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Kenya Pol Profile: Kibaki - 2002-10-25

After months of negotiations, 14 opposition parties in Kenya this week agreed to unite behind one presidential candidate - former Vice President Mwai Kibaki. Katy Salmon looks at the challenges Mr. Kibaki faces in trying to defeat Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate of the ruling KANU party, which has never lost an election:

This is Mr Kibaki's third campaign for president. He is 71-years-old, and it will undoubtedly be his last campaign.

The December election pits Mr. Kibaki against KANU party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding father, Jomo Kenyatta.

Though a political novice, 41-year-old Mr. Kenyatta has youth on his side, and his legendary family name. Mr. Kibaki has his experience.

Speaking at the conference that nominated Mr. Kibaki, his colleague Moody Awori, listed some of his credentials, including the finance post he held during the years Jomo Kenyatta was in power.

He says, "Honorable Mwai Kibaki was not only an outstanding Finance Minister in Kenya, Africa and the Commonwealth but he steered this country through a period of economic growth that was never equaled by the regime that succeeded him. (clapping) Honorable Mwai Kibaki served as vice president under circumstances that we can only describe modestly as having been difficult."

In addition to serving Jomo Kenyatta, Mr. Kibaki was President Daniel arap Moi's vice president for 10 years, until he was fired in 1988. No reason was given for his dismissal and he soon crossed over to the opposition.

In the 1997 elections, Mr. Kibaki came second to President Moi, winning 31 per cent of the vote as head of the Democratic Party.

This time around, Mr. Kibaki's chances are considered much better. He is now the presidential candidate of the National Rainbow Coalition, or NARC, an alliance of 14 opposition parties.

In the last election, the candidates of the parties now in the Rainbow coalition won 58 per cent of the vote. But because the votes were divided among so many opposition candidates, no single party had enough votes to defeat the ruling KANU (Kenyan African National Union)party.

But if the coalition manages to get all its supporters to vote for Mr. Kibaki, it should win in a landslide. If it does, it will mark the first defeat for KANU in the 39 years of Kenya's independence.

Macharia Gaitho, a political commentator with Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper, believes Mr. Kibaki is the definite front-runner.

"Well, I think right now he is the man to beat. KANU with all its machinery and everything else, obviously it can never be written off. But I think right now he's ahead of everybody else. It's the way it looks on the ground. This thing has given him a lot of mileage, the coming together of the opposition."

However, Mr. Gaitho warns there is a major problem ahead for the opposition. While the members of the Rainbow coalition are united behind the candidacy of Mr. Kibaki, the real test is whether the coalition leaders will be able to agree on a single NARC candidate for every parliamentary constituency in the country.

He says, "They are such a big group it can be very unwieldy. So many people from the different parties within that alliance will be aiming for the same parliamentary seat. You are going to have a lot of quarrels down there where you might see very many numbers moving away elsewhere if they feel they might not find it very easy to get that crowded ticket. I think that's a big problem they are going to face in the coming weeks."

Mr. Kibaki's greatest advantage is that he represents a change from the Moi regime, under which corruption has become rampant and the economy has collapsed.

Mr. Kibaki takes advantage of this disenchantment in his speeches.

He says, "Our first priority how can we revive this economy. How can we create new jobs, how we get those who have been unemployed be employed? Without revival of the economy we shall not achieve anything else. And the way to start in that revival of the economy is to begin by making people at ease in their dealing with this nation. We'll have a government which is going to get rid of corruption."

Mr. Kibaki says he will also bring back the rule of law in Kenya, where public respect for the judiciary is at an all time low.

He says, "We are seeking to have a judiciary which is independent and shall apply only the known law. And not a judiciary which can be telephoned by somebody to tell, 'That fellow is no good. Imprison that one. Or, That one release him.' Because you and I know there is nothing more painful in this nation of Kenya than the knowledge by an ordinary poor Kenyan that he is innocent, but the system does not care about an ordinary person. It is influenced by those who are able to pay."

But Mr. Kibaki will have to work hard to make his reform program heard in every part of the country.

The state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation has made no secret of the candidate it backs. Its broadcasts have been favoring Mr. Kenyatta, in violation of an agreement signed ahead of the 1997 election promising equal coverage for all candidates. Kenya Broadcasting Corporation is the only media source for eight out of 10 Kenyans.