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KANU/ NDP merger set to transform national politics

[Kenya] President Arap Moi
The matter of who will succeed President Moi has Kenyans agog - and anxious (UN DPI)

Pending the outcome of an application to the High Court by three life-members of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) to stop the process, it is expected that some 6,000 branch delegates will make their way from all over Kenya to the Kasarani Sports Centre on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi, on 18 March to bless formally and anoint the merger of KANU and the National Democratic Party (NDP).

The delegates: 4,500 from KANU (formed on 11 June 1960), and 1,500 from the NDP (registered in 1996) will then, perhaps more importantly, elect the new officials of the merged "New KANU". They will also approve a new constitution for the party, which, it is envisaged, will almost double the number of party posts and official positions.

The NDP is expected to be dissolved as a party at some time during this process, either by adoption of merger resolutions or by acclamation. That dissolution was confirmed by NDP leader Raila Odinga at a press conference in Nairobi on Saturday 9 March.

President Daniel arap Moi said on Tuesday that the country was facing "a lively democratic contest for national leadership" and must demonstrate to the world that Kenya was united and peaceful.

The message was simple but grim, the Daily Nation newspaper reported on Wednesday: "Kenyans must not tear the country apart in the struggle for power."

This is the second time in its history that KANU has been involved in such a political merger. In 1964, the head of the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) - formed on 25 June 1960 due to the fear of domination by the country's larger ethnic groups - announced the dissolution of that party, which joined the government "under the leadership of Mzee Kenyatta", leading to a de facto, if not de jure, one-party state under KANU.

That one-party state remained until Kenya's first multiparty elections in 1992, with KANU retaining power in 1992, and as a result of the subsequent 1997 general elections.

The courtship of KANU and NDP has been long and tortuous, but the events of 18 March are expected to start a process of narrowing down and defining the vexed question of who will succeed President Daniel arap Moi. With the completion of the merger, some of the variables are already taking a more distinct shape.

It is now more or less universally accepted that Moi will not try to avoid the terms of the constitution by standing for another term, according to Macharia Gaitho, editor of the independent Daily Nation newspaper. Moi has been president for 23 years now, making him one of Africa’s longest-serving heads of state.

It is regarded as given, however, that Moi will be elected National Chairman of the merged New KANU, and that he intends to retain a guiding hand over the country's new political setup for some time to come.

It is also apparent that whoever is selected as the head of New KANU could have access to some 600,000 votes from western Kenya since, to date, it seems that Raila Odinga (leader of the NDP and son of the late political activist, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had a strong power base in the west, particularly among the Luo people, and which his son has inherited) will not be trying for the presidency himself.

Rather, Odinga would very much like to be considered for the post of secretary-general of the new party, as proposed by the 17-member merger team. It, in fact, adopted a resolution that this position be set aside for the NDP leader - which has created tension, particularly with Joseph Kamotho, the current KANU secretary-general and environment minister. The East African Standard has quoted Kamotho as saying that he regards the NDP as a bride "to be shown how to behave".

The 22 NDP votes in parliament also seem likely to remove the danger of KANU being ambushed there in any vote of confidence before the general election, scheduled to take place before the end of this year and which, from all indications, will be held as near to the end of the year as possible – as, indeed, happened in the multiparty elections of 1992 and 1997.

The first moves towards closer cooperation between KANU and the NDP appear to have occurred on the very day Moi was inaugurated after the last election: Odinga had originally agreed with Mwai Kibaki, leader of the Democratic Party, that both would denounce the election and reject it as neither free nor fair, but Odinga withdrew from this agreement.

Thereafter, he appeared to have rapidly increasing contacts with influential members of the ruling party, in particular Mark Too, who was nominated as an MP in 1998 and then appointed assistant minister in the office of the president. Some two years ago, there were even talks in which NDP members were proposing mass defection to KANU.

This all culminated in Odinga’s appointment as energy minister in 2001, with Dr Adhu Awiti, a prominent member of NDP, also getting a cabinet post as planning minister, and the NDP securing two junior ministries.

Since the August 2001 KANU/NDP conference, at which the mandate and modalities of the merger were agreed, inter-party technical and general committees have been established to accelerate the implementation of the full merger, and it is their strategies that are to be considered at the joint delegates’ conference next week.

From past experience, political observers are convinced that nothing will be allowed to interfere with the grand parade on 18 March and that disagreements will have been sorted out or brushed under the carpet.

Throughout next week, however, it is likely that there will be some very tough bargaining over who gets what within the New KANU party structure, with tribal and regional factions already preparing their slates of candidates, as reported in the local press, which is profiling the participants and their constituencies.

After a decade, Moi recently reintroduced the youth factor into KANU - and, indeed, into national politics. The notorious YK92 [Youth for KANU 1992] movement, which reportedly controlled substantial sums of party money in the first multiparty election, now finds itself, together with the influential cabinet minister, Cyrus Jirongo (rural development) and an assistant minister, William Ruto (office of the president), at the centre of national political manoeuvring.

Moi has also appointed the unelected Uhuru Kenyatta (41 year-old son of the country’s first president, the late Jomo Kenyatta, who is the least experienced of the so-called Young Turks) a cabinet minister with the local government portfolio.

The Kenyan president has publicly announced that he will be handing over power to the younger generation and, during a rally in Nairobi on Friday, 8 March, appeared to present Ruto, Kenyatta and Odinga, as well as Transport and Communication Minister Musalia Mudavadi, as his favoured team for the future leadership.

Mudavadi is also steeped in Kenyan national politics, in that his late father held the post of KANU secretary-general, and has himself held several strategic ministries since he first set foot in parliament 13 years ago.

Moi later said that the Kenyan media had taken his statement out of context in reporting that he had "anointed" these men as Kenya’s future leaders.

It seems clear that, if the president has his way, there will be a stronger than usual youth representation in the list of party officials finally elected on 18 March, particularly for the four posts of vice-chairman. However, the older members of both parties (including Vice-President George Saitoti, who has been reticent until recently) have stated that they are still very much in the race.

Despite the fact that much should become clearer on the Kenyan political landscape as a result of the KANU/NDP merger, observers are inclined to the belief that the New KANU candidate for the presidential election will not emerge from next week's meeting. That said the results of the elections to party posts should enable analysts to reduce the possible candidates to perhaps two or three.

There will therefore need to be another delegates’ meeting - probably not later than May or June - to decide upon and announce the presidential candidate, together with the merged party’s manifesto and campaign platform.

Perhaps the most important unanswered question remaining concerns the Kenya Constitutional Review Commission’s (KCRC) making of the country’s new constitution.

Civic education, however unsatisfactory in content and implementation, has been slowly gathering pace, according to observers. It is encouraging and surprising, they say, that some areas have requested the official commissioners to go away and return when the areas say they are ready, rather than go unprepared to meetings, the usefulness of which would therefore be nil - as witnessed in Kajiado recently.

There is some speculation and fear among the political opposition and civil society groups that the KCRC’s constitutional programme could be manipulated by the Kenyan executive or the KANU/NDP parliamentary majority - though observers say there are, as yet, no indications that this is envisaged or even likely.

One other aspect of the planned KANU/NDP merger will be its effect on the opposition groups. The ethnocentric nature of Kenyan politics has meant that most of the 45 registered parties are firmly based on tribal areas, and primarily represent and programme tribal interests – though there are exceptions.

Those parties overtly based on tribal interests will have to consider most seriously how they could gain political power in Kenya in the light of the KANU/NDP merger.

This was highlighted by the defection to New-KANU at the weekend of John Harun Mwau, head of the Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya (PICK), "for the benefit of the Akamba community".

Kenya's tribally driven parties can clearly be most influential in coalitions and alliances, and observers say the formation and consolidation of these may be the way to expect multiparty politics to go.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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