Kenyan Opposition Stymied Despite Election Success
Moi's government continues to act as single-party state
KENYANS are learning a lesson being forced on many Africans: that the gains by political opposition groups through elections are no guarantee of change or peace.
More than a month after Kenya's historic multiparty elections, in which opposition parties won 44 percent of the parliamentary seats, President Daniel arap Moi is showing no sign of even recognizing that there is an opposition.
Mr. Moi won reelection in the Dec. 29 poll, with only 36 percent of the vote, defeating seven opponents.
"He's behaving ... as if we were still a single-party [country]," says Lilian Mwaura, chairman of the National Council of Women of Kenya. "Nothing has changed. We have the same people in government."
Moi temporarily closed the new, multiparty Parliament Jan. 27, after it had met for only one day to select a Speaker. The opposition thus had no chance to raise the kinds of issues they campaigned on, including Kenya's sliding economy and allegations of government corruption.
"The message being sent [to the opposition] is: `Your votes don't count,' " says Kenyan attorney and human rights advocate Gibson Kamau Kuria. "Nothing has changed, as far as the government is concerned."
And exercising his constitutional right to appoint 12 members to the 200-member Parliament, Moi chose only members of his party, and mostly ones from his last government who had lost their seats in the Dec. 29 election.
"That is a slap on the electorate," says Chiuri Ngugi, director of the Legal Education and Aid Program, a private organization in Nairobi. A government spokesman says the president chose persons he could be sure were "loyal" to him.
"There's been no meeting with the opposition or recognition of the role they are to play," a Western diplomat here notes. "I don't interpret his [Moi's] actions as full acceptance of multiparty [politics]."
James Simani, director of political affairs in Kenya's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says Parliament was shut after only a day to allow government and opposition members to prepare position papers. "Otherwise you find people getting to blows for nothing," he says.
Mr. Simani has not said when the president intends to open Parliament again, or even to clarify whether it would be a matter of weeks, or months. But, he adds, "There's a need for early resumption to discuss ... issues."
And he says the opposition and government are getting along well behind the scenes. "If you look in the eating houses, you see them eating together and laughing," Simani says.
Some Kenyans want to change the Constitution to strip the president of the power to open and close Parliament. "It's a dictatorial power which can be used to muzzle Parliament," Mr. Ngugi says.
Mr. Kuria, the attorney, supports a number of constitutional or legislative changes to provide more checks and balances on the power of Kenya's president.
The judiciary should be given additional protection against dismissal by the president, Kuria says. And key presidential appointments, including the Cabinet, should be subject to approval by Parliament, he suggests. He also favors establishing a second house in Parliament, and strengthening the powers of regional governments.
But legislation requires a majority, and constitutional amendments need a two-thirds majority, both of which the opposition lacks.
Kenyan women's leader Ms. Mwaura is unhappy about another aspect of the new Moi government: the lack of women in it.
"We [women] have been marginalized as before," she says.
Six women won seats in Parliament, compared with two in the last elections, in 1988. But no women have been appointed to the new Cabinet, nor were any women among the 12 persons Moi nominated to Parliament, Mwaura points out.
She says her organization, a coalition of 46 women's groups representing about 90,000 members, plans a national conference March 12 to further educate women about the need to run for office and to vote.