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A New Dawn in Limbo?

The East African (Nairobi), 14 May 2001

A regression to political intolerance and the looming spectre of ethnic violence has dimmed what looked like a week of great promise for Kenya.

On the constitutional review front, parliament eventually paved the way for two rival groups to merge. Barring President Moi's veto on the review bills, Kenya should now have a new constitution before the next general election in December next year.

The other cloud looming over a unitary review process dissolved itself when a religious group calling itself the United Christian Churches of Kenya withdrew a suit challenging the legality of the merged review process and the suitability of its chairman, Prof Yash Pal Ghai.

While parliament had to rightly read the public mood with elections around the corner, UCCK's case was a diversionary attempt that, at most, would have delayed rather than annulled the review process.

The fact that one of UCCK's members is in the Ghai team was widely interpreted as the ruling elite's way of finding an answer to the uncompromising stance taken by the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) over the constitutional reforms.

A crucial rider added with parliament's passage of the reform bills was that the National Assembly's life - or President Moi's tenure - will not be extended to accommodate the review process.

On the economic front, the draft poverty reduction strategy paper went through the poring eyes of citizens and development partners. The document is historic in that this is the first time the government has consulted the public on their development aspirations and priorities.

It is therefore not surprising that finance minister Mr Chris Okemo used the forum to announce that the government would meet all conditions set by lenders before the budget is read next month. That compliance will allow the flow into the country of development cash withheld by donors estimated at $500 million.

The resources are congenial to the success of economic goals, but it need not be gainsaid that they will have little impact if the culture of intolerance is allowed to creep back into our politics.

Recent instances of tribal clashes threaten the relative peace Kenya has enjoyed in the past four years. For instance, along the Trans Mara-Gucha border, there were signs of tribal animosity that have come to be associated with the next general election. At Kipkelion in Kericho district in the Rift Valley, a skirmish was dismissed as a one-off occurrence that cannot threaten the peace. There is also the perennial problem of cattle rustling in northern Kenya.

There is ample evidence of ruling party stalwarts who have literally called communities to war with not as much as a reprimand from relevant authorities. The law must be applied, and equitably so.

E-mail address: eastafrican@nation.co.ke

Copyright 2001 The East African. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).