Kenyan Candidate Aims to Unite Nation Against Corruption

It’s not often you get to interview two national presidents in one week. The result of one of those interviews, this piece highlights the campaign of soon-to-win Kenyan opposition leader Mwai Kibaki. Originally published in The Washington Times, June 15, 2002.

By Andy Olsen

Kenyan opposition leader Mwai Kibaki, who hopes to unseat the long-ruling party of President Daniel arap Moi in upcoming presidential elections, calls his strategy simple: to do things right.

Mr. Kibaki told a group of supporters Tuesday night in Washington that his biggest priority if elected president would be replacing corrupt officials in the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party of Mr. Moi.

The Kenyan Constitution requires Mr. Moi, president for more than two decades, to step down sometime within the next few months.

Mr. Moi “has basically been rejected by Kenya, so he’s not staying,” said Mr. Kibaki, who leads the National Alliance for Change (NAC), a coalition of political groups that claims to have united much of Kenya against KANU.

He said in an interview, however, that despite potential public pressure, he would not move to investigate the president, who after 24 years in office cannot run again.

The opposition has long blamed the president for corruption that cost Kenya international loans and ruined schools and hospitals.

Mr. Kibaki is one of three persons being considered by the NAC, Kenya’s largest opposition group, to run as its candidate in the upcoming election.

Though a date has not been announced, the election is supposed to take place by the end of this year under Kenya’s Constitution.

If elected, Mr. Kibaki promised to remove corrupt Kenyan officials who have broken the law. In many cases, he said, little action would be needed.

“If you have a new government, they will not wait to get out,” he said. “They will not want to stay around. People know them. In any case, the action will be taken by the government.”

But when asked if he would move to prosecute Mr. Moi, whom his party blames for proliferating corruption in Nairobi, Mr. Kibaki said: “That’s not to preoccupy our time.”

“I would rather do first things first,” he said.

Many African political analysts say to beat KANU, Kenya’s opposition must unite behind a single candidate before publicly announcing one.

The nation has more than 40 opposition parties. Even one or two additional candidates could split the vote.

“If they announce a presidential candidate right now, the other parties will not stand behind him, because they might not like him,” said George Ayittey, an associate professor of economics at American University. “There will be at least five candidates. He won’t be the only one.”

In Kenya’s 1997 presidential election, Mr. Kibaki finished second behind Mr. Moi and ahead of four other candidates.

Both KANU and Mr. Kibaki, who is chairman of the Democratic Party of Kenya, accused the other of controlling voting places.

Hundreds of people died and homes were burned in politically motivated ethnic fighting after the 1992 and the 1997 elections, according to Article 19, a human rights group that monitors Africa.

Mr. Kibaki made a five-day visit to Washington to meet with the International Democrat Union, a group of 80 conservative leaders from around the world. He also met with members of Congress and international election observers.