“Never has the nation spoken with such clarity, such a united, pained and desperate yearning for things to be made right. Never has a tired people, burdened with the cares of decades of bad government, slipped off the yoke with such a determined, steady hand,” declared Kenya’s Daily Nation in the wake of the opposition’s landslide victory in Friday’s general election. The National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) won just under two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, dislodging the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) from power for the first time since independence in 1963. The new president, 71-year-old Mwai Kibaki, was sworn in Monday, replacing Daniel arap Moi, who ruled Kenya for 24 years.
The East African Standard observed, “[T]he avalanche of votes for [Narc] and its top package is decidedly a vote for change that is outstanding in its clarity and resolve.” The Daily Nation agreed, “The vote for Narc was a vote against President Moi and all that President Moi he stood for; it was a vote for change.”
Several papers seemed pleasantly surprised that Moi was willing to walk away. Uganda’s Monitor noted, “This change of guard has so much resonance with all of us in Africa. First of all, we have so many leaders (including President Moi) who simply hang onto power for too long. From Guinea to Malawi, Libya to Namibia, the Big Man syndrome is alive and well. Once a man has been in power, either by force or through the ballot, he thinks he must stay there forever.” The Financial Times echoed that sentiment in its celebration of Kenya’s smooth transfer of power: “In a continent where ‘Big Men’ leaders more usually stay until they die or are violently overthrown, Mr Moi’s best contribution, in the end, may have been his compliance with his constitutional duty to stand down.” The Daily Telegraph’s veteran editor W.F. Deedes, an old “Africa hand,” was less optimistic. In a column headed “The dawn of a new era in Africa? Don’t hold your breath,” he asked: “Will the present rulers of Angola, Sudan, the Congo, Malawi and Somalia see the light and determine in future to ‘trust the people’? Africa’s ruling elite doesn’t think along those lines. It treasures power, and knows that, in Africa, great wealth is indispensable to the business of winning and holding power.”
The new administration faces a difficult challenge. As the East African Standard pointed out, “The economy is stagnant, unemployment is at an all-time high, insecurity is running amok, businesses are closing down, corruption runs wild, health institutions are rundown and the brain drain is robbing the country of qualified personnel.” According to the Guardian, tea, coffee, and other horticultural products account for 45 percent of Kenya’s total merchandise exports, and prices for several of the nation’s key commodities are at all-time lows. Tourism, another key economic segment, has suffered in the wake of November’s suicide bombing in Mombasa.
The Telegraph dubbed Kibaki “the comeback kid of Kenyan politics.” A British-educated economist, he was a Kanu loyalist for many years, serving as vice president and economics minister before bolting the party in 1991, frustrated, according to some observers, by Moi’s determination to hold on to the presidency. His greatest achievement may have been to unite what the FT described as a “previously fractured opposition.” Several of his closest Narc allies are Kanu stalwarts who deserted the party in October, when Moi stage-managed the naming of Kanu’s candidate for the president, realizing their chance for the top job would be greater in the new alliance. (See this October “International Papers” for more on Narc’s formation.) Still, his age and injuries he sustained in a car crash on the campaign trail—he suffered a broken arm, a dislocated ankle, and a cracked neck—have some observers worried that he will be a weak leader.