Kenya ruling party adopts razzmatazz over rhetoric.
By David Fox
NAIROBI, Nov 7 (Reuters) – As a microcosm of the society it helped shape, the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party’s rally on Friday accurately reflected the state of the nation.
It started late, the power failed and the water was cut off, but there was plenty of enthusiasm and a make-do spirit familiar to this east African country.
There was also an air of steely power among the leaders as the party which has led Kenya since independence in 1963 gathered the faithful to launch its election manifesto.
Around 4,000 delegates from around the country and representing all levels of society met at a gymnasium in the Moi International Sports Centre on the outskirts of Nairobi to plot what is likely to be another election victory when a poll date is finally set.
Businessmen in designer suits arrived in chauffeur-driven Mercedes, a group of Moslem clerics in tattered robes arrived by private bus and hundreds of others splashed through a drenching rainstorm to arrive on foot.
They were all united in purpose — to cheer the party elders and pay tribute to their leader, President Daniel arap Moi.
“We love Kenya. We love KANU. We love our leader Moi,” sang a choir of women singers dressed in the green, red and black colours of the party.
In the stands, a man wearing a T-shirt bedecked with a rooster, the party emblem, cock-a-doodle-dooed to cheers from the crowd.
When Moi finally arrived, nearly two hours later than expected, women ululated, men whistled and everyone stamped their feet in approval.
Earlier a brief power cut plunged the hall into darkness, while a plumbing failure meant water had to be carried by buckets to makeshift kitchens catering for the hungry and thirsty.
The sports complex, which Moi opened just 10 years ago, is already scarred by the neglect that characterises much of Kenyan infrastructure.
Broken panes of glass have not been repaired, tiles are missing from the floor and the roof leaks in parts.
But it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, many of whom were hoping to be selected as parliamentary candidates in the forthcoming elections.
“I very much want to be an MP,” said one elderly delegate wearing a fez and richly hennaed beard. “I very much want a car.”
Moi gave no clue as to when elections would be held, but analysts noted that as Friday’s rally was billed “Manifesto 1997”, an election by the end of the year — in line with the constitution — seemed probable.
The rally still contained some of the rhetoric that for years has dominated the particular brand of African nationalist-type socialism that sprung up over much of the continent as countries gained independence from colonial rule.
But it also contained a degree of glitzy razzmatazz, with balloons, bunting, ribbons, placards and posters being waved around.
The release of a giant gift-wrapped box of helium-filled balloons drew the biggest cheer of the day, but that soon turned to laughter as most failed to rise more than a few metres (feet) from the ground.
Moi good-naturedly batted them about with the ceremonial ivory swagger stick he often carries in public. When one burst the crowd took their cue and began a frenzy of balloon popping.
With not a hint of dissent in the house, Moi left to a standing ovation. “We will win the election,” he said as he left. “Go and win the election.”
(c) Reuters Limited 1997
Rural Kisii portrays complex Kenya politics.
By David Fox
KISII, Kenya, Dec 5 (Reuters) – The Kenyan political landscape since independence in 1963 has been painted in the colours of the ruling Kenya African National Union and dominated by two men: the nation’s founder Jomo Kenyatta and his successor Daniel arap Moi.
But at a local level the picture is one of abstract complexity featuring a web of party intrigues, tribal loyalties, loose ethnic alliances and patronage that begin at village level and reach all the way to State House.
A good vantage point to view this is Kisii, a small hilly town in Nyanza province, western Kenya, where all the ingredients come together to form an often explosive cocktail.
That mix is being shaken once again as the nation prepares to go to the polls on December 29.
Kisii, a town of about 200,000 people, is in Kisii district and takes its name from the pastoral tribe that inhabits the area.
In the south of the same province live the Maasai, a traditional herder people, and in the north the prosperous Luo who have benefited from the provincial capital Kisumu’s regional importance as a trading hub on Lake Victoria.
Nyanza has not been a particularly happy hunting ground for Moi, but in rural Kisii district at least his party has retained a relatively loyal following.
That may now be changing.
“KANU has many, many problems,” said Christopher Obure, the KANU member of parliament for Bobasi in Kisii until last month when parliament was dissolved ahead of the election.
“There are problems of succession, problems of credibility…problems at the very top of the party,” he said.
Obure, who describes himself as a die-hard KANU supporter, was speaking to Reuters after a night of campaigning in his home district — campaigning merely for the right to stand for the party in the elections.
He won the party’s nomination by 10,000 votes last week, but the result was overturned following an appeal by his opponents and Obure had to repeat the process on Friday.
KANU won six of the ten Kisii seats up for grabs in the 1992 election — the first multi-party poll in modern Kenya — but Moi gleaned less than 15 percent of the area’s presidential vote and many think he will do even worse this time around.
“People are warning me against even suggesting they vote for Moi,” Obure said. “He can virtually count himself out here.”
Under Kenya’s election rules, a candidate must win 25 percent of the vote in at least five of eight provinces to become president.
If this does not happen, the top two candidates must face off again — a scenario that would leave Moi facing, for once, a single opponent with more chance of uniting opposition.
Moi was crushed in Nyanza in 1992.
The province gave the late Oginga Odinga 74 percent of the vote compared to Moi’s 14.5 percent.
This time around, however, the non-Moi vote is expected to be more evenly divided. Many people in Kisii believe this will give Moi the opportunity to somehow garner 25 percent of the province’s vote.
Communities such as the Kisii, Luo and Maasai — for years living relatively amicably along uncharted tribal boundaries — have been clashing more frequently, polarising areas into groups that pledge allegiance to whoever promises them security.
Police say Maasai tribesmen murdered 14 Kisii villagers last month in the most brutal attack of a series in which more than 50 people have been killed in the past three months.
Luo villagers speak of armed gangs of Kisii youths rampaging through rural areas at night.
The disruptions mean whole communities may miss the chance to vote because they have not had the opportunity to register, are dislocated or merely fear violence and intimidation on December 29.
Opposition sources say a smaller turnout in Nyanza means a much larger slice of the vote for the better-organised KANU — something that could help keep Moi from facing a difficult second round of voting.
“If the president has to face a run off it will be doom,” Obure said. “I don’t think he can win in a two-person race.”
(c) Reuters Limited 1997
Provincial capital choked by weed and political apathy.
By David Fox
KISUMU, Kenya, Nov 7 (Reuters) – A weed known as water hyacinth seems to be the only growth industry these days in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest town situated on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria.
The weed — whose pretty flowers belie the damage its clogging roots do to transport, fishing and industry in the area — spreads as far as the eye can see, in a vast green and purple carpet.
The town itself seems to have stopped moving because of the choking hyacinth. A peeling arch across the main street praises President Daniel arap Moi — who has been in power since 1978 — for his “10 years of progress and leadership”.
The twin towers of the provincial headquarters form a ghostly silhouette in the evening sunset. Although the structure was built in 1988, it was never finished or connected to utilities and bats are the only residents.
With a general election scheduled across Kenya on December 29, residents feel Kisumu would be the perfect place for aspiring politicians to beat the drum about what can and should be done to boost development. Residents say, however, they have been noticeable only by their absence.
“I must say we are a little surprised and disappointed that not a single presidential candidate has asked our views about this part of the country,” said Sunil Shah, regional head of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
“No-one has asked us what must be done to make the area more productive, more viable … to boost development, jobs, welfare.”
For years after Kenyan independence in 1963 Kisumu enjoyed the kind of growth envied by much of the rest of the country. Its port proved a vital lake trading hub to Uganda and Tanzania, serving as a ready outlet for its vast agricultural hinterland.
But poor planning, regional political differences and domestic politics seem to have stopped further development in its tracks.
Giant Nile perch were introduced to Lake Victoria in the 60s, with the well-intentioned aim of providing richer fishing for the communities that live along its shores.
When the voracious perch began eating their way through the lake food chain, the water hyacinth appeared in the 70s, and at first provided better breeding cover for the smaller species.
Now the weed has won the battle, incapacitating the waterworks that supply the area, stopping boats from entering or leaving the harbour and de-oxygenating the water and thus suffocating the fish.
A debate has been raging for years between environmentalists and residents over whether to use herbicide or mechanical means to kill the weed.
Herbicides have potentially dangerous consequences for the rest of the ecosystem while the resources needed to properly harvest the weed — which multiplies at an astonishing rate when its floating bulbs are crushed or broken — are simply beyond the means of this cash-strapped East African country.
Today residents of Nyanza province also feel caught between two camps.
The Luo people have for years felt isolated by Moi and the ruling Kenya African National Union party for the dissent shown by the late Oginga Odinga, a former vice-president who split from KANU in 1966 and stood against Moi in the 1992 presidential elections.
The Luo marked their displeasure at the ballot box in 1992 — also Kenya’s first multi-party elections — by voting overwhelmingly for their tribesman Odinga and his FORD-Kenya party, and it is hard to find anyone in the area who will not vote for his son Raila this time around.
“But unless the Luo suddenly decide to vote for KANU, or KANU somehow is beaten in the (national) elections — Nyanza will be ignored by Nairobi,” said one businessman.
“And Raila (Odinga) has the Luo vote sewn up. So it is unneccessary for him to go making promises.”
This picture of tribal, ethnic and party difference is being played out across Kenya as the elections near, but in Kisumu many residents say they are interested only in their own affairs.
“Why can’t we have a leader who will do something about this?” said a waiter at a local hotel’s rather inappropriately named Lakeview Terrace as he gestured towards the water hyacinth.
(c) Reuters Limited 1997
Nairobi-Mombasa road open; Kenya counts losses.
By David Fox
KAMBU BRIDGE, Kenya, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Kenya’s vital link road between the capital Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa was open on Sunday but heavy rains have created one of the biggest traffic jams East Africa has ever seen.
“We are moving…but you might not notice,” the chief engineer in charge of Kenya’s road system told Reuters at the bridge over the Kambu river, about 250 km (155 miles) from Nairobi on the way to Mombasa.
Part of Kambu bridge was washed away in fierce storms which lashed Kenya on Thursday and Friday, but there was still enough of the structure remaining on Sunday for vehicles to make a precarious crossing.
However, transport had come to a complete standstill at Kyulu, about 60 km (37 miles) further east and a traffic jam stretched for some 25 km (16 miles) along the main highway which passes through Kenya’s Tsavo National Park.
The traffic jam was caused by a combination of terrible roads and worse driving. But after being stuck deep in the maze for the past two days, drivers appeared finally to be working together to sort out the impasse.
“Most of these problems was caused because everybody tried to go by himself,” said a policeman at the scene. “If people drive with more cooperation, we could fix this.”
But most were afraid. Drivers with their assistants, known as spanner boys, were jostling each other to try to get the traffic moving.
Hundreds of trucks, many carrying perishable goods, to or from Mombasa, have been stuck for days — their cargo slowly rotting.
The Mombasa-Nairobi road is one of the busiest in Africa, with thousands of trucks and lorries carrying goods from the port city to the east African heartland and beyond.
Trucks from Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were bogged down in the mud with their exhausted drivers slumped at the wheel.
One Kenyan official at the scene said it would take months to repair the damage.
“We will do it but it will be a big struggle,” he said. “I think a low estimate is that it will take two billion shillings ($33.3 million) to get the road back to normal.”
The rains, blamed by Kenya’s meteorological department officials on the El Nino weather phenomenon, have virtually washed away what remained of the tarmac for huge stretches.
Dozens of newly imported vehicles still bearing Arabic license plates from Dubai, a growing trading base for the region, were stuck in the mud on their first taste of Kenya’s roads.
The Sunday Nation newspaper quoted Public Works Minister Kipkalya Kones as saying the government would use the army and National Youth Service to help with temporary repairs.
Bus operators between Nairobi and Mombasa said they had suspended bookings until further notice. Rail transport was still available but bookings there were reported low.
Floods have closed the main transit route for road and rail goods traffic to Uganda and Rwanda via the Malaba border in western Kenya. Road traffic for Uganda was being diverted to the Busia border crossing or to the Lake Victoria port of Kisumu for ferry transfer to Ugandan ports.
Kenya Airways reported that bookings to and from Mombasa and other coastal resorts had “sky-rocketed”.
On Saturday, Kenya’s Meteorological Department said rainfall would decrease in flood-hit areas over the next few days, partly as a result of a tropical cyclone in the Mozambique Channel off Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.
Kenya police said on Saturday that at least 86 people had been killed by the floods and the Sunday Standard put the toll at 91.
There were conflicting police reports over the period during which the deaths had occurred. Police said on Saturday that the toll was for a 24-hour period but senior police officers said separately that the toll could be for a three-month period.
On Sunday, police spokesmen would not say when the first death from floods was actually recorded.
(c) Reuters Limited 1998
Anger, despair on Kenya’s highway from hell.
By David Fox
VOI, Kenya, Jan 19 (Reuters) – In the 23 years Ali Ahmed Abdi has been a truck driver in East Africa he has been shot at, robbed, blown up by a landmine and been in more crashes than he can remember.
None of that compared to driving from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa to the capital Nairobi this week, the wizened Somali told Reuters in the middle of a logjam of hundreds of vehicles stranded on a muddy stretch of highway.
“This is the road from hell,” he said on Sunday as he prepared to spend a third night in the cab of his Mercedes truck. “This is just crazy…I think it is time to retire.”
A combination of terrible roads, worse driving and torrential rains blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon, brought traffic to a standstill on the Mombasa-Nairobi road, a 500-km (310-mile) highway that is a vital economic artery across East Africa and parts of Central Africa.
Three people, including a woman who gave birth amid the highway chaos, died on Monday, witnesses said.
Police said on Saturday a total of 86 people had died nationwide as a direct result of rain and flooding while health workers say more than 400 people have died from epidemics linked to the unseasonal weather.
Nowhere is the neglect of Kenya’s infrastructure more evident than on this road.
The rutted, potholed, two-lane road cuts its way from the Indian Ocean through beautiful African bush as it winds slowly uphill to Nairobi on the lip of the great Rift Valley.
A few years ago, on a good day, the journey could be done in six hours. On Sunday it took a Reuters team 14 hours to make it just halfway.
To the shock of those stranded in the middle of nowhere with lions on the prowl in the nearby bush, the Kenyan government appeared unconcerned.
A dozen or so labourers were trying without evident success to repair the Kamba bridge which had been reduced to a precarious three-metre(10 foot)-wide structure.
There was no sign of any other attempt by the government to fix or even temporarily solve a problem that virtually everyone in the traffic jam dubbed “a national disgrace”.
“When I get to Nairobi — if I get to Nairobi — I will get a picture of (President Daniel arap) Moi and stick it on the front of my truck for the return journey,” said Omar Adi Rahman, a Mombasa-based driver. “He promised us progress and development — what a big joke.”
Youths from a bus carrying party activists from the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) tried to stop a Reuters cameraman from filming the mess, saying: “Don’t report negative things…we are not monkeys.”
But they vanished when furious truck drivers insisted on helping reporters through the impasse so they “could tell the world about this”, as one said.
Their anger was directed fully at Moi, who won a further five-year term in last month’s chaotic election, and KANU, which retained a slim majority in parliament.
“Why doesn’t the president come and see this?” said another driver. “And I don’t mean come in a helicopter, I mean he should drive from his big house to Mombasa like the wananchi (common people).”
The jam was worst on a 20-km (12-mile) stretch of the road that splits Kenya’s world-famous Tsavo national park. Drivers were reluctant to leave the road even to relieve themselves for fear of lions which could be heard roaring as the sun set.
The consequences of a collapsed infrastructure could be seen from the luxury Voi Safari Lodge where the 50-room hotel carved out of a granite “kopjie”, or hill, lay empty save for a honeymooning Italian couple who arrived a week ago.
“We were expecting a big tour group from Israel yesterday (Saturday), but they didn’t make it on the road ahead and I don’t think they will make it today (Sunday),” said the hotel manager. “Nobody wants to come to Kenya anymore.”
The manager of Amboseli Safari Lodge, stuck with two American clients in the jam, said Kenya’s infrastructure and tourism in particular was on the verge of disintegration.
“How can I in good faith tell visitors they should drive for two days to make just 200 km (125 miles),” he said. “We can’t fly because the airstrips are wet…we can’t drive because the roads have collapsed.”
Many drivers, hungry and thirsty after days on the road, began raiding cargo trucks for food. An Indian trader carrying tomatoes to the coast began giving out packets of the fruit saying: “It is rotting. I may as well give it away.”
Doug Shepherd, an American tourist from Ohio, stood shaking his head and asked the crowd: “Why doesn’t the army come and fix these roads? It would take the U.S. army a couple of hours.”
The laughter that greeted his query — from hundreds of tired, frustrated Kenyan, Rwandan, Burundian, Ugandan and Somali drivers — said more than any response.
(c) Reuters Limited 1998
By David Fox
KYULU, Kenya, Jan 19 (Reuters) – At least three people died and a baby was born on Monday in a logjam of hundreds of vehicles stranded on Kenya’s flooded Nairobi-Mombasa highway, witnesses said.
Weather experts who blame the unseasonal downpours on the El Nino phenomenon have predicted more rain this week, with the possibility of further havoc on the road that links much of East and Central Africa to the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa.
Witnesses said a bus driver, a passenger and the woman who gave birth all died in the traffic jam which began on Thursday.
“I saw the three dead with my own eyes,” a witness told Reuters at Kyulu, a desolate patch of the highway near the town of Voi.
The witnesses said the woman died during labour. One of the two men suffered a heart attack and the other apparently died from exhaustion.
Police at the scene declined to comment on the reported deaths.
Apart from Kenya, countries depending on Mombasa for imports and exports include Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic.
Despite a reopening of the road on Sunday, there was no sign of a clearing of the build up of hundreds of trucks, buses and private cars stretching for more than 16 km (10 miles).
Downpours in what is normally the dry season have battered Kenya since late last year, submerging vast stretches of roads and washing away bridges.
State radio said on Monday the death toll from flooding nationwide had risen from a total of 86 announced by police on Saturday to 94, including five drownings in Nairobi and two other towns. Health workers say more than 400 people have died from epidemics linked to the unseasonal weather.
“Traffic is still building up. It will take a lot of effort to clear the logjam, and that is if it doesn’t rain again,” one official at Kyulu said.
“People are good humoured, resigned to their fate. I don’t know how long it will remain that way,” a witness said.
A Kenya Ports Authority spokesman said port activity had not so far been affected by closure or delays on the road, but added: “If it continues, no doubt the port will be affected.”
He said long-term storage facilities in Mombasa enabled importers to keep their shipments at port for some time. Exports usually arrive at port well in advance of shipment.
Industry leaders meanwhile urged the government to take special measures to repair the roads in the country for which tourism is the top foreign exchange earner.
“Urgent and immediate steps must be taken to rehabilitate our roads,” the chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce, Kassim Owango, told Reuters.
He called for a private sector authority to manage the roads.
“El Nino has given us the chance to start with a clean slate,” he added.
The European Commission office in Nairobi hinted on Monday the European Union should be able to go ahead with a 84 million Ecu ($91 million) road development project in Kenya this year.
The Commission’s development adviser in Nairobi, John Simpson, said the EU last year “decided to postpone a decision…for technical and operational reasons”.
“In the meantime, the government has agreed to a number of measures to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of the project,” Simpson told Reuters. “We expect a decision would be taken in the second quarter of this year.”
Kenya Television Network (KTN) said schools around the northeastern town of Garissa were closed due to flooding. Residents were running short of food because delivery trucks were to unable to reach the town, it said.
KTN also showed footage from western Kenya’s Kano plains, where it said floods had forced hundreds of peasants to flee their grass-thatched houses and take refuge in schools and churches.
(c) Reuters Limited 1998
FOCUS-Kenya hunts for killers of British tourist.
By David Fox
NAIROBI, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Kenyan authorities on Monday launched a hunt for the killers of a British tourist who was stabbed and robbed while on holiday at a luxury safari camp.
Roy Chivers was knifed in the chest on Sunday as he was walking with his wife Sandra in a private game sanctuary attached to the Aberdare Country Club, about 225 km (140 miles) north of the capital Nairobi.
Kenyan Tourism Minister Henry Kosgey took the unusual step of holding a news conference on the murder and gave his “personal assurance” that the culprits would be caught.
“We are taking this unusual attack very seriously,” Kosgey said. “A team with tracker dogs is combing the area and making enquiries…we are confident we will resolve the matter.”
Officials at the Aberdare Country Club, one of the most luxurious hotels in the country, said that Chivers and his wife were on their first visit to Kenya and the Aberdare stay was part of a two-week trip.
Kosgey said the couple, from Orpington in Kent, were on an early morning game walk on Sunday when they were ambushed by two men, one of whom drew a knife and demanded they hand over their video camera.
“Mr Chivers tried to fight them and he was stabbed in the chest,” Kosgey said. “His wife was also struggling to stop the attack and she was cut on the hand.”
Hotel staff said other guests riding on horses through the park raised the alarm after they found Sandra Chivers cradling her husband in her arms in the bush.
The couple were taken to a local hospital for emergency treatment while a flying ambulance was summoned to nearby Mweiga airstrip.
“Unfortunately, on admittance to Nairobi hospital, Mr Chivers suffered cardiac arrest and despite the efforts of the medical team he died,” Kosgey said. “Our heartfelt sympathy goes to Mrs Chivers and her family.”
Sandra Chivers was being comforted by British High Commission officials while arrangements were being made to fly her husband’s body home, officials said.
The Tourism Ministry has offered a reward of 50,000 shillings ($800) for information leading to the capture and conviction of the killers.
Police said the robbers fled with two cameras worth around 80,000 shillings. One of the cameras was later found near the scene.
The Aberdare Country Club, owned by the Lonrho Group, is a 49-room lodge built 27 years ago around a white-settler’s ranch and boasts a golf course and private 1,300-acre game sanctuary.
The park is entirely fenced and police officials speculated that the killers must have cut through the wire to gain access.
Kosgey said attacks on tourists in game parks were so rare that officials did not even have statistics.
“This is very much an isolated incident,” Kosgey said, “but we do appreciate the effect such an incident might have on the industry.”
Kenyan tourism is already reeling under a combination of natural and man-made calamities, including ethnic violence on the coast in July, floods caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, uncertainty over last December’s elections and violence in the Rift Valley last month.
The number of visitors to the East African country dropped to 600,000 last year from a peak of more than 850,000 in 1994.
(c) Reuters Limited 1998