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Many Challenges Await Kenya's New President - 2002-12-24

With elections set for Friday, Kenyans are full of hope, looking forward to a better life with their first new president in 24 years. But analysts say whoever wins, the new government will have a hard time meeting those high expectations.

Like most election campaigns, Kenya's campaign has produced a lot of promises.

Former Vice President George Saitoti, a senior member of the Rainbow Coalition team, lists just some of the promises the party is making to Kenyan voters.

"We are committed to providing more roads and better roads," he said. "We will create jobs, indeed, up to 500,000 a year. We will help to secure higher produce prices to our farmers. We will provide all Kenyans with free primary education."

The ruling KANU party's presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, is also promising change. In its manifesto, KANU has pledged to tackle the high poverty levels, unemployment, and Kenya's poor infrastructure, and to completely eradicate corruption in the civil service. Mr. Kenyatta says he will unite Kenyans, and bring an end to personalized politics and tribalism.

For Kenyans, longing for change after 24 years under President Daniel arap Moi, the promises have struck a chord.

"Free education is the most important thing that he has talked about," said Nairobi resident Joyce Njuguna, referring to opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki. His promise of universal free primary education is a very attractive offer. It has convinced Mrs. Njuguna to vote for him.

"Eighty per cent, let's say, can't afford education," she went on to say. "They strain a lot to get education. People in plantations can't afford it basically. They can hardly put a meal on their table. So free education comes in handy for those people."

Ms. Njuguna expresses a widely held view in Kenya.

But other Kenyans have responded to other promises by the candidates. Among them is Abdullah al Noor, whose vote will go to the ruling KANU party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr. Kenyatta has promised to revive tourism in Kenya to help the economy and create jobs. Mr. al Noor says the fact that the Kenyatta family has invested heavily in Kenya's tourism industry gives him confidence that Mr. Kenyatta will fulfill his promise.

"Corruption has to be gotten rid of," he stressed. "And very important, development in the tourism industry. He probably owns the Heritage Hotel chains. He's definitely going to develop tourism in Kenya because it's up to his interest as well, and to the interest of the country."

But experts say many of the candidates' promises will prove impossible to deliver because of the dire state of the Kenyan economy.

"Those sort of promises are really ones that you can only achieve in the longer term and you certainly couldn't do it in the next year or two," said economist Robert Shaw. "Basically, the Kenyan economy is very run down. The next government will have an enormous task just basically halting that decline and then reversing it."

All public polls predict that opposition candidate, Mr. Kibaki, will be chosen as Kenya's third president in Friday's election. But political pundits say his party is not likely to win more than a razor thin majority in parliament and that this will severely hamper his efforts make his promises into reality, even if he is elected president.

An analyst with The East African newspaper, Peter Munaita, believes if Mr. Kibaki is elected president, KANU members of parliament will try to block efforts to implement his promises.

"It will be difficult, particularly when it comes to passage of the finance bill which basically governs what the government can spend and where," he explained. "He'll be hard pressed to pass things that other parties don't agree with, and a good example is free education."

The pledge to introduce free primary education is the one that has particularly captivated Kenyan voters. School fees have risen dramatically in recent years to become one of the biggest burdens Kenyan parents face.

Mr. Kibaki says he can afford to make primary education free, simply by more efficient allocation of government resources, a claim that many experts question.

Mr. Kenyatta, the ruling party's presidential candidate, has a more moderate promise in that regard. He will only commit himself to affordable education. He says Mr. Kibaki is lying to the voters by promising more.

According to Mr. Munaita, Mr. Kibaki, if elected, will also have difficulty fulfilling his pledge to pass Kenya's draft new constitution into law within his first 100 days as president.

"Under the Kenyan law, you need to have a two-thirds majority to pass particular constitutional bills," he said. "And this is important because the next parliament is the one that will address the stalled constitutional review process. So without NARC having that parliamentary majority of two-thirds, it means it will have to trade with other parties by way of probably a government of national unity or a coalition."

The Rainbow Coalition would likely also do its best to block Mr. Kenyatta's plans if he wins the election.

That means smaller parties will have a crucial role to play in the new parliament, and whoever is elected will have to make many compromises on his promises.