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End of a century (1990-2000)

The 90's started with new convulsions. In February 1990, the Luo Robert Ouko, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was murdered in his farm near Kisumu. Ouko was a keen defender of Moi and maintained excellent relationships with the British and North American governments, to such an extent that in 1988 he had received support from the UK to occupy the vice-presidence. His name was frequently mentioned in the discussions about succession to presidence. Contrary to Moi, Ouko was popular in the foreign media, pleasant and amicable, and moderate in his declarations. Within the Cabinet, he stood out for his crusade against corruption.

The murder, the fourth of a political leader in modern Kenyan history and the first during Moi's mandate, was followed by one week of street riots, especially in Kisumu. Same that in Kariuki's case, fifteen years earlier, it was commonly accepted that the attack had been authored by government agents that went too far in their functions. At the end of 1991, John Troon, former British policeman hired by Moi to clarify Ouko's death, revealed that the main suspicions involved the president's most close counselor, the Minister of Energy Nicholas Biwott, together with his security chief Hezekiah Oyugi. Both were dismissed and arrested, but they would be soon released on absence of proofs.

Another unusual death was that of Bishop Alexander Muge, who died in a traffic accident in the A104 when he was travelling back from a visit to the west. His vehicle collided frontally with a lorry that invaded his lane. The priest had criticised the evictions performed by the police in the marginal district of Muoroto and had been warned in threatening terms against his visit to the Luo region by the Minister of Labour, who resigned after the accident.

Protests against the regime continued at the same pace than in the previous decade. In July 1990, three important leaders of Kenyan politics declared in support of a multi-party system. They were the former Minister Kenneth Matiba, the former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia and the son of the veteran Oginga Odinga, Raila Odinga. The three politicians also denounced the evictions of Muoroto. As a consequence, the politicians, as well as several activist lawyers, were arrested and remained for one year imprisoned without charges.

At the time, a pro-democracy rally was held in Nairobi. As usual, the meeting had been banned by the government. The concentration ended up in a violent revolt that was brutally dissolved by the police. There were tens of casualties, still Moi judged it unimportant since they were nothing more than "hooligans and drug addicts".

Mass media were tightly controlled by the government. Newspapers were suffocated and international media were accused of manipulating information, including the BBC in Nairobi. Moi's confrontation with the media, together with his opposition to politic pluralism, drove Kenya to some international isolation from 1991. Even his keenest foreign defenders could no longer understand his stubbornness in forbidding the multi-party system, that was at large in the rest of the new African democracies. Actually, in a deeper look, the international opinion was divided: the United Kingdom, well up on the country's reality, warned about a possible resurgence of ethnic violence as a consequence of a hypothetical pluralism.

In 1991 came for the first time a powerful and unified opposition, difficult to dismantle and that signified an actual threat for the regime. It was the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), led by the veteran Oginga Odinga, his son the radical Raila Odinga and a group of lawyers, among them the prestigious president of the Law Society, the Kikuyu Paul Muite. Free from heavy ideologic loads that had ballasted other initiatives like Mwakenya, FORD soon became a solid alternative that glued together other opposition movements. Once released from their arrest, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia joined FORD, same as did the critical politician Martin Shikuku, after deserting from KANU. Moi's reply came promptly. He labelled the FORD people as "rats" that would be "smashed" and he accused the foreign diplomatic missions, especially the North American ambassador, of encouraging and supporting forces opposed to the government.

The ban over pluralism finally brought Moi against the ropes when it touched his Achilles' heel, the international economic aid. The Paris group of donor nations, at the request of the IMF, the World Bank and the major NGOs, approved unanimously a six-month suspension of the aid for compensating the balance of payments, awaiting for economic and political reforms. Moi's reaction was immediate. Few days after he announced that the next presidential and parliamentary elections would be plural. A mechanism for party registry was implemented, and the constitutional reform that had established the single party in 1982 was derogated.

As the 1992 elections came closer, the sudden green light for pluralism caused a political storm. Fearing that the disappointed people would punish KANU, some ministers saw their positions in danger. The former VP Mwai Kibaki resigned and created his own party, the Democratic Party (DP), which received immediate adhesion of some Kikuyus, as well as of other minor groups in the east and northeast. Meanwhile, FORD had to work at full throttle. It was still a young party and not enough settled so as to promptly define a candidature. The Forum leaders were expecting Moi to let some months pass before convoking elections. And he did, but for his own reasons. Officially, to wait for "everything to be settled down in the country", but Moi knew that, as the British had predicted, tribal and political divisions would soon arise. And that was it. Upon accepting all KANU former ministers that requested adhesion, the FORD ranks were suddenyl populated with political dinosaurs that engaged themselves in a battle for leadership. Two factions were soon defined, the traditional opposition, led by Odinga, Paul Muite and his lawyers' circle, and the new opponents, which included KANU deserters and businessmen that had lost the government's favour. Finally, three months before elections, FORD split into two parties, FORD-Kenya or FORD-K, with Odinga as candidate, and FORD-Asili or FORD-A, which presented Matiba.

Tribalism was evident even in jokes: in the Kikuyu region, Luo Odinga's FORD-K was known as FORD-Kihii, in reference to the Kikuyu word for non-circumcised boys. This was only a sample of the tribal divisions that arouse with the multi-party policy. Each party was analysed by the electors until the ethnic profile was perfectly identified. FORD-K still defended a non-tribal position, pretending to represent the two major groups, Luo and Kikuyu, in the persons of Odinga and Muite respectively. FORD-K was also based on a more programmatic philosophy, radical but with a realistic economic proposal, guaranteed by the prestigious economists that had joined the team.

One of the most important backings FORD-K received came from Professor Wangari Maathai, former Chair of the National Council of Women of Kenya and one of the most respected opponents to the government. Maathai promoted in 1977 the Green Belt Movement, an environmental defense group that since its creation has planted 12 million trees throughout the country and is responsible for the birth of an environmental awareness in the people of Kenya, especially in the rural population and mostly in women, who have planted most of the trees. In 1992 she was beaten by the police while she maintained a hunger strike in Uhuru Park together with the wives and mothers of political prisoners, whose release she was vindicating. Prof. Maathai took part in FORD's foundation and after disintegration she mediated for the fusion of the two factions, to end up campaigning for FORD-K. She has stood out for her open accusations to Moi and his government of corruption and of seizing international aid funds. After the violent arrest of her colleague John Makanga in February 1993, Maathai received death threats, reason why she decided to hide. Soon after she came to light again to receive the Edinburgh Medal, as a reward for her humanitarian contribution through science. In 2004 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Many envisioned her as the president Kenya needed to shape a new future, but sadly she died in 2011 from ovarian cancer.

FORD-A presented itself to the elections as the great Kikuyu party, centralist and with firm supports in the business world. Its leader, Matiba, had suffered two heart attacks during his imprisonment and had been denied travelling abroad for receiving treatment. Besides political opposition, Matiba had personal reasons to desire KANU's defeat. Lastly, Kibaki's DP counted with a broad spectrum of support, but his bonding to KANU was still too recent to make his opposition proposal credible.

Before the elections there were some attempts of alliances between oarties, aimed at ensuring KANU's failure. However, none of them did finally work out, due to mutual distrust based on ethnic issues. Traditionally, tribal clashes have confronted the Kalenjin peoples with the Luos, Kikuyus and Luyia. For decades, these have emigrated from their densely populated regions to settle in small marginal farms located in unproductive lands of the Rift's Kalenjin regions. The Kikuyus have thrived in this sometimes hostile environment, dominating the small commerce and taking advantage of aids and benefits. Young Kalenjins formed gangs that terrorized their rivals, whilst the police came late if they came at all. At the same time, the Kikuyus organised themselves in surveillance groups to avenge the attacks, but many had no choice but to flee to refugees' camps in the slums of Eldoret and other towns. In those days prior to 1992 elections, KANU remained impassive to ethnic riots. But only in appearance. Actually, headlines talking about violence in official media and recommendations to Kalenjins of "watching their backs" heated up the atmosphere, and the government knew. Probably the goal was to show the world that the British were right, and that a multi-party system in Kenya led to tribal violence. And in this, KANU accomplished its goal.

The official report of the ethnic violence commission blamed KANU of instigation, and particularly Nicholas Biwott, former minister and suspect in Ouko's murder. The report was rejected by the monocolour Parliament. Soon after, the commission member John Makanga, Wangari Maathai's colleague, was arrested at the Hilton Hotel in front of the astonished IMF delegates. It is remarkable that Nicholas Biwott is still in the government and is said to be today one of the wealthiest businessmen in Kenya, with interests covering almost every key sector of Kenya's economy.

The end of 1992 was near and so elections were scheduled for December the 7th. By then, KANU seemed recovered from crisis and desertions. But the government did not stay motionless during these months. Instead, it displayed a full battery of extortionate and illegitimate measures, each one more imaginative, not to leave anything to the polls' chance.

First, more paper money was printed to buy KANU's sponsoring. Deserters that had joined the opposition fleeing from the sinking boat started to return to the fold, partly thanks to the generous "donations", and partly because the party in power did no longer appear as the losing horse.

A second measure was the sudden change of the date for the polls, that were moved to the 29th of December, in the middle of Christmas holidays. By then, most workers had already registered to vote in the cities and not in their hometowns, where Kenyans usually rest during the vacation period. The change of date harmed the urban vote vs. the rural one and the worker's vote vs. the unemployed's. The new date ensured as well a minimal electoral participation. Every consequence, of course, favoured no one else than KANU.

Since the last 1988 polls, between three and four million youngsters had turned 18. These new electors needed an ID card for exercising their right to vote, but issuance of documents in the areas that did not support KANU was mysteriously delayed.

In fact, the electoral system itself was tailor-made for KANU. Besides the voting process, the majority support to KANU in the most depopulated districts confered these votes a higher specific weight than the most populated and heterogeneous regions. But maybe all this was not enough guarantee. Shortly before elections, the Parliament enacted a law by which a candidate could only apply for presidence if he counted with at least 25% of the votes in five out of eight provinces. In a last turn of the screw, an anti-coalition law was approved, specifying that the president could only use members of his own party for making up the Cabinet. No party of the fragmented opposition could do it.

Lastly, and as expected, the media lent their enthusiastic support to KANU. All in all, the result of the polls could be no other. Participation was low and after the votes counting that lasted several days, the victory of KANU was announced, with a 36% of the votes, amounting to 100 seats out of the 188 elective, with 31 for FORD-A and 31 for FORD-K. Seventeen of these were returned, since they corresponded to candidates whose registry was not allowed. The electoral process was surveyed by 200 local and foreign observers for 7,000 ballot boxes.

Moi encountered two problems after elections. The first one was that KANU had lost all its ministers except one, since they had been defeated in the opposition. The absence of prominent figures in the party obliged Moi to offer his former ministers the seats attributed by presidential designation, 12 out of 200 (188 elective and 12 nominative). As a consequence of desertions, KANU almost lost all its Kikuyu and Luo MPs. On the other hand, opposition MPs had plans to boycott the first session as a protest for the electoral fraud. Moi solved the situation by delaying the first plenary session for two months, during which he "recovered" some of the ex-KANU opposition MPs. This period also allowed him to design strategies for neutralising his opponents' higher intellectual and dialectic capacities.

Finally, Moi fulfilled his only goal, to pass the democratic exam before the international community and hence get their aids back, two years after their suspension. In November 1993, the Paris group agreed a grant of 500 million USD for Kenya, an amount that could not refill the Kenyan arks, plundered since the late 80's. The conditions demanded by IMF and the World Bank included privatising several services and public industries, such as post and telecommunications, railways and cereal production. The objective of this requirement was to reduce funds available for polítical "sponsoring".

Post-elections days were not golden for the opposition. In a very surprising move, in 1993 Odinga came to an agreement with Moi for improving economy and infrastructures in Western Kenya. FORD-K's electors accused their own leader of selling himself, and in fact it was uncovered that he had received 2 million KSh from an international financial institution that had been previously involved in scandals. The subsequent dismemberment of FORD-K and the accusations of corruption were a sad farewell for such a key political figure that had always claimed for democracy and justice. Oginga Odinga died in 1994. Moi publicly mourned the decease and KANU offered to participate in the funeral expenses.

FORD-A was neither going through its better times, losing popularity while its leader, Kenneth Matiba, was sinking in demagogy. To make things worse and in an incomprehensible move, in 1996 he pronounced a speech against the Asian minority, accusing them of plundering the country for their own benefit. Funnily enough, Matiba's own business survived thanks to the Kenyan Asian market. Those who defended the inflamed leader judged the statement unimportant and justified it by "clarifying" that he was just attempting to attract the vote of the poorer Africans, who frequently work for the Asians. Meanwhile, the latter could not decide if they were more amazed by the first declaration or by the second explanation.

When FORD-K shattered to pieces, some of the most radical militants, including Odinga's son Raila, founded a new group, the Mwangaza Trust ("Light beam"), that would be illegalized in 1996 for "getting involved in politics". The integrist Islamic Party of Kenya, rooted in the coast, was also banned. The fundamentalists' leader, Khalid Salim Ahmed Balala, was arrested under the accusation of "conceiving" Moi's death.

The political scenario of the mid 90's would grant access to a new performer. In June 1993, paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, at the time Head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, suffered a terrible accident while he was piloting his Cessna. His airplane crashed and the scientist lost both legs. After several months of hard rehabilitation to learn to walk on his prostheses, he was back to work with renewed energies. However, something had changed during his absence. The Minister of Tourism, Noah Katana Ngala, announced that a secret research commission had found proofs of corruption and bad administration in KWS. In January 1994, an astonished Leakey presented his public resignation.

The reasons for this orchestrated ejection can be found in Leakey's management of KWS. His labour did not please some politicians, especially the Maasai, to whom Leakey tried to deny the use of parks as pastures for their cattle. Bribery did not work either with the new director, who was incorruptible. Under his mandate, KWS stopped being "sponsorable". Internally, Leakey also gained some enmities. The director was very demanding with objective fulfillment and gave himself entirely to his work, two characteristics that were not abundant in KWS's civil servants and that Leakey decided to link to retributions and promotions.

Leakey was replaced by the also prestigious scientist David Western, less charismatic but more moderate and dialoguing, whose management found a balance that seemed to please all the parts. Meanwhile, Leakey lept to national politics. In May 1995 he joined the lawyer and former leader of FORD-K Paul Muite to launch a new opposition party, Safina ("The Ark"). Leakey declared then: "if KANU and Mr. Moi want to do something about the deterioration of public life, corruption and bad administration, I will be happy to fight by their side. Otherwise, I want someone to do it". Moi replied in his usual conciliatory style: "What do I answer Leakey? I answer no, no and no to any white man who attempts to govern Kenya". Moi accused Leakey of being a colonial racist whose intention was to destabilize Kenya with foreign support. The party's registry was not accepted, and during a rally in Nakuru, Leakey and the Safina leaders were beaten.

In January 1996, before the next elections, the leaders of the main three opposition parties, Martin Shikuku of FORD-A, Mwai Kibaki of DP and Michael Kijana Wamalwa of FORD-K agreed to sign an alliance to present a single candidate for presidence. Leakey, whose party had no chance to present a candidature, coordinated the coalition and worked in fundraising. The elections were finally celebrated at the end of 1997, after Moi's announcement of an integrative constitutional revision and after new ethnic riots, this time in Mombasa. In spite of public accusations from the opposition against the government's harassing attitude and intimidatory stratagems, Moi won again with little more than 40% of the votes.

In March 1996 a new grant for Kenya was announced in Paris: 730 million USD, this time with no conditions. The Minister of Economy Musalia Mudavadi had put into place the requirements of IMF and World Bank, who considered the demands fulfilled. However, international organisations soon saw how Moi bought a new private jet with public funds, while at the same time he requested a loan for a similar amount to repair the main road Nairobi-Mombasa. Meanwhile, the KANU leaders ignored the recommendations to moderate the expenditure in the construction of a new international airport in Eldoret, a regionalist asset for Moi, who has also favoured the town with an ammunition factory.

In 1998, Western left the direction of KWS and Leakey was newly invited to take the post, a proposal he accepted. In July 1999 Leakey received a duty of greater political height: Head of the Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet. Given that Leakey accepted the assignment, it should be assumed that Moi decided at last to "do something about the deterioration of public life, corruption and bad administration". Leakey was replaced by Nehemiah Rotich in the direction of KWS, whose board of directors is presided by Charles Njonjo, the former Attorney General, establisher of the single party system and accused in 1983 of conspirating against Moi to seize power, of misappropriating KANU funds and of being involved in the plot of two military coup attempts.

In August 1998, islamic fundamentalist terrorists linked to Osama Ben Laden bombed the United States embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing more than 250 persons and causing more than 5,000 wounded. These attacks, together with pre-electoral ethnic riots and banditry seriously affected tourism, that dropped by one half. At the end of 1999, the sector started to recover.

Meanwhile, the fragility of Kenyan economy was again affected by atmospheric whims. Torrential 'El Niño' rains, preceded by a severe drought, lasted from March 1997 to June 1998, causing flood, damage in infrastructures and crop destruction. The Mombasa and Rift regions were particularly affected, with isolation of certain areas and sprouts of cholera and malaria. The subsequent 'La Niña' drought caused real devastation in agriculture.


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Cradle of Mankind
First migrations
Swahili coast
Portuguese empire
Omani domination
Mountains of the Moon
Inland peoples
Kenya exploration
Partition of East Africa
Protectorates & Lunatic Express
Settlers, hunters & sportsmen
African nationalism
Mau-Mau & end of the Colony
Uhuru, Jamhuri, Harambee
End of a century
Moi's decline & Constitution