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Sedition Charges Brought Against Editor Renew Issue of Tribal Politics in Kenya

TRIBALISM, one of most sensitive political topics in Africa, has surfaced anew in Kenya. On March 5, the government charged Gitobu Imanyara, editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly, with sedition after he published an editorial suggesting President Daniel arap Moi has stacked the government with members of his own minority Kalenjin tribe.

The arrest and the seizure of thousands of copies of the Law Monthly and two other magazines critical of the government, Society and Finance (sales were later allowed to resume), was condemned by some Kenyans and the United States government.

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US Secretary of State James Baker III immediately called for Mr. Imanyara's release ``without delay'' and for Kenya to ``move to correct other outstanding human rights problems.''

Tribalism lies behind the civil wars in a number of African countries, including Ethiopia, Somalia, and Liberia. While Kenya has avoided such tribal conflicts, the issue here is still a sensitive one.

KENYA is one of the few African countries still bucking the trend toward multiparty politics. Mr. Moi says multiparty politics would break down into tribal politics, with big tribes forming parties and excluding smaller tribes from power.

But critics claim Kenya's one-party state already includes domination by members of the president's tribe. Moi, as head of both the government and the ruling party, the Kenyan African National Union, holds most of the reins of power in his hands.

His critics claim Moi's intolerance of criticism and rigging of elections force them to seek power through multiparty elections.

The government's rebuttal to Imanyara's editorial came in a front-page article in the government-controlled newspaper, the Kenya Times. The government conceded that a long list of posts in the editorial said to be held by Kalenjin was true, but it went on to show a much longer list of major positions most of which are held by members of other tribes.

Neither the government nor Imanyara said which tribe holds the most powerful posts, but critics point to the Kalenjin.

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The government also claimed Kenya's previous president, Jomo Kenyatta, stacked the government with members of his tribe, the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe.

Kenya has three political detainees at present, a very low number compared to most African countries. The three, who have been detained since last July, are leaders of the move toward multiparty democracy.

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