In Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi opened parliament for the last time before his retirement. In his remarks, the president urged all Kenyans to steer clear of tribal violence during this critical election year.
The state opening of parliament marked the end of an era for Kenya. It was the last time President Moi addressed the legislators as the country's leader.
Before the end of the year, parliament will be dissolved and elections held. President Moi, who has ruled Kenya for the past 23-years, is constitutionally bound to step down.
In his speech, President Moi emphasized the need to maintain peace in Kenya throughout the election period. "This being an election year, I want to urge all Kenyans to foster peace and unity everywhere and at all times. We must demonstrate to the world that although throughout this year we will be staging a lively democratic contest for national leadership, we are one united and peaceful people with hearts both strong and true. Leaders in particular should avoid making outrageous and inflammatory statements, which are likely to create division and fuel tribal hatred amongst our people. As I have said time and again, tribalism is a cancer that has destroyed many nations in Africa," the Kenyan president said.
Kenya's last two multi-party elections, in 1992 and 1997, have been plagued by tribal violence. In both cases, ethnic clashes erupted several months ahead of the polls. The end result was usually that opposition voters were driven out of pro-government areas.
There are fears there could be more ethnic clashes this time round. Last week, several hundred members of the Mungiki sect, which is dominated by the Kikuyu ethnic group, killed 23 people in Nairobi's Kariobangi slum.
Most of the victims were ethnic Luos, long-time political enemies of the Kikuyu, and of the Moi government.
Opposition politicians charge that the violence was aimed at destabilizing opposition strongholds before the elections.
In his remarks, President Moi said he has instructed the police to stamp out all such violent crimes. "Cases of robbery with violence, drug trafficking, cattle rustling, banditry, conflict are of great concern to my government. In this connection, the law enforcement agencies have received renewed instructions to track down and bring to justice all those engaged in criminal activities," President Moi said.
Analysts say one of the reasons there is so much tension and uncertainty in Kenya is that President Moi has failed to nominate a successor. The ruling Kanu party is deeply divided. Various factions, many of them tribally based, are jostling to take over the reins of power from President Moi.