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Kenya's New President Faces Enormous Challenges, Expectations - 2002-12-30

Kenyan opposition leader Mwai Kibaki took office as president on Monday, ushering in the first new government since the country gained independence from Britain nearly 40 years ago. President Kibaki faces enormous challenges and expectations.

Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans jammed Uhuru Park in Nairobi Monday to witness and celebrate a day many had waited decades to see: the inauguration of a democratically-elected president.

Mwai Kibaki, 71, took the oath of office, promising to reinvigorate a country that has suffered through decades of corruption and poverty. "Our task will be to advance Kenya's interests and ensure they are well-served. We want to bring back the culture of due process, accountability, and transparency in public office," Mr. Kibaki said.

Mr. Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition made history last Friday by handing the ruling KANU party and its candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, a crushing defeat at the polls.

The win ended KANU's four-decade long hold on power in Kenyan politics. It also ended the 24-year rule of Daniel arap Moi, who was constitutionally barred from seeking another term.

Analysts said Mr. Kibaki's campaign promises of jobs, free education and improved state services were very appealing to voters, who largely blame Mr. Moi and his KANU party for turning Kenya into one of the poorest countries in the world.

At the inauguration ceremony, Mr. Moi congratulated the new president and acknowledged Kenya's call for change. "The people of Kenya have spoken. You have expressed your democratic right in a mature and peaceful way. Politics is about winning and losing. Today, KANU must accept it lost the elections after 40 years in power," Mr. Moi said.

In his first speech as Kenya's president, Mr. Kibaki said he would not conduct a witch-hunt of members of the outgoing government for wrong-doings. But he also warned that not all would be forgiven.

"It would be unfair to Kenyans not to raise questions about certain deliberate actions or policies of the past that continue to have grave consequences on the present," he said.

There were no reports of serious violence Monday and diplomats welcomed that as a further sign that Kenya has successfully held its first free and fair, democratic elections.

The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Johnnie Carson, called Monday a historic day for the nation. "I think it is a very positive development for the people of Kenya. I think it is an opportunity for the country of Kenya to begin to reverse the economic misfortunes that it's had over the last decade," he said.

Most analysts predict the new government will not be able enjoy a honeymoon period of adjustment. Expectations are so high for Mr. Kibaki, there is fear that disappointment may set in even before the government has a chance to tackle any of the problems.