Kenya Elections Hailed Worldwide

3 January 2003

Nairobi — Kenya's new president, Mwai Kibaki, has been holding extensive consultations with his National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) as Kenyans awaited with anticipation the announcement of his new cabinet line-up.

Kibaki moved office, from his home in the wealthy Muthaiga suburb of the capital Nairobi to State House - the official presidential residence - Wednesday, fuelling already feverish speculation that the nomination of the new ministers was imminent.

But the new Kenyan leader has a tough job, juggling the desires and demands of more than a dozen parties that joined together to form the opposition Rainbow Coalition, late last year, ahead of the historic elections on 27 December. Ensuring that he maintains an ethnic, regional and party balance in his new government has clearly kept Kibaki at work. There was also a commitment by Narc to ensure that the administration rewarded women with up to a third of cabinet posts.

Although egos and ambitions among Narc's leadership were kept under control during the campaign period, now that the hour of reckoning and the time for job sharing has arrived, horse trading is reported rife in the new government camp, though publicly muted with little information trickling out or being leaked to the media.

Promises and pledges - can he deliver?

'Has Kibaki bitten off more than he can chew in promising a new Kenya?' is the consensus question being asked by the sceptics, analysts and journalists. The obvious answer is 'of course'. But what else could he have done? Kibaki has inherited a country, saddled with an economic recession, riddled with corruption, dogged by insecurity and home to old and poorly performing infrastructure.

Surely Kibaki had to promise the Kenyan people he would change all that. What option did a veteran opposition leader have as he campaigned to occupy the country's top job?

"This is a critical moment in the history of our country. The task ahead is enormous, expectations are high, the challenges are intimidating," Kibaki told hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who gathered at Uhuru (Freedom) Park in downtown Nairobi on Monday to witness his inauguration as president.

Of course, whether Kibaki can deliver on even half of his plethora of promises is another question. Only time will tell. But only time will tell. But if he can raise the morale of Kenyans, boost the economy, provide free primary school education, restore confidence and transparency in the government, the judiciary and other central institutions, honour his pledge of zero tolerance on corruption - and sanction all those who transgress - then the new government will have made an encouraging start.

"The positive thing about Kibaki is that he is very strongly against corruption. (Here) everything depends on what the president says and does over the next 100 days," said political analyst John Githongo. "The most important thing is to restore the confidence of Kenyans in their own institutions," said Githongo, echoing a widely held view that placing honest and capable people in top jobs and public institutions must be a top priority for Kibaki to restore public confidence.

"The past regime was all about corruption and repression, physical repression, causing fear - people in Kenya have always feared government. If Kibaki can change that, he will have done very well," Githongo concluded.

Kenyans appear to be ready to give Kibaki the benefit of the doubt and the chance to honour his promises. The world community is certainly wholeheartedly behind Kenya's new president. The African Union hailed the 'political maturity' of Kenyans and their leaders for their peaceful and democratic election. The former colonial power, Britain, the United States and others have lauded the conduct of the polls and pledged their support.

Kenya's success has been praised as an important example to other African countries, after democratic elections in the past two years, notably in Senegal in 2000 and later the same year in Ghana. There, another long-serving leader, retired Flight-Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, also stood down after his maximum two presidential terms, in line with the constitution - as Moi has done.

A popular opposition leader, John Agyekum Kufuor, became the new president of Ghana, marking the end of an era. Ghana's democratic transition mirrored the victory of Kibaki in Kenya. The arrival of Kufuor heralded the departure to the opposition benches of Rawlings' party in Ghana and now Moi's Kenya African National Union (Kanu). Both parties had maintained a stranglehold on power.

The people of Africa have spoken.

As South Africa's first lady, Zanele Mbeki, said at Kibaki's swearing-in ceremony on Monday "The victory of the people of Kenya is a victory for all the people of Africa".

But clearly not everyone was listening to the people's message. Just 24 hours after the euphoria and hope expressed in Kenya, on Tuesday across the continent in West Africa, Togo's rubber stamp parliament voted to change the law to let Africa's longest serving leader, retired General Gnassingbe Eyadema, stay on - possibly for life. In power since 1967, Eyadema has won consistently contested multiparty elections in his country.

Like Rawlings and Moi, Eyadema should have retired this year. But Article 59 of Togo's constitution, which limited any president from serving more than two terms, has been swept away. The exact wording of the constitutional amendment stipulates a Togolese president will now be "elected by universal and secret suffrage for a five-year mandate. He is re-electable". Any reference to a two-term limit was quietly dropped.

So Eyadema, who has for the past 36 years ruled his small country virtually unchallenged, is poised to continue thwarting any opposition attempts to democratically remove him from office. He has succeeded in confounding democratic change since he reluctantly accepted multiparty elections in Togo in the early 1990s. Eyadema has the dubious title of being sub Saharan Africa's first sauccesseful coup maker.

The parliamentary vote in Togo was in sharp contrast to Kenya's exemplary handover on the other side of the continent. It is bound to leave a bitter taste not only in the mouths of many Togolese, but also in Kenya and and other countries where Africans have demonstrated a hunger for democracy and true freedom, after more than 40 years of independence from their colonial masters.

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