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Kenya in Transition

AFTER years of being held up as a model of African stability, Kenya is coming unglued.

The one-party, one-man rule of President Daniel arap Moi is unraveling, and the transition to democracy, here as elsewhere, is turbulent. At present, Kenyans face ethnic violence, escalating crime, pervasive corruption, and economic chaos.

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But the seeds, at least, of progress are planted. Since President Moi lifted a ban on opposition parties last December, a number of political movements have been formed, most notably the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy and the Democratic Party.

Kenya's newly invigorated press has allied itself with the opposition and has diligently covered the country's turmoil, adding to public dissatisfaction with the government. Coverage of last month's violent police assault on women protesting the government's treatment of political prisoners was particularly catalytic.

Kenya's churches, too, are encouraging political change. Nairobi's All-Saints Cathedral is a refuge for protesters, and the country's Catholic bishops recently issued a letter accusing the government of fomenting ethnic strife and calling on it to accept democratic reform.

Many opposition figures suspect that communal violence in the countryside - caused largely by members of the president's own Kalenjin tribe - could serve as a rationale for emergency rule. They point to Moi's harassment of opponents' organizing efforts as evidence that he lacks commitment to democratic change.

International pressures forced the president's legalization of opposition parties; longtime donors of economic aid put a moratorium on further assistance pending genuine reform.

Some Kenyans worry that change is being forced on them too fast, intensifying ethnic frictions that could fragment the country. That's a danger. The opposition needs to build alliances across ethnic lines and keep up its call for peaceful protest.

Kenya has strengths: many highly educated citizens and established economic and political structures, among others. Allies and neighbors have an interest in seeing this important country make the transition, intact, from Moi's autocracy to more enlightened government.

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