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Many Challenges Confront Kenya's New President - 2002-12-31

Kenya's new president, Mwai Kibaki, has inherited a country in decay. He was elected on a promise to bring a new dawn to Kenya, to revive the country and its economy, but many people are wondering whether he will he be able to deliver.

Hundreds of thousands of jubilant Kenyans came to witness the inauguration Monday of President Mwai Kibaki. They had high expectations for their new president, the first in 24 years.

Among the crowd was Esther Otieno. She has been unable to find work for five years, since the company she was working for had to cut back. She struggles to support her seven children, two of whom are adults, but also unemployed. Under President Kibaki, Ms. Otieno believes that they will all be able to find work.

She also believes that President Kibaki will bring an end to the pervasive corruption in Kenya, where nothing is done unless you give a small bribe, called "kitu kidogo" in Kiswahili. "He will bring a lot of jobs," said Ms. Otieno. "He will bring a lot of business and education. And the people will be well. No corruption. If you are walking in town, nobody is asking kitu kidogo. We will be happy."

President Kibaki, a former economist, has no illusions about the challenges he faces. He describes himself as "inheriting a country, which has been badly ravaged by years of misrule."

But Kenya's third president is confident he is capable of handling the enormous task ahead of him. "You have asked me to lead this nation out of the present wilderness and malaise on to the promised land. And I shall do so," he said. "I shall offer a responsive, transparent, and innovative leadership. I am willing to put everything I [have] into the job because I regard this job as a sacred duty."

President Kibaki has an ambitious agenda. He is promising to revive the economy, eliminate corruption, streamline the government, reform the judiciary, rebuild Kenya's crumbling infrastructure, create a half-million jobs a year, provide free primary education, retrain the police, empower women, conserve the environment.

In short, he is promising to mend all the ills that have combined to make Kenya one of the poorest countries in the world.

Tackling corruption is at the top of Mr. Kibaki's agenda, as it has contributed massively to the collapse of Kenya's economy and the subsequent impoverishment of its people.

In his inaugural speech, President Kibaki called for ordinary Kenyans to help him in this task. "Corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya," he said, "and I am calling upon all of you to come out and fight corruption and agree to support the government in fighting corruption as our first priority."

But talking against corruption is easy. Actually doing something about a problem that analysts say is embedded in every layer of Kenyan government is another matter.

Wambua Sammy, a columnist for The East African newspaper, based in Nairobi, said President Kibaki will need the help of Kenya's 30 million people if he is going to win the fight against kitu kidogo.

As an example of corruption's prevalence, Mr. Sammy said policemen were taking bribes from people on the way to the inauguration ceremony. "It is not going to be easy because, as I was coming I saw policemen getting bribes from matatu [bus] drivers," he said.

"So this is something that is going to be a big war," continued Mr. Sammy. "This is something, which has been institutionalized so to say. And even some of the corrupt people, they are so powerful and they have got linkages in the civil service with the, let us say, road engineers, doctors, permanent secretaries. Actually, he will have to be ruthless to clean up the mess."

It remains to be seen whether President Kibaki will have the political muscle to sweep corruption out of Kenya's government system and to implement all of his other promises.

For now, many people, like Bernard Okoth, are simply relieved to see the exit of President Daniel arap Moi who was in power 24 years, longer than most Kenyans have been alive. "We are so happy," he said. "We are so tired of the most corrupt government that we want to witness it going away."

Analysts warn that Kenyans should not expect an overnight miracle, because it will take years to bring about meaningful change.

But will Mr. Kibaki be given time to bring about that change?

One of his promises, free education for all primary school children, will be tested very soon. Kenya's primary schools are now closed, but they will reopen January 6. If he is going to fulfill his promise, Mr. Kibaki and his government will have to find places for millions of children who did not go to school because their parents could not afford to send them.