchor of stability. To the south, Zimbabwe continued to plunge further into economic turmoil and famine, a crisis sparked by Robert Mugabe's insistence on thumping, torturing and cheating his way back to power.

And all around Kenya's immediate borders, armed conflict was raging: in Sudan, Somalia, Uganda and pockets of Ethiopia.

The president-elect last night promised his people a leaner government that will battle corruption and tackle staggering economic problems.

The London School of Economics graduate said his administration will make sweeping changes in the way Kenya is run.

Mr Kibaki will propose legislation that would require top officials to declare their wealth and break with traditions like hanging the presidential photograph in shops and offices throughout the country.

Governing "is not a matter of promoting the ego of a president," the 71-year-old economist said to the enthusiastic cheers of supporters and opposition officials.

"A president should prove himself by things he's going to do which change the life or ordinary Kenyans," Mr Kibaki said.

He will be Kenya's third president since independence from Britain in 1963 and will be sworn in tomorrow. The Electoral Commission finally declared Mr Kibaki the winner of Friday's election. With all but 14 of 210 constituencies reporting, Mr Kibaki had won 63 per cent of the vote, the commission officials said. (Additional reporting: AP)