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February 2003

Moi legacy lingers on

Fred Oluoch

Even though the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was kicked out of power during the December 27 elections after 40 years of uninterrupted rule, the legacy of the long-serving former president Daniel arap Moi is likely to persist for a while.

The president Mwai Kibaki-led National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government, in particular, is eager to demonstrate a refreshing approach to governance different from Moi's 24-year rule, whose key features comprised high-handedness, deliberate promotion of sycophancy, knee-jerk approach to issues of grave national importance, ethnic consciousness to perceived officially-sanctioned corruption.

Yet, the new government that swept to power on a reform platform is cognisant of the fact that Moi’s omnipresent approach — which saw him permeate virtually every sector of the economy—might not be subdued overnight. What is certain though, is that the new government being an alliance of over 10 parties, can hardly afford to adopt the dictatorial nature of the former regime, more so at a time when political consciousness has grown considerably.

But despite being less threatening to the public, the new administration is under much scrutiny in regards to how it will go about shedding off the Moi legacy in the early stages of its statutory five-year term, given that virtually all its economic policies and political moves are likely to judged by Moi's standards.

The pressure to make a difference is exacerbated by the emerging reality that prospects of re-election in 2007, could be largely dependent on how much the 15-party conglomerate has managed to distance itself from the policies and governance style of Moi's much maligned regime.

So far with only one and a half months in office, the NARC government continue to enjoy considerable public goodwill generated by the prevalent expectations that those currently in charge have the capacity to open a new chapter in East Africa's largest economy.

For a start, president Kibaki has managed to stay away from the public eye since he took over power on December 30 last year. This is unlike the former president who was permanently in the news as a means of stamping his authority.

While other quarters argue that president Kibaki's absence from the limelight has much to do with his prolonged indisposition following a road accident shortly before last year's elections, political observers concur that it is unlikely that the new president , who came to power through unprecedented popular mandate, will be publicity-thirsty.

Much of it attributed to the fact that, president Kibaki, an economist and alumni of London School of Economics, who hails from the populous Kikuyu community, has so far injected some measure of confidence in the institution of the presidency, compared to his predecessor.

In contrast, Moi was in 1978, a beneficiary of the constitutional provision that requires the vice-president to assume leadership after the death of the president. Moreover, despite the vice-president for 12 years, he was largely seen as ill prepared for the presidency having hailed from one of Kenya’s tinniest ethnic groups-the Tugen.

The fact that he hailed from the minority group coupled with relatively limited education, was to form the core of his governance characterised by crisis of confidence that made him uneasy with any educated and independent-minded personalities, whom he strove to cut to size.

Unlike the past regime, president Kibaki has so far lived to his promise of giving free hand to those he has put in decision-making positions to make executive decisions without reference to the top. This could be a major shift from Moi's style, where ministers could not make decisions without a clear signal from State House, lest they endangered their positions.

Difficult to eradicate though, will be the ethnic-inspired mind-set that expects the government to undertake delicate regional and ethnic juggling in its appointments across the board. This emanates from the behaviour of the first two regimes, especially Moi’s, in which the president’s ethnic community was seen to have unhindered access to state goodies and appointments at the expense of others, the new government is specifically under scrutiny lest it falls into the same bandwagon.

Already, president Kibaki is facing considerable disquiet from a section of his pre-election partners over the appointments done so far, who see this as an

attempt to give priority to the president’s Mt Kenya region. Still, hopes are high that unlike the former regime that played lip service to the issue of corruption, the new government has the drive to tackle the runaway official graft seen as the major contributor to the high level of poverty and the general economic decline.

In a major departure from the last regime, the new government moved fast to publish the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Bill, as well as hauling to court, some of the suspected perpetrators of corruption. These moves have also given strong indications that the government is out to streamline the state corporations that previously served as dens of corruption mainly because some of them served as the source of funds for Kanu's numerous political activities and rewards for political failures and cronies.

Yet, another lingering Moi legacy is the temptation for the new president to surround himself with a group of trusted lieutenants. The 71-year old Kibaki, is currently under pressure to prevent the emergence of a powerful self-seeking clique that was the hallmark of the last regime, but which was seen to have been responsible for the many excesses the regime committed.

As it is, there are growing fears among a section of NARC senior members that such a group has already taken shape in the name of those who stood by the president in his 10-year fight for the presidency, who have taken advantage of his illness to influence some major decisions.

But more worrying, is the prospects that Kibaki, who served as Moi's vice-president from 1978 to 1988, is seen as belonging to the conservative class of Kenyan politicians, who might adopt a rather cautious and gradual approach to changes contrary to the radical path expected by some of those who played a key role in his victory.

Apparently, the president since taking over power, has retained, in high position, some personalities who had a long stint in the previous regime at the expense of fresh blood. This, among others, is seen as a manifestation that the expected shift from Moi's style of over-reliance on long-time cronies could be unexpectedly slow, if not futile.

As the new government seeks to institute a people-centred approach to governance free from ethnic glorification, some senior members of the government have openly admitted that it will take close to a decade to totally get rid of Moi's legacy and what they term as "years of plunder".

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