New leader declared in Kenya after Moi's long rule

 

KENYA: A new era dawns in Kenya this morning. After 24 years in power, President Daniel arap Moi is stepping aside to make way for his opposition rival, Mr Mwai Kibaki, in a historic democratic transition.

Last night Mr Kibaki, leader of the National Rainbow Coalition, was declared winner of last Friday's landmark election, in which Kenyans overwhelming rejected both President Moi's preferred successor, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, and his party, the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU).

Final results were not available last night, but with 192 of 210 constituencies reporting, Mr Kibaki, 71, had 63 per cent of the vote while Mr Kenyatta, 30 years his junior, took just 30 per cent.

In the parliamentary poll 10 senior KANU ministers and a slew of Moi cronies lost their seats, including the controversial Interior Minister, Mr Julius Sunkuli and the vice-president, Mr Musalia Mudavadi.

The landslide victory is a sharp demonstration of the extent of Mr Moi's unpopularity following years of economic decline and endemic corruption.

Sitting in his front garden yesterday Mr Kibaki - who served as Mr Moi's deputy for a decade in the 1980s - promised that change would be swift and substantial.

His first priority would be corruption, then resuscitating the ailing economy. The government would provide free primary education and the presidential personality cult that characterised Mr Moi's rule would retire with him. Kenya will have no Mwai Kibaki streets or schools and his face will not appear on the banknotes. "It is not a matter of ego. The president will be judged by what he does," he said. But nobody believes it will be that simple. The task of rebuilding the economy is a mammoth one. Until a few months ago many of Mr Kibaki's closest political allies were Kanu stalwarts - the very people responsible for the economic decline. Across town, Mr Kibaki's rival was conceding defeat. "We were not the change that people were looking for," Mr Uhuru Kenyatta admitted.

The 41-year-old businessman, whose father Jomo led Kenya to independence, tried desperately to convince Kenyans he was a young and dynamic reformer.

But for too many, he would have simply been a Moi puppet.

As leader of the Opposition he vowed to rebuild KANU into a "strong and formidable force." But with the party decimated, he has a long way to go.

Many Kenyans are still pinching themselves to see if the peaceful result is for real. "We are so very happy. This is the change we have been waiting for 24 years," said Mrs Keziah Ngururi (33), as she exited mass in the Catholic Church in Banana Hill, 15 kilometres north of Nairobi.

On the eve of Friday's poll Mama Ngina Kenyatta, Uhuru's mother, distributed money and title deeds for land to poor peasants, she said. But the bribery didn't work - thousands still voted for Kibaki. "I liked the young man," said Mr John Munge (60), of Mr Kenyatta. "But he was backed by the wrong forces." Mr Kibaki's first task will be to unravel Kanu's complex apparatus of patronage and power, which slowly smothered Kenyan government over the past four decades.

Yesterday he vowed to purge the civil service of its dead wood and to pursue the €56 million he alleges the outgoing government siphoned off in its dying days.

In some corners, the moment of truth has already come. During campaigning the state owned television station Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) gave blanket coverage to Mr Kenyatta's campaign.

Last Saturday, as the results flooded in, someone apparently saw the writing on the wall. After 39 years of Kanu propaganda, the plug was pulled. The screens were filled with images of opposition victory.